June 23, 2011

Once Upon a Time: A Story

Once Upon a Time, as the story always goes, there lives a marvelously imaginative little girl. Her name is Alaina.
Now, Alaina is very much like you and me. She has a big sister, a cat named Monkey, 5 dogs (4 huskies and a hound) and a large aquarium full of fish. She sleeps in a bed with three pillows, a pink paisley quilt and 27 stuffed animals.  She sometimes eats cereal for breakfast but her favorite breakfast is pancakes or waffles, pass the whipped cream and strawberries please! She loves hamburgers and pizza but she really, really, really doesn’t like mustard or potatoes.  Everyone always looks at her with disbelief and wrinkles in their eyebrows when she doesn’t eat her french fries or says “No, thank you”, to servings of mashed potatoes.

Alaina has blonde hair and big brown eyes, though sometimes if you glimpse her dancing down the hallway you might think her hair is pink or shiny black or striped in shades of blue and purple. You might think she is wearing a princess ballgown but  when you look again you see that she is just wearing her pajamas.  Sometimes, if you walk into Alaina’s bedroom you might hear her stuffed animals talking to her.

You see, Alaina’s imagination is soooooo big that it fills the room and, very often, leaks into your head!
One hot summer afternoon, Alaina and her sister Jocilyn, decided that it was just too hot to go outside and really, they were very tired of being stuck indoors.

“I know” said Alaina, “Let’s go deep sea diving and visit the sea horses and starfish!”

“Mommy,” Jocilyn asked, “Can Alaina and I go exploring in the ocean?”

Mommy was teaching one of their husky puppies to sit and, if you know huskies, they don’t like to be taught to do anything unless it is their idea! So, mommy was a little distracted.

“Sure!” Mommy answered, holding the treat above Cooper’s head, “Just try to be back in time for dinner!”
Alaina ran into her room and swooped a deep blue cover from her blanket chest.  It was so soft and had long fringy things on the edges.  Running back to the dining room, she motioned for Jocilyn to sit on the cool tile floor and Alaina sat down beside her, much like Little Miss Muffet’s friend the spider.

Sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce, the girls spread the blanket over the top of them.

“Ooooooh,” said Alaina, “I like it down here in the ocean!”

“Look at those shells!” exclaimed Jocilyn. “Hey, there is a hermit crab living in that one!”

“Jocilyn!, Jocilyn!” shouted Alaina, “Look at that octopus, they really do have eight legs!  How do they dance with so many legs?”

Sponges here and there on the ocean bottom, moved so very slowly and tiny little schools of orange and yellow and sparkling blue fish darted in and out of swaying plants.

“Have you ever seen a mermaid down here?” her sister asked Alaina.

“Of course, I have! They always seem to know when I visit! Here comes one now.”  Alaina said, as she pointed to the west.

It was hard to see the mermaid at first because the scales on her tail were the same color as the ocean, sea green and aqua blue. As she came closer her tale became very shiny.

The mermaid nodded her head and greeted them, “Hello, Girls! Have you come for a tour?”

Alaina smiled and introduced her sister to the beautiful sea creature.

“Glad to make your acquaintance, Jocilyn!” she said. “Come, follow me!” She took hold of each of the girls hands and together they continued to swim.

A giant blue shadow floated above them. Ah, a whale on its way to Alaska!

Balloons with long legs floated by…”Jocilyn, look, jelly fish!”

They saw bright red star fish with many, many, many arms. They saw purple starfish with just 5 arms.

“Here come the seahorses!”
“Oh my,” sighed Jocilyn, "I just love seahorses."

There was a tall forest of seaweed. “This is kelp,” said the mermaid.  They kicked their legs and made their way through the long flat leaves.

The mermaid smiled really big and squeezed their hands, “Look",she said, "Here comes a very good friend of mine!”

An immense turtle was swimming towards them. If turtles can smile, I do believe this one was smiling.

“Jocilyn, Alaina, this is …”

“We know, we know!” shouted the girls. “You are Chelonis!  You are the great seafaring turtle!”

“Nice to meet you, young ladies. Climb onto my shell, all three of you!” ‘the giant grandfatherr turtle winked at them and they continued their adventure under the waves of the deep blue ocean.

A long, long shadow started to follow them. The mermaid was looking over her shoulder and getting a little fidgety.  “I am afraid we have uninvited company,” she said.

The turtle slowly turned in the water. Everyone gasped as an enormous great white shark came into view.   “Hold on tight, girls” said Chelonis, “I think we can out run him!”

“Wait!” shouted Jocilyn, “I’ve read about sharks, I know how to make him go away!”

Jocilyn eased herself to the edge of the turtle and braced herself. The shark was swimming in circles around them. With each circle, it came closer and closer.  They could see rows and rows of scary, sharp teeth in the sharks huge mouth. It continued to circle, coming closer and closer still.

Just as the shark suddenly turned to attack, Jocilyn made a big fist and punched the menacing sharkt right in the end of its long nose! The shark winced hard and hightailed it off into the dark depths of the ocean.

“Yay” everyone shouted, “good for you, Jocilyn!”

“Girls…..Girls” Jocilyn and Alaina could hear Mommy calling them. “Time to clean up for dinner girls.”

“Bye!” said Jocilyn to her new friends
“Bye!” said Alaina to her new friends, “We’ll be back!”

The girls threw the blanket off of them and headed to clean up for dinner.

“Wait!” said Mommy. “You forgot to put the blanket back where you got it!”

Too late, the girls were already down the hall, talking to each other about their adventure.
Mommy picked up the blanket to fold it and put it away.

“What is this?” Mommy asked herself. The blanket was a little bit wet. When she looked down at the floor there was a long piece of seaweed, a tiny periwinkle sea shell in a couple of drops of water where the girls had been sitting.

Mommy just smiled. She knew that nothing is better than a strong imagination!

June 20, 2011

Reading to Children

Reading. Reading. Reading. I love to read. I read everything and I can't remember a time when I didn't read everything....everything! Milk cartons, cereal boxes, if it had print on it, I read it.

Reading to my children and grandchildren is also, a great joy for me. Somewhere I read that a young child was asked how he knew his daddy loved him and he answered, "Because he doesn't skip any pages when he reads me a story!"  Wise Daddy!

Reading to children opens up new worlds to them; enriches their lives. Reading introduces children to cultures and ideas, consequences of choices and critical thinking.  They learn correct pronunciation and language skills. Reading enriches vocabulary.

When you read aloud do you read all at the same tone and tempo or do you find your voice fluctuating in resonance? Do your characters all speak alike or do some squeak while others kind of grumble? Do some sound French while others sound like they are from the deep south?

Do you want to truly give the children in your life a gift? Read aloud and read with exuberance. Enunciate and exaggerate! Entertain and delight! Vary your face and your pace, and, for the sake of all that is holy, stop looking at your damn watch!

June 06, 2011

Father's Day...a message to Dads.

Father's Day is right around the corner. A day to celebrate Dads around the world. We need to thank Sonora Smart Dodd for launching the idea of a Father's Day.  

In 1909 she was listening to a sermon regarding Mother's Day. Her mother had died and her father had raised her and her siblings pretty much by himself.  She decided to honor him and pay tribute to his courage and sacrifices by celebrating the first Father's Day on his birthday, June 19th. 

She later solicited an official Father's Day but it was not well accepted. People made a joke of it. In 1913 it was made official but wasn't really approved until Woodrow Wilson showed support for the holiday in 1916. Since then we have honored our fathers with a day of their own....but wait...it is only the one day a year, the rest of the year the media invades our homes and portrays fathers, and men in general, as idiots, derelicts and morons. They have basically become the laughing stock of our culture and commercial television!

Fathers on television can't make toast without burning the house down. Male bashing is in.  If aliens landed today, after monitoring our televisions for a year or two, I am sure they would believe the average american male over 21 to have an IQ of about 23....32 max. Then, as they age, their IQ drops drastically!  

Why do we allow this?  What young boy wants to see role models who are good only for their paycheck?  Can't cook, better order pizza.  What about the idiot who goes to Vegas and calls wifey to say he lost his "chips!" Why do we purchase products that portray our men in such dismal light? Young girls are not inspired to raise their sights on men of character and values...according to our media, those men do not exist.

Can we please have some decent television and commercials that sell an idea or product without bashing men, (or women or children!) How about honoring people? What about "at no one's expense" and "love thy neighbor"?

That said.....Have you watched any HGTV lately?  All the men on the shows talk about their dream for a "man cave"....man cave....man cave....man cave!  Each guy wants his man cave....a nice big room where he can be alone with his "man friends" and his "big man tv".  A place where he can shut out his wife and his kids. 

After spending his 40 or 50 hours away from home he wants to isolate himself for his Sunday games and playoffs and whatever else a man cave is for.  Most of these men are also looking for a nice big PRIVATE office space, another door shut on the kids and wife.  

Hey, I like a little down time myself.  Nothing better than a quiet moment of rest and recuperation but, geez, how about staying single and getting yourself a real cave?

If you want to be a father and you have children then sit in the family room with them, let them crawl on your lap, let them ask you questions about why the sky is blue....be a participating cog in the family not a missing one!

Oh, and Happy Father's Day, ya'll!

June 05, 2011


My grandmother Rose has been on my mind this morning. Grandma, bread, and Jesus! What a mix, huh?

Do you ever have those days when there is a swirl of thought carried by its own energy in and out of your head, around your body, peeking out at you from behind every door and curtain?  There is a strong essence of something divine in the energy but nothing that I can grab. It's real enough that I know that I should be able to at least smell it; I feel it but it swirls just above the fine hair on my arms,  just out of reach. Teasing me to stretch, search, find.

Bread is very much a part of this mystery today.  Of course, when I think of bread I think of Grandma.  Anyone who was gifted a thick slice of her fresh home baked bread right out of the oven, would claim, "Aha, this is where the divine comes in!'  Her bread was definitely heaven sent!

If you have not experienced baking bread with a beloved grandmother you are definitely missing one of the finest blessings of life.  Sifting flour, tossing in a bit of this and a bit of that, watching timeworn hands kneading and kneading with a soulful rhythm, all the while surrounded by unconditional love. Watching the little towel rise as the dough grows under it.

There may be scientific reasons why dough rises but I always felt the small ball of dough doubled and tripled in size because Grandma's love was being absorbed be the bread.  That's what made it so truly delicious. 

In ancient times, the women who baked the bread, who kneaded the dough, had to go to confession prior to making bread. It was believed that sin and negativity would infiltrate the cells of the bread. In Bulgaria the dough for the special bread of holy days was mixed with "silent water," water brought from the wells by a virgin maiden in absolute silence. Flowers and herbs were then soaked in the water to flavor it, then only a young girl or newly married woman could knead the dough. Only someone filled with love and joy.

Sadly, today,  in a world where tradition is laughed at and rituals, other than daily flossing, are the target of scorn, kneading dough is being discarded.  Many new cookbooks are suggesting "knead-less" recipes. Dough is made with extra liquid and stored in the refrigerator for several days to do its gluten-thing.  Where is the soul in that?  Where is the love?  Talk about a white bread with nothing to offer but air.   Where is the intention of purpose?  Sad, very, very sad.

To  "break bread" with another is about making peace, sharing, to engage and partner. How can a mess of soupy flour and water, sitting in a bowl in the coldness of a darkened, noisy refrigerator ever be worthy of the ritual and humanity of breaking bread?

A starter is a piece of dough in which yeast is continually reproducing with regular help from the baker. Sourdough breads need a starter.  San Francisco's famous Boudin sourdough bread is still made from a starter created prior to 1849. This starter or "mother dough" as it is often called, was rescued from the bakery in San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906. Mrs Boudin carried the mother dough in a bucket to Golden Gate Park where she continued to bake the famous bread until they reopened the bakery at a new location. Can you imagine, a mother dough more than a hundred years old!

In ancient times daily breads were typically made from barley. Wheat was only used for special occasions, for holy days.  I often wonder why we have so many wheat allergies today, is it because we are over indulging in the holy without the reverence?

When I was a young woman I had an old neighbor who was from Greece. Mr. Macdemus. What a wonderful character he was.  He walked with a cane and came through the fence often to see my garden. He  made fun of my garden because I had pretty ribbons tied here and there and my garden beds were not straight rows. I planted beds of companion plants, veggies and fruits that liked each other and tasted good together. If they taste good together they always grow better together!

One day he was at the house when I was making sandwiches for the kids. I placed a loaf of bread on its side! Thump! He whacked me with his cane. (he always did alot more whacking with it than walking with it). He admonished me about my lack of reverence for bread, the staple and icon of life.  "Jesus chose bread to share his body with humanity!" he exclaimed. "Never, ever handle it without reverence and always place it in an upright position!"

So, today, Grandma, Bread and Jesus and I guess, Mr. Macdemus are gently making themselves known to me today...good day to bake some bread.