I Hear the Economy is Good…

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I Hear the Economy is Good…

The economy is good. I heard it on NPR.

While our current president says that it has never been better, and while some may dispute that, none can deny that, yes, the economy is good. Or so they say. Not sure exactly what they use as a measure — jobs? the Dow Jones? So  there are more jobs, somewhere at least, and the stock market is high.

Now if the economy is good, then life must be good, and the president’s approval ratings are…what? And how/why do we determine how good life is by how the richest among us are doing?

I sit on the sidelines, knowing that, for now at least, I am secure. I have enough; I desire little. I have health insurance and my health. I have enough income that should withstand the vicissitudes of a fluctuating economy.

Yet I have lived long enough, and experienced enough, to know that all that could change in a flash. I have been jobless; I have worked in jobs that did not quite cover my meager expenses. I know the gnawing sense of worry that underpins life even when you are getting along. I haven’t forgotten.

And as we in North Carolina sit and worry about Hurricane Florence, we know that we can count on our president to show up and throw us a roll of paper towels; we know that we can count on those prayers from our Republican senators. So we do not worry. Because, as we all know, the economy is good.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off…

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Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off

I no longer enjoy cooking. My idea of a great meal is one that someone else has cooked. And as for baking, well, I was never a baker, for baking is essentially chemistry, precise measuring, all the while considering altitude and humidity. Too much like work, when you can purchase deliciously made sweets and savories all the while supporting local businesses.

So it’s odd that I’m now enamored with The Great British Bake Off. But it’s not the baking that has captivated me. No. It’s the people, both bakers and judges and then whoever those two jocular women are who insist on picking up spoons, asking questions while bakers are trying to concentrate, and, once, toppling over a carefully arranged stack of…something that looked like a cross between a pancake and a cookie. I’m fascinated by their actions and responses and love the way that the show’s producers/directors portray them. I’ve learned a lot from them, not about cooking, but about life.

So here are three life lessons I’ll share:

First:

Sooner or later someone will take your ice cream out of the freezer without your knowing it. They will neither admit this nor apologize. It will ruin what you are attempting to do. Now, the life lesson is that you must keep your cool, though your ice cream has not, continue with what you have left, do your best, and present your product with as much aplomb as you can muster. It will get your points for poise and dash. What you should not do is throw a fit and make a production of throwing your entire creation in the trash. You will be voted off for sure and will have to live with YouTube views for the rest of your life.

Second:

There will always be someone who will want to help, sometimes officiously, even though you prefer to be left alone. They will huddle over you, they will talk to you, they will clean up what they think should be thrown away. Often it should not be. It will not matter what you say to them. And finally, as they turn to leave, they will brush against your carefully constructed skyscraper of pancakes and gingerbread. It will topple. They won’t know this because by this time they are bothering someone else. When this happens, and, to be sure, it will, though it may your ego that is toppled rather than cakes, just pile them up again as best you can and go on with life. After all, it’s only cake, or, in most cases, your self-esteem. Under no circumstances, throw whipped cream, raw eggs, or scatological insults at the perpetrator. That will only mark you as an hysteric. Time later for tears and tantrums in the privacy of your own home where, I  hope, there would be doughnuts, suitably purchased from a local bakery, certainly not a shop that specializes in doughnuts.

And, third,

There will always be a beautiful, green-eyed, gazelle of a 20-year-old, who will present her bakes with quivering lip and tear-filled eyes. She will say, her voice catching, that her work is terrible. She will enchant at least one of the judges, who will comfort her. Such comfort will involve making sure she moves to the next level, and then the next. You will seethe and try to hide it. It will give you a major migraine. But do take comfort, eventually – though we may not be around to see it – a better baker will prevail, and that person will win based on the baking, not his ability to line his/her eyes with a color that makes those green eyes even more hypnotizing. However, even though she will not win, she will be the one everyone remembers. There is no getting around this, so when this comes, and it comes to all of us, I advise finding a good book – Jane Austen, Barbara Pym or somesuch writer who appreciates excellent women.

For that is what most of us are. And, really, would you trade it?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

There Are Places I’ll Remember…

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Earlier this week, a treasured friend sent me this flag. She had I have shared decades of holiday travels and experiences, and even more decades of being kindred spirits. We are truly sisters from different parents.

I was touched by her gesture, moved to tears remembering us as young, not-quite free spirits, willing to undertake any situation because it was an adventure. I think we are still pretty adventurous; I’m not so sure about the young part.

I can’t get these Beatles lyrics out of my head. Each time my mind plays that simple melody, those simple, but haunting, lyrics, I cry. It was written in 1965, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that time. Our hearts had been pierced by John Kennedy’s assassination – the astonishment that such a thing could happen in our country, and few of us could fathom where our involvement in Vietnam would lead. It was the mid-60s;  we still had dreams. A simpler time, when the excitement of a US visit from the Beatles made us shriek with joy. Remember joy? Or maybe we were just young.

I’m missing those days, those feelings. So perhaps it’s not just places we remember.

Here are those lovely lyrics – I wish you a day of fond remembrance.

In My Life
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all
But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
In my life– I love you more
Songwriters: John Lennon / Paul Mccartney

A British Review of Echoes from the Alum Chine…

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A Discovering Diamonds review of Echoes from the Alum Chine by Cynthia Strauff

Family drama, 1900s, Baltimore

On March 7, 1913, the steamer Alum Chine explodes in the Baltimore harbor. Charles Sherwood, the founder of the company that insures the steamer, is among the first to hear the blast. As he struggles to keep calm, Charles suspects that if it is the Alum Chine that has been decimated, he is now in the midst of a nightmare. While he attempts to cope with the consequences that include his son’s diffidence to the calamity, the disaster touches two other families. Helen Aylesforth is the imperious matriarch of her family whose stern demeanor belies her love for those around her, including her daughter, Cantata, who is married to Nicholas Sherwood. The Corporals have served the Aylesforths for generations. Among their six-member family is Lillian Gish, Helen’s shy, forgotten, and observant granddaughter who must somehow find her place in the world, despite the chaos around her.”

This is a story of ordinary people coping with extraordinary consequences, two families, of how they lived life in Baltimore in the early years of the twentieth century, and had to get on with that life even though enormous things were happening all around and to them.

The description of the period and of Baltimore itself is very well written – as a social history this is an excellent novel.

Do you need constant action to make a novel an interesting one? Echoes From The Alum Chine has a gentle and sedate rhythm to it, the relationships between the two families is interesting, how they cope is interesting … as a depiction of family drama in the pre-World War One era of American life, this is an interesting read.

*****     *****     ****

Well, even though the reviewer confused just whose grandaughter my lovely Lilian Gish was, we now know  what at least one British reviewer thought. And I’ll take it, happy to see that at least one copy has made it across the pond.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Finding Joy in the Age of Trump…

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On Finding Joy in the Age of Trump …

Each morning my head has its exercise. I hang my head in shame; I shake my head in bewilderment of what our country has become; I close my eyes in hope. I tell myself that despair is not an option, that I must summon energy from somewhere to make my voice heard, although my staunch Republican senators and representatives toe the party line, and I live in such gerrymandered districts, both state and national, that I realize that my comments, my votes, will be lost in the netherworld of the minority.

And sometimes I must look for joy. Most mornings I find it in my cats, who sit quietly with me as I read the paper, write in my journal. Some days, they climb into my lap, both of them, and take part in my 10-minute meditation.

This past week, we celebrated their fifteenth birthday. (I’ll save you googling – that is 77 in human years.) They are brothers and have never spent a day away from one another. Like all of us, they have their squabbles, but most days you can find them only feet apart.

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We celebrated their Cat Mitzvah two years ago; this year, they had a Quinceneara celebration. They appeared unimpressed, even when offered crumbs from their cake. But we humans, we celebrated. For we must take our joy where we find it.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Pondering the 4th of July…

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On Pondering the Fourth of July…

I’ve never considered myself to be a “patriot,” even in my early years of believing that the U.S. was certainly the best, the smartest, the strongest. I accepted those ideas, those words, without question. After all, that’s what the nuns said, or at least that’s what I think they said. I knew my father had served in the Navy. Surely that meant something, although he didn’t talk about it much and I never thought to ask, although I routed for Navy in the annual Army-Navy football game.

I always loved the fireworks; we celebrated the holiday with a family gathering of seldom-seen cousins. That was my July 4th. That, and counting the days for school to being again. I was not enamored of my unstructured, and mostly lonely, summers.

It was in 1976, our bicentennial, that I first paid attention to the wisdom and folly of our founding fathers. Certainly human, vanities and foibles at the fore. But a union of intelligence, astuteness, perception in these men, that confluence of the heavens, to be able to put forth such a foundation for this experiment in democracy. Like a fire-rainbow that is rare and evanescent, here and then gone, as it appears that intelligence and prudence and refinement in our country’s leaders have disappeared. We can only wonder if it will return, or if our republic has been damaged beyond repair.

For in retrospect, our leaders have always made dreadful and atrocious errors. Our esteemed settlers who stole land from those who believed that land could not be owned; those who ripped the children of Native Americans from their homes, to give them “better” values and vegetables; those who “possessed” others, and took comfort from Bible verses and laws to assure themselves that they were on God’s side; to uprooting Japanese and other Asian families to make our country safe. And now, perhaps our greatest misdeed – the imprisoning of those seeking sanctuary, children in cages, banning groups based on…what? That they are not like us? In the name of keeping us safe? Making us great? What is it that makes a patriot? Putting country before humanity? Or calling our leaders out for their behavior.

Oh, America, whither goest?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Words I Love…

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When the world is too much with me, as it is so often these days, I find retreat and solace in words. Sometime the words of my favorite authors, sometimes simply words. Words that, somehow, make me happy. Who knows why?

Here are a few:

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Bespoke

Now I was sure that this had to be some type of derivative of “to speak.” In fact, I was so sure that I used it in a poem I was working on. Bespoke. The word, the rhythm, matched beautifully, or so I thought, with the melancholy, Victorian mood I was working so hard to present.

What made me go to the dictionary “just to be sure” I cannot tell you. But it brought me up short. And so I changed the word in my poem, but I must admit that my heart broke just a little. For bespoke means custom-tailored. But I still love this word, as my thoughts drift to a bygone era in beloved England.

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Penultimate

Last but one, second last. Doesn’t this 50-cent word imply an importance that should not be eclipsed by the ultimate? Penultimate, in my mind, should be more than ultimate. Can there be such a thing? I’m writing this on the penultimate day of June, and I declare that it is much more important than June 30th. After all, this gives me one more chance. Penultimate. I like it.

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Blithely

Oh, to do anything blithely these days. Is it something that remains only for the young, those who haven’t experienced enough of the world to forever wring out any trace of blithe? I’m not sure that I’ve ever done anything blithely, so serious a world-view have I. But the word still fills my heart with something that comes close to joy. So maybe there is hope for me. And just maybe there is hope for the world.

And lastly (for blithely was my penultimate word)

reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one - a quote from Albert Einstein on a vintage slate blackboard

Albeit

How I love this word. I actually used it in my morning’s journal entry. All those Henry James novels, E.F. Benson, and other English writers of the early part of the last century. Their characters, their way of speaking, their syntax, their vocabulary gets into one’s blood. I’m comfortable living there, albeit with an understanding that we view the past through a sepia lens. Some days it is exactly what we need.

 

And so I blithely leave you, dear reader, to return to my sunporch and penultimate volume of the adventures of Mapp and Lucia. Thank you, Mr. Benson. I’m sure your wardrobe was bespoke, albeit a bit threadbare by the end of your journey.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com