IT’S NEVER TOO LATE

“It’s never too late to live your own dream” – Oprah Winfrey

On the date of her 30th birthday, my niece, Alexa* won her first race in Phoenix, while a short month before, she was seriously injured from a fall from a horse she was racing at the time.

Alexa struggled fiercely to reconsider her decision to give up racing, and had to deal with an emotional breakup with a boyfriend. Additionally, she dealt with a barrage of conflict from a parent, who, perhaps, resented the daughter who had the dream career she herself never had– and frequent attempts to thwart her daughter’s ambitions were couched in false motherly concern.

Alexa moved to Phoenix for that winter and began, again, working with horses, placing 2nd on a Tuesday and 1st the following Saturday.

She is, perhaps, a fine example of pursuing a dream, despite all obstacles. We tell her how proud we are of her many achievements. However, high praise is seldom forthcoming from the one person with whom it would mean the most.

Grandma Moses was an American folk artist;  She began painting in earnest at the age of 78** and is often cited as an example of an individual who successfully began a career in the arts at an advanced age. “Sugaring Off” was sold for US $1.2 million in 2006. 

In my family, we have all had our dreams; sometimes one of us succeeds–when one succeeds, we all share that elusive “win” no matter what it is. Our Aunt Dolly reached fame as  an artist after her children were grown and on their own.  She is our best example  of achieving your goals no matter what your age may be.

And so, I write.  My niece, Alexa, rides.

*Not my niece’s real name.  

** if grandma Moses could do it at age 78…maybe there is hope for me yet!

 

Sandra Lee Smith

 

YOU MAY WONDER

You may wonder, if you are the kind of person who wonders about these things, how come I have the blog name of sandyscookbookchatter….well, the answer is fairly simple although with most things I tend to explain too much and the response gets convoluted.

Some time ago, I spent ten years writing for a newsletter called Cookbook Collectors Exchange—and for the most part, I would review cookbooks that the editor of the CCE would send to me. Her husband passed away from an untimely death in 2001 or 2002 and the newsletter folded.

Then someone suggested to me that I might like writing for Inky Trails, another newsletter that focused primarily on penpals and penpal related matters. The problem with this was, I don’t do “brief” very well – give me a topic and I’ll run it to the ground for you. Wendy, this newsletter editor, suggested to me that I needed a BLOG.

“a BLOG?” I asked. “What on earth is a blog?” – So to prove her point she set up the blog for me and once I began to understand how it worked, I was off and running. When I began posting on that blog, my first one, I still wrote a lot about cookbooks. It was a wonderful experience but somewhere between here and the lamppost, I “lost” that blog and have never been savvy enough to understand how to retrieve it.

So, about a year ago, I managed to create a new blog and continued to use the name of sandyscookbookchatter, even though – about a year ago, I began writing and posting my own poetry. I began finding writing poetry again (never very far from pen & ink) and have found it enormously rewarding – and the responses from readers was equally rewarding. I would find their comments on my earthlink page (although I had no idea what the connection was).


About six months ago, I “lost” my wordpress connection and again, had no idea how or why or what to do about fixing it. These sites always ask me questions about things for which I have no understanding. Domain mapping? There’s a whole new vocabulary out there that I understand about as well as I understand how to change ink cartridges (thankfully, my grandson changed my last black ink cartridge). Three year olds know more about computers and printers than I do.
What can I say? I just want to WRITE. I enjoy writing As a young housewife and mother, my free time was spent writing letters to penpals all over the USA; I still have some of those penpals – one penpal in Michigan, and I connected in 1965 (over a love for cookbooks) and another, in Oregon, since 1971, who shares my birthday with me and back in the day we did a lot of cake baking and exchanging recipes.


Still another penpal, in Oklahoma–we met when my husband and children drove to Ohio that summer and stopped off in Tulsa to meet Penny and her husband Charles and their three sons who met my husband Jim and our four sons. I think that was the summer when, as my father was unloading our car for us, kept asking “Now WHERE did you say you know these people in Oklahoma from?”
(Daddy would have been more nonplussed to learn about my two Canadian penpals for the last thirteen years!)

(Trying explaining penpals to your parents in 1971!—it’s probably on a par with teaching someone like me how a computer and printer work)

So, that’s how sandyscookbookchatter was born.
Still curious? I have JUST discovered that the original http://sandychatter.wordpress.com is still available—I just brought it up and checked out “Before Email” which was posted on June 4, 2016. And all of my cookbook reviews are still online.

Sandra Lee Smith

FINDING MY PLACE IN THE WORLD

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.

~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

In my 78th year of life, I am still discovering that I really don’t know who I am or where I belong. Oh, yes, I have some inklings of myself—like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is yet to be put together.

As a child my singular ambition was to become a writer. When I was in the third grade (and barely literate) I sent a story to My Weekly Reader. It was my first rejection slip; my father opened the piece of mail addressed to me—my father opened all the mail—and put the story, which had been returned, back into the envelope. He never said a word about it. To this day, I have no idea if either one of my parents thought (or suspected) that I might have some writing talent.

I think I was about ten or eleven when my father bought an upright (non-electric) Royal or Underwood typewriter saying it was for my brother Jim and me to use doing our homework. I don’t remember Jim ever using the typewriter. It quickly became “mine” and I mastered two-finger typing which served me well until I took typing classes in high school and had to unlearn two-finger typing. I became very proficient using the electric typewriters we had in class and my teacher, a woman who was also a lawyer and worked in downtown Cincinnati—encouraged my writing and sometimes read the stories.

AnotherMercy classmate, named Carol, and I could do what we pleased in class as long as we turned in all of the typing assignments on Friday. We DID all of our typing assignments on Fridays.

My American History teacher, Esther Schwach, also read some of my stories and encouraged me to write. By now, one supposes, if I had enough talent I would have written a book by now. Instead my 3-ring binders are packed with poetry and essays, and most of my writing is on a blog. I could use the excuse that I was married to a man (for 26 years!) who thought I had no talent to write (even though he never read any of it) and constantly discouraged and disparaged my efforts. When we divorced, I bought a computer and said NOW I AM GOING TO WRITE.

And write I did, even though none of what I envisioned for myself as a writer. I was “discovered” by a woman who published a newsletter for cookbook/recipe people and I was given carte blanche to write whatever I felt like writing. And I took to heart that saying “write what you know best” – I knew cookbooks and recipes and I found myself apt at producing articles about things such as White House recipes, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (who gained her most success writing what SHE knew best – a place in Cross Creek Florida – for which she became famous writing The Yearling, Cross Creek, and Cross Creek Cookery. I wish I could have known her.

I wrote about American pioneers crossing the wilderness of our country and what they cooked and ate—and called it Kitchens West. I wrote about the religious groups that formed in the 1800s and how their growing crops and making furniture and what they cooked –made an impact on this young country. I began writing about the cookbook authors I admired the most. I wrote cookbook reviews. I did this kind of writing for ten years and when it folded, I was discovered by someone who wrote a newsletter for seniors and women—and began writing pieces about the kitchen. Then my editor of Inky Trail News, the newsletter for seniors—set up a blog for me so that all I needed to go was go to it and write. So, that is what I am doing to this day. I am writing.

What thrills me most is that gradually, over time, I have received messages on my blog from people who were related to or friends of the cookbook authors I have been writing about. There is a wonderful validation in this.
So, is this how I am finding my place in the world? Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe I have not yet found my real place in the world. How old was Grandma Moses when she became famous for her paintings? 78!) How old was my aunt when she began to paint? How old was my other aunt when she found a career in midlife on the subject of graphology? Might I not say – I am only 78. I have only just begun.

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. “But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates”. ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973. (I love this quote!–Italics mine!)

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself”. ~Alan Alda

– Sandra Lee Smith

Originally composed 2012,
Updated May 18, 2019

NAMES PEOPLE SAY LIKE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

He called me “Babe”,

a name that no one

had ever used before,

and on his lips,

I really was a Babe,

hot lips at forty-four,

feeling desired–and

desirable,

and when he tired

of saying “Babe”,

then he called me “Shorty”

while I gave him several

different names–

“Babe” was certainly one of them,

but mostly I called him”Cowboy”

Sandra Lee Smith/undated


WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO?

Where would you like to go? he asked,

Opening brochures, booklets and maps,

“Perhaps to Paris? to London? to Perth?

New York or Miami, or Dallas Fort Worth?”

“The world is your oysters” he said with a smile,

“I can book you a flight in just a short while!”

I thought about Scotland, New Zealand, and Spain–

And then I thought “why not travel by train ?”

I could fly to Alaska and then ride a train,

Five hundred miles and then back once again–

Perhaps I would go on the Orient Express–

Or wait! I always wanted to see Bangladesh!

I thought about Berlin, Zurich and Rome!

I’d see everything and never come home!

And what about countries like Finland and Greece?

Holland, Argentina, and at the very least,

Sweden and Norway, Finland and then–

Canada, before coming back home again.

The agent’s eyes had dollar signs shining,

The trips he would book, it was just like gold-mining,

but his face was crestfallen when he heard what I said;

I think I’ll stay home and just read my atlas in bed!”

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally written in June, 2009

IN THE KITCHEN

My entire life has been centered on the kitchen. As a very young child, about eight or nine years old,, my mother turned me loose in the kitchen – this would have been our house on Sutter Street where my parents bought their first home of their own.

I really didn’t appreciate the enormity of this gesture until I was in high school at Mother of Mercy and I discovered that most of my girlfriends had mothers who never allowed them free reign in the kitchen.

The first thing I attempted to make were muffins. I didn’t listen to my mother’s admonition to leave the bowl on the kitchen table. No, I wanted to hold the bowl in the crook of my arm–I think I saw that in a magazine ad–while I mixed the batter. Well, I dropped the yellow Pyrex bowl on the kitchen floor, shattering the bowl and the batter. I think it took me about a year to buy my mother another set of Pyrex bowls (You couldn’t buy just one bowl–you had to buy the entire set at a 5 & 10 cent store which I think might have cost $2.98.

Undaunted, I would go through my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen cookbook–the only cookbook she owned at the time, and I would search through recipes looking for a recipe that happened to contain the same ingredients we had in the pantry. This was in the 1940s and you didn’t go to the grocery store for ingredients–the list of ingredients had to match whatever was in our pantry.

I still have that batter-stained cookbook with some of the pages coming loose from the binding. I’ve since found a nice pristine copy of Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook but it doesn’t evoke the same emotions that I get from my mother’s Service cookbook.

I had two childhood girlfriends, Patty and Carol Sue, but my mother always worked so the three of us used my mother’s kitchen to experiment in. I had two younger brothers who would sit on the back steps and eat up any of our mistakes–burnt cookies, whatever. I got into more than one heated discussion about the merits of cooked frosting versus “raw”–since it was my mother’s kitchen I won most of those arguments–besides, it was my younger brothers who were eating up our mistakes.

I was about the same age when I discovered you could send away for a lot of free recipe booklets. Postcards were a penny each–if you had ten cents you could buy ten penny post cards.

Free recipe booklets were advertised on the backs of boxes and cans, such as Hershey’s cocoa. I began sending away for free recipe booklets and soon had a shoebox full of recipe booklets from Calumet and Quaker Oats

THE YEAR OF NO CHRISTMAS COOKIES

NO CHRISTMAS COOKIES THAT YEAR!

  By the time my first son, Michael, was five and his brother Steve was two, we were living in a rented house in North Hollywood and it was while we were living atthat house on Kittridge street that I began collecting cookbooks—and was really into cookie baking by that time. I had acquired a lot of Wilton decorating tips and began learning how to make little flowers, like violets, with royal frosting, to put on cookies. Just before Christmas in 1965, I embarked on asugar cookie baking marathon. I planned to give cookies to friends as well ascoworkers at Weber Aircraft where both Jim and I were employed.  After hundreds of sugar cookies were baked and cooled, I began frosting them, one night, like an assembly-line, coveringall the table and counter tops with trays of frosted cookies.  When at last the cookies were all decoratedwith butter cream frosting, I left them out to dry overnight. I collapsed in bed around 3 am.

The next day, I got up to discover that Michael had eaten the frosting off of everysingle cookie.  Every – single –cookie.  Needless to say, no one receivedgift tins of cookies from the Smiths that year. To add insult to injury, Michael didn’t even get a tummy ache from all that sugar.  So, even though I may not beable to describe the many different cookies I made for most Christmasses overthe past 50 years, I can certainly tell you the story of the year no one received cookies from us.

In a homemade recipe journal I found in a used book store in the mid-60s, I was impressed with the author’s lists – lists of guests for parties, lists of everything that had been served – and lists of the cookies and confections she cooked and baked to give to friends for the holidays. So, I began keeping lists also. I’ve kept a Christmas notebook for years—it helps me remember who received what so that I don’t give that person the same thing two years in a row.  So for whatever it’s worth- here is a list of my Christmas cookies for 1981:

Chocolate chip

Chocolate cut out

Butter cut out

Mexican wedding cakes

Lebkuchen  

Oatmeal ice box

1 dough 8 ways *bon bons

Peanut blossoms

Rum raisins

Butter pecan

Gingerbread boys

Almond icebox slices

Sun giant raisin

Cinnamon stars

Spritz

Truffles, 2 kinds

Sugared almonds

Mint walnuts

Candy pecans

Pralines

Peanut butter balls

Texas fruit cake

Madelines

What this list tells me is that not much has changed in thirty years. Many of these recipes are the same ones I’m still baking! And the mint walnuts became afavorite when my penpal in Oregon sent me small bottles of mint oil, from their mint crop. (although any kind of mint oil will work). Those are really not a“cookie” but what you might call a confection.

–SandraLee Smith  

UPDATED 12-9-18