Saturday, February 25, 2012

Getting to Know You . . . I Mean, Me

This post is in response to a getting-to-know-you activity on a writing website I just discovered: Participants were asked to copy and paste the questions and then answer them. These are my responses.

What is your name (real or otherwise)?
Diane Tarantini (Preferably sung to the tune of the song, “Gary, Indiana” in
The Music Man.)

Describe your writing style in three words.
Spare, honest, confessional

How long have you been writing online?
Since 2009

Which, if any, other writing challenges do you participate in?

Describe one way in which you could improve your writing.
Be not as spare. Maybe.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Write every day.

Who is your favorite author?
Harper Lee

How do you make time to write?
I endeavor to post a piece on my blog every Friday. That “deadline” coerces me to carve out the time to write my piece and edit it (multiple times). Setting submission goals is helpful also. Oh, and like someone else said, I don't do housework. Much.

Give us one word we should consider using as a prompt.

Direct us to one blog post of yours that we shouldn’t miss reading.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Bodacious Maturation of Wonder Riley--2

(Part I of this story can be found by clicking here.) 

My real live name is Persephone Hannah Eileen Riley, but everyone calls me Wonder. Before I was born my great Aunt Sally Jehosophat always wondered things about me. Like would I be a girl or boy? Did the doctor get my due date right? And would I resemble her?      
            Obviously I was, I am, a girl. The nurse midwife named Winnie did indeed predict my born-on date correctly. And yes, I do in fact favor Aunt Sally J. For better, I see the world through her Kentucky bluegrass eyes. For worse, I inherited her clementine-colored, pillow stuffing hair.
            Rumor has it Aunt Sally held me before noon on the day I chose the world over my mother. Pippa, she’s my mom, said Sally rubbed some of my redhead fluff between her fingers and declared, “Will you look at that? Spitting image of moi. Surely she’s a wonder.”
            That afternoon, Pippa and Nipper, he’s my dad, considered naming me Wonder, or even Sally Jehosophat Junior (“Come in for supper, Sally JJ. That’s sounds pretty snazzy, don’t you think?” Nipper asked Pip.), but Grandmere Persephone (Hanna Eileen) swore she’d slice and dice them out of her will. Pip and Nip always said they didn’t give a lick about material wealth but I think my three part name indicates otherwise.
            Only one person besides Grandmere has ever called me Persephone Hannah Eileen. To everyone else I have always been a Wonder.

As I mentioned previously, Pippa and Nipper are my folks. I hesitate to call them parents because in my opinion, I did most of my own raising. They adhere to Andrew Xavier Phillips’s theories on the independent child. “As soon as said offspring can accomplish reasonable self-care (ie. bathroom and feeding functions), increase their levels of solitude and responsibility. This will ensure independence.” It most certainly did guarantee freedom—my parents’ as well as mine.
            And so at the age of five I was allowed to walk to the park down the street all by myself. In my pocket I carried a bulb syringe chock full of cayenne pepper. I believed it to be an adequate self-defense mechanism. I drew the outline of a hoodlum on the slicky slide with a fuschia Sharpie.  Pointed at the frownie face. 
            "Ready. Aim. Fire.” After which I squeezed the teal blue bubble  with all my might. Had to stand on my tippy toes to make it reach the bad guy’s eyes. “That’ll blind him. Probably. Hopefully. Stupid, meany whack, jerk face.”
            On the back of my navy hooded jacket, I’d utilized a piece of pale pink sidewalk chalk to emblazon a warning—This child is armed and dangerous. Don’t know if word of my bulbous weapon leaked out or if people feared the headline on my shoulders. Either way, no one ever laid a hand on me.
            On my tenth birthday, Nip and Pip presented me with a neon green cell phone and a checkbook.
            “Make us proud, Wonder,” Nipper said as he clapped me on the scapula (That’s your shoulder blade, in case you didn’t know.).
            The first text I ever transmitted to Nipper and Pippa said, “At Granny Cat’s. Over and out.”
            Two hours later, my phone started singing and dancing somewhere in the dark. I patted around until I found it on the nightstand. Slid it open and squinted at the screen.
            “Night, Wonder.”
            I translated Nipper’s response as  present and future tense permission and never slept at 4898 Coburn Avenue again.

(Part I of this story can be found by clicking here.)
(Part III of this story can be found by clicking here.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

I ♥ B.L.T.’s

I love B.L.T.’s. Could eat one every day.
            Toasted Ezekiel Bread slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise. Piled high with arugula ‘cause iceberg does not toot my whistle. Topped with the one tomato I dissected the farmer’s market for—the chubbiest, juiciest, reddest tomato possible. I slice an inch down from the stem and take another inch or two off the bottom. I flop what remains—it’s going to be hard to get my mouth open that wide—onto the bacon stripped toast. Bacon stiff like a diving board, not flaccid.
            Before I bite I pray. Because this is a holy moment for me. See, I only eat one B.L.T.  a year. Ever since Pappy died. Not long after he passed, I was at the doctor’s. For my occasional-'cause if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it appointment.
            Dr. Davis patted the paper by my feet. “Scoot down some more.”
            I squirmed toward him. Careful to keep the exam gown tucked about me, despite the inevitable.
            Left then right he nestled my feet into the stirrups. “So what’s new?”
            I focused on the breast self exam poster. “My father-in-law died in February.”
            Dr. Davis paused. Rested a hand on my knee.
            “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “What happened?”
            I blinked slowly. Wondered if I’d cry. “Cancer,” I said. “Stage four. Stomach. He died 31 days after his diagnosis.”
            Dr. Davis whistled. I heard instruments clanking. Paper tearing.
            “This might be a bit chilly,” he said. It wasn’t.
            I bunched the cotton blanket in my fists, on either side of my chin.
            “What should we do?” I said “He do. My husband, I mean. So he doesn’t . . . get it.”
            “Cancer? Of the stomach?”
            I cringed. At the C word. I hate it. It’s worse than the F word.
            The K-Y'd exam instrument clattered on the stainless steel cart. Dr. Davis stripped off his latex gloves. Winced as one snapped his wrist.  He held out a hand to help me up.
            “A study came out last fall,” he said. “Was it nitrites or nitrates that are the bad guys?”
            “The stuff in hot dogs and bacon?”
            Dr. Davis nodded. “And deli meats. Pickles.”
            I tugged at the exam gown, so it covered my knees. “Bummer. I love bacon.”
            He x’d boxes on my paperwork. “You know the old saying.  Everything—”         
            I nodded. “In moderation.”
I love B.L.T.’s. Eat one every year.

Today's post is for linked-in party over at

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hospitality 101

Welcome to Hospitality 101 where you'll learn to make all (or at least most) of the food mentioned in my blogpost, Hospitality Lost and Found. That post told the story about entertaining a family of five missionaries for five days at Chez Tarantini, our hundred year old house which on most days houses a family of five.
            When our company arrived that summer evening, they were met with a veritable Italian feast with spaghetti and meatballs at the center of the celebration. I was not born and raised Italian, but I married into it and soon learned that man does not live on spaghetti and meatballs alone. When you sit down to eat in an Italian home, there should be so many serving dishes on the table that there's no room for anything else.
            Today we tackle three appetizers. These are all super easy and can be made a day or two ahead if necessary. We'll start with white pizza. White pizza is my family's term for what the rest of the world calls focaccia. In case you have no idea what either is, Webster's Dictionary defines focaccia as a flat Italian bread, typically seasoned with herbs and olive oil. Bingo. We add cheese because, well, cheese makes everything better, don't you think?

White Pizza

1 batch of bread dough
(homemade, machine-made, or thawed out frozen)
2 T. olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3-1/2 c. Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3-1/2 c. fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary)
Crushed red pepper (optional)

-Pour the olive oil into a small bowl. Crush the garlic cloves into the oil. Set aside while you gather the rest of your ingredients.
-Drizzle some of the garlic oil onto a pizza stone. Spread with clean fingers or a pastry brush.
-Place bread dough onto the oiled stone. Stretch, press, or roll dough to the edge. Form a rim if desired.
-Use clean fingers or the handle of a wooden spoon to dimple the dough. Brush with garlic oil.
-Sprinkle the dough with salt and pepper. Evenly administer the grated cheese. Sprinkle the herbs over the top evenly. If using, apply a light dusting of hot pepper flakes.
-Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Let the pizza rise for at least 15 minutes on the the stovetop of the preheating oven.
-Bake 20 or more minutes until golden. Another way of testing doneness is by tapping the surface with a wooden spoon handle. It will sound hollow when it’s done.
-Remove from oven and smack everyone who tries to beat you to the first slice.
-Serve with dipping oil. (recipe follows)

Dipping Oil

-In a small bowl, combine 2 T. olive oil with 2 T. balsamic vinegar.
Add the following ingredients:
1 T. Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
½ t. salt
1 crushed garlic clove
1/8 t. fresh ground black pepper
1/8 t. + crushed red peppers (optional)
1/8 c. fresh minced herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary)

-Stir to combine then adjust seasonings to your taste.
-Double, triple, or gazillionth this recipe to accommodate your needs.

            Now, when we’re entertaining (or when the kids beg), I have two other must-make appetizers that I prepare. This next one is one of the easiest appetizers on the planet. I stole the idea from a fancy restaurant up Pittsburgh way.

Roasted Bell Peppers with Havarti

1/2 red bell pepper, roasted and cut in 1 ½ ” squares
1/2 yellow red bell pepper, roasted and cut into 1 ½ ” squares
1/2 orange bell pepper, roasted and cut into 1 ½ ” squares
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Havarti cheese (Don’t you dare buy “lite.”)
Crackers of your choice (We like a woven wheat option like Triscuits.)

-In a container with a lid, combine the vinegar and oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
-Add the roasted bell pepper squares, stir and cover. Marinade in the fridge for a few hours or days.
-Slice Havarti cheese (I like to use Pampered Chef’s wavy cutter for a pretty result.). Store in a ziplock bag until right before serving.
-About an hour before company arrives, remove Havarti from refrigerator. It is key that the cheese be at room temperature. This ensures its creaminess.
-About 30 minutes before company arrives, arrange crackers on a pretty plate. Top each with a piece of cheese. Top each with a roasted bell pepper square.
-Try not to eat them all before your friends get a chance to taste  them.

Tarantini Tapenade
(This is a doctored version of a recipe that I found in Bon Appetit years ago.)

1 red bell pepper, roasted and coarsely chopped
1 6 oz. jar of artichoke hearts, drained, coarsely chopped
½ c. minced fresh parsley (preferably flat leaf)
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
 ½ c. black olives, drained
½ c. green olives, drained
¼ c. capers, drained
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 T. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Toasted baguette slices

-Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.

-Process using on/off turns until mixture is well blended and finely chopped.
-Transfer mixture to pretty bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
-Serve with toasted baguette slices.
Note: You might want to place a bowl of mints nearby. Though absolutely scrumptious, tapenade is guaranteed to give you dragon breath.

So there you  have it. Three ab fab and easy, Italian appetizers. Next time you decide to entertain, consider offering these items. Your family and friends will thank you:)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Swimming Hole

We knew the swimming hole was nearby, but where? We passed the Esso station and that's when we spotted the boys. Lounging in the shade. Suzy whipped her Volkswagen into the driveway. Laura Jane ducked between the split rails and sashayed over to them. In her white bikini and short shorts. 
            "Well, now,” the biggest boy said. “What have we here?  I seen that same sorta swing on a back porch once."
            Laura fiddled with her long, almost black hair.
            "You boys familiar with the secret swimming hole?"
            "You mean the filled-up strip mine?" the smallest one said. He was cute. Kinda resembled John Denver.
            The older guys all squinted and I sensed a crackle in the air. Little John Denver grinned up at Laura Jane and pointed toward the woods.
            "See that rusty oil drum over yonder?  When y'all get to it, keep your eyes peeled 'cause the turn's soon after."
            The biggest boy shoved Little John. "Aw, man!  Why'd you do that?  We don't want no girls up there."
            "Says who?" John said. He turned back to Laura. "I’ll take y'all up, if you want."
            His name was actually Danny.
            "Why's it called the strip mine?" I said from the back.
            "'Cause that's what it used to be,” Danny said. "When the coal ran out, they flooded it." He turned around. "Wait 'til you see it. The water's the coolest color ever."
            Danny led us up the peanut butter fudge path. Held back brambly branches so we wouldn't scratch our shaved that morning legs. All of a sudden we stood at the edge of a sandstone cliff, twenty some feet over opaque, Mountain Dew-looking water.
            I gulped. "How do you—”
            And then I was hurtling through the air.
            “Dang it, Danny!”
            I backstroked over and over. Tried to . . . I don't know . . . Make it back to the cliff's edge?
            When I hit the water my mouth slammed shut. When I opened my eyes I spied white through the neon murk. I aimed my efforts at the light. The air. Moments later I broke through the surface like a baby being born. Spun around trying to locate the three of them. They waved from way up there.
            I cupped my hand and circled it over and over toward me. "Come on! Jump! What are y’all? Chicken?"
This post is a shortened version of "The Best Part Is Jumping In" which ran last year on my blog.
Today's post is for a linked in party over at

Friday, February 3, 2012

Blind Date

My gal pal Peggy jigsaw puzzled herself against Dan up front while I pinched myself into a corner in back. Plopped my purse between me and him. It was chock-full of supplies because trust me, you never know what you might need when. Especially on a blind date. A Snickers bar, nail file, Pepto-Bismol (for Peggy, not me).  Bayer aspirin, feminine products, change for the phone. Kleenex, Band-Aids, Certs (for Thomas, not me).
            I probably should say something at some point, I figured. So I don't come off as a total witch.  I squirmed inside my seatbelt. Rested my head against the window.
            “Thomas,” I said. “That’s kinda formal. What’s your family call you?”
            He picked at a zit scab inside his ear. “Toe-Joe.”
            I cough-gasped. “Think I’ll stick with Thomas.”
            Peggy twisted to face us. “So, Thomas. What’s in the leather case?”
            Thomas grinned which made his eyes even smaller. He yanked on the strap to draw the mystery into his lap.
            “My dad’s camera. It’s real expensive. He loaned it to me for Photography 101.”
            Peggy cooed. “So you wanna be a photographer?”
            He shrugged. “Just thought it’d be cool to get pictures at the Coliseum since all those people died there during the Who concert.”
            I watched Peggy’s face go funny. Then she made the bark-up-a-hairball noise that usually preceded her hurling.
            Dan reached back and wiggled his fingers. “Beer me, Toe Joe.”
            Peggy’s cheeks puffed out and her chin kept bobbing up and down. I leaned forward and massaged her shoulder.
            “Thomas,” I said loudly. Firmly. “We’re calling him Thomas tonight. Right, Peggy?”
            Thomas pressed a bottle into Dan’s hand.
            “That’s against the law, you know.” I said.
            “Like everyone doesn’t do it,” Thomas said as he opened one for himself.
            An hour later the sun had gone away and so had the beer.
            “Pitch those empties out the window, Toe.”
            I spoke over the roar of the wind rushing in. “So, you’re litterbugs too?”
            Dan chuckled. “Yep. We’re living large. Aren’t we, Toe?”
            “Thomas!” Peggy and I shouted.
            Five minutes later Thomas started having some kind of fit. He twisted this way and that. Bent forward and swept the floor with his hands.
            “Crap!” he said. “Stop the car!”
            Dan squinted at the rearview mirror. “Why?”
            “Turn around, man! I mean it!” Thomas said. “I think I threw my dad’s camera out with the bottles. We gotta go back.”
            Dan spun the car around in the middle of the road. Peggy clutched the grab bar with one hand and slapped her other over her mouth. Dan punched the accelerator and I gulped as the speedometer needle ratcheted toward the radio.
            “Speeding’s against the law too,” I said.
            “What was that?” Peggy gripped Dan’s arm. “What if— What if it was a cat? Or a—” She blanched under her blush. Started making the clicky hairball elimination noise again.
            I tapped Dan’s shoulder. “Go back,” I said.
            Dan’s eyes narrowed in the rearview mirror. “No way.”
            “I’m telling you, turn around.”
            I fished in my purse. Handed Peggy a baggie and Thomas the pack of tissues.     

            “’Cause that ca-clunk was you running over his daddy’s camera.”



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