On Why I Love the Yankees…

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On Why I Love the Yankees…

October is here; it should be time for the World Series. In fact, the World Series winners should have been decided. But no. Now the season runs into November, while most baseball fans have tired of the game and moved on to Netflix. Bah, I say. Let us return to the days when we had a worthy number of teams – say, 1954, the year that the Orioles returned to Baltimore (sorry, St. Louis Browns). Yes, that was the year when teams were located where they should be. We don’t need baseball in the South or on the West Coast. The beginning of the end, 1957, when the Dodgers – well, I won’t deign to even write about that.

Now, I love the New York Yankees. Always have; always will. And not without reason, both subjective and objective. So, if you’re still with me, I’ll tell you why.

First, objectively, as a former Baltimorean, it is well embedded in my memory that the current Yankee team started in Baltimore. Yes. While the original Orioles of the National League was disbanded in the late 1890s, the team was reincarnated as an American League team in 1901. Then, as a result of a “misunderstanding” between the scrappy Oriole manager John McGraw and the League president, the Orioles morphed into the New York Highlanders, who, as all baseball aficionados know, became, in 1913, the New York Yankees.

Therefore, I maintain that supporting the Yankees is really a manifestation of loyalty to the city of their birth.

Second, subjectively, and this is close to my heart, the night watchman at my dad’s business was a Yankee fan. I knew this before I even knew what baseball was. Dick Young was his name. I doubt if he could read or write, but he had the wisdom of an old soul. He came to work early, and often arrived at the same time as I when I took the bus to the shop. He had his radio; later he had a TV, and knew how to get those Yankee games in those days before internet coverage was even dreamed about. He smoked cigars (King Edward Imperials)  , and would give me the boxes when they were empty. That’s where I kept my baseball card collection, so the mingled scent of bubble gum and tobacco infused the assemblage. Now, all these years later, one box remains.

I treasure it; I treasure my memory of Dick; I treasure the New York Yankees.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

PortraitS – A Chapbook….

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PortraitS: A Poetry Chapbook

Longing, nostalgia, plants dreaming deep, characters facing life or choosing to do anything but look inward.

How to describe those portrayals? A disillusioned therapist, an agnostic priest, a bitter war widow, an abandoned wife, a forgotten war hero….

None are outwardly connected; their backgrounds and personalities are divergent and ofttimes contradictory. Yet it is their yearning for understanding and love that unites them in that eternal search.

PortraitS is here. I hope that you will consider reading it. I hope even more that it touches your heart.

And now for the commercial: you can purchase it directly from my website: cynthiastrauff.com

And so it goes…

cynthiastrauff.com

On Mountains, History, and Private Property…

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On Mountains, History, and Private Property…

This was my view from my porch last week. Each morning I sat, coffee steaming in the cool morning temperatures, and looked out at Grandfather Mountain, said to be named by early settlers who saw the face of an old man’s profile in the outline of the peaks against the sky. The Cherokees, who were here for hundreds of years before, called it Tanawa (famous bird), but it appears that, as so often happens, settlers eclipse Native Americans.

Somebody owned this mountain, at least until about ten years ago when it was, sort of, donated to the North Carolina Park Service. I say “sort-of,” since the attraction side of the mountain (a walk across a swinging bridge and the opportunity to see animals that don’t realize that they are on display) charges a hefty fee of $20 to enter. Now all proceeds do go toward the maintenance of the mountain, but I can’t help but wonder how much of the huge parking lot and resultant facilities would have to be maintained were it just a mountain. (Oh yes, I developed quite a curmudgeonly attitude during that week.)

And now I move on to gated communities in those mountains that are somehow owned, remembering a few hundred years, when the mountains were just there – to be seen, explored, when the Cherokees, who had no concept of “private property,” lived off and respected the land. On this trip, I was incensed to find one gated community after the other, gates closed for what, I’m not sure. To keep out whom/what? For surely the bears and other animals whose habitat we have hijacked with our need for vistas to comfort and ease the stress of our days can walk right around them. So, to keep the gargantuan SUVs from what, befouling our golf courses set at 5,000 feet altitude? Is this what we have become? That we can appreciate the land only while sitting in our Adirondack-styled rockers, sipping our Makers’ Mark bourbon and enjoying the land that our forefathers worked, while making sure those who once lived here were sent West and put on reservations?

Well, I guess so. And the irony is not lost on me that I, in fact, was sitting in such a gated community while my husband and I rented a condominium that gave us this gorgeous view.

Cognizant dissonance, you say? I’ve got it in spades.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Why Does It Feel Like 1930s Germany?

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Why Does It Feel Like 1930s Germany?

We aren’t recovering from a war; we aren’t living through a crippling inflation; while things could be better, our citizens are not experiencing widespread deprivation and suffering. So I take on this topic with some disquiet. Because, for many of us, there are unsettling similarities. We have as our president a political newcomer, one who espouses policies of nationalism, of thinly veiled racism, of hostilities toward intellectuals, and who regularly condemns those who question his philosophy or his competence. His expressions of isolationism, of “America First,” his own grandiosity, while he continues to feed the fears and resentment of his bristling base, bring an ever-deepening divide in world views of our citizens, anger festering on both sides. With no thought or action of reconciling us under a common ethos, the rhetoric of Make America Great Again calls on fantasies of a glorious past that never was, at no time shared by the majority of Americans whom he claims to represent.

With a Congress that does not appear to represent its constituents, with newly-gerrymandered voting districts that take away the power of the votes of the those who might disagree with those in power, it is tough not to be discouraged, outraged, tired. I am all three.

And then I think of Sophie Scholl. It is her picture that you see at the beginning of this post. Sophie and the story of The White Rose, a lesson in dissent, in courage, of principle, of honor.

In 1942, she and her colleagues put together a leaflet, The White Rose, at the University of Munich, calling for Germans to rise up against their tyrannical government. Everyday citizens began distributing these leaflets and they spread throughout the country.

Three leaders of the movement were arrested and charged with treason in February 1943. A trial followed within days, and all were found guilty. Sophie was executed by guillotine on February 22nd.

I do not worry that my work, my calls, my writing will have such dire consequences. This is, after all, America, where such things do not happen. This is not 1930s Germany.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Hearing from Readers…

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On Hearing from Readers….

This week I did three presentations about my books. Since my psyche fills with dread in anticipation, I am always relieved when I can look back and say “did,” rather than “will be doing.” And these were lovely experiences for me, filled with readers who take my work seriously (always appreciated), most of whom had actually read the books, and who were interested in the characters presented. What a joy, to have the chance to talk about these inhabitants of the page, who are certainly real to me, with those who know who they are, with those who are interested in just why they made the decisions they did, how they managed to cope with life.

I’ve also heard from a few readers, a joy, since it definitely does not happen too often. One man – always a pleasant surprise when a man reads my books – noted that one of the characters in Echoes from the Alum Chine lived on Ensor Street. He wrote that his grandmother lived on Ensor Street and wondered if, perhaps, she had known him. Now isn’t that a delight for a writer to read!  I thanked him for writing, and did not remind him that my John Abbott was fictional, and, who knows, perhaps his grandmother did know him.

Another reader wrote that she saw herself and her daughter in two of Echoes’ characters, and that it helped her understand her daughter’s feelings that her mother was always there for someone else, some worthy cause, but never there for her. I was touched when she wrote, humbled that she trusted me enough to share these deeply personal thoughts, and glad that the character could bring a sense of understanding and love into the real life of a reader.

In a week where working on the next book has been problematic, these lagniappes have strengthened a resolve to push on through. It also reminds me how comments to the author area appreciated, and I try to pass on my praise. It never hurts.

So this post is a thank you – to my readers, to my friends, to everyone who has taken my writing seriously. You mean the world to me.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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On Schmierkase, Baltimore, and Mornings After….

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On Schmierkase, Baltimore, and Mornings After….

Last Sunday I baked a Schmierkase. Now for those of you who may not be from Baltimore, for those of you who may not be German, Schmierkase is a very special kind of cheesecake. It is first a cake, and secondarily a cake with cheese – sort of like a cheese Danish on steroids. I posted a picture on a Baltimore Facebook page (Baltimore Old Photos) and received hundreds of hits. Obviously, this is something that touched memories.

Now, I am not a good cook, and I am even less of a good baker. But something called me to research this and give it a try. I’m sure you could find a more authentic recipe, I’m sure that the bakeries that sell them present a more professional image, but I was delighted with how mine looked.

As with most endeavors, the proof is in the tasting. So, that night, we had it for dessert. Alas, a disappointment. A bit over-baked, and not-quite-sweet-enough, even for my most-things-are-too-sweet palate. Undeterred, I, now with one attempt under my belt so to speak, pledged to try again.

But the morning after – ah, how often can we savor this? – the morning after, I cut a square (for a Schmierkase is traditionally cut in a square or rectangle) to go with my cup of black coffee. And, eureka! What a difference. I don’t know if it was sitting overnight; I don’t know if it felt my disappointment with my efforts; I don’t know if a cleansed palate is what you need, but it was delicious. And what a great way to start a day. A culinary disappointment turned around.

And I thought about mornings-after, how so often they are filled with recriminations for folly. Maybe we need more folly in our lives. I intend to work on that one. And I will try another Schmierkase. (And thanks to the Facebook reader who gave me the correct spelling.)

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it (along with my observations, of course):

Ingredients:

For the cake:

2 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

¾ c sugar

½ c canola oil

2 eggs, room temperature

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

(I know, real Schmierkase calls for cottage cheese, but try this – and use the brick kind, not the tub spread)

12 oz. evaporated milk

¾ c sugar

1 T flour

2 tsp vanilla

3 eggs, room temperature

For sprinkling:

Cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all of cake ingredients together – it will look more like a dough than cake batter; press into a 13×9 baking dish, covering all the bottom and half-way up the sides.

In another bowl, mix all the filling ingredients until smooth – I used my immersion blender and this made it so much easier. The batter will be thin – pour over the cake and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake 60-70 minutes (when I do this again, I am taking it out at 60 minutes on the dot!) It should NOT be browned.

Cool, then cut into squares – or rectangles as the Schmierkase experts say!

Enjoy – and do let me know how it goes for you.

And if you like novels set in historic Baltimore, please visit my webpage and check out Another Sunday and Echoes from the Alum Chine.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

 

 

Humankind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality

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Poets today. Poets have been on my mind all week. T.S. Eliot penned the title of today’s blog. And his words resonate as we continue to face and attempt to deal with today’s reality. Some hours I put forth my overwhelming gratitude for the life that fate just happened to deliver to me — born of the “right” parents at the “right” time in the “right” place. And there are hours when my heart opens to those who are not so lucky. White tears? Perhaps, albeit sincere ones.

I”m spending my working hours now in the 1950s, thinking of those women who led the way, before feminism was even a term, and certainly not yet a term of derision. I consider the women poets of the time, that prickly group who were often their most prickly with and about one another. None garnered the fame they believed they deserved. Only Sylvia Plath’s name generates recognition today, perhaps more to do with her suicide than her body of work. But here I present a work by Muriel Rukeyser. Some things never change. Poets remind us of that.

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane.
The news would pour out of various devices
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com