Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday Montage: ETSY Loved and Found
day 107
The Wonderful Warmth of Brown

Brown is not just for chocolate. Conceded---Chocolate is life, elixir, and sneaky wonderful fun. But this is more about the warm striking nature of brown, the reach out and pull you in of brown. That brown is elegance meets simplicity and gorgeous meets serene. It's earth after rain, the tan after sun and okay, okay the yum after the melt of chocolate on your hot happy tongue. (love these? See links below!)

love us?...find us here:
stunning flower and brass cameo cuff
pretty brown child angel art print
tiger eye beads dragonfly bracelet
custom wedding dress and sheer shrug
smoky topaz cluster bracelet
1950s vintage purse mock bamboo handle
devotional reflections journal
candy leaves cake decoration
tangerine orange brown swing dress
sky above boarding school attic photo
brown eyed girl painting
hourglass organic multi-use dress

Wanda Eve

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Incredible Soothing Power of Food

Raspberry Banana Muffins
day 103

I grew up in a house of cooks. My mother was the main one, a woman who would routinely bake biscuits and fruit pies, pot roasts, Cornish hens and bourbon brown sugar crusted hams. My father was an organic gardener routinely harvesting heirloom tomatoes, peaches, basil and lavender and capable of making the best BLT on the eastern seaboard. At an early age, my mother ceded cookie baking to me; this led to my own  allegiance to those who love their moments of creating in the kitchen. As women were fleeing kitchens and most men learning to eat more and more manufactured meals at home and in restaurants, I was dreaming of a kitchen with every spice known on every continent and cobalt blue bowls for mixing salads and breakfast breads.

As my father continues his painstaking journey to good health I am reminded of the soothing power of food. So much of what we eat is garbage ... processed, made by others in factories where human hands neither stir nor touch.  

When I make mashed potatoes or roll lemons for lemonade I am so often reminded of my childhood. When I bake muffins, I think about summers running in the yard then going in to wash up and eat at the family table. I think about catching fire flies in mayonnaise jars, and jumping rope and eating popsicles on the porch. Mostly, I think about good things.

Good night friends,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Warm Earthy Soaps

Tuesday in the Studio
day 102
Autumn is coming and with it the pouring in of orders that make you think.... Yum! Cool nights, warm toasty fires and lots  and lots of crawling under the quilts. Not to mention cranberry jelly and the spiking of oranges with fresh cloves. 

Pictured here are Pomegranate Hearts in River Girls blend of cranberry and pomegranate, and Tangerine Patchouli. Both available at our main store and our little ETSY shop!

Sweet Dreams,
Wanda Eve

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stupid Storm Tricks

From the Vault of Things I Do Not Understand
day 101

Some days I think, "Yep, as they go, I am a pretty smart cookie."

It's not just the lovely education my parents worked diligently to encourage, one orchestrated by nuns fluent in Latin and hard knocks attitude, an up north college education in Maine and then two grueling years at the Kennedy School. I have an obsessive brain and frankly, I simply like to know things. So it always gives me pause and concern when I don't get something seemingly

Hurricane Coverage, especially the part when a reporter dressed in LL Bean thigh high fishing boots stands in the middle of 65 mph gale force winds and three feet of water and announces, "As you can see, it's now beginning to rain very hard here!"

I know networks feel as though they have to "one up" each other, but honestly it's annoying and reckless. Perceived public appetite for these YOU ARE THERE! scenarios is overrated. A camera on practically every American street corner is sufficient enough for me to "get it." That guy's house is streaming down the street, that lamp post is wobbling.  That Dunkin Donuts is not selling any donuts any time soon. Watching a reporter get swept out to sea is--- trust me--totally unnecessary. 

As for the fabulous YouTube video, I'm not sure which was more hilarious, the half naked guys running through his feed or him standing out there chastizing others. Irony you are a cruel, cruel mistress. 


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Etsy Loved and Found: The Sunday Montage

Pretty Little Pastel
day 100

Sometimes you just want to bury yourself in a pile of pastels. Things that bespeak soft and pretty; things that evoke childhood and the lightness of innocence. The palest yellow and the most ivory of cream clouds, blues and pink hues will guide you there. Just float. (links below)

Love these things? Find the artists and artisans here at the Etsy shops:

Bridal Hat with Bird
River Girls French Flapper Girl Coasters
Handpainted Wine Glasses
Yellow Bee Coin Purse
Ivory Ribboned Hat
Blue Butterfly Earrings
Folk Art Doll
Peace Earrings
Elephant Cards
Blossom Fine Art Photo

Wish to be featured? I received many weekly requests and will consider each. Comment or leave me an email.;-)

good night,

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Downtown Down Time

day 99
Just because I don't write, doesn't mean I am not thinking of you. It just means I'm tired and must lie down in a green field and close my eyes to the blinding hot sun.

xxx ooo

Friday, August 26, 2011

Scrabble Babble

Scrabble Eighty Sixed
day 98

My  weekend SCRABBLE trip to Dover, Delaware has been quashed. All this meteorological tomfoolery--argh, bah, snark.

Pretty Pink Table for Scrabblers Like Me ;-)
The threat of IRENE barreling up the highway has closed many of the East Coast casinos including Atlantic City and Dover. Dover is where I had the best Scrabble time ever last August, including coming first in the Novice Division, 14-4.  

So for this trip --for good luck and out of sheer necessity--I even bought new sundresses for the outing, and anyone who knows me intimately knows how much I despise clothes shopping. Lingerie shopping? Love it, definitely. If I could own 3000 brassieres in different colors laces and patterns I would. China bowls and dishes shopping? Fantastic! Charm bracelets, necklaces and pretty papers-- art stamps and pens? Yum. But clothes? Please. Get near naked in some creepy little room with mirrors and never quite white walls? Get dressed with zippers, tags and security plastics jabbing and stabbing you in the eye and body? Unzip, take off. Get near naked again. Suck your belly in. Wonder why sucking your belly in isn't doing what it's supposed to. Ha! Take it. You can have it.

The good news, however, is that Filenes was dead empty and giving away the store so I succumbed and zipped down the aisle, plucking a pretty yellow and white linen dress with grosgrain yellow belt, a  pink red cotton maxi and two demure sweaters in black and deep violet. 

Now, all I want to do is show off. Not my clothes! My newly, freshly learned words. Words that will spill out of my head and disappear if I don't flip my cards each night between brushing my teeth. So I tiptoe into sleep dreaming about fat seven letter words like bighead, zorilla and araneid.

sleep tight friends,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Good Bye Day

Pittsburgh in the Rain....and by the Numbers
Day 97

Love it? ETSY Artist Here!
Time of Departure : 4:17 am
Time of Arrival: 8:30 am
Times Storm Clouds Opened Just to Return to Sun: 3
Stops for coffee: 2
Sugars in Collective Coffees: Zero
Large unrelated women seen at turnpike stops with small toy dogs: 3
Dorm Floor: Lucky 7
Number of Roommates: 1
Dimensions of Picture Window looking out on Green: Who knows but huge!
Number of times Our House by Crosby Steels and Nash was played: 2
Number of times Vivaldi Spring was Played: 3
Price of Premed and Required Course Text Books: $457.00 50% new and 50% used. Percentage chance that the sale of college textbooks is a total racket akin to running numbers call girls and numbers --100%
Number of items forgotten: 2: The bed pillow and 55 million pounds of protein powder
Number of times the words, "Okay I'm leaving now." were spoken : 3

good night,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back on That Winding Road Through College

Day 96
Daddy & Phillip, circa maybe 1995
Phillip leaves tomorrow for his sophomore year in college and as a participant in the University of Pittsburgh Early Medical School Admit Program. All I can say is, where did the summer go?! He arrived home in April, but it feels like he was here for two weeks. This morning, he ran to the grocery store for me, bought raspberries, chicken breasts and celery for a special lunch I was making and taking to Dad at the hospital. After shopping, he walked to Friendship Heights for his school blood tests, then showered and accompanied me to the hospital.  

I will miss his incredible energy and constant ability to step to the plate in crisis. I will miss that he doesn't care what kind of work he is doing.  Be it counseling 5 year olds, scooping ice cream or jumping from a truck, and mowing lawns in 100 degree heat, he rarely complains. I will miss his ridiculous jokes and huge noise, his asking for advice, his growing astute read of others and a willingness to let others be themselves. I think he will make a fine physician. 

Now chuckle. Go ahead. What I probably won't miss is my water and electric bills jumping 30%, my groceries disappearing two days after a full shop, my repeating myself  and him always managing to find the one last sweet I have secretly stashed for later--be it a bakery raisin bagel or a piece of caramel chocolate.  

Still we are a kick ass duo, and even though he now towers over me and let's me rest my head on his shoulder without flinching, I get to be the boss. Bye Phillip. You are always in my HEART! Keep knocking 'em dead ;-)

Be good friends, ;-),

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

W is for Whimsical

Day 95
This morning I made my "bicycle soaps." They are so adorable and are scented with my signature summer fragrance: Sierra Sunset, a ginger honey and peach scent. I love
these soaps because they answer my craving for whimsical things. When life is particularly demanding or trying, I've discovered as an artist and writer that pursuing projects full of lightheartedness and simple loveliness can be soothing--almost therapeutic. It says there is fun and beauty yet to be had in this life. Despair not. Things that make you smile and giggle are on the way.

Wanda Eve

Love the folk doll? See it here at Etsy! Dying to eat those s'mores. Whip up a batch of your own. Recipe here!

Monday, August 22, 2011

As I Sit Here Contemplating Your Butt...

This is not an Emily Post Poem
day 94

Love love love the shirt Sir! Get it here!
I am sitting in the operating waiting room. Any minute, the surgeon duo will arrive, smiling their self assured smiles that tell me, "We've got this. We didn't kill your dad. Heck we might have even saved his life."

But in the meantime, I am staring at a very young couple. Her hair is  swept up in a tight glossy bun. She is dressed in a pretty linen oatmeal colored dress, sleeveless and tied with a ribbon belt. She is very pregnant and the short dress made shorter by her protruding belly. But it's the boyfriend who catches my eye. He is wearing a backwards baseball cap, classic polo shirt and belted khaki pants on his thin body. The pants have been deliberately pulled down below his flat buttocks to display blue striped boxer shorts. No matter which way he moves, stands or slouches, it appears as though any minute the slacks will slip down to the ground.

As the couple departs with their mothers, one mom chides the pregnant girl for wearing such a short dress. "Girl that is not a dress, it's a tee shirt. You pregnant now you better start dressing like it." She looks at me for confirmation of the point, shaking  her head and smiling. I am dumbfounded and annoyed.

Oy.  I wish I had been wearing this fabulous shirt that day.

Good night friends,

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Etsy Loved and Found: The Sunday Montage

All Wrapped Up in Red
day 93

When you hear the word RED you may think STOP, for red heralds caution at the traffic light, but Stop for long? Hardly! Not you, because here comes that other red, the red of passion and life-giving blood. The red of blushes and blooming pouts.  The red of velvet boxes spilling of cherry chocolates. It's always Oh So pronounced. There's nothing pallid, wane or hushed here. Red rushes in. (links below for these lovely finds.)

Want your work to be featured in the Sunday montage or daily pages? Drop me a comment or email. Only a handful are selected; point me to your most dazzling items. ;-) 

Bird Art Collage Print
Cherry Quartz Earrings
Red Daisy Card
Chinese Necklace
Trend setting Girl in Vintage Earl Grey coat
Oscar Wilde quote Print. If you are not too long...
Red Glass Vintage Earrings
Red felt and leather Handmade Purse
River Girls Deep Berry & Patchouli Williamsburg Night Soap
Red Handmade Journal

Have a good evening; paint it red.
Wanda Eve
copyright 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Soap Struck

day 92
Virtual Violations
Stalking the stalker

By Wanda Fleming
Washington Post Magazine
First Published: Sunday, August 10, 2008
River Girls Apricot Baby Oats

POSTED AT 1 A.M., the e-mail simply states: "I found your Web site. I want to buy your sweetest soap and move it up your thighs. I want my mouth washed out. What scent do you suggest?"

My heart stops.

I have two consuming vocations: handcrafting scented soap and writing. I work on both in a Batcave-like room dubbed The Studio. Cement makes up the floor. Drafts rattle the 100-year-old jalousie windows. But the ambiance is well worth the rent.

Only three people are allowed in this space. The stalker slips in anyway. He finds me through the words I write.

On my retail Web site, my soap cannot simply lather. It fluffs in fat creamy bubbles and soothes with the richness of olive oil. These words are plucked by Internet search engines that bring buyers but also oddballs seeking lasciviousness. They type a string of ordinary words whose meaning turns lewd only in composite, like silky and creamy and girls. They arrive hopeful and leave disappointed after the first page reveals soap. But not my stalker. He stays for hours, poring over each page.

"Who's the freak?" my husband asks, pointing his coffee mug at the message.

I immediately dismantle the blog linked to my Web page. I pull down the photos of my children digging for blue glass on the beach and whirling sparklers in the back yard. Then panic turns to vigilante prying.

Who would write such a thing, and to a woman miles away, married with children?

I know his name already. Bizarrely, he signs his obscene note, as though I might become his pen pal. He doesn't know this, but like most business Web sites, mine tracks every visitor. It discloses when he arrives, what pages he views and how long he lingers. It doesn't divulge names but often reveals the location, be it Austin or Stockholm. Sometimes, it pinpoints with disturbing exactitude. This is the case with my stalker.

With his town and name in hand, I immediately crawl the search engines. There are about 100 men in the United States with his name. Only five spell it the way he does.

Only one resides in this small town, a place whose chamber of commerce Web site boasts 1950s friendliness and low crime rates. In one photo, blond children run though leaf piles. In another, an elderly couple sits on a bench licking vanilla ice cream cones. The major realty agency suggests a three-bedroom ranch house costs $157,000. It lists six open houses this weekend.

My stalker's name appears on a city agency government roster. He is a high-level manager and has won performance awards for leadership and peer training. A photo shows him flanked by colleagues as he accepts a Lucite plaque. He is gangly with pink-rimmed eyes and thinning hair the color of preserved salmon.

According to his church's Web site, he also sings in a choral society. He recently attended his high school reunion, where he and his wife danced to Frank Sinatra.

My mind races with the brimming dossier. I contemplate writing him back. I'll tell him I'm an FBI agent with black belt expertise! I'll tell him that I know where he lives and what his spouse's name is. I'll say: "Leave me alone, creep; I know your wife plays bridge! I see from your neighborhood community center that she's quite the card shark!"

Whatever his peccadilloes, my stalker looks oddly happy as he swings his wife around the high school gym floor. Round and round they go, beaming like children on a Disney teacup ride.

I delete his message.

That night in the shower, the water cascades down my back. I close my eyes as the scent of soap wafts beyond the curtain.

"What happened today?" my husband asks between the slosh and spittle of his toothpaste.

"Not much," I call out, rinsing the lather from my shoulders. "I found that guy, is all."
Good night.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Kindness of Schedules and Brownies!

River Girls Apricot Wildflower Soap
Feed Me.
day 91

During the past two weeks of Dad's illness, I have been spending several hours a day at the hospital. The sudden  topsy-turvyness of this has taken me out of my Studio where happy hours slip by as I pour soap, whip cream and design pretty stamped cards. Meanwhile, the kitchen has remained dimly lit and clean. The clockwork River Road life where I have a healthy dinner on the table at 6 pm has been challenged ruthlessly. Fast food meet my family. 

River Girls "Happy Birthday 'Dahling' " Card
in Autumn Poppy. Here, step one drying in the Studio ...
Cards Coming Soon to Etsy!
Today, however, I was able to arise early and sneak into the Studio to produce a batch of Apricot Wildflower Soap and to begin stamping the new Poppy Orange version of River Girls best selling Audrey Hepburn Birthday Card! In times of great stress, artistic work is a small mercy.

 After spending the afternoon with Dad, I made garlic bread and a crusty broiled herbal salmon with sliced canteloupe and watermelon.

So imagine my surprise --in the midst of cooking--to a find a box awaiting me. At first I thought it was simply Studio supplies, and I set it on the table along with the other mail piling up.  But guess again.  Inside were beautifully layered caramel chocolate brownies, lots and lots of them.  

I am not a big shopper; I don't want tons of trinkets and room space I'll never need and have to clean. Sometimes, all I want is a good night's sleep, to rest under a skylight lit by stars, the sound and smell of the ocean, and brownies--- oh yes...really good brownies. Thanks to Kathleen my internet college friend for surprising me, and for thinking of us. We are eating them tonight with unabashed abandon. ;-)

Goodnight Friends,

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Theft: The Kid, the Fizz, the Mom

Day 90
Stop, Thief
By Wanda E. Fleming 
(First Published: Sunday, September 13, 2009 
Washington Post)

River Girls Italian Orange Mocha Chocolate Soap
Years ago, I witnessed a woman in a super-market stuff lamb chops down her coat. Though clumsy, the theft was swift. She moved on, clutching her bodice and holding a basket, empty but for canned peas. I froze, thinking how sad, how odd, how cold that meat on her chest must feel.

"Do you think she was a klepto or just hungry?" my husband asked as I unloaded groceries onto the kitchen counter.

"I don't know," I offered.

The woman was tiny, with a body that had surely once been touted as petite or gamine. Now she stooped and had tracing-paper skin with veins that looped to an interstate of purple and green.

"Should I have said something?"

"Like what?" he asked. " 'Stop, thief!'?"

Today is different. Before the act unfolds, I sense it coming. I'm scanning the drugstore shelf for my favorite deodorant, the super-industrial kind that will artificially plug my pores, taking me dryly from teacher conferences to preparing a dinner for my in-laws. As I search the containers, I see him -- a child of 9 or 10, 11 at the most.

He and I stand in a chain pharmacy. It sits in a well-to-do neighborhood of popular restaurants that serve not food but "cuisine" and shrimp that is never spicy fried but "Crispy Dangerous." Here students from the nearby schools flood in before morning classes. They congregate and gossip, sometimes chatting to a hornet's buzz. And they buy what passes for breakfast: potato chips, cupcakes and dye-drenched sodas.

Most mornings, a crossed-arm manager stands guard, eyeing the buyers as they crowd the snack-food aisle. But right now, it's so early that the caravan has yet to arrive. It's just me, my deodorant and the boy.

It's his dawdling that rouses my attention. Blinking furtively, he peers at me, then over his shoulder. In his third pass of back-and-forth glancing, he gambles on my seemingly intent hunt for toiletries. He unzips the front pocket of his knapsack and thrusts in a bottle of orange soda. But a glitch ensues. The pocket is too short, the bottle too tall. He fails to calculate that the soda must lie at an angle. The zipper refuses to close. Squeeze, push. The seconds tick.

One aisle over shops a police officer who visits the store so often that I know her face immediately. I saw her reading greeting cards. We've already shared morning salutations. Her stern countenance is surpassed only by a severe haircut and biceps so chiseled that any squirming thief could be brought to his knees with one arm twist.

As the child scurries past me with his pilfered beverage, I reach out for the hood of his coat. I pull him in and press my hand on his back.

"Put it back," I say. Though he's the one in trouble, my own heart races. A whimper seeps from his mouth; a gurgle of stuttered syllables follows. "I'm s-s-orry. I'm s-sorry," he repeats.

He sinks to his knees and unzips the pouch. The zipper, never fully shut, now glides open with ease. He stares up and hands me the soda.

I'm struck by the glint of his eyes, framed by lashes so long that the wall of mascara in Aisle 1 lures buyers to compete with what comes to him naturally.

"Do you know why you're giving this back, besides that stealing is wrong?"

Puzzled, he shakes his head.

"Listen, it's not just wrong for you, it's wrong for my son. When he comes in for aspirin or paper towels, the manager follows him. The cops, too. They follow him because of you, because you're stealing."

His eyes widen, then shut. They turn to liquid but never full tears.

"Just leave."

At dinner that night, I recount the event. My young daughter looks up from her plate and asks, "Was he drinking that soda for breakfast?"

"Who knows?" my husband offers. "It's just good you said something. Maybe he'll grow up and be somebody. Maybe he'll be interviewed one day, and he'll say, 'Once, a woman stopped me in my tracks.' "

"Maybe," I murmur.

Many mornings later, I return to the drugstore, this time in search of toothpaste and a razor, the girlie-pink kind purported to glide up soapy calves without nicking delicate skin. At the checkout lane, I stand behind two teens, a girl buying a trio of frosted snack cakes and a boy with a king-size candy bar.

"Got a receipt for that?" the manager barks as they head out, peeling back wrappers.

"They paid," I say. I put on my sunglasses and head into the light.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Making Memories, Baking Memories

day 89

Sweet Recall by Wanda Fleming
SKIRT Magazine, October 2008

Your house smells like cookies.”
That’s what the delivery guy says as he drags in my boxes.
River Girls Lavender Lemon Tea Cakes Soap
For the past year, he has race-walked my pavement in his brown pants and shirt. Today, however, is his last day. He’s going back to school, but first he’s taking a week off to bake cakes.
“Cakes? Really?” I raise my brow.
“Yeah, my mom used to make pound cake and this big monster chocolate cake for our family reunion, but now she’s in a nursing home.”
His mother suffers from dementia, that cruel slight window between a bad memory and Alzheimer’s. Two years ago, she dumped a tablespoon rather than a teaspoon of salt into her prized pound cake. A year later, she misread three cups of milk for eight. Then she couldn’t find the recipes at all.
The delivery guy took over. He recounts digging through a kitchen of clutter, through dog-eared cookbooks missing their spines and magazine clips yellowed and stained. He rescued the recipes.
He admits it. Last year was touch and go. “People stared at me and my cakes. They were daring me to be as good as my mom.”
This year, however, he thinks they won’t have a choice. They’ll be bowled over. He’s been practicing, and his cakes are now near perfect. He knows this because he’s been sneaking samples to his mom.
That’s when she perks up and remembers him best, when they talk cake talk—the right way to sift flour, to whip butter, to spread frosting without pulling up the cake’s top layer like a misplaced carpet.
I’m also baking, which is why he smells cookies. Three hundred sixty four of them, to be exact. Enter the Lemon Bars.
Rife with creases, my own prized recipe has survived a dishwasher spin, censure of its best ingredients by health experts, and two decades of holidays. Other dishes have been abandoned or altered for so-called healthy living.
Meat has gone the way of the graveyard, including my mother’s fried chicken with its paprika-speckled crust. I no longer freeze my father’s yolk-rich ice cream. My chili now boasts a trio of beans: pinto, red and black.
This has been my draconian answer to a dying metabolism. It’s my effort to go down swinging without the curse of breathlessness and an oozing muffin gut. But once a year, like my delivery guy, a family tradition unfolds, and I stoke its every indulgence. 

I purchase new cookie sheets with shiny unblemished surfaces. I buy parchment and wax papers like my South Carolina-born granddaddy, a chef on the railroads, once did. I scour the markets for butter, sugars and lemons. The frenetic baking begins.
Hundreds of cookies, molded and shaped, baked to golden-brown bottoms. The family collection of eight shifts slightly with two new rotated each year. Yet, change is often met with consternation.
“What? White chocolate peppermint patties? Pretty, but where are the macaroons?”
“Molasses crinkles with nutmeg? Nice—but they’re not replacing my peanut butter chews, I hope?!”
Tradition is a taskmaster. The lemon bars, their tart custard poured and baked on a crust, perennially head the leader board. The chocolate chip cookies with their trio of semisweet, milk and white chocolates fall one pace behind.
Oh sure, I hear it. The cacophony of food police. Their members tsk-tsk this cookie fĂȘte—its million grams of cholesterol, its hundred pounds of fat. The animal activists want my soul just for the eggs and butter. National Action Against Obesity thinks I should lavish such care on making certain I annually fit the dress I once wed in. And Dr. Atkins rebukes from his grave at my full-throttle submission to sugar.
And yet for 12 hours, this kitchen swells with conversation and hands. The children occasionally pass through and show off the lessons of earlier years, they roll the lemons and crack the nuts and measure the flour with precision. We whisk the yolks to pale yellow. I roll and press the buttery dough, leaving no rips or tears.
Past midnight with flour in my hair and my helpers long asleep, I fan the lemon bars on platters and begin to sprinkle powdered sugar. This I know I could forgo. I could leave them naked and cut the calories by at least 22.5, but I do not. I sift and layer, and layer again, the flyaway airy sugar. I dust until the tiniest hint of yellow peeks through.
Sometimes food is just remembrance.
Tomorrow the generations will descend on the cookies—the neighbors next door, the 81-year-old in-laws, the nieces, nephews and siblings. They’ll eye the bars and scoop up their favorites just as my delivery guy travels across town to pick up his mother. He’ll drive her along the parkway. The sun will shine through the woods, and they will talk cake talk.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Truth About Volunteering

day 88
The Pause That Refreshes

First things first. Dad had emergency surgery today after a suture ruptured last night. Like my ornery but occasionally amusing sports guy TONY KORNHEISER, I am bringing you for a few days while I try to help Dad get better--"The Best of .." my columns and writings published in honorable publications elsewhere. ;-)

Wanda Eve

Soup's On
We are all hungry, but for what?

By Wanda E. Fleming
Sunday, October 26, 2008 

"Spies always make the worst soup," Darryl mutters. "You're obviously a spy."

Until now, I've been the shelter's helium balloon. I've floated above it all, a yellow smiley face stamped on a Mylar disc. Now I stand accused of espionage and, worse, lousy soup-making. I drift to the floor.

No other volunteer experience has prepared me for this one, not the Earth Day cleanups or candy striping at the children's hospital or the food bank distribution of cornflakes and diapers. All three ventures unfolded the same way: the assisted bubbling over with thanks. This one's different.

I turn from the stove, where I've been ladling bowls of carrots, pasta and broth. It's days before Thanksgiving. Soon, an avalanche of donations will swallow the kitchen. Canned vegetables will stack every inch of floor. Dozens of perishable pies oozing fruit from their slightly damaged boxes will crowd counters. We'll scurry to decide what to do with frozen turkeys dumped on our doorstep minutes before dinner. But for now, I pass off watery soup and day-old baguettes as lunch.

I start to explain to Darryl that a crate of fresh carrots arrived last night. That's why they're firm not soft, but he is unconvinced. "Look, Miss, they ain't firm; they're hard. Typical CIA."

I don't intend to react, but I do. I chuckle. Then a smirk seeps across my face. I, the "spy" of the badly cooked carrots, am thinking, "Look, buddy, you're the hungry one; be grateful."

My accuser is not just homeless, he's a veteran, which evokes indulgence for his moods and paranoia. Sometimes, he's lucid bordering on bookish. Other times, he's cranky and incoherent. Like most of the 20 men who line up for lunch, Darryl appears older than he is. Lines hug his mouth as though decades ago he laughed at everything, even bad jokes, but now he's paused to regret.

He stares at us, the five Saturday servers -- the volunteers. It's as though he has our number, and any minute now he'll say, "I know why I'm here, but why are you?"

He empties his bowl of the uneaten carrot chunks, then heads to the bathroom, a room that always smells of slapdash cleaning and the pine tree deodorizers hung in gypsy cabs. When Darryl rushes out, he nods without words, his trademark goodbye. The bar of soap has disappeared, as have the paper towels, the brown industrial kind.

Fran, the elderly head volunteer, hustles to the bathroom after each man departs and sprays disinfectant to a mushroom cloud. Her voice wafts out with the fumes.

"See. That's why I never buy the good stuff," she shouts. "They always steal it!"

Fran barks at the men, whom we call "guests." As she sets the table and folds their napkins, she tells them where to sit. "Lose the profanity! Take just one roll!"

Still, Fran is the only one willing to walk the blocks to our local bakery and to haggle for day-old loaves. She loads them up in her rattling cart. Friday nights she makes bread pudding, at least two pans, often three.

The other volunteers shake their heads at Fran. They whisper behind her back. "She really hates Darryl," one of them blurts. "Why does she bother coming if is she hates them all so much?"

Soup from one of my favorite blogs!
Catie's Corner. Recipe here.
No one asks why anyone else comes. Service lures with the heady scent of sacrifice -- sacrifice allegedly free of motive. For this reason, I don't say I'm an insomniac, grappling with a faith I no longer fully believe in and seeking an antidote to both ailments. No one points to the college student who serves food as restitution for a drunken driving incident, or the teacher who whispers to me as we chop wilted celery, "You think I'll ever find a nice guy here? . . . Oh, God, I'm getting so old." Though some set the tables and ladle the soup, we are all hungry.

When the men leave, we wash their plates. We sit on the floor drinking leftover coffee. A few eat the government-issued cheese that smells of plastic couch covers. Just as we lower the kitchen lights, banging erupts from the front door. The knocks come hard and fast, with barely a moment to slip back the locks.

It's Darryl.

"I forgot my knapsack," he mumbles
He snatches the bag from the vestibule and turns away. Paper towels peek from the pocket of his cloth coat.

"Hey, Darryl," I say. "See you on Thanksgiving, man."

"Yeah, I guess. You making that cake?"


"Your chocolate cake, you making it?"

"Yeah, sure -- maybe," I say.

"Good, it's better than those carrots."

I ease the door back. He doesn't bubble over; I don't float. For that, I am grateful. I suspect he is, too.