life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Still Summer Harvest Muffins

It is late in August, nearly September, and even though fall is beautiful and I'm sure I'll relish it when it comes, like always, I do tend to feel a bit wistful this time of year, and savour each hot, humid afternoon like a cat, stretching its paws towards the sunlight playing on the trees outside our window. The berries from the market still give off that lovely aroma of fresh, ripe summer days. There is nothing cleaner than biting into the crisp flesh of sour apples, and crunchy walnuts are my topping of choice, lending a dark smoothness to my summer desserts.

Perhaps these fruit-and-nut emblazoned muffins will entice you to savour the last of summer's sweetness. Perfect for afternoon tea with a slice of melon or a few figs, and a dollop of butter.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wipe lard into muffin tin.
Chop approx. 1 c ripe strawberries, hulled, into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.
Chop 1 ripe green apple, mix into strawberries, set aside.
Chop 1/2 c. whole or halved walnuts, set aside.

Sift together:
1 1/2 c unbleached flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mace (or nutmeg if you don't have it)
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 tbsp raw unbleached sugar

In a separate bowl, whisk together:
2 eggs
2 tbsp plain greek yogurt
3 tbsp honey
1/4 c vegetable oil
3/4 c milk
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp flax seeds

Combine wet to dry ingredients and blend well. Fold in fruit and nuts and stir.

Drop by 1/3-to-1/2  cupfuls into greased muffin tin cups.

Bake for 6 minutes at 400, then reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake for approximately 16 to 18 more minutes until tops are risen and slightly browned.

Yield: 1 dozen

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Review: Small Island

Small IslandSmall Island by Andrea Levy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Andrea Levy uses words the way a surgeon uses a scalpel - with fine precision designed to cut away everything that isn't story. The spareness of this technique takes a bit of adjustment, especially for someone like me who appreciates paragraphs filled with adjectives that fill in all the gaps and leave no room for guesswork or imagination. But don't get me wrong. The characters are set carefully on the stage and allowed to tell the story in their own words, leaving out details that escaped them, that may or may not be later filled in from the point of view of another character.

The tale here is one of history, and the intertwined lives of two couples - one black, one white - set during the hellish time of German attacks on British daily life during the second World War. Although the language is sparse, the details come through in the reactions and observations of Gilbert, Hortense, Queenie, and finally, Bernard. Alternately concerning and enlightening, you will find it difficult to leave the story at its logical end, even after five hundred pages. These people will live on, hauntingly changing what you thought you knew about race and social justice in mid-twentieth century Britain. And that, my friends, is the mark of an excellent work of fiction.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hating America

Innocent children accused of rape who would serve years in prison for a crime they did not commit.
Image froNew York Daily News Archive/NY Daily News via Getty Images via The Guardian.

We can do better than this.

In a thoughtful, engaging piece in The Guardian, Oliver Laughland reminds us of the charade some folks are currently watching in a dangerous flirtation with "what if"?

Donald Trump and the Central Park Five: the racially charged rise of a demagogue

Mr Trump is not funny.

The ridiculously and perhaps initially humorous fact of his claiming to be presidential material and actually throwing his hat in the ring is not funny anymore, if it ever was. It's a narcissistic whomping of our collective social consciousness in a self-centered, hateful attempt at grabbing control of the overwhelming and abusive level of power that odious old white men used to have in this country.

And it just has to stop. We were doing so well in spite of their carping, insidious obstruction to one of the finest Presidents in the modern age. Trump's bid for the presidency must be called out for what it is. It is no longer just okay to ignore the clown car and hope it will fall of the cliff through its own refusal to look where it's going.

See, they think they see where they're going. They have a fixed vision of the world they hope to re-create, and it's very, very ugly.

It's not a world we want to live in again.

And in case this isn't obvious: they don't want us to live there either.

They want the future all for themselves. They have no intention of sharing.

So if that's what anyone believes, we need to disabuse them of that irresponsible and childlike notion.

See, it's pretty clear that anyone who thinks Trump has an answer that will make their own life better who is not a member of the .01% who own most of the wealth in the entire world is not thinking rationally. It's a misguided belief that if the rich are richer, they will share some with us. That doesn't happen in real life, and most of us know that.

There's no such thing as the proverbial Santa Claus. remember? Santa Claus is the people who love you. He's not some fat white guy with bad hair and an eye-popping wardrobe who works his ass off to bring you and all the good boys and girls treats and toys one night a year. That guy is an elf, and There are No Such Thing as Elves.

Except the people who love you, of course. Does Donald Trump love you?

Unless you're covered in gold and are ready and willing for him to take it, then no, Donald Trump doesn't love you. And he's not bringing you any presents.

Donald Trump is the guy who's going to take all your presents and keep them for himself. He's the Christmas Thief. Unfortunately, he doesn't just steal things from people who don't deserve them. He steals from anyone who is stupid or desperate enough to do business with him and a lot of other people who never met him and have nothing to do with him.

We must denounce every single person who thinks what Trump and his ilk are doing are okay. It's so not okay. It's wrong, and it's dangerous to overlook that wrong in an attempt to play nice. He's not going to play nice, he's going to lie and cheat and steal his way forward for the rest of his life. He doesn't know how to do it any other way, poor guy.

And we can't let him have our country. Too many people have died to keep us free. As Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five, says: "What would this country look like with Donald Trump as being a president? That’s a scary thing."

How many more will die if people like The Donald keep committing statutory rape against our economy, our civil rights, and our common good?

What would that world look like, in all reality?

We've been there, guys. We know exactly what it would look like. Please tell me we are too smart to go there ever again.

Compliance is all they ask. It's all they need. All that evil needs to succeed is that good people sit by, and do nothing.

So we gotta aim to misbehave, you know? Every time that golden hair flap appears in public, somebody send some chewed-up bubblegum its way, okay? We need to be relieved of that thing. He's got a thing about baldness. He hides behind the fear and loathing we all have of our true selves. He doesn't have the right to do that, you know - not unless we give it to him.

We need to show that this would-be Emperor is as naked as the day he was born. As naked as we all are.

He's not the leader we need. He's not a leader at all. He's a masthead, a figurehead for perceived wealth and class and privilege. He's a charlatan, a con man, and he's counting on you buying the tinsel-covered pack of lies that he's selling.

He's telling you to help him steal the freedom right out from under you. He wants us to exchange places with those who went before us, and died for that freedom. He wants you to give up, and let him take the reins, so he can drive that golden chariot across the sky while you shiver and dry up below him choking on your mass-produced Turkish Delight.

It's the oldest trick in the book.

Don't fall for that. Be the beacon. Point to the earth, and the sky, and the people around you - the ones who love you - and stand up for the truth and help others do likewise.

It's you and me,
It's you and me won't be unhappy.
"C'mon, baby, c'mon darling,
Let me steal this moment from you now.
C'mon, angel, c'mon, c'mon, darling,
Let's exchange the experience, oh"
And if I only could,
I'd make a deal with God,
And I'd get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
With no problems.
--Kate Bush, Running Up That Hill

We all got problems. They won't be solved unless and until we stop looking to rich people in power to do it. We've got to do it ourselves, we've got to hold hands, work together, help each other, and elect people who do likewise -- who really do love us, who have demonstrated by their actions that they love us, and they'll do right by us, and will do their damnedest help us get out of whatever mess we are in. Who won't be one of those people who take what we have and keep it for themselves, even though they already have so much they don't know what to do with it all.

Don't be so blind that you cannot see good when it's right in front of you.

Arrest photo of young activist Bernie Sanders emerges from Tribune archives

In America, we think differently, we act differently, we live and work and play differently from each other, and that's supposed to be okay. We believe different things and our homes and families reflect that. We've come a long way to get here. Today it's okay to love whom you love, and marry that person so you can be happy together for the rest of your lives.

These things irritate some people. They make it complicated. In order to live in this country effectively you've got to have an open heart, open eyes, and open hands. You've got to be willing to accept the fact that your experiences are not universal, that your life is very different from your neighbor's and sometimes an entire world away from someone on the other side of the street. Yet we are all Americans. We belong here. We're part of the system and society.

This is how it should be.

But for those for whom these ideas are complicated, this is perhaps a threat. They feel threatened because part of their way of life is at risk. If everyone really has an equal chance, the outcome they want might not happen - because that outcome benefits them. They see life as a struggle to make sure their outcome happens and their neighbor's does not. They use fear as a tool to try to get you to buy into the outcome where they have all the power and they might give you some autonomy to do what you want - as long as it doesn't threaten what they have and want.

They are very good at using fear. We've got to stop seeing the fear as an adversary, and start using it for what it is: a tool. Turn it around, point it right back at them. Make them see that what they fear is actually you. It's us. It's our freedom to do and give and love whom we want and live as we choose; it's our autonomy.

Strip that fear naked and look at it for exactly what it is.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

We all know the horrific things nations accomplish because of fear - you know them, you can name dozens. We are better than that.

We are Americans.

The terrible thing about fear is that it is so easily inflamed and becomes hatred. For whatever reason, hatred tends to get things accomplished. It builds walls. It makes rules to control people's differences. It makes wars.

We are better than that. We are Americans.

"Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us." --John F. Kennedy
Berliners didn't build that wall. Fear and hatred did. That same fear and hatred that you and I feel when we think about what we might lose. We need to shun that fear. We need to laugh at the hatred so it will wither in shame and die, writhing.

"Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free." --John F. Kennedy, Ich bin ein Berliner speech

Who benefits when people are not free to live and love and work and play and be who they are? 

Who, indeed? 

The only people who would benefit are those who hate who we are, how we live, the way we love, because it means we think for ourselves, and cannot be controlled.

Who benefits when people are controlled, when choices are limited? 

The people who are doing the controlling, so they can limit our choices to the things they, and they alone, offer.

These people are not, and should never be in, government. Government speaks for the people and does the wishes of the people, not the other way around.

Commerce can be a lively thing, when it's a healthy exchange and is equitable between the parties. It can be manipulated so it draws from one to give to another. When one party is clearly drawing more and more from everyone else it is anything but a healthy exchange; it's a disease. It's a sick system that needs our attention to fix the inequities and the only thing that's going to do this is to elect responsible representatives and keep watch over them.

Government for the people, by the people, and of the people is not something to be squandered because of fear and hate. But it needs a lot of love to counteract the fear and hate, to balance the squandering manipulative parties and to re-distribute things equitably according to need and actual contributions. It's easy to see a successful businessperson as a good and intelligent person because that's who they want you to see, and if they're controlling the outcome by limiting your choices you have no opportunity to vote your conscience. But they cannot limit your voice. They can limit your opportunities but they cannot touch who we are.

We are Americans. Do not hate us because we are different. We can be divided by our differences, but then we will fall, and always have. Hopefully we learn from our failures. 

Hopefully we have not learned to hate ourselves because of them.

Love us, love America, believe in our goodness and celebrate our differences, or we will simply cease to be Americans.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Equal Opportunity for All

Today we honor Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, who fought for equal rights and opportunities for all people, no matter their race, color, or creed. He was adamantly supportive of fair labor laws, and warned against deceptive practices designed to diminish the value of individual workers.

     “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.” —Martin Luther King, speaking about right-to-work laws in 1961

Not to take away from the celebration of his life and work, but we still have an awful lot of work to do. Some would say that the best way to celebrate Dr King's legacy is to continue to fight on for better conditions for all workers, everywhere.

Aside from fair labor laws, perceptions must be addressed that harm a worker's - any worker's - ability to prove themselves. These perceptions include those about age. I wrote about this awhile back, recognizing that the best way to destroy perceptions that limit our opportunities is to refuse to bow down to them.

Five Things that Make a Difference in a Later Career Job Search

Revisiting this particular issue, because it's been a few years and it's apparently still a thing - perhaps even more so.

A recent PBS Newshour segment further elucidated the general public on this problem. Clearly, it's still a great idea to de-emphasize the length of your work history in favor of highlighting skills, accomplishments, and knowledge. In fact, this is where those of us with long work histories should be shining. After all, with years of experience we've had enough time to gather rosebuds and honors in bulk. Instead of listing each one in chronological order, we have the distinctive capability to pick and choose among the best of those.

Don't let some of the general public's perception of older women be the rule: that is gender bias at work. In study after study, the facts remain clear: there's no good reason for this. Women often work harder, persevere longer, think more creatively, juggle priorities and tasks more skillfully, and are better at focusing efforts toward a positive outcome than men. Why wouldn't we be able to continue being valuable, productive members of any team as long as we wish it?

Why, indeed.

In an article published by the John C. and Nancy D. Whitehead Chair in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, Dr Gary Burtless, of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, describes his study that makes it clear that aging does not affect productivity. In fact, his research shows that older workers frequently command a premium wage that reflects their contributions to the workforce.

Unfortunately, in a time of hard scrutiny of a company's bottom line, this premium - even well-deserved - can be a factor in a decision to hire a new, older-aged worker. Sometimes, we are forced to agree to wages that are competitive with those earned by younger workers, or lose the job. Counter-acting these decisions may not be something that is in everyone's control. Only by demonstrating repeatedly how well we do can we expect to change the perception that our value may be diminished by our age.

We must continue to educate ourselves, to diversify our incomes, to seek out opportunities to cash in on our knowledge and experience. One way to do that is to publish. Another way is to teach. Of course, the wiser employer will encourage knowledgeable, experienced employees to mentor and demonstrate to younger, less experienced. However, we can't always count on this. As employers continue to pare back (whether or not it is in anyone's best interests, even their own), we cannot limit ourselves to what "the market will bear." The promise of capitalism isn't The American Dream, no matter what we once believed. It's just a chance to compete. That is all.

The American Dream is the fact that we actually can imagine ourselves better.

What does this mean, exactly? To be quite honest, it's a myth that creativity and imagination coupled with hard work that leads toward a better life exists solely in the United States. It's a human challenge that frankly, other countries do just as well, perhaps some even do it better. The real challenge for all of us no matter what our age is to do our best, every single day. Some days will be better than others. Some days will plainly be forgettable.

Don't settle for less than your best, every single day. And it's up to you to define exactly what that is.