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My son, B-man, is graduating from college in a few weeks. He’s doing what we’ve been calling his victory lap this year. In general parlance, he’s a fifth-year senior. Whatever you call it, he’s definitely ready to be finished with college and move on. And, as you might guess, Tom and I feel much the same. Not that we minded a fifth year. We actually encouraged it, but five is enough.

B-man is a very bright kid, but he hates to read. It causes me physical pain to type those words. But it’s true. I actually raised a child who doesn’t like to read. But, for the purposes of this post, that’s beside the point. Being a reluctant-reader, as you can imagine, has made certain college courses more than a bit painful for the boy. Two classes, in particular, felt so daunting to him, he kept putting them off until this, his last, semester when he had no other option but to enroll. The classes? Western Civilization I and II. Yes, you read that right. The two college courses required on most U.S. university campuses in which the student must read the works of Homer, Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Sophocles, Genesis, Paul, Job…you get the idea. Clearly, not easily read works for a voracious reader, much less for a reluctant one, and the child is trying to do both courses in the same semester!

He’s taking Western Civ II through one of the local community colleges as a night class. Lots of class discussion, short weekly papers, friends in the class to study with. He’s making an A.

It’s a much different story for Western Civ I which he’s taking online through KU. He’s definitely not making an A in Western Civ I. This is a class presented by an ivory-tower academician who also happens to be the author of the textbook used in the course, a textbook, by the way, that is unavailable in the edition referred to in the course outline. A class in which the student reads a lot, writes a paper, takes a test, and starts reading some more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the instructor is perfectly brilliant (although she should update the course outline), but the format of the course is not the best construct for a reluctant reader who has senior-itis in the worst way, who put off taking the class until his last semester in college and even worse put off starting on the course until the end of March even though he knew he would have three papers and two tests to complete before May 2, and that’s not counting the other 12 hours he’s enrolled in. It hasn’t been a total disaster, but it’s turning into a nail-biter. Am I ranting? Am I hysterical? Sigh. It’s B-man’s fault. It’s all B-man’s fault. I don’t argue that point for one second, but I need the kid to graduate. Now! So…

I’m acting as his tutor. For all intents and purposes, I’m taking the class along with him. I read what he reads. We talk. I help him organize his ideas and outline his papers. We talk some more. We read some more. We meet in the library. We send text messages. I dig around in the stack of my old college textbooks to find my copies of Aristotle, Plato, and the rest, which…finally…brings me to Middle English and exploding heads. The texts for the last portion of the class include one of my favorite stories: Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath.” Woooo Hoooo! I headed straight to my bookshelf to find my copy. If you’ve not read the story, The Wife of Bath is a widow, five times over, with a salty mouth and an in-your-face attitude you don’t expect to find in literature from that time period. I love her. As an English major in college, I was required to read Chaucer in Middle English, so I thought little about doing it again this time. What a dope. Literally, what a dope. After a page or two, I began feeling like one of the fembots in the Austin Powers movie. Remember them? The ultra-groovy female robots with high-caliber boobies who try to destroy Austin by seducing him? He turns the tables on them, using his mojo to short-circuit their wiring. Before it’s all over, the poor fembots heads bobble frantically around on their shoulders and then their heads explode? Just blow right off their shoulders? Yeah? You remember? Well, that was me a few pages into Chaucer. Bobble, bobble, bobble. kaBLAM! How in the world did I ever manage Chaucer in Middle English? Have that many of my brain cells wilted and fallen out of my ears? How does that happen? It was humbling. That’s all I can say. Humbling. But The Wife of Bath? She’s still a total hoot. Even in Modern English.

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At the request of several friends and a recent reader, I’m posting the recipe I’ve been using to make Sticky Date Pudding. I hope you enjoy it (and the moaning from your guests) as much as I do!

 Sticky Date Pudding

Pudding (serves eight):

250g (1 cup) pitted dates, chopped
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1½ cups boiling water
125g (½ cup) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1¾ cups White Wings Self-Raising Flour, sifted

 

Caramel Sauce:

 

1 cup brown sugar
300ml (1 1/3 cup) thickened cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
60g (¼ cup) butter   

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 180° C/350°  F. Grease and line the base of a 7cm deep, 22cm (base) cake pan.
Place dates and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Pour in boiling water. Allow to stand for 20 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Using a large metal spoon, fold through date mixture and flour until well combined.

Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Back for 35 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn onto a plate.

Make sauce. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until sauce comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 2 minutes.

Pierce pudding all over with a skewer. Pour ½ cup of warm sauce over warm pudding. Stand for 10 minutes. Cut into wedges. Serve with remaining sauce and double cream.

I sincerely hope that you have someone in your life who makes you laugh out loud at least once a day. For me, that someone is Tom, the hubby. Tom has many fine qualities, but his most endearing has to be his ability to find humor in nearly every situation, even when the laugh ends up being at his expense. In the more than 10,230 days we’ve been married, it’s no exaggeration to say he’s made me laugh audibly at least 10,000 of them. Yesterday was no exception.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was working in my home office with the windows open. It was a gorgeous spring day, so it came as no surprise that Tom headed straight to the bedroom when he got home from work to swap his dress slacks and pinpoint Oxford for his “play” clothes. On his way back down the hall, he stuck his head in the office and said, “I’m going outside to mow.” Because I was distracted with my own project, I heard the words, but I didn’t absorb their meaning. At most, I managed a grunt in response.

A few minutes later, when I heard Tom ratting around down in the basement and heard the mower start, the neurons in my brain finally fired, and all I could think was, “Oh, crap. I hope he doesn’t try to mow behind the willows.”

We live on just a little over an acre– most of which is high and dry–but the very back of our lot includes a swale that gets downright swampy after a really heavy rain or rapid snow melt. Years ago, we planted a bunch of willows in and around the low spot thinking the water-loving trees would soak up the excess moisture and hide the muddy mess from the rest of the yard during the soggy seasons. It was an un-characteristically brilliant bit of landscaping. The willows have done exactly what we hoped they would do, which means there are truly very few times when the ground is so soggy you can’t maneuver through the swale on foot or on the mower. But still…there are times…

As I mentioned, yesterday afternoon was perfect. Perfect temperature. Perfect blue sky. Perfect southernly breeze. However, the day hadn’t started out that way. The morning had been grey and dreary. More than two inches of rain had fallen overnight onto ground that was already struggling to absorb the rainwater from previous storms. For the last several weeks, walking on the golf course has been like walking on a sponge. Even our yard–which normally drains really well–is squishy in spots where it normally isn’t squishy. Under the circumstances, I wasn’t surprised when I could see standing water under the willows from clear up on the back porch. Surely, Tom wouldn’t take the mower down into that mess, I thought to myself. Surely.

I heard Tom engage the mower blade and head out into the yard. Without giving his activity another thought, I turned my attention back to the computer and began scanning the screen to see where I’d left off. I had just managed to recapture my train of thought when…WEEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEEEE, waaaaaa, WEE WEEEEE, Waaaaaaa…I froze…WEEEE, waaaa, WEEEEEEEE, waaaaaa…you have got to be shitting me…I got up from my chair and walked over to the window…WEEEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEEEE, waaaaaa, WEEEEEEE…oh, for the love of …sure enough, Tom and the mower were in the middle of bog, the mower buried up to its back axle in slime…WEEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEEEE, waaaaaaaaa…Tom was trying to rock the mower out of the mud much like you would rock a car out of deep snow…WEEEEEE, waaaaaa, WEEEEEE…I stood there and watched…WEEEEE, waaaaaaa, WEEEEE, waaaaaaa. I repeat, you have got to be shitting me.

After a few minutes, Tom finally grasped the futility of the situation and shut the mower off. He stepped down off the deck of the mower and into the mud, picking his way gingerly through the willows to the near side of the swale and firmer ground. Oh, and did I mention he was wearing baloney-slice-slick flip-flops? Once on solid soil, he stomped back up toward the house–I guarantee you, cussing all the way–so I returned to my desk. I knew what was coming.

“mary?…MARY!”

“Yes?”

“Can you help me?”

Here’s where things get dicey. We live in a neighborhood of large lot homes. Around here, manhood is measured not by the size of a man’s kick-stand, but by the size of his lawn mower. Mower attachments–seed spreaders, aerators, tillers, snow plows–all earn a guy bonus points. I’m not joking. Tom put a good size riding mower on lay-away two days after we signed the contract to have the house built, weeks before the builder even had a chance to start scratching around in the dirt. But mower fever didn’t stop there. A few years after we moved in, Tom succumbed  to mower envy and bought (cue the heavenly music) The Grasshopper, a professional zero-turn radius mower with a 60-inch deck. We’re talking a manly mower here. He attempted to whitewash the whole business by claiming he’d bought it for our son to use as a way of earning some money, and, admittedly B-man did earn much of his mad money and a good chunk of his college tuition running a rather lucrative mowing business while he was in high school and college, but that’s beside the point.

Tom wanted that mower. He loves that mower. He loves to mow. And, in his defense, I understand why. Tom works in a profession where most projects morph into different projects before they can be completed. He rarely gets to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a project through to the finish line. With mowing, he gets to complete a project in 45 minutes or less. The grass is long. He gets on the mower and runs it around the yard. The grass is short. The job is done. Ahhhh.

But, again, that’s all beside the point. The point is I can’t drive the dang thing. There’s no steering wheel or anything remotely similar to a steering wheel and/or a shifter to get it to move forward, go in reverse, or turn in the direction you want to go. What it does have is two inverted L-shaped levers, one on either side of the driver’s seat, that you push and pull and yoink around in various combinations to get the mower to move in the direction you want it to go. The two front wheels spin spastically in all directions, and the back tires are so wide you can’t possibly keep them from running over flower beds or getting caught in the neighbors fence. And here was Tom, standing at the top of the stairs, asking if I could help him. Sheezzz. The possibilities weren’t good. The way I figured it, my options were either to stand in the muck and push while Tom splattered me with mud or to get on the mower and try to get it to do what I needed it to do without leaving Tom face down in the gunk or, worse, under the mower. Decisions, decisions.

I followed Tom downstairs and donned a pair of B-man’s huge rubber boots. Tom shoved his bare feet into an equally oversized pair, and we began our trek to the back of the yard, clomping along like a couple of goobers. As we walked, Tom kept looking at me like he expected me to say something, but what was there to say? There was no need to state the obvious.

The decision as to which role I would play in the recovery mission was easy once we reached the mower. The mud stunk. There was NO way I was going to end up covered in that stuff, so I climbed on the mower, and Tom gave me a review lesson on operating the mower while I kept thinking, “Holy crap. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. Holy crap.” After several anxious minutes of cussing and grunting and pushing and cussing some more, the mower was out, the newly formed ruts in the yard were rapidly filling with water, and we were on our way back up to the house. This time, when Tom looked in my direction, waiting for me to say something, I couldn’t help but smile.

“What?!” he almost yelled.

“What do you mean, ‘What?'” I started snickering. We’ve been married 28 years. He knew what I was thinking. It started with a “dumb” and ended with an “ass.” We kicked off our muddy boots at the edge of the patio. He grabbed the hose and began blowing the mud off the boots as I climbed the stairs, laughing harder with each step. But the time I reached the top step, I was gasping for air. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t laughing then. I couldn’t have heard him over my own guffaws even if he was, but, in typical Tom-fashion, he’s laughing and making snarky comments about the whole escapade now. As I said, it’s a very endearing quality.

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In my previous life, my to-do lists were generated by the demands of a busy family and exacerbated by my professional life: get the laundry done, finish the user documentation for Client X, shop for the ingredients for the taco casserole you’re taking to the soccer banquet, compile and distribute the meeting agenda for Organization Y, call and invite Prospective Customer Z to lunch next week to discuss possible projects. If I failed to check an item off the list, I ran the risk of causing a problem for a family member, a client, or my business. Now that my children are grown and gone and I no longer have a “professional life,” per se, the items on my list are all of my own creation and have little potential for impacting others negatively if I fail to get them done. So, why in the world am I stressing out over checking off the tasks? For that matter, why do I even bother to make lists in the first place? One word. Guilt.

I’m finding I feel just as much pressure to make my lists and be as “productive” now as I did when I was working. Actually, I feel more pressure to be productive, in large part–I suppose–because I’m not contributing financially to the household anymore. No paycheck, huh? No, but I’m baking homemade cookies and tackling home improvement projects and preparing yummy, nutritious meals every evening and writing every day and…and…  Ironically, no one around here but me cares that I’m not employed and adding to the family coffers at the moment. No one around here has ever complained about the lack of homemade goodies or the projects that have gone undone in the past. So why the guilt? Why can’t I sit down to read a book, stretch out on the couch for a hour-long afternoon nap, or watch the Barefoot Contessa make yummy chicken pot pies and enjoy myself? Actually, I would be lying if I said I never take an afternoon snooze or that I never watch my favorite cooking show. It’s just that I do those things sparingly and never do them without feeling guilty. I can never just “be” without guilt raising its ugly mug and ruining what, by all accounts, should be a pleasurable past time.

Strangely–and maybe fortunately–the guilt comes in multiple strengths. For example, I can sit down and read a book or magazine article without guilt if I’m reading the book as part of my research for a writing piece. That type of reading is productive, right? I can sit down and read a book with minimal guilt if I’m reading the book for my book club. Not income-producing maybe, but still productive. Read purely for pleasure? Now that is clearly non-productive. Guilty! I’ll give you another example. I feel guilty if I go out and play golf during the day without Tom. However, I can lessen the guilt if I walk instead of ride. Then the round can be considered exercise, and that’s productive, right? As for naps, I still haven’t figured out a way to rationalize those. No matter how good I feel physically after a nap, I always feel I need an excuse for having taken it even if no one asks for one. It’s goofy. I know it’s goofy, but I can’t seem to make it stop.

I suspect there are many like me. I know at least one, a dear friend who lost her job a couple of months ago. Before three weeks had passed, she had–among a number of other smaller projects–cleaned out every closet in her house, cleaned and re-organized her entire basement, and re-painted her living room and dining room. Now, with all of her home improvement projects completed, she’s offering to help me with mine. She’s nuts. We’re kindred spirits.

With the exception of vacation days, I don’t know if I’ll ever learn to fully enjoy “non-productive” days. Even though I love the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a particularly productive day, I can’t help but think I would be healthier and happier if I could occasionally embrace a day–or part of a day–in which all I’ve managed to do is enjoy the singing birds, the setting sun, the building storm clouds, the back of my eyelids, and/or the company of my favorite author. Without guilt.

Two weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a nasty headache. Getting up in the middle of the night has become something of a routine in the last year or so–not because of headaches, but because of my middle-age hormones–all exacerbated in recent weeks by the jet lag from an overseas trip. The headache added a new twist to the whole business, but I have developed a routine for such occasions. Instead of flopping around in bed, becoming evermore agitated at my inability to fall back asleep, I’ve learned to just get up and do other things–read, surf the net, attempt to watch TV (although TV at that time of night is worse than awful), or noodle around in the kitchen. Seriously, several nights ago I was so wide awake, I made cookies. Anyway, after taking a couple of Excedrin that particular night, I carefully tip-toed out of the bedroom, being careful to avoid the squeaky spots in the floor so I didn’t wake Tom, and headed out to the living room and the pile of books and magazines stacked next to my chair.

While thumbing through one of the cooking magazines, I came across an interview with Elisabeth Hasselbeck in which she talked about being gluten intolerant. Gluten intolerant. Hmmmm. Interesting. Just a few weeks before when I was visiting my aunt, I learned that one of her sons (my cousin) is gluten intolerant. I’ve only known one other person my entire life (that I’m aware of anyway) who is gluten intolerant and that was when I was in grade school. I must admit, it’s not a topic I’ve given much thought to. The extent of my knowledge about gluten intolerance was that anyone who has it must avoid wheat products. That’s it. I knew nothing more. Having plenty of time on my hands and no inclination to go back to sleep, I headed into the office to do a little research on the subject.

I started at MayoClinic.com. Let’s see…not a food allergy, hmmm…abdominal pain and diarrhea, interesting…genetic, really?…linked to auto-immune disorders, what!?…to say I was shocked by what I read would be a gross understatement. The list of symptoms of gluten intolerance reads like a checklist of my medical records and my maternal family’s health history. Not that any one of us has all the symptoms, but among the entire group of us, we’ve covered a scary percentage of them. If you–like me–are unfamiliar with gluten intolerance, here’s a quick overview from the site: “If you have Celiac disease and eat foods containing gluten [found in products containing wheat, barley, and rye], an immune reaction occurs in your small intestine, causing damage to the surface of your small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.” Besides disrupting a person’s digestive system, gluten intolerance is linked to a number of conditions–particularly auto-immune conditions (my family’s specialty)–including, but not limited to, thyroid disease, lupus, Crohn’s disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, alopecia (hair loss), rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, skin rash (particularly on the elbows, knees, and buttocks), mouth sores, dental disorders, neuropathy, general weakness and fatigue, infertility, and liver disease. Holy cow! Until learning recently about my cousin’s diagnosis, I’ve never heard anyone in my family mention the possibility of gluten intolerance.

About then, Tom woke up and wandered into the office in a sleepy fog, blinking and scratching, “What are you doing?”

When I explained about my research and what I’d learned, the first words out of his mouth were, “Maybe that explains why you felt so good when you did Atkins.” Out of the mouths of the comatose.

For most of my adult life, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with food. I love to eat it, but hate how it makes me feel and look. And for most of my adult life, my digestive system has been wacky, something I chalked it up to my latest diet du jour and/or stress. And there were plenty of diet du jours–and stress (but then, who isn’t stressed?). Over the years, I’ve tried just about every diet out there. Some worked, some didn’t, and with the exception of Atkins, they’d all made me feel lousy–or at minimum–no better than my normal diet (of mostly processed foods) made me feel. Atkins was different. I felt great on Atkins. My energy level soared. My digestive troubles went away as did my rashes and indigestion. I remember telling people I felt like I was twenty again. But Atkins was also a diet that made others nervous. “You shouldn’t eat like that!’ my friends would say, and truthfully, based on my knowledge of nutrition at the time, it made me nervous, too. So after six or seven months, I gave it up and went back watching the numbers on my bathroom scales yo-yo up and down.

Then a couple of years ago, my attitude about food and cooking changed–dramatically. Up to that point, cooking was something I did to feed my family. Providing sustenance. Just one more chore. One that I tried to do as quickly and easily as possible. Although my family didn’t eat a lot of take-out, fast food, I did prepare a lot of meals using pre-packaged, highly processed ingredients. Food itself fell into two basic categories: healthy and time-consuming-to-prepare or yummy, quick, easy, and fattening. What a choice, and what an incredible amount of time I wasted wringing my hands over the whole mess. But then, as I said, things changed.

Over the last two years–because of events I won’t go into now–I have fallen in love with cooking. Along the way have learned a great deal about food and nutrition. Not the misguided, pyramid-shaped gospel of nutrition preached by the government, but the common sense version practiced by our ancestors until the middle of the last century when food became industrialized. No more fake, manufactured foods, no more packaged foods with lists of ingredients I don’t recognize or can’t spell or pronounce, just whole real food. Again, this is a topic I can write hundreds of posts on, so I’ll move on and get to my point. Finally.

I no longer eat the things that I had previously blamed my digestive problems on, and for the last several months have had virtually no stress in my life. In many ways, I feel much better, but my digestive system is still buggered up. Which brings me back to gluten intolerance. If improving my diet and reducing stress hasn’t clear up the problem, could I possibly be gluten intolerant? And if I am, could changing my diet now save me from some of the nastier auto-immune issues others in my family have faced? Under the circumstances, it seemed perfectly reasonable to find out, so I made an appointment with my doctor and had the blood test a few days later. I learned earlier this week that the test came back negative, meaning I’m not gluten intolerant. However, the very next day, I shared the story with a friend who just laughed and told me her sister had the same experience. Eventually, the sister was diagnosed with Celiac disease and felt better within a week or two of starting a gluten-free diet. Last night, I met another woman who relayed a similar story, so I’ve decided to go gluten free just to see what happens. I know for sure I felt better when I wasn’t eating bread, cookies, pizza, etc. on Atkins, and my gut instinct tells me it’s a good plan.

So, why am I telling you all this? Because the more people I talk to and the more I learn about Celiac disease and its symptoms, the more I’m convinced that there are others out there like me who are totally unaware of the problems gluten may be causing. If not with you, maybe someone you love. Not that I want anyone to be gluten intolerant, but if someone is, it seems much easier to make a few changes in diet now rather than to have to deal with the damage later. Moreover, I’m learning there are lots of people in the world who eat gluten free just because it makes them feel good. I’m also discovering yummy, healthy ingredients like arrowroot, quinoa, and millet that I’ve never considered using before. At this point, I feel overwhelmed by it all, but grateful to finally feel like I might be on to something that will change my health for the better. I’ll keep you posted.

Today I made invitations. My youngest, my baby, my 23-year-old, six foot one, two-hundred-twenty-plus pound baby is graduating from college in just over a month. And, as we’ve always done to mark such occasions, we’ll have an open house with family and friends to celebrate the milestone. Since May is such a crazy time of the year for everyone, I promised myself months ago that I would get the invites out at least four or five weeks in advance. The four week mark is looming, so today was the day.

With nothing more than a vague notion of what I wanted to produce, I headed to the office supply store to see what speciality paper they had to offer. Unfortunately, the choices were meager. After standing in front of the display for several minutes lamenting the lack of a good stationary store nearby, I grabbed several packages of the paper I though B-man would like best, found coordinating envelopes, and headed to the register, thankful that he’s not that picky. The woman at the checkout looked up at me as I emptied my arms onto the counter.

Assuming my child was graduating from high school (bless her), she asked with sincere interest, “Where’s your child going to college next year?”

Without hesitating, I chirped, “Oh, he’s not graduating from high school. He’s graduating from KU. He’s my youngest. ” And then I added with a touch of smugness, “We’re almost done! Wooo Hooo!”

Wooo hooo, indeed. I wasn’t even out of the store before the Wooo Hooo soured in my mouth. Of course I’m pleased for my son–and proud. Of course I’m excited for what his future holds for him. Heck, I’m even excited about having an excuse to gather all our friends and family at the house next month. But still that wee little voice, that niggling, recurring thought, wasted no time piping up, “Your baby is graduating…this is it…you’re closing another chapter in your life…how’s that working out for you?”

Oh, for crying out loud. I don’t know. Okay? I’m still trying to figure it out. Truthfully, my answer is somewhat dependent on when it arises. If comes up while I’m bumbling around in a hormonal haze or in the middle of a hot flash (more reminders of the stage of life I find myself in), the answer is likely to be radically different than one I might give after I’ve just parred a hole out on the golf course or I’ve just woken up from a Saturday afternoon nap in the hammock–a nap I can now take because I no longer have to spend my entire weekends at the soccer complex. Clearly, there are perks to being empty-nesters. But it isn’t all roses.

Neither–as it turned out–was my project. All roses, I mean. I got home and began noodling around with what I wanted to put on the page. I wasn’t having much luck coming up with anything terribly creative when I remembered a picture of B-man that my dad posted on our family blog recently. I snatched it off the blog and, in minutes, the invitation came together. (Thanks, Dad!) The only problem was the background of the paper I’d chosen was light blue, so the pictured didn’t print very well on it. Crud. Is it even possible to do a project of any kind without multiple trips to the store? Phooey. Back to the office supply store to hem and haw and curse the scant offerings.

Four hours later, I’m happy to report the invitations are  printed and look terrific. The envelopes–at least the ones I have–are addressed, stamped, filled, and sealed. Unfortunately (and probably predictably), I didn’t have enough of them, so I’ll be heading back to the store in the morning. Phttttt.

I’m pleased to report that the Sticky Date Pudding I served to my book club Thursday night once again elicited moans. I have to be honest, not as many as the last few times I’ve served it, but moans nonetheless. It was a tough crowd. Six of my friends were gathered around the table, juggling at least three conversations, their heads swiveling in an attempt hear every word and morsel of gossip. Under the circumstances, the Sticky Date Pudding was a distraction, albeit a notable distraction; still, The Pudding was not the center of attention as it has been on previous occasions. That’s okay. I had fun making it…and eating it. The next time I make it, I may experiment with a variation of the recipe that I found on the Internet–a titillating version that calls for adding rum to the caramel sauce. That can’t be bad!

Friday night, Tom and I went to Cascone’s, one of our favorite Italian restaurants here in Kansas City–favorite because of the food and because of the memories we’ve made there. Unfortunately, it’s on the other side of the metro area. Every time we go, we say we need to go more often, but then, of course, we rarely do because of the drive. Our loss. Their tiramisu may be the best in the city. I say “may” only because I have yet to try all the other contenders in these parts. I can’t imagine that anyone else’s version of tiramisu is any better–maybe as good or nearly as good–but certainly not any better. I’ll continue my research and let you know. While I’m at it, I’ll sample the lasagnas and cheese raviolis along the way. I know. I’m a giver.

Anyway, Cascone’s is where my parents took the two of us and my future in-laws to celebrate shortly after Tom and I got engaged. Tom and I had only dated a couple of weeks before we got engaged, so our parents hadn’t had an opportunity to meet. Shoot, Tom and I barely had an opportunity to meet. From my vantage point today–28 years later–I can see that the evening was ripe for all manner of disaster, but then I was young, dopey, and head-over-heels in love, and that night, all was right in my world. If any of our parents felt differently, we never knew it. From the beginning, the evening was lovely. Frank Sinatra music played in the background, wine was poured, glasses were raised, and the conversation flowed until the waiter started placing food on the table. We fell silent only long enough to savor the pasta and meatballs and sauces and bread and…Everyone smiled and laughed and got along beautifully. No one pointed out the incredible ludicrousness of our pending nuptials. No one suggested Tom and I might want to slow down before jumping into marriage. No one asked us how we were possibly going to survive on our laughable salaries. No one.

It was the Italian food. Seriously, how can anyone not see the world through rosy, marinara-tinted glasses while enjoying the tang of ricotta and the velvety smoothness of melty Parmesan stuffed between ruffly layers of al dente noodles? You can’t. You simply cannot. The combination of tomatoes, basil, garlic, and cheese is magic, so it was a no-brainer deciding where we would take everyone to celebrate our 25th anniversary a couple of years ago. We were not disappointed then, nor were we disappointed Friday night. Cascone’s is guaranteed memorable evening every time.

And, just in case you’re wondering, I’m still dopey, head-over-heels in love which, I suppose, also makes me very lucky.  Even so, I’m grateful my daughter and son-in-law had the good sense to date for a couple of years before getting married. I hope my son will be as level-headed. If he isn’t…if he comes home and tells us he’s marrying a girl he’s only known a few weeks, I’ll…I’ll..I’ll have to head to Cascone’s.

As the self-anointed Sticky Date Pudding ambassador in this part of the world, I have made a solemn vow to spread the Sticky Date Pudding love whenever and wherever I can. To that end, I’m serving it tonight at my Book Club. I can’t wait!

For the uninitiated, Sticky Date Pudding–at least the version I’ve grown to love–is a fabulously moist hunk of sweet, flavorful cake swimming in hot, homemade caramel sauce and topped with a generous dollop of double thick cream. No calories, of course. I, myself, was totally oblivious to the wonders of SDP until a recent trip through Tasmania with my aunt (who lives there). According to my research, the origin of SDP is debatable–although most sources agree it was somewhere in England–and the variations are limitless. Good. More recipes to test! But why haven’t we known about SDP here in the Midwest, and why did it take my aunt so long to clue me in. I’d been to Tasmania to visit her twice before, but did she ever suggest sampling the SDP (it’s offered at nearly every pub and restaurant in Australia)? No! Did she ever offer to make it for me, fabulous cook that she is? Again, no! Clearly, I have pissed her off at some point. But thankfully, she saw fit to introduce me to SDP on this trip. I’ll be forever grateful.

I have now made it for at least three groups of family and friends since my return a few weeks ago. Beyond the joy of eating it myself on these occasions, I’ve been treated to the audible sounds of pleasure as my loved ones experience SDP for the first time. Truly, they moan. I’m not a bad cook. I often make meals my family and friends enjoy, but rarely–if ever–do I make the folks around my table moan. It’s the coolest thing! I’ll let  you know how it goes tonight.

I’ll also be happy to share my recipe–that is if I can ever figure out how to post an attachment.

For the eight years prior to January 1, 2009, I earned my living as a technical writer. For most of that time, I enjoyed working for wonderful clients on challenging projects, but as the years passed, the actual content I was required to produce grew ever more repetitive, so repetitive it could have written itself if it hadn’t already bored itself into a stupor. I couldn’t do it any more. I declined new projects, shut down my business, and enrolled in a creative nonfiction writing class at the University of Kansas. Along the way, I discovered that I wasn’t burned out on writing after all. I was just burned out on technical writing. Whew! What a relief! I couldn’t imagine not writing. Now my problem is, even though I was good at making a living as a technical writer, I have no earthly idea how to make any money writing the fun stuff…the stuff I’m interested in…the stuff that makes me laugh, or cry, or learn something new. So, while I’m figuring out what my next career might be (and there have been many careers over the years, but that’s another post), I thought it would be a good idea to put myself in a situation that requires a bit of discipline, a situation that provides some motivation to put my backside in a chair every day and tap on the keyboard constructively, a situation in which I might possibly rub elbows with other writers. I hope this is it.