Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This Is Called an ANNIVERSARY---

How do we count them?

By one plus one, by five plus five, by ten plus ten, and then...


If we’re lucky, we get old. If we’re very lucky, we get old together.
©1993 By Karen Shapiro
{Best wedding present you can get if your friend is a talented artist}


We get silver anniversaries, and then our hair tells the same. Hair color gives us gold at the golden anniversary.

Black & White photographs make all those colors timeless. They also fade less, and so once a year we can look at them and think---

We weren’t babies. But my, we were young(er). ^

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Do You Have a Bucket-list?


The other day I realized my bucket-list is just about empty.

{Clarification: I count only the things I can significantly affect, not wishes like winning the lottery, publishing with a big-five house, or becoming the queen of England. I suppose I could take steps to make any of the above improbably possible, but my list had only the things I could do if I chose to do them.}


The few things that were left on my bucket-list just leaked out or evaporated, as in an open bucket left in the sun for days. A few I had actually accomplished, at least to my own satisfaction even if no one else knows it.


Among the wishes that turned to vapor were—


*Standing in Moscow’s Red Square as snow is falling in January. Think Doctor Zhivago.

{Somehow the romance of it has gone away, and I hear it is much nicer in summer, anyhow.}


*Staying at a five-star hotel or an English country estate for a week with nothing to do except have breakfast in bed and stroll by the river before afternoon high tea.

{The budget isn’t there for this, but neither is the charm. I’d rather watch Masterpiece Theatre with others doing it.}


*Spending a month in Kyoto, Japan, taking in the traditional aesthetic.

{Something of this remains in me, but it’s barely a whiff of a longing and I recognize it as wishing inner balance and peace, not a physical space.}



And so on.


Bit by bit my bucket has emptied. I don’t know if this is a good thing, or an ominous sign of folding it in.


Oh, and I did want to write a truly great novel. I’ve done that, and my agent is shopping it. So far no takers, but for myself that one got checked off: done.


Do you have a bucket-list? How have you gone about emptying it?



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Celebrating INDEPENDENCE

Achieving independence is not a little thing.
 Maintaining independence may even be a bigger thing.
Learning to balance independence with interdependence is the greatest thing of all. 


Countries, like individuals, families and clans, are not lone wolves. We’re at our best when we find and sustain the precious balance of autonomy and interconnectedness. 

This is what I resolve to continue to work on, and celebrate today.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Is This SUMMER?

Not complaining, mind you. I live in the land of eternal Spring. But it’s also the place where Mark Twain famously said, “the coldest winter I ever spent was Summer in San Francisco.”

So while we are not sweating away, nor sipping lemonade on the porch, some things are decidedly summery.

Days are longer…
Dinners are later…
            My kitties wake me up earlier…

And I continue the rhythm of not writing first drafts until the school year resumes.

I no longer have kids at home climbing on my knees as I try to concentrate. Well, DD is home, but she treats me more like a suite-mate than a padded chair. I don’t have the excuse of years past that I will wait until they are back in school during the day and I can count on uninterrupted time.

However, I discovered that re-charging the creative batteries is serious business. For years, I wrote original stories from September to late May, and only revised or polished in summer. I found this rhythm worked for me.  I’ve kept it.

The Gershwin song Summertime casts its spell, magical and wistful as ever.

Summertime,
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry
One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky
But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by…

©Shelagh Duffett 


Yup, it’s summer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Rich Man’s Omelette

A few days ago I wished my picture book critique group a good summer and sent this as a good omen for getting lots of reading done—
© Summer Reader by SHELAGH DUFFETT


One of my critique buddies  responded with, “I want to be where this gal^ is.”
I thought how I am exactly where this reader is.
I mean, almost.


I do have cats, and one of them will jump on my lap, though never when outdoors. She’s too dignified for that, I think.
I do have a view of the bay if I walk a few blocks up the hill.
I have good books to read. Maybe I would read more if the to-be-read pile by my bedside was not so dauntingly tall.
And when I’m sitting by the blooming plants, it’s not to read, but to weed. I told you it’s an almost.
I do have a tree in the backyard I lean against. I do so when I’m tired of yard work.


All of that got me thinking about the old story of the rich man’s omelette.

A poor man returned home and told his wife he’d had the most amazing meal at a rich man’s house. The wife, eager to replicate it, asked what it was.
“We’ll need some eggs,” the man began.
“We’ve got that!”
“And some butter,” said the man.
“Well, we don’t have butter. But I can use margarine.”
“And some French cheese, such as Boursin or Pont-l'Évêque, ” the man added.
 "We don't have anything like that, " the wife said.
"What do we have? " the husband asked.
“We’ll use Velveeta,” the wife said.
“And we'll need fresh shallots,” the man continued.
“Onion power will do fine,” the wife says.
As they sat to eat, they had to agree that it was, well, almost.
 


This made me resolve to at least now and then try and narrow the gap between the summer reader above, and my life.

Be nice to yourselves, out there.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

This Day in History

Many things happened on this day in recorded history, some good and many bad. But I choose to focus on something great that happened this date a century and a half ago. I’m only sorry I’m a year late to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary.
 
 
1866 US House of Representatives passes 14th Amendment. (Civil rights)
 
 
It is this amendment that finally fulfilled America’s declarations of independence, which stated all men were created equal and endowed by the creator to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (It would take a few more years before this would come to stand for all men and women.) It is the fourteenth amendment that made former slaves into full citizens.
 
 
Here is what section one of this amendment is says:
 
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
 
 
Aspects of this important constitutional clarification are debated even to this day. But most Americans hold it as part of the fabric that is our nation, one that is based on an idea, not on a nationality or racial ancestry or a specific religion.
There’s what to celebrate.
 
{From the front page of the Cleveland Leader June 14 1866}


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

About STRIFE and STRIVING

There is a spiritual notion that the reason for suffering in this world is so we may experience moments of happiness. After all, if we were blissful at all times, how would we even know it?
 
Most modern picture books are based on a similar notion. There has to be a problem. It is better if the stakes are high, and the problem is a BIG problem. There must be an attempt to solve the problem. The formula recommends three attempts increasing in intensity before the resolution. Striving and struggling leads to a happy or satisfying ending.
 
Reading stories works as a catharsis. The reader and listeners undergo a whole cycle of worldly strife in a few minutes. It also serves pedagogically as a map for struggle and triumph over what all of us go through and will continue to go through as long as we live.
 
 
But recently I found myself reading some picture books that were of a different stripe. They were written years ago, and it’s easier to locate them in a library where deaccession isn’t frequent, or in collectors’ bookstores.
 
 
DS gave me just such a gem he found in a specialized bookstore. A PENNY AND A PERIWINKLE by Josephine Haskell Aldridge was published in 1961. The main character has no conflict, and, in fact, pushes senseless stimulation away. It is meditation about being content with a simple and purposeful life.  
 

It was a gift for my birthday, and I’ve read and re-read it almost every day since. I think young kids would love it.

 

I wish there were many more like it on the market.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Magical Mystery Mouse

Long ago DD had a bosom friend that went with her everywhere. She called him Mousie.
 
Here they are, hand in hand, inseparable, in a photo almost a generation old. A friend’s mother embroidered a mouse on a T-shirt for her, and DD became known as the girl with the mouse.

 
 
There was the time in the supermarket when she set Mousie down  in order to help put a jar of peanut butter in the basket. Moments later, she realized she didn’t have him. It was pandemonium. Only when we found him again, resting patiently on top of another jar, was peace restored.
 
 
Then there was the time she had gone to sleep with him, as always, but must have let go in the middle of the night. Mousie was located behind her bed, and the promise of a good day was with us once again.
 
 
These separations became more frequent, but DD’s insistence that life can’t go on without Mousie did not abate. I worried that one day he would indeed leave us for greener pastures. I dreaded that day. Mousie was no longer a transitional object, as the clinical definition goes. He was a full-fledged member of the family.
 
 
One day, I found Mousie on the kitchen floor, all by his lonesome. I picked him up and almost returned him to DD, who was drawing with great concentration in the next room. Then I thought better of it, and put him away in a safe place where I can locate him if she asks for him.
 
 
She never did.
 
 
I forgot about him. Dust settled over many details of those times, and the colors faded as they do in old photos, both in albums and in my mind.
 
 
 
 Two years ago, DD and I were looking through an old box, when out fell Mousie.


 
DD gasped.
 
“Oh, my,”  I said. “Do you remember this?”
 
“Do I remember?” she said. “I thought about him and wondered where he was every day, for years!”
 
“You never asked...” I said.
 
“I didn’t want to upset you,” she said. “I thought I had lost him, and I didn’t want you to feel bad.”
 
 
I don’t know what lesson to take from this. I was thinking about it the other day, when I thought how often we don’t ask and don’t tell because we want to spare others. I wanted to tell DD, who still doesn’t share things when she wants to spare me, that she should have asked.
 
 
But the other side of it was that Mousie had to grow up, and he, as well as DD, had to move on.
 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

HAVE Your Cake and EAT it, Too

Living in our world, in a nutshell, can be summed up by the title of this post, which is also a well-known cliché. But it’s a cliché for a reason.
We swallow these contradictions all the time. Literally.

 

We don’t want to meddle in the affairs of other, be they neighbors or nations. But if we don’t, aren’t we complicit in the wrong doings we witness?

 

We mustn’t compare our efforts or results to anyone else’s. But then, what does any sort of rating ever mean, be it on Yelp, Amazon, or an informal comment?

 

We want to keep a smiley face on not only for others, but to buoy our spirits. But we commit to truthful and honest interactions and encourage others to do the same.

 

When public good and private good collide, we rationalize. When we can’t rationalize, we declare reason overrated. Then we question others’ rating. Who says it’s so?

 

I woke up this morning with a strange realization: life is about managing contradictions.

 
 

Now I’m excited about fashioning a story that explores just that. No doubt, it will have a neat ending, suggesting a resolution after all was said and done.

 

But this, too, will be an oxymoron.

And so it goes. Told you.
 
 
 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It’s a Walk in the Park

Or, actually, a stroll.
I woke up this morning, itching for some jolly good news.
The usual sources didn’t yield it. But, alas, a peculiar old song crept into my parched mind and made my day.
 
Strolling Through the Park
 
While strolling through the park one day
In the merry merry month of May
I was taken by surprise
By a pair of roguish eyes
I was scared but I didn't run away

He walked along so daintily
Moving as graceful as can be
His legs were like the trunks of trees
I hardly came up to his knees
He looked at me again
And I knew we would be friends
He's just a little bigger than me!

He had the cutest baby too
About as old as me and you
Maybe soon one day
We could all go out and play
And be friends with one
Elephants in the park

He walked along so daintily
Moving as graceful as can be
I though I'd seen a lot of things
From New York to Colorado Springs
From his tail up to his trunk
From the back up to the front
The elephant is so astonishing
This elephant is so astonishing
This elephant is so astonishing
 
 
You can hear a bit of this marvelous ditty here – or here
 
And then go on whistling, because—NEWS FLASH— this is The Merry Merry Month of May~~~
 
It’s been that^ for over a hundred years, so who needs the news.? It would manage a dark take on it anyway...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Invisibility Cloak

There are days when I wonder if I’ve inadvertently donned an invisibility cloak. You know, the Inbox is empty, the phone doesn’t buzz, and whatever good vibrations I had sent out seem to have faded at the universe’s horizon.


A good friend told me she just had one of those days. “I wondered if I actually died, and I’m the only one who doesn’t know it,” she said.

Exactly.


It doesn’t happen to me often. My inbox influx can testify to that. But when it does, it’s both eerie and unsettling.


My best way of coping with outer silence is to write, because that is a form of turning inward while staying wide awake to life. Another helpful action is to spend some time “liking” and such on social sites. (I keep it genuine, for to do otherwise would bring a feeling of spiritual demotion.) Facebook will immediately bring into my inbox others who liked the same.


Hey, it’s proof I’m alive.

The next day the floodgates open, and all those waves I had sent out come back to shore, seemingly at once.
 
This is good to remember: unlike earthly death, the invisibility cloak will slide off. It isn’t permanently glued on.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

One-Star * Reviews

I had recently posted my first ever one-star review.

 
My stance on reviews is to post them only when I want to endorse a product. I never post two or three star reviews. Fine for others to do so, but I don’t see the point of mentioning “meh” feedback. For one-star, I feel that no attention is the right course.
Books, specifically, die of no-reviews faster than of bad reviews.
 
When it comes to books, if the book was so-so and not to my taste, I can’t imagine why anyone else needs my feedback. If the book was Baaaad I wouldn’t have read it to the end. I don’t care to review something I haven’t read to the end.
 
When it comes to products, they either more-or-less deliver on their promises, or they don’t. (The only books I could judge by that criterion are the How-to books, and if I thought a book would solve my emotional angst or show me how to get rich quick, I deserve to have gotten a dud.)
 
So no one-two-three star reviews from me.
 
Except I did just do that. The one star review I gave was to a product that came with a five-rear warranty. It was from a nationally known manufacturer. The seller was our largest internet retailer.
 
And it failed after one week.
 
I looked at the warranty. It states clearly— do not return to place of purchase. It gives a toll-free number to call where their customer service will instruct you how to proceed.
 
So I called. A recording kept saying no one is there right now, and to call later.
 
So I called later. I called daily for a whole week. Same recording.
 
So I used their website to make contact and ask what to do.
I got an automated response via Email saying my query was very important to them, and someone will contact me shortly.
 
That was two months ago.
Hence my one-star review. On the same site I saw I was not alone. No kidding.

 

I feel better. I still have a defective product, but I had done my civic duty.

 What's your review policy?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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.