The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Bored & Brilliant January 29, 2015

Filed under: inspiration,peace,Random Post,Solutions,The Natural World — Karen Shafer @ 9:14 pm

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Bored & Brilliant


Those who know me even a little know I’m a fan of unplugging from technology — mild understate.  I’ve gone so far as to ban electronics for a week on family beach vacations…  if I felt I could get by with it.  Slightly autocratic I admit, but the results in calmer grandchildren who let their creativity shine amidst this “boredom” and wonderful conversations between adults — not to mention just gazing out at the scenery as opposed to down at the electronic device — was impressive.  Of course, this does not mean that one can’t be creative with and through technology.  Still…  Needless to say, I was interested to hear this interview on the BBC World Service.


Slight conundrum:  participating in this project of unplugging from technology requires an “App”!  (It’s only in the last couple of years that I figured out what that word even means.)  And this project comes through a website called “New Tech City.”  But even a luddite was impressed with and intrigued by this interview.  Also, yes, I am aware that, once again, I am putting this “out there” on a computer through WIFI.


Saying Nothing December 20, 2013

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 1:43 am

Friday, December 20, 2013

“When you have nothing to say, say nothing.”

~~  Sting


Trusting Yourself November 25, 2012

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 6:15 pm



       “When you learn to trust yourself, then you can begin to trust others, and the world can begin to unfold before you as it is supposed to.”


                                                                                                       ~~  “An American in Canada,” PBS


Falling In Love Again… Or Is It the First Time? August 23, 2012

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 11:33 pm

Thursday, August 24, 2012


Falling In Love Again… Or Is It the First Time?


In my misspent youth, I could find very little to love about my hometown in East Tennessee.  It was too provincial, I felt, and it made me feel claustrophobic, as though I needed to claw my way out it, surrounded as it is by hills and mountains, albeit very beautiful ones.  It won awards sometimes in national polls for Good Places to Live, but I for one could not see it.  My perspective was that, though I loved the mountains, they trapped in the air pollution and collected the acid rain, and they were most definitely trapping me.



So, after my longer-than-average-and-longer-than-necessary college career there in my home town, I got out — first to Atlanta, the closest big city, and then to Dallas.  No problem with mountains there — Dallas grew up out of a a cotton field.



Forty years later, after raising a family I wouldn’t trade for any other and spending forty Texas summers addicted to air conditioning, I can also see the climatological  upside of being able to garden in Dallas almost year round.  I had wanted different, and different I got.



During the intervening decades, my family and I drove yearly to East Tennessee for Christmas with my parents and extended family.  I missed my relatives terribly, and it was always a wrench to leave them when our holidays ended.  There were ongoing discussions with my own family about moving back to ‘hillbilly country’, but we never did.



When each of my parents died — mother, father, stepmother — I came to home to be with them, sometimes with my children, sometimes alone.  It was an incalculable honor to be with my parents when they passed away, but it also meant that most of the memories  of East Tennessee during the last fifteen years have been sad ones.  So, for the better part of a decade, I’ve stayed away.  When lifelong friends called and tried to stay in touch, I made excuses for not coming ‘home.’  I was compartmentalizing, I guess.



Yet there is always something about ‘fiddle playing’ — when I hear strains of it in Appalachian / Celtic music on the radio — that gets to me like no other instrumentation.  That, and the banjo.  You can take the girl out of the hills (or she can take herself out), but…



Last week, I needed to come home on family business and decided to make it a road trip.  I stopped to stay with my lifelong best friend in Memphis, who is also named Karen.  (Growing up, since we went to the same kindergarten, grammar school, high school, and college, one of us was “Karen” and one “The Other Karen” — yet which was which depended entirely upon who was talking!)  Over the years, this lovely woman and her daughter, Joanna, have opened their home to me and my family every time we’ve passed through Memphis on our way east, which adds up to quite a few overnights.



This is my BFF Karen:  I needed to make last week’s trip on the short notice, so I got on the road and called her from somewhere between Dallas and Memphis (after not talking to her for months) and said, “Uh, I’m going to be in Memphis tonight, and I was wondering if I could stay…”  “Of course!”  she said, “I’ll leave work early.  [She’s the boss, so she can do that.]  You’ll have to overlook the cat hair in the corners.  John and I will cook for you.”  “Sorry for the late notice,” I said.  “You’re family!” she replied.  By the time I pulled into town, she’d rounded up her daughter, son-in-law and grandson for a reunion, and we all sat down to a lovely home-cooked meal with fresh flowers, two different wines, and candles.



As I continued the drive eastward the following day, I felt surprisingly exhilarated.  I was delighted, surprised, amazed at the joy I felt in returning to East Tennessee…  I was homesick but hadn’t known it.  Cruising down the freeway and into my hometown at the end of the day, I felt as if I were driving through a virtual matrix of emotions  — sad ones, happy ones…  feelings long shut away.



The next day, weaving through the campus of the university there that is my alma mater, I came face to face with the feelings of failure I carry about my uneven college career:  the 3.5 GPA semesters alongside the 1.2 one that was my first time living away from home in the dorm;  dropping out without graduating my ‘second senior year’ because I was tired of working and going to school.



There was happy stuff too:  passing the campus theatre I remembered a class I took for which I was required to perform in a comic play, and, despite my ice cold terror, miraculously remembered my lines, and actually got a laugh.



More in the mixed-review category, I remembered when I discovered that the vending machines in the basement of that freshman dorm could replace meals as I pulled all nighters and then slept through the 7:30 a.m. freshman zoology exam I’d been studying for.  (Speaking of which, why did I think that subject involved actual mammal-sized animals?  Because it contains the word ‘zoo’???)  I somehow became the official hair cutter for the girls on my floor, except I had no clue what I was doing  — the closest I’d ever come to being a stylist was cutting the manes and tails of ponies in my youth.  Those were some great girls in my dorm — tremendous support as I gained the Frosh 20 eating from the vending machines and ‘outgrew’ all my clothes.



As I passed by the Panhellenic building on campus on my driving tour last week, I thought of the time I was roped into being in a fashion show there and learned just before walking down the runway that my size 10 feet were going to have to fit into size 8-1/2 shoes.  And they did.  Ouch.



And then I drove downtown.  When did my hometown grow up and become a radiant beauty?  Completely without my help, while I ignored it and looked the other way, it has transformed itself into an exquisite jewel, a combination of historic treasure and trendy upscale hipness.  (I, on the other hand, have bypassed the trendy, the upscale and the hip entirely.)  All of the buildings that I remember from my childhood and dream about — the ones I shopped in, went to the movies in, sat at the soda fountain in, when I was allowed by my parents the thrill of riding the bus ‘downtown’ from the suburbs with my older cousin, Linda —  they are STILL THERE, refurbished in period detail, clean and sparkling with love and care.  The past is not just honored there, it is cherished.  I am so proud.



Somehow this past week, something has happened.  Something magical, and healing.  I don’t feel trapped by my hometown any more — I am in love with it, as it is, and as I remember it.  Maybe I always have been.





Work May 22, 2012

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 10:10 pm

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


“She was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.”

~~ Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness:  Marlow on the “twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat” he’s restoring.

Borrowed from the blog, The Greenery:


You Know You’re Vacationing With Family When… June 26, 2011

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 3:22 pm

Sunday, June 26, 2011

You Know You’re Vacationing With Family When…

… You walk into the kitchen and eat cold scrambled eggs off a plate without knowing or caring who they belonged to.

… You’re the loudest people in a public place and other people are looking at you while trying/pretending not to.  It may be exuberant joy, or it may be bickering, but your group is the loudest.

… You say one word or phrase, and everybody gets the joke.

… You say one word or phrase, and everybody gets offended.

… People feel free to offer you fashion advice unsolicited.  And definitely unsolicited.  Sometimes it sounds like, “Oh, God, Mom, NO!”

… One daughter says to the other meaningfully:  “She bought a t-shirt.  In a bright color.”  The other daughter knows that means turquoise.

… You feel free to ignore people’s fashion advice, knowing they have to go in public with you anyway.

… You know just what to do to soothe a tired, hungry, grumpy grandchild.

… Nothing that anybody can do can soothe a tired, hungry, grumpy grandchild, and every attempt to do so irritates her/him even more… in the extreme.

… Every odd thing that anybody does you tend to see as evidence of family pathology, and almost certainly your fault.

… You think how you wished you’d forced the whole group into family counseling at an early age.

… Every adorable thing that anybody does you tend to see as evidence of your terrific parenting and your brilliant application of the child development books you read when they were young.

… You’re so glad your Healthy Family doesn’t need counseling.

… You congratulate yourself on telling your kids:  “Follow your dreams!  Be yourself!  Speak your mind!”

… You wish your kids were a little more reluctant to speak their minds to you, and you wish they’d use “I feel” statements whenever they’re inclined to do so.

… You long to turn to someone and share the ‘beautiful-sunset moment.’  Everyone you can think of that you’d like to share it with is right there.




The Beach in Winter February 8, 2011

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 7:23 pm

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Beach in Winter

I’ve always wanted to have a vacation right on the beach.  Although I have to be somewhere close to the world’s worst ‘googler’, I’ve hopefully searched beaches in various locations online for years looking for an affordable cottage where I could step out my door in the morning and onto the sand, cup of coffee in hand.  But until this past week, the dream had alluded me.


Half of my family recently moved to the Boston area, and when I visited them last week, the amount of snow there — around 70 inches and rising since Christmas — was a novelty for me, and I quite enjoyed it (I didn’t have to shovel it!).  Those who live there, however — and natives among them — are pretty adamant at this point that they’re ready for a break.  So we (my daughter, son-in-law and two grand kids) escaped the head-high snowbanks of the city and went to Cape Cod for the weekend.


The Cape had received snow as well, but much less than Boston.  I am not a fan of crowds, so a midwinter view of the Atlantic seemed to fit the bill, and this is the only time of year I can afford the rentals!  My daughter, Mandy, an expert online searcher, found the beach house of my dreams.  And since I’m now of an age to have a Bucket List and this sort of trip was on it, I was able to cross an item off my list.


The beauty of the beach half covered in snow and of the ocean in winter were breathtaking.  But the most important thing was time spent watching the kids and their parents in their winter coats, gloves and hats out on the beach, just past the dunes and the snow line, searching for shells and building sand castles, climbing on the rock jetty, and watching my daughter, a nature photographer, walking the beach taking pictures.  When I went down to the beach, bundled up against the wind, I sat for a long time on the sand and the rocks, soaking up the beauty.  To my surprise, it was much warmer by the water than anywhere else.


A highlight was when we discovered that if you stand on the porch and throw bits of bread into the air, the space around you will suddenly fill with sea gulls, and they will hover right in front of you and catch their treats in midair!  My grandson did this by the hour.  And I got my dream of sitting on the porch in winter gear with my oldest daughter, drinking our morning coffee, the temperature just above freezing.  It was fantastic.


I should let the pictures of the beach and ocean speak for themselves.  But I will say that the people I met on Cape Cod were some of the kindest and friendliest I’ve met anywhere.  We had one of what the grownups agreed was in the ‘Top Five” dinners of our lives at the Blue Moon Bistro in Dennis Village, and the Irish breakfasts and French toast mounded with fruit at Keltic Kitchen and at the Hearth and Kettle in West Yarmouth defied description.  (Leave it to me to go straight to food as looming large in the ‘happy memories’ category.)


Although I crossed something off my Bucket List after this trip, it didn’t get any shorter.  After I put a check next to, ‘Stay right on the beach and drink hot tea, coffee or cocoa on the porch,’ I went straight to the bottom of the list and added:  ‘Do it again.’




The beach at dusk

Beach lighthouse

Feeding the gulls from the porch

A seagull hovering in midair to catch a treat

A fishing boat at Chatham, the 'elbow' of the Cape



Dallas Elderly Need Heaters January 10, 2011

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 7:53 pm

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dallas agency runs out of money to provide free heaters



Posted on January 10, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Updated today at 5:30 PM

DALLAS — Facing a bitterly cold night, more than 150 Dallas residents who have asked for help will not get it — turned down because the program they were counting on is out of money.

It is the first time in 25 years that Meals on Wheels has run out of money, threatening to end the program that delivers free space heaters to Dallas County residents in need.

“We’ve already provided already over 150,” said the agency’s president and CEO Robert Carpenter. “We have over a half a dozen left, and we have over a couple hundred dollars left.”

Carpenter said the city’s most vulnerable citizens — the elderly — are suffering. And with 150 already on a waiting list in the third week of winter, the timing could not be worse…

Wednesday, January 12, 2010

WFAA reported last night that the heater problem had been solved by the generosity of Channel 8 viewers.

Meals on Wheels still needs donations, however.


Christmas Truffles Revisited (and not the kind that grow in the woods) December 24, 2010

Filed under: Christmas,Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 12:00 am

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Truffles Revisited

(and not the kind that grow in the woods)

It’s a Christmas tradition for my three grandchildren and me to bake decorated sugar cookies together.  I prepare the dough the night before and have it well chilled when they arrive the next afternoon.  Then, each of them armed with a rolling pin or an improvised version of same, we roll, cut out, and sprinkle the cookies to our hearts’ content.


Generally, their mothers, my daughters, look on and expedite the creative process by shuttling trays of tree-, angel-, Santa-, star-, heart-, reindeer-, teddy bear-, stocking- and blob-shaped cookies from our decorating table into and out of the oven.  Inevitably in the process, portions of dough are eaten or dropped on the floor, and sometimes both. Consequently, their mothers are generally somewhat reluctant to eat what the grand kids and I bake.


When we’ve finished, our workspace and ourselves look as if we’ve been hit by the remnants of a flour, chocolate sprinkles, and colored-sugar explosion.  Louis, Cora and Anna are now eight, eight and six, but we’ve done this since they were much younger, and the younger the children, the exponentially larger the mess.


This year, though, two of these fabulous fellow cookie bakers, Louis and Anna, have moved to Boston with their mom and dad, Mandy and Arnaud, where they are having a wonderful, new kind of Christmas — one that involves a fluffy and pristine blanket of snow, a caring circle of friends, special traditions of service to those in need, and some serious snowball fights!  So this year Cora and her mom, Rose, still Dallasites, came over with the idea of executing what I thought was my brilliant innovation:  making chocolate Christmas truffles for our family and friends (and ourselves, too, of course.)


I was prepared with recipes copied and printed from the Martha Stewart Living web site for chocolate ganache and truffles.  (Pretty much every item I cook during the holidays is a Martha.)  I had bought some good quality bittersweet chocolate and some organic cream and gathered together all of the toppings in which we’d roll our lovely and [in my mind] spherical ganache delicacies:  cocoa powder, cinnamon, hand-crushed almonds and pecans, powdered sugar, and even some green-tinted sugar and multicolored sprinkles (yes, artificial dyes, but it’s Christmas!)


Cora and her mom arrived, and we made the ganache.  Cora is a marvelous kitchen presence, as, like me, she marvels at the changes in ingredients with the application of heat and mixing, which I like to talk about in terms of laywoman’s ‘physics’, trying to incorporate the teensiest academic reference into our process.  So we oohed and aahed as Cora poured the bubbling hot cream over the chocolate bits and began to whisk them together, as we watched them began to swirl around and then blend, transforming themselves magically from a liquid and a solid into a glorious, incorporated silky brown goo.  Mama Rose pitched in with the whisking.


Then we poured out the ganache carefully into pie plates to cool, as advised by Martha, refrigerated it and went off to run an errand.


But not quite a long-enough errand, it seemed to us later.


When we came home, Cora and I excitedly assembled our truffle-making supplies:  white lotus-petaled bowls of my mother’s individually filled with various sugars, cinnamon and cocoa powder.  Cora armed herself with the melon baller and me with the coffee scoop.  We removed the ganache from the ‘fridge — it looked glossy and solid.  Powdering our hands with cocoa powder (per Martha again), Cora carefully broke the surface of the ganache with her scoop and ladled it into her hand in order to form it into a ball and roll it in a topping.  Then, slowly but quite unstoppably, the lovely chocolate mixture oozed through her fingers and drizzled itself in streams into a contented puddle on top of the nest of cocoa powder.


“Awwww, mannnn!” we said in unison.


But we were undeterred.  Experimenting, Cora figured out that with handfuls of cocoa powder, she could make her ‘truffles’ resemble a melty semi-semi-semi-solid.  My process involved ladling scoops of the mixture onto a plate, then sprinkling the liquidy blob with a topping.


When Rose came into the room to see our results, she tried hard to compliment us, but could really only say, “OOooooohhhh…  Wow.”


Still, sort of like the quintessential ‘visions of sugarplums’ one hears about, visions of the elegant truffles Cora and I would make, nestle into small boxes I’d collected, and give out to neighbors and friends as Christmas gifts (and, of course, ship off to Boston) had danced in my head for weeks.  So after Rose and Cora went home, I surveyed the results of our splendid effort and felt it would just be wrong to go down in defeat.  “But I just wanted them to look pretty and round,” I whined to myself.


I re-refrigerated the chocolate blobbies, and, when I looked at them later, the magic of physics had indeed begun to reassert itself.  There was a subtle but noticeable change in their surface, from glossy to dull.  At last, they seemed to be ‘setting up’, so I gently reshaped them into balls, re-rolled them in their toppings, and laid them gingerly back on their plate in a picturesque pattern:  a cinnamon, a white sugar, a cocoa powder, a ground pecan.


And so, if you’re on our Christmas list, beware:  you may in fact be receiving Truffles Revisited.



P.S.  I just ate one…  OK, three.  Believe it or not, they’re actually quite good if one doesn’t think too much about the process.


P.P.S.  In a wonderful irony, Santa just delivered a gift at my house (don’t know how he did it and kept up his rounds — NORAD has him tracked in Australia around this time) with a gift of Lake Champlain Handmade Organic Truffles from my Boston family!  The Lemon Ginger I just ate was yummmm.


Faulkner on Fear November 9, 2010

Filed under: inspiration,Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 10:32 pm

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Faulkner on Fear

‘[The writer] must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.’

~~  William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech



Have Your Life October 21, 2010

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 11:57 pm

Friday, October 22, 2010

“Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.  It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular so long as you have your life.  If you haven’t had that what have you had?”

~~Henry James, from the Preface of The Ambassadors

I’ve developed a newfound passion for and obsession with the writings of Henry James after randomly picking from my bookshelf last week his The Portrait of a Lady.  I’m not sure how I’ve missed out on him all these years, except for random exposure to snippets of his work in high school and at university.  Nightly, however, full of awe, I read his characterizations with the awareness that I am in the presence of a master of insights into the workings of the human mind and heart and the quirks of human behavior.  There’s a reason these sorts of stories survive the decades — in this case over a century.  KS


Writer’s Block October 4, 2010

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 10:00 pm

Monday, October 4, 2010


Blog Sabbatical March 11, 2010

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 3:45 pm

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dear Readers,

My blog has decided it needs a Spring Break Sabbatical.  Not that it actually accomplishes so much that it really warrants a vacation, in my opinion.  It’s telling me that it’s been in business for two years as of Valentine’s Day. Whatever.

I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t always live up to the work ethic that I, as its mother, hold for it, but I don’t want to be overly critical.  It has a life of its own, after all.  And I have to acknowledge that, even if one doesn’t hear from it all that often, it does indeed ponder the problems and issues it addresses much of the time — so perhaps it needs a breather.

To these ends, (and acknowledging a certain unhealthy co-dependence between myself and my blog), I’m respecting its wishes and taking a break, too.  If you want me to email you when we come back, send me a message at this address and I’ll do so:

“The Garden” <>

Thank you so very much for reading,



Favorite Underdog Story September 18, 2008

Filed under: inspiration,Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 9:09 pm

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Paul Potts:  Britain’s Got Talent, 2007


This is my favorite ‘underdog’ story.  (The look on Simon Cowell’s face is worth the viewing.)

What’s yours?


Paul Pott’s initial audition on Britain’s Got Talent, 2007…


the Semi-Finals…


and the Winner is…


I listen to his CD, One Chance, almost every day, and I’ve had it for many months!



Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize June 8, 2008

Filed under: Random Post — Karen Shafer @ 7:22 pm

June 8, 2008


“Maybe the best any of us can do is not quit,

        play the hand we’ve been given,

                and accessorize the outfit we’ve got.”


                                                   ~~Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City


Blogs, Their Wills, and Their Mothers March 18, 2008

Filed under: no technosavvywhatsoever,Random Post,Uncategorized — Karen Shafer @ 4:44 pm

Just recently, my blog has been unwilling to acknowledge me as its mother. About a week ago, in a matricidal impulse, it banned me from its premises.

Fortunately, through some delicate negotiations and not inconsiderable tech support, I am able once again to be a player (albeit a very minor one) in the Weblog Game.

Who knew blogs had wills of their own? I just hope that, when the time comes, my blog remembers its own mother in its will.