May 20, 2014

Dancing to my own beat

There was sensuous Arabesque music playing in the background as I watched. Her tiny torso was supported by perfectly formed hips; the ideal combination for a belly dancer.  My eyes followed the line in the middle of her back downward.  Her sumptuous hips moved in slow rhythmic lifts while her arms slithered up and down like a snake. I watched her with bated anticipation that my body would move like hers some day.  I instantly became envious because no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get my body to move the way that the teacher’s did.  I look like a pumpkin.

I desperately needed my life to change directions. More than anything, I wanted and needed to meet new people. How does one move on after a divorce? I asked myself. My existence revolved around my husband and I didn’t know where to turn when he left. I felt like a non-person. I no longer had value because I didn’t have anyone to fuss over. My life needed validation.  

Many nights I came home and laid on the sofa until it was time for bed.  The energy to do anything physical or mental eluded me. I couldn’t concentrate on the words that I read, so, reading a book was out of the question. Often I would read a paragraph only to go back and read it again and again until I eventually gave up.
I took antidepressants for about six months. I didn’t like the way they made me feel.    The pills made me sleepy, lethargic, and dizzy. The constant battle with suicidal thoughts and wanting to kill my soon-to-be-ex-husband was exhausting. But what can I do to get out of this rut?

One day I was looking through the Fun Times booklet that the Community Center sends through the mail.  I noticed that belly dance classes were being offered.  I always wanted to learn how to dance like those exotic women from the East. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself seductively contort my body in sensuously wanton movements. I was thrilled at the thought of it. Besides, the exercise will do me good and maybe help to raise my spirit out of the funk that I was in. So, I enrolled in the class.

We met on Wednesday evenings at 5:30.  I had to rush straight from work to get there and sometimes I was late.  As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were all kinds of shapes, sizes, and ages of women in the class, which was a relief to me. I never tried dancing before, well, not in a class setting. As a girl I would dance around my room while no one was watching and never ventured out lest someone would see me and make fun.

The teacher was a young woman in her early twenties.  Her pale white porcelain face was framed with thick fawn colored hair. She wore a small bolero top to accentuate her breasts, and tight low cut black pants that drew attention to her generous hips. Her bare midriff exposed a tiny waist that Scarlett O’Hara would be envious of. She was sexy and I wanted to be.

The first night of class I arrived in my work clothes. I pulled off my shoes and socks. We began stretching every muscle of our bodies before we danced.   Then we learned the most important thing for a belly dancer. We had to learn to dance with soft knees. Otherwise there would be trouble for the lower regions of our body.  “With knees bent, arms out, chest up, lift your right hip,” the teacher said, “Next, raise the left hip. Now, walk forward and do a hip lift on each side while you are walking.” Our eyes were focused on the backside of the teacher for guidance. With arms extended and toes pointed, I strutted my stuff across the gym floor and felt like a beauty queen. The only thing that was missing was a long flowing veil. 

I was slow at learning the moves. There were times that I would be off dancing by myself while the class moved to the other side of the gym. I really didn’t care.  I was having fun and making new friends. 

By the summer, a few of the ladies from class decided to put together a troupe for the new dancers and then perform at a Halloween show they have every autumn.  We practiced at Barbara’s house for nearly two months until we had the routine down pat.   Each week I forgot the routine and then had to re-learn it all over again.  I was still having memory issues.  But I pressed on until I was able to keep the dance steps in my head.   

Then we had to work on our costumes. Barbara was the seamstress and she coordinated our wardrobe. We decided on gold lame genii pants with wide legs and elastic at the ankles, they reminded me of MC Hammer in the video, You can’t touch this. There were gold bras to match with a bolero top and a black sheer skirt placed on top of the pants.  I looked like a pumpkin in my outfit. My belly is much too large to be seen in front of a group of people. When I noticed that the audience was mostly women, I quickly got over my fear of over exposure.

The night of the performance I was very nervous.  It is one thing to dance in a small room at someone’s home. But to make a mistake in front of an audience is a whole different ballgame. I practiced nearly every night when I got home until I could do the routine without having to look at my cheat sheet. Our routine lasted only two minutes, which seemed like an hour to me.  I made a small mistake at the very beginning and quickly got back in line with the other dancers. I sailed through like a ship on calm seas the rest of the performance.  As soon as I was backstage I covered myself up, never to expose myself again. I often dreamt of going forward with my dancing career, but who really wants to see a middle aged pumpkin dance?

May 15, 2014

National Geographic Photographer Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry, a photojournalist best known for his photograph "Afghan Girl", which originally appeared in the National Geographic Magazine in June 1985 put this photographer on the map, so to speak.  He attended Penn State University and graduated in 1974 with a degree in theater arts.  It wasn't until he started working for a Penn State Newspaper called The Daily Collegian, that he became interested in Photography.

Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry
A few weeks ago, I discovered this photographer.  I trekked my way to my local library and brought home every book I could find about him. Most of his work is portraits. Right now I am trying to learn how to take exceptional pictures the way Mr. McCurry does.  Portraits are more than a photograph but a mini memoir for all to see.  The story is in the face, especially the eyes. He said, "If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift into view." 

Not only has Mr. McCurry worked in far off places like Afghanistan, India, Burma, but has worked on special projects with a good cause. He took pictures of models for the Pirelli Calendar and the proceeds went to help various organizations around the world. Besides, you get to see a master at work. 

May 13, 2014

Grantham Gingerbreads (cookies)

These ginger-breads are what we call cookies in America. I have been looking at this recipe for a while and today was the day to give the recipe a try. These cookies, which hail from Lincolnshire, England, are golden and crunchy when you take a bite.  Besides, what is there not to like about a cookie?


1 stick of butter (8 tbsp)
1/2 cup of sugar (granulated)
1 medium to large egg
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place parchment paper on 2-3 baking sheets. Cream the butter, sugar, and egg together.  Add the salt, baking soda, ginger to the mixture. Mix well.  Add the flour about 1/2 cup at a time until it is all used. Pour the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead a little until it is smooth.  Shape the dough into 24 little balls, about 1 1/2 inch in size or use a small scoop.  Place them on baking sheets about 2-3 inches apart, enough room for them to spread out. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a light golden color. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.  Enjoy!

May 11, 2014

Where's Momma?

I heard the lovely poem below today on "Country Gold" with Randy Owen. I raced to work so that I could write down the name of the poem and share it with everyone. It is Mother's day today and lots of flowers, cards and dinners were shared with their best lady, Mom, around the country. But to those of us whose mother's have passed away, we have our memories.  Whether Mom was an angel or the devil at times, she was still Mom.  Most of all, we loved her and there is no greater gift than love.


Comes in flying from the street; 
"Where's Momma?"
Friend or stranger thus he'll greet:
"Where's Momma?"
Doesn't want to say hello,
home from school or play he'll go
straight to what he wants to know:
"Where's Momma?"

Many times a day he'll shout,
"Where's Momma?"
Seems afraid that she's gone out;
"Where's Momma?"
Is his first thought at the door--
She's the one he's looking for, 
and he questions o'er and o'er,
"Where's Momma?"

Can't be happy till he knows;
"Where's Momma?"
So, he begs us to disclose
"Where's Momma?"
and it often seems to me 
as I hear his anxious plea, 
That no sweeter phrase can be:
"Where's Momma?"

Like to hear it day by day;
"Where's Momma?"
Loveliest phrase that lips can say:
"Where's Momma?"
and I pray as time shall flow,
and the long years come and go,
that he'll always want to know
"Where's Momma?"

 Written by Edgar A. Guest 

May 1, 2014

A Hair Raising Story

It is said that hair can be our crowning glory. Why does hair have to be so much of who we are?  It begins at birth when a child is born with an enormous amount and it is declared “Look at the hair on that kid.”  I’ve seen hair that was grey, brown, black, blonde, and even pink. Some hair is straight, curly, coarse, fine, thick or thin. Some religions cover their hair for modesty and others are not so strict. My mother told me that I complained about my hair as a child and I even used a swear word when I tried to comb it.  Now that I am past 50, it is thinner than ever before with spots of exposed skin peaking through and to be honest it’s distressing.  However, I find the lost hair somehow growing in places that I never expected. 

me at 12 years old
I’ve always had “thick hair” envy.  Women would walk past me with manes so thick they couldn’t find a band large enough to encompass their pony tail.   I would look at their hair longingly and bemoan my thin hair fate then reach upwards to touch mine and was always disappointed.  The hair clips in the store were too big for my meager locks and would drop to the floor as soon as I fastened the clasp.  My thin, fine tresses lay limply around my face and on humid days it was matted to my scalp.  Of course, I had to have a cowlick into the mix as well.  My bangs never lay flat no matter how hard I tried.  

I’ve used gel for lift, perms to perform miracles, and enough hairspray to finance the manufacturer’s trip abroad for a year and yet I kept trying to find help for my deficit.  

During the late 60’s and 70’s I wore my hair long and parted in the middle. Not such an attractive style for everyone.  Then there were those awful school pictures that were taken year after year.  My hair was either oily, flat, or the photographer didn’t know where my best side was.  There is something about hair that makes one want to burn all of their school pictures.

As the years began to add up my hair gradually became shorter until I decided to take the plunge. When I was 21 I decided to have my hair cut short.  I was working at the shoe store then and made an appointment with a stylist before work one day.  Afterwards, I went to the Health Food Store down the street from work and I saw my boss shopping.  “Hello Alice,” I said, but she didn’t recognize me.  “I’m Jeannie,” I insisted. Many of the regular customers that came into the shoe store didn’t recognize me either that day. In the evening when I came through the kitchen door my father saw me for the first time.  Dad was sitting in his favorite chair with his black framed glasses perched low on his nose while he was reading the morning paper. As he looked up at me over his glasses his jaw dropped.  It took him a few minutes to let the drastic change in the length of my hair adjust in his mind.   He never said a word.

me at 21 years old
A few weeks later, I rode along with my parents to a store.  My mother went inside while my father and I waited in the car.  My father watched me in the backseat through the rear view mirror. He turned around and looked at me very closely.  “You look good with your hair like that,” he said, “You really do.”  My dad never complimented me before regarding my appearance.  I was thrilled and thanked him shyly. I pondered his words for many years to come.  From then on I kept my hair short because my father approved and he never wasted words when they were unnecessary.

I should be thankful for the amount that I have.  My situation could be worse.  The cause of my hair loss is due to female patterned baldness, per a dermatologist’s diagnosis, which has greatly affected my perception of old age.  I didn’t come into this world bald and I expect the same amount of hair on my head when I leave. Oh please?!