Janet's Jargon

Fun lifestyles, charitable acts, great fiction, author support, Patrick and Grace Mysteries, Keith clan trilogy,

Friday, August 31, 2012

Common threads--food and weather

For some reason, certain subjects seem to crop up on a regular basis. I live in northeast Wisconsin. Perhaps I should add three other topics to the above list: Packer football and the "rumor mill," as our pastor calls it. I readily admit that I never watched sports until I moved here, but I think it is illegal to skip a Packers' game. As for the rumor mill, I don't mind it, as long as I'm not at the center of it. I have been known to hang up on a caller who is telling me what people are saying about me. I am so sick and tired of politics, whether it is by phone calls (both people soliciting my vote and taking polls), TV ads, email rants, Facebook threads, or out-and-out political discussions. I refuse to discuss them, and by now I'm of the opinion that when they held the WI recall election they should have expanded it and sacked the whole bunch of them, starting in the state and going all the way to the US government.

Weather, as it is discussed here usually centers on (1) the cold weather, (2) the amount of snow we are getting, (3) drought, or (4) the heat--especially this summer. Recently, the weather has moved to the Gulf Coast, thanks to Isaac. I have good friends who live in LA and MS, so I watched it carefully and waited for them to have power again so I would know they were OK. I thanked the Lord that my son is no longer living in New Orleans. He was there during Katrina, and it was a route I didn't want to travel again.

Food? Everybody loves a good meal, whether they are somebody from my past who "knew" I couldn't cook to a friend from Germany, who accused me of adding to his caloric intake just because I mentioned that I had had a cheeseburger and piece of raisin pie. I promised the friend that I would share my "non-cooking" story, so I figured I might as well do it for all of you. Maybe it will put a smile on your face, and if you are a soon-to-be bride, it might give you a few ideas.

It was Jan. 1966. Ivan and I had just gotten married. When we moved into our first apartment, he gave me $20 and sent me to buy groceries. At that time, $20 bought a lot of food. I had just come back from Venezuela. I returned with several bags of groceries, and like a proud new bride, I set them all out on the table. He looked at them, sort of scratched his head and asked, "What are we having for supper?" I looked at the spread on the table and answered, "I have no idea." I had bought all the things I had missed so much when I was in Venezuela: cake mixes, fancy jams and jellies, things to make cookies, etc. There was no meat, no potatoes, no pasta, no vegetables. He sort of chuckled and said, "I guess maybe I should start buying the groceries." I wasn't especially fond of grocery shopping, so that was fine with me.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. Let me preface this part of the tale by telling you that my mother taught me to cook when I was just a young girl. I cooked during my 3 years in Venezuela. I had entertained a lot of people there, and even taught cooking classes to the women there. I did a pretty fair job of it. Still, we tend to cook the things we are familiar with, so when a new challenge comes along, we sometimes get lost. As long as I had my trusty old Betty Crocker cookbook, I could handle anything, but it was still back in Venezuela, waiting for our return. I cooked a minimal amount of meals for Ivan and me during those first couple of weeks.

And then...one day he said, "I am hungry for breaded veal cutlets." I told him to buy what I needed and i would fix it. He was out in the living room as I began my culinary experiment. After a while, with the meat in the frying pan, he wandered out into the kitchen, lifted the lid and asked, "What is that?" I told him it was breaded veal cutlets. "Not that anybody would notice," he said. You see, I don't remember my mother ever making anything breaded. I couldn't look in my trusty cookbook, and that was years before the ability to check on the computer to see what to do. I knew that it involved cracker crumbs, eggs, and the meat. I had crushed the crackers up and added the eggs to them. The result was a mass of horrible looking "globs" that had no intention of clinging to the cutlets. He said, "Maybe I should start doing the cooking too." Hey, it sounded good to me. Over the years, he turned into a gourmet cook. I baked and could manage a simple breakfast, but for the main meals, he did almost all of the cooking until he lost his leg in 1995.

As he sat in his wheelchair, he lamented the fact that it was really hard for him to reach the things he needed in the cupboards, manage things on the stove, etc. He asked me, "What are we going to do to eat?" I said, "I guess we have three options: I can cook, we can starve to death, or we can eat out a lot." It didn't take even a second for him to decide, "I think we will eat out a lot." Red Lobster became his favorite haunt, to the point that they made a regulation Red Lobster pin that read "Mr. Smith" that they put on him in his casket.

Since that time, I have returned to cooking. I have even discovered that I enjoy it. I also enjoy entertaining. Most of the things I have attempted have turned out quite well. Well, there was that one pizza...but that's another story for another day.

So, if you are in the mood for a good feed, come on over. Make sure you call first, as I do tend to wander around hither and yon. I am busier than I've ever been, but having more fun than I ever imagined was possible. Yes, my kids keep reminding me that I am supposed to be retired. I tell them, "I am retired. I got tired, then I got tired again, and again, and again. I can't begin to count how many times I have been re-tired. Now that I have a good mattress to get a good night's sleep on (see the blog below), I'm good to go, and keep on going. I plan to give that bunny a good run for his money!

And I can just picture Ivan watching me from above, once again scratching his head and saying, "I can't believe you did that to me."

Bon apetit!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jumping on the bed?

Oh, when I was a kid, that was forbidden. But now I'm all grown up (and a whole lot more!) and in the past couple of weeks I wanted to jump on my bed. Instead, I felt like I was banging my head on the wall in a rubber room!

It all seemed so simple. I had made enough money between an editing job and some pretty good book sales to get myself a new mattress. The one I had was a used one that somebody found at a thrift shop for $5. It was ok. I mean, I can sleep on most anything at the drop of a hat and I never wake up with aches and pains. The biggest challenge was trying to claw my way out of the pit in the middle of it when I had to get up in the middle of the night and make a trip to the bathroom. (Another "bonus" of growing older.)

My search began online, as I live in the Boondocks and that is the easiest way to shop for bargains. I finally settled on an 11" pillowtop version from Sears. It was a terrific buy, with the regular price listed at $579 and it was on sale for $205. Of course there was a $76 delivery charge, but since it was coming all the way from Green Bay (about 75 miles to our south), I wasn't about to argue. I was sure it would be much better than the 3" one I had now.

The other alternative I found was at WalMart, but when I read the reviews that said something like, "I was surprised by how good it was, especially after seeing how small the package was that it arrived in." The price was about the same as the one from Sears, but I didn't want a "collapsible" mattress.

So, I made the order, gave them the information so they could get their money, and checked the box for the soonest delivery date possible: Wed., Aug. 15th. Seemed simple enough.

Let me back up a bit. When we lived in Grand Forks ND, where there was a big Sears store just a few miles from us, we bought a number of things there. We never had any trouble. That was before Sears was bought out by K Mart. I guess that should have been my first clue that things aren't quite what they used to be. I never could figure out how one year K Mart announced that they were filing for bankruptcy and the next year they bought out Sears, one of the oldest, most reliable businesses in the United States. As a kid, I spent hours drooling over the Sears Wish Book at Christmas time. Many of my shoes and things for school came from the big Sears catalog. The catalog provided some good dreaming when I would sit in the outhouse, hoping no spiders, mice, chipmunks or squirrels invaded my privacy.

Everything seemed fine when I got a call on Tues. evening, Aug. 14th, informing me that my mattress would be delivered the following day, sometime between 4 and 6 p.m. When two men from our church stopped by on Wed. morning and offered to take my old mattress out and set it outside to make it easier for Sears to get the new one in place, I was pleased. When my neighbor from over the road and through the woods picked it up and hauled it to the dump for me, I was delighted. When I got a call from Sears to tell me that they had run into "a few problems" and the shipment "of your fridge" would be delayed until around 7:30, I was puzzled, to say the least. I told the woman (who could hardly speak or understand English, and who said she was in India when I asked her where she was) that I had not ordered a fridge, but was waiting for my mattress, she checked and assured me that she found the correct order. OK, fine and dandy. That was, until I got a call from another woman (who also spoke and understood almost no English and who said she was in Malasia) said that "your dishwasher has been delayed because of trouble with the truck and might not be delivered until tomorrow," I told her that I had not ordered a dishwasher but was waiting for my mattress and that I had no bed to sleep on until the new mattress arrived. She checked and found the order for the mattress. She said she would have someone call me by 10 pm if it couldn't be delivered Wed. night. I waited until about 10:15 and found a phone number for Sears. I got a woman who wouldn't even tell me where she was, and she said that "your garbage disposal can't be delivered until next Wed., Aug. 22, because the truck only goes to your area once a week, on Wednesdays." I told her that was unacceptable and I again informed her that I had no bed to sleep on until the mattress got here.

After a lot of discussion (not too friendly), she finally said she would try to get the man from the sub-contracting delivery company to see if it could be delivered on Thursday, the next day. She got him, and I finally persuaded her to let me talk to him directly. He explained that the truck had broken down and if they could get it repaired in time to get it here on Thursday he would do his best to do so. Otherwise, it would have to wait until Monday. I explained to him too that I had no bed to sleep on until I got the new mattress. He was very polite and at least he was in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He even gave me his personal cell phone number so I wouldn't have to deal with "those other people."

Anyway, the delivery wasn't made until Monday, about 12:30. Meanwhile, I slept on the very hard love seat, which is too short, even for a 5'2" gal of my age. I didn't dare try to turn over unless I stood up and put the pillow at the other end and reversed directions. I survived.

When the two men delivered the new mattress, they asked if there was anything else I needed. I told them, "Yes, where are my fridge, dishwasher, and garbage disposal?" One of the men began going through his invoices and said, "I don't see an order for them." The other man said, "I know they aren't on the truck." I told them about the phone calls I had gotten from Sears. I ended by saying, "My house is pretty small. I don't really have room for them anyway." They left laughing like crazy.

Bottom line is that the mattress is wonderful, but it's the last time I'll buy anything from Sears, no matter how good a sale price they have on it.

Hope you all have sweet dreams tonight.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Fact or fiction--or both?

Janet Elaine Smith with Kimmy, the nanny hunter

Janet Elaine Smith with Dorothy, director of the Haven of Hope Homeless shelter, and her grandson
 Little did I dream how much fun it could be by combining my favorite fictional characters (Patrick O'Mally and Grace Johnson, from their own Patrick and Grace Mysteries) with real places and people.

I had done that in all of my historical novels, but never in a contemporary book. However, since the idea came about from a visit last summer by my youngest son, Kevin, to the Marinette WI and Menominee MI area for my senior sleuths to pay a visit to the area, I began to do research for the story.

As a writer, I enjoy the research process as much as I do the actual writing. Most of my research, however, has been in reading old history books, looking at maps to get the lay of the land, Googling a ton of things, and (in contemporaries) getting some brochures from the area Chamber of Commerce offices. This time, however, it led me to real places of business and delightful people who were more than willing to answer any questions I had. The biggest thing that I didn't see coming from this research came when I would ask the owner of various businesses if I could use the actual name of their establishment in the book. In all cases, they were quick to agree, but they all wanted to be sure THEY were included in the book as well as their business.

Let's start with the basic idea that Patrick and Grace won a week's stay at a bed and breakfast. That led to the Riverside Manor Bed & Breakfast in Marinette, whom I found on Google. As luck would have it, they were planning a murder/mystery event about a week after I called and spoke to Becky DeWitt, the owner. It provided a perfect opportunity to explore the place, so Joan Carter, a good friend of mine from Amberg, and I headed for the night, which was on Valentine's Day. It was great fun, even though I turned out to be the "whodunit."

Last summer Kevin and I met Tom Schloegel when we were selling books and produce at the Menominee Food Market, situated right on the Bay. He was the owner of Schloegel's by the Bay, my favorite restaurant in the area. Yes, the restaurant was perfect picking for a very special occasion for Patrick and Grace.

Since Grace is an employee at the Haven of Rest Homeless Shelter in New York City and a (seemingly) homeless man named Peter that Kevin and I met as he fed the ducks at the Menominee Marina, it was necessary to see if there was a homeless shelter in Marinette. I not only found the lone homeless shelter, but it was named the Haven of Hope Homeless Shelter! It could have been a sister organization to the one in New York City, except that one was real and one was fictional. Dorothy, the director of the one in Marinette, was wonderfully helpful, and yes, she ended up in the book too.

Then there were the people from the marinas in both Marinette and Menominee, the jewelers at Anderson and Denardo, and on and on it went, with wonderful real people weaving their way through the fictional antics of Patrick and Grace.

Perhaps the most unusual entry into the story was when a good friend of mine, Jay Hudson, who heads up the JWW2 Writers group, sent me an email that a Facebook friend of his, named Kimmy Elizabeth, lived in Menominee and she was all excited about my upcoming book. He asked me to contact her. I was more than happy to do so. You see, part of the storyline of the book was that Mai-Ling, a Cambodian from the first Patrick and Grace Mystery (a purely fictional character) had gotten a job in Menominee as a nanny. Grace had taught Mai-Ling English when she was at the Haven of Rest Homeless Shelter, and she had "won" the free trip for Patrick and Grace at the Bed & Breakfast. As I talked to Kimmy on the phone, I learned that she was hunting for a nanny for her granddaughter. Coincidence? Fate? Who knows. I just know that this whole concept of using real people was so much fun, I have to do it again.

The final benefit came when the people at the Visitors' Center in Marinette learned about the book and they invited me to participate in the annual Logging/Heritage Festival, which would take place less than 2 weeks after the book was released. They even asked me to be a judge for the kick-off parade on Saturday morning, where I was in the fine company of the head of the Chamber of Commerce, the newly elected mayor, a handsome young DJ from a local radio station, an editor of the local newspaper, and a fun-loving elderly gentleman who apparently knew everybody in town.

Becky DeWitt, the owner of the B & B, also hosted a booksigning at Riverside Manor on Friday night, before the official start of the festival.

So where does fact begin and fiction take over? You'll just have to read the book to figure it out. It is St. Peter by the Bay, and it is available wherever fine books are sold.