Every once in a while, a book comes along that inspires me to sing its praises to anyone who will listen. It is so special that long after reading the last sentence and closing the cover, the story stays wrapped around my heart.
I recently discovered such a book by luck. After dropping items off at my favorite charity store, I stopped by their used book section. The book’s blue and yellow cover attracted my attention despite its rather awkward title. I pulled it out, read the blurbs on the cover, and decided that it was going home with me. Normally, I happily pay the few dollars for a book, read it, then return it to the shop so it can be resold. I’m afraid this book won’t be going back anytime soon.
This is How it Always Is, by Laurie Frankel is a book about family. It is also about secrets, fairy tales, and acceptance. It is about life not always turning out the way we envision, and how we deal with the challenges we face.
Frankel’s novel is often laugh out loud funny even as it deals with a very serious subject: raising a gender non-conforming child. I fell in love with the parents, Rosie and Penn, and their four older boys but, most of all, their fifth child, Claude/Poppy, stole my heart.
“He said he wanted to be a chef when he grew up. He also said he wanted to be a cat when he grew up. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a chef, a cat, a vet, a dinosaur, a train, a farmer, a recorder player, a scientist, an ice cream cone, a first baseman, or maybe the inventor of a new kind of food that tasted like chocolate ice cream but nourished like something his mother would say yes to for breakfast. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a girl.”
Frankel tells the story of this family with such warmth and honesty that it invites thoughtful discussion and consideration. I personally know two families who have a transgender child. These parents and their kids are real people who love each other and are doing well despite the challenges society throws at them. Rather than fearing or disparaging those that don’t conform to our “normal,” maybe this novel can help to open hearts.
Beyond the novel’s overarching theme, there are also lessons here for everyone about unconditional love and acceptance of those who are different. We don’t have to completely understand to treat others with empathy and compassion.
This is How it Always Is has won multiple awards since it was published in 2017, including Amazon’s Best Book of the Year, and the 2018 Washington State Book Award. If you read this book—and I hope you do—please don’t skip the Author’s Note; it made me love the novel even more.
This post is linked to the monthly #whatsonyourbookshelf challenge hosted by Donna, Deb, Jo, and Sue. Head on over to share what you are reading and see what others recommend.
Los Angeles, the monolithic city to the north of where we live, is usually just a barrier we must get through on our way to somewhere else. Because its rush “hour” lasts most of the day, driving on L.A. freeways with the least amount of congestion and stress means leaving our home very early or very late. When we finally make it to the other side, we breathe a sigh of relief.
Like any large city, though, there is a lot to see and do in Los Angeles and, last week, we braved the crazy traffic for a few days to visit some highlights.
We spent the better part of two days enjoying this spectacular museum with its extensive collection of pre-20th century European paintings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts. Not all of the beauty is on the inside, though. Equally as impressive is the Center’s stunning architecture, gorgeous gardens, and expansive views overlooking the city.
Opened in 1935, the Griffith Observatory’s mission was to make astronomy accessible to the public, as opposed to the observatories located on remote mountaintops and restricted to scientists. This Art Deco marvel includes several fascinating exhibit halls and a planetarium. The two shows we saw in the planetarium were top-notch and – like the Getty Center – the building’s architecture and views were stunning.
Fun Fact: during World War II, the planetarium was used to train pilots in celestial navigation. The planetarium was again used for this purpose in the 1960s to train Apollo program astronauts for the first lunar missions.
Another Fun Fact: the Griffith Observatory has been featured in several films, including the knife fight scene in the James Dean classic, Rebel Without a Cause.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Our final day in L.A. before heading home was spent at the LACMA. It is the largest art museum in the western United States, and we could have easily filled another day enjoying the exhibits.
A couple of my favorites:
If we had had even more days, we would have loved to explore several of the other museums in the area, including La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the Peterson Automotive Museum, and the Craft Contemporary Museum.
So much to see, so little time.
Because we had come to view L.A. as a massive but unavoidable obstacle to be endured at the beginning of just about any road trip, my husband and I had lost sight of the many great things the city has to offer. My brother and sister-in-law (who took the train down from Northern California) came up with the idea to meet there and explore L.A. together, and we are happy that we said “yes!”
Now that we’ve been reminded of how much there is to see and do in L.A., we would like to return… but maybe not anytime soon. I still don’t like the traffic.
I’m linking this post to the What’s Been on Your Calendar? monthly wrap-up challenge hosted by Donna, Jo, Deb, and Sue. Please visit their link page to see what other bloggers have been up to in February.
Prior to my retirement, I dreamed about all the things I could do with my freed-up time. In addition to travel, creative pursuits, and enjoying friends and family, I was looking forward to vast amounts of time that I could fill up with anything I wanted. Reading, writing, gardening… whatever.
After being retired for a while, I started to explore the many emeritus programs and lifelong learning opportunities offered in our city. I always enjoyed school and learning new things, so this seemed like a great way to keep my mind engaged without the stress of grades.
The Oasis organization offers interesting lectures on a range of subjects and a variety of courses and workshops, all for a very reasonable price.
Our local Community College district has an Emeritus program that offers courses on an array of subjects as diverse as art, effective communication, writing, law, and music.
We also have robust Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) programs at two local universities. Joining Osher is more expensive than the other programs, but the quality of the offerings is top-notch. Not only are most of the lectures presented by college professors, but membership also includes the ability to audit many of the regular university courses.
In addition, smaller organizations, clubs, and businesses offer art classes, craft lessons, photography workshops, writing groups, and other learning opportunities for just about any interest.
Pre-Covid most of these classes and lectures were held in-person but the pandemic moved them online. Now, some remain 100% virtual, some are 100% in-person, and others offer hybrid, in-person and virtual attendance.
Not only are there a tremendous number of quality offerings, but the ability to attend many of the courses and lectures from the comfort of home makes it so convenient.
So, what’s the problem? I have found that it is too easy to overschedule myself.
I’m the type of retiree that gets twitchy when I have too many commitments on my calendar in one week (too many being more than one or two). I prefer to space out doctor appointments, get-togethers with friends, and anything else that requires me to be at a specific place at a specific time. I like my calendar to have lots of blank days. Now, with so many interesting classes and lectures, I’m suddenly scheduled just about every day, Monday – Friday. Granted, most of the classes only last 2 – 3 hours but they are usually in the middle of the day, making it difficult to do anything else, like going for leisurely walks or enjoying relaxed lunches with my husband. I have found that I am starting to look forward to weekends again.
On one hand, I want to sign up for everything that sounds the least bit interesting (which is a lot). On the other, I want more unscheduled time to do other things, or do nothing. I’m not sure what the right balance is, but I’m trying to find it.
Although I was never worried that I wouldn’t have enough to do in retirement, I know it’s a concern to some. My advice: don’t stress. After being retired for a little over eight years, boredom is the least of my worries.
… and, by “new year” I don’t mean 2023, I mean “new year” as in embarking on my latest year-long journey around the sun. I turned another year older a few days ago.
Birthday celebrations now are very different than they were when I was younger. I don’t want to open gifts or go out to a fancy dinner. I’d much rather spend the day exploring someplace interesting, enjoying a home-cooked meal, and, of course, consuming a piece of the delectable Caramelized Orange Cheesecake my husband makes me every year (happy wife, happy life).
Check, check, and check.
You may have read about all the rain California has been experiencing lately. Gosh knows we need it, but maybe not all at once. Here in the southern part of the state, the weather has been milder, but the king tides and stormy surf have brought big waves and some flooding to our coastal areas.
On my birthday, following a day of especially high tides, my husband and I drove to a local beach to watch the pounding surf and see the aftermath of surging water, seaweed, and sand.
Although we missed all the excitement, we heard tales of waves plunging over the seawall, leaving a thick layer of sand that will have to be shoveled back onto the beach.
Our walk also took us to Belmont Park, a beachfront amusement park built in 1925.
When I was very young, our parents often took my brothers and me swimming at The Plunge, a huge indoor pool located in the park. The building and pool have recently been renovated, but the sound of kids playing, and the smell of chlorine still brought back many happy memories.
After visiting the pool, we walked around the arcade and midway area for a bit of people watching. That’s when I decided I had to ride the Giant Dipper—the historical wooden roller coaster that was also a part of my childhood—again. Although the roller coaster has been refurbished since I last rode it, it still had the bone-rattling twists, turns and downhill plunges I remembered from my youth.
Topping off the first day of my latest journey around the sun, I dug into a yummy husband-cooked meal before plunging into my favorite birthday treat: Caramelized Orange Cheesecake.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
This week’s Sunday Stills prompt is Plunge. Please visit Terri’s site to see how other bloggers took the challenge.
It’s hard to believe that I last posted this back in 2017 because, clearly, the last five years have shown little improvement. We still have issues… big issues. Here it is again with a few updates… I hope it works this time.
I gave up writing New Year’s resolutions for myself years ago. As a kid, it was kind of fun to put together a list every year but, as I got older, I came to realize that they never amounted to much. In the end, and despite my good intentions, there were few pounds lost and no better habits gained. Yep, I was pretty much the same old me after a month or two into the new year.
So, rather than come up with resolutions just for myself, I have decided to make one big resolution for EVERYONE to share. I figure that, with us all working together, supporting each other, and gently nudging those that falter back on track, maybe, just maybe, we can succeed.
My resolution for the masses:
Don’t be Stupid
The best thing about this resolution for you is, like me, you aren’t stupid at all, so your part will be easy. Just make sure that everyone else doesn’t mess up.
Here is a list of 10 ways your fellow humans can avoid being stupid. It’s far from complete.
Don’t text or talk on the phone while driving. Competent multi-tasking is a myth. Even if it wasn’t, the task of piloting a vehicle that weighs over 3,000 pounds requires complete attention. This level of stupid could end up killing someone.
Same goes for drinking and driving.
Don’t believe everything you read, hear, or see on the Internet – check things out (and not only with your favorite confirmation bias source). Develop a healthy skepticism. Believing that a microchip would be inserted into our bodies while receiving a vaccination was stupid. In fact, anti-science conspiracy theories floating around in the midst of a pandemic are not only stupid, but they are also dangerous and, in many cases, deadly. Reposting questionable stories (even with the caveat “this could be a hoax, but I’m posting it just in case”) makes the poster’s stupidity evident to all 1,000 of their closest friends. Snopes.com and Factcheck.com are your friends. So are critical thinking skills.
Don’t equate the accumulation of things with the building of happiness. We all like a certain amount of stuff, but chances are the good feeling we get from acquiring something new will not last. Think about acquiring experiences and accumulating memories instead. Travel, spend time with family and friends, learn a new skill.
Don’t over-inflate. I’m not talking about weight here (although, it could be argued that not properly nourishing and caring for the only body we have is kind of stupid); I mean the tendency to take a small incident and inflate it into something much greater. The outrage du jour on cable news (remember when Starbucks issued – gasp! – all-red holiday cups?) and many Facebook rants come to mind, but faux outrages are everywhere if you look for them. Don’t look for them. Over-inflating creates cultural distortion and promotes misinformation.
Don’t miss out on glorious vistas or the witnessing of actual events because it seemed more important to take and post selfies. The magnificence of the Grand Canyon isn’t improved with duck-lipped faces in front of it.
Don’t compare yourself physically to models, celebrities and “internet influencers”. Chances are that they don’t even really look like that. Photoshop and good lighting can do wonders. In fact, don’t compare yourself at all; no one’s life is perfect. Find things about yours to be grateful for.
Don’t dig your own grave. You’ll get there soon enough as it is. Stop maintaining habits that are self-destructive, staying in relationships that are toxic, and dwelling on negative thoughts. If you like digging around in the dirt, better to plant a garden.
Don’t ever pass up an opportunity to pay a sincere compliment or tell someone that you love them.
Don’t forget to live your best life. Always. It’s the only one you’ll get.
Have a wonderful, safe New Year’s celebration! And, please, watch out for stupid people (especially those mentioned in #1 and #2).
This short story was written for Donna and Deb’sWhat’s On Your Plate? monthly food fest. Although the story is fiction, the relish is not… and it’s pretty darn good!
Nancy arrived at her aunt’s house, clutching her Thanksgiving offering to her chest. As soon as she opened the front door and crossed the threshold, she could smell the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen. To her right was her aunt’s living room, where she could see her extended family gathered for pre-dinner appetizers.
Before anyone noticed her arrival, Nancy dipped into the dining room to deposit her bowl onto the buffet table. Looking at the side dishes other guests had brought, she again felt uneasy about her recipe choice. She suspected that it was her tiny kitchen and questionable cooking skills that prompted Aunt Trish to ask her to bring cranberry sauce, a recipe that would be difficult to mess up. All she had to do was to follow the instructions on the package. Few ingredients, easy recipe, crowd favorite – what could go wrong?
The answer would have been nothing, had she not been listening to the radio Monday morning and heard NPR’s Susan Stamberg’s rich, dulcet voice describing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish. Her recipe sounded simple enough and nothing like traditional cranberry sauce. Nancy thought it might be just the thing to impress her family. All she needed to do was to purchase a few additional ingredients: a small onion, sour cream, and horseradish.
Looking back, she realized she should have reconsidered when she read the first step: grind the raw berries and onion together. When she scanned the rest of the recipe for cooking instructions she found none. Odd, she thought. But Ms. Stamberg wouldn’t steer me wrong.
The night before, Nancy pulled out her little-used mini-chopper, cutting board, kitchen knife, mixing spoon, and her one serving bowl that had a plastic lid. Seeing everything laid out on her counter had been both scary and exhilarating. I can do this.
Since her chopper was small, she had to work in batches. As soon as one batch was reduced to chunks (do not puree, the recipe warned), she dumped it in the serving bowl and added more berries and onion to the chopper. When she finished, she admired the confetti of red and white bits for a moment before moving on to the next step.
She added the sour cream, sugar, and horseradish to the bowl and started to mix everything with her spoon. That’s when it hit her that she may have made a huge mistake. The more she blended, the more the mixture took on a bright pink hue. Oh my god, it looks like I’ve made a big bowl of Pepto Bismol.
She glanced at her watch and realized that it was too late to go back to the store and start over. She was going to have to push on. Following the directions, she covered the bowl and put it in the freezer to freeze overnight.
An hour before she was expected at her aunt’s house, she moved the bowl from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw. The overnight miracle she hoped for hadn’t happened: the concoction was just as pink as it was the night before. I will never hear the end of this.
The buffet table was crowded with the usual side dishes expected at Thanksgiving dinner, including—to Nancy’s relief—a few bowls of traditional cranberry sauce. Sitting among the other dishes, her chunky pink goo looked like a drunken harlot had appeared, uninvited, at a black-tie affair.
Nancy quickly forgot about her culinary catastrophe when she entered the living room and was immediately engulfed by her relatives. She loved this time of year when holiday celebrations brought everyone together. After greeting her aunts, uncles, and cousins, Nancy made a beeline for her older sister and brother-in-law.
Seven Thanksgivings ago, when her sister, Anne, brought Marty home from college and introduced him as her boyfriend, Nancy was smitten. She loved how Marty could energize a room just by being there and envied his self-confidence. He expected people to like him, and they did. That he was funny, kind, and good to Anne, made Nancy love him even more. When Anne and Marty announced their engagement a few years later, Nancy knew that she was about to gain the big brother she had always wished for.
Soon, everyone was called into the dining room and took their traditional places at the large table. Aunt Trish placed a huge platter of sliced turkey in the middle, then distributed the side dishes to be passed around. Murmurs of anticipatory pleasure could be heard as the bowls moved from hand to hand, at least until Cousin Ned was passed the bright pink concoction.
“What the heck is this?”
“It’s cranberry relish,” Nancy said. “It has horseradish in it,” she added, hoping that piece of information would make the dish sound more enticing.
“Hmmm,” Ned responded, spooning out a tiny bit of the relish and depositing it on the very edge of his plate.
Nancy could feel her face grow hot as she watched her bowl move around the table. Some took a small amount, but most passed the bowl on without comment. Why did I have to try something different? When the bowl reached Marty, he looked straight at her, gave her a wink, and took a large scoop.
“This looks great,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear. “I bet it would be really good on the turkey.”
Nancy gave him a grateful smile and was pleased to see several people taking larger scoops as the bowl continued to be passed around.
After everyone had helped themselves to turkey and sides, the dining room filled with lively conversation and the sounds of utensils clinking against plates.
Amid a friendly debate with her uncle about who was going to win the World Cup, Nancy’s attention was distracted when she heard, “This pink stuff is really good. Have you tried it?” She looked to her left and saw that Cousin Judy’s turkey slices were covered with her relish. Glancing around the table, she noticed bright pink scoops on almost all of the plates. Suddenly, her embarrassment from bringing a dish no one wanted was replaced by a feeling of pride. Her cranberry relish was a hit.
Of all the Thanksgiving traditions she enjoyed, one of Nancy’s favorites was helping her aunt clean up after the guests were gone. It gave them some quiet time to talk about the evening and share family updates the other might have missed. Standing at the sink, Nancy picked up her bowl from the stack of dishes waiting to be washed and was happy to find most of the relish gone. After she washed the bowl, she handed it over to her aunt for drying.
“Thank you for bringing your relish,” Aunt Trish said, smiling. “It was really different, but in a good way. Can I ask you to bring it again for Christmas dinner? I think it would be perfect with the roast I’ll be serving. You just may have started a new family tradition.”
Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish
2 cups raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
½ cup sugar
¾ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons horseradish
Grind cranberries and onion together until chunky (not pureed). Add everything else. Mix. Put in a container and freeze. An hour or so before serving, move the relish from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw.
Like so many changes we experience as we age, this one occurred slowly, over time. I’ve worn corrective lenses for distance vision since I was in my twenties but was able to read even the tiniest fonts close-up, without glasses. Several years ago, I became aware that my corrected distance vision was becoming less clear. Driving at night, I saw starbursts from the lights of oncoming traffic and, even during the day, road signs were harder to read. I also started to have problems reading print. Type that had always been crisp and clear was now blurry. I tried cheaters but they just magnified the blurs.
A visit to my eye doctor confirmed my suspicions: like so many people of a certain age, I was developing cataracts. He said that there wasn’t much he could do by adjusting my prescription, but the cataracts weren’t quite bad enough to warrant surgery… yet.
Surgery isn’t normally something I look forward to—I’ve had a few and none have been voluntary or enjoyable—but I was anxious for my vision to get bad enough to have my cataracts removed. I knew several people who had the surgery, and they told me it was no big deal. Painless. Almost instant improvement.
Finally, earlier this year, my sight was deemed sufficiently deficient. In late October, I had surgery on my right eye and, two weeks later, my left. Just like I was told, the surgery was quick and easy, and the results were immediate. My foggy vision was gone.
Here’s what they didn’t tell me: as my eyesight had gradually gotten more and more blurry, cataracts also impacted my perception of colors. Over the years, so slowly I didn’t even notice it, my world had taken on a yellowish hue.
After my initial surgery, the colors I saw through my corrected eye were much brighter and more vivid than what I saw through my other eye. The blues were bluer, the greens, greener. The white walls of our living room no longer looked like they needed re-painting. When I looked at the view from our back deck, it sparkled, just like it used to. Suddenly, I was seeing things as they are, not as they appeared through a dingy lens.
During the two weeks in between surgeries, I kept shutting one eye, then the other, marveling at the difference in color perception. I felt a bit like Dorothy opening the door in her sepia world and entering a technicolor Oz (okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but…wow!).
Prior to my second surgery, I thought it would be interesting to document the before and after as best as I could so I wouldn’t forget what my washed-out vision looked like:
Thanks to the miracle of cataract surgery, my world is vivid again.
Check out other examples of Vivid at Terri’s weekly Sunday Stills challenge.
This post was inspired by a recent article by historian, author, and Boston College professor, Heather Cox Richardson. My blog title reflects Terri Webster’s Sunday Stills theme this week, Paths and Trails.
The path towards the right to vote in the United States has not been a straight one, nor without dangerous twists and turns along the way. But, like with so many of this country’s struggles, there were many brave advocates who risked their reputations, their freedom, and even their lives to secure the ability to have a say in how the government was run.
The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former enslaved people—and guaranteed all citizens the right to vote. Except, “all citizens” didn’t include women, in fact the amendment was the first time the Constitution included the word “male.”
Again, in 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, there was still no mention of women’s suffrage. The Amendment which states: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” didn’t include a woman’s right to vote.
After years of advocating for their rights unsuccessfully, women suffragists attempted to vote in the 1872 presidential election, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment recognized their citizenship. In fact, Susan B. Anthony was able to cast her vote but, three weeks later, she was arrested for voter fraud.
Not as well known as Anthony, but just as important to women’s suffrage, was Virginia Minor of St. Louis, Missouri. When she tried to register to vote in 1872, a registrar by the name of Reese Happersett refused because of her gender. As a woman, Minor was not able to sue, so her husband sued in the case (Minor v. Happersett) that eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court’s decision, handed down in 1875, acknowledged that women were citizens, but that fact didn’t mean they had the right to vote. According to the Supreme Court, state governments could discriminate against their citizens so long as that discrimination was not on the grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
That ruling helped to usher in a multitude of voter eligibility limitations that skirted the Fourteenth Amendment, by imposing requirements like education, proof of tax payments, etc. As long as it could be demonstrated that the requirements weren’t based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude, they were allowed.
It wasn’t until 1920—just over 100 years ago—that the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, giving women the constitutional right to vote. Sadly, it was another forty years before voting requirements such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and other rules designed to keep Black people from voting were found unconstitutional. The Supreme Court finally decided that voting was a fundamental right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
The fight for suffrage did not follow a path that was easy or smooth and this right should never be taken lightly. I sometimes wonder if I would have been as brave as those who struggled so many years ago. Would I risk going to jail to have my voice heard? I hope so but I don’t know. What I do know is that I will always value this fundamental right and never miss the opportunity to cast my ballot.