Another Passover holiday almost over, and I already miss the
Growing up in Jerusalem, all non-kosher for Passover food disappeared
from store shelves. We loved some of what replaced it, but by the time the
holiday was over we couldn’t wait to resume eating bread, ice cream sandwiches
and cookies, and for Ashkenazi Jews— rice, beans or corn.
There were the foods that only appeared on
Passover. Truthfully, Matzo and Gefilte fish were available year round. Even
beet horseradish might appear on the table at other times. Some mothers went as
far as to make matzo balls for soup year round, when they didn’t have to avoid
all other noodle/dumpling soup swimmers.
But one food I never saw except at the Seder table was Charoset. It so happens that it is, by
far, my favorite of all Passover foods. This homely mush tastes divine, and I
cannot imagine it came down to our ancestors from any other source but the
There are many versions of Charoset. Some are made with dates, and some have exotic spices. But
I’ll share the one I grew up with because it is simple, wholesome, and too good
to keep to myself.
3 large tart firm apples, peeled
I cup chopped walnuts
½-cup sweet red wine
1 T. cinnamon
Grate the apples and add the rest. If the oxidized browning
of the apples in a turn off, add the juice of one lemon right after grating.
But, really, Charoset is supposed to resemble the mortar that built the pyramids,
(long story, this Passover tale) and the browning is part of the deal. Another
thing is to not use fancy good wine,
such as sweet aged port of sherry. Manischewitzor Kedem
wine from Israel are preferable, because they are super cheap, sweet, lower in alcohol
and because they have no oaky residues.
This Charoset will
last for a few days in the refrigerator. It’s good on Matzo, with yogurt, mixed
with granola or cold breakfast cereal, and just as a perfect pick-me-up when
After sending a note to a friend, where I mentioned I avoid parties,
I got to thinking.
(This is not about Democrats and Republicans, though I’m not
fond of those kinds of parties, either.)
What is a party?
If I’m not going to like ‘em, I should define what I don’t like. Don’t you
Small dinner parties are fine. Eight or fewer people can
have a meaningful conversation, and even benign conversations will at least leave
me with a sense of connection.
As soon as that word, connection, popped in— I realized what
sort of parties bothered me: the ones where a connection was not possible.
You know what I mean, right? Even if you like to go and let loose at such, you must know what I’m talking
about. The ones that are all Rah-Rah-Boom-Boom-Hop-Hop--isn’t-it-swell-and
Only the young’uns replaced the word “Swell” with “chill.”
Either way, it’s a form of feeling part of something, which
always left me feeling less part of anything.
Nothing makes me feel lonelier than a large, noisy gathering.
Being alone in my room feels less lonely.
I can’t find a word for my affliction. It’s not a phobia, fear
of crowds, or social anxiety per se. It’s a dislike, such as you may have for eating
sardines. (Yes, I picked that one because sardines get crowded, too.) I don’t
break into a cold sweat, and I appear functional. You wouldn't know I didn't belong.
And afterwards I feel emptier than before.
This post is a long-winded way of explaining why you won’t
find me at rallies, birthday mega-bashes, marches, galas, or national conventions.
You will find me here, writing just to you.
Incidentally, this is my #300 blog post, and this is the
party for it.
DS just had a birthday. As he’s about to embark on the rest
of his life away from here, I relished the opportunity to make him an honest to
goodness non-virtual birthday cake. Who knows when I’ll get to do it again on
his actual birthday?
In years past, it was easy. The choice was always chocolate.
Sometimes it was chocolate with chocolate chips and dark chocolate frosting.
“Chocolate, right? “ I said.
“No,” he said. “Not chocolate this time, and please surprise me.”
They do grow up, don’t they.
But then he added, “Make it something weird. And don’t tell me.”
A weird surprise. Okay,
maybe he’s still a kid at heart.
But what should I make?
I did not want to make something weird for weird’s sake, as
a sort of joke that after a brief chuckle will not be edible. Weird is one
thing, but if I make a cake I want it to be good.
I remembered that years ago I made just such a cake. It was
popular briefly across the land. It was good, surprisingly so. It was a spice
cake made with a full can of condensed tomato soup.
It seemed a bit weird even then. But to the millennials it
qualifies as uncanny, pun intended.
And so I made a Tomato Soup Spice Cake, with cream cheese
frosting, and added candied angelica and cherries glace on top.
One good cake—
And one happy son—
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Condensed Tomato
½ cup butter
¼ cup water
Heat the oven to
350°F. Grease two 9” inch baking pans.
Stir the flour,
granulated sugar, baking powder, allspice, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves in
a large bowl. Add the soup, butter, eggs and water. Beat with an
electric mixer on low speed just until blended. Increase the speed to high
and beat for 2 minutes. Pour the batter into the pans.
Bake for 25
minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let
the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack to room temperature before frosting.
I’ve been very lucky to have wonderful beta readers. Some
were other writers, and we exchanged feedback on each other’s work. Some were
not writers and their feedback as discerning, thoughtful, and articulate
readers—can only be repaid by the special place I hope they get in heaven.
But there are some pitfalls I have learned, from my own experience
and hearing about others’, which I hope to share here. Rather than couch such
in the negative, I decided to phrase the points in the affirmative. You can
deduce what not to do from it. Goodness, the very act of a thoughtful
exchange is as generous and as positive as can be. Let’s keep it that way.
·When agreeing to exchange manuscript critiques it’s
best to keep the number of helpers who come forward small, so that on your end you
can give thorough feedback, the kind you would like to get.
·Do point every typo, misused
word, and spelling mistake. These little escapees from proofreading are often
caught by other readers. Although this requires nitty-gritty kind of
reading, you should treat the manuscript as your own. You wouldn’t want yours
to go out on submission that way.
·It’s fine to state something reads so perfectly
to you that you have no suggestions. This happens rarely, but it does happen. Being
a critic will sometimes mean only enthusiastic praise. It's better than
coming up with “something” to negate for the sake of it.
·Apropos the point above^, it’s nice to begin and
end with genuine positive comments.
It’s even more helpful to be unsparing at the meat of the feedback. The rare
times works-in-progress come your way flawless are exactly that, rare. Best help
is real help.
Above all, helpful feedback is specific.This
old post got more hits than most of my blog posts, and so I point to it,
If you are offering feedback not as an exchange, your
generosity is legend with me. Books, also, take a small village.
The word for spring in
Hebrew is Aviv. You may have heard it
as a proper name, even more in its feminine form, Aviva. You may have heard of
Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, whose name means Spring Hill. The root of the word (letters AVV) pertains to a young sprouting plant.
But I so prefer the English word, spring.
It has more energy and connotes active bursting and flowing forward. The sound of it, beginning with constipated consonants jammed together, (SP) and opening to a forward flow, (IN) ending with what feels, to me, a sort
of exclamation,(G)-- make it an ingenious sound for what is, really, an idea.
The idea is that we emerge from a bottled up state, a freeze
or hibernation of sorts, and like just uncorked champagne we pop, gush and flow,
hands stretched in an upward motion that says ---
Do you feel it yet? Spring, officially, just got here.
It’s not a state-secret
that I like cats. But I LOVE my cats.
I have some dear friends who
do not like cats. One doesn’t like animals, period. A second has always had a
dog and just doesn’t care for cats. A third loves dogs, but only English bulldogs for some reason, and cats are “aloof to the point of being appalling,” so
sayeth he. A fourth professes to like cats a little, but is allergic.
I don’t have to explain
my admiration for domestic felines to avowed cat-fanciers. But I do find myself
justifying my admiration of the species to many of my friends. Why do I like
cats? They’re beautiful, graceful, smell good, and, what can I say-- are
self-cleaning. Most admirable.
Why do I LOVE mine?
Because in addition to
all the above, I take care of them.
It was a revelation to
discover that at the root of abiding love is the experience of taking care of
the beloved. Not what they did for me, but what I did for them.
That explains a lot. We
take care of young and very old humans in diapers. We pick up after them and
let them scream at us. And then, when they have worn us out, we love them even
It isn’t what is most
glorious or glamorous; it’s the care they made us extend.
For once, I have some
insight into the divine love for creation.
And before I get too
sappy and waaaay too lofty here, I’m heading to clean the litter box.
Tomorrow, says my wall calendar, is International Women’s Day.
Blimey if I know what that means.
I mean, I’m a woman. I was born one, and never changed. I’m
also inter-national. I hold dual citizenships, and I was born with that, also.
I’ve lived in different countries, and I speak more than one language.
It occurred to me that the powers who declared this celebration
could have done a better job to mark it. For the likes of me, who would rather
eat soap than go to rah-rah marches, here are some of the celebratory ways I could relate
International Women’s Day— all stores shall sell all products designed to
be used by women at half the price. And you’d have to be a woman to buy such.
International Women’s Day— every person who is not a woman will salute every
woman they pass. Better yet, they’d bow down.
International Women’s Day— it will be mandatory to have free chocolate truffles
dispensaries at every street corner for women only, and you’d get fined using it if you don’t,
at the very least, look the part.
Now that^ would be a day to celebrate being a woman.
Until, and when, those who declare holidays in the land come
to see the wisdom of my suggestions, I will celebrate International HUMAN Day instead.
Ever wonder about the backstory of pets or objects in your household?
Where was this antique embroidery before it came to rest on
my dresser? Who was my kitty’s mother, and why was he left at the doorstep of the animal-shelter?
If I didn’t witnessed the birth, or in the case of
an object— was there at its making, there’s a mysterious backstory I invariably
find myself wondering about. And then...
I conjure a story.
Storytellers have this advantage. We can make up likely backstories,
and even get so attached to the stories that we no longer know where our
conjuring began, and when verifiable reality took over.
Thinking about this, it occurred to me that history is
filled with the same: someone filled a gap in certain knowledge, someone then repeated
it, while citing the source, then a third scholar cited both as verifying each
other, and voila—conjured backstory became history.
Bet it happens more than we think it does.
Back to my perch, conjuring backstories, I think how
enjoyable it is for writers. We get to leave no stone unturned. We get to
explain it all. Everything can—and then does—make sense. Even if I can allow
for the unexplained, unexplainable, or unknown— my beta readers will insist I
fill in every gap. Otherwise, they’d say, “This part doesn’t make sense.”
*A term borrowed from the movie GASLIGHT,
meaning to make one believe she’s lost her mind and what she sees and knows
just isn’t so.
I’m sitting by my window and watching yet
another deluge, blessed rain though it is. I’m wondering about reality and
perception. What else is a writing person to think about, under these wet
The State of California officials tell us we’re
still in drought, even with the snow-pack twice the normal average and the rainfall
more than twice the normal pre-drought.
So much for trusting these governmental
agencies. Brings up the Yiddish saying: you can’t pee on my back and tell me
it’s raining. In this case, it is you can’t tell me we’re parched while
I know. I’ve read the explanations. I’ve considered them seriously. I tried to
respect the experts who said that maybe one percent of the state is still in drought.
Maybe the snowpack will melt too early. Maybe April showers just won’t be.
maybe my cats are not crying for food, but telling me they’ve decided to run
for the presidency. Oh, wait. That last one could be true.
never a great thing to manipulate the reality that's right in front of our noses,
even for “good” or “noble” intentions.
such explanation "for the good" is that if the drought-watch agencies say the drought is over
for now, people won’t conserve water in the future.
News Flash: California has had droughts cycles
for as long as I’ve been here, (that’s a very long time) and we have shown we
know how to respond.
is more likely to happen is that the next time we have a real drought, we’ll not believe
what well-intentioned government agencies say.
Even worse, we won’t believe
our own eyes.
is only all right in fiction, where it is a requirement. Outside of creative storytelling,
it’s not okay. OK?
Having just read yet another Bio page on someone’s website,
it got me thinking.
Confession #1— that page is, invariably, my favorite page
when I look someone up. I’m not referring to the people so famous there’s a
Wiki page on them and books written about them. I’m thinking about the
self-composed, let-me-tell-you-about-myself part of most folks’ websites. I get
a lot from the personality of the narration (=voice) and the details chosen.
Much more than a list of facts.
Confession #2— I’m disappointed if the page doesn’t contain
a photo. Let me see your face, and you get to choose which picture you share.
This is not a beauty contest. It is about revealing and sharing. Even what a
website owner chooses for a bio photo tells me something.
Confession #3— I’m disappointed if instead of sharing pertinent
and relevant information, you choose a list of “fun-facts.” The likes of “my
favorite jelly bean flavor is cherry,” and “I once almost met the Queen of
Sweden,” and nothing else, is not really a bio-fact, nor much fun. I conclude
that you do not intend to give a real glimpse into what matters to you, and
what makes you tick.
Confession #4— I’m never disappointed if while you told the
truth and nothing but the truth, you didn’t tell the whole truth. The whole
truth includes boring details and really, some things are not my business.
I tried to write a bio on my site that fits
what I care to see on others. This, also, doesn’t make it right and the only
way to do things. But it helped navigate this awkward task. I wrote it as if I were
not the writer, nor the subject. I wrote it as if I were an interested reader.
Come to think of it, it’s how I write my stories and my blog
A friend who is also a writer, maybe the most gifted one I
know personally, was lamenting about all the things a writer must have. As she
has taken care to have most of these things, her lament was born of experience.
She is, yet, unpublished, although if there is any smidgen
of justice in this life, she will be. She has a website, a blog, a backyard
cottage with a dedicated writing room, a critique group, and an agent. She has
gone on writing retreats, some rather costly. She has attended workshops. She
has travelled to conferences in New York (also costly) and has a taken a two-years-long
MFA course resulting in a master’s degree.
And she’s got the most germane thing of them all of all— the
time and means to dedicate to writing.
And now, she told me, she has realized that while all of the
above have given her this thing called the
writing life, none of them is necessary. Great novels were written and
published without their creators having these.
We broke it down thus:
WEBSITE— Good to
have, but not absolutely necessary.
a dedicated space is really nice and helpful, but not a must
CRITIQUE GROUP— this
isn’t for every writer, and many never belong to a group
but, again, not an absolute must
Lovely and romantic, but the act of writing requires only a periodic inner
retreat, not an actual cottage in the woods
CONFERENCES— Helpful for some, not a must
these never make a writer, but they could make a teacher
TIME and MEANS— many
have managed their first books without having either
All these are helpful, and some are immensely so. But not
one makes a great or even fine writer. The “business around The Business” will
make you think otherwise. But they are selling the above.
As we talked about it, and wound up dismissing one item
after another, we found ourselves laughing giddily at the energy expended on the periphery
of the creative vortex. It’s lovely and interesting to “be a writer,” but no
substitute to, ahmm, writing.
It’s a funny thing about writing. Whether it’s cute ditties
or the great American novel, we don’t
need much, nor should we use not having much as a reason not to. We only need
to buckle up and do it.
was walking with a friend, for a “walk & talk,” i.e. exercising
the body and the mind. We just had our mid-session coffee and were
headed back. On a winding street, right next to their trash, neighbors had put
some of their discards for the garbage folks to pick up.
of those discards was a cat-perch & scratch contraption. I marveled that anyone
would throw out a clean, unused looking and solidly built cat dream. I couldn’t
afford such a delightful gift for my three humble felines, and they make due
with cardboard circular scratch-a-ma-things. They’re happy anyhow, being of
humble stock and having spent too much time in a shelter before we became their
parents. But this could be a Cinderella story. A mini-palace just for them.
friend and I carried it for two miles back home. There, I placed it on the
porch, shampooed it just in case it contained some hidden vermin, and let it
air for a day before bringing it in. As I worked to make sure it was indoor house-proper,
I imagined the sad circumstances that might have caused someone to put it with
shortest story, one consisting of only six words, came to mind. Some say Hemingway
wrote it when he wagered he could write a complete story in six or less:
For sale: baby shoes.
can imagine the sad circumstances I was conjuring as possible back-story for
this one has a happy ending. You never know with cats, especially ones not used
to fancy-froufrou, if our hauling this heavy tower, made of a plywood core, would
then, it’s been a revolving Who’s-on-top—
called it “our very ownGAME
honor discards. One kitty’s garbage is another’s throne.*
Time was, in kid-lit, when the answer was that you may
want an agent to provide the editorial support, submitting work, negotiating
contracts, and general hand-holding, but you didn’t need one.
Do you need an agent nowadays?
Today you can self-publish and even launch a small
press at a fraction of the cost of what it would have been in “olden days,”
only a generation back. E-books and online book retailers have made marketing a
possibility. The stigma of self-publishing is also receding some, and many
traditionally published authors have done well moving that-a-way. You don’t
need or want an agent to self-publish.
Do you need an agent if you want to be published by a
publishing house that pays you?
You don’t need
an agent for many of the smaller and self-started publishers who still accept
unsolicited submissions directly from writers. Medium and larger houses may
still accept submissions intermittently, or through personal contact with an
editor after attending a seminar or conference with them. You need a great
story and persistence, and an agent would be helpful. But you don’t absolutely
But do you need an agent to get a traditional contract
with any imprint of a large and established publisher if you have no contacts or the budget for conferences?
You pretty much do. You need an agent to even have a smidgen of a shot at that.
Grateful for my agent. She’s the definition of persistence.
Almost ten years ago, when my daughter (though only ten
years old then) already set her path as a pianist, I told her what I wanted her
to play at my funeral. It was not a morbid conversation, but rather my way of
pointing an exquisite piece of music to her attention.
You can hear it on this link, played with beautiful restraint
by Dinu Lipatti—
Fast forward ten years, and DD, back home between semesters,
had a recital scheduled in Berkeley for the last day of her break. She had programmed
this chorale, J S Bach chorale prelude bwv 639, to be
included in the concert.
She polished it on our piano, and for ten days, it
seemed that every time I walked into the room, my funeral music was playing.
Saturday January 7th 2017— she played it for the audience, and it
I figured that now I don’t have to go to, or even be at, my
funeral. I can skip it, because I got to hear it already.
and sixteen has been a challenging year for me. Personally, professionally, and politically.
through it with persistence,
perseverance, and prayer.
two are second nature to me. I’m a stick-to-it person.
The last is hard. I’ve
never had a home with ritual prayer, though the creator knows I’ve tried. Attempting proscribed prayers left me emptier and feeling like a phony. Personal prayer leaves me feeling like
a false friend—one who talks to you only when they have a need. prayer, like
this whole last year, has been hard for me.
two thousand and seventeen be the year of personal courage, professional
clarity, and may our leaders be not clever and smart, (a given, if they got to
where they are) but wise.
they say on Sesame Street, this post was brought to you by the letter P *