Chasing Perfection

We should fear the concept of perfection, my friends;

we really should.

It has been responsible for destroying so much joy and satisfaction in the lives of those who pursue it.

I am one of those people.

We  perfectionists function within society ,

looking normal and smart and funny and accomplished.

People are always saying: “oh- you are so talented”.

You can do anything.

No, I can’t!

 Inside is this insidious voice that always says:” You are no good.”

You must be perfect.

Nothing less will do.

Last weekend, I did flowers for a lovely wedding.

The bouquets were amazing,

the tablescapes spectacular ,

the wedding arch was perfection.( haha)

I didn’t charge her for a bunch of things

because I was trying to make things perfect for her.

But I forgot 4 boutonnieres.

Oh my God!

I cannot tell you how awful ( and incredibly stupid I felt)

I don’t make mistakes like this…..

Aside from the weather, I am always in control!

&

I am working on the weather thing!

My weddings are always perfection.

( Except for the outdoor wedding a few weeks ago when an entire cake slid off the table

…. due to the excessive heat)

and hit the grass.

I stood there, frozen with horror.

This never happens to me!

This is a wedding planners’ worst nightmare.

I have heard all sorts of horror stories about things going wrong at weddings;

but until that moment,

I had never experienced any of them.

I mean, things go wrong all the time, but nothing I haven’t been able to fix.

That’s what people in my profession do.

We fix things before anyone notices there was even a problem.

So, today…. after two catastrophes in just a few weeks,

I am feeling demoralized, stupid and completely incompetent.

One of my designers said:” Don’t worry, Jan.

Things like this happen all the time.

Not to me, they don’t!

Until now.

Being good at what you do always brings expectation.

Being really good at what you do suggests you might not have any limitations.

People see what you do and have expectations that nothing will ever go wrong!

So, what do I do?

I suppose I shouldn’t promise perfect.

The thing is- we are all guilty of this!

We all want the PERFECT wedding,

the PERFECT marriage,

the PERFECT children,

the PERFECT House,

The PERFECT Pie Crust

The Perfect Body or whatever…

and it simply does not exist.

We are not capable of perfection.

But when people hire us to provide services to them,

They will settle for nothing less than perfection.

They paid for perfection and they want it.

If it isn’t Perfect-  It’s Crap!

Couldn’t there be something in-between perfection and crap?

Apparently not when money is exchanged.

Here is something I can do:

I will now stop promising perfection.

Perfection is only achieved by chance,

brought to us by the Gods of Fortune.

No amount of talent can produce it.

 I will continue to pursue perfection because I cannot seem to help myself.

The thing is- perhaps in  the process of chasing perfection

I will achieve excellence and

that should be enough for anyone………

even me.

Terry and the Perfect Meatball Recipe

Beginning in 1954 and for over forty years thereafter….

my family frequented a little Italian restaurant in our town,

along the river called:

 Terry’s Tavern.

Driving past this unremarkable structure,

you might not think of stopping,

But if you did stop, you wouldn’t regret it!

In the early days,

the decor consisted of grapevine and plastic bunches of grapes,

hanging from the ceiling;

painted murals of Portofino on the walls and

on each table- red and white checkered cloths and

a chianti bottle hidden under layers of dripping wax.

Italian music was always playing and

I seem to recall listening to a lot of  Jerry Vale!

To this day, when I hear Jerry Vale-

it takes me right back to Terrys.

One of my favorites was “Al di la”,

probably because it was in a 1961 movie called

“Rome Adventure”with Troy Donahue.

I LOVED Troy Donahue.

But I digress……..

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 The most important thing was the food.

Terry made the

BEST meatballs, pizza, bread, ravioli, lasagna

(All homemade).

Servers, coming through the swinging doors from the kitchen ,

their arms laden with large oval platters of delicious food,

always had beads of perspiration all over their faces.

It was like a blast furnace in that kitchen!

Terry had huge pots of sauce and meatballs on the giant old stove.

There were steaming pots of spaghetti,

crusty loaves of bread being pulled from the oven

and

my personal favorite…” light as air” lasagne ,

bubbling in it’s own little individual baking dish.

It was heaven. All of it.

There were regular patrons for all the years we went there.

We would all meet on Friday & Saturday nights and chat away with each other.

It was a kind of clubhouse for those of us who came regularly.

We bonded over our love of the food and the place itself;

a delightful little secret unknown to most people- but us!

Bob & Terry owned the restaurant until I was in my late 30’s

and without fail- we ate there every week.

Bob attended to duties as bartender and bon vivant

and

Terry worked in the kitchen,

coming out occasionally for some air and a cigarette!

We used to sit at the “family table” a lot

and they would sit down and talk when they could.

Then, in 1981, they retired and sold the business

to another husband and wife.

She was French, he was Greek.

The food was still good, but

nothing was really ever the same again.

Even in Italy, I never found anything that satisfied

my appetite and my soul

as Terry’s food did.

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She gave me her meatball recipe and her sauce recipe,

but even though they were basic and simple to follow,

nothing has ever come close to the deliciousness of the food she created.

My entire life has been a quest to find or duplicate her perfect meatballs.

After years of hoping, dreaming, experimenting,

I’m sad to report:

There is No Perfect Meatball

now that Terry is gone.

I’m sure no matter how magnificent one might be-

it will never satisfy the memory

of those moist, tender, incredibly luscious, perfectly formed orbs

I swooned over so many years ago.

Part of it is the memory of those wonderful experiences we had dining there.

I’m sure the flavor of all that

was some how infused into those meatballs;

a combination never to be found again….

like most childhood experiences.

It’s interesting how many of my wonderful memories involve food and

revolve around meals, picnics, and big family dinners.

 Terry’s meatballs may be gone and

I know I will never find anything that compares.

I have to live with that!

Having said that… here is the good news.

All is not lost!

After years of trying every recipe I could find ,

I recently acquired one from the Meatball Shop in NYC

and I find

those meatballs are almost worthy of my inexplicable obsession with

the meatball- as an art form!

The secret is Ricotta Cheese in your basic meatball recipe!

( the complete recipe follows)

So…. fellow lovers of authentic Italian food…

what have we learned from this life long quest of mine?

Yes, that’s right…..

We cannot ever go back.

When something is gone, it’s gone.

The memory of the food, mixes with the experience surrounding it

and it simply cannot be duplicated.

So, don’t compare something against an old memory.

The old memory always wins.

Just enjoy everything, every day!

And remember:

Perfect meatballs are found but once in a lifetime

and that’s why:

we must settle for merely Great Meatballs.

I think you’ll like these!

Meatball Shop Meatballs

2 lbs ground beef

1 cup ricotta cheese

2 large eggs

1/2 cup bread crumbs

salt & pepper

1 tbsp. oregano

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

mix thoroughly with hands,

make golf ball size meatballs,

place on a lightly greased (olive oil) baking sheet

make sure meatballs touch each other

Bake at 450 for 15 min.

Remove from oven, add 1 cup tomato sauce and bake for another 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and place in bubbling sauce.

BUON APPETITO!

Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys

A few years ago, when the French refused to participate in one of our fun foreign wars,

the comedian, Dennis Miller took to calling them :

“Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys”.

I really hate that phrase because it belittles an entire culture.

Clearly, he is missing the point of the French Way of Life.

In America, we just want to get through life.

In France (and most of Europe, as well)

the goal is to savor life.

Let’s do a simple comparison and see how the French

live in comparison to Americans.

In America we love efficiency

The French love beauty.

***

We communicate with e-mail

the French chat over espresso at a cafe

***

We gobble our food at fast food places.

The French savor a meal over several hours

***

We like bargains

the French love quality

***

We worship celebrity

the French worship art

***

We believe more is more

The French believe less is more

***

We buy fake flowers

The French visit markets every day for fresh flowers

***

We like new and shiny

the French prefer old with patina

***

We like our desserts BIG.

The French love theirs, small, beautiful and delicious

***

On Sundays, we go to malls….

 The French stand in line to get into the Louvre

***

We work 40-60-80 hours per week

They rest each afternoon

***

We get a couple of weeks vacation

They vacation for the entire month of August

***

At lunch we run errands

they read a book  or picnic by the Seine

***

In Summer, we drive hours to get to the beach.

They bring the beach to Paris

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Paris Plages..

they bring sand to make a beach every summer on the Seine

These are just a few of our differences.

I know it’s fashionable to dismiss the French and many other cultures,

because they are not us!

But honestly, there are so many wonderful things about the way other people live.

I can only assume people who dismiss them are either jealous or grossly misinformed.

There is a lot about life in our country that is good.

Our freedom alone makes everything worthwhile.

But life here is frenzied.

We didn’t get this far in 240 years by being lazy slackers.

We are movers and shakers.

We zip through our lives at “mach 2 with our hair on fire”.

But, in doing so, we have sacrificed many things that disappear at high speed…

Including the view all around us

It wouldn’t hurt to slow down a bit, enjoy our lives and all the beauty .

It wouldn’t hurt to take a page from someone else’s book and learn how to “savor” life.

We could learn a lot from other cultures.

Maybe then we could have the best of every thing life has to offer.

It’s just a thought.

Take a little time to consider it.

Falling out of Summer

As Summer gently falls away,

she leaves me with a myriad of vivid memories,

all worth savoring and remembering.

They are coming with me

as Autumn lightly taps at my door

to let me know she’s on her way.

The seasons are all visitors .

I’m happy to see them come and I’m sad when they go

but there is always another coming

and that is exciting.

I am so grateful for the joy each and every day brings.

Sometimes, it’s good to remember just how wonderful life really is!

These are the memories my Summer leaves behind:

Hot, Sunny Days

Twin Fawns Playing in Our Vineyard……

Living in nature’s beauty…..

Sounds of the Stream…..

Great Finds at the Flea Market…..

Weeding the Garden

Fresh Peach Cobbler…..

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Hummingbirds & Honeysuckle….

Snapshots of  Beautiful Weddings…..

 Books I didn’t want to end……

The satisfaction of doing good work…..

 Gentle breezes…..

Solitude…….

 Phoebe’s Nest above our door (10th year).

Lotus Flowers in the Pond….

Happiness & Laughter….

Bird Songs I cannot identify….

Wonderful lunches with old friends….

Spectacular Sunsets and Meteor Showers….

Too Many Ice Cream Cones….

The Majesty of Thunder & Lightening Storms.

 New Recipes ….

Shadows & Sun moving on the Mountain….

Wind Chimes….

The Pain of  Loss….

Laughing with Friends….

A few wonderful days away….

The Sound of Cicadas.

Sadness at another season passing….

&

Joy that I was here to see it.

My Summer was LIFE….

the good, the bad, the unforgettable , the mundane

the sublime and the painful.

Each day is a step forward into something new.

I’ve stopped making too many plans,

thinking about the future too much

because the truth is:

You just don’t know what’s coming.

So…..

Swim in the present moment “until your fingers get all pruney”.

That’s the only sensible thing to do!

Take all those wonderful moments with you along the way

&

Don’t forget to make room for the new ones yet to come.

 

 

 

P E A C E

For much of my youth

PEACE was a sign,

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a decorative design on earrings,

a rally,

a reason to march,

a two finger greeting

and

something that seemed unlikely in Vietnam.

For many years,

I truly believed the world would find Peace.

If we marched enough, cared enough and did enough,

I thought we could change every thing.

But it didn’t happen that way.

In my mind,

Peace was a global state of existence.

I didn’t understand it as a state of mind,

heart and being for each of us

as individuals.

One day I started to look at it differently.

Instead of creating peace externally,

it needed to begin within  us.

I realized the seeds were already there.

I needed to find a way to tap into it.

It came over time and not without effort.

In large part, it was connected to letting go of my fear.

When you chip away at your fear,

Peace can enter through the cracks.

It can transform you and become your steady center.

When that happens,

you feel differently about others, as well.

It’s then that we stop judging and ridiculing others,

persecuting them and denying their struggles.

When Peace enters your heart,

it fills you with acceptance , compassion, and gratitude.

Only then, can anything really change.

Now, after all these years I know Peace is not the absence of war .

It’s not retreating from the world.

It’s the ability to feel quiet & peaceful while the craziness swirls around us.

Don’t wait for Peace to come to the world.

Seek it out and cultivate it in your own heart and soul.

Help others find it.

Be an instrument of Peace,

in your little corner of the world.

Only then will we ever have a chance for Peace in the world.

We must all play a part in it’s creation.

MAY PEACE BE IN YOU….

The Extinction of Elegance

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I’m sorry to report that Elegance is fading….. into oblivion.

Am I the only person upset by this distressing turn of events?

The current generation seems to have based its entire identity on

Big Boobs, Big Asses & Grotesquely plumped lips .

Sexy is Big.

Trashy is Big.

Outrageous is Big.

The Kardashians are Big.

Elegance?

Not so much!

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When I was growing up,

these women were elegant;

Their style was timeless and

influenced an entire generation.

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Jacqueline Kennedy

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Audrey Hepburn

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Grace Kelly

There were many more women who were elegant in many walks of life,

but I chose these three because

they have always epitomized elegance to me personally.

They were not without their flaws. But being flawed is merely  being human.

Their beauty was a part of it, of course.

But more than that; it was their style,

their talent,

their uniqueness,

their fluidity,

the way they moved, the way they spoke.

They had

“that certain something”,

an indefinable quality,

or as the French call it:

“Je ne sais quoi”

The Free Dictionary defines elegance  as

“refinement, grace, beauty in movement, appearance and manners”.

Our  current culture is besotted with celebrity and outrageousness.

We find it difficult to recognize or enjoy anything subtle, simple or quiet;

Elegance is not just a fashion term.

It goes far beyond that.

It’s knowing who you are and being true to that; in a quiet way.

It’s living your life with grace, in grace..

Maybe the time for such things has passed.

Perhaps Elegance has no place in the world today.

But I believe the world would be a better place if more of it existed.

Politeness, kindness, good manners,

respect, intelligent speech and considerate behavior ……

are no longer valued by society in general.

Today,the middle finger says it all.

No need for other forms of communication.

We have gained so much in the past fifty years in terms of technology,

but we have lost so much of our humanity.

We’re polluting our planet, hunting and killing our animals to the brink of extinction.

We’re killing each other and we’re filled with hatred and intolerance.

We have become a disposable society .

We no longer value quality.

Money, wealth and power are the gods many worship.

I suppose the disappearance of Elegance is a minor tragedy compared to all of that.

But, It was part of what made us a civilized society,

and if we lose all of it,

we lose a piece of our soul.

&

That is a tragedy.

Down the Shore….

If you live in New Jersey or Eastern Pennsylvania,

every one ( even newscasters) refer to the beach as

“down the shore”.

It’s one of those colloquialisms every one uses and it doesn’t sound strange

until someone from out of state hears us say it .

Their reaction is always fun to watch .

W H A T?

I’ve been going “down the shore” since I was five years old.

It began in 1954.

My Grandfather took the whole family ( 10 of us)

to Atlantic City for a week, every summer.

That was  big time in the 50’s.

We stayed at a fabulous old hotel ….

Chalfonte/Haddon Hall

which was right on the Boardwalk,

near The Steel Pier.

The hotel even had a huge greenhouse which enclosed a salt water pool

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 A little research revealed it was listed as

one of the top 5 resorts in the world …in the early 1900’s.

We had all the rooms on one floor facing the ocean.

In the center of the bedrooms was a huge parlor,

the kind you see in Old Victorian Mansions,

complete with Grand Piano, Old Oriental Rugs and large Palm Trees.

In the Dining Room we had our own table and the same waiters every night.

At the Beach- we had our own Cabana and people who brought food and drinks all day.

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I was too young to understand how wonderful and unusual all that was,

but I was having a great time!

The Boardwalk was magical in those days.

I saw the famous horse dive off a high platform into a small tank of water.

There were world class acts at Steel Pier- like singer Bobby Darin.

There were dance parties at the hotels and on the Pier.

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We swam all day in the Cold, Blue Atlantic and then, red as lobsters,

We’d rush through dinner so we could

“Hit the Boards”.

There was Mr. Peanut ( with his ever-present monacle)

greeting and waving to every one.

Fralingers…..the legendary salt water taffy store was always giving free samples.

Taylor Pork Roll had it’s own store on the Boardwalk with huge pork rolls hanging

in the window .

(Don’t even ask.)

If you don’t know what Pork Roll is…. I can’t really explain it.

It’s another New Jersey/ Pennsylvania thing!

Then there were the rides on Steel Pier.

Every day was an adventure.

I still remember those poor men who carried white freezers around their necks, walking all day in the hot sand yelling:

“Fudgy Wudgies… get your Ice Cold Fudgy Wudgies.”

They were chocolate Fudgsicles and they were THE BEST!

I’ve been going to the beach  for over 60 years.

I love each and every day I spend there-

although I never went back to Atlantic City

as an adult.

I prefer the smaller, quiet towns along the Jersey Shore,

like Ocean Grove and Spring Lake.

But I will never forget the excitement and fun of

those  family trips to “AC”.

That Atlantic City is gone forever.

But I still have all my

wonderful memories that will last the rest of my life.