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Book Review: “No Man’s Land” by Wendy Moore

by Libby Sternberg

When I was growing up, all the doctors in my life were men — from our general practitioner to specialists. I first encountered a female physician after having children. Our pediatrician at the time was a wonderful woman who combined medical science with an artful understanding of being a mother herself. She was a blessing.

415uc5fpgTLThe way for her and other women doctors was paved by physicians like Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray, the two physicians at the center of No Man’s Land, an informative look at how difficult it was for women to be accepted in the fiercely male world of medicine.

The two women came of age during the UK suffragette movement in the early 1900s, with Anderson even serving jail time for some of her protesting activities. This was how these doctors met, in fact, during suffragette meetings and protests. They soon became friends and professional colleagues, eventually living their lives together as a couple.

Because men controlled staff appointments at hospitals, the women doctors were barred from those jobs by small-minded doctors who didn’t want women among their ranks. Murray wrote an article in the New Statesman in 1913, justifiably angry at this practice, especially when men of lesser abilities effortlessly rose in the ranks:

“Staff appointments are professional prizes. They are made by the council or governing body, generally consisting entirely of men, upon the advice of a medical staff composed entirely of men. They are usually given to men.”

Shut out of hospitals, they started their own together, a small facility catering to women and children, an area to which most women doctors at the time were relegated, regardless of their expertise.

Then…World War I began. While the suffragette movement was put on hold during those fearsome years, Murray and Anderson understood that medical care for the wounded would be such a paramount concern that they could finally be accepted by male colleagues and join the fight to save lives.

Still, it wasn’t easy. They had to battle stiff resistance among hidebound medical officers and prove themselves by setting up their own hospitals in France, financed by donations, many of them from sister suffragettes.

They started two such facilities, one in Paris and one closer to the coast where wounded men were eventually transported back to London, and showed they were more than equal to the task. They did so well, in fact, that eventually Alfred Keogh, the most senior physician in the British Army at the time, asked them to set up a military hospital in London to deal with a surge of casualties expected from an upcoming push on the front.

Thus the Endell Street Military Hospital was born. From spring 1915 to the end of the war and beyond, Murray and Anderson ran the hospital with a staff of all women. All employees and volunteers, from physicians to anesthetists to nurses to orderlies, were women. Murray’s organizational skills had the facility humming in record time, and Anderson’s surgical skills meant they operated on a record number of patients per day during high casualty initiatives at the front (think of every battle name of that war, from Ypres to the Somme and more, to imagine the flow of men under their care).

No Man’s Land takes you through this war — military, medical, and societal — in small details. All physicians, including Murray and Anderson, had to grapple with new wounds caused by new killing machines. No clear-through bullet holes but grisly shrapnel injuries resulting in fractured bones, mustard gas burns that scorched lungs, shell shock, and the ever-present infections that might take a life in an era before antibiotics.

No Man’s Land leads the reader up to Armistice and beyond, when the hospital took in civilian patients, too, now sick and dying from the “Spanish flu.”

While women gained a (limited) right to vote during this period, the struggle for female physicians persisted. Men returning from the war eased back into their jobs, pushing out women who’d been handling them. And male doctors’ attitudes about women in their profession rebounded to their original peevishness, shutting out female physicians once again from staff positions.

This lasted a long, long time, as my childhood attests, when almost all doctors were men and women were nurses. Societal change is a long, hard slog, and No Man’s Land demonstrates how difficult it is to change minds and hearts even when evidence of change’s benefits stares one in the face.

 

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Book Review: “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” by Katherine Anne Porter

By Libby Sternberg

The 1918 flu pandemic afflicted 25 percent of the American population, killing 675,000 of them, mostly the young and otherwise healthy. One of the infected survivors was the writer Katherine Anne Porter, a Colorado newspaper reporter. She used her experiences to write the devastatingly evocative novella Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

The tone of this book can be summed up in one word: feverish. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist, Miranda, awakens from a troubled dream in which “Her heart was a stone lying upon her breast outside of her; her pulses lagged and paused, and she knew that something strange was going to happen.” tumblr_n1zvthnTvl1ttt4i5o1_400

This sense of impending doom threads through the episodes of this long short story. After rousing from her confusing dream, she heads to work where she fights off the efforts of an aggressive Liberty Bond salesman. From there she deals with the chauvinism of the time on the job, where she and a fellow reportress are relegated to covering theater and society news—even though a sports writer would prefer reviewing plays in her stead. She keeps her mouth shut about her unpopular anti-war views and her dislike of the stories she’s assigned because of her gender.

The beacon of light in her life is her Texas-born beau, Adam, a strapping young man in uniform, ready to be sent to the front. They meet for meals, go dancing, attend the theater, pause as funerals pass in the street (“’It seems to be a plague,’ said Miranda, ‘something out of the Middle Ages.’”). Miranda wonders why her head aches and nothing seems as real as it should be.

She simultaneously yearns for and is afraid of loving Adam:

There was only the wish to see him and the fear, the present threat, of not seeing him again; for every step they took towards each other seemed perilous, drawing them apart instead of together, as a swimmer in spite of his most determined strokes is yet drawn slowly backward by the tide. “I don’t want to love,” she would think in spite of herself, “not Adam, there is no time and we are not ready for it and yet this is all we have–“

Readers see her delirium slowly wrap her in grim sickness, and one is sometimes confused as to what is happening and what is febrile dream, a technique that makes Porter’s experience of the flu jump off the page to create a lump in one’s throat.

After she finally collapses, Adam tends to her in her boarding house, and they share a tender confession of love.

When Miranda presses Adam to reveal his feelings, he gently puts his face against hers, and then says: “Can you hear what I am saying?…What do you think I have been trying to tell you all this time?”

As he cares for her, they both recall a spiritual:

“‘Pale horse, pale rider,'” said Miranda “(We really need a good banjo) ‘done taken my lover away–‘” Her voice cleared and she said, “But we ought to get on with it. What’s the next line?”

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” said Adam,” about forty verses, the rider done taken away mammy, pappy, brother, sister, the whole family besides the lover–“

An ambulance whisks Miranda to the hospital where she suffers through pain and more nightmares, death a whisper away. During her recovery, she sees fireworks outside the hospital windows. The war is over. As to Adam? His fate is summed up in the spiritual and Biblical passage from which the book’s title comes.

While a melancholy tale, Pale Horse, Pale Rider places the reader in a small microcosm of American history in ways no sterile nonfiction retelling of this period could. The reader learns, for example, that men didn’t like their army-issued wrist watches, thinking only sissies wore them, and that a Liberty Bond cost $50 while a lowly female reporter only earned $18 per week. These details, along with Porter’s haunting fever dream style, bring the past alive for today’s readers.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Visit her website at http://www.LibbySternberg.com 

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Short Story: Love in the time of COVID-19

by Libby Malin Sternberg

Lila would smile at me as if we shared a secret, her dark eyes staring at mine, unblinking, the corners of her rose-pink mouth lifted up just a millimeter, as if to ask, how funny the world is, isn’t it, Rudy?

She was in her twenties, and I was only eighteen, and we did share a secret. My Uncle Pete, owner of four Pizza Rustica shops around town, had come up with a scheme.

“We offer the test for free,” he explained one night. The empty room of his flagship pizzeria on Old Town Road, the one with a bar and a brisk weekend business, smelled of fried food and onions, as he leaned against the countertop. Lila had already cleaned the empty tables, and the cook had left an hour ago. We were only here to count the money and tidy up.

The test he mentioned was the one for the coronavirus or Covid-19 or Chinese flu, as Pete called it. We were shut down for we didn’t know how long, and takeout business might be brisk, but it didn’t pay the salaries of the serving staff. Uncle Pete might be hard-nosed about profits, but he was no villain. He wanted to give some money to his laid-off workers. This restaurant, the only one of his four, accounted for a good 80 percent of Pizza Rustica’s profits, and most of those had been from from the bar.

photo-1515890435782-59a5bb6ec191I followed these things closely. I was going to be a business major at Penn State next year. If I ever got to finish high school. It was shut down along with everything else.

Lila, one of Pete’s servers, hired just before the quarantine, nodded enthusiastically from her perch on a nearby stool. She spoke English with a thick accent, something Slavic, I think. Her hair was a waterfall of auburn ripples that seemed to glow like spun gold in the right light, and every light was the right one around Lila.

“Uncle Pete,” I managed to sputter, “we don’t have no tests. We can’t offer them for free or for sale.”

He just shrugged. “Don’t matter. We take a swab and send them on their way, telling them results aren’t in for another two weeks. By then they know if they have it anyway. No harm, no foul.”

Again, Lila nodded, this time even more enthusiastically. I just shook my head. I was used to my uncle’s schemes by now. I’d been working here since I was twelve, first bussing tables and washing up, then as a cashier, then a deliveryman when I got my license, and most recently as assistant manager. The title was pure b.s., but Uncle Pete didn’t have any kids, and he wanted to help me get ahead. He said it would look good on my resume.

“They’ll know,” I protested. “Somebody’ll tell.”

The fear of the authorities never deterred Uncle Pete. He’d looked the other way when a bookie set up shop in the corner of his place for a year, and police believed him when he said he was as shocked as they were to find a racket in his establishment. He’d also gotten wine from a place in Connecticut for a few years, going around the state’s liquor licensing regulations. He’d not been caught on that game, and had only shut it down when he found a way to get the stuff cheaper legally. I sensed disappointment when that happened.

“I do the swabs,” Lila was now saying. “I did some nursing.”

My eyes widened as I stared at her. All I knew about her was that she had a boyfriend who picked her up every day in his gleaming white Tahoe, and that she was beautiful. As beautiful as an angel.

“Somebody’ll tell,” I repeated, looking at her, hoping she’d see the folly of this. “They’ll know it’s a fake. The news has been talking about how hard it is to get these tests!”

Uncle Pete straightened and crossed his arms. “That’s the point, Rudy. When the market on something is tight like that, you always know somebody somewhere is selling it on the side. We’re just taking advantage of that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Exasperated, I nearly shouted, “But we’re not buying anything. We don’t have the tests! It’s irresponsible! It’s nuts. It’s risky. Someone could get hurt by this.” Met by impassive stares from Pete, I added, “And how’s it going to make you any money if it’s free anyway?”

“You have to order four Specials to get it. And the price of those just went up 20 percent.” After a beat, he went on, as if I wouldn’t get it. “We get all the takeout orders this side of town, and we’re selling our most expensive items.” Specials were things like our lasagna and veal parmesan platters or our largest pizzas plus salads and appetizers.

“Good thinking, boss,” Lila said and stood as well, straightening like a long-legged bird about to take flight. Today she wore skin-tight denim pants and two-inch heels—how did she manage to stay on her feet all night in those—and a red T-shirt with something in Cyrillic across her breasts on it that, to me, seemed to read, “Love me, Rudy.”

I shook my head. Could I even continue to work here? Then she turned to me. And gave me that smile.

****

Uncle Pete s didn’t advertise his testing scheme, but he had an amazing network of people he spread the word to. Within a day of this plan, we had a bustling takeout order business at the flagship site, triple what we usually did, all the high-end orders, four at a time, sometimes double.

I’d ring up the orders and grab their plastic. Lila would take customers into the bar and do the swab. By the time she was done, I’d have their orders on the counter ready to go.

She sported white clothes now for this new job. White skirt and camp shirt or white jeans and tee, her bundle of hair pulled back at the nape of her neck, and oversized glasses I’d never seen her wear before perched on her nose.

The evenings were warm, with spring nipping at our hopes, the scent of hyacinths in the air, and I selected old love songs for the ambient music. Frank Sinatra crooning about seeing you again, Doris Day purring about sentimental journeys, Ella Fitzgerald humming about the man she loves.

The man Lila loved would pick her up every night at midnight, his face as grim as death, his arms muscled and tattooed, his voice a gravel road. “Ready, babe?” he’d say, and it was only the slightest tinge of warmth in his tone that gave away the idea that he might – might – just love her as much as I did.

Every evening when I showed up for work, I cherished two dreams. One, that Uncle Pete would stop this ridiculous plan, and two, that Lila’s boyfriend would not come to pick her up and I’d take her home instead.

I was never quite sure what would happen on that drive home, but was sure it would be something wonderful.

****

A week into this business venture and we were so busy that Uncle Pete brought one of our regular cooks back in part-time to help out the senior one he’d kept onboard during the quarantine. If this fellow, Gus, wondered what was up with “nurse” Lila escorting folks into the bar for a moment, he didn’t let on.

I lived in fear that the authorities would barge in on a raid, some lab-coated, pistol-waving patrol of public health officers, to cart us all off to jail.

But hope tamped down that fear. Hope that Lila would smile at me. Laugh with me. Even – as happened last night as the room emptied – jokingly twirl around in a dance with me to the tune of “I’ve got a crush on you” before Boyfriend arrived, quickly breaking free when his shadow darkened the door.

She smelled of roses, something faint, something I’d never noticed before. Her soap? Perfume?

That night I dreamed of buying her that perfume, even after finding out it would empty my college savings account.

****

The next day, Uncle Pete expanded his venture. For every five Specials, he’d throw in a roll of toilet paper for an extra three bucks, and the test was still free. When I asked him why wasn’t the toilet paper free, too, he looked at me like I was the stupidest man on earth. “I pay for that, Rudy,” he said. He wasn’t paying for any of the “tests.”

As the days wore on, my anxiety crept up, and every time the bells over the door announced another customer, I feared I’d see those uniformed health officers of my nightmares.

They didn’t show up, but more discerning patrons did. Some insisted on knowing why the test results would take so long. I had no answer, but Uncle Pete, always around, quickly responded, “You want fast results, go get those government ones. Half of ’em are no good anyway, you know.”

It was around this time that Lila started wearing a name tag with her white ensembles, which had grown to include a white shirt dress and a white jumpsuit. The tag read: Lila Milchek, O.D.S.

I asked her what the initials stood for and was rewarded with a smile. “Something in my old country,” she said.

Only three days now remained in the quarantine, and as we were about to open for the afternoon, I asked Pete what he’d do about the missing test results at that time.

Without a word, he pulled a typed letter from his pocket and handed it to me.

“Dear Valued Customer,” it read, “By now you should know, if you are symptom-free, that you do not have the Chinese flu. Those of you with symptoms will have gone to the doctor, as we advised. We are happy this quarantine is over, and sad to report that our testing company, Ajax Dynamics, went out of business and absconded with all the swabs. Since the test was free, there is no need for a refund, but we generously offer you a free large soda with every large Special pizza you order…”

“Ajax Dynamics?” I asked, looking at him over the paper. “Absconded with the swabs?”

“I’m going to post that here, on the counter, in laminate. And hand it out to some people I recognize who got the test,” he said, with not a hint of shame or embarrassment.

The bells jangled, and I looked up, expecting to see Lila, wondering if she had a new white outfit to dazzle us with today, but it was a customer.

And another and another and another after that.

Lila didn’t come in that night. Or the one after.

****

Now the ambient music I chose was Puccini, lush arias about death and doomed love. Lila was in the hospital, desperately ill.

Uncle Pete actually closed up shop, worried that she’d contracted the virus, that his scheme had had deadly consequences, the spread of which we’d yet to realize.

The verdict came in a phone call from the boyfriend a couple nights later. His name was Roger, it turned out, he was a car mechanic, and Lila’s real name was Mimi.

“Tuberculosis,” Uncle Pete said in a hushed tone after getting off the phone. “It’s just TB.”

Just TB?

A cascade of events then overtook us. It turned out everyone she’d come into contact with needed to be told and possibly tested. Many of them got the COVID test too, while they were at it, so that special offer of Pete’s turned out to be valid, after all.

Not a one complained or let out a word about Pete’s tests, or if they did, they were dismissed, because we never heard a peep from anyone about it.

As for Lila?

She didn’t make it. She contracted the virus after all, somewhere else since none of the customers tested positive, and her underlying condition meant she was in the at-risk category.

Roger let us know weeks later. He came in for a pizza, his face as grim as death, and now the gravel in his throat seemed real, as he gave us the bad news.

“She tried, you know? Knew she was sick, but she tried to make it here and wanted…” He stopped, choking up, and I never found out what she wanted, but I knew it wasn’t me.

****

That week, I changed my major at Penn State, to undeclared, and began an online Intro writing course, our first assignment an essay about lost love.

“Lila would smile at me as if we shared a secret,” I wrote, “her dark eyes staring at mine, unblinking, the corners of her rose-pink mouth lifted up just a millimeter, as if to ask, how funny the world is, isn’t it, Rudy?

Copyright 2020 Libby Sternberg

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What I miss about Sundays

It’s Palm Sunday 2020, and we celebrated in this coronavirus time of self-isolation by hanging some palm-like flora on our door, and enjoying the glorious sunshine of the afternoon, and checking in with virtual religious celebrations. But it felt a little empty.

In Craig Morgan’s country hit “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” he walks you through the cheerful quiet Sundays of churchgoing people. He describes congregants singing “Amazing Grace,” then later clipping coupons from the newspaper and cat-napping on the porch.

It’s a joyful song that celebrates the experiences of the nearly 40% of Americans who attend religious services every week.

Count me among them. And during these days of social distancing and closed doors, I miss church.

This has come as a surprise to me because for many years now, I’ve embraced the idea that church is something of an artificial construct. We should practice our Christianity, live it, and it shouldn’t require a building, a gathering place, for us to feel at one with God.

I’ve especially contemplated this idea as I watch churches big and small struggling with declining memberships and rising costs. Is it really necessary to maintain all those buildings, all that staff?

Well, yes, it is. That’s the lesson this coronavirus isolation is teaching me.

If I were to rewrite Mr. Morgan’s song, in fact, I’d talk about the things I miss about Sundays. I miss gathering together with like-minded souls. I miss singing hymns with them. I miss the smiles, the catching up on news, the gentle and often unseen gestures of help for those in need.

And, above all, I miss Communion. Not just the “mystic, sweet communion” we sing about in “The Church’s One Foundation.” I miss the sacrament.

No matter how distracted I might be through the readings, the sermon, the prayers, or the announcements, when I kneel at the altar rail for Communion, my mind and heart shift gears. After receiving the host, I experience a peace…that passes all understanding. Sometimes I mentally articulate a prayer of petition. Sometimes, my petitions seem like a cloud of incense floating up to God that require no translation for Him to understand.

Virtual services can capture some of the sense of community lost by actually bestirring ourselves to go to a church building. I’ve particularly enjoyed some Morning Prayer liturgies offered by a Harrisburg church that are intimate and yet inclusive as the officiants read off prayer petitions they are seeing appear on the screen during the service.

While these are wonderful ways to stay in touch with church, even allowing us to sample an array of approaches to liturgies, they always feel to me as if something is missing.

Communion is missing. The actual sacrament and the real gathering of fellow believers.

Our local bishop has reminded us that armed forces personnel might miss the sacrament regularly. She posted a message last week that included the prayer from the Armed Forces’ Prayer Book for when you cannot attend worship. It includes these words:

In union, O Lord, with your faithful people at every altar of your Church, where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated…

I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving.

What a beautiful prayer. I’ll cherish it even as I yearn for the times when we can gather at church.

What I miss about Sundays, though, is that artificial construct, that building where we gather, and the people who work to make communion as special as it should be.

When this period of isolation ends, I hope I never take it for granted again.

 

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Real Fake News: Imaginary Headlines

In the 24/7 news cycle, television, radio and print media seem to struggle to come up with the hot take that will get them the most clicks or views. To me, this has led to an outrage culture, where every misstep, no matter how small, is distorted to be something bigger and more meaningful than it really is. Whether it’s former Vice President Joe Biden mistaking his wife for her sister in an introduction, or President Trump saying…well, anything…journalists seem at the ready to enflame their readers, viewers, or listeners with the most cynical interpretation of the news at hand.

Whatever your political views, you might agree that this kind of media climate can be unhelpful at best and damaging at worst. newspapers-1-723x391

Anyway, it got me to thinking of how today’s media might have covered inspirational quotes from previous leaders.

Here’s my very, very fake news take on that. Most of the quotes below come from a real Psychology Today article on inspirational quotes from presidents. The headlines come from my imagination!

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” Franklin D. Roosevelt
“President to Country — Be Very Afraid, Things Will Get Worse” New York Times

“To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.” John Adams
“Adams Offers No Specific Plans” Boston Globe

“The object of love is to serve, not to win.” Woodrow Wilson
“What Wilson’s Defeatist Approach Means for America” The Atlantic

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Barack Obama
“Obama Likens Himself to Jesus Christ” Jeanine Pirro, Fox News

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry S. Truman
“Sources say president ‘enraged’ with staff who claim credit for ideas he thinks are his own” Los Angeles Times

“Pessimism never won any battle.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
“President Once Again Lashes Out at Media” Jim Acosta, CNN

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” Bill Clinton
“After Impeachment, President Clinton Says He Could Be President for Life” Fox News

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy
“President Hints at Taking Away Social Security” Rolling Stone

Feel free to comment with your own fake headlines!

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Vegetable lasagna! A produce basket in your mouth!

My take on those endless recipe blog posts with photos and cheery instructions you have to scroll through to finally get to the ingredients and recipe itself:

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Vegetable lasagna! Who doesn’t love the oohey-gooey confabulation of ruffled pasta, creamy cheeses, and vegetables all baked to crispy-smooth perfection? And because of the vegetables, you don’t need to feel any guilt at all about this special dish. It’s a veritable produce basket in your mouth!

For years, I’ve used an old family recipe for this splendiferous concoction, something that’s been passed down for, well, days, in our circle. It’s easy! It’s fun! So, enjoy, as I walk you through the steps.

First, cut up the veggies! I like to dice them into small chunks. Squash, onions, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, even some leftover asparagus from a yummy salmon dinner I made the other night! Here they are all hanging out in the saute pan together!

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Don’t they look just yummy? I threw in some garlic, too, and salt and pepper, of course, along with basil and oregano. Oh, and a can of diced tomatoes! Here’s a picture of them with a wooden spoon joining the fun!

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While they were enjoying their tropical hangout, I put the water on to boil for the pasta. Here is that simmering water, just waiting for the ruffled pasta sheets to be dropped in! Doesn’t it look scrumptious?

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I only cook the pasta for a scant few minutes–oh, maybe two, or three, or four, or five. Who knows? Just long enough so it’s pliable but not overdone. Here are those delish pasta sheets enjoying a sauna in the sieve, along with their friend, the happy wooden spoon!

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Oops, did I forget the ricotta instructions? Well, here they are: scoop a bunch of ricotta from where it’s nestled in its colorful plastic container into a charming bowl. Add basil and garlic salt/powder! Mix! That’s it! No egg. Ooh, ooh, ooh, don’t like those nasty yolky eggs in my ricotta mixture. (But if you do, I won’t judge!) Here’s a photo of that creamy deliciousness I put together, along with its friendly spoon:

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Now it’s time to layer this party for your palate into a square baking dish. I’m only making enough for hubs and me — for dinner and next-day leftovers. So here’s how I pull all this magic into a mouth-watering treat: Layer of veggies, followed by pasta, followed by ricotta mixture, followed by slices of fresh mozzarella, and more veggies…the scrumptiousness is enough to make you swoon! See that plastic container at the top–that’s where I had kept my leftover asparagus! It wants to join the celebration!

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After the last layer is constructed, I toss a little grated parm over all and set this delectable three-story casserole constructed for our cornucopia of cravings into a 350-degree oven. Mmm-mmm. How will we be able to wait for it to be done? Go have a glass of wine with your beloved, set up the table in front of the fireplace, talk about all the wonderful things in your life, and voila! At the end of that time it’s done! You don’t need to limit dining to your kitchen or dining room. Here’s our setup for this fantastic, fabulous, fluffy, filling, fol-de-rol of a feast!  No salad necessary – all those vegetables are enough healthy stuff for a year of eating!

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Oh, and here’s the recipe for this delectable, deliciousness of a dish!

VEGETABLE LASAGNA

  • Vegetables, diced
  • Pasta noodles
  • Garlic, herbs
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese

Parboil the pasta, saute the veggies, assemble the dish. Bake until done.

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What happens to characters on “The Office”?

Yesterday, March 24, marked the 15th anniversary of the debut of “The Office” on NBC! How did I miss this? USA TODAY had a nice article about the series, how so many of its actors and writers went on to great careers, how it led to similar storytelling in other series.

Readers of this blog (yes, all five of you) know that I love that series and have written about it in the past when I binge-watched it last year. Now I catch random episodes on the Comedy Central network. It’s my go-to stress reliever show.

Lately, my obsession has led to me wondering what a reunion show might look like. What has happened to the characters in the fifteen years since it began (and in the seven years since it ended in 2013)? Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 11.49.11 AM

I can think of a few scenarios for some of the characters, but would love to hear other fans’ ideas. Here are mine:

First, I think most, if not all, of the characters who’d moved away from Scranton would have returned by now. Their families are in Scranton, after all, and I could see them wanting to be closer to parents and grandparents as they age, especially the characters with children.

Pam and Jim:  After one of the partners in Jim’s company, Athlead, embezzles money, the business almost collapses, but is absorbed by a multinational. Jim gets a payout from the sale that allows them to move back to Scranton from Texas, which Pam is eager to do because her mother is showing signs of early onset dementia. By now, Pam has tired of being a stay-at-home mom and gotten her real estate license. She discovers she’s great at selling houses, which she often stages using artworks she’s created. Jim becomes the stay-at-home dad.

Dwight and Angela: Angela takes over the Schrute farm business and does a fantastic job running their B and B and selling Schrute Organic Produce (despite the fact that across the road from them is an agri-business farm that uses pesticides and weed killers galore). They now have five children, whom Angela homeschools with stern discipline, and two dozen cats. Dwight, meanwhile, has expanded his real estate holdings (using Pam as a Realtor) to include houses he flips for profit. He also now runs the Dunder-Mifflin Computer company. The paper business has tanked, so Dwight, helped by an investment from Nellie Bertram (who is raising her adopted child in Europe and comes to Scranton occasionally) was able to buy out the branch and reconfigure it into a computer store. He hires young college dropouts to run what he calls their Sehrschlau Bars (German for “very smart”) but who usually just end up Googling solutions to customer problems, including when they go on-site to service computers at local schools, a contract Dwight has landed.

Phyllis: Poor Phyllis is now widowed after a particularly vigorous roll in the hay with Bob Vance, her husband, resulted in him having a fatal heart attack. She now runs Vance Refrigeration and Appliances, having expanded the business to include an array of inexpensive off brands to upscale niche devices for kitchens and more. She needs more office space for her growing business and is using Pam to help her find a good location out of the office park, an activity she keeps secret from Dwight who owns the park and who she views as a competitor because she’s going to add computers to her inventory.

Those are all my thoughts so far. Haven’t figured out what Darryl, Andy, Erin, Kelly, Ryan or others would be doing! Or Michael Scott himself!

Feel free to comment with your own ideas.

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FREE light reads for a short time

March 25, 2020 UPDATE: Thanks to all who took advantage of this free offer! I hope you enjoy these reads and will consider leaving a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads!
Best,
Libby Malin Sternberg
__________________________________
March 19, 2020
Dear Readers:
If you’re looking for reading material during self-imposed quarantines or social distancing, I’m offering some of my books for free at the Kindle store in the next few days. These are lighter books that should bring a smile to your face. All I ask is, if you do download one of these and read it, you consider leaving a review. (Those are crucial for authors who aren’t well-known or big best-sellers!)

 

Free Thursday, March 19 – Monday, March 23, 2020:

MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA by Libby Malin
A soap opera head writer finds her world turned upside down by a thief imitating one on the show, and a dashing older man hired to help her rescue the serial from imminent cancellation.
  • “…a world of wit and chaos that is so smart and insightfully written…you get happily lost in the fun!” Booklist
  • “Malin coaxes plenty of laughs…” Publishers Weekly
  • “You’ll not be disappointed. Trust me! Rating: 5 Stars.”―Love Romance Passion
IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH by Libby Malin
He thinks his days are numbered, she marries him anyway to be his helpmate (doesn’t hurt that he’s a gajillionaire). She has to learn to be a wife, not a widow, when things take a turn…for the better.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NWTZ5WQ

  • “…an excellent story that should be well-received by readers of all types. I recommend it to lovers of romance, drama, Christian fiction, and Hallmark movies.” Gina Rae Mitchell
WOMAN WITH A PARASOL by Libby Malin
When her recently widowed mother asks Belle to accompany her on a tour of France, she is not prepared for the family secrets about to be revealed.
  • “…a fast-paced, whirlwind journey through France for protagonist  Belle and her mother… alluring content–notably, a mother’s attempts to bond with her daughter and the disclosure of a dark family affair.” BookLife Prize
 
REESE’S SUMMER OF PROMISE by Libby Malin
The first in the Tales of Bethany Beach series, a sweet romance about betrayed lovers learning to trust again.
Thanks!
Libby Malin Sternberg

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Humor in the Time of Covid-19

MY TRIP TO WEGMANS TODAY
As recorded in my war-scarred journal

Dear Diary,

I just returned from the battlefield of Wegmans where I attempted with Ma and Pa to stock up on provisions sorely needed. It was a mission not for the faint-hearted, but we persevered.

Ma’s resolve nearly gave way when we first caught sight of the Mediterranean Bar, their gleaming stainless steel containers reflecting the emptiness of our hearts. Only the hottest marinated peppers and olives remained in that artisanal outpost.

When we made our way through the detritus of flattened cardboard boxes on otherwise empty pallets, a grizzled bearded man approached. He carried a ripped UNESCO shopping bag and muttered over and over “flatten the curve,” which we later learned was the battle cry of his family as they fought in the First Siege of the Ultra-Soft, Four-Ply Charmin Mega-rolls. It left many scarred and nothing left, we hear tell, but the Second Siege was far worse, by all accounts.

It’s hard to describe the barrenness of the hand-sanitizer section. To this moment, I shudder at the memory of stories told in that antiseptic wasteland. “One man,” a sad youngster related, “reached out for a bottle just as a woman swooped in something fierce, her metallic Gucci bag a-swingin’ so hard that it. . .” He couldn’t finish, just shook his head slowly. “He won’t be needin’ anything for his hands no more.”

But ‘twas the meat department that shook our souls. There we heard a mother sob that she’d been in the Grass-Fed Organic Ground Beef War and thought they’d prevailed, just to return and face the taunting ignominious defeat of empty shelves, the only things left being Lamb for Stew and Mike’s Gourmet Chicken Curry Sauce. “How can I make chicken curry,” she wailed, “without organic air-dried chicken?” How, indeed.

Over in dairy, nary a container of soy or almond milk was to found. Only the white devil liquid itself was on the shelves, whole milk and heavy cream, a veritable cliff of containers behind misted chilled doors.

The bakery was little better. Though they had their crusty Tuscan bread boules on display, not a one was sliced, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to bother the beleaguered workers. Besides, they had sharp knives and a gleam in their eyes.

Ma’s heart nearly broke and she suppressed a sob herself when we came upon the empty hot bar. No Asian delights, no chicken wings, no arancini or truffled mac ’n cheese. Just darkness. As dark as our souls.

Until Pa reminded us that the hot bar doesn’t open for an hour.

Our spirits thus revived, we made our way to the frozen foods. Ice cream. Shelves of it. We sank to our knees in gratitude. Thus renewed, we rose and ambled toward checkout.

Waiting to fight another day,

Augustus

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Oops, I did it again

A couple years ago, I very happily reported here that I’d sold a “book of my heart,” which is a term authors use to describe a book they’ve written not to market trends but because they felt compelled to tell that particular story.

That book, Fall from Grace, was released by Bancroft Press in 2018. My favorite review of it came from Midwest Book Reviews, which called it “a novel for our times.”

As I reported at the time, it was a novel that didn’t fit easily into any of the categories traditional  publishing houses use to market books to booksellers (stores, in particular). It was a faith-drenched book about a broken marriage, but it dealt with mainline Protestantism and evangelicals, their world views, how people in both groups try to live Godly lives, even if they don’t always agree on what that means.

The book was dinged by some readers who posted reviews on Amazon, but it was clear these readers were expecting a traditional Christian fiction read, an “inspirational” novel where there’s no hint of impropriety, not even a mild curse word. (For my thoughts on that, here’s a post about Christian fiction.)

To that censorious reader, I offer a proactive apology: Sorry, but I did it again. I wrote another novel with faith issues that contains bad language at times. I haven’t sold this novel yet to a publisher. Maybe I never will. Maybe I’ll self-publish it at some point.

Titled The Reed Boat (for now, at least), here’s the story:

When her billionaire older husband discards everything to become a minister, young Emily Pendleton supports his decision–until she discovers he intends to discard her and her baby, too. As she raises her daughter alone, she seeks another tossed-aside item, a cheap cross necklace her late mother had given her that holds a key to a heartbreaking past. A novel about the sacrifices women make for their children, The Reed Boat is ultimately a story about mothers protecting children from unscrupulous men.

The reason this book will probably be a hard sell in the publishing world is because it contains a subtle pro-life message. Trust me, it doesn’t hammer the issue or hit you over the head with it. If you’re among the majority of Americans who want abortion to remain legal but only under certain circumstances (53 percent, according to Gallup in 2019), then this story will not offend.

gettyimages-200569519-001-2048x2048I suspect, however, that the publishing world isn’t filled with those kinds of Americans. I suspect the publishing world is populated by people who hold the view that abortion should be legal under any circumstance, with no restrictions at all (25 percent, according to the Gallup poll mentioned above). So even if a book is primarily about keeping innocents safe from men who might harm them, it will have a hard time finding a home in the publishing world if there’s even a hint of sympathy for the pro-life stance.

I’d love to be proven wrong on that. If there’s an editor out there reading this who doesn’t hold that view, I’ll happily send you a copy of the manuscript.

What about Christian fiction publishing? Maybe it might fit there, but not in Christian romance, because The Reed Boat has no clear romance HEA. And I do include some language that those publishers might believe is problematic.

Again, I’d enjoy being proven wrong on this supposition, as well, and I’d gladly email the book to Christian fiction editors willing to give it a read.

I’m happy to report, in fact, that there is, as of this writing, one editor looking at the manuscript, and I’m querying some agents, too, about it, most of whom I’ve not yet heard from. It’s early days yet, though, on that process.

I don’t know if The Reed Boat will eventually … sail. But I do know sometimes authors feel compelled to tell a story, whether it’s their muse or the Spirit moving them. The Reed Boat is that kind of story for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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