Category Archives: Events

Brussels Sprouts Duel

Brussels sprouts stumps me. Not what they are—I microwave the loose, fresh balls in a Pampered Chef steamer. A tip of the pan to drain the liquid through the perforated lid, a couple of grinds of Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns or sprinkles of dried Parmesan (don’t tell my cardiologist), and the sprouts go from microwave to the table in less than five minutes. The trouble came when the fresh, full stalks at Trader Joe’s beckoned me. I bought one without the slightest inkling of how to cook them in the natural state. At home, I left the stalk on the kitchen countertop and searched online for a recipe.

Most of the recipes capitalized the “B” in Brussels as though a proper noun like the city in Belgium where this vegetable was once said to originate. Microsoft Word spell check agreed with chefs—a red underline for any chef who dared spell the word with a lowercase “b.” I chose an easy oven recipe. While they cooked, I was plagued by the proper capitalization for the green knobs that dance in my head.

The green stalk waited while my inner editor led me to Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition. I hefted the 3-lb., 1144-page book to a comfortable reading level. A search of the 129-page index referenced Section 8.61. There it was—lowercased brussels sprouts. CMOS added a disclaimer,

Although some of the terms in this paragraph and the examples that follow are capitalized in Webster’s, Chicago prefers to lowercase them in their nonliteral use.

Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style duel over the use of capital B like Brussels, Belgium (literal), or lowercase “b” as in the vegetable (nonliteral). On my next grocery shopping trip, I skipped the sprouts and bought broccoli (lowercase “b”). It was great, ready in three minutes from the same Pampered Chef pan. And broccoli is packed with multiple vitamins that outduel the basic C and K in brussels sprouts.

P.S. Brussels sprouts, although a plural sound, takes a singular verb. That’s another editing puzzle.

Disclaimer: Neither Trader Joe’s nor Pampered Chef is aware of my blog unless an individual team member stumbles across it while searching for a recipe.

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Filed under Events, Publishing, Writing

Chasing Rabbit Trails

I checked my email before tackling revisions of my mystery novel in progress. I received a request from a genealogy group to be a speaker about identifying family photos from the mid-to-late 1800s. Before I chose an optional date, I checked to see if my PowerPoint file survived the transfer to my new computer last fall. I watched the full presentation. All there, but the majority of the photos were from a later period. Mysterious Mary, a name I had dubbed Mary Dragoo years before when I learned that she was buried in Alamo Cemetery, would be a perfect example of a working woman in the Antebellum and Victorian time periods.  I scrolled through my family photos. “No results” proved to be a minor sidetrack—the first rabbit trail of the day.

I left my computer long enough to review my handwritten notes from my visit to find her unmarked gravesite in Alamo Cemetery. Gone missing. Mysterious Mary continues to be elusive. Back at my computer, I looked for the article I wrote when I first discovered that she lived in Contra Costa County in the nineteenth century. No file. Sidetrack #2.

I emailed my twin, our family history researcher, about the missing photo.  I added more information. Sidetrack #3.

She sent me the picture jpg and my original Word article from 2007. I read it to refresh my memories of my original search for Mysterious Mary and her family. I stopped at the paragraph where I mentioned that Mary’s grandson and his spouse are buried in Roselawn Cemetery a couple of miles from me. I hadn’t visited either cemetery recently. Back online for a Find A Grave search. The Roselawn posting mentioned that the memorial manager, a direct descendant, has no information on the man’s wife. An easy challenge for me from memories of visiting her gravesite. I clicked the link to share that information with the manager. Sidetrack #4.

I received an error code. The memorial manager can’t be reached. I contacted Find A Grave with the details and requested webmaster intervention. Sidetrack #5.

Next step: Update my speaker bio to include previous presentations on U.S. Civil War and Victorian period costumes. My empty stomach growls—a signal for a timeout for lunch. Sidetrack #6.

From the table into the open living room, Green yarn of a hat I’m knitting beckons me to my easy chair for a break from research. Sidetrack #7.

Ah, seven, often referred to as the perfect number. The stately oak trees from my framed print of Oak Alley Plantation, first named Bon Séjour (pleasant sojourn), remind me that no journey is wasted. I hurry back to my computer to accept the invitation from the genealogy group. This time, I’ll stay away from rabbit trails.

 

 

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Imagination and Inspiration

The opportunities of man are limited only by his imagination. But so few have imagination that there are ten thousand fiddlers to one composer.

~Charles F. Kettering, 1876-1958

Mr. Kettering was an American engineer, patent holder, and businessman, yet painter Howard Behrens quoted Kettering’s thoughts on inspiration.

In Lani Longshore’s blog post, Cityscape in Felt, she credited a Howard Behrens San Francisco cityscape painting as her needlework inspiration.

A framed Bellagio Promenade painting hangs above my sofa. I glance at it while I read or knit in my Lazy Boy chair. It has soothed me often, but it’s never inspired me to write—until now.

Paintings are collectibles—even more valuable if signed. The serenity of Promenade caught my eye while browsing in a resale shop. The oversized matted and framed serigraph under glass fills the wall above my sofa with prominence—no need for additional eye catchers. It hung above the couch for years before I noticed “Behrens” in black in the lower right corner. Wait! This is a famous artist.  This could be a collectible.

But mine isn’t canvas, so I gave it no more thought until a duplicate calmed me as I sat paper gowned, waiting in a medical exam room. The frame was more elegant than mine. The title and author’s name in bold black three-inch letters beneath the scene was a declaration not on my print, but the signature was the same. Later, at home, Lani’s blog inspired me to postpone knitting and write.

One of the Google icons for International Women’s Day features knitting. After I post this blog, I’ll relax with knitting while I seek inspiration from my Behrens’ print to spin a yarn with words. 

 

 

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Salute to President Abraham Lincoln

I have posted the same humorous tale on several Presidents’ Day blogs. Today, I omit the dual focus of George Washington and salute President Abraham Lincoln.

I toured the 2009 Library of Congress Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition, With Malice Toward None, in Sacramento, California. My steps through multi-level floors of exhibits echoed like a true walk through history. The artifacts included Lincoln’s inaugural Bible, a lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, a scrapbook of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and Lincoln’s handwritten Farewell Address. As stated in the California Museum tour booklet, “By placing Lincoln’s words in a historical context . . . the exhibition provides a deeper understanding of how remarkable Lincoln’s decisions were for their time and why his words continue to resonate today.”

Mr. Lincoln would be rejected as a political party candidate today.  He would be considered undereducated (not enough diplomas on his attorney’s office wall) and not attractive enough for TV appearances. In his day, he seldom—if ever—appeared in public without his layers of formal attire of a waistcoat (vest) over a white shirt and black bowtie beneath a wool frock coat. He would not have stepped outside without his black silk top hat. I suspect his shoes were shined—maybe by his own hand—but surely not by an enslaved servant. Today he would be expected to ditch his favorite attire for something informal—perhaps coatless with rolled-up sleeves similar to the Rosie the Riveter poster during World War II.

Lincoln’s words were delivered with a sharp punch that bested his nineteenth-century adversaries. Now, following each speech, treasured statements of history would be ripped apart by news analysts trying to discover his true meaning. Others would second-guess his motives hidden in the sarcastic humor meant to disarm his opponent. A third team would be at work lining up prominent political endorsements in case Lincoln might be the first choice of the Republican party.

One thing that would make Lincoln stand tall today, even if hatless, would be his historical comebacks in his word-sparing with opponents coupled with his common-sense statements in office. As the agony from the weight of the Civil War fell upon him, he declared “If there is a place worse than hell, I am in it.”

I treasure my copy of Abraham Lincoln: Mystic Chords of Memory, a Selection from Lincoln’s Writings. This 79-page softcover book published in 1984 is filled with lengthy quotes from Lincoln’s writings that give me insight into the turmoil he faced. But I seldom read the pages of lengthy quotes. Lincoln’s greater resonance is from his commonsense statements seldom mentioned. One simple quote from The Lincoln Treasury rings true today as it did when spoken.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.

The same applies to blogs. I wish I had known Abraham Lincoln as my foster child suggested in my 2015 Presidents’ Day post.

 

 

 

 

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Once in a Blue Moon

I heard “Once in a blue moon” many times in my childhood. My family used the phrase to describe something that rarely happened, especially when trying to prompt someone to a specific action the second time. My child’s mind imagined an Indigo—or at least a turquoise—moon. The adults laughed at my expectations. Even though my father lived by the Farmer’s Almanac and knew every phase of the moon, he didn’t tell me that a Blue Moon was the second full moon in one month.

My superstitious mother kept me from staring at a Blood Moon in the mid-1940s. “It’s a curse,” she had said. “Something terrible’s gonna happen. Wait and see.” She never wavered from her belief to acknowledge the color was caused during a total lunar eclipse when Earth moved between the sun and the moon and created a reddish glow.

Tuesday evening, January 30, 2018, I stopped editing a manuscript to go outside and stare at the moon to witness something I’d never seen.  The bright light rose high in the sky looking much like any other full moon—not a deep cobalt or even a light sapphire. I went back inside, checked my printout of the promised total eclipse of the triple-decker treat of a Super Blue Blood Moon, and set my alarm for 3:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time determined to witness the beginning of the umbral eclipse.

The alarm triggered the urgency to rise while it was dark. I staggered out of bed, slipped on shoes and pulled a long black coat over my pajamas. I hurried outside away from the lights of my apartment community and gazed upward. The excitement of the impending triple-header warmed me from the cold for a while. For the next three hours, I alternated staring at the marvel in the sky and returning inside for breaks, warmed by hot tea. The Super Blue Blood Moon was more spectacular than promised. When the eclipse ended and the Super Moon slid lower and lower until I could see only the top of the bright orb, I returned to my warm bed.

A second alarm reminded me that I had work to do on a manuscript edit. I clicked my way through and basic sentence structure and spell check. After a late breakfast, I traipsed through ninety screen prompts in a grammar program. If it disagreed with Chicago Manual of Style—the manuscript editor’s go-to book—I clicked ignore.

My next step, an editing program that claims to be “smart” enough to reveal misused words, punctuation inconsistency, and multiple other variances. Three popped up in the em dash category. My edited punctuation was correct according to Chicago Manual of Style. That’s when I looked up, waiting for the program to enlighten me like the Super Moon had earlier. I saw this instruction on my computer screen above the questionable areas.

 

 

Maybe this only happens once in a blue moon, but if this paid program isn’t smart enough to catch its own mistakes, how can it find mine?

In a spare moment between writing and editing today, I took a look at Super Blue Blood Moon Video, NASA TV. Now that’s  something I can trust.

 

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Special Assignment

This is a true story of a defining moment in my life from my book, In the Right Place: A Gallery of Treasured Moments (Carr Twins & Co. 2006). This revision is as fitting today, January 15, 2018, as the nation observes the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, as it was when first published.

The scene: Proof machines clatter and a check sorter hums with activity outside the manager’s door in a bank Operations Center. A West Coast transplant to the Deep South is being briefed on her new assignment, a dark secret that is about to change this workplace forever.

 

“James wants to see you in his office when you finish that batch of deposits,” my supervisor said.  Except for annual performance reviews, a summons to his office was rare and seldom good news.

“I asked you here to give you a special assignment,” James said. “Because of your California background, you are the most likely person for this job. “You are used to working with different people,” he said, emphasizing different. “We want you to train Mary, our newest employee.”

Because of my previous experience and my accuracy and speed, I had been training employees since shortly after being employed by this bank. What could be so special about training another new employee?

James, who was usually quite fluent, was hesitant as he explained that the federal government was intruding where it had no right and telling our bank how to run its business. President Lyndon Johnson had signed something called a civil rights bill, so we were being forced to hire our first Negro employee. His southern drawl emphasized negro as though his lips were unfamiliar with the word. Management had decided to place Mary in the Operations Department to shield her from public contact.

I reminded James that Mary would be our second black staff member. The main office employed an African-American porter who made coffee and cleaned the kitchen. “That’s different,” he said with no further explanation.

I was embarrassed by the way the employees treated Mary on her first work day when I introduced her to each of them. I thought time would make a difference. How wrong I was! They moved their coffee cups to their workstations. At break time, Mary and I went alone. The others worked during my assigned lunch period, leaving me alone with Mary every day.  Afternoon break was no different.  When Mary was in the kitchen, they stayed out. When they entered as we left, they scrubbed the tables and wiped the chairs before being seated. None of the ladies entered the restroom for weeks after Mary arrived.  Only my direct supervisor and the manager spoke to me unless absolutely necessary for workflow.  After many weeks of this routine, it was clear that I, along with Mary, had been ostracized for exposing the staff to a new and uncomfortable experience.

I was appalled at the southern traditions that denied minorities access to restaurants and forced them to sit in back seats on public buses. I disapproved of segregated schools and churches. Although I felt strongly about these disgraces, I disapproved of ineffective—and dangerous—protest marches and sit-ins. By accepting a special assignment that others refused, I made enemies, but I left a mark in history. No holiday will be named for me. My statue will never stand in a public place. But by giving hope to one person during the civil rights movement, I changed the future of a corporate entity.

 

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Filed under Events, Holidays, Memoir, Rants and Raves

Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Black Friday by retailers. This term has been twisted into a pretzel of shopping frenzy, even to the point of bedlam. Wikipedia and other online sources insist that the phrase became popular because the day after Thanksgiving was the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Wikipedia—perhaps a  contributor too young to have experienced the facts—gathered other online information to validate the article.  My father would have said hogwash! The generation before him spoke the somber words when referring to the nineteenth-century gold market crash.

Merchant bookkeepers, literally keepers of financial transactions, recorded the sales and expenses in ledgers. The most common was blue cloth with the texture of heavy linen. The spine was Symth Sewn with the outward corners protected from daily use with triangles of leather. The pages were divided by lines and columns where daily income and expenses were handwritten in the appropriate columns. The columns were tallied down, then across to the right. (FYI: This is where the phrase “Bottom Line” originated.) If expenses outweighed income, the bookkeeper wrote that final number in red. Back then, it was said that the bookkeeper put away the red pen the day after Thanksgiving.

My mother knew nothing of Black Friday. She began her Christmas shopping in the late summer during the grape cutting season or the early fall when cotton picking was plentiful. Long before credit cards when cash was king, she used the layaway program. Back then, no merchant would dare display Christmas items before Thanksgiving, but she didn’t wait for snowmen to be painted on wide glass display windows or silver tinsel to be draped over ornaments hung on Christmas trees. She searched the stores for gifts early. She used the layaway plan to pay fifty cents down and an equal amount every week until December. If she had postponed her purchase until the holiday shopping season, dolls for two girls would have been an unaffordable amount of one dollar every week. She guarded that palm-size layaway card with the diminishing balance handwritten by the store clerk after each payment. Mama paid the last half-dollar while we were at school or playing with neighbors and hid the dolls until Christmas.

Papa kept a ledger of family expenses down to the last nickel—perhaps the last penny. He wrote everything with an indelible pencil that turned to purple ink when he touched it to his tongue. He paid cash for everything. He didn’t Christmas shop and pretended not to know about Mama’s layaways paid out from her earnings money. That kept his books in the black—purple—every day of the year.

 

 

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