Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dear Beatrix Potter. . . . Thank You For Your Letters

When is the last time you received a handwritten letter?  When is the last time that you actually wrote one yourself. . . got out a pen, sheet of paper or notecard, connected them in cursive or print, stuffed and licked the envelope, attached a stamp and dropped your letter in a real mailbox or postal slot?  Truth be told, I rarely write them myself, but I have recently been inspired to begin the practice anew.

Inspired by Beatrix Potter.

                                                    (photo credit - childrensclassics.com.au)

In case you're not familiar with Ms. Potter, surely the names Peter Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail ring a bell. Beatrix Potter first created The Tale of Peter Rabbit, featuring the Rabbit family and Mr. McGregor, in letters she wrote to her governess' children.

Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters, was on exhibit at the J. Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum from  November 2 - January 27.

I could hardy wait to enter the room filled with twenty-two of Beatrix Potter's handwritten letters, containing original pen-drawn artwork.  Perhaps it goes back to the letters my grandmother wrote me at camp, or the notes that my 6th grade boyfriend passed to a friend to pass to me, or more recently the birthday cards our grandchildren created with hearts and rainbow letters.  For me, the person is present in the handwriting.

Imagine that you're seven or eight years old, at home in bed with the flu.  You don't feel like doing anything but rest under layers of blankets and eat ice chips.  The world has forgotten you.  Then your mom or dad brings in a letter, a real letter, that has just arrived -- addressed to YOU!  You quickly, but carefully, open the envelope and find inside a note that looks like this. .

("My dear Noel, 
       I am so sorry to hear through your Aunt Rosie that you are ill.  You must be like this little mouse, and this is the doctor, Mr. Mole and Nurse Mouse with a teacup.")  The letter is signed, "I remain yours affectionately, Beatrix Potter."  

 Would you not feel excited, special, less feverish, even for a brief moment as the magic of that handwritten letter, with its engaging sketches, makes you smile?  Of course you would!  Your age makes no difference.  You have been remembered.  Someone has taken the time to think of just the right words, to write them in her own hand, to pen your name and send it off.

As I walked from letter to letter in the exhibit, I was quietly reminded of the power of handwriting to touch me.  When I take my grandmother's one remaining letter out of the keepsake box in the closet, I immediately recognize her delicate, yet strong, cursive. I feel her presence in a tangible way.  No doubt, the children who received Beatrix's letters felt that a part of her must be there with them, as they held her letter in their hands.

In this world of immediate communication, I will surely continue to email and text.  Perhaps Beatrix would have done the same had computers and smart phones been available, for the sake of efficiency.  But for the truly personal, when she wanted to express herself in a way that only her handwriting (and sketches) could, I know that she would turn to pen and paper.

 Now, so will I.
Thank you notes to dear family for
birthday gifts.
they feel my presence,
even tuck the letters in a box.
(And perhaps. . . write me back.)


Monday, January 21, 2013

More Than Great Pizza

Saturday was our last night in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Drew had attended meetings for three days, while I had . . . not.  I spent my time on the beach, with a book in one hand and bottled water in the other, soaking in the 82-degree warmth.  Retirement is a wonderful thing!

                                                             self portrait

With meetings and beach time over, we walked the length of Clematis Street, the "historical heart of Downtown West Palm Beach," looking for a place to eat. Fire Rock, Grease Burger Bar and Rocco's Tacos were filled with loud music and crowded tables, so we walked further down the street, toward the Intercoastal Waterway.     

We saw a sign that looked familiar - New York familiar.  Grimaldi's Pizza! Who knew that there was another, besides the original, the one under the Brooklyn Bridge.  (It turns out there are over 20 throughout the U.S., even locations in Queens, Hoboken and Coney Island.)

We had eaten at the Brooklyn Grimaldi's a couple of weeks ago when our daughter, Katherine,  her husband, Andy and his brother, Chris, were visiting. 


The line outside the front door was a sure sign that the wait would be worth it; and it was.

As soon as walked in, we saw the pizza makers at work, surrounded by mounds of fresh Parmesan and mozzarella, jars of "secret-ingredient" sauce, and more toppings than we could try in many return visits. The place was packed with three floors of enthusiastic, Brooklyn-accented pizza lovers!  
There was no line outside the West Palm Beach Grimaldi's.  The waiter said, "Pick any table," as we walked in.  Frank Sinatra sang in the background, glossy NYC landmarks lined the walls, even our neighborhood subway sign hung over the bar. .  all attempts to create an authentic New York City atmosphere.  But the place lacked something.

It certainly wasn't the pizza! Our sun-dried tomato, pepperoni, kalamata olive, thin crust pizza was equal, in every way, to its "Just Like Under the Brooklyn Bridge" cousin.  We finished off all but two pieces of a large, plus a slice of New York cheesecake.

Had we never been to the Brooklyn Grimaldi's, the West Palm Beach version would still have offered great pizza with a reminiscent flavor of New York.  But having experienced the real thing, Drew and I knew what was missing.  

A dash
of New York City

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dreaming of Pickles

 No need to pull out my 1000 Things To Do in New York City book when our daughter, Katherine and her husband Andy came to town last week.  They arrived with an agenda, and there wasn't a single mega tourist stop on the list.

Forget glitzy Broadway shows, multi-hour wait in the Empire State Building line, double-decker bus tour, or eye-popping Matisse and Warhol at the Met.  They walked an unbeaten path to vegan restaurants, craft beer pubs, organic food carts, Soho side streets, game shops, the Brooklyn Brewery, and farthest-flung of all, Brooklyn Brine.  They graciously asked Drew and me to join them, if we could keep up, on the Brooklyn trek last Saturday.  (Little did they know that walking 8 miles is just a warm-up for us.)

Brooklyn Brine, at 574A President Street, was a total fascination to me - more the owner than the pickles.

Not that the pickles are anything less than the most uniquely flavorful I've eaten, but Shamus Jones' story is truly an inspiration.  Any creative person looking for the next excuse not to move forward with a dream, needs to talk to Shamus.  He made his dream happen.

Shamus was a vegan chef/consultant who, due to the financial woes of his employer, lost his job about 3 1/2 years ago.  His dream was to make and sell pickles, from his own recipes. Within 6 hours of leaving the consultant job, he was making his first batch of pickles.  He asked a friend who owned a restaurant, if he could make pickles in the kitchen at night, after closing hours.  The friend agreed.  Another friend loaned him $3000 at 17% interest, and he was off.  He worked long hours, put his earnings back into the business time and time again, even needed to share a working space with a butcher at one point.

"The brick and mortar store has really given us a presence," he explained as he doled out pickle samples - Maple Bourbon Bread and Butter, Whiskey Sour, Damn Spicy, along with Fennel Beets and Whiskey Barrel Sauerkraut.

"We're still a small operation; we make 1400 jars of pickles a day."  Even we could do the math, though, when he told us that Brooklyn Brine sold 200,000 jars of pickles last year at $8.00 a jar.  When he added that Whole Foods and William Sonoma are now his customers, I knew that he had made it.

Shamus didn't have a business plan, marketing firm or website designer the night he decided to begin making pickles.  He simply started.  Undoubtedly, experts in small business start-up, would have advised him to stop, consider the competition, look at the obstacles before cutting up that first cucumber.  Perhaps Shamus would have talked himself out of his dream. Thankfully, for pickle lovers and dream chasers, he didn't.

I'm learning that it's the doing, each day, that takes dreams from the idea to the pickle jar.  Not reading about doing, not making lists about doing, not listening to "knowledgeable voices" discourage me from doing -- but the actual doing.    

As a writer with manuscripts which have never received a response from the New York City publishing houses, but confidence that what I have to share is valuable, Shamus' story re-energizes me, encourages me to look beyond the box of traditional publishing. Where can my words find a venue?  What can I do to make that happen?  Waiting 6 to 9 months for a hoped-for, but never (yet) forthcoming response, won't get that first jar of pickles, or book, on the shelf.

I wonder about you, as you read this story. Do you have a dream that needs some of Shamus' inspiration? What helps move your dream from idea to pickle jar?          


Monday, January 7, 2013

Something That Will Last and Be Beautiful

6:00 am. Dark. Breezy and 31 degrees. I put on a couple layers of warmth, hat, gloves, tie my walking shoes and head out the door.  Within 3 minutes, I'm on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The bridge is different in the early morning before commuters and tourists clog her narrow pedestrian/bike lanes.  She's quiet, calm, perhaps still asleep, although the rumble of traffic lanes below begin to jostle her awake.

 I meet a few other early more exercisers, but there are long stretches where the bridge and I are 

Today I take my camera.  It slows me down, 
forces me to notice. . . 

                    a curve                                                                                          reflection

spiderweb of steel


 the enduring presence of a flag


I recently watched a PBS documentary about the construction of the bridge.  Much of the information I had already researched and written in an earlier blog posting.  I knew the history, but it wasn't until a quote by Arthur Miller at the end of the film, that I truly begin to reflect on the bridge's significance.  Mr. Miller said that John Roebling's design could have been purely functional, a pathway from one side to the other.

"But he aspired to do something gorgeous."
"Steel poetry," Miller called it.

"It makes you feel that maybe you, too, could add something that would last and be beautiful."

As the sky lightens and I leave the bridge's company, she reminds me of the possibilities in each day,

to add something that [will] last and be beautiful.

Web Analytics