blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Seasoned To Taste

woman cooking_jason-briscoe
Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

I never could get my beef casserole to taste exactly like my mother-in-law Melanie’s version. My husband Todd declared her dish the tastiest, of course, and said he’d ask her for the recipe. My next two attempts still fell short of the mark.

“You tried your best,” he said with a kind smile. I seethed in silence.

When his sister Jane came to dinner and offered to help in the kitchen, I swallowed my pride. We’d always got on well so I asked her advice.

“I just can’t get it right,” I said.

Jane smiled. “You know what they say about your mum’s cooking.”

I didn’t. My mother had been great at microwaving. “I followed her recipe to the letter.”

“I’m sure. But you should know that she never gives away all her secrets.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well.” She lowered her voice. “The secret ingredient makes the dish. Ground fennel seeds for pork chops. Grated nutmeg in creamed spinach. Use red wine and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and cook that beef casserole slow and long. Try it.” She winked as she carried the ice cream out.

After that I watched TV chefs and studied recipes for inspiration. I experimented with Todd’s family favourites and took careful notes on what he enjoyed most, until the flavours were perfectly balanced for his tastes. And then I invited his family for Sunday lunch.

We feasted on meat of such sweet silkiness it melted in the mouth, underpinned by wine, redcurrants, and fresh rosemary. When Todd had second and third helpings before declaring my lamb casserole the best he’d ever had, I was delighted.

“I’m glad you like it,” I said.

“It was surprisingly good, actually.” Melanie dabbed at her lips delicately with a napkin. She acted unimpressed but her empty plate said it all. “Perhaps I could have the recipe, though I’d want to put my own spin on it. You don’t mind, do you dear?”

Across the table Jane coughed, then took a long drink of her wine. I avoided catching her eye.

“Of course not.” I gave her a genuine smile, went into the kitchen, and danced unseen while angel voices sang of my triumph.

I already had a suitable version, prepared earlier. No need to mention the depth of umami imparted by dried shiitake mushrooms and the surprising addition of anchovy fillet. She might figure it out, eventually.

Who said revenge was a dish best served cold?


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blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, relationships, short story

A Bit Of A Pickle

pickled red chillies_daily-slowdown
Photo by Daily Slowdown on Unsplash

That first winter in their new house, they pored over seed catalogues and vegetable garden blogs. She had long dreamed of growing her own food and he joined in with enthusiasm. Early the next spring, they donned boots and got their hands dirty. His stamina came in handy to double dig the new beds, and he built trellis and a small greenhouse where she nurtured her seedlings.

The days lengthened. She planted and dreamed of serried rows of preserve jars, like her grandma had in the old pantry. Each jar held jewelled treasures of garnet red beetroot, opalescent baby onions with satellites of red and black peppercorns, or jade green tomato chutney concealing an unexpected hit of spice. Hard-won bounty stood guard against an uncertain winter and preserves meant security.

She hardly noticed ingrained dirt under her nails, so caught up in the promise of harvest that she fell exhausted into bed after long days weeding and grafting. She didn’t mind that he spent most of his time on his phone or at the computer even when the sun shone. They were a team, growing together.

The garden blossomed under her loving care. By the time the inevitable tomato and zucchini glut came around he was gone, in search of indoor pursuits with someone who cared about her manicure. She was left with far too much produce to eat alone or give away.

As the nights drew in again she stood over a hot stove, stirring and seasoning her pickles with salt tears and the bitter fruit of regret.


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audio, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

To The End of The Road

OUT sign painted on parking garage floor
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Listen here:

Inspired by your greatness, loyalty assured
I nailed my colours to your standard, marched
towards the promise of much better times.
Long days and many miles went by
foot sore and weary, always hopeful
for the new dawn.
You strode ahead, eyes fixed on far horizons
I followed willingly
but while I watched my step
mended my boots
tightened my belt
held the line
a sea change was afoot.

Now I raise my head and look around
so far from home, no map or compass
this unfamiliar place, soot-dark and grim
not where I should be
and though my feet still move
I seek a different path.

Goodbye my friend. I failed the test
for this far I have come, but no further
your proud forces pause at the gates of hell
and you go on, as you must, without me.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, relationships, self improvement

How to be likeable – 11 tips for better connections

group diverse_rawpixel
rawpixel via pixabay

I’ve trained myself to illuminate the things in my personality that are likeable and to hide and protect the things that are less likeable. – Will Smith

Introvert or extrovert, you’re a social creature.

You have to interact with other humans in groups or one-to-one, whether you like it or not. You might be able to avoid parties and skip the small talk, but few of us live in total isolation from others.

When interacting with colleagues, employees, or new acquaintances in a group setting, you want to make a good impression and feel more comfortable with these relationships. Here are 11 ways to show your likeable side.

A genuine smile

A smile is the universal welcome. – Max Eastman

A warm smile isn’t just attractive, it encourages the other person to smile back. Smiling can help you feel better and is a great start to a conversation. You are inclined to trust a smiling person more so use that to your advantage.

Use their name

Words have meaning and names have power. – Unknown

Most of us complain that remembering names gets harder over time. Yet addressing someone by name tells them that you find them important. Focus on the name, repeat it, and link it to something else. When first introduced, shake hands if appropriate and repeat the name as in, “Hello, nice to meet you, John.” Focus on receiving the information. Try creating an association in your mind between the name and the person that helps recall. For example Jack = tall, Sarah = glasses. You can find more tips on remembering names here.

Be an active listener

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. – Ernest Hemingway

Active listening is a set of actions that makes the person feel heard. It means paying attention and then reflecting what you heard. Give nonverbal cues such as nodding and smiling, then summarise what was said. This shows you’re listening and makes the other person feel important.

Recall earlier conversations

Stop and listen. The story is everywhere. – Thomas Lloyd Qualls

Because you remember Anne’s name and listened when she mentioned she was training for a 5K, the next time you meet ask her how the race went. Linking past and present is essential in building long-term relationships, whether closer (your partner’s friend) or more distant ( a co-worker you see daily.)

Ask questions and hear the answer

There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing. – G. K. Chesterton

Most people like to talk about themselves, so let them. Ask about their interests or activities and actually listen before responding. Ask a followup question that allows them to reveal a little of themselves. For example, “So how did it feel to complete your first 5K?”

Resist the urge to one-up people. You can talk about your half-marathon or trip of a lifetime another day. Save it for when you’re asked directly.

Give sincere compliments and praise

Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. – Sam Walton

We all love genuine praise. You’ll gain likeability as a boss or manager if you praise good work, like delivering on time or under budget. A few words will go a long way. Creatives in particular often doubt their work, and pointing out something you liked in a project gives much-needed validation. Give what you’d like to receive because karma is real.

But we can all sniff out fake praise. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

Be tactful with criticism

Shout praise and whisper criticism. – Don Meyer

It might be your job to bring up areas for improvement. Offer suggestions without attacking the person. You are focusing on the work, not the character of the worker.

Don’t rush the process and give it some thought beforehand, so that you come up with a considered response.

State the issue in neutral language as you see it and allow them to respond. Define the desired outcome and discuss how you can support the person to work towards it. Remember to acknowledge improvement.

Ask, don’t give orders

In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way. – Tina Fey

Maybe you are the boss, but most people hate to be ordered around. Saying please and thank you doesn’t make you appear weak. Be clear about your request. If you need the report by Thursday 10 am, say so.

Don’t expect people to read your mind and then get angry when they didn’t deliver – that’s manipulative and a fast track to being disliked.

Be authentic

The cure is as simple as this: Live your words and live your belief system. – Shannon L. Alder

Others might get away with insincerity with some people some of the time, but most of us can spot it – so why would you want to be insincere? Be your genuine self with everyone. You don’t have to share every facet of your personality, but don’t change for every person you meet because fake people aren’t likeable. Find what works for you and stick with it.

Ask for advice

Ask better questions. Get better answers. – Richie Norton

Asking for advice shows that you’re humble enough to seek help, and it flatters the person asked as it shows they have greater knowledge than you. You win twice because you gain information and make the person feel good about themselves.

One rule; be respectful. Don’t interrogate or expect detailed professional advice for free. Nobody likes to be used for what they know.

Learn to tell stories

A thrilling story can be dull if told badly, but even the most mundane event can be elevated into a tale of epic scale by a good storyteller. – Johnny Rich

Likeable people can tell stories well. Whether it’s an account of their holiday or a summary of their project, they know what they want to convey. Practice makes perfect here. Concentrate on your point and don’t ramble. Observe your audience’s reaction so that you can do better next time.

Not A Popularity Contest

It is better to be likable than to be talented. – Utah Phillips

Popular is not necessarily the same as likeable. If you prefer to connect with small numbers of people, you can still be likeable and memorable. The essence of likability is paying attention to the person in front of you. As Keanu Reeves says, the simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.

Be intentional in social situations. Pay attention, focus on the other person, treat them with respect, and watch your connections grow to the next level.


first published 11 Nov 2019 by Publishous on Medium

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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, relationships, short story

Made For You

White dresses on white hangers against a white background.
Charisse Kenion via Unsplash

It’s always been considered bad luck to make your own wedding dress. It implies a life of want if you can’t outsource such an important task, or maybe a life of never-ending work. That means a steady procession of happy brides-to-be in my bridal shop. These days I leave the actual stitching to my dedicated and skilful seamstresses. I prefer to interact with my customers and bask in their excited energy, spilled without any thought to the cost.

Being married isn’t essential in this business, but it definitely helps. My engagement ring is not just a symbol of love, it’s one and a half carats of trust. Brides love to buy their wedding dress from someone who understands their mindset after all. And the man who gave me his promise is six feet of wonderful who loves me dearly. Sometimes I pinch myself, because how did I get so lucky?

My last customer of the day is radiant. Accompanied by her mother, Rosalind wants only the best. They haven’t set a date yet but she can’t wait to start looking. I pull eight gowns and she looks truly wonderful in all of them.

While Rosalind gets dressed her mother and I chat, the usual about luck and love and soulmates. A photo of them smiling together is proudly produced. Rosalind’s mother wipes away happy tears. Look, they’re made for each other. I look, and I can’t breathe. I lock and bolt the door after they’re gone but it’s too late.

Somewhere along the line, I missed something.

The day I leave, I pack everything except my shears. I take great care of my dressmaking tools even though I don’t use them often, because keeping a sharp edge is essential to a clean cut. His jackets will look normal at first glance, until he pulls them and finds sleeves removed and linings slashed.

When I reach the last one, his favourite Italian wool suit, I can’t bring myself to vandalise its exquisite workmanship. I know how much work it takes to construct something so beautiful. Instead I leave parting gifts; my wedding ring on the counter – and raw eggs smashed in each of the suit pockets.

We shared everything. Soon he too will discover something rotten hiding in the dark.


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audio, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Don’t Look Now

window woman_ken wyatt
Ken Wyatt via Unsplash

She’s always there, staring out of her front window. When I herd my children into the car for the school run or come home late from work, her gaze follows me. I’ve learned not to look because her answering smile is borderline creepy.

Sometimes her constant scrutiny angers me. I want to scream obscenities, smash the window, drag her outside. I want to get right in her face and tell her to get a life that’s not mine. However, polite society frowns on that kind of behaviour, not to mention it’s a bad example for the kids. So I swallow it all down with a gin and tonic on Friday night.

When the sale board appears outside her house I grin. No more weird old neighbour, probably been hauled off to a nursing home to stare out of a new window at the world going by without her. Of course I’m much too busy to think that far ahead but I’m absolutely certain that won’t be my future. Gotta keep moving. Don’t slow down, then those troublesome thoughts can’t catch up.

I silence it all, swallow it all with another gin and tonic every Friday night.


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blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry, relationships

Used To Be Somebody

hand-field_Daniel Jensen
Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

I know you all are busy
life gets more complex every day
and you just don’t have time
for hardly anything
so don’t worry
you don’t need to check on me
I know you’re minding your business
and someone else will do it, right?

Someone else with more time
and more resources
and while everyone’s busy
leaving it up to someone else
I slip through the cracks of absent smiles
fade into the rear view mirror as life moves on

faster

faster

don’t worry, okay?
when I sink
I’ll hardly make a ripple
and leave nothing behind
and perhaps someone will say

Wasn’t she

Didn’t she?

Life moves on you’ll soon forget
those who fall behind
and are left out of mind
Here’s a new day
don’t worry
it really doesn’t matter because
I’m already gone

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 31 – Ripe

red apples fruit juicy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Listen here: 

Susannah loved autumn. Trees shifted from dull green to vibrant yellow and warm amber, before catching fire in a blaze of triumphant red. Traffic-stopping colours begged her to pause and marvel at the culmination of a season’s growth.

She’d done her part earlier by hanging codling moth traps, feeding, and carefully pruning. But the real work of growing belonged to the trees that produced a harvest with or without her help.

It seemed a pity to dissect this bounty. Still, slicing through the scarlet skin and crisp flesh revealed buried treasure. When fruit ripened to its maturity, it released the seeds of its regeneration.

Smiling at the memory and anticipation of her grandkids’ demands for more, Susannah baked her apples into fragrant pies.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 30 – Catch

 

boat moon_photo-graphe
Image by photo-graphe via pixabay

Listen:

Fishermen were prone to exaggeration. Long weeks at sea did strange things to a man’s mind, and he’d start seeing things. Night fishing might bring him face to face with things he couldn’t quite explain. The feeling of being watched, or the sense of something moving unseen below the surface.

Every fisherman accepted the unflinching right of the sea to bestow life or death upon those who dared venture from the safety of dry land. No wonder they drank.

Bryn thought all those stories were tall tales told over too many jugs of ale. Unusually for a fisherman he dismissed superstition. He taught himself first to swim, then to dive for crabs. In his free time he played a flute made from a piece of red coral he found on the sea bed.

One night he rose, unable to sleep, and took his small boat out. A fat white moon reflected in small ripples on the water, and he gazed at it for a while. There was no reason to cast his net, but he did anyway. A moment later something tugged at the floats.

Bryn hauled in his catch, spellbound by shining silver eyes and pearly skin, blue hair floating around her waist. He leaned closer and she wound her arms around his neck.

“Come with me,” she sang. “I answer your call.”

When his boat washed ashore days later everyone assumed he’d drowned. He should not have learned to swim, they said. He didn’t show proper respect to the sea. But afterwards some who fished on the night of the full moon swore they heard music, coming from below the waves.


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audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Inktober 29 – Injured

adult ancient arena armor
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

listen:

Queen Eleanore regarded the two knights recommended by her Master at Arms with her usual regal disdain, but inwardly she worried. She had few choices, and none appealed. Least appealing of all was marriage to the power hungry oaf who ruled the neighbouring kingdom.

But a year of war had exacted a heavy price, and she cared deeply for her people. Her father’s sense of duty ran in her veins. She would do what she must to secure peace, and a battle of champions would end the bloodshed.

“Sir Tauthe of Denham, why should I choose you as my champion?”

Tauthe returned her gaze with a bold look of his own. Eleanore schooled her features into well-practised blankness. She liked curly hair on a man and he wore his well, complementing a strong jaw and bright, clean armour.

“As your majesty knows I am unbeaten at the joust. My sword training was undertaken with the great Dirke of Greenhill, and I have proved myself in battle. It would be the greatest honour to defend this land as your champion.” He bowed low, one hand on the pommel of his sword. “My life and my sword are yours.”

Eleanore nodded and turned to the other knight. His bowed head revealed silver scattered among dark, cropped hair. His armour, though of fine quality, was marred by a scratched crest and dented breastplate. This was how he presented himself to his monarch?

She didn’t miss Tauthe’s sideways glance.

“Sir Gerann of Bree.” She looked him up and down, cool and distant. “Why should I choose you as my champion?”

Gerann raised his head. His left cheek bore a long thin scar, and another ran vertically on his scalp to a damaged right ear. Eleanore blinked at the fire in his eyes and he dropped his gaze immediately.

“If it please your majesty, I would give my heart and soul willingly for our land.” He drew his sword bright and unmarked from its battered scabbard, then knelt and offered it to her with both hands.

Eleanore weighed the confident ease of a man unbeaten in battle against the scarcely older but shabby, combat-scarred veteran. She had to choose the right one if she hoped to keep control of her throne and her life.

The queen took a breath. A silent prayer, and she nodded at Gerann. Master at Arms wore the ghost of a smile as he brought her pennant forward.

Eleanore needed a man prepared to get close enough to risk injury, and tough enough to fight on despite it. She trusted Gerann would fight to his last breath. And if he lost, they would each accept their fate with honour.


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