Blog2021-11-08T21:12:39+00:00

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Midwest Beauty

I used to joke that it’s great to live in the Midwest because any direction you travel is a vacation. More interesting, more beautiful. Not so these days. I’ve come to appreciate the quiet beauty of Midwestern landscapes.

Yes, there’s climate change and the reality that coastal living brings visions of sinking into the sea or rising into the sky in smoke and ashes, so the Midwest seems relatively safe. But I think it’s also the gift of dog walking.

Dogs need to stick their noses into every tuft of grass where a mouse might be quivering, to stand frozen, faces eagerly skyward at the base of every tree where the flick of a squirrel’s tail has been spotted. They slow me down. My step tracker is not impressed by these visits as “walks.”

I spoil my dogs with nature when they are young. And then they demand that of me. Daily. I’ve spent countless hours meandering fields and woodlands not far from home. I started to learn the birds’ songs, the small herbaceous plants, the angled leaves and furrowed barks of the trees rather than wait bored with hands in pockets, wind-whipped and half-frozen this time of year. The more I learn, the fuller and more varied those walks become.

Taking photos is a pleasure as well. It invites a person to scan the surroundings for an otherwise overlooked bit of visual enticement that is interesting in the moment and might be intriguing later when caught in the rectangular framing a photo creates. Taking photos, I see the subtle beauty of the landscape and the interplay of color, form, and texture. Grasses lean together, stretching eastward in the prevailing west wind. Raindrops hang from April pear tree buds.

I’ve visited the same field innumerable times under clear skies or cottony fog, the sun harsh overhead or already kissing the horizon. I don’t know why the clouds […]

By |April 10th, 2022|0 Comments

When We Were Orphans (Ishiguro): book review

I admired this carefully crafted novel in some ways but was ultimately unsatisfied by it. Per usual with Ishiguro, it is thoughtfully structured and narrated in the first person by an unreliable narrator whose inner reality we gradually discover as the story proceeds. Very briefly, the narrator is a man living in England whose parents disappeared in Shanghai China when he was a child living there. He assumes their disappearance related to the opium trade and as an adult becomes a detective in part to try to locate them. The language, as in other Ishiguro books, is precise and can, when he wishes, convey a scene very persuasively. The language is also formal in some sections of the book—certainly in the English scenes which create a period piece at times seeming to lack authenticity (though I have no expertise regarding the British upper class or private schools of the pre-WWII era). The storytelling is stripped of the metaphoric language that in many authors’ work gives texture to a narrative and provides moments of wonder for the reader.  The narrator, Christopher Banks, dips in and out consensual reality concerning his identity and his parents’ extreme circumstances. At times, he seems quite delusional about his capabilities as a detective, his notions about what has become of his parents and ultimately—in a long, nightmarish search scene that is the book’s climax (akin to the chase scene in many movies)—he seems to have left consensual reality (whatever that is) altogether. Especially at the close of the book, the character is from time to time able to pull himself out of his twisted perceptions and take a more balanced look at himself, especially at his unwarranted confidence in his detective skills. I wondered if that capability actually weakened the book. It might have been more dramatic and engaging to let the reader make observations about […]
By |April 6th, 2022|0 Comments

Neighbors

It is wonderful to see the western world opening arms and hearts to the vast numbers of Ukrainian refugees. That compassion and assistance is badly needed by displaced and traumatized people. Watching the river of refugees admitted into Ukraine’s neighboring countries, as well as the huge financial outlays from the US and offers of resettlement, my thoughts turn to the streams of Central American refugees destined for capture and subsequently treated with contempt and a cynical attitude toward their applications for asylum.

 

Why are these refugees considered unwelcome invaders and, once in custody, treated like prisoners? The majority of Central American refugees are in circumstances as desperate as those who are displaced by war in Ukraine. If they appear to have lost less, it is because they had less to begin with since they are mainly poor people with few material or educational advantages. Psychologists who have contact with Central Americans people seeking asylum in the US know that their stories of violent assault and constant intimidation and threat are terrifying.  Professionals hear about mistreatment of refugees in government custody where they regularly are regarded with dehumanizing suspicion and disrespect, and often returned to physically and psychically traumatizing environments.

Our suspicion and contempt for our own neighbors likely has tangled roots. Among them is bias against the poor and those speaking a foreign language. Also contributory is a sense of danger because the refugees are at our border and humans have an instinct to reinforce borders and to regard whoever breaches them as threatening, even disgusting. Demeaning these people allows us to indulge that self-protective revulsion in a relatively guilt-free manner. You don’t feel guilty about wiping scum from your dwelling place.

We also see the impact of years of a cruel administration that showed no hesitation in dehumanizing others if some political advantage—and self-inflation—was associated with doing so. The machinery of the administration found […]

By |April 1st, 2022|0 Comments

Kitchen Implements and Aging

Last month I bought pie weights which I don’t use often but now have available in lieu of random oven-proof objects to hold down a pie shell for blind baking so that it doesn’t bubble up in the oven. Yesterday I bought a meat mallet. I will no longer pound chicken breasts with a hammer to thin them for chicken piccata. I almost bought a Japanese spider strainer but decided I may not need one because I have a slotted spoon and a traditional strainer. Though the old strainer is dented and a bit rusty, it will suffice.

 

I am usually a proponent and exemplar of restraint in purchasing unnecessary “stuff.” But I am getting old and have lately experienced a desire to purchase a number of the simple but useful items that make for a well-equipped kitchen. You can add a two dollar pie shield to the list.

 

I didn’t learn anything much about cooking or baking as a child. Through much of my adulthood, I’ve had other things on my mind. Cooking was secondary, probably tertiary or quaternery (I had to look that up). And I had little ability to indulge myself, which is probably the major reason for my sub-standard kitchen. So it is a great pleasure to have and use these simple items. And it is increasingly enjoyable to engage in the straightforward, usually successful and pleasing acts of cooking.  For another person the belated discovery of science fiction books or a talent for singing madrugals might bring surprising pleasure. For me, of late, it has been pie weights and meat mallets.

 

My pleasure is a sign of aging. It is clear to me that I don’t have forever to make use of a rapid-read digital meat thermometer. I don’t have forever to find out what profiteroles are and try to make them. I may only make them one time in […]

By |March 31st, 2022|0 Comments

Recollections of Trauma

Mothers trail winter scarves and leashes and slow-walk exhausted children while mounting bus stairs not knowing where their journey will take them, carrying shock, grief, and most likely hatred in their hearts but profoundly relieved to be safe and their children protected from the bombing. The observer’s heart breaks for them and spins in grief and shock over yet another tragedy we humans have wrought for ourselves.

In some respects these emotions of the riveted bystander are simple. Sympathy is simple. Decrying evil and crying out for decency is simple.

But society, recollection, and sentiment seldom are simple. As I bear witness to this historical moment in Ukraine my mind occasionally drifts toward my own family’s flight from that same land associated with the equally dark realities of another era. Ukraine once hosted a very large Jewish population and over the millennia, many stunning massacres of tens of thousands have occurred as well as smaller pogroms such as those that plagued my own family. When Jews’ thoughts turn to Ukraine, they may lurch toward the most troubling of memories, often passed down from earlier generations. The Nazis initiated the best known Ukrainian massacre in Kyiv, of 33,771 Jews in the Babyn Yar ravine on September 29-30, 1941. People were shot with machine guns and dumped into the ravine. The wounded were buried alive side by side with the dead. The vast number of victims also included non-Jewish Ukrainians, Russians, Roma and others, including psychiatric patients. This massacre was one of many massacres of Jews, in that era and early. Babyn Yar was not even the largest. The Syrets Concentration Camp was later set up at Babyn Yar.

Ukrainians were both assistants and victims of the Nazi’s anti-Jewish campaign but they were among the perpetrators in pogroms and […]
By |March 26th, 2022|0 Comments

Reading Groups

I had the pleasure last night of participating in a Chicago book group that was discussing my novel. The conversation was interesting and fun. I learned a few things about my book! I would be happy to participate in other reading group discussions. I’m pleased to see that my book is getting good reviews on Amazon and other sites.

By |March 23rd, 2022|0 Comments
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