Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I’m a little late with my blog post today because I spent the afternoon at a Memoir Writing Workshop sponsored by the writers club I started in our community six years ago. It was a small but interested group and all seemed to have had their questions answered. The instructor, who had written a memoir herself, was well-prepared, with lists of popular memoirs, as well as lists of books on how to write one. We also learned the difference between a Memoir and an Autobiography, or Life Story.

“Wait,” you say, “why did you attend? I thought you’ve already written a memoir.”

True. After I sold my first short story, my husband’s aunt, whom we were visiting at the time, said, “Why don’t you write a story about the time I was a schoolteacher in a logging camp in the mountains?” Those were the Cascades, the state was Oregon and the year was 1913. I took notes, then corresponded and had many phone conversations with Aunt Gladys. The result was not a short story, but--due to her many adventures that first year of school teaching--an entire book. I called it THE GREEN BOUGH (boughs are on trees, and she was new or, “green,” get it? Oh, never mind.)

However, writing about Gladys’s first year teaching nine children in a one-room schoolhouse, is one thing; writing about my own checkered past is quite another. I didn’t know how to start and what to include or leave out. (Maybe I need three memoirs, one per husband.) I was not the only student with the problem of too much material. One man stated that he’d led an adventurous life, “made a million, lost it, made another, lost that...” A woman student wanted to “set the record straight” with her two daughters, who were apparently brainwashed by their father. Still another would make it a humorous look at her past.

I think we all went away with ideas of how to start, what resources to use, and how to cope with relatives we’re forced to include. Plus two valuable pieces of advice. (1) Don’t revise the book until it’s finished, and (2) don’t try to decide if you should aim for a family-only life story or try for publication until you know what you’ve got. Like almost every other kind of writing, it’s a good idea to store the manuscript under your bed for two months first.

How about you? Do you have a true story to tell? Thanks to the ease of self-publishing these days, you can do both.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I may be a strange American but I have never–as far back as I can remember–ever gone Christmas shopping on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I might have gone with my mother or my sister years ago, before it acquired its name and reputation.

Shopping has never been a favorite pasttime of mine, again unlike other women. I tend to know what I need or want to buy and try to find it easily. Going to shopping malls is fruitless, requiring trying too many stores and too many departments within the stores. None of which ever had exactly what I wanted. On the other hand, catalog shopping is easy these days, even if I sometimes send half the items back the day after they arrive.

Perhaps I was spoiled because my mother, who only had two daughters, was a dressmaker and made our clothes. She also made clothes for wealthy, and not so wealthy, women in our town. Sometimes she’d take us shopping to Marshall Field’s--we lived in a Chicago suburb--and try on very expensive dresses, which my mother could then copy. She also copied beautiful clothes worn by movie stars in films.

Because of that I had many outfits my friends didn’t have, but when they wore cashmere sweaters to school, I had to make do with sweaters knit by my grandmother. She meant well, but “ugly” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt about them at fifteen.

I finally got my first cashmere sweater, made in Scotland, when my husband was sent to England for his job and I got to go too. I bought my second on sale in Canada while visiting relatives. In recent years, a friend and I went shopping at Macy’s the day before Christmas, because all their cashmere sweaters were on sale. I’d buy one, she’d buy three. So my collection isn’t as extensive as hers, but now that I live in the desert, it’s hard to find occasions to wear each of mine even once in a season.

Because my mother was savvy about fashion, my sister and I soon learned how to choose attractive clothes that looked good on us. We did not follow fads unless the current style or color happened to suit us. For instance, I don’t wear brown, beige or orange, never wore leggings, or huge bulky sweaters, or skirts that ended mid-calf. As I told someone once when asked why I wore my skirts at the knee, “That’s where God wants us to wear them because that’s where our legs bend.” By the way, floor-length skirts are okay (legs bend at ankles too), and I love them for fancy occasions as well as long cotton sundresses in summer.

I don’t wear fur or much jewelry. I never wear earrings, which I consider a nuisance, although I do wear the string of real pearls my husband bought me in Hawaii, and a silver chain from Taxco.

While on the subject of “strange,” I dislike war, horror, animated or pornographic films and don’t read horror or erotic books. I do like jazz, most classical music, and what are called “standard” pop songs. In food, I like American, Italian, Chinese and French cooking, but not anything spicy, or unusual. (No hummingbird tongues or truffles–except the chocolate kind–for me.) And make that dark chocolate, please.

I expect a traditional turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce dinner tomorrow, followed by my own super Pecan Pumpkin Pie. Whatever you’re having, I hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


If any of you live in or near the Coachella Valley (about two hours east of L.A.)-- and if you do, why haven’t we got together?–I urge you to see IS HE DEAD? this weekend, Friday - Sunday, November 16-18 at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert.

Written by Mark Twain (yes, that Mark Twain) in 1898, it was discovered in 2001 by Shelley Fisher Fishkin in the library of the University of California Berkeley while doing research among Twain’s archives. She began reading the play, which had never been published or performed, and was soon laughing out loud.

She took it to playwright David Ives, who turned the overlong, lumpy script with twenty-four characters into a smoother play for the 21st century with only fourteen (eleven when actors took additional parts). Performed on Broadway in 2007, it gained rave reviews even from the New York Times.

The story takes place in Paris in the 19th century and is about an artist who becomes convinced his paintings would be worth more if he were dead. So he fakes his death, but, not willing to hide in a closet for eternity, pretends to be his own twin sister, a charming widow. And the hilarity begins. “Think TOOTSIE meets LA BOHEME,” said Jesse Green of the NYT.

The production we saw was flawless, with great acting, fabulous costumes and a set that went from Grungy to Glamourous during the one short intermission. If you ever get a chance to see it, run, don’t walk, to the box office and reserve a seat.

Besides the clever plot and Twain’s jokes, there’s a running gag about pronouncing the artist’s name, which was Millet. People kept calling him “Mill - et” instead of the correct French pronunciation, “Mee - yay.” I related to that more than others due to having been married briefly to a Frenchman named Tillot. Once again the double-L should sound like a “Y”, as in “Tee - yo” and I suffered being called “Till - ut” here in the U.S. But I really love my current husband and didn’t marry him just because most people can pronounce “Humphrey.”

IS HE DEAD? is going on my list of funniest plays, along with THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, and NOISES OFF. Do you have a favorite play you go to see every chance you get? By the way, movies don’t count because sometimes Hollywood gets it wrong.

Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


With the holidays looming--a time in which we consume a lot, probably more than we need--I thought it timely to discuss the intriguing topic. But what kind? Here are my food memories.

When I was a child, my father worked for the Continental Baking Company, makers of Wonder Bread, so that was our bread of choice. They also made Hostess cupcakes, chocolate Ding Dongs and Twinkies. The original Twinkies had a banana-flavored filling, but don’t anymore. The health food fad hadn’t started yet so no one knew that white bread and sweet snacks were bad for you.

My favorite sandwich was thinly-sliced boiled ham and sliced sweet pickles on white bread. A close second was peanut butter and grape jelly. Third was tuna salad, made with canned tuna, chopped celery and Hellman’s mayonnaise. (Later I learned to put water chestnuts and a little curry powder in it.) And who doesn’t like tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches?

My grandfather (father’s side) emigrated from England, so we often had a leg of lamb for Sunday dinner. We enjoyed roast chicken too, but never steak. I used to wonder why people preferred steak to a meal of lamb or chicken. Or even roast pork with scalloped potatoes. When we had beef, it was usually ground and a favorite meal was ground beef crumbled in gravy over mashed potatoes. My maternal grandmother made home-made egg noodles and sliced them very thin to go into her home-made chicken soup.

An aunt of mine married an Italian man and went to Italy on her honeymoon. In fact, they stayed two years and my aunt learned to make real Italian spaghetti sauce. Everyone wanted to go to their house during the holidays for antipasto and spaghetti.

Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and yams, appeared at every Thanksgiving dinner, sometimes Christmas. Although ham with brown sugar and pineapple sometimes took its place for Christmas dinner, along with sweet potatoes topped with plump lightly-browned marshmallows.

Dessert for the holidays was pumpkin pie and fruitcake, and I learned to make a fabulous fruitcake that friends often asked for. Recently, even my popular pumpkin pie has been overshadowed by my Pecan Pumpkin Pie, which is baked “upside down” with the filling on the bottom and the crust--made of yellow cake mix, chopped pecans and half a pound of melted butter--on top. Picture a narrow slice of that, with the crust now on the bottom, topped with fresh whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce. Divine.

Well, I’ve made myself hungry so it must be time to stop and post this. Dinner tonight is tuna casserole. That’s a standard too.