Wednesday, February 27, 2013


When I was in college my roommate taught me how to bake bread. We didn't use recipes, just combined the flour, yeast, salt and liquids until they felt right. Then we'd knead the dough, let it rise, knead it again and shape it into loaves. Soon the wonderful smell of fresh bread would float from the oven.

Later some of my foster kids were on special diets, so I baked the bread for our family every week. While doing it I'd always think about all the people in history, mostly women, who had baked the bread for their families.

Historically almost every culture where people lived in one place long enough to farm had grains and made them into some kind of bread. Rice cakes, corn bread, tortillas, flat breads, pancakes, and various crackers don't need yeast. Some Native Americans even made bread from acorn meal. And various ingredients like baking soda and baking powder can be used to make things like biscuits.

But, to me, there's something special about the feel of dough as it moves and grows because of the live yeast.

Now I have a bread-making machine that does most of the work for me when I want fresh bread, and it does produce the same odor and taste of handmade bread. But maybe soon I'll make some again by hand just to reaffirm my connection with all the other women who have baked bread for centuries.

Hope I can remember how.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Are Books For?

Do we really need books? Yes, they're a source of information, but most of that can be found on the internet nowadays.

And fiction can let readers experience life from other people's points of view, but can't movies, TV shows, and even video games do the same thing?

My answer is a resounding, NO!

When I'm watching a movie or show someone else has supplied all the images and details but when I read a book it's my own imagination at work. It doesn't matter if it's an e-book or a hard copy, a fiction book that's well written has the ability to carry me away to another world and lets me experience another life.

If someone's not a skillful reader that may not happen because they're constantly aware of the words and sentences as they read them, but good readers only notice things like that subtly in the background without being consciously aware of them.

In my opinion, reading fiction opens people's minds to experiences they'd never have otherwise and helps them understand other people and situations at a deep level. And, as a result, the readers can become more sympathetic to others and make wiser choices in their own lives because of all they've experienced through books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


When I was a little kid we lived in New Jersey where it snows a lot in the winter. When it did, my daddy would often take me to the local park where there would be a hill that was never there the rest of the year. Of course the hill was just a huge pile of snow that had been plowed there but I was too little to figure that out. We would go belly-whopping down it on my wooden sled with Daddy on top of me to protect me.

Just before my fifth birthday we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and, to everyone's surprise, it snowed one day that winter. All the other kids in the neighborhood went out to play in it, but my mother wouldn't let me go out because I'd left my snow suit and boots behind when we moved. She was a San Francisco native and had never enjoyed the Eastern climate during the years she'd lived back there.

I spent most of my life in the Bay Area and every few years we might have a light sprinkling of snow, especially in the hills.

In 2005 my husband and I moved to the Sierra foothills and here we usually get at least one or two days of snow each Winter. That's just enough for me to enjoy without being a problem. Today has been one of those snow days and I've enjoyed watching it from my windows. But I'm glad I don't live where there are blizzards and heavy snowstorms most winters. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Washing Clothes

In the past most people only had a few outfits of clothing. It was difficult to wash clothes by hand, so everyone wore their clothes several times between getting them washed. They'd have to be sprinkled with water and rolled up for the moisture to spread before they could be ironed.

Even in the 1940s and 50s most kids would wear their school clothes at least twice and switch to play clothes, which they wore all week, when they got home from school. They'd have a nice outfit for church and special occasions, and possibly, depending on the climate where they lived, different sets of clothes for winter and for summer.

Of course now most people in developed countries have access to automatic washing machines. With fabric softeners and synthetic fabrics not many clothes have to be ironed and we have steam irons for those that do.

Lots of folks have dozens of outfits.  Simple wardrobes and the small closets in Victorian houses are no longer big enough to hold them all.

I'm glad I don't have to use an old wringer washing machine like my mother had, or wash clothes by hand in a laundry tub. But, let's admit it. We've become a bit spoiled.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Love, Love, Love

Saint Valentine would probably be amazed that so much of the emphasis on the day named for him is about romantic love. I think he was focussed on the kind of love and compassion that makes people help one another.

Of course in a happy marriage that sort of love is as important as the romantic kind, but that's not the only place it should be found. Parents and children love each other, and so do other family members. Good friends share love, and we can all show love by helping others. Sometimes just knowing somebody cares can be a big help to people who are having a rough time.

And giving love can be as wonderful as receiving it.

Let's not just show our love to others on Valentine's Day, but all year round. We'll be happier people if we do.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ghost Writers on the Sly

I recently heard the old cowboy song, Ghost Riders in the Sky and it made me think of ghost writers.

They hurry to the store to buy a famous person's book.
They can't know he didn't write it even if they take a look
At the byline, 'cause it doesn't even have a "with" or "and"
To show it actually was done by someone else's hand.

Yippie yi Ohhhh
Yippie yi yaaay
Ghost writers on the sly.

Since I'm a writer myself I understand the need to bring in some income, but I think ghost writing without any attribution for the actual author is dishonest. Publishing houses make the ghost writers sign contracts that they'll never let anyone know they actually wrote things attributed to famous people. Some books by famous people indicate in small print that they were written with someone else and I doubt very much that reduces the sales. But, in my humble opinion, ghost writing without attribution is just, plain dishonest.

What do you think about this?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Big Whale Book

For years I've shared this book with kids I've taught and they've loved it. Although it's a picture book, even Middle Schoolers and the occasional High School student helping with younger kids have found it interesting. I even learned a few things I didn't already know from it myself.

Okay, I won't keep you guessing. Here's the title: Is A Blue Whale The Biggest Thing There Is? 

Robert E. Wells is both the author and illustrator and he does a wonderful job of communicating the size of the universe in an amusing way.

The book is both fun and informative. My copy was published in 1993 but the book is still in print. That's no surprise, because it's so good. I recommend it highly.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Schools Then and Now

Long ago children were lucky, and probably from wealthy families, if they were able to attend school. Then in America the public school system was developed so we would have an educated population capable of voting wisely in public elections. Schools were closed in the Summer because so many students were needed to stay home and work on farms during that season.

In my grandfather's day, back in the 1800s, there were no Kindergartens and most kids were considered adults and expected to work when they graduated from the eighth grade. By then they had been reading Shakespeare for several years, could recite the names of all the past presidents of the United States and write literary essays, but only knew basic arithmetic. In rural areas they had attended one room schoolhouses, and some areas still had those in the 20th century.

When I was a kid, in the 1940s and 50s, California schools were rated the best in the nation.

Students were expected to sit silently in class unless they raised their hands and were called on by teachers, and most of us did. The only homework we had before High School was to study for tests or complete work we hadn't finished in class. The schools provided all textbooks and supplies.

If it was raining during the lunch period one teacher would patrol the halls while students stayed in their classrooms and ate. One student from each class was responsible to report any behavior problems to that teacher, but troubles like that were rare. If a student was a serious behavior problem his (usually the kid was a boy) parents would be contacted and they would be expected to spank their child. Corporal punishment wasn't permitted in California's public schools.

Every teacher in Elementary School was required to play the piano for the weekly music class and lead her students in activities for Physical Education and Art.

There were no Special Education classes and learning disabilities were unheard of. Kids who couldn't keep up with their class would simply flunk the grade and be held back. Those with obvious disabilities would be institutionalized.

Now many teachers allow kids to chat in class and behavior that would have been considered a serious problem in the past is accepted as normal. Today's kids have to learn all kinds of science, social studies, and technology that even adults didn't know fifty years ago. But are schools better today than they used to be, or worse? What do you think?