Monthly Archives: November 2012

Savoring the Old and the New

It’s Sunday morning, 10:45. The turkey is gone. The stuffing is gone. The candied sweet potatoes and pumpkin pies are gone. Even the kids and the grandkids are gone.

It was a delicious weekend. I’m still in thankfulness mode. My kids all told me it was the best turkey and best stuffing ever. The grandkids played together well. The cousins, 9 to age 3, didn’t break too many things. They did manage to photocopy half of the items in my office, and all of their hands, as well as one person’s face. I thought it was very imaginative, but when I’m out of ink next week, I probably won’t be so happy.

The dog had fun. He stationed himself at the kids’ table, reasoning he’d be able to Hoover up more there than at the feet of the adults. And we ate outside. That was a first for us—warm enough on Thanksgiving to have dinner outside. Our Seattle contingent was blown away. Green grass and blue skies are aberrations enough. Al fresco Thanksgiving dining on the patio at home? Amazing to them.

In some ways it felt like déjà vu all over again. Only we were the grandparents who live in the desert, and our kids were playing our role. All during the Thanksgiving weekend, I felt I was in Einstein’s theory—time seemed relative. When I was making the stuffing, it was as if my grandmother was standing beside me. I’d learned her recipe forty years ago. (I make it just as she taught me, which necessitates me getting out the electric fry pan from the garage.)

The antique electric fry pan, which is indispensable for Thanksgiving.

As I got into my jeans and gelled my hair, I remembered my grandmother’s cotton dress, sensible shoes, and hair pulled back in a bun. Times have changed, I thought. But the smells from the kitchen and the shrieks of childish laughter from outside were certainly the same.

Past and present united. Hope the future will be the same.

Fast Forward into the future because I wrote the above five years ago. What’s funny is that I can repeat the first eight sentences verbatim. Really, almost all of it could be repeated.

Some things are different. We were at our house in Thousand Oaks this year. Our son, daughter-in-law and three kids now live in Chicago so they were blown away by the weather here this time. “I can’t believe how blue the sky is,” my son said yesterday morning as we sat outside at a coffee house.

Our daughter and son-in-law now have a baby girl who was a welcome addition to the group. She was a one-baby entertainment center. She kept the living room full of people clapping one night. She’d clap. We’d clap. She thought that was amazing so she’d clap again. Then we would. And so on. And on.

I couldn’t have been more gratified that my son and daughter said they thought my stuffing was the best ever! This year, my ten-year-old granddaughter helped me make it. I told her how my grandmother had taught me and that I remembered her everytime I made it. “Now, when I make it, I’ll always think of you,” Quinn said. I oozed joy.

Last year we had Thanksgiving in Seattle. It was my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday although the dementia didn’t allow her to enjoy it much.

Esther Muscatel surrounded by her great grandchildren in 2011.

She died in May so there were no great grandparents at the table this year. But we remembered her and all of the greats. At our age, there is always the bitter with the sweet.

So past and present united again. And the future, which sometimes looked dimmed in the five years past, looked spiffy in the present. So grateful for our blessings.

It doesn’t get any better than this!!!

Lesson Twenty-Nine of Writing Do’s and Don’ts

 Just as in a game, it helps to know the basic rules, the basic skills, and the basic strategies in the craft of writing. Here they are:

  1. Plot and Story:  What happens and how it unfolds. What is the CONFLICT?
  2. Characters:  Who is involved?  (Basic conflict formula: Human against Human, Human against Nature, Human against Him or Herself.)
  3. Dialogue:  What characters say that tells you about them, gives information about the story and moves it along.
  4. Description, Narrative:  Setting—Where and When the story takes place.
  5. Theme: Why, Motivation.

DO make sure your story, fiction or non-fiction, includes the 5 items delineated above. Remember that every story has a beginning, middle and an end!

DON’T get too cute. You have to be really good to pull off a story where an animal is the main character. “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is a great example of it being done well.

Assignment: Write a short story, which incorporates the elements above, that tells about a pivotal point in your life. Make your story about 3 pages.

Writing Aerobic: Until the bell…

A Brave New World

I think when I was born there had been a lot of things invented fifty years before and they worked pretty much the same by the time I came around. That probably doesn’t make much sense, but it was a thought that I regurgitated instantly from my head. Here’s where it came from in a convoluted way.

I just saw an ad for a Blue Tooth gadget. (What’s really scary is that I really just saw it—maybe five minutes ago—and have no idea what it was for and where I was on the Web to see it. Ah, this getting older is just sublime.) What struck me was how commonplace the ad was—that we naturally expect that a device only developed at the end of the 20th century would be able to provide us with such service. It made me realize I treat the electronics in my life as if they are a television or a toaster oven. As if they are an appliance to make my life more comfortable—and an appliance that has been tested over time to perform with safety and efficiency. I don’t think that’s the case.

Look at the new iPhone. My husband has always been a gadget guy—we had the first Betamax in the neighborhood—so he bought the new phone. I’m not sure it was ready for purchase. There are kinks that need to be worked out, and what’s with the new plug size? Now we have to buy new charger units and can’t do a cross over. Does Apple thinks I’m a slave to their newest whim? Enough already!

What was wrong with this cable connector?

I really didn’t like the new phone until this past Friday. I was taking a walk in Rancho Mirage, talking to my daughter in Seattle.

“Do you want to Facetime?” she asked.

“How can we do that? I’m taking a walk.”

“We both have the iPhone 5 so we can Facetime from anywhere,” she explained.

Within minutes, I was walking and watching my ten-month-old granddaughter sorting Tupperware in her mother’s kitchen. Even my daughter was blown away.

“Okay, now we’re talking Technology,” she said.

“It’s finally Dick Tracy come to life,” I agreed.

I don’t even pretend to understand the technology that made this miracle happen. I don’t want to know it. I trust that the Apple engineers know what they’re doing—hopefully. And I trust that the product was market ready. Or do I? Remember when microwaves were introduced into our kitchens? I had mine installed up high so we wouldn’t get microwave poisoned. I still think about it sometimes, even though microwaves have been standard for years. And I do wonder about the radiation coming from our phones. I don’t like seeing my kids and grandkids carrying their phones in their pockets.

Wow. Re-reading that, I sound like someone who should be sitting in a rocking chair with an afghan over my knees. Truth be told, I guess I AM a little cautious about these new fangled contraptions….




True Confessions

This is going to be a confession of sorts—or an admission, at the least. First, though, a disclaimer. This blog is not about politics even if it is about Barack Obama. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of politics, politicians and Talking Heads—especially the Talking Heads. This blog is about me—about who I was in 1967 and who I am now.

The President of the United States.

When I began teaching in Seattle’s inner city, I’d just turned 21 three days before. I admit I was a wide-eyed optimist who believed I could help change the world. No, at 21 I was sure I could. I wasn’t alone in my mission to right the wrongs of America. The Late Sixties was the beginning of a cultural revolution that would shake up our society. My way was not to protest in the streets. I chose to work within the system. I believed education was the key to getting people out of the Ghetto.

1970–my last day teaching at Meany. I was seven months pregnant–in those days you were supposed to quit by six months!

Teaching at Meany Junior High during this time was an education for me, as well as for the students. When I walked in the doors as a teacher, only six years had passed since I’d left for high school. Many of the same teachers and administrators remained there. The intimidating Miss MacPherson was the librarian, and I was still afraid of her. The curriculum, too, was the same—but as Bob Dylan pointed out, “it was the times they are a changing”. And changing at warp speed. Within two years, most of the former teachers were gone, and the old texts were replaced with books that attempted to be more relevant. Rather than teaching Shakespeare, I’d be happy if I could get some students to write their name on a piece of paper.

My personal goal was to be the best teacher I could be. I wanted to reach each student—to teach them the fundamentals of English and also the love of learning. I had another agenda, as well. I wanted every student in my classes to know that he or she could succeed. That the chains of poverty and racial prejudice could be broken—yes, that even an African American could be President of the United States. (The idea that it could be a woman probably didn’t even occur to me.)

Fast forward thirty-eight years. Barack Obama is running for President. Our country was at war. There was in a financial melt-down. And the Republicans couldn’t stop the bleeding. I voted for Obama because I thought we needed change, and I didn’t think McCain could do the job. I was elated when Obama won. I didn’t expect him to create prosperity out of chaos, but I knew he’d do a good job. But also, on a personal level, I was thrilled. Even though those years were hard, I thought, we did accomplish something during the Civil Rights struggle. Our work was validated, and I felt pride that Americans had moved beyond past prejudice and stereotypes. Again I was naïve.

Four years later, I’ve seen the proof of the hatred and disdain many whites still have for people of color. At first I’d attributed the antipathy to Obama as a desire to get even by the Republicans who had been humiliated by McCain’s drubbing. But then I began receiving emails that hinted at something more. It started with assertions that Obama, the socialist slime, wasn’t really an American. Then the racial overtones became more overt. My idealistic notions took a dive. Last week, John Sununu’s remarks actually made me cry. He felt he could disparage Colin Powell on national television and get away with it—that Americans would be willing participants in racial profiling of this man who has served his country in war and in peace. I felt so disheartened.

But I am in my sixties—I can’t be the girl of the Sixties. I took my dog for a walk and calmed down. I reminded myself that our society has moved forward in many ways, that pettiness is part of human nature as is Xenophobia. We aren’t perfect and never will be. But I felt I couldn’t be silent—that I had to share my real feelings.

Again, I reiterate that I am sick of politics. I felt sad today that it was news when Bill Clinton said that President Obama “has been a good commander-in-chief without regard to race.” Or maybe I should feel good that he just put it out in the open. I don’t know. My HOPE this year is the politicians will get over themselves and start working for the welfare of our nation instead of their party. Bi-partisanship. Now that’s a word I’d like to hear more often. (Okay, so I’m still an idealist. What can I do?)

Bi-partisanship in action.