September 22, 2008

My novel - Mr. Right-Enough

Click here to read about my soon-to-be-published novel:
As soon as I finish it, that is. Meanwhile, find out what it's all about, read some chapters, see (and comment)on how I would cast the movie version...

September 20, 2008

Lemon Pie

Until my grandmother got sick she lived by herself in a small, cozy bungalow on Moore Street in Toledo, Ohio. The house always had the aroma of baking bread, and in the summer it smelled of cut peonies from her backyard. Sometimes when we were very lucky it smelled like lemon pie. I remember that wonderful smell once when I was seven or eight and my sister was chasing me through Grandma’s house, tormenting me as she was disposed to do, being two years older. I screeched, looking for safety, finding it between Grandma’s overstuffed green chair and the wall, a fairly narrow space. Bunny was so close I could feel her breath and I crammed myself as close to the wall as I could, trying to melt into the corner. Then Grandma wedged herself between my sister and me, her plump body straining to fit in the small space, and there she stood, my hero, my protector.

“Stop,” she said softly to Bunny. “Don’t pick on your sister.”
“She’s a brat,” Bunny said. “She took my new Nancy Drew.”
“Samantha, did you take Bunny’s book?”
I looked at Grandma’s sweet face, her frothy white curls, her starched white apron. “I borrowed it,” I said. “I just wanted to read it.”
“Well, you need to give it back. It doesn’t belong to you.” Bunny’s smile was smug until Grandma said to her, “And you’ll let your sister read it when you’re finished, won’t you, sweetheart?”
Bunny’s shoulders slumped. But Grandma looked at her encouragingly. Finally, Bunny said, “Sure,” but clearly she didn’t mean it. And she never did let me read that book. She wasn’t so big on sharing.
“All right, enough of this,” Grandma said. “Let’s have some pie.”
Her lemon pie sat cooling on the kitchen table, two inches of pearly white meringue, browned lightly on the waves and swirls. My mouth watered in anticipation of the perfect tartness of the filling and the sweetness of the marshmallow-y meringue. I always loved her lemon pie. It was my favorite dessert.
“Why can’t we go with you to see Grandma?” I asked. I was ten now and hadn’t seen my grandmother in two weeks. I missed her laugh, her comfortable hugs, her twinkling eyes. I missed the coffee-milk she’d let us drink, which she’d make in a translucent green juice glass, one-quarter filled with coffee and three quarters filled with
milk. “Children aren’t allowed in the hospital,” my mother said, pulling on her burgundy coat, examining her reflection in the mirror. The coat had a mink collar (fake fur, I’d learn later) and she looked like a queen, elegant and regal. It was 1959, a time when people dressed up to do things like visiting someone in a hospital, flying on an airplane, going to church. “But she’s doing better and she’ll be home in a few days,” Mom said. “You can visit her at Auntie Bella’s soon.”
“I want to see her now.”
Mom smiled sadly and kissed my cheek. I wanted to throw myself on the floor, kick my legs and scream, but I was too old for tantrums.
We never got to go to the hospital and never saw our grandmother again. The phone rang a few days later while Bunny and I were playing Parcheesi. She was accusing me of cheating (I’d won a game, and she was a terrible loser) and we were quarreling, as usual. Mom picked up the heavy, black receiver, waving us to be quiet, and we stopped arguing to see who was calling. Mom’s face crumpled and her eyes darkened, staring at us as she listened. I could tell she wasn’t seeing us, and Bunny and I looked at each other in alarm, allies now.

Picture from top: Grandma, Me (left),
cousin Ken, sister Bunny (right)
and cousin Irene on the bottom.

Mom sat at the kitchen table when she hung up, her shoulders slumped. We stared at her, our Parcheesi game abandoned.
“Grandma passed away,” she said.
I stared. “What do you mean,” I said, although my heart already felt as if it were shrinking in my chest.
“She died,” Bunny said quietly and came to sit on the chair with me. She put her arm around me and lay her head against mine.
Tears filled my eyes and trickled down my face. “We’re never going to see her again?” I asked.
“No, honey,” Mom said. “She’s gone from us.”
“You should have let us come to the hospital with you,” I said and Mom put her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking.
“I know. I’m so sorry.”

My sister and I didn’t go to the funeral. In 1959 people thought it best to shield children from death. When our parents came home they moved quietly, especially our father who’d been close to his mother. His eyes glistened as he hugged us to him and told us he loved us. I’d never before seen my father cry and I wrapped my arms around his neck, wanting to comfort him.
“Where do people go when they die?” I asked.
“They go to heaven, stupid,” my sister said.
“Don’t call your sister stupid,” Mom said but there was no anger in her voice.
“Maybe they go to heaven,” Dad told Bunny. “Or maybe they don’t go anywhere.”
“But if they go to heaven we’ll see Grandma again, right?” Bunny asked.
“I suppose,” Dad said.
“What if I forget her?” I asked.
Mom said, “She’ll always be in your heart, honey. You won’t forget her.”
“But what if I do?”
My mother stood for a moment, pondering. “I know how we’ll keep Grandma with
us.” We all looked at her; me, my dad, Bunny. “We’ll go make her lemon pie,” she said. And we did, with Grandma’s recipe.

These days I make that lemon pie when I’m missing my grandmother, and now, my mother and dad. It’s Grandma’s original recipe, written in my mother’s handwriting on a 3 x 5 card that’s stained and creased with use. As it bakes my mouth always waters in anticipation of the perfect tartness of the lemon filling and the sweetness of the marshmallow-y meringue, and the smell as it’s baking brings back their memories, their faces and their love.

1 cup sugar
juice of 3 lemons
3 egg yolks
5 level tablespoons corn starch
1 ¾ cup boiling water

3 egg whites
½ cup sugar
Combine filling ingredients in top of double boiler. Cook until thick. Pour into 9” baked crust. Let pie cool.
Whip egg whites and sugar. When pie is cool spread on the meringue. Bake at 375 degrees until meringue is slightly browned.

September 11, 2008

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

I am definitely in the minority on this one judging by the acclaim this book received, and I am baffled by that. I loved The Kite Runner and was engaged from page one. It was not only beautifully written but it told a gripping, believable story with well-drawn, interesting characters. I read 100 pages of A Thousand Splendid Suns, just to be sure to give it a fair shot. I thought any minute it would grab me, but it never did. The story is slow and boring. The characters have no depth, no redeeming qualities, they're not likeable, especially Mariam, the main character. I wanted to like her, to relate to her, but I couldn't. All the characters are one-dimensional. I'm not saying this to be funny or snide but I find it hard to believe the same person wrote both books. The Kite Runner was technically beautiful while A Thousand Splendid Suns is very basic Creative Writing 101. Truly, I think someone else wrote this book. To get all this critical acclaim I'm thinking something terribly exciting must happen on page 101 but since I could only manage 100 pages I'll never find out what it is.

September 3, 2008

Sit-ups 'til Your Eyes Pop Out

By Samantha Hoffman
Previously published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul copyright 2006

The day was glorious, warm and fresh, the sky a clear Wedgewood blue. I was out for my morning run through the forest preserve, feeling vibrant and strong, breathing in the smell of new leaves and sunlit air. My electric-orange running shorts were cut high, showing a lot of leg, the black jog-bra cut low, showing a lot of skin.
When my shoelace came untied I crouched to re-tie it. That's when I saw it; a fold of dimply flesh hanging over the waistband of my shorts. I gasped and shot up, arms high as if being robbed, looking at my belly. It was gone. Oh, thank heavens, I thought, it had just been a hideous hallucination. So I bent to finish tying the shoe, and there was the damn thing again.
I had been blessed with thin genes and was one of those women that other women regarded with envy as I packed away unladylike mounds of food and never gained an ounce. I naively thought it would last forever and I would die an old woman with firm breasts, a tight butt and flat stomach. The offending flesh shocked and appalled me and I knew I'd have to get really serious now, so along with running, I took up aerobics, step-classes, spinning and Pilates. I started strength training and a new routine of leg lifts, curls and squats. I bought an Ab-Blaster.
At brunch one day I laid out my new exercise regimen to my friend Judi. "This has to be obsessive-compulsive disorder," Judi pronounced. "You already look too good. Here, eat some of my eggs benedict, you sicko." She pushed the gooey plate toward me. "If you get any better I can't be friends with you any more."
Judi's idea of exercise was getting out of bed in the morning and her idea of a healthy diet was a green salad and Diet Coke with her fettuccini Alfredo and chocolate mousse."I have to work on my stomach," I said. "I want six-pack abs."
"Hah!" Judi said. "I can just see it: you, in an ad in the back of a women's magazine, seventy years old, face wrinkled like linen on a hot day, but you're standing there in a string bikini, all buffed out with those six-pack abs."
"That won't happen," I said. "I'll have had a facelift before the photo shoot." I dipped a piece of pineapple in low-fat yogurt, but felt faint from the aroma of eggs benedict wafting up my nostrils."You're fifty years old. You can't get a six-pack when you're over fifty unless you go to a liquor store."
"Sure I can," I said. "I just have to work harder."

"Didn't we always say we were going to grow old gracefully?"
"Yeah, when we were fifteen. We also said we'd never spank our kids in the grocery store and we'd never use a cell phone and we'd never turn into our mothers."
Judi shrugged, pulled back her plate and took a large bite, dripping with hollandaise.

"Look at Cher," I continued. "Look at Goldie Hawn. Every time I see Goldie's flat stomach in one of her little body-skimming evening gowns at the Academy Awards I want to scream. She's older than I am. If she has a flat stomach I can too."
"Those women spend more on plastic surgery than we spend on our mortgages. Get real. No one's exempt. We're all getting old. Let's do it with some dignity."
I considered Judi's words as I immersed myself in my new training program. What does aging gracefully mean, I wondered one day as I did twenty extra squats. Letting yourself go? Giving up? I ran an extra mile that day.On the day I finished fifty crunches and thirty-five leg lifts I heard Judi's voice in my head: "No one's exempt. We're all getting old. Let's do it with dignity." And when I finally worked up to sixty-two reps on the Ab-Blaster (shooting for one-hundred) I collapsed, gasping, wondering where this was getting me. The belly-roll was still there in spite of my punishing efforts. I could probably do sit-ups until my eyes popped out and that flab would sit there, unperturbed, mocking me.
I lay on the floor, mopping my sweat-soaked hair. And then I got up, grabbed the Ab-Blaster furiously as if it had bitten me and took it out to the trash. I vowed to accept being fifty-something with all its consequences: excess hair where I didn't want it, thinning hair where I did, drooping breasts, sagging butt, and the inability to focus on my eyelashes as I tried to coat them with mascara. I would be happy with who I was and how I looked now. I would. I really would.I opened a Diet Coke and drank thirstily, looking out the kitchen window, breathing in the smell of the sunlit air. Something moved by the garbage can and I frowned and squinted. Someone was picking up the Ab-Blaster. Hesitating for only a split second I rushed to the door and threw it open with a thwack!
"Hey!" I shouted, running out. "Leave that alone. I need that!"