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Shopping Trip Coda: Darling Dad

Nothing can restore my faith in humanity like a darling dad. I stopped into Stauffers of Kissel Hill again this week, in part, to out another Suburban Mommy Monster. Or so I expected.

Is this a new thing? Never caught my eye before.Didn't happen. Instead I saw a Suburban Darling Dad standing in front of the Easter candy display with two tots in tow (ages 3 and 5 perhaps.) The long lean fellow was squeezing a product I don't remember seeing before: Reese's Pieces candy eggs in a carton. But then, I haven't shopped for Easter candy in years.

"Here," he said to his kids, without their prompting, who looked so much smaller because he at least as tall as Honest Abe (and bearded, too). "You can each have one."

He placed a sunny carton of candy in each of their little hands, their eyes pictures of wonder and delight.

Got faith? Faith in our fathers. Yes, I do.


Suburban Mommy Monsters

My daughter showing off her backyard snowman, c. 1991If I am being honest, I am glad to have an adult child at this point in my life and to be freed from the day-to-day travails of child rearing. Reflections on my young mommy years have drawn me into silent mommy watching all around me--on the train, in restaurants, and at the grocery store. 

Sometimes it is refreshing to see young mothers enjoying the journey. One young mom on my commuter train chats with her baby son during the entire half hour ride, asking gentle questions like, "Can you hear the wind?" and "What do you see outside the window?" My now-grown daughter who taught preschool for years told me that talking with your child at an early age is critical to their intellectual and language development.

Sadly, I encounter more bad mothering episodes than good. Case in point, the Suburban Mommy Monster I observed at Lancaster's premier grocery store Stauffers of Kissel Hill. Stauffers is a family-run store that has for decades committed themselves to creating a shopping experience. They offer lots of samples year round, especially in the produce department. I'll stop at Stauffers after a long day to pick up something for dinner and be revived by a juicy little morsel of cantaloupe or a ruby red grapefruit slice. It's a tiny reprieve from the noisy, gritty, lumbering commute I face daily.

On one such stop-by after work, I pulled into the parking lot, and climbed out of my car, expectantly, anxious for my tiny shopping experience (as opposed to trip) to lift my spirits.

I heard Suburban Mommy Monster before I saw her. Doors slamming. They are no sooner out of the car then she's scolding her three little charges, clad exceedingly well to brave the chilly wind-whipped day in adorable puffy pink coats and fleece-lined pink boots. I can't tell what she is saying to them on the way into the store--only the tone. Sharp, mean, hateful. Lots of "no's" and "I said no."

She herself is a typical Suburban Lancaster Mommy--trim, well-dressed, attractive. The minions trudge behind her, except the littlest one whose tiny mittened hand she clutches in hers like this poor child (three at most) is the most loathesome creature on earth.

The produce section is right up front. I enter the store. Jackpot! Fresh navel orange slices, grapefruit sections, pineapple chunks, honeydew and cantaloupe pieces set out for sampling. A tropical haven for weary travelers.

"Don't anyone touch those samples! No samples, I said," Suburban Mommy Monster snarls as I myself savor an orange slice. The flesh is sweet and full of juice. A perfect piece of fruit for which shoppers pay a perfect price.

The little girls and their tiny tummies muster no challenge against the Suburban Mommy Monster. Not even the tiniest whine of protest. They scuffle behind her to the canned goods aisle.

This particular Stauffers is the smallest of their stores in the area. It's perfect for doing catch-up shopping more so than a week's worth of groceries. It is like a little dalliance rather than a full on shopping tour of duty. If one is dallying, why wouldn't you want growing little girls to enjoy a little piece of fruit? Something healthful to tickle their palates and stave off hunger until dinnertime?

I grab the few items I need for dinner plus some I don't--a half a pound of peel and eat shrimp, fresh mushrooms, Gouda cheese.

Only one cashier is open so I steer my cart towards the checkout. Whose purchases are being rung up ahead of me? Why, Suburban Mommy Monster's, of course.

"Would you like a rewards card?" the cashier kindly asks. All the cashiers are always kind at Stauffers. Great customer service is their hallmark.

In the nicest, most mellifluous voice I believe I have ever heard in my five decades on Planet Earth, Suburban Mommy Monster purrs, "Not this time. But perhaps the next time we stop in. Thanks so much for the offer. I appreciate it."

My mouth dropped open. Suburban Mommy Monster can be lovely and charming with strangers. But can't be warm and kind to her own children? Let me tell you something, Suburban Mommy Monster. There will be plenty of people in your seemingly adorable children's lives who will have no kind word for them. They will be teased, bullied, picked on, and passed over as they grow by plenty of others. If you can't show your children love, if your home is no safe haven, then you have just sealed the deal to deliver three more Suburban Mommy Monsters into the world in due time.

Why did this incident rankle me? I think it's because I have trotted out the phony baloney tone of voice in a similar situation. It is patently clear the harm this woman is doing her own children. Even at 3, 4, and 5, their little psyches can feel the sting. Big people who don't even know Mommy are more important than we are. We are nobodies. Worse than nobodies. We are burdensome. Well-dressed little splinters who deserve our Mommy's scorn.

Looking back, my daughter's childhood years passed far too quickly. I know I didn't always appreciate those young mother years for the treasure they were. Perhaps that's why seeing Suburban Mommy Monsters stings so much now.

I'd much rather have a do-over than be tormented by Suburban Mommy Monsters for the rest of my life. My only hope for redemption is grandchildren. Someday, perhaps. But not soon enough.


A trickle-down system that actually works

Our elderly neighbors, the Shumakers, decided to move out of their single family home to assisted living and asked me if I would like to adopt their rain barrel. I'd admired it for years, thinking that it was a very clever and eco-friendly way to capture rain water for reuse. 

my new-to-me rain barrel Everyone in my development relies on well water. So, if I am using my well water to water plants and flowers, I am impacting everyone's future water availability from the same water table. The Shumakers positioned their rain barrel directly under their spouting. I was going to ask our handyman Harold (aka Tom) to saw off our drain pipe to fit the barrel until we got our first hard rain. Since we positioned it under the eaves of the house, water trickled off the roof and the gutter, keeping my rain barrel filled all summer long.

The rain barrel nearly filled up again after yesterday's showers.For the last two months, I haven't had to use the hose to water any flowers or plants outside. I've been using strictly rain water. There is a little spigot near the bottom of the barrel where you can hook up a hose, but most of the time, I just dip my watering can down in to fill it. My flowers certainly look lush and lovely.

               While Eastern Pennsylvania doesn't have the water shortage issues that the West Coast has, I still want to be responsible about my water use because it's the right thing to do. Trickle-down systems can actually work and make you feel good about your choices. Just not economic trickle-down systems.  Maybe Tom Selleck should invest in a few good rain barrels.


When your garden offers up a zucchiNADO...

Zucchini I harvested on 7/11

This spring, I added well-seasoned manure to my backyard garden while turning the soil over. Nature then delivered a mother lode of rain and sunshine. I had a couple zucchini coming during each of the last two weeks, perhaps one squash a week, which was manageable. This morning I checked in on my garden to see what I could harvest, and I discovered . . . a zucchiNADO!

Yes, a ZucchiNADO. In one week.

My husband suggested he hold up one of the squash so readers could see how humongous these vegetables are.

One of the zucchini from my backyard garden as displayed by my husbandIn case you are wondering why they weren't harvested sooner, this is what the weather was like Thursday after work:

While I have a host of great zucchini recipes thanks to friends and neighbors, which I shared earlier on this blog, there's no way I can prepare and serve all this fresh zucchini before it spoils. Thank goodness I have another option. And chances are likely, you do, too.

I am donating this squash to a food pantry that accepts fresh produce which I located on the website. has worked fervently to identify food pantries that can accept fresh produce to supplement all the canned and boxed food typically donated.

I entered my zip code into their engine and found four pantries within a 15-mile radius that will take these zucchini. One is right down the road at a church in Akron.

AmpleHarvest is the brainchild of master gardener and self-described aging geek Gary Oppenheimer, who noticed how much food was left in a community garden he managed. He created to connect backyard gardeners with excess produce with food pantries, who were previously limited to canned and processed food only. 

If last year is any indication of this year, I can expect to have a green beanNADO and a tomatoNADO, too. I am determined not to let this food rot on the vine, but to give to food pantries to share with people who need food.

ZucchiNADO, you've (finally) met your match. And I'm feeling really good about not being wasteful with good, healthful food I've grown.



Rediscovering myself through the Wilkes Creative Writing Program


by Gale Martin MA'10

I don’t remember much from my baccalaureate days at Dear Old State in the 1980s, other than crushing on a clean-shaven preppy in a transformational grammar class who turned out to be a pit viper.

Somehow, amidst all the "sentence diagramming cramming sessions" and the eventual heartbreak following being dumped by said pit viper, enough cognizance remained to absorb Erik Erikson’s stages of development from Dr. Scraggly-Beard’s Educational Psychology class. They wormed their way into my impressionable undergraduate psyche like nightcrawlers into a compost pit. Twelve stages from infancy to death, if you have forgotten them or never learned them. 

Now that I am a 50-something, I find these stages are as striking and relevant as ever. Though I didn’t set a life course to advance to Generativity vs. Stagnation (for ages 35-65) that people encounter in midlife, I did indeed devolve into an intense middle-aged soul search, just as Erikson predicted.

I had been a devoted mom for 18 years. I’d put the interests of my family and my child first. And I had many interests and several talents I considered myself proficient in, earlier in my life. Now that my daughter really didn’t need me anymore, what was my value in the world? Did I have anything left to offer anyone? What was I going to attempt to be good at now?

In 2005, I learned that the niece of a close friend from high school wrote a novel that became world famous and was made into a ultra-popular major motion picture. Since little on up, I’d read loads of fiction but never thought I could write fiction, despite the fact that I was a first-class prevaricator.

I began writing fiction—my first novel, in fact—the end result of which was about as successful as someone playing violin in public who’d never taken a lesson. But I kept at it, and within five years, I had gotten as far as my self-instruction would take me.  I went to an information session for the Wilkes University MA/MFA Creative Writing Program and wound up reinventing myself in the succeeding years.


A book signing at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg

The Wilkes program got more taxing with each semester, and it started out plenty challenging, believe me, with those killer foundational classes. Writing an essay morphed into writing a thesis. Reading a piece of work out loud progressed to interpreting your own piece in Kirby Theatre to the entire Wilkes writing community. Writing a pitch for your book advanced to presenting a pitch to the screenwriting faculty to doing a polished pitch for a panel of agents and editors.

The progressively responsible challenges in the Wilkes program felled some of my colleagues. Couldn’t take the pressure of increased stakes or the deadline to complete a manuscript in one academic year. But not me. The program made me stronger, more confident, and more committed to literary success.

An instore display at the Wise Owl Book Store, West Reading, PAI published three novels since graduating from the Wilkes program and have four other fictional works in progress. I’ve obtained hundreds of reviews—laudatory and blistering— and done dozens of author events.

Presenting at the Reading Public Library on a fiction panel with fictionistas Chris Hinz and Mary Beth MatteoI no longer ask myself what I'm attempting to be good at as I age. I’m a writer. A decent one, whose books have been read by thousands and treasured by hundreds. Simply put, I wouldn’t be where I am without the Wilkes University Creative Writing program.

Wilkes helped this middle-aged mom rediscover what she had to offer the world. No doubt the Wilkes' afterglow will carry me through to Erikson's final stage of human development—old age—with gusto and, perhaps, a surprising amount of dignity.

* * *

A special shout-out and hearty congratulations to the wonderful Wilkes Faculty, all of whom helped me become the writer I am today in his or her own unique way. Heartfelt thanks also to my talented and generous cohort-- MA Class of 2010!


P.S. I'll be reading in the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center theatre on the Wilkes University Campus on Tuesday evening, June 23, along with these talented Wilkes alums: Lori Meyers, James Craig, Amye Archer, Ginger Marcinkowski, John Koloski, Laurie Lowenstein, Salena Vertalono-Fehnel, and Sandee Gertz