Friday, January 18, 2013

Aiden and I and MLK: A 5 Year Old's View of History

An individual has not started living until
 he can rise above the narrow confines
 of his individualistic concerns to the
 broader concerns of all humanity.


My grandson, Aiden, and I spent the school holiday together. He is beautiful with reddish blond hair, light blue eyes, and even has one big dimple when he smiles. I picked him up at 3:00 p.m. to drive him to my little cottage, or  "my tree house" as Aiden calls it. We make up songs on the way to my place and sing "Puff," "This Land is Your Land," though we only know one verse of each. Once we arrive, we have a plan.

Always one to initiate cooking projects, Aiden told me that he wanted to make a cherry pie.  He began kindergarten last September so he is starting to understand or at least be aware of some historical events. Here is a recap of our conversation:

A: Grandma, today is Martin King's birthday.

Me: Oh yes, I know about him, Aiden. He was a good man.

A:  He was shot dead. Then he died.

Me:  I remember when it happened. It was very sad.

A:  Did you know he was in JAIL, Granma?

Me: Yes. I did.

A: Why was he in jail, Grandma? ( his Auntie Holly is a sheriff who works in the jails so he fascinated by the good guy/bad guy thing.)

Me:  He broke a law, but it was a very bad law. Do you know what an unjust law is , Aiden? Some white people thought they were better than black people so they wouldn't let them eat in restaurants or drink from the same water fountains...there were terrible mean laws just for black people. He went to jail to change the laws so that they said we are all good, not matter the color of our skin.

A: What's dead mean? Is Martin in heaven, Grandma?

Round and round we went trying to make sense of a good man, trying to change bad laws, getting arrested, sent to jail, being shot dead, and then  ending up in heaven.

And then we made pie. It was a very good day.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Books, Beautiful Books: What are Your Favorites?


I love to see little girls walking, dawdling, slowly trailing behind their parents in stores and on the street. These girls with their intense faces glued to the pages of a book have the look of someone in another world. Watching them, magically walking without tripping, I sense these girls are kin. My mother spent her childhood in a tree reading. She’d go up in the morning with a bunch of red apples staying up on a large branch as long as she could.  Books have been a huge part of my life since I was 10.  I’d lay down on my stomach in the long grass of  my backyard, holding my chin up with my palms so I could read my book on the ground. At lunchtime, my mom would bring out peanut butter and homemade strawberry jam sandwich along with a glass coke bottle full of cold, sweet lemonade. Childhood summers were heaven because of books and my backyard. I could read all I wanted.

Even now I always have a book going. They have touched my heart, taken my breath away with their authors’ gorgeous words, or given me adventures I never would have had in my real life. A few even radically changed my thinking way when I thought I knew everything. I have made a short list to share. Since the Patriot Act, libraries no longer keep records of all the books checked out. It’s too bad, because I don’t have perfect recall of each book I held in my hands that I was grateful to have stumbled upon.

I am kind of fussy about books. I’ll give them 25 pages or so to amuse me or intrigue me, then I’m on to another. These all caught my attention right away. Maybe you will find something great to read for yourself and in turn, make list of your own to share. I truly hope so because right now, I’m out of new books; all my holds from the library came and went, so I need inspiration. As soon as I click “publish,” I’m sure that I’ll remember a book I adored and forgot to add.

This past year has been really difficult.  I’ve hardly written at all. I’ve been writing, but in short spurts. I’m painting and working on a children’s book, but I am not feeling very inspired right now. I’m hoping to rely on my writing colleagues to help me out. There are few things I love more than finding a new author. 

Maybe these will seem light weight to some of you, but I’ve read most of the classics and these still are my favs that nurtured me and stay with me still.

Childhood Favorites

Madeline-Ludwig Bemelmans- Children’s book about a smart, sassy, good little girl in Paris. Pure magic.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O’Dell- Historical fiction about an Indian girl who lived on a Pacific island by herself for over 20 years.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott- Jo, the writer as narrator, tries to grow up being true to herself, among her sisters during the Civil War. Jo, more than anything, wants to be a great writer.

Lovely book with Alcott’s transcendental view shining through.

Spirituality and Society

The Kingdom of God is Within You- Leo Tolstoy-Tolstoy gives the best analysis of state, war, and soldiers I’ve ever read. This is the book Gandhi read before he began his work in India. I read it 30 years ago and its powerful stories have stayed with me.

A Path with a Heart - Jack Kornfield-All purpose, keep going back to, book about spirituality and meditation.

Cries of the Spirit-A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality- edited by Marilyn Sewell-Every woman poet from Atwood, Dillard, Giovanni, and St. Vincent Millay write about love, God, children, work, body image, and the Spirit. I used it as a text for a class I taught.

Spiritual Pilgrims-Carl Jung and St. Teresa of Avila- John Welch – A great book for learning more about ourselves and spirituality in mid-life. Another book I go back to time and time again.


The Secret Life of Bees-Sue Monk Kidd –A young Southern teenage girl runs away from her abusive father during the civil rights struggles. A perfect story. I wish I had written it. Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” is awesome as the story of her spiritual growth.

The Life of Pi- Yann Martel-A boy travels across the sea in a small boat with a tiger. Sounds weird, I know, but such a great page turner written by a talented writer with an important message.

Like Water for Chocolate-Laura Esquivel-A magical realism work of fiction about a Mexican family that has a daughter who does all the cooking. Her emotions show up when people eat her food, they cry, they laugh, sometimes even fall in love.

The Prince of Tides-Pat Conroy-This book is worth is just for the descriptions of Southern low country geography. Storytelling at its finest. His other books are great as well. Santini, Conrac, try them all.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater –Kurt Vonnegut- One of Kurt’s best. A wealthy young man set up a table where people can come tell him what they need. He’s giving away all the family’s money and they are trying to put him away in the loony bin!  Funny and smart.

King’s Oak-Anne River Siddons-All of her covers look like she writes romance novels. Don’t be deceived because she is an excellent writer who uses every discipline to make her novels interesting, including anthropology. Also she has about 20 novels that all start out like they are telling a light little tale, then wait…

The Good Conscience-Carlos Fuentes-a graduate school favorite. A rich Mexican young man tries to reconcile what he is taught at church and school with his family’s business values. Excellent.

One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel Garcia Marquez-So dreamy, funny, sweet, it’s worth the try. A multi-generational family in Latin America tries to maintain its isolation from other towns.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society-Mary Ann Shaffer-It’s one of those books where you love all the people, hate to finish it so you slow down so it won’t end too soon. So good.

Water for Elephants-Sue Greuhn–A great story, beautifully written, where you are rooting for the orphan Vet student to come out of his experience alive and well and get the girl and the elephant.

Mysteries and Detective Novels-I love mysteries and follow lots of detective writers, but these are the best I’ve found.

Malice-(or anything in the series) Robert Tanenbaum-This is part of a series about a quirky family, super honest Butch Karp, the NY District Attorney, his wife Marlene, the violence-prone defender of domestic violence victims, their cute twin boys, and daughter, the multi-lingual Lucy, with her mystical visions of St. Teresa.  Start with the earliest books in the series so you so it all makes sense.

The Camel Club (or anything in the series)-David Baldacci-The main character is an ex-CIA special ops agent, but now lives in Lafayette Park across from the White House, in a tent. He is worn out physically, burned out emotionally, and yet still tries to save the world, along with his great friends that include  a Secret Service agent, a librarian from the Library of Congress, and many others. All in the Camel Club series are really entertaining and smart.

Newest Favorite from this Summer

God’s Hotel-Victoria Sweet-A doctor working from San Francisco’s Laguna Honda hospital tells the poignant story of alms houses for the poor, European medical history, and her own search for a better way to help sick people. Sweet works part time at the hospital while she pursues a doctorate in medical history using Hildegard of Bingen (a nun from the middle ages who was a healer, herbologist, writer, musician, and abbess of her own monastery) as her point of trajectory to compare the two methods of medicine.

Some Assembly Required: My Son’s First Son-Anne Lamott- Anne’s honest and moving journal about her first grandson’s first year. I loved this one and most of her earlier books like, Operating instructions and Rosie.

Other authors that have read and I love all of their books:

Alice Hoffman

Kristin Hannah

Lorna Landvik

I hope you find a new author and write your own blog about your favorite books!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rebecca's Earth Day Facts: Pass It On!

Rebecca’s Earth Days Facts:

Pass It On!

Casually, I said to Rebecca, now 7, “Most people are good, I think.”  . She answered with a knowing smile, “Yes, Grandma, except for the rain forest stuff.”   Well, okay...

 Coming home from school on Monday, she was really excited. She went on a field trip with her first grade class to see, “Chimp,” she was in a good mood, but also had learned some hard facts in her class and from the film.  She started quizzing me. I didn’t know any of the answers. She was appalled. I told her most adults don’t know this stuff. I told her I’d pass it on in my blog. So here goes. I hope you know the answers better than I.did.

Pass it on!

1.     How long does a plastic bottle take to break down?

a.     50 years

b.     200 years

c.     450 years

2.     How long does a plastic bag take to break down?

a.     10-20 years

b.     450 years

c.     3 months

3.     Which takes the longest to break down?

a.     Plastic bottle

b.     Milk carton

c.     Glass bottle

4.     Which takes the least amount of time to break down?

a.     Plastic bag

b.     Plastic bottle

c.     Milk carton

Answers: 1. 450 2. 10-20 3. Glass 4. Milk carton

Scary, no?  Pass it on!

Quiz from Scholastic News Earth Day 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Warm Hand to Hold

It was a relief to see the positive journal open call. I needed an opening to begin again. I haven’t written for four months because so much has happened in my life, some of it filled with hurt and disappointment pushing me into a space of anger and fear. Both places I hate, knowing full well the results of giving in to an emotional freefall. Heidibeth has sent a kind open invitation to journal about the positive so I’ve decided to accept. Even the simple sensual elegance of fingertips on the computer keys feels soothing to my soul. I’m hoping that I can convey the small, but important time that made me happy today.
Sunday afternoon, I took my oldest granddaughter, aged 7, to see the movie The Secret of Arrietty, from the Borrowers book series. The film is so delicately illustrated, scenes of the outdoors reminded me of the finest watercolors, light through trees, leaves used for umbrellas, postage stamps for wall art, a straight pin substitutes for a sword. The colors are scrumptious. Delightful, slow paced, with just enough humor. In one scene, a clearly American family sits down to dinner, but whip out their chopsticks to eat. It’s Japanese anime, but not so you would notice. I’m not wild about the big eye thing.
The main character, Arrietty, is a strong, feisty, and compassionate teenage girl. As a grandmother, I found her attributes to be refreshing compared to all the princess role models lately.
The film is very endearing, but not in a sappy way.. During a tense moment in the movie, where the menacing housekeeper is phoning an exterminator to get rid of the little people, my Rebecca leans over, with eyebrows knitted, whispers to me, “She’s a bad bad person.” I told her, “Yep, but I think it will turn out okay.” Rebecca leaned closer to me and put her small warm hand on my arm.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Aiden and I and Sweet Potato Pie

I was running late picking him up from kindergarten. I knew I only had 15 minutes to spare. Impulsively, I ran into a new grocery store, Green Something, to pick up bread and milk and added more items, you know how it is. Then I went to check out and it’s all self-checkout which I hate. The machine started screeching when I put the chicken in the plastic bag. I was running late and knew that Aiden, my little 6 year old grandson, the worrier, would think I had abandoned him. I drove a too fast down the street, shame on me, and slid into position in the pick-up kid queue at Indian Grove Elementary School. It was 11:35 am and thank God, I was safe. Aiden told me later, “Well, you know Grandma, when you are the last kid waiting they put you in the office and call your parents.” Subtle little stab in the heart.

We unloaded the groceries in my little cottage, “Grandma’s Tree House.” Milk, bread, eggs, root beer, a whole chicken, large eggs, lemons, rosemary, and bananas. Aiden and I settled down into working on a book we made together. It’s called, “Love.” I’d been noticing that his imagination was getting wild and wooly, stretching the bridge between truth and well, untruth.

We wrote the book the weekend before, and then we finished the illustrations. Aiden is really adept at computer stuff, learned how to scan the artwork into the computer in about 10 minutes. He also figured out how to take pictures and download them into the picture file, and then I showed him how to insert it into a document. Sometimes I think he would be perfectly happy having his own apartment with a computer, scanner and printer as long as he had an income stream from somewhere.

So he had dictated his self-description to me, “He is 100 feet tall” and “he has 10 fingers on each hand” and “his grandmother is the baddest Grandma in town.” When I asked how that was possible, he said, “Well, she tries to help people.” Geesh, that’s what made me bad? Anyway the book is hilarious, I did most of the illustrations, and he wrote all the words. He wants to send it to a publisher so we put it in an envelope and sent it to Scholastic, Inc. So it’s on its way to New York. While we wait for glory to come find us, I asked what he wanted to do.

“Let’s cook, Grandma.” Hmmmm. Ah, I remembered the sweet potatoes I had baked the night before. Perfect. I went into Food Network for a recipe and pulled up Emeril’s Sweet Potato Pie. I gave him my “Grandma’s Warning About Electric Mixer’s Talk” and then we began to gather the ingredients. Basically my scary talk is this, “If a child puts his fingers in the beaters he will lose his little fingers.” He’s very careful.

Aiden used the mixer to smooth out the sweet potatoes with the cup of cream, he beat up 4 eggs into the bowl, dumping in the pumpkin pie mix, cloves, salt, ginger, while I scrapped the sides with a wooden spoon. We poured it all into the cooked pie shell, and voila! Around 45 minutes later, it looked like a yummy soufflĂ©. Aiden, sitting in his little wooden chair said, “Oh, Grandma, so delicious!” I’d never had sweet potato pie, but I think we both love it more than pumpkin. Try to make it with someone you love. The love makes it taste better.


•1 egg white, lightly beaten

•1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes

•1 tablespoon vegetable oil

•1/2 cup light brown sugar

•1/2 cup maple syrup

•2 teaspoons ground ginger

•1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

•1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

•1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

•1/2 teaspoon salt

•1 cup heavy cream

•4 large eggs

DirectionsPreheat oven to 375 degrees F.I used a pre-made pie shell in the refrigerated section and it worked perfectly.Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle. Carefully transfer the dough to a 9-inch deep pie pan and ease the pastry into the bottom and sides of the pan. Press the dough into the shell and crimp the edges in a decorative pattern. Using the tines of a fork, lightly dock the base of the shell. Place the shell into the oven and bake until lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the bottom with the egg white. Set aside until ready to use.Rub the sweet potatoes with the vegetable oil and roast in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until very tender. Remove and set aside to cool. Peel the potatoes and pass the flesh through a fine mesh sieve using a rubber spatula. You should have about 1 1/2 cups of smooth sweet potato puree.In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sweet potato puree with the sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the heavy cream with the eggs and whisk to combine. Add the cream and egg mixture to the sweet potato mixture and stir to blend. Pour the batter into the prepared pie shell and place the pie on a sheet pan. Bake until the center is set and the tart is golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting. We made whipped cream out of the leftover cream.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Berkeley

Ten years ago, I was one of maybe 50 people who demonstrated on Shattuck Ave. right in front of the Berkeley downtown Bart. We were railing against the first attacks on Afghanistan; we were a small tentative group, a little fearful of others’ reactions. The bombings were Bush’s response to the 9-11 attacks in New York, so if anyone was firmly against it, then their patriotism was also in question.

Mostly people kept their mouths shut and refused to talk about it. Even my anti-war buddies bit their lips, and then changed the subject. The demonstrations eventually got bigger, and then stopped altogether when Obama was elected. We thought everything would be okay.

Driving down the hill from the tunnels, I drove into town, not positive what time the demonstration would start. I found 2 different times on websites. It began at either 12pm or 1 pm. so I figured other people had trouble with the times as well and were late. I circled MLK Park and saw nothing except the crowded weekly Farmer’s Market.

It was a gorgeous October Saturday afternoon in front of me. Trees the color of fire and copper spread out on Shattuck Avenue. Tons of students everywhere, couples strolling hand in hand, knots of kids circling outdoor tables drinking coffee at cafes, or just basking in the soft sun. And still, no demonstration to be seen or heard so far. Finally after my third go around of the park and Farmer’s Market, I heard something. I saw a few cops on motorcycles and a couple of them on bicycles wearing shorts. Looking up the street I saw them and heard them, “The citizens united Can NOT be divided.”

Being generous, I would say there were about 200 people of all ages, not too many student types, carrying sounds, and chanting. It's never a good sign when you find open parking places across from a demonstration. I drove around the block to find not one, but two parking places across the street from the large park in front of city hall. Apparently the crowd had marched on the banks in a few tight little blocks and circled back to MLK.
It was a small, but determined group. I am a big supporter of the occupy movement, but my back has me in fits lately, unable to stand very long. I parked, but decided not to cross the street. I watched for awhile, took photos, listened to the chant and wished that more people had shown up. Oakland had a great turnout so they pulled people from Berkeley.

People keep asking what they want, telling them to define themselves, and to make a list of demands. There is no shortage of advice from my generation to theirs. I made a comment to one webpage: They are not asking for our permission or advice. Quit telling them what they have to do. They’ve done more in a month than we’ve done in years. Good on them. They’ve scared Wall Street a little. Hurray!

I know what they want for all of us: true democracy and fairness, a sense of fairness and justice, good, meaningful jobs, affordable housing, competent medical care, and inexpensive excellent education, and a clean environment. No, it’s not too much to ask. It’s what we all deserve for a happy life. I’m so proud of them and all they are doing!

We don’t know how this will end, but we need not be so attached to the results for a first effort. I personally haven’t felt this hopeful in years. As noted author and essayist Chris Hedges said, this is the best antidote for despair we've seen. And that's saying a lot because I think we've been full of fear, worry, doubt, sadness, and anger for far too long.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We the People! Stand Up! Wall Street and D.C.

Lafayette California Gulf War Memorial Oct. 3, 2011

I grew up believing God kept his eye on us all, He leaned on me as I pledged allegiance to the wall.”

Paul Simon

I grew up believing we were a moral country, one with a vision of fairness, of exploration and brilliant ingenuity, when something was wrong or unjust, we tried to fix it, we knew we could. We took on slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, the Vietnam War, polio, and poverty. I thought people in the Congress cared about us. When I was a kid I thought they were statesmen.

No longer. I no longer look to any of them to take good care of us, the people who put them in office. I never would have believed that in my lifetime the Supreme Court would decide that corporations have the rights of citizens to give unlimited funds to influence politicians in Citizens United. Wall Street and politicians are one in the same. Maybe some are honest, but not many.

Their voices now put me to sleep. They talk; my brain goes dull like I’ve been drugged. We no longer have any influence on them. Do you remember how many of us wrote, called, emailed, and showed up in Washington D.C. telling them and Obama not to give Wall Street the bailout money? Did they listen? Did Obama listen?I'm sick of lies and disingenuous talk aimed at keeping us under control.

We've had sustained war for 10 years and adding more deaths each day so that our treasury has been gutted and we are told we have to cut services to children, sick, and elderly people. On Christmas Eve, I took a picture of the Lafayette California Gulf War Memorial. The number of deaths on 12/24/10 was 5822. Now there are 466 more soldiers who have died in this bloody war and all those families whose lives are changed forever. How many mothers and fathers in the U.S., Iraq, and Afghanistan have watched their beloved children being buried? What is wrong with us that we go along with this merciless slaughter? We know in our hearts that it’s so wrong.

This is what people need: good jobs, safe housing, competent health care, a stimulating and profound education, and a government free from the corruption of corporations. We need corporations and rich people to pay their fair share. I don’t care what Wall Street wants. I want a free press, not a corporate press. The wars are not for our benefit or some lofty goal. Who do they serve? Oil Companies? Arms dealers? It is not for the American people. We used to have trials, now we assassinate.

I no longer want to hear what the Democrats or Republicans have to say. They want their good jobs and their influence and power. How did this happen? Ask Congress why we can't go to a doctor? Have you seen those images on TV of doctors and nurses traveling around in our country en mass to provide health care like they were visiting a banana republic, but it turned out to be Oakland? Why can't we have green and good paying jobs? Healthy food without poisons? Medicines that don’t harm? A really clean and healthy environment? Why can't we have good education? Peace?

We can have every bit of those life giving and spirit saving elements in our country and more if we all paid taxes and our representatives served OUR interests. It’s not rocket science. It just takes political will.

Starting tomorrow, Oct. 6th, gatherings will begin, the largest will be in D.C. and New York. Occupy Wall Street is the brightest beacon of hope I’ve seen in years. I’ve read a lot of criticism of the people involved in Occupy Wall Street. I say they’ve got the best cure for despair I’ve seen in 20 years. We don’t know what will happen, but we’ve got to forget about being attached to results. It’s vital to retaining our democracy to be there or support them.I grew up believing we were a moral country. I think we can be that way again, but if we let despair sink any further into our bones we won’t be able to pull ourselves out. Let’s support all who stand up and say, “No More.”

Call to Action - Oct. 6, 2011 and onward-Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed-Statement about Oct. 6th

October 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan and the beginning of the 2012 federal austerity budget. It is time to light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are freed to create just and sustainable solutions.We call on people of conscience and courage—all who seek peace, economic justice, human rights and a healthy environment—to join together in Washington, D.C., beginning on Oct. 6, 2011, in nonviolent resistance similar to the Arab Spring and the Midwest awakening. www.october2011.org Chris Hedges Why I’ll be There