Feature Writer Karen Crowder

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – When Large Snowstorms Left Us Snowbound

In the course of most winters New Englanders usually get at least one large snowstorm. When snowstorms pair with bone chilling temperatures New Englanders often are content to stay in their homes.

There are two instances when I have experienced being snowbound, but they have been made better by the fact that I was with company, right after New Year’s.

After the large weekend New Year’s Eve party of 1994 was over, two guests remained at our home. A snowstorm was predicted, but we thought they would be at home before the brunt of the storm hit. That afternoon we phoned our local cab company an hour before the commuter train would leave from Fitchburg to take them to Boston. As the minutes ticked by we were anxious because we had not heard the toot of a horn or the rumbling of an engine in our long driveway. Around quarter to three we called and the driver said there was no guarantee he could get them there on time because of worsening road conditions. We canceled the taxi and were happy to have our two friends stay until Wednesday afternoon.

That night we ordered pizza and happily talked and listened to music with good friends. The next day a friend shoveled our driveway. Marshall suggested I make “that delicious ham and cheese soup.” Everyone enjoyed this new recipe, which was partially made from some left over New Year’s Day ham and a maple flavored stock. It was accompanied by my delicious homemade rolls, a good hearty supper on this cold night. We were happy to share this experience with friends who were welcome at our home.

After breakfast Wednesday morning, they reluctantly went home in the bone chilling cold. That afternoon, after I went shopping with a friend and felt the severe bone chilling temperature, I was grateful to return to our warm home away from the snow and bitter cold.

Right after Christmas in 2013 I began monitoring the growing threat of another snowstorm right after New Year’s. By Tuesday the seriousness of the storm was evident. I suggested to Jenny that she cancel her train trip home on Friday.

By Wednesday night, storm watches had turned in to storm warnings everywhere in southern and part of northern New England. NOAA weather said we could receive anywhere from eight to fourteen inches of snow in central Massachusetts. Jenny canceled her New Year’s Day train home and instead opted for the Sunday January 5 afternoon train. As she said to the operator at Amtrak, “we will be snowbound here.”

Thursday night, as we watched the progress of this Nor’easter, I made the macaroni and cheese recipe everyone loves. I worried more about the oncoming zero or below zero temperatures and the powdery snow that would blanket our area. I left my bathroom faucet on at a trickle to avoid frozen pipes at my apartment in Liberty place.

Friday, as the storm died down, I fixed French toast and hot coffee for breakfast. We enjoyed the extra two days and used the time to finish a cassette book, talk, and listen to some old time Christmas radio programs Sunday morning.

We in north central Massachusetts did not receive the brunt of the storm. The Nor’easter blanketed anywhere from sixteen inches on the coast to over two feet in parts of central Massachusetts. Although the powdery snow and extreme cold are inconvenient this will be a memorable winter.

I hope this snowy winter is short and we have warmer weather with budding trees by the middle of March.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A New Year’s Gathering When the Unexpected Happens

As one year glides towards another, we expect New Year’s Day will run smoothly, but this is not always the case.

New Year’s Eve of 1990 was festive. I was a new bride, living in what would become our home for almost twelve years. It was on Marden Street, in Fitchburg, surrounded with woods and trees, secluded from downtown noise and traffic. Almost every year we would have New Year’s Eve parties. New Year’s Eve 1990 was my first time hosting a party with my new husband Marshall.

In late November after Thanksgiving, we began discussing and preparing for this event. It would be the height of every holiday season while living at Marden Street. Even before Christmas, we knew who was coming. I made a delicious and decadent chocolate mousse. As New Year’s Eve approached, my excitement about hosting this party overshadowed my shortcomings in cooking and kitchen skills.

Monday, December 31, ushered in a cold New Year’s Eve. At eight PM five guests were ensconced in comfortable chairs and a couch in our cozy, warm, carpeted living room. The new CD player was softly playing, and the new Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments and had gifts waiting to be opened below.

Two blind couples from the Boston area and our friend visiting her home in Lunenburg were conversing and catching up on each other’s lives. With assistance, I served everyone crackers and chips with delicious store bought dips. While enjoying drinks, especially the citrus sparklers, we finally opened gifts. Everyone was pleased about the thoughtful gifts of fragrance from Bermuda and house wares bought from a new store. Everyone again congratulated us about our new marriage and our lovely home.

Before midnight, we took orders for pizzas, which were delivered from a pizza house in Leominster. Two surprise guests came to celebrate the beginning of 1991. Soon after they left, we retired. Our plan for New Year’s Day was to relax and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

However, while enjoying breakfast, the motor to our heating and cooling vents died. Marshall and I could not believe this had happened for the second time in a week. We called our local heating company, praying they would be open on New Year’s Day. After patiently explaining our situation of having eight disabled guests at our home, we hoped someone would come out on this on this bitterly cold January day. A sympathetic repairperson was at Marden Street in half an hour. He took one look at our furnace and was able to diagnose the problem. The motor running the vents was a rebuilt one. He promptly installed a new motor. We were grateful the company was open on New Year’s Day. It was wonderful to have heat again on this brisk, cold January afternoon.

My husband had digestive problems and was in no mood to go to one of our favorite local restaurants. He encouraged us to go out, but I said, “honey, we are staying right here with you.”

Despite this small change in plans, we had a wonderful and memorable day. We ordered fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and coleslaw from Popeye’s, a chain which then had a takeout restaurant in Leominster. With Marshall’s instructions, I began operating the CD player. We all listened to classical movie scores, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

That evening, we also listened to a Steven King movie, “It,” which Marshall had recorded from TV. We ended this day by having chocolate mousse and coffee. Everyone loved the rich textured chocolate mousse and wished the day did not have to end.

The next day, after a large breakfast, our guests reluctantly left our cozy home to go back to their apartments in the Boston area.

Over the next 11 years, I would become an accomplished cook and hostess. We would have many summer, birthday and holiday gatherings at our home. It is a good thing we do not know the future. Of all the guests at the 1990 New Year’s Eve party only three of us are still alive.

I hope all Ziegler writers and readers have a joyous, healthy and successful 2014.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Gifts of Fragrance at Christmas

Christmas of 1962, I was thirteen. One gift I wished for was bottles of perfume. The girls at Perkins always wore lovely scents; I wished to be part of their crowd. Fragrance always fascinated me. My wish would start coming true before Christmas Day.

The night of the Perkins annual Christmas party was exciting. I was lucky to grab a can of Avon talcum powder from the grab bag outside of Dwight Hall. I immediately loved its sweet, spicy scent. At the cottage party, my gift was a glass bottle of bubble bath.

On Christmas Eve I was elated to receive Apple Blossom and other fragrances, including Tweed cologne. My mom’s friend gave me a lovely box with three bars of Yardley of London’s English Lavender soap. These gifts were special and made me feel more grown-up. My avid fascination and interest in fragrances had only begun blossoming.

During my adolescence, my parents would surprise me with gifts of small bottles of fragrance throughout the year. The spring of 1963, I received the delicate, soft, sweet scent “On The Wind” cologne. The winter of 1964, my mom and I both got a small bottle of real French perfume from a friend. At this same time, she bought me “Fresh,” a delightfully perfumed deodorant.

I was introduced to new fragrances at Christmas. I remember fondly Shoulton’s Early American Old Spice gift set, “April Showers” cologne, a Jeanne Natae gift set and Shoulton’s “Desert Flower” cologne.

“Desert Flower” evokes pleasant and sentimental memories. In December, when I was 21, I touched a small, daintily wrapped package on our living room mantel. When I inquired about it, my mom said, “it is something your father bought you.” On that snowy Christmas morning in 1970, I was handed this small package with its lustrous shiny paper. I opened it and was delighted to discover that it was one of my favorite fragrances. The round bottle of “Desert Flower” cologne had tiny dotted square imprints, unlike today’s plain nondescript perfume bottles. I liked its soft, delicate floral scent and wore it often. I would put it, and the four small bottles of Yardley fragrances my dad gave me, on my large bureau. At 21, I was content and did not expect major changes in my life. Even though my father was not in great health, I was sure he would be with us for years.

However, In mid August 1971, my dad died of a sudden heart attack. In January 1972, on a mild Monday afternoon, I could not resist buying another bottle of Desert Flower cologne. Smelling its delicate floral essence, I fondly remembered and missed my father. I will always cherish that happy Christmas and the gentle gesture of love he showed with that thoughtful gift.

My life did change. After I married my husband, he would often give me fragrances for Christmas. I received “Lauren by Ralph Lauren,” “Wind Song by Prince Matchibelli,” and “Chanel Number 5,” as a Valentine’s Day gift. Although “Desert Flower” is almost impossible to find, there are many beautiful new scents. One I like is Yardley’s “Iris,” which is inexpensive and can be bought at Parfume1. Pacifica’s lilac soap is lovely, as is Make Scents’ lilac and rain fragrances. To all Ziegler readers: have a great Christmas; may you receive love, happiness and wished for gifts.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – The Challenge of Meeting My Friend During a Major Winter Snow Storm

In November 2013, my friend Jenny and I decided to spend another Christmas together. We settled on her staying from December 14, through January 3.

When a snowstorm was anticipated the weekend of the 14th I was anxious. Would this change our plans? Saturday I slept with one ear tuned to the phone, TV and NOAA weather.

As I boarded the 2:40pm train from Fitchburg to Boston, I noticed how crowded it was. Everyone seemed in a festive mood and people were doing their Christmas shopping or going to holiday gatherings.

Jenny surprised me with a call to let me know she had gotten on the train in Baltimore and it would arrive on schedule in South Station at 5:19pm. I phoned the driver of the local limousine company we were using. He had looked online and was “on the road” to South Station. He was delighted to get out of Boston before the height of the storm. At Porter Square in Cambridge, while walking with assistance towards the subway station, I noticed chilly, brisk wind and powdery snow coating the subway platform. I boarded the Braintree train and departed at South Station.

Walking with assistance to the mega transportation complex, I spoke to someone at the Amtrak counter. I inquired about the status of the 5:19pm train from Virginia to Boston. Because of worsening weather, it would be delayed until 5:40pm. I called the limousine driver; our hopes of leaving Boston early were dashed.

He was looking for a parking space near the Amtrak entrance. As I was sitting waiting for Jenny’s train, the driver surprised me by coming in to wait with me for her train. After six o’clock, it finally arrived. We decided he would guide us individually to the sedan. As the driver and I walked to the car, we noticed the increasing ferocity of the storm, with its bitter winds and stinging snowflakes. I was happy to sit in the comfort of the warm car and he was soon back with my friend Jenny, who I had not seen since last January. Her luggage was secured in the trunk and we began the two and a half hour trip to Fitchburg.

Time flew by as we laughed and conversed about our lives. We urged the friendly driver to take his time getting us to our destination, the 99 Restaurant. As we drove in central Massachusetts, the weather and roads were getting worse.

We arrived at the restaurant and said goodbye to our friendly, affable driver. We had a nice meal since the snow had seemed lighter as we entered the restaurant. Maybe the worst was over?

I phoned the local cab company in Fitchburg only to discover they were closing at ten o’clock. I called another company in Leominster, and because they knew me they would take the risk of driving to Fitchburg on this stormy night. “Give us awhile” she said, “The roads are bad.”

At ten thirty were informed the restaurant closed around eleven, but our taxi driver arrived shortly afterwards. The woman guided us to the taxi. The walking was difficult and the drifting, powdery snow was obscuring the curbs. We told the driver to “take her time driving us home.” After a pick up at the Lunenburg Walmart, we were home by 11:15pm. I navigated the snowy steps and held the door open for Jenny and the driver. We thanked our friendly, polite driver and gave her a generous tip.

Even with the challenges of a dangerous winter storm, we were able to meet and arrive safely at my apartment. We knew, even in our sixties, we could navigate transportation with assistance despite the challenges of often-brutal winter weather in New England.

May all Ziegler readers have happy and blessed holidays.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Five Great Places to Buy Unique Christmas Gifts

By December 9, everyone is inundated with emails, TV ads and catalogs tempting them to shop for gifts before Christmas. For blind shoppers, home readers have opened a world of shopping through catalogs sent on CD or cassette. Here are five stores where treasured gifts can be bought.

In September, I was researching where to buy lilac fragrances and discovered Pacifica Perfume. It is located in Portland Oregon. The organic home bath and body products impressed me. All products are reasonably priced and the French lilac had tantalizing reviews. I phoned them and was impressed by their warm and professional manner. I received my order of lilac soap and perfume at the end of September. I like the soap and its light lilac fragrance. The sweet floral scent is reminiscent of spring lilacs blooming everywhere in New England. In November, I shopped there again and bought lilac products, which will make good Christmas gifts. Pacifica sells bath and body products, as well as candles and reed diffusers in 24 scents.

I have shopped with Make Scents and enjoy their products. This company focuses on accessibility, and has Braille labeling on their products. They also have travel sizes of their scents and can do custom scents of any product from shampoo to cologne. My favorite scents are baby powder, rain and lilac. They have home fragrances, candles and other lines of bath and body products. They are patient and attentive to blind customers, and describe their products well. Their store is located in Columbia, Missouri.

LL Bean is a store that sponsors home readers. I was fortunate to shop with a friend at one of their outlet stores in Dedham, Massachusetts in 2009. The attentiveness of everyone there made me feel as if I had gone back in time to an old-fashioned clothing/department store. The people were friendly and allowed me to touch their moccasin-like slippers before purchasing them. I looked at sweaters, and put them on my wish list. I also bought an outfit, which they made sure fit perfectly. I bought warm winter gloves and organizers as Christmas presents for my family. I have not shopped there since, but put soft-sided luggage and lovely sweaters on my wish list.

Parfum1.com is a lovely web site to browse when you want to find discounted vintage or unusual fragrances. In mid-October, after browsing their extensive, accessible website, I phoned them, and bought Yardley products and an organic rain-scented body lotion. The man was cordial and knowledgeable about the store’s products. They have other brands such as Elizabeth Arden and Demeter.

Dollar tree stores remind me of five and dime stores. I have often shopped there or looked on their accessible website. I continue to be amazed at the quality of their glassware and stoneware mugs. Last Sunday I bought Christmas wrap, bags, tape and three lovely mugs as gifts. Everything is $1 or less. Looking on their website tonight I discovered they have many types of coca cola glasses.

Here is contact information for these stores and websites. Pacifica perfume phone 1-866-337-7100 for customer service. Pacificaperfume.com.

Make Scents phone 1-800-225-0290. www.makescentsonline.com

LL Bean phone 1-800-441-5713 for customer service. www.LLbean.com

Parfum 1 phone toll free 1-866-7 27-3861. www.parfum1.com

Dollar Tree toll free number 1877-530-8733. www.dollartree.com

In our frantic haste to buy gifts by Christmas we forget gifts are often given after the holidays. Anyone’s mood is lifted after receiving a belated gift on a cold January day when the holidays are pleasant memories.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Five Great Places to Buy Unique Christmas Gifts

By December 9, everyone is inundated with emails, TV ads and catalogs tempting them to shop for gifts before Christmas. For blind shoppers, home readers have opened a world of shopping through catalogs sent on CD or cassette. Here are five stores where treasured gifts can be bought.

In September, I was researching where to buy lilac fragrances and discovered Pacifica Perfume. It is located in Portland Oregon. The organic home bath and body products impressed me. All products are reasonably priced and the French lilac had tantalizing reviews. I phoned them and was impressed by their warm and professional manner. I received my order of lilac soap and perfume at the end of September. I like the soap and its light lilac fragrance. The sweet floral scent is reminiscent of spring lilacs blooming everywhere in New England. In November, I shopped there again and bought lilac products, which will make good Christmas gifts. Pacifica sells bath and body products, as well as candles and reed diffusers in 24 scents.

I have shopped with Make Scents and enjoy their products. This company focuses on accessibility, and has Braille labeling on their products. They also have travel sizes of their scents and can do custom scents of any product from shampoo to cologne. My favorite scents are baby powder, rain and lilac. They have home fragrances, candles and other lines of bath and body products. They are patient and attentive to blind customers, and describe their products well. Their store is located in Columbia, Missouri.

LL Bean is a store that sponsors home readers. I was fortunate to shop with a friend at one of their outlet stores in Dedham, Massachusetts in 2009. The attentiveness of everyone there made me feel as if I had gone back in time to an old-fashioned clothing/department store. The people were friendly and allowed me to touch their moccasin-like slippers before purchasing them. I looked at sweaters, and put them on my wish list. I also bought an outfit, which they made sure fit perfectly. I bought warm winter gloves and organizers as Christmas presents for my family. I have not shopped there since, but put soft-sided luggage and lovely sweaters on my wish list.

Parfum1.com is a lovely web site to browse when you want to find discounted vintage or unusual fragrances. In mid-October, after browsing their extensive, accessible website, I phoned them, and bought Yardley products and an organic rain-scented body lotion. The man was cordial and knowledgeable about the store’s products. They have other brands such as Elizabeth Arden and Demeter.

Dollar tree stores remind me of five and dime stores. I have often shopped there or looked on their accessible website. I continue to be amazed at the quality of their glassware and stoneware mugs. Last Sunday I bought Christmas wrap, bags, tape and three lovely mugs as gifts. Everything is $1 or less. Looking on their website tonight I discovered they have many types of coca cola glasses.

Here is contact information for these stores and websites. Pacifica perfume phone 1-866-337-7100 for customer service. Pacificaperfume.com.

Make Scents phone 1-800-225-0290. www.makescentsonline.com

LL Bean phone 1-800-441-5713 for customer service. www.LLbean.com

Parfum 1 phone toll free 1-866-7 27-3861. www.parfum1.com

Dollar Tree toll free number 1877-530-8733. www.dollartree.com

In our frantic haste to buy gifts by Christmas we forget gifts are often given after the holidays. Anyone’s mood is lifted after receiving a belated gift on a cold January day when the holidays are pleasant memories.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – The Challenge of Fixing Cell Phones During the Holidays

My dilemma with my reliable cell phone began Tuesday night, November 26, 2013. This was the worst time for my phone to break down since I had travel plans Thanksgiving Day. The phone did not give its dependable beep announcing it was charging. It began sounding the signal that there was no battery strength and died. Until Wednesday afternoon, I changed outlets yet the phone remained inactive.

I scheduled two Para transit trips on Friday to the bank and our local mall. Subsequently I dismissed subtle anxiety about traveling without a cell phone. I had traveled without a phone before and with advanced planning I would do it again.

Before leaving home on a wintry, cold morning I phoned my friend to tell him when I would meet him in Cambridge at Central Square station. I traveled on the 9:32 train from Leominster to Porter Square station in Cambridge. With assistance, I traveled through the station on the Red line two stops, to Central Square station. I met Tom near the elevator as it was too cold to wait outdoors. We had a lovely afternoon sharing conversation and Thanksgiving dinner at a local restaurant. They serve free meals to everyone in the area from 11AM to 130pm. At 11:10 on this cold morning the restaurant was already packed. The friendly volunteers ushered us into a quieter, warmer room since Tom has a walker. Before dinner, we were graciously offered hot coffee. Although the meal was good, nothing can match the delight and atmosphere of a Thanksgiving dinner at home.

My hopes of a working phone disappeared that night. I was apprehensive about all the crowds on Black Friday. I had heard horror stories in the news about overly frantic shoppers and wondered whether people would be beating down the doors at our mall at 11am in search of bargains. Friday morning as I headed towards the mall, I was pleasantly surprised. Traffic was light. At 11:20 the mall was not crowded. I was anxious to try the coffee and breakfast sandwiches at the New Dunkin Donuts at the food court. Unlike the Dunkin Donuts at North station in Boston, there are two windows, one for beverages another for doughnuts and sandwiches. After a breakfast sandwich and coffee, I received prompt assistance to the Verizon store. It was not busy at 11:30.

The alert, knowledgeable man quickly diagnosed the problem with my phone. The charger was defective and I would have to buy a new one. Although the new charger cost over $30, it is versatile. The man explained the new charger works with regular and smart phones and comes in two pieces. The charger and cord are sturdier, and should last a long time. It will take less time to charge my phone with this new charger.

While waiting at Dunkin Donuts I was delighted to meet my friend. She was helping a man in a wheelchair. At noon, the mall was more crowded with shoppers. Since Dunkin Donuts is near the door of the food court, I was able to walk unassisted to the entrance. My van was early and I was happy to be in a warm van going home on this unseasonably cold afternoon.

Saturday while traveling into Boston, I was secure knowing I had a working cell phone. On the train, I talked with my friend, notifying him of the time I would be in Somerville at the luncheon religious service.

I have a new appreciation for cell phones. With pay phones disappearing, a working cell phone is becoming a necessity in everyone’s daily life. With their portability and convenience we ask how did we live without them?

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A Car of Her Own Part 2

When Jan pressed the start button on that sunny, warm, July morning the female British voice did not sound clear with its clipped accent. The almost inaudible voice asked Jan’s next destination, mileage and speed. Slowly articulating each phrase she said, “Leominster mall. Nine miles. Thirty miles an hour.” She pressed the go button. There was dead silence. With shaking hands she grabbed the braille manual, reading the entry “When car fails to function.” “Immediately cancel commands when your car fails to start.” She did that, repeating the commands. She was relieved when the car purred to life.

Halfway to the mall the car began slowing to a crawl. The wobbly sounding female voice incessantly repeating, “Low battery needs charging, “An impatient driver yelled, “lady get off the road if you can’t drive!” “My battery needs charging,” she said, “do you know where the nearest charging station is?” “I have no idea,” he said driving away. “Where is the nearest charging station in Leominster?” She asked. “50 feet from your destination,” the increasingly dysfunctional voice replied. The car came to the charging station. After she plugged it in the car informed her that it would be charged in 60 minutes.

“After the morning you have had let’s go to that café you’ve been talking about,” James said. As they walked through the food court, he commented, “don’t those cinnamon rolls and coffee smell good?” “Yes that’s why I like this place,” she said. After ordering iced coffees and hot cinnamon rolls, they sat in a comfortable booth and began talking about the eventful morning.

“You did a great job,” he began. “You remained composed when the car gave you problems. You did an excellent job at solving them and educating those ignorant drivers,” he said. “I purposely under charged the car’s battery as part of your entrance test,” his calm gentle voice reassuring her. “I suspected that after looking at the manual,” she said. He paused, saying, “someone is getting our attention.”

“Oh hi Jan, it’s great to see you,” Jenn said. “This is a surprise, meet James my driving instructor,” Jan said. “I am glad to meet you,” Jenn said. “It’s nice to meet you Jenn,” James said “But we have to leave; this hour has flown by, the car is fully charged.” “Goodbye Jenn call you soon,” Jan said as they went towards the car.

It drove to her apartment on 544 Market Street. With his gentle smile, James said, “congratulations, you have passed the entrance test.” He handed her a certificate and conditional license. “I can’t believe it,” she said as he guided her hand to sign both the license and certificate to drive. “You are one of my best students, he said. “The next part of your instruction, is navigating larger cities. Next Friday you will be traveling to and from Marlborough. Until then, enjoy the experience of driving around Leominster and Fitchburg. Keep a journal of your trips. Send the documents to me. Keep your license and certificate with you. If police stop you, show them. They have the training center’s and my phone number.”

Standing there, she felt happy and liberated. Like her sighted friends, she could go anywhere and no longer had to depend on taxis or vans. “Have a great week, I’ll be looking forward to your emails,” James said. “See you Next Friday morning.” he said as he got into a taxi to go to his next lesson. “Have a great day,” she said, feeling a sense of contentment and peace about her new life.

Part 3 coming soon…

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A Car of Her Own

Jan was smiling while donning a pair of cotton coral walking shorts, and a matching cotton coral top with delicate floral pattern and tiny sequins. As he slipped on her soft sandals, which felt like slippers, she thought about how, if this day went right, a new chapter in her life would begin. At age 62, on this Friday, July 17, 2020, she would independently operate a driverless car.

While finishing a banana and fruit yogurt she felt twinges of anxiety. What if the GPS malfunctioned, and the car sent her careening into oncoming traffic. Her cell phone rang, interrupting these troubling ruminations. “Hi. Do you have a minute?” Jenn queried. “Sure, what’s up?” Jan asked. “Where have you been keeping yourself?” Jenn asked. “I’m taking driving lessons,” Jan said. “Oh from the blind training center I’ve–” Jan’s door buzzer rang. “My instructor is here,” she said, breaking the connection. She grabbed her cane and walked out into a lovely sultry morning. “Ready to roll?” her driving teacher, James, asked with his gentle smile. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” she said, walking with him to the apartment complex’s parking lot. In her parking space was a small, shiny, sapphire blue car. They had worked as a team, having weekly lessons since April 17. James had provided reassuring verbal guidance while she learned to drive around Leominster and Fitchburg. Today this would be absent. The concept was similar to traveling routes independently with a cane.

Sitting in the comfortable driver’s seat, James’ easygoing manner and comforting words reassured her. “Take your time. I want you to understand and know what you are doing. If necessary we can repeat this test.”

In front of her were two rows, with three evenly spaced buttons. They were marked in braille. On the dashboard was a braille manual that she could refer to if there were problems or questions about the car’s operation. She pressed the start button the middle of the bottom row. A soft, British female voice asked, “Where is your first destination?” “Heritage Bank on 35 Prospect Street in Fitchburg,” Jan replied. “What is the mileage and preferred speed?” it asked. “7 miles and 25 miles an hour,” she said. “To start press the ‘go’ button on the top row,” it said. After pressing the correct button she relaxed as the car quietly drove along the streets of Leominster. A shrill voice from another car interrupted her thoughts, “Can’t you drive faster? I have to be at work,” the impatient driver said. “People have accidents speeding,” she said. “You have one of those cars that drive themselves?” he asked. “Blind people like myself are learning how to drive,” she said. “Oh. Sorry,” he said, slowly driving away.

The wonderfully efficient car parked itself near the door to Heritage Bank. After doing transactions the kind bank employee asked, “Can we be of further assistance to you today?” “Thank you, not today. I am learning how to drive my own car,” she said. “Are they like the luxury ones advertised on the internet and TV?” the woman asked. “I do not think so,” she said. Then she went out to the sunny parking lot and got back into the car. When she started it, the trouble began.

Story continued in Part 2…

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Creamed Onions: A Delicious Holiday Side Dish

With Thanksgiving and the holidays less than a month away, we start planning and anticipating making dishes our family and friends will enjoy. In New England, butternut squash, creamed onions, mashed turnip, and carrots are traditional holiday side dishes.

As a child, I loved my mom’s delicious turkey, bread stuffing, gravy and creamy mashed potatoes. My mom put tiny amounts of squash and creamed onions on my plate. She put a little wine in the cream sauce to give it extra character.

After I was married creamed onions became one of my favorite dishes. I got the recipe from the 1979 edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, but my first attempt received more criticism than compliments. In 1991, I followed “expert” recommendations “to prepare everything ahead of time.” As we began eating our otherwise delicious meal, my stepchildren complained, asking, “Why is everything so cold?” Feeling ashamed, I realized my mistake. I had forgotten to keep the burners on so as to keep the mashed potatoes and creamed onions invitingly warm.

Eventually my creamed onions became a favorite side dish at holiday dinners. This dish has also become a favorite with my friend Marian.

Over the past four years, we have shared Thanksgiving and Easter meals and I have given her my creamed onion recipe. She made it for the first time for Thanksgiving in 2011. The Easter of 2012, she added a dash of nutmeg, which made it delicious accompaniment to the ham and mashed potatoes. She makes it with butter, which gives the cream sauce a delicate flavor.

Here is my recipe for creamed onions. This recipe adequately serves three, double it when you have extra guests.

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (use whole or 2 percent it makes the sauce rich and creamy)
A dash of salt
1 bag of tiny pearl or boiling sweet onions or three to five medium sized onions.

Directions:

In a three quart saucepan or double boiler melt butter, then add flour. Stir for thirty seconds with a wire whisk until mixture is thoroughly blended. Turn heat off and add milk and salt. Turn heat on to low/medium and stir cream sauce infrequently for fifteen to twenty five minutes with a wire whisk. While sauce is cooking, peel onions and cook them in boiling water for approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Drain them and cut them, be sure to cut off ends of onions. Transfer cut onions from cutting board to a large glass or plastic container. When the sauce has thickened, add special touches making this dish festive. You can add spices such as nutmeg, curry powder or white pepper. Wine or American cheese make it more festive. Allow these ingredients to blend in with the cream sauce for five minutes. Add onions and stir with a wooden, silicone or plastic spoon. Let dish simmer on stove until dinner is ready to be served.

If you have a hungry crowd this dish will disappear. Try creamed onions, it may become one of your family’s favorite holiday dishes.