Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pass Me the Passover, Please

Another Passover holiday almost over, and I already miss the food.



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 creator.


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 honey
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. Manischewitz or 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 life doesn’t.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Party?

I often say that I’m not a party-person.

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 think?


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 aren’t-we-swell-to-be-here gatherings.
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.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

SHHH... Sweet Spice Surprise

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.
 
 
 
Result?
 

One good cake—


 

And one happy son—

 
 

 Recipe:

  • 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 Soup
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 egg
  • ¼ cup water

 

Step 1

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9” inch baking pans.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.

 



 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Writing Critique Buddies

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.


·        Yes, that--


Above all, helpful feedback is specific. This old post got more hits than most of my blog posts, and so I point to it, again.




If you are offering feedback not as an exchange, your generosity is legend with me. Books, also, take a small village.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Has Sprung

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.

May creativity and life conquer all.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why Do I Love My Cats?

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 more.

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.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

International Women’s Day

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.

So it’s my day, right?

I dun’ know. Why am I not feeling it?
©Noam Nadav


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 to:


*On 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.

*On International Women’s Day— every person who is not a woman will salute every woman they pass. Better yet, they’d bow down.

*On 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.


P.S.

Don’t mind me. Have fun.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

STORIES and HISTORIES

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.”


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

RAIN RANT or-- No Gaslighting,* Please

*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 circumstances?


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 we’re drowning.



Oh, 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.


And 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.


It’s never a great thing to manipulate the reality that's right in front of our noses, even for “good” or “noble” intentions.

One 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.



What 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.

Gaslighting is only all right in fiction, where it is a requirement. Outside of creative storytelling, it’s not okay. OK?



Tell the truth, Ruth.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

HEARTY WISHES

Is there anything more beautiful than a heart?

Is there anything greater than giving your heart?

Yes, Sweetheart—

When combined with hearty chocolate—

I’ll be yours
And you’ll be mine
Happy Valentine
 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Bio, About Me, and Stuff

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 posts.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The BEING of the Writer

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.

BLOG— Ditto

WRITING COTTAGE— 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

AGENT— Helpful, but, again, not an absolute must

WRITING RETREATS— Lovely and romantic, but the act of writing requires only a periodic inner retreat, not an actual cottage in the woods

WORKSHOPS and CONFERENCES— Helpful for some, not a must

ACADEMIC DEGREES— 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.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Game of... What?

I 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.

One 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.

My 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 the garbage.

The 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. Never worn.

You can imagine the sad circumstances I was conjuring as possible back-story for our “find.”

But 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 appeal.


Since then, it’s been a revolving Who’s-on-top—




DD called it “our very own GAME OF THRONES.”



*We honor discards. One kitty’s garbage is another’s throne.*



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Do You Need an Agent?

 
 
Do you need an agent to publish?
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 need one.


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?



Yup. 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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I’ve Died and Gone to Heaven

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. 

On Saturday January 7th 2017 she played it for the audience, and it was magnificent.

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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Letter P

Two-thousand and sixteen has been a challenging year for me. Personally, professionally, and politically.

I got through it with persistence, perseverance, and prayer.

The first 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.

So here goes, anyway:

May 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.


       * As they say on Sesame Street, this post was brought to you by the letter P *