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We in West Virginia pride ourselves on being neighborly.

That’s why my friend Carol and I decided to take a cake to Martha Stewart, a recent arrival to our state. Martha is serving a 5-month sentence at the federal prison camp in Alderson for lying about a stock deal. I don’t condone Martha’s actions but at least she is doing time while her male counterparts in financial skullduggery are still free.

Charles Town is 231 miles from Alderson. Carol and I left early on a frigid Saturday because visitors are allowed at Alderson on the weekend. We knew we would never actually get to see Martha but that was not the point of our visit. We merely wanted to welcome Martha to the mountaineer state.

The chocolate cake we transported was homemade (would anyone dare bring Martha a store bought confection?). We declined a friend’s suggestion that we bake in a glue gun. Since this trip was all about Mountaineer hospitality we used a West Virginia family recipe. Margaret Ellen Vogler, Carol’s 82-year-old mother-in-law, gladly volunteered her recipe for Chocolate Cake with Boiled Caramel Icing. Mrs. Vogler, a native of Wheeling, West Virginia, perfected the recipe decades ago and it is the staple of all Vogler family reunions.

We arrived at Alderson, cake in hand, shortly before noon. The prison looks exactly like a college campus with one important difference: finding a parking space is really, really easy. We entered the Visitor’s Center, located in what looks like a former house. The place was packed. Inmates and their visitors shared sofas and benches, crowded around tables and spilled out into the yard. “Can I help you?” asked the guard. “We brought this cake for Martha Stewart”; we whispered realizing that most of the inmates and their families were probably getting sick of all the attention surrounding Martha.

The guard was friendly but firm. No food was allowed, she told us. We offered to leave the cake for the guards but that was not allowed either. She suggested we mail our hand made greeting card to Martha.

Carol and I were disappointed but still felt good about our neighborly mission. We took a few pictures in the parking lot and started to pull out. That’s when another prison guard, his jacket flapping, stopped us. He informed us that taking pictures at Alderson prison is a federal crime. Given the absence of any signs announcing this policy, we were caught by surprise.

We defended our actions the only way we knew how. “Can we offer you a piece of Chocolate Cake with Boiled Caramel Frosting from a recipe of an 82 year old grandmother in Wheeling?” In West Virginia, where there are still close family ties all over the state, there was a chance the guard had relatives in the Northern Panhandle and might forget the whole episode. This was not the case.

The guard demanded our driver licenses and destroyed the film from Carol’s camera. “Wait here”, he ordered and disappeared into the Visitors Center. “I can’t do time”, moaned Carol, an elementary school teacher. “I didn’t leave any lesson plans for next week.”

The guard returned our drivers licenses a few minutes later. He said he intended to report us to the Superintendent of Inmate Security but that we were free to go. We left Alderson with the cake and the threat of legal action over our head.

Martha Stewart will probably never know about our expedition to welcome her to West Virginia but that doesn’t matter. We wanted to show our sympathy for Martha and we did.

And that, as Martha would say, is a good thing.

The Herald-Mail, February 2005


My recent donation to Jefferson County Relay for Life honors my friend Lael who died too soon from cancer.

I first met Lael when I reported for work at Montgomery County Parks and Planning in 1977. I was coming from a rural planning department in Monroe, Michigan and was dressed in my best “virgin polyester” blouse and skirt, sporting a plastic purse and wearing shoes from the local Shoes for Less.

And there was Lael, a beautiful, well-coiffed, blonde beauty, adorned in a classic outfit, wearing gorgeous jewelry and exuding confidence.

My reaction was immediate. NO WAY were we going to be friends…this Lael person was out of my league.

It did not take me long to discover that Lael was as warm and caring and fun as she was gorgeous and sophisticated.

Lael took me under her wing in 1977 and we went shopping together. First stop: a new purse. “What’s that smell?” I asked when we entered the accessories department at Woodward&Lothrop. “Leather,” Lael replied. I left with a Coach bag. Then we updated my wardrobe. I kept gravitating to navy blue (my growing up in Catholic school uniforms assured I would always gravitate to the Virgin Mary’s color palette) but Lael had bigger plans for me. At the end of the day, I no longer looked like a refugee from the Corn Belt.

We travelled together, most memorably to Argentina in 2005. Lael was so darn much fun. We roomed together for 10 days and laughed our way through Patagonia, Mendoza and Buenos Aires.

In sports, television announcers always refer to special athletes as “the complete package.” When it comes to life, Lael was the complete package. She was gorgeous, elegant, classy yet warm and caring.

Lael died in 2012 and I miss her every day. I can’t figure out why Lael is gone. The world needs more people like Lael. I am just going to have to trust in God that there is some cosmic reason why family and friends have to go on without her.

Maybe some angels need fashion advice.


Ron just completed his most recent yard improvement. Using a front end loader and his trusty shovel, he spent hours uprooting the trunk of a 30 year old tree felled in a recent storm.

As we get older, I worry more about Ron around heavy machinery. We’re both getting forgetful. What if he forgets to set the brake and his limbs get shorn off instead of the tree’s?

Ron started his project while I was in the middle of my latest endeavor: putting together a 1000 piece puzzle. I did what any caring, loving wife would do. I moved my puzzle project near a window where I could observe Ron’s progress. I placed my cell phone nearby so I could dial 911 if disaster struck.

All went well for Ron but somehow in moving the puzzle I lost a piece.

This was a brand new, factory sealed puzzle and I don’t remember dropping or misplacing a piece. Nevertheless, due to my carelessness, a mouse lost part of its face and one paw.

A friend and I exchange puzzles and I simply could not in good conscience give her a puzzle missing a part. Armed with glue, cardboard, craft scissors and my printer, I decided to recreate the missing piece. Wow. It took me as much time to resurrect that damn mouse as it took Ron to unearth a tree stump.

The first challenge was to cut a puzzle piece that would snugly fit into the missing space. I needed a laser but had to make do with craft scissors, a very poor substitute. Once I got a piece that sort of fit, I faced the next challenge: enlarging the teeny tiny image of the mouse on the puzzle box to the same size as the missing piece. Other people may know how to mathematically calculate what percent enlargement on the printer would yield the right size. Not me. I tried increasing it by 15%, then 20% then 25%. The amount of money I used for ink probably exceeded the cost of the entire puzzle. Each time I enlarged the image, the mouse got fuzzier and fuzzier.

The reinvented puzzle piece.

The last step was the toughest. I had to cut the mouse image to fit the substitute puzzle piece and make sure it lined up with the neighboring pieces. Again, craft scissors are not up to such a precise task. When I finally finished I realized the cardboard I used was awfully thin so I reinforced it. More cutting and gluing.

I was pretty pleased with the final product. I went to show Ron but he was sound asleep. Apparently unearthing a tree stump the size of a dishwasher is more tiring than recreating a puzzle piece.

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