A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner

          It seems this blog has focused on the topic of food  for most of the month of November.  Considering that the Thanksgiving holiday falls in this month,  food is a very appropriate topic.  Today is no exception as Jennifer Johnston Crow returns with the final post of her series of three guest spots.  Jennifer writes a helpful blog called Pivot.   She also writes memoir.  Please visit her blog to say hello.  If you missed her previous posts be sure to visit Memories of Mighty Mouse and The PB & J Massacre.   My thanks to Jennifer for her contributions to Wrote By Rote.

Breakfast for Dinner

I don’t know for sure how old I was when I first saw The Wizard of Oz, but I know those flying monkeys shot shivers of fear through my body. Each year I’d sit transfixed, gnawed by worry, each time the intrepid group ventured through the gloomy forest and into the castle, Toto in tow.
I grew up with Dorothy and the gang (well, I grew up, they stayed eternally young), and by the time I was 13, the movie had been an annual televised event – and an eagerly anticipated one – for some 11 years.
I was a newly minted teenager then, and our sparkling color television was the focal point of our living room. It was a Sunday night and time again to visit Oz. The familiar movie took shape: the tornado (surely an F-5) still swept the house off its foundation, carrying Dorothy and Toto toward a wildly different world. Thunk! The house dropped, the wind died away, an expectant silence fell. As they had so many years before, Dorothy and Toto crept to the door, opened it, and stepped out into Oz.
Except this was no Oz I’d ever seen. It was bright! It was bold! It was fantastic. It was in color!
My jaw dropped. When had that happened? Had the color on our TV been off? Was our brand new TV going bad? What? What?
Spellbound, I sat raptly through the movie – literally a new movie to me. I never knew The Wizard of Oz was in color. I soaked up the sights – even the sound seemed somehow brighter. And those ruby slippers! Dorothy clicked them once, twice. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
And just as quickly as color had come, it was gone. We were back to black and white.
Many years later I realized the significance of how The Wizard of Oz was filmed. Real life is often black and white, a little dull, filled with routine. Pastures are greener somewhere else … but they carry their own set of troubles. It’s when we return to our black and white lives that we discover a new appreciation for all that’s good about familiar things.
It’s amazing what a change of perspective can do, but what’s even more amazing is that, when you tap into memories, there’s no telling where they’ll take you.
I was telling my friend Susan about my Oz epiphany, which managed to send her way back into the crevices of her life, rekindling the memory of the marching minions around the witch’s castle, which tripped her on down the lane to recalling how her mother always made her a milkshake during the annual Oz broadcast.
That’s a pretty special memory, and I have one, too.
For me and my sister and brother, it was breakfast for dinner (and not just during the Wizard of Oz, but nearly every Sunday).
Sunday at our house had its own kind of rhythm. Sometimes it centered around church and sometimes it centered around a Sunday drive. Whatever it was, we’d never eat lunch. We would, instead, have dinner in the middle of the afternoon. It’s a country thing, I think, that’s being replaced by quick lunches after church so we can run off to do this errand or that obligation. I miss them.
There we’d be, gathered around the dining room table, resplendent with mom’s good china and the Fostoria water glasses we hated because they were so heavy. It would be the middle of a lazy afternoon, time for our traditional Sunday dinner, which cut seriously into crucial kid activities. And those activities were usually, although not always, outdoors. Sometimes they involved a swing or a lounge chair with our noses stuck deep into a book (well, me and my sister, anyway. My brother definitely was outside, probably gathering up garter snakes. His only books were of the Rick Brant or Hardy Boys variety, and then only when he had a book report due the next day).
Even the luscious smell of roast chicken or maybe a pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, some of mom’s canned green beans (half runners only), and applesauce (because every kid likes applesauce) — even that beckoning, welcoming scent wasn’t enough to stir us.  Nope. We were waiting for night to fall and supper to arrive, because that meant breakfast.
Pancakes. Eggs. Cereal. Waffles from mom’s ancient, well-worn waffle iron. Not the kind with lights that turn green when the waffles are done, but the kind you had to have the nose for to know when they were perfectly toasted, golden and crispy. Butter and syrup and sausage or bacon. What wasn’t to like? We even got juice!
Some nights it might be eggs — scrambled, fried, frequently poached. Pancakes — buckwheat or buttermilk, we didn’t care. Or Coco-Wheats® cereal in all its chocolaty wholesomeness! And best of all, we could take them all into the living room and carefully arrange our ’60s-era tray tables for the best television viewing angle.
THIS was what we waited for. This, and the Wonderful World of Disney with its weekly family friendly feature, augmented once a year with a romp to the Emerald City with Dorothy and the gang. We never knew if we’d be in for a comedy, a cartoon, a heartwarming tale, a swashbuckling adventure, or a romp through the wild, wild West. What we did know was that breakfast for dinner was the highlight of our Sundays.

         Did you grow up with any unique meal traditions?  Are there any interesting meal traditions that have now?    Do you ever eat breakfast foods at dinnertime?   Or how about hamburgers for breakfast?

Jennifer Johnston Crow is a personal coach and a writer/editor with the federal government. She offers insights and commentary for living through her blog (pivot-coaching.com) and through individual and group coaching events. This year Jennifer captured second place in the West Virginia Writers Spring Writing Contest for her memoir, “Fear.” She’s passionate about storytelling, especially when it’s real, honest, and personal. A little humor doesn’t hurt,either!

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Are We Talking About Food Again?

A delicious-looking meal
A delicious-looking meal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
         So I was talking on the phone to my mother and she was telling me about what they'd had for lunch and about how my sister was going to buy pizza that evening and invite my brother and his family over.  I was kind of envious because I really liked the pizza at Giovanni's when I ordered it during my visit there last month.  That's in Maryville, Tennessee where most of my family lives and it's welcome to see a darn good Italian restaurant opened up in that area.

          When I was there at Giovanni's I ordered a New York style pizza with anchovies, onions, and pepperoncinis.  Not many takers on this one which was okay by me since it's my favorite kind of pizza and taking some leftovers home wasn't all that bad.  My brother and youngest sister both tried some and they liked it.  That surprised me since I usually don't find many others who like anchovies.   Maybe it's kind of a family thing.

            After talking about the topic of their meals with my mother, I told her about the meal I had fixed the previous evening for my wife and I and how much my wife had enjoyed it.  Then I went on to describe the big breakfast I was planning for Saturday morning--a feast that would include scrambled eggs, patty sausage,  potatoes O'Brian, biscuits, and gravy.   We do enjoy our Saturday morning breakfasts.

         At this point my mother interjected, "All you do is talk about food."

         Initially I protested that this was not so because food is not the only thing I talk about, but then conceded that I do talk about food a lot.  When the family is together we often go off on the topic of food.  I've found this to be true in many scenarios with other people as well.  After all we all have to eat, eating can be very enjoyable, and what better thing to talk about since we all probably have some interesting food stories to tell.

           Especially when the family is all together for the holidays we'll talk about what we're going to have for dinner that night, go off on a food buying mission for ingredients, spend time preparing the meal, and then talk about food while we're eating and after the meal.   Eating is inevitable and the meals together can be significant events.

            Now don't get me wrong, we talk about plenty of other things, but the meals are the catalysts for getting together and having conversations.   When I think about the pot lucks, the restaurant outings, ceremonial meals for things like weddings and birthdays, and all of the other ritualistic gatherings in which food is consumed, I realize the importance of breaking bread together.  

            As many of us gather together for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals in the coming weeks, conversations will be flowing.  The meals can be excellent prompts to delve into memories of the past.  People who have passed on will be remembered.   Stories of days gone by will be told.   Favorite recipes will be shared.  There's nothing like a happy meal together and the conversation that goes with it.

            What's for dinner?

             Do you find that food is a common topic of discussion when you are with others?   At gatherings with family or friends is meal preparation and consumption an important part of the day?   Have you found meal times to be useful for gathering information and enjoying entertaining stories?

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

My School Lunch Box

Lunch boxes
Lunch boxes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
         I sure wish I still had my lunch box from back when I was in second grade.  That was over fifty years ago so that thing might be worth a few bucks.

         I can't even remember what kind of lunchbox it was.  It may have been one depicting Hopalong Cassidy since I was a big fan as a child.  Looking back, I'm not sure what Hoppy's appeal was to boys back then.  It was an innocent time when television was still new and we were the benefactors of the heroes of our fathers.  Hopalong could never reach hero status in today's world.  In the fifties I don't know that "cutting edge" was used in the sense of something that was trendy.  Cutting edge would not be a phrase that would be used to describe Hopalong Cassidy.   Hopalong was an intergenerational  fad in his day--something not often seen in today's pop culture.

          If Hopalong wasn't the icon on the lunchbox then it was probably some other Western hero such as Roy Rogers or Davy Crockett.  But whoever it might have been was not the biggest item of interest for me.  The metal lunch box was pretty nifty and all, but the Thermos inside was the feature attraction as far as I was concerned.  

         What sold me on the Thermos was that I could carry hot soup to school.  That was pretty amazing to me.  On a cold day during lunch I could open my Thermos and pour hot soup into the little plastic cup that fit onto the top of the bottle.  It was a marvel of marvels as far as I was concerned.  Inside that tin box depicting cowboys was a contraption of science fiction proportions--a wonder of the modern age.

           Hot soup was probably not the only liquid I carried in my Thermos.  I undoubtedly carried cold beverages as well, but I can't remember exactly what they might have been.  What I did know--and something that was part of the Thermos advertising campaign--was that this magic bottle kept liquids hot or cold until needed.

           This was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the school year of 1958.  We'd moved to the Penn Hills neighborhood from Cleveland, Ohio.   We moved to Penn Hills during the summer of 1958 and stayed until almost the end of the school year leaving at the beginning of June 1959 when we were uprooted to San Diego, California.   That year at the Penn Hills school would be the only time I would ever carry a lunchbox to school.

           Seeing as how the lunchbox didn't get that much use, it was probably in pretty good condition after we left Pittsburgh.  I'm sure I found a way to trash it though.  I distinctly remember breaking the inside of the Thermos at some point.  I probably wanted to see how the darn thing worked.  I had a habit of doing that sort of thing when I was younger.

           The tin box is another story.  Maybe I used it to keep things in for a while.  Can't rightly say that I remember.  Somehow the box faded out of my life like so many things I'd had as a child.   If I had known better, I would have kept it and preserved it.   But why would I think of such a thing.  It was just a tin box to carry sandwiches and cupcakes in and it once had a Thermos bottle in it that I broke to see how it worked.

           I guess I probably should have taken better care of a lot of things and kept them.  My parents would have loved that.  Our house would have looked like one of those houses you see in those television shows about hoarders.   I'd bet you a Thermos bottle full of hot soup that some of those hoarders you see on television have old lunch boxes kind of like the one I had.  Their lunch boxes might even still have old sandwiches in them and soup in the Thermos bottles.

         Maybe it's a good thing that I don't have that lunch box anymore.  But still I wonder.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

How to Avoid Committing a Libel in Writing a Family Memoir

        Agnes Embile Jimenez is standing in for me today with an important topic for memoir writers.   She can be regularly be found at her own blog Empress Of Drac, A Cebuana Blogger.

Libel toe ring
Libel toe ring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How to Avoid Committing a 
Libel in Writing a Family Memoir

Even when writing a family memoir, you run the risk of committing libel and getting sued. Memoirs are written about real people. In most cases, a memoir worth writing and reading includes bad things about people that they may not want shared with the public. They just may retaliate with a libel lawsuit. In general, books are protected by the freedom of speech rights laid out in the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. But, there is the right way and many wrong ways to write family memoirs. By not following the rules of the right way, you open yourself up to having to prove in court that you didn't commit a libel. 

What Is Libel?

The simplest way to explain the working definition for the word libel is: a false statement made in writing, which damages a living person's reputation or the reputation of an entity that's been read or published by anyone other than the person whose character was defamed. In the case of a defamatory statement that's made verbally instead of in writing, this is called slander. Once again, the statement must be false to be libel. That's why the number one things to keep in mind when writing a family memoir is that everything declared in the content must be the absolute truth. Truth is an unquestionable defense to a libel suit.

Types of Libel

There are two different types of libel. A family memoir writer needs to be careful to avoid both to win any libel suit. They are: Libel per se and Libel per quod.
·         Libel per se – This is a written statement that may or may not be true. But, taken at face value, it constitutes libel because it defames the subject's or entity's character in ways that the courts find to be unnecessary and unethical. For example: “My uncle Larry Moore, who lives in St. George, Utah and works at the Main Street University is a drug addict and a thief. He will rob anyone, including his job, to get his fix.” Even though you may be able to prove this, it's a defamatory statement that will be considered libel in court.
·        Libel per quod – This is committing libel through implication. These statements implies untruths, rather than coming right out and stating them. For example, you publish a wedding announcement in your family memoir stating: “My Uncle Larry Moore married Helena Smith”, knowing that he never married Helena and is actually married to a completely different woman. Taken at face value, this doesn't seem to be a libel statement. However, the statement implies that your uncle is a bigamist, married to two women at the same time.

The Elements of Libel

In a libel suit, you are the defendant. It's the plaintiff's duty to prove that you committed libel in order to win their case. This is done by proving that these four elements of libel were met in your memoir:
1.      A statement you made is untrue.
2.      The statement is defamatory in its meaning.
3.      The party who was allegedly defamed can is clearly identifiable in the statement.
4.    The statement is within a memoir that's been published.

Four Simple Tips for Avoiding Libel

When you publish your family memoir, it should be a time of reflection and celebration. The last thing you want is to be sitting in court being sued for libel by a family member. Here are four simple tips to help you write your family memoir without committing libel.
  1. Write the Truth – Even the smaller white lie published in your memoir can having you in court fighting a libel suit. The person this tiny white lie was written about can suffer from a defamation of their character. If everything written in the memoir is absolutely true, you lower your chances of being sued. And, if someone does attempt to sue you anyway, the truth will be your best defense for winning your case.
  2. Change the Names – Changing names of the people, places and entities in your memoir will help to protect you. This may seem as if it's a untruth. Maybe it is. But, the way this works is quite simple. Everything that you write in the memoir must be the truth, except the places and the names. If done properly, this will protect the people you've written about from being recognized by other family members, co-workers, acquaintances, employers, neighbors and anyone else they wouldn't ordinarily share personal information with about their life. You can keep the places the same, if they're integral parts of the family memoir. However, if you can, this will help to conceal the identities of those you've written about even more.
  3. Obtain Legal Advice – If you can, you should show your finished manuscript to an attorney. They will be able to give you better insight as to whether you've written something that may be considered libel. If you prefer not to use an attorney, there are other libel experts that can assist you.
  4. Get Release Forms – Either have your attorney write up a release form for you, or you can do it yourself. Have every person mentioned in the family memoir sign one of your release forms. Signing the form gives you their written permission to use their information, life history and name in the memoir. Then, if it ends up having negative consequences on them, they can't sue you for it. If they insist on reading it before signing the release form, go ahead and let them. You never know. They may decide to add some extra details to their part of the story that will make the book even more exciting and juicy.


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