call to action, Commentary, education, journalism, justice, opinion, organizing, politics, Social Justice, Society, Uncategorized, writing

American ‘Greatness’ in action: Best celebrity gossip site & worst quiz ever

I am a lucky person. On weekday mornings, my alarm clock is Sweetheart coming through the bedroom door and handing me a cup of hot coffee.

The ritual dates back to the early days of our relationship. Since January 20, there’s been a new component.

He hands me coffee. My line after “Thank you” is:  “What fresh hell today?”

Sometimes he knows, because he watched the news. Other days, he tells me about the videos he watched and whether the dog has made her outdoor by-product deposit.

This morning, though, I owe a thanks to a fellow poster on Celebitchy, the high-end mind-candy celebrity gossip site for answering my daily question. Posts about the most banal of topics (the Clooney/Beyonce-JayZ twins, Kardashian-du-jour, etc.) are elevated by the site’s writers, and taken to a completely other level by its commenters.

They are, for the most part, a highly intelligent and thoughtful group. I don’t post as much there as I might because {job/Mom/pet care/other responsibilities} but I am a great lurker and have even made a friend there.

CB has been posting about the Trumps since election season, and is keeping the community updated on a regular basis about what’s happening. Those posts are informative on a lot of levels. Many of the commenters live outside the US, so we get a global perspective on how his antics are being received. I should add here that most posters are not his chosen demographic, so if you are all hyped about how “Great” America is becoming in the wake of the election, what you find on CB will not please you. (Just read the Selena Gomez and Angelina Jolie posts.)

Anyway, on a post titled “Donald Trump tweets that the media is the enemy of the American people,” from yesterday, commenter named justjj posted this:

 

just-jj

This was my response:

cannibellresponse

I copied and pasted the survey below, so no one has to click on the site. And to anyone else who is either totally sick of winning and/or thinking about Germany in 1933, you’re not alone. (Based on some of the questions, it’s been up since before November but note that it has not been taken down or changed. Forgive me for not bothering to remove the extra bullet points in the spaces between questions. Someone has to get to the dog park!)

 

Mainstream Media Accountability Survey

  • Do you trust MSNBC to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Do you trust CNN to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Do you trust Fox News to fairly report on our campaign?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
    • Immigration
    • Economics
    • Pro-life values
    • Religion
    • Individual liberty
    • Conservatism
    • Foreign policy
    • Second Amendment rights
  • Which television source do you primarily get your news from?
    • Fox News
    • CNN
    • MSNBC
    • Local news
    • Other
  • Which online sources do you use? (Select as many that apply.)
    • Drudge Report
    • Breitbart
    • National Review
    • Weekly Standard
    • Free Beacon
    • Daily Caller
    • American Spectator
    • Red Alert Politics
    • Other
  • Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Hillary Clinton still gets a free pass from the media as she continues to lie about sending classified information on her secret server.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media takes Donald Trump’s statements out of context, but bends over backwards to defend Hillary’s statements.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media failed to cover the fact that Bernie Sanders LEFT the Democrat Party.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media needs to do more to expose the shady donations to the Clinton Foundation.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Political correctness has created biased news coverage of both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The RNC was right to drop CNBC as a partner after they failed to fairly moderate the October debate.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media hardly reported on the fact that our small-dollar fundraising nearly MATCHED Hillary’s Wall Street fundraising machine.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The mainstream media played a critical role in electing President Obama and is now attempting to do it again for Hillary Clinton.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • People of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • American history is being rewritten by “social justice” activists.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media has not done its due diligence to expose ObamaCare’s many failures.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Coverage of the Tea Party movement has been deliberately negative.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media has turned a blind eye to Planned Parenthood’s worst actions.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • Americans are not fully aware just how much waste there is in the federal government.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The fact that the man who set up Hillary’s server was granted immunity should be a bigger story in the press.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • More time is spent covering fake “scandals” involving Trump than real scandals involving Hillary and our national security.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • In order to preserve whatever journalistic integrity they have left, the mainstream media must come forward and admit Hillary LIED about her secret server.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • If Donald Trump said or did half of the things Hillary Clinton has, the media would effectively end his candidacy.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • The media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion
  • We should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable.
    • Yes
    • No
    • No opinion

 

Enter Your Information

Full Name

Email Address

 

 

Zip Code

Standard
call to action, Commentary, education, journalism, justice, librarians, libraries, personal history, politics, Society, Uncategorized, writing

‘Big Brother meets the digital Third World’ or ‘I wrote a paper in 2008. Check it out.’

graddayselfie

I don’t have any pictures of myself writing papers, so this graduation morning photo will have to do.

In summer of 2008, I took an Ethics of Information class. Our final project was a paper on the topic of our choice.

I wanted to look at what I saw as the New Third World – the way on-line information about us could and was possibly already being used to exploit us, make our lives worse, keep us from getting jobs, bank loans and or other essential and quality-of-life goods. The haves got the good stuff, the rest of us would unknowingly become citizens of a borderless Third World nation.

Sunday’s New York Times featured an editorial entitled “The Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz.”

I just finished reading it.

My response is to post my paper here for anyone to read, learn from and possibly follow up on and extend. It’s long, but it may be one of the most important things I’ve written. I haven’t updated it, but would be interested in feedback from anyone brave enough to get through it. (It’s not written in academ-ese; my prof said she wanted my own voice.)

Click on the link below.

lis661finalpaper

Standard
call to action, journalism, justice, kindness, opinion, personal history, politics, Social Justice, Uncategorized

One display, one playlist, one eighth-grade groper & one heart-to-heart across voting lines: a 2016 presidential election word buffet

Fifty days ago, I made an election display at the library. There’s so much crazy flying around and libraries are supposed to be safe havens. I wanted my display to do two things:

  1. Provide a way to give people access to digestible and genuine information about the candidates.
  2. Remind us all that at least this phase of the crazy would come to an end.

 

electiondisplay61daysoutresized

The first day. Those are tweets beneath their pictures. Each day I added a tweet and tore off a calendar sheet.

electiondisplay8daysout_resized

This is eight days out. Mom never threw anything away, so she gets all the credit for that postage stamp, which I enlarged for this display.

 

So every day since I built it, I’ve been pulling a sheet off the countdown calendar and adding a one thing a day from each candidate’s Twitter feed. It’s been pretty satisfying to see people reading them. (One day a man actually took one home! I just printed a new one and put it up in the old one’s place.)

I wish I was more enthusiastic about this election, but at this point I am secretly wishing for one last presidential debate. In a dog park, with both candidates dressed in gender-appropriate versions of Lady Gaga’s meat dress.

The election has at least given me a chance to put together my first blog post for the library. It’s a playlist menu for election night parties. (Click here to read it, and special thanks to Amelia for editing/formatting.) Every song has some tie to a presidential candidate or election, and I am especially pleased to have included Patrick Sky and Timbuk 3, a couple of brilliant and un/underappreciated acts.

The good, the bad and the groping

The display and playlist were two high points of my election season. The low point was the Donald Trump/Billy Bush tape. Had it been Donald Trump, reality star, gleefully explaining how unwanted sexual contact with women was part of the standard “Fame Privilege” package, you wouldn’t be reading what I am about to write. But Donald Trump, a man who could potentially be representing me to the rest of the world?

So here I am, speaking up about the eighth grade classmate who, when our English teacher sent the two of us and six other boys to the auditorium to check on something connected to the class play, took advantage of an opportunity to come up behind as we stood on the stage, pin me against him and grab my breasts to settle the question of whether what was under my shirt was actual breast tissue or the paper kind. (Being a well-endowed middle school kid is no picnic.) I never told anyone then. I was too ashamed, thinking it was somehow my fault.

I’ve seen him at three reunions, most recently last summer. It made me kind of sick to watch him talk and laugh with female classmates as if he hadn’t a care in the world. It also made me kind of mad at myself for not being comfortable enough to confront him. He can’t change his past any more than I can mine, but it would be nice to hear him express some genuine remorse.

That said, I’m a realist, so unless I do grow a pair and confront him, it’s probably not gonna happen.

I’m with her, he’s with him, we’re good

Speaking of reality, that tape didn’t bother a lot of the people voting for Donald J. I don’t get it. I didn’t get it before that either, but after, I really didn’t. So I phoned a friend I’ll call Dave (because that’s his name). His social media feed is filled with anti-Obama and pro-Trump memes.

We went from kindergarten through sixth grade together. He was one of the cutest and nicest boys in school, and he’s still adorable and kind. He and his wife have two married sons, a crop of grandchildren and three rescued dogs. On one of my recent trips home, we hung out with Grandkid 1 at their house; I’m looking forward to our next get-together.

I wanted to have a conversation with a Trump supporter that wouldn’t turn into some sort of horrible bashing session on either side, so I asked Dave if he’d be okay with us talking about it and me writing some of what he said. Which he was.

So here, for people voting for Hillary Clinton and befuddled as to why someone would vote for Donald Trump, are some reasons.

  1. Bush/Gore was a turning point. He was a registered Democrat until then. Now, he’s Independent.
  2. He hasn’t seen his life improve significantly over the past eight years. “I can call myself middle class but what I do know is that I’m paying twice the health care I used to pay. I have it through work, but what I used to pay pre-Obama care and what I’m paying now, it’s doubled.”
  3. He knows someone who worked in close proximity to Bill and Hillary Clinton during Bill’s presidency, and was not impressed by what he heard regarding her personal conduct.
  4. Memes aside, Dave isn’t thrilled with Donald Trump either. “He’s an arrogant asshole, there’s no doubt about it, but if I have to pick between the two I’ll pick him.”
  5. We both wondered, and agreed about whether we can look to our leaders anymore for the kind of character, honesty and assurance we expect of someone hoping to become president.

Whatever your politics, if you can vote in this election, make a considered decision. Then get yourself to the polls (if you haven’t voted already), and strap yourself in. The next four years are going to be an interesting ride.

Standard
call to action, Commentary, education, journalism, justice, lifestyle, love, opinion, personal history, pets, politics, Social Justice, Society, Uncategorized, writing

Love, loss, hope and backup plans: Making now count

Tough_TimesOptimized

So, it’s been a few months. I could make up a whole raft of reasons for the radio silence, but the truth is job-related.

Last July, I was laid off from the job I loved, and not long after my last post in February, there were signs of a happy ending/soft landing. In a fit of holding off until I could share good news, I put off posting.

But I’ve waited long enough, and now I’m at that place where you just say “Now matters. Live here!”

Butterfly_Field_Trip_Optimized20160518

An expert at living in the now

So here’s a little story about the job I loved and lost. It wasn’t performance-related (the exact words of the HR official who hand-delivered my layoff letter). I was really good at what I did. But it was funded by “soft money.”  Which is code for “grants.”

The particular grant I worked on for 10 years was funded through the Wisconsin State Legislature. The program was almost 40 years old, and provided a whole lot of bang for the $895,000 it cost state taxpayers. I could venture guesses as to why it was de-funded. But those would just be guesses.

My program was one of 16 around the state. We worked with adults – mostly women but some men, too – who had not been the main breadwinner in their households, but for any number of reasons found themselves in a position where they had to become the main breadwinner. My participants were divorced or separated from partners or spouses, married or partnered with someone who’d become disabled and unable to work, or who’d lost a job. In a couple of cases I worked with people who’d given up good jobs out of state to come home and see an elderly parent through his or her last illness. Those people had been supported by the parent’s pension or social security. One of them was paid through an agency that provided elder care to be their parent’s caregiver. All that ended with their parents’ deaths, and they needed to rejoin the workforce.

For 10 years, I got paid to listen to these people tell me who they were, then help them figure out how to reimagine their lives. Most days I went home feeling like the luckiest, most blessed individual on Planet Earth because, having already gone through my own version of the horrible realities my participants were living, I could serve as living proof that it was possible to come out on the other side.

It was something I would definitely have appreciated when I was where they were. Most were also completely inspiring – making courageous choice after courageous choice to make their lives better. (I’ve stayed friends with many of them, and that’s helping me now. As I said, luckiest & most blessed.)

I had a sneak preview this might be coming down the pike in 2007, when a state legislator (Jeff Fitzgerald was his name) decided to cut the program because, according to one of my then-colleagues, he figured that if it wasn’t at all the technical colleges, it didn’t need to be at any. (There was a 100-day standoff about the budget that year, and the 16 program coordinators from around the state took advantage of the time. We spent it informing our representatives about what we did. When budget was passed, we were in it).

“Your backup plans need backup plans.”

One of my mantras is “Your backup plans need backup plans.” My backup plans since the ’90s  have been freelance writing, back-of-the-house for catering and anything else someone would be willing to pay me for.

It turned out, though, that I like having a steady gig with benefits and co-workers. When I looked at it through my Program Coordinator lens, the reality of my patchwork resume – a bachelor’s degree in music followed by journalism and project management experience – meant the average HR department would probably toss it for being too scattered. And there was the reality of my age – ie: not 30.

I needed something bigger.

 

4Michele

A rhino is pretty big, even on a Scrabble board.

 

I couldn’t do anything about my age (and didn’t really want to). But I could address the resume. So I started looking at graduate programs. I wanted something that would pull everything I’d done together and take it all to a different level. I also wanted something that would make me as fire-proof as possible for a 50-something woman whose work experience and college degree were at least as well matched as Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

Which is the reason I went to library school. It’s a terrific degree – really versatile. People with library degrees work in all kinds of settings – IT, corporate, legal, financial, academic – the list is pretty long. And maybe it hasn’t gotten me a job yet, but the skills I’ve added to my existing toolbox have given me a level of confidence in riding out this layoff that I never would have had without it.

So, while I wait for my Prince Charming job to come along (I’m straight, which is why it’s not a Princess Charming job), my library degree is working for me. It’s also working for others. I volunteer two mornings a week at a university library, in one of their digital units. I’ve added book indexing and dissertation editing to the freelance journalism, marketing and technical writing/editing/content development I’ve always done.

And then there’s this blog, which started as a gift to myself. Thank you for reading it, and especially thanks for reading this post, which is mostly a ramble/meditation to get myself back into my once-a-week posting routine. A whole lot has happened in the past few months, not the least of which was finishing my first knitting/quilting hybrid project.

Micah_Blanket_FinishedOptimized

My first knitting/quilting hybrid project.

Coming attractions ,with illustrations

Kinnickinnic_Bakery_coolerofawesomeOptimized

It’s all gluten-free all the time at the Kinnikinnick Bakery in Edmonton, Alberta.

 

MateyOptimized

The Humane Society said Matey was a “three-month-old Shepherd mix.” She’s not.

 

 

Standard
entertainment, journalism, music

Nuggets from my life as a music journalist, featuring Mark Lindsay and the woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner

Once upon a time in another life, I was a music journalist. I started out doing it because I love music and it gave me the opportunity to interview (and in some cases even meet) artists I’d long admired.

It also, at a point when I was dirt poor, helped me feed my music habit.

I’m not sure how old I was when I started buying 45 RPM singles, but a babysitter gave my sister and me her Monkees albums when we were about 6 and 7, starting me down a music-collecting path from which I have never strayed. As a slightly poor single mom decades later, my big indulgence was one new record/CD a month. Things hit a point where even that got out of reach.

A couple of years into trying to escape my dirt-poor stage, I got my first career-track job at the ripe old age of 34. My title was features reporter, and the paper was a small-town daily that published six days a week. (Our Saturday paper was the fat one; we didn’t have a Sunday edition.) One of the first things I did was to start a record review column. As scams go, it remains one of my greatest.

I had just enough credibility with the record companies (read: tearsheets of interviews with Arlo Guthrie, Cleo Laine, Bruce Cockburn and a few others I can’t remember) to make the grade. Within a few weeks of sending them out, along with a letter of introduction on letterhead from the newspaper, the CDs started rolling in. I named the column “Fresh Sounds,” and it ran every other Saturday. On Monday, I’d haul out the scissors and have an arts-and-crafts marathon, clipping copies of the column and mailing them to my contacts at the record companies.

Pretty soon, I was swimming in CDs. Other record companies found me and started sending unsolicited music. Two of the companies, Rhino and Rounder, sent monthly mailings with lists and descriptions of upcoming releases, along with a checkoff form I’d send back with my wish list. Wishes were always granted – in full. Others included Virgin, Ryko (where they let me raid the closet when I visited them on a trip east), Atlantic and Narada.

After I left the daily, I kept reviewing for awhile, and in 1998, Rhino released a four-disc boxed set called “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Original Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968.” I was working at a weekly paper group. There were 22 separate papers, each with its own reporter and a common features insert. The editor of that section gave me the go-ahead to do a story.

Recently Sweetheart and I attended a party to which we’d been asked to bring 60s artifacts. What could be more 60s than a “Nuggets” boxed set? (My Woodstock poster, that’s what. But it’s huge and framed, so I didn’t.)

Woodstock poster

The Woodstock poster I did not bring to the ’60s party.

We got there and opened the box. That was when I discovered I’d hung on to the press releases and interview transcripts. I’d spoken to Lenny Kaye, who compiled the songs for their original Elektra records release (Rhino specializes in reissues) before becoming the lead guitarist in Patti Smith’s band.

I’d also interviewed Mark Lindsay. He was lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders and one of my childhood idols. He was teen-idol cute with a dazzling smile and a killer voice. I was as smitten as a little girl can be with a grown man who comes to her house via radio and television.

The band performed (including on an episode of “Batman”) in 18th-century costumes. But at least once I saw Mark Lindsay on TV when he wasn’t in fancy dress and he wasn’t singing. He was on a show called “The Dating Game.” (Couldn’t find a Lindsay clip.),” in which a man or woman, secluded from three potential dates, would ask them questions and then choose, based on their answers, which one he or she wanted to date.

I’d opened the interview by asking about his Dating Game experiences. Three lines into the transcript, a throwaway comment from an 18-year-old interview landed me straight in the middle of a current pop-culture moment.

“I was picked for a trip to the North Pole,” Lindsay said, “with the woman who married Bruce Jenner.”

Standard
caregiving, Family story, journalism, music, opinion, religion

Newsmakers make news, religious fanatics make trouble and Mom’s community hosts a Debbie Friedman event with a millennial twist

It’s been a terrible week for the news business. Brian Williams has been handed a suspension without pay for six months, or as I’m calling it, “book leave.” Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show to have dinner with his kids. And Bob Simon, whose latest stop in a distinguished career was 60 Minutes, was killed in a car accident.

Which is senseless, but not as senseless as those three Muslim kids in North Carolina who got shot by their neighbor. Over a supposed parking dispute? And somehow, we’re searching for an explanation. The alleged shooter – who has confessed, btw, was an….atheist. Which explains it about as well as a Christian or Jew killing them would. Which is to say, not at all.

Then there’s Kayla Mueller, the young woman from Arizona who died in Syria after more than a year in captivity at the hands of those people who are doing terrible things in the name of Islam. Other than returning the world to the time when we lived in caves and threw rocks at each other, it’s hard to figure out exactly what they’re after.

I am starting to think none of this religion stuff matters very much except as a veil for mean people to hide behind and decent ones to wear in order to try and make the world and their lives better. Based on news reports about them, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Kayla Mueller fell into the latter category.

Moving on – as best we can after change happens – a few weeks ago was Debbie Friedman’s yahrzeit – the fourth anniversary of her death. Her birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. She would have been 64. Not a day goes by when my mother and aunts – who considered most of their kid pile one amorphous group of offspring – aren’t thinking of her.

Debbie might not have lived as long as her family and friends and the millions (I am not exaggerating here) of people who loved her music wanted her to. My sister and I were sure we would hang out being old ladies together with Debbie and her sisters. But she lived long enough to be remembered by people she never met. Some of those people work at the nursing home where Mom lives. One, the music therapist and activities person, Amy, approached me about six months ago with an idea.

“What would you think about having a concert of Debbie’s music around her yahrzeit? I was thinking it would be really great for your mother to help plan and be part of it.”

What did I think? I thought it would be great. The next thing I knew, Amy had Trish involved. Trish is the activities director on the assisted living side of the house, where Mom lived before she moved to the nursing home. Trish’s daughter Lauren and my Alex were playmates from the time they were about four. Now they’re both married – to Canadians – and living above the 48th parallel. Anyway, Trish is an activities genius.

So I told Trish about The Box. Mom has saved every scrap of paper from Debbie’s career that she ever acquired. I had it in a box to send to Aunt Freda for what will surely be some Debbie Friedman Archive somewhere someday that scholars will seek out. People will have to wear gloves to handle stuff that was jammed into various bags and between pages in books until I was tossing and sorting things in advance of her moves to where she is now. Trish was very excited about The Box, and started making noises about a display table.

She also made noises elsewhere. By the time Concert Day arrived, there’d been a squib in the local Jewish paper and a slew of local rabbis and cantors had signed on to take part.

Mom and I each got to pick a song to sing. She picked L’chi Lach, because she loves it.

I picked “Set me for a Seal,” because Debbie wrote it for my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding and we sang it together under the chuppah. She taught it to me, and then, intermittently for the entire weekend up to the wedding itself, my cell phone would ring and I’d pick it up and say hello.

“How does it go again?”

So I’d sing it for her.

Anyway, what with the Parkinson’s and all, Mom’s voice sometimes gives out. Also, I didn’t want her to have to stress about finding a key in which to sing. So we decided to do it with cello backup. That way, I could follow her around. Also, I played the melody through once, bowing, and then plucked so she could hear but the cello wouldn’t overpower her voice. It worked well.

Mom sings L'chi Lach. I pluck.

Mother/daughter bonding: Stillish life with cello. That’s Debbie on the movie screen. Mom was singing L’chi Lach. When she had her bat mitzvah in 2004, Mom led MiSheberach, Debbie’s setting of the healing prayer. Debbie stood behind her and played while Mom sang. At this concert, Rabbi Steve Adams did that prayer and he asked me to play guitar. I stood behind him the same way Debbie had for Mom. It was my quiet shoutout to both of them.

We were first, but before that was the best millennial part. Thanks to technology, I was able to get Aunt Freda up on FaceTime and she got to see the 200 people who’d showed up. I introduced her to the rabbis and cantors, showed her the display table and then shoved the microphone up to my i-pad. She thanked everyone for coming, and heard the audible gasp of disbelief when she said that Debbie was so afraid that no one would remember her music.

We lost the connection somewhere between the first and second song, but it was a truly lovely and meaningful afternoon, and I felt connected to Debbie, my family and the community in a way I hadn’t before.

Everyone was backing everyone else up – we had a bunch of guitars, a mandolin, a drum and the cello. Mom got invited up to play timbrel when Amy sang “Miriam’s Song.”

That's Mom on timbrel for "Miriam's Song." Amy the activities goddess is playing guitar. Behind her are Cantors Lauren Phillips, Karen Berman and David Barash (with his tabla).

That’s Mom on timbrel for “Miriam’s Song.” Amy the activities goddess is playing guitar. Behind her are Cantors Lauren Phillips, Karen Berman and David Barash (with his tabla).

We were in front of a theater-sized screen with an image of Debbie on it. As the last song, we sang “T’filat Haderech (The Traveler’s Prayer).” But it was Debbie singing on the screen, and we all picked her key and played our instruments and sang with her. I was very involved in making sure I was in tune, in time and listening to the other musicians (this was our first and dress rehearsal as well as the performance) so it wasn’t until the song was over that I looked over to find Mom, crying her eyes out and pretty much a mess.

For a second, I felt like the worst and most selfish person in the world. Here I was, sawing away on my cello while my mother was falling apart five feet away and I hadn’t noticed.

Then, I realized that it didn’t matter. Trish, Amy and other people she knew and loved were there, comforting her and lifting her up. If Debbie could have seen it, she would have hugged those women and invited them to dinner.

Years ago, Debbie had given me one of her “This is how it is” talks about how Mom shouldn’t be living on Cape Cod anymore because the climate was bad for her Parkinson’s and she should be in California with her mother and Aunt Ann and she was trying to get her to move. All I could think was “Do you want to kill her? Because if you take her away from her community, that’s what will happen.”

I said something like “Good luck getting her to leave the Cape,” adding a silent “Let me know how that works out for you.”

By the time Mom was at a point where she had to move, Debbie was dead. Mom chose Milwaukee. We all loved the idea of Mom & her sisters together, but California wasn’t practical.

Debbie would have hated it too, and agreed. She would have been a regular presence in Mom’s life, calling, visiting, singing and comforting. What I realized in the moment after catching sight of my weeping mother, surrounded by so many loving women, is that even death hasn’t stopped Debbie from that.

Standard
education, food, journalism, lifestyle, writing

I’d rather eat homework than words: a shoutout to the culinary arts and a little Brian Williams rant

Today is all about taste – good and bad. First, the bad.

That would be Brian Williams. It wasn’t enough for Brian to be a tall, handsome, white, rich and hugely successful anchorman at NBC News. He had to lie about being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq so he could also appear to be … I don’t know. I got nothing. Well, that’s not completely true.

As a former reporter, I am disgusted. I never made it to the big leagues. It’s not that I wasn’t good enough (I might not have been, but that’s not the why of this discussion). It’s that I started late. I was in my 30s when I got my first full-time job at a small-town daily newspaper. The pay was terrible. As a single mother of three young daughters, I qualified for $126 a month in food stamps. I worked my butt off. I hated the pay, but oh, I loved the work.

A year or so in, my editor sent me and another reporter to a local school to talk to students about what we did as part of a career day event. A third-grader asked me if I’d ever lied in a story.

“I’m too lazy,” I told him. “It’s a lot of work. You have to remember who you told what to and when. Also, I have to look at myself in the mirror in the morning.”

Then I got serious and talked about how important it was to report whatever it is you’re covering in a way that lets a reader draw his or her own conclusions, to describe whatever it is you’re describing while also staying out of the reader’s way. Telling the truth, I told him, is the most important thing a reporter does.

So, shame on Brian Williams, who has made it harder for all the hardworking journalists out there who practice their craft with ruthless integrity. All the money in the world will not buy his reputation back, and his stink taints the rest of us.

<not>Thanks, Brian</not>.

Okay, enough about that man. Because I wanted to have a standard of living and because I started late, I no longer commit acts of journalism on a regular basis. Which brings us to things good and tasteful, or at least tasty.

One of the perks of my current job at a large Midwestern technical college is proximity to the best-tasting homework in the universe. Our associate degree, technical diploma and certificate programs include culinary arts and baking and pastry arts degrees. That means we have a student-run bakery and café, pop-up restaurant and a student-run section of the main food court. There is also a fine-dining restaurant called Cuisine.

The front and back of the house are separate classrooms, and the students are responsible for all the functions that occur there. So the maître d’, servers, buspeople, hosts and managers are all culinary students. Every week they switch off different roles. At mid-semester, the course ends and they switch with the students who worked in the back of the house. There, they rotate through all the roles one would find in the kitchen of a fine-dining restaurant while the former kitchen staff becomes the dining room crew. Chefs need to know what goes on in a dining room. And potential chef-owners get a sense of what they’re thinking about signing up for in a low-stakes setting.

I’ll be honest. The service is kind of slow. Which is not a surprise. After all, the students are not training to be servers, they’re training to be chefs. The food makes up for it, and then some. Also, the service is extremely friendly and the prices are ridiculously cheap for what you get.

This past Tuesday, my friend (and colleague) Rick and I and lucked into lunch on the house. If we’d paid, the meal would have cost us $17 each before tax and tip. The restaurant moved into a brand-new space two years ago. It’s spacious, decorated in warm neutral tones. Walk in and you don’t feel like you’re at work anymore. Two large monitors are mounted on the walls. No matter where you’re seated, you can watch the kitchen action. Great food and reality TV. I have had worse days at work!

Rick ordered this: “Jeff Leen Chicken, pan-seared breast and boneless leg with tomato-basil mousseline forcemeat, cauliflower risotto, baby broccoli with red onion, and yellow pepper and romesco sauce.”

Jeff_Leen_Chicken

Rick’s main course. He ordered the chicken. It was yummy. I had a bite.

I ordered this: “Grilled Hanger Steak, pommes frites, baby broccoli with red onion and yellow pepper and truffle Madeira sauce.”

Hanger_Steak

My hanger steak. With my gluten issues, I have to be careful, and this is an entree I know is safe. They’re careful too, and very good about accommodating food allergies. (I’m looking forward to ordering the fish with g/f mushroom risotto, which will come along later in the semester.)

We had salads, too. I had this one: “Mixed Greens, apples, dried cranberries, almonds and goat cheese with a basil-chive vinaigrette.”

Apple_Salad

This salad was perfect. The flavor balance was just right, it wasn’t overdressed and the presentation….well, I guess I don’t have to say anything about the presentation. I want another one right now!

Rick ordered this: “Spinach Salad, mango, red peppers, scallions and toasted sesame seeds with a curry emulsion dressing.”

Spinach_Mango_Salad and some spreads

I had flirted with ordering the mango salad, but was glad I’d chosen the apple (recommended by my server) instead. This one needs some tweaking – I thought there were too many strong flavors competing for attention. But it was really beautiful to look at – like a summer garden on a plate. The butter (small round dish) was basil, I think, and there was a cream cheese and sun-dried tomato spread (larger round dish) that I would have ordered for dessert if I thought I could have gotten away with it. The kidney-shaped dish had an amuse bouche, which wasn’t g/f. I don’t remember what it was, but Rick said it was yummy.

We didn’t order wine, because we were going back to work. But we could have, because the restaurant has a license to serve a single glass to any customer who is of proper age and orders one. The school applied for the liquor license because students need to know about food and wine pairings. We also didn’t order dessert, which looked great. But time was running short and we both like to make sure we are giving the taxpayers of Wisconsin their money’s worth.

Standard