Summer Memories

Somewhere, I’ve not seen them for a while, I have a shoebox filled with spoons, hundreds of them and not one has ever been used as an eating utensil although one in particular was destined for such a task until I received it.  The collection started with an 1893 Chicago World’s Fair souvenir spoon and a few others equally as old that were given to me for some reason I really don’t remember.  I purchased an inexpensive spoon holder and hung it on the wall, happy to display them but now needing to fill in the vacant notches with more spoons.  Then, whenever we traveled we picked up a spoon to add to the group. 

State spoons, museum and zoo spoons, everywhere we went there seemed to be a spoon we could buy inexpensively.  Soon the spoon rack was filled and another had to be obtained, then another.  Friends would be on the look-out whenever they traveled and bring back a spoon; business associates would send me spoons from around the world.  An elderly friend of ours after seeing the rather large collection I had by now, contacted friends of his in Russia and had a miniature hand painted spoon made especially to join the display. In what seemed no time at all, an entire wall was covered in spoons.  My memory wall…

A little boy, now a man, “stole” a plastic spoon from a fast food restaurant still in its plastic wrapper.  That spoon always was in a special place of honor.  Another little boy gifted me with a black spoon that was over a foot in length.   I have spoons with animals on them, some with United States presidents and others depicting famous buildings or landmarks.  Each spoon has a story, just like friends.


Swan came to visit her son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter, staying with them for almost a year.  He was a college professor specializing in seed biology and could identify a plant from its seed but couldn’t tell you what it was once grown up.  His wife was a lovely young woman who understood and spoke very little English but her million dollar smile was a great communicator.  Their daughter, who was just starting school when they moved in next door to us, usually did duty as translator.  Once over the summer, they took a vacation and for some reason, they gave us their garage door opener to look after.  Not having such a contraption, many moments were spent pointing the opener from our kitchen window toward their garage door, just to watch it in action.

From that same kitchen window, we first spotted this tiny oriental woman dressed in pajamas posing in their backyard.  She moved slowly and gracefully from one position to another, one knee bent forward, arms stretched out in front of her, hands arched as if pushing against a wall, then curling back and repeating the motion, bending her other knee forward.  Oblivious, so it seemed, to her surroundings, she would add more movements that required her hands to be above her head while looking skyward then, dropping them slowly toward the grass below her feet and ending with hands outreached, as though ready to deliver a supplication.  At the end of the routine, the woman would just sit quietly on a bench for a few minutes before retreating back inside.

One early summer afternoon she came close to the fence while I was working in my vegetable garden, giving me a big smile and a hello.  She pointed to some of the plants and inquired as to their names then repeating them after me with a slightly different pronunciation. She then motioned to me to come over into her yard, wanting to know what was growing there.  Through a lot of pantomime and silly faces, we found a way of communicating.

She was a widow; her husband had been a doctor with a very successful practice and left her well taken care of.  Her children, two living in the States and one in Europe, would welcome her into their homes for as long as she wished, then put her on a plane when she was ready to move on, carrying photographs and stories and gifts to her next child’s abode.  I guess you could say she was a family ambassador, keeping everyone up to date on the other’s activities.

Over the course of that summer, we learned a little about T`ai Chi and the names given to the various positions like “part the wild horse’s mane” and “grasp the bird’s tail.”  She taught us how to play ping pong although she was so fast we never had a chance to keep up; her six-year-old granddaughter was even too good for us. We retaliated by taking Swan to a local gun range and teaching her -- a seventy-something, non-English speaking lady -- how to shoot a handgun and, we kept her secret from the rest of her family that she thought her daughter- in- law’s Chinese cooking left a lot to be desired. Swan had become addicted to fried chicken and whenever the rest of the family went out of town, she’d hitch a ride to her favorite chicken take out joint. We tried to teach her how to drive but that got way too scary. That was a summer filled with happy times.




How Reagan and Gorbachev Helped Us Write a Book

I just finished reading THREE DAYS IN MOSCOW, by Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the blow by blow account of how Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev changed the world and ended the Cold War. Reagan, known for his anti-communist views while president of the Screen Actors Guild, continued to chisel away at the wall of communism with his frankness and the sincere conviction that all people should be free during his tenure as President of the United States. 

Previous attempts with earlier communist hardliners had proven frustrating and unfruitful but when Gorbachev took hold of the reins of the Soviet Union, Reagan sensed that finally, here was a person with whom he could talk to.  What we might see as an easy situation to take care of -- just call up and set up a time and place and we’ll talk -- became a political and logistical nightmare for both sides.  Reagan and Gorbachev involved themselves in a game of chess where the balance of the entire world was at stake.  Reagan brought to the game his unwavering sense of “right will always prevail” and Gorbachev, his knowledge that economically and socially, the Soviet Union was breaking apart and change had to come. Gorbachev was also aware that the communist “old guard” had no interest in change and nothing but distrust towards the US.

Over the course of years, through face to face negotiations, phone calls and letters, the two men gradually became friends, not always agreeing, but seeing opportunities where they could find common ground.  Their coming together finally initiated the end of the Cold War and eventually, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.    Peace, if a somewhat tenuous one, had been achieved between our two nations.

Read the book no matter what your political persuasion.  The back story and the many fascinating characters make this a page-turner. So many of us were around during this long process and the eventual outcome, but not many of us were aware of the roles played by the leader’s wives, as well as the protocols having to be followed.  A true cat and mouse game, indeed.

Along with the rest of the world, Jerry and I were interested in seeing if there would be any changes once Gorbachev took the reins of power in the Soviet Union and a dialogue was started between the two men.  Some people thought that life would go on as usual and some thought that world peace was sure to come at any moment.  We were attending a book convention and one of the writers, upon hearing of the beginnings of negotiations between the two leaders, exclaimed that “peace has broken out!”  Jerry and I had more of a wait and see attitude.

On the long drive back home from the convention we started talking about what if peace DID break out?  Of course, being the demented people we were, all we could think about were all the ways this peace would not be a good thing. We came up with a scenario involving an alliance between the Soviet Union and Washington bureaucrats who wanted nothing less than removing power from the people of the United States, for their own good, of course.  Freedom fighters, beautiful women, guns and knives and something called the Beacon of Peace, way up in space, pretty much explains the novel that we published originally in 1986 entitled THE FREEMAN.  Peace can sometimes be messy.

Things settled down for a while between the Soviet Union and the US.  Trade deals worked well for both sides and Reagan’s hopes for more human rights given to the Russian people were achieved.  Today, Putin has taken a harder stance on our two country’s relationship with one another and time will tell what will happen.  Later this month, unless it gets called off again, President Trump will be meeting with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.  Let us hope that they can find some mutual ideas with which to begin a relationship that will benefit us all and, we have the patience and understanding that this will undoubtedly not be a one night stand.



Is it Just Me?

I was speaking with a young lady friend of mine over the weekend and during the course of our conversation I mentioned a historical novel that I had just finished reading and how much I had enjoyed it.  After one or two sentences about the book I could see her eyes glassing over and I stopped talking.  She told me that she enjoyed writing, but had no use for reading anything other than school assignments.  I’ve noticed that this is a trend, one that worries me.

              Some kids remark that reading takes too much time; watch the movie and be done with it!  Many years ago another young lady of my acquaintance chose to watch the movie, The Good Earth rather than read the relatively short Pearl S. Buck novel.  She watched the 1937 black and white adaptation starring Paul Muni and Luise Rainer and with all the confidence in the world took a test on it the next day in her literature class.  Can you guess what her grade was?  The movie is excellent but she missed out on such a wonderful story bypassing the original work.

                 I grew up on Chicago’s south side.  We didn’t own a car and, for a long time, didn’t have a television.  When we finally got one, there were only two channels available and after a certain hour, no shows were broadcast until the next evening.  This is not a call for sympathy but just stating reality.  We even had a two-party line for our rotary dial desk phone.  The radio was on quite a bit with programming that brought a variety of news and entertainment. As a family, there were those occasions when we actually would discuss a particular show that we had just listened to.

                No, I’m not a nerd but I was an early reader and would read everything I could.  I found some books left in the basement of a house we had moved into and they kick-started my passion for reading.  Of course I played outside, riding my bike and playing catch with my dog, but short winter days and times when staying indoors was a much better idea were perfect for curling up with a story that took me elsewhere.  Speaking of elsewhere, Robin Hood was first read under the covers, aided by a flashlight and I was introduced to Shakespeare sitting on top of a ladder while my father painted the living room walls.          

                My dad would walk me to our neighborhood library which was more than a mile each way.  The library was located in a large park which had ball fields.  He would take me close to the entrance to the library and find a baseball or soccer game to watch.  Keeping a close eye on the big clock on the wall, I knew I was good for an hour or two.

                The library was big, with dark wood on the walls and what seemed to me, miles of bookshelves waiting to be explored.  I would first find books that I wanted to take home – volumes from the Black Stallion series, Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red series and books by Jack London.  I read biographies about people doing extraordinary things with their lives and I even read poetry.  After I had my “take home stack,” I would continue to wander around pulling out books at random just to take a look to maybe consider them for a future trip home with me. 

                At the predetermined time, I checked out my books and walked toward the ball fields to             meet up with my dad.  If a game was still in progress, we sometimes stayed there, he watching the game, me continuing reading.  Eventually we took the long walk back home, my arms hugging the books close.  Today, I continue to wander through our local library, wondering what I’ll find to bring home with me. 

                I worry that so many young people today have lost both their patience and their imagination.  Visual entertainment is thrust upon them 24/7; the world can be seen and “facts” from both reliable and questionable sources, given without them moving out of their chair.   Stories that authors wrote and rewrote until it met with their expectations, sweated over, characters defined… Fast forward and delete are instantly available.  Change and replace… move on.

      Maybe this is just progress, maybe I’m just too old to understand, but when I close my eyes I can still see the Black stallion running down the sandy beach the way I imagined the scene, not the way a movie director filmed it.



Time To Shine

I’m sick of winter.  I’m sick of rain.  I’m sick of cold wind gusts.  I’m sick of unseasonably warm temperatures turning into unseasonably cold temperatures overnight.  I’m sick of mud.  I’m sick of the ever-present scent of wet dog. But, you could say that it could be so much worse.  People are suffering from much colder temperatures and unbelievable amounts of snow in other places across the country as well as flooding and many other types of disasters.  My first response would be something like, it’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to.

            Moving on… I spend most of each day in my office writing, editing, whatever, until Shelby, my gorgeous hound dog, comes in to remind me that it’s six o’clock and time for the most important task of the day.  She is addicted to lasers.  I open up a certain kitchen drawer and her entire body goes tense in anticipation.  I let the tension build for a few moments, then press down on the button, releasing the red dot, allowing it to scurry across the floor.  She spends the next few minutes running through the house, leaping over furniture and virtually climbing the walls in pursuit.  A Milk Bone is her reward and she’s content, knowing that her schedule has been met.

            Monday, Shelby’s life was changed by Daylight Saving Time!  Sunday, the first evening of the changeover was dark and stormy so there was no problem but Monday, after rain and gloom for most of the day, the sun appeared, all bright and shiny. Get this! It’s six o’clock and the house is filled with sunshine.  There is nowhere that the light from the laser can be seen!  How do I explain this to her?  I hide!  I stayed in the office until seven with Shelby pacing the floor, then persistently poking me with her wet nose.  Finally, she got up on her hind legs, put her silky arms around me and started to lick my ear.  I shut all the blinds and we went at it.

            As I’m writing this, it’s six o’clock Tuesday evening and once again, the sun is playing havoc with our schedule!!!  Should I hang tough and close the office door so she can’t come and get me?  Should I give in to her schedule and let it go at that.  Is Shelby bending me to her will or am I trying to teach her to be more flexible?  I guess only time will tell!

\           Seriously, it is nice to have the extra sunlight in the evenings. I have less of a tendency to couch potato in front of the television this time of year and more time to read.  Having cut back on cable extras has helped as now I’m left with a hundred channels trying to sell me stuff along with those who want to help me get rid of wrinkles and sore feet.  I  can’t wait for it to be warm enough to sit out on the deck with Shelby, reading a good book while listening to the frogs croaking in the pond and the cows in the pasture until the sun sets.

I just finished reading Berlin 1936 by Oliver Hilmes.  I’ve read other accounts of the 1936 Olympics but this book stands out to me because it uses the Olympic competition as a backdrop only, spending most of the story on the accounts of the Berliners who were living under the Nazi regime while tourists were given a whitewashed version.  Hitler’s organization was bent on showing the world that Germany was a peaceful, progressive nation and that the rumors of anti-Semitism and territory takeovers were untrue, even as concentration camps were set up only miles from the Olympic stadium filled with Jews, homosexuals, dissenters and those just caught up in the web.

BTW:  Survive Live Well and Live Wisely volume #2 is now available on Kindle.  We give some tips on how to make it through the dark and cold months as well as information to keep you safe and secure at all times.



"This Little Light of Mine"

With nearly two more months to go, this fall/winter season has already been filled with more sadness than many could have imagined.  Out of control wildfires that then precipitated giant mudslides, left many homeless, their entire family history burned or washed away.  Extreme cold temperatures in many areas brought everything from annoying difficulties to death. Inane violence to innocent people occurs regularly. Stories of abuse, physical and mental, fill the airwaves, predators indiscriminately exploiting adults as well as our children.  We’ve dealt with power failures that caused transportation hubs throughout the world to temporarily collapse and governments, shut down because of the child-like bickering and theatrics of those who were elected to work for the people and not, their political party.

            Darkness falls early, sucking away the warmth that light brings.  The winter darkness embraces fear, desolation, and loneliness. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the month with the most average number of deaths in the US is January, followed by December, February and then March.  Obviously, not all these deaths are seasonally related, but when you consider home fires from faulty heating or electrical systems, auto related accidents as well as colds and flu, the chances of dying does seem to increase.  Add to that the number of elderly and homeless who simply pass away from lack of adequate heat or heart attack victims who overexert themselves shoveling snow. 

One of the best “survival” techniques for getting through this time of the year with at least an ounce of sanity is optimism.  Yes, the sun will come out tomorrow.  We may not see it through the rain and sleet, but the sun is definitely still out there.  Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, reminds us that yes, today the darkness will fall, but tomorrow will be a tiny bit lighter and the day after that, lighter still.  Soon the sun will warm the earth and new life will spring forth.   All we’ve got to do is focus on the light and not get sucked into the darkness.  While we wait for that big ball in the sky to do its thing, let’ see if we can spread a little sunshine of our own.  “I’m gonna let it shine.”

Volume #2 of Survive Live Well and Wisely will be out shortly on Kindle with articles dealing with winter and how best to get through it safely and suggestions for getting a head start on spring.