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CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM ELAINE PITOCHELLI: HUMOR & PATHOS

HUMOR & PATHOS: ROBIN WILLIAMS REMEMBERED

By Elaine Pitochelli

The year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. The first test tube baby was born. Cult leader Jim Jones told nine hundred members of his church to commit suicide. Girls were playing with Barbie Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens. Boys were playing with the Simon game and hot wheels.

And in his comedic persona of Mork from Ork, Robin Williams exploded on the scene.

In our household, television viewing was reserved for a couple of evening family shows, during which we let Williams, that comic genius, into our home and our lives. He first appeared on the show, Happy Days, and then sequed into the memorable Mork and Mindy.

I enjoyed the show very much, but Williams’ persona puzzled me. This enigmatic soul of comedy poked at my inner places. I needed to look deeper at him.  I felt the need to study him. How could he keep up this crazy, oddball act? How could he keep up this raving wildness?  I worried about him, which seemed odd to me. For God’s sake. I didn’t know the man personally.

Yet, on some essential level, I did know him.  His depression, his mania, his genius was there for anyone to see—anyone, that is, who dared to, anyone who had lived with the same proclivities. I can’t let him go without a tribute to his gifts.

Mork is gone, and so is the planet Ork.  So are Peter Pan and Hook.
Gone are the Happy Feet that rocked and zoomed across the frozen tundra.
Gone is The Fisher King whose craziness bore pins into our eyes and icy shards thick from the frozen wasteland into our hearts.
Gone is Mrs. Doubtfire who absorbed a child’s tears in her vast bosom.                                                                                                                             Gone is the booming voice that awakened Vietnam and promised relief from travails.                                                                                                    Gone is Patch Adams restoring rosy cheeks to ashen children whose souls would soon be winging their way to heaven.
Gone is Jacob the Liar who gave solace, grace, and laughter to a tiny girl destined for the Nazi ovens.
Gone are those eyes of bottomless sadness, the depth of the deepest desert sands.

What’s left is a man whose own soul cried while he gave sustenance to millions with insane laughter and fathomless tears.
What’s left are our memories and yearnings to restore to his heart and soul that which he gave to ours.
What’s left is the knowledge that his pain couldn’t be healed.
What’s left is his profound imagination and creativity, someone who brought his emotions to soaring heights and allowed us unbridled laughter and play in Humor and Pathos.

BOLLI member and writer Elaine Pitochelli

 

Elaine considers reading her passion and inspiration. Writing is her muse, the creative influence in her Being.  Her family is her All.

 

 

 

 

MAY CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: CHOCOLATE POKE CAKE

CHOCOLATE POKE CAKE

by John Rudy

Soon after we got married, I started making an Angel Food Cake.  After it cooked and partially cooled, I made Orange Jello, poked holes into the cake and poured it in.  After some experimentation, I found that a similar strategy worked well with chocolate pudding, and I varied the type of cake.  Sometimes I baked the cakes from scratch, and sometimes I used the stuff from boxes.  Back in the ‘70s, the boxed cakes weren’t very good, but they tend to be quite good today.  Frequently, these cakes call for frosting, but with the pudding, that seems too sweet to me.

This recipe calls for a very thick frosting.  I halved the original as it is perfectly adequate.  Feel free to double the frosting recipe if you like it thick and calorific.

1 chocolate fudge cake, prepared and baked in a 9×13 inch pan.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

1 can sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup heavy cream

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

¾ cups butter, softened to room temperature

¼ cup cocoa

1½ cups powdered sugar

½ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bake cake as directed on box.
  2. While the cake is baking, add sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and chocolate chips to a medium sauce pan and cook, stirring, on medium heat until the chips are melted and the filling is smooth.
  3. When the cake comes out from the oven, using the end of a wooden spoon, poke holes into the cake to create deep pockets for the filling to go into.
  4. Pour filling evenly over warm cake.
  5. Cool cake completely before frosting.

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, cocoa, powdered sugar and beat on low until combined.
  2. Add heavy cream, vanilla, and salt. Beat until creamy and smooth.
  3. Frost cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

BOLLI Matters Feature Writer, John Rudy

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

MEET MEMBER BOB KELLER: VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINAIRE

At BOLLI’s recent conference on creative retirement, representatives from the MAZIE Foundation were on hand to talk about their outstanding mentorship program.  Our own Bob Keller has been working with MAZIE students for some time and hopes that his experience will inspire other BOLLI members to volunteer–this past term, he says, four students had to be turned away because they just didn’t have enough mentors. 

BOB KELLER: VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINARE

Bob and his most recent “mentee,” Smaido

“I have been interested in social justice and community issues for a long time,” says Bob Keller. This was handed down to me by my parents, both of whom gave a lot to their communities. While I was a CFO of a couple of companies from 1977 to 1995, I also did community work. I coached soccer for my kid’s teams, and when the director of the All Newton Music School died suddenly and the program was in a tumultuous period, I stepped on board as Treasurer and tried to help.” His stepping in to help certainly did not stop there.

In 1987, along with two of his close college friends, Bob started a non-profit group, Mobile Diagnostic Services, which worked out of Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick. All three of us did this outside our regular jobs. Mobile Diagnostic Services was the only mobile mammography van in Massachusetts, doing about 4,000 mammography exams per year.  “It was a tough business,” he says, “but we provided a critical service and saved lives.”  The three volunteers managed the business and interpreted 4,000 mammography exams.  Bob raised the funds to keep the program going.  In 2003, the group turned their vans over to Dana Farber—no one else has been able to successfully operate mobile mammography in this state.

Bob’s interests have ranged from Mobile Diagnostic Services to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative where he served as fundraising director for this community organizing non-profit in a primarily Cape Verdean Roxbury community from 1997-2000.  After retiring in 2004, he was a Board member at the All Newton Music School and as Board President started their capital campaign in 2005 to renovate the building (the renovation finally completed in 2017), and tutored MCAS math prep in Boston’s public high schools for 8 years under the auspices of “Partners in Education.” For the past 15 years, Bob has also been a Board member of the Commonwealth Chorale (formerly the Newton Choral Society). He and his wife Barbara have been singing with the Chorale for the past 41 years. “I’ve also been an SGL at BOLLI a few times, leading an Introduction to Choral Music course.  And to top it all off, he is also a member of the Weston Library music committee.

But for Bob, what seems to be the volunteer experience he has found to be the most meaningful is his work with at-risk students at both Framingham and Waltham High Schools through the Mazie Foundation.

Founded in 1998, the mission of the John Andrew Mazie Memorial Foundation is “to enable at-risk high school students to become adults of promise through goals-based mentoring.”  The Foundation’s Mazie Mentoring Program, which has been operating at Framingham High since 1998 and at Waltham High School since 2010, helps aspiring students “set and achieve goals, graduate from high school, prepare to apply to college or other post-secondary training, and experience success.”

Each Mazie mentor provides a student with:

* personal, social, emotional, and educational support through high school;

*  information, support, and skills for vital success in the workplace;

* advocacy and exposure in the areas of cultural, social, educational, and personal development;

* a role model, friend, and advisor with whom to explore all the riches of life and the world around them.

The mentoring commitment begins about half way through a student’s sophomore year and ends at high school graduation.  Mentors are asked to meet with their mentees for an average of eight hours per month.

Over a period of seven years, Bob has mentored three at-risk students from Framingham and Waltham. Bob also became Board President in 2012 and has been leading a “managing Board” since Lowell Mazie, the CEO, founder and creator of the mentoring program, died in January 2016.

Bob describes how the program begins:

“Mentors and mentees are matched up at a Mazie gathering that takes place on a Saturday afternoon in October or March.  After your mentee is identified, you play a few get-to-know-you games, and a two and one half year relationship begins.  It’s awkward at first.  In my case, I was about 60 years older than my first mentee—old enough to be his grandfather.  I could feel the thought running through his head—how can I relate to this old white guy from the suburbs?”

That first mentee, Danny, was born in the U.S., but both of his parents came from the Dominican Republic.  They spoke little English and understood little about American high school life or the college process.  “Danny was captain of the football team and liked to appear macho,” Bob says.  “It took a while to find the Danny that I grew to be very fond of—which seems to have started about three months in.  When we were driving somewhere, Danny turned on a rap station and cranked up the volume very loud.  Now, I don’t like rap or loud music, but I thought for a minute before saying:  ‘Danny, you can pick the station, and then I get to adjust the volume.’ He pondered and then agreed.  In some way, this broke the ice, and we started to trust each other.”

For the next year and a half, Bob helped Danny with his school work, his federal financial aid forms for college grants and loans, and his college applications.  They visited U. Conn. in Storrs and, eventually, Dean College in Franklin where he was accepted and enrolled.  It didn’t take him long, though, to learn that an expensive private college can end up limiting options rather than expanding them.  So, he got a job waiting tables and working in the kitchen at a Hyatt Hotel and then after 8 years graduated with a BA from Framingham State.  “His graduation in 2014 was an emotional day—for both of us,” Bob says.  “I was so proud of him.”

Bob says he has sometimes wondered if his second mentee, Brandon, needed the program at all.  He received every award that Maisie gives, including a laptop at the end of junior year.  “When he graduated, I gave him my old bike which he used to get to Market Basket where he worked during his college years at Mass Bay Community College.”

“My latest mentee, Smaido,  arrived in Waltham after the earthquake that killed over 160,000 people in Haiti.  He has not seen his father since 2010 when left the island with his mother and younger brother.  He spoke no English when he arrived.  We met three years later, in February of 2013, when he was a sophomore at Waltham High School.  Because  Smaido attended church with his mother and brother every Sunday, we always got together on Saturdays.”

The two spent one of their first Saturdays visiting the deCordova Museum in Lincoln.  Smaido had never been to a museum before, and he liked the structures in the sculpture garden. He didn’t much care for the modern art inside. They went to a street fair in Waltham Center in late April that year.  While Smaido was interested from a distance, he did not get out of the car to participate—his caring mother had told him, after the Marathon bombing just a week or two earlier, to avoid crowds.

During Smaido’s junior year, “I got some orange cones from the local highway department and started teaching him to drive at an empty school parking lot near his apartment in Waltham.  It was probably not acceptable as a mentoring activity, and it might even have been illegal,” Bob grins, “but it went a long way to helping him become more confident and outgoing. Parallel parking was the final exam I gave him”

Smaido worked hard in school, was named “Student of the Month” at Waltham High in November of his senior year where he took a very full load of six tough courses—physics, chemistry, pre-calculus, Spanish, English, and accounting.  He also worked at an assisted living facility near his apartment.  His guidance counselor and I both tried to convince him to reduce his load, but he stuck with it.  He is determined to be a civil engineer. Bob arranged for a summer internship at a civil engineering firm in Waltham, between junior and senior high school years.

Eventually, Smaido was accepted at a small private school in New Hampshire and was wait-listed at Merrimac College that has a fine civil engineering program.  Of course, we talked about going to a community college for two years and then transferring to a U. Mass campus.  The tuition, of course, would be much lower than at Merrimac, a private school.  “But once we visited Merrimac together, there was no turning back.  He said he’ll pay back his loans when he becomes a civil engineer.”

Smaido is beginning his junior year at Merrimac.  “He is far more confident than the shy young man I met in 2013, and I expect to be at his graduation in 2019,” Bob says.  “His story is amazing.”

But, then, so is Bob’s.

After working on a merger possibility for over a year, Bob’s board was happy to announce on July 1 2017 that Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest will combine with the Mazie Foundation.  BBBSCM Board Chair, Chris Lucas of Upton, comments that: “Both organizations share a fundamental belief in the amazing power that strong, positive mentoring can have in a young person’s life to change the path of possibilities of who and what they can become.  Combining the Mazie Foundation with BBBSCM is a force multiplier where one plus one equals ten.”

To learn more about both organizations and mentor volunteering, go to:  www.mazie.org  and www.bbbscm.org  

OR leave a comment here for Bob–he’s eager to connect with anyone who might be interested in volunteering and wants to make it as easy as possible for you to do so!

 

MINING MARILYN’S MYSTERY “OLDIES”: LINDSEY DAVIS

Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews yielded another gem:   Lindsay Davis.  As a longtime fan of novels taking place in ancient Greece and Rome, I was, for some time, very much caught up by Davis’ host of mysteries featuring “detective” Marcus Didius Falco (of which there are 20).  Davis’ books are well-written, featuring inventive situations, engaging characters, and good, solid suspense.  Somehow, though, I missed the fact that she eventually provided Falco and wife Helena Justina with an adoptive daughter who is carrying on in the family tradition–so glad to have a new “old” favorite to follow.  She reviewed this one in March of 2014.

THE IDES OF APRIL  – by Lindsey Davis

                                             A Review by Marilyn Brooks

 “The glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome” are the lines that Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1845.  There is grandeur in Lindsey Davis’ The Ides of April, and there are also appealing characters, great writing, and a terrific plot.

Flavia Albia, the heroine of the story, is a private informer, what today we would call a private eye.  She is the adopted daughter of the well-known Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco.  Abandoned as an infant, Flavia knows nothing of her biological family.  Marcus and his wife Helena Justina found her wandering the streets of Londinium, Britannia, and brought her to civilization, to Rome.  Flavia is now twenty-nine, a full Roman citizen, a widow, and following in her father’s business.

What brings Flavia into the case at the center of the book is the tragic death of a three-year-old boy who was run over by a builder’s cart.  Flavia is hired by the owner of the building company to thwart the boy’s mother’s demand for compensatory payment.  Although unsympathetic to the owner Salvidia, a female informer can’t be too choosy when it comes to jobs, so Flavia takes the case.

After doing so, she reads a notice asking any witnesses to the accident to come forward.  Intrigued, Flavia goes to the Temple of Ceres, the headquarters of Manlius Faustus, the aedile (magistrate) for this area of Rome, to get more information.  Not having any luck at the Temple, she goes to his office where she meets Andronicus, the aedile’s clerk, and sexual sparks fly between them.  Andronicus tells her the aedile won’t assist her, but he lets her know that he’ll keep his eyes open to try to help.

Not having gained any insight into the case and disliking her client more and more, Flavia returns to the construction company to tell Salvidia that she is quitting.  When she gets there, she is told by the woman’s servant that Salvidia is dead, having come home from the market, gone to bed, and then stopped breathing.  Looking at the corpse, the only unusual thing the informer can see is a slight scratch on one of her arms, certainly nothing to cause death.

At Salvidia’s funeral the next day, Flavia meets the deceased’s neighbor, an elderly woman who concludes their conversation by saying, “You do what you can for her, dearie,” a statement Flavia interprets as the neighbor thinking that Savlidia died under suspicious circumstances.  And the following day, the neighbor is dead.

The writing in The Ides of April is excellent, always told in Flavia’s voice.  She can be empathic, as when she meets the family of another possible murder victim.  “Lupus the oyster-shucker would not easily be forgotten; I thought never,” she says to herself as she sees the family’s grief.  She can also be wry.  “…and (the man) could only come if his son was not using the false leg that day.  Assume I’m joking, if that comforts you.”

The Ides of April is the first in the Flavia Albia series.  The Marcus Falco series by this author is twenty novels long, and I’m hoping for at least that many for Flavia.  She’s a delight.  Hopefully, she’ll keep poking her nose into Rome’s secrets.

You can read more about Lindsey Davis at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a reader and, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan.  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful.  And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending.  My blog, published every Saturday,  can be found at www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.

LOST & FOUND IRONY…

AN APOLOGY FROM YOUR EDITOR, SUE WURSTER…

In yesterday’s What’s On Your Mind? post,  I blithely imported Steve Goldfinger’s “Lost & Found” piece.  I included Steve’s name in the title.  Used his name in the introduction.  Attributed the piece to him by name.  All using the misnomer Steve Goldberg.   The only place I got it right was with the picture!  How embarrassing–for both of us…

My only excuse is that I was thinking about my friend Amanda Goldberg yesterday…and that I have fallen prey to that Lost & Found thing myself!

So sorry, Steve!

 

APRIL CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: NOODLE PUDDING

NOODLE PUDDING

This recipe came from my Grandmother Helen Rudy in about 1965.  She got it from her mother or grandmother.  As is usual with that generation, nothing was written down, so what is here is a tuning of the recipe based on making it–a lot.  Most commercial Noodle Puddings have a higher concentration of noodles, and that certainly can be arranged, but I like it softer and creamier.  Others have raisins, pineapple, and other stuff I don’t like to put in my noodle pudding, but there is no problem adding other ingredients unless they either absorb a lot of moisture or generate a lot of moisture.  If that is the case, moderate the milk to get the consistency you like.  This recipe makes 8-10 portions in a 9” x 13” pan (117 sq in).  A half recipe goes into an 8”x8” pan.  With two of us, the half size works just fine.

9×13 pan      8×8 pan

1 lb                  ½ lb         Cottage Cheese (standard size container)

8 oz                 4 oz        Cream Cheese, softened

4                       2              Eggs, Jumbo (adjust if using a smaller sized egg)

½ pint           ½ cup     Sour Cream

1¼ cup         ⅝ cup     Milk (note that 1/8th  cup is 2 tablespoons)

2½ Tbs         1¼          Sugar

8 oz              4oz         Broad Noodles.  (Note: Some bags are 12oz,                                                        others  are 16oz)

2 Tbs            1 Tbs      Butter

½ cup           ¼ cup     Cornflake crumbs (just pour from box till it is                                                      enough)

shakes          shakes    Cinnamon-Sugar

Except for when there will be a crowd, make ½ of this recipe

  1. Certain recipes require accurate measuring. A noodle pudding does not.  And you might as well play with the ingredients to tune it to your taste.
  2. Cook the noodles for 6-7 minutes, drain, and cool in water. Don’t make them too soft as they will continue to cook as you bake the pudding.
  3. Beat the Cream Cheese, then add the eggs, Sour Cream, Cottage Cheese, and Sugar. If you use “lite” sour cream or cottage cheese it will affect the taste.  Only you will know if you care.
  4. Slowly beat in the milk and then stir in the well drained noodles. It will be very liquid at this point but will thicken during cooking.
  5. Heat the oven to 350°
  6. Melt the butter in a Pyrex pan and make sure that the sides are also buttered. The amount of butter is approximate.  Place the pan onto an edged cookie tray (to collect leakage).  Pour in the pudding material.  This can, in fact, be done hours before the cooking.
  7. Sprinkle the top liberally but not thick with Cornflake crumbs, and then sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.
  8. Bake, uncovered, ~33 minutes until it browns on the top and it is reasonably solidified. It will not harden in the pan while hot.  If covered it will boil, not bake.  The smaller pan will take 28 minutes.
  9. The pudding can be prepared a day before cooking.

The pudding reheats well in the microwave.

CHEF’S CORNER Feature Writer John Rudy

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

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