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a new leaf

I never was one for New Year’s resolutions. No sooner are the words out of my mouth than the promises seem to vaporize into thin air. Committing to losing those few pounds, swearing to write 3000 words a day (speak, yes; write, not so much), promising to look before I leap (or, in some cases, to leap before I look) – all of these made-in-the-moment plans just never seem to come to pass. Blame it on the pressure (everyone’s doing it!); blame it on the Champagne (even one glass makes me silly); blame it on the fact that there’s a new month starting every 30 days or so and picking January (boring, back-to-blah January) isn’t much of an impetus.

But.

As much as the first of day of the new year isn’t the get-up-and-go I need to make those changes, the first day of fall certainly is. (Of course, the summer-to-fall transition was clearer when I lived back East and fall really felt like a new season. Here in LA, fall weather – or the kind of fall weather we get out here – usually doesn’t really settle in until later in October. Even the end of September is often good for one last blast of summer heat.) But the first day of autumn brings with it all the promise of the starting-again season of my youth. That first-day-of-school feeling imbued with all kinds of “news” – new box of crayons, new books (yay!), new pencils (with perfectly sharpened points), new clothes, new crisp snap to the air, new feeling of possibility and of reaching new goals.

Maybe it’s that summer’s laziness feels gone, washed away by cooler mornings. Maybe it’s the appeal of a cup of hot tea with breakfast instead of summer’s staple iced version. Maybe, this year at least, it’s having gotten through a summer marked with the challenge of my covid and other health issues and the turning toward the refreshing wash of fall’s new palette, new pace, and new promise of better things ahead.

Or maybe’s it’s that box of 64 shades of crayons (still to this day) just waiting to be cracked open, its rainbow of colors at my fingertips making me smile. Not that my drawing talents are noteworthy – doodling is my specialty – but those crayons are a symbol of what fall has always meant. The fact that it’s okay to hope, to dream, and to wish.

It’s also that feeling of freshness in the air (yes, even here in LA) that wakes you up to face what the day has to offer. Like the ability to go for long walks without the heat of summer cutting them short. Or the crunch of autumn’s profusion of apples replacing summer’s sticky-sweet harvest of peaches. Or the chance to have your cheeks turn pink from nature’s chill, not makeup. All changes, and all for the good.

So yes, I’ll make my resolutions now, when they feel possible, not three months from now. I’ll resolve to write more (entirely doable), worry less (more of a challenge for someone like me, but more embraceable this new season than last), and look forward to positivity even as we get ready to turn our clocks back.

Be-leaf it.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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sounds like magic

At a time when headlines blare what once seemed inconceivable news, the cacophony is enough to send so many of us searching for the sounds of peace. Of quiet. Of simply a silence to the awful noise.

On a recent evening when just one more newscast was one too many, B. and I looked at each other with the slightly glazed eyes of people who have seen just too much of something that was, well, just too much. Scrolling through the TV listings only seemed to offer more of the same old, same old. We wanted something familiar but not boring; distracting but not creepy; hopeful but not heavy. Or anything Marx Brothers. We were about to call it a night because there was nothing that fit the bill – not a hint of Groucho or Harpo in sight – when suddenly, there it was. The Sound of Music.

I know, I know. You can call it sappy. You can wince at the fact that it’s a musical. And you can run screaming from the room because the idea of just-short-of-three hours of a singing family is too much to contemplate (don’t think that all of those thoughts didn’t enter our minds). But something told us to give it a chance and let this classic that we’ve seen so many times before (including the first time for each of us, as seven-year-olds, when we saw it in the same neighborhood theater without even having met each other yet) work its magic once more.

And you know what? It did. First of all, Julie Andrews is a treasure. She of the utterly beautiful voice brought a sweetness, an innocence, and just the right amount of sass to the role of Maria. And have I mentioned her soaring, glorious voice? Then, of course, there is Christopher Plummer (my very first crush – shh, don’t tell B.). Handsome, strong, and redeemed by said Maria to love again, Plummer as Captain von Trapp found his heart (of gold) again thanks to her and to – wait for it – the sound of music. And finally, the children – their voices creating gorgeous melodies and harmonies that sounded joyful, both to our ears and our hearts.

Go ahead, say it, it’s time to cue the violins. But hear me out. The score to that movie – including classics like Do-Re-Me; So Long, Farewell (are you kidding me about the cuteness factor of little Gretl?); Sixteen Going on Seventeen; My Favorite Things; Something Good (what an incredibly touching duet with passion just beneath the surface) – was like a soothing balm to what ailed us that evening. Just hearing Christopher Plummer sing and strum Edelweiss was enough to evoke healing tears.

Of course, the story behind the movie – about how the von Trapp family escaped the terrors of wartime Austria – is a compelling and harrowing one. But escape they did, and that kind of happy ending – seeing them crossing the Alps – while obviously romanticized somewhat for the big screen, was the note of hope we longed for as a nighttime lullaby.

Would listening to great music on its own have done it? Possibly, but we needed the visual fairy tale-esqueness of this love story set in the midst of turmoil to really make a difference that evening.

After all these years, the movie holds its own – art that transports, transforms, and transcends.

Some of my favorite things.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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what’s up, buttercup?

Few inanimate objects are as happy as a cupcake. These delightful “cups of cake” (as B. calls them) provide the exactly right proportion of downright joy per square bite. Because each cupcake is its own universe of pure indulgence, each is another chance to explore something new. Unlike a slice from a full-on cake (and I love cake, believe me) there’s something about a cupcake’s personality that makes it a frivolous choice. And besides, there’s the cuteness factor of getting icing on your nose.

My history with cupcakes began with Drake’s Yankee Doodles. When and where I grew up, your family was either a Drake’s or a Hostess family, and we were the former. Yankee Doodles came in packages of three and were dense little chocolate cupcakes filled with white creme. I thought they were the best (that is, until I visited a friend’s house after school and tasted Hostess cupcakes – those had chocolate icing with that famous white squiggle on top plus the white creme center). Yankee Doodles got me through years of after-school homework; sometimes, if I was very lucky, they found their way into my brown-bag lunch.

Later on, Yankee Doodles were replaced in my heart (and tummy) with what remain to this day my favorite-ever supermarket-sold cupcakes, these from that bastion of New York-bakery goodies – Entenmann’s. In those days, Entenmann’s cupcakes came six to a box. They were all chocolate and all filled with white creme. But three were frosted in chocolate and the other three in bright-white vanilla. And that frosting! It was creamy but just hard enough so that when you peeled the cupcake wrapper away chewy bits of the frosting remained on the paper, too delicious to pass up. I loved the times when that box showed up on our kitchen counter.

But then. Magnolia Bakery opened shortly before I moved from NY to the West Coast and, while I didn’t get a chance to try its famous cupcakes, they were something I heard and read about a lot (thank you, Carrie Bradshaw). These boutique-bakery cupcakes promised a next level of pleasure (plus they were so beautiful to contemplate). Sigh. Had I missed my chance at cupcake nirvana?

Nope. Because in a stroke of luck brought about by the cupcake gods, Sprinkles Cupcakes opened here in LA and I fell in love. Deeply. Madly. Truly. All it took was for a box of these cupcakes to show up at work one day and I was smitten. The vanilla cupcake I chose was an “aha!” moment in and of itself (and so good that I had to sneak a second one to take home). The marriage of fluffy cake and decadently outrageous frosting was enough for me to say “I do!” any time someone brought in another box. And that adorable little candy-circle dot on top? Pure love.

These days, I write from home and we don’t live near a Sprinkles. And yes, I know that it (and Magnolia Bakery) deliver, but that just doesn’t feel right. I want to walk into a charming little bakery, peer at all the cupcake choices in the glass case at the counter, and pick out my treat in person. One day recently while wishing for cupcakes (I keep my wishes small and achievable), a postcard arrived announcing a new cupcake bakery opening not too far away (in LA, anything less than a half-hour’s drive is considered not too far). Thank you, genie.

Trays and trays of choices, changing each day, with at least one or two (or three or six) kinds that I covet with each visit. B.’s current favorite is a birthday-cake cupcake (yellow cake, milk-chocolate icing, colorful sprinkles). Mine is a coconut cupcake with at least an inch of cream-cheese-buttercream frosting smothered in a blizzard of coconut. Just describing it makes my heart beat faster (the way it does when I eat too much of the frosting).

Let’s face it. The world is a scary place these days. And if an excellent cupcake once in a while helps center me, helps make me smile, and helps me believe that there is still some sweetness left out there, so be it.

Mea cup-pa.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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end of the innocence

No matter how many amusing anecdotes I recount in this blog, no matter how many of life’s lighter moments I attempt to capture, no matter how hard I try to bring a smile to my readers (and to make myself laugh), it’s truly a struggle these days not to be overtaken by the times we live in. The inherent innocence required to be truly joyful – to cast aside worry even for a few minutes in order to celebrate the smallest things – seems to hide itself these days behind the shadow of seeing and knowing too much.

There are two enormous moments in my generation’s history that stand out to me as signaling that the sense of well-being so many of us believed in was, sadly, at an end – starting, in my memory as a five-year-old, with the assassination of JFK. Anyone old enough to walk and talk and sense that something was amiss on that day will never forget where they were or what they were doing when they heard Walter Cronkite on the news. Personally, I was outside in the backyard, playing with a friend, when my mother called me in, a strange quavering in her voice. There were workmen in the house finishing our basement and I remember my mother and grandmother in tears and those big, burly men sobbing.

I knew that something awful had happened and that something had changed. Why else would my father come home from work in the middle of the afternoon? Why else would the kitchen remain dark that night as we all gathered around the television? And why was little Caroline, just a few months older than I was, looking so sad? Years of history classes later, I, of course, learned more about the why of that day and how it affected the country and the world. I learned what it meant for Camelot to end. And I got my first taste of the end of the innocence that had surrounded our lives.

That beautiful sunny autumn day in 2001 brought any innocence we might have had left at the time to its knees. September 11 left us all shivering in the cold hard reality that we were no longer secure at home, that the country many of us had taken for granted for years as being a bastion of untouchable safety from any of the evils the rest of the world might improbably aim at us was, frankly, no more. Our country had unknowingly shown a vulnerability that had been breached – it was unthinkable, unbelievable, unimaginable. There we were – a nation aging a hundred years in a day. Far less innocent and far more wise in ways we wished we never had to be. Another date where we all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard uncomprehendingly the news of the first plane. Saw impossibly the first tower fall. Wept ceaselessly at the terribleness of the day and the horror of the evil. Acknowledged regretfully that allowing ourselves to feel innocent was no longer safe or smart or sensible.

And now, the little children and their teachers at school. Families enjoying a parade during the most American of holidays. Scenes that could not be more innocent had Norman Rockwell painted them. Lost. Finished. Ended in a way none of us could ever have imagined and that all of us collectively feel as a wound in our own hearts. This pain is more than the sorrow for those who have perished and their families and friends who now mourn. It is more than the agony of feeling helpless. And it is more than the leaden recognition that these events seem to keep happening.

It is the the fear of believing that we may never feel any of that innocence again.

But it doesn’t mean that we will never feel joy again. In the distinctly human mode of survival, we recognize that our lives do go on. In time we will laugh. And dance. And celebrate. In time.

Heart to imagine.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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melt my heart

I’ve found that trying to be zen is more stressful than not, so I have learned to just let myself be me and roll with the punches. The truth is that the more I may try to get through a day without some kind of silly mishap, the more the mischief gods notice me and decide to have some fun – it’s just easier to let them laugh versus try to change their script.

To wit: the ice-cream-cone incident. Not just any ice-cream-cone debacle, mind you. No scoop of ice cream falling off the cone and landing – splat! – at my feet, as if I were a five-year-old. Not even the slightly more sophisticated, sophomoric humor of the bottom of the cone breaking off and the ice cream running down my shirt and onto my toes without my noticing until it was too late. Nope. That would be too ordinary, too “seen it before,” too easily unnoticed by the surrounding public. No, when I have an ice-cream fiasco, it’s big, it’s embarrassing, and it’s sitcom worthy.

There we were on vacation last week in the Bay Area. (If you’re a regular reader, you already know that San Francisco is my favorite place in the world and that visiting there each year is like coming home – even though I’m originally from that other coast and have been living in Southern California for over 25 years. Wow – where did that time go?). In my mind, San Francisco has some of the best, if not the best, food in the entire country. While many in Los Angeles might disagree (how novel, LA and San Francisco competing over something), to me, San Francisco outright wins (yes, I’ll give New York its due, but the City by the Bay still has my heart – and tummy).

Anyway, after a week of great eats, including Chinese, Italian, French bistro, All-American burgers, and Turkish cuisine (kebabs that I’m still dreaming about), I decided that the one thing missing was ice cream. While strolling through B.’s old neighborhood (did I mention that he lived in San Francisco more than 30 years ago?), we passed a place selling soft-serve ice cream. Soft-serve ice cream with a hard chocolate topping. I was a goner.

I need to preface the rest of this account by saying that I am no stranger to chocolate-dipped soft-serve ice cream. Growing up in the shadow of a Carvel store (or two or three), I had more than a passing acquaintance with that chain’s Brown Bonnet. So I knew what I was asking for. Or so I thought.

My cone arrived in my eager little hands perfectly swirled and dipped, and we sat down to enjoy a few minutes of ice cream nirvana. Except. While B.’s non-dipped cone behaved perfectly, my cone turned into, shall we say, a Bellagio-Hotel-like fountain of ice cream. For some reason (maybe the ice cream wasn’t cold enough to be dipped, maybe the dip was too hot, maybe the folks behind the counter didn’t know what they were doing), the hardened dip sprang first one hole, then another, and then another, and the ice cream started spurting out, first in one spot, then in another, and then in another. As soon as I thought I had one spot licked (literally) two more opened up.

Me: Napkins, I need more napkins.

He: Yup. Just a sec. Let me get my credit card back in my wal –

Me: Now! This is a mess!

He: Okay, hang on just a sec.

Me: (a Great Lake of ice cream forming on the table) I don’t have a sec!

He: (actually looking at me) Got it.

Hearing a giggle, I tore my eyes away from my cone drama to see an adorable little girl, maybe about two years old, trying to eat probably her first-ever cone and covered in ice cream from head to toe, pointing at me and cracking up. The more the ice cream spurted from my cone, the louder she giggled. And the louder she giggled, the more people looked over at her – and then at me. She had an excuse for her mess, though. She was two.

Disappearing wasn’t an option, so I grabbed the new supply of napkins and continued to try to catch the non-stop drips while eating the ice cream as quickly as possible. Suddenly, conquering the cone had become a competition. The cone was winning. And I was not happy.

He: (finishing his cone without an issue and watching me frantically attempting to finish mine, all the while trying really hard not to laugh) You could just break off the chocolate.

Me: (barely avoiding getting melted ice cream and topping on my new sneakers) Huh?

He: Just break off the hard chocolate. It should come off in in big pieces. Then you’ll be eating a regular ice cream cone.

Me: (staring at him suspiciously as the ice cream continued to leak) Really?

He: Trust me.

Figuring that I had nothing to lose (at this point the two-year-old was chortling hysterically – I’m sure the late-afternoon sugar high wasn’t helping things), I broke off the hard topping. Voilà! The leaking stopped, and I was able to gain control of my ice cream cone like a normal adult.

I’m not sure what I was more embarrassed about, the spectacle I had created or the fact that the solution was so simple yet had never occurred to me. Okay, I’m sure – it was the spectacle.

He: All good now?

Me: I guess.

He: Problem?

Me: I just feel like that two-year-old enjoyed her ice cream a whole lot more that I enjoyed mine.

He: Honey, she’s wearing most of it.

Me: I know. But still. She’s over there giggling uncontrollably and I’m kind of humiliated.

He: Look at the bright side. You made a little kid laugh.

Me: (cheering up slightly) Really?

He: Sure. And look at all the calories you saved by having all the ice cream drip onto the table.

Me: (eyes narrowing) Are you saying I need to lose weight?

He: No, I – (stopping because he knows that whatever he says now will get him into trouble)

Me: (voice rising a bit) Then what?

He: I meant, by not filling up on ice cream, you’ve saved room for a great dinner. What do you feel like?

Me: (rallying, visions of garlic bread dancing in my head) Maybe … Italian again?

He: (reaching over to wipe a dab of chocolate off the tip of my nose) You got it.

Sweet talker.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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one potato, two potato

When it comes to judging restaurants, many people compare the same dish in each. How was the filet mignon? The chili? The fried chicken? The French onion soup? For B., it’s the pesto. For me, it’s something much simpler and more basic. The potatoes. The mashed potatoes, that is.

Of course, the comparison only works in establishments that offer said potatoes, but there are plenty of those, to be sure. My top-rated venues range from our neighborhood Northern Italian place (garlic mashed potatoes that could make you swoon) to a local diner (just salted enough to make me crave even more) to a road-trip barbecue joint (leave the brisket, take the spuds). In short, if they’re serving mashed potatoes, I’m trying mashed potatoes.

It’s not surprising, given that I’m someone who believes that carbs equal hugs, that carbs equal curves (in a good way), and that carbs basically put the comfort in food. All in moderation, of course (yeah, I’ll let you know how that goes). And when it comes to carbs, mashed potatoes are my hug of choice. Am I really the only one who daydreams about floating on a cloud of mashed potatoes, sleeping on a bed of them, or crawling inside a pillowy pile and feeling safe, warm, and deliciously blissful? (Please tell me it’s not just me).

My two favorite mashed-potato recipes have nothing to do with restaurants, though, and everything to do with emotions (there’s a shock).

The first is my grandmother’s made-with-love mashed potatoes. Her secret ingredient? Chicken fat, aka schmaltz. Yes, I know – the thought doesn’t appeal to me at all today. But, as a little girl who didn’t know better, I couldn’t get enough.

My grandmother lived with us and would buy whole chickens (feet still attached – yikes!) fresh from the kosher-butcher shop. After cutting the chickens up herself (the sight was enough to send me running outside), she would collect the fat and render it down to a golden liquid by simmering it slowly on the stove. Then she’d add it to the potatoes, get out her masher and – voilà! – absolute irresistibleness. Haute-cuisine chefs reach for duck fat today, but I’d hold my grandmother’s nothing-fancy, learned-in-the-shtetl, schmaltz-laden recipe up to theirs any time.

The second recipe comes from, of all places (surprisingly), the summer day camp I went to for years as a kid. I was not much of an athlete back then (nor today, I’m proud to say) and was often the last person picked when the team captains chose their players for volleyball or kickball or tug of war or … well, you get it. I also hated the swim sessions because I was terrified of the water (also somewhat true today). After a morning’s worth of feeling like I didn’t fit in (everyone else was pre-Olympics level, in my mind), lunchtime came as a welcome break.

Whatever was on the menu that day, mashed potatoes were a constant (hey, this was in the 1960s, when nutritionally balanced, lots-of-fruit-and-veggies, lean-protein meals weren’t a priority). I loved those mashed potatoes – creamy, buttery, and with enough black pepper that you could see specks of it in each scoop. Yes, those potatoes were empirically delicious, but, more important, they were a comforting hug after those tough mornings and the perfect lead-in to afternoons filled with arts & crafts, music, and drama (all creative activities that I loved and felt at home doing).

I didn’t learn to cook until I moved in with B. (he was way more accomplished in the kitchen) and one of my first ventures was, you guessed it, mashed potatoes. I asked him to pick up the ingredients for me when he ran out to do some errands – one sweet potato for him (I found out, only after moving in, that he didn’t like mashed potatoes – good thing everything else worked out); one white potato for me; butter; cream. What I got back was one sweet potato, butter, cream, and one small, round, white new potato. Uh-oh.

Me: (pointing to the small white potato) What’s with this?

He: What?

Me: I asked for a white potato. What’s this?

He: It’s a white potato. That’s what the sign said.

Me: (impatiently trying to remain patient) But that’s not what I needed. I needed a large white baking potato to make mashed potatoes. You know, the kind you peel – an Idaho potato.

He: (patiently trying not to get impatient) That’s not what you asked for. You asked for a white potato. You should have asked for a russet potato.

Me: I grew up with two kinds of potatoes – sweet potatoes and white potatoes.

He: You grew up with sweet potatoes and russet potatoes.

Me: Seriously? You’re telling me that russet potatoes aren’t white potatoes?

He: No, I’m telling you that apparently they’re called russet potatoes in the store and if you ask for white potatoes you’ll get this (holding up the white potato).

Me: (tears starting to form and voice starting to quaver) But you should have known what I meant. We’re going to get married and you don’t understand me at all.

He: (thinking it might might be easier just to take me out to dinner) I do understand you, sweetie. I just didn’t understand what kind of potato you were asking for.

Me: (sniffling) But what if the potato is a metaphor for our relationship?

He: (not knowing whether to laugh or bang the potato against his head) It’s not. Trust me. Sometimes a potato is just a potato.

Indeed. The perfect mash.

© 2022 Claudia Grossman

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read my mind

Writers are given tons of advice on, well, how to write. Write something every day, we’re told (does my Target shopping list count?); keep plenty of pencils handy for comments, edits, and notations that come to you in the middle of the night (how about for putting my hair up in a bun because it just looks so cute?); write what you know (I know that if I can’t get past this chapter I’m working on, the characters are going to get it).

And this one – one I stand by verbatim – read. Read, read, read.

I find that reading wonderful novels – and even some not-so-great ones – is a terrific way for me to feel inspired. Knowing that other writers have crafted stories that work keeps my creative fires burning. Reading is also one of the few things that relaxes me and uncrunches my brain so that I can later focus more clearly on my own work. Reading others’ work allows my own work to flow.

I read a lot (a lot, a lot). Most of what I read is fiction, and most of that fiction is written by women. Before you assume I’m talking about “chick lit” – don’t go there. Do not even get me started on how much I detest that categorization, both for how it labels the women who enjoy those stories – chicks? really? – and for the way it minimizes those mostly light and breezy novels with a marketing executive’s stamp designed to make those books sell. (Ugh. Just ugh.) My favorite books have an engaging (whether strong or vulnerable – or both) female main character, unusual adventures or life challenges, strongly drawn relationships (friendship, marriage, it’s all good), and interesting locations. Some qualify as literature; others are sweet and funny; but all of them make me feel enriched and satisfied after reading them.

So, for those of you who may be curious, what follows is a collection of some of my favorite women writers and some of their work. Note that this is just a sampling (remember, I read a lot, a lot). To wit:

Anne Tyler: French Braid; Redhead by the Side of the Road; A Spool of Blue Thread; Clock Dance; Digging to America; Vinegar Girl (in short, if she writes it, I’ll read it)

Anne Rivers Siddons: Burnt Mountain; Islands; Outer Banks; Off Season; Up Island (exceptional fiction from a preeminent Southern writer)

Rona Jaffe: The Best of Everything (a classic); The Other Woman

Lily King: (an original voice in today’s fiction) The Pleasing Hour; Euphoria; Writers & Lovers; Five Tuesdays in Winter (I’m in the midst of this one now)

Alice Hoffman: (I’m a big fan) The Marriage of Opposites; The World That We Knew; The Dovekeepers; The Red Garden

Ruth Reichl (former food critic for The New York Times and former editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine): Tender at the Bone; Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise; Comfort Me With Apples; Save Me the Plums (all exceptions to my “mostly non-fiction rule); Delicious! (this one is fiction)

Elizabeth Berg: The Year of Pleasures and most everything else she has written

Jhumpa Lahiri: The Namesake; The Interpreter of Maladies; Unaccustomed Earth (masterfully written, moving novels – or short stories in the last title – with Indian families and culture at the core)

Laurie Colwin: (an absolute jewel of a writer) Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (warm and wonderful non-fiction); Happy All the Time; Another Marvelous Thing (novels)

Abbi Waxman (she writes delightfully quirky characters just trying to get through their delightfully quirky lives): The Bookish Life of Nina Hill; The Garden of Small Beginnings; Other People’s Houses; I Was Told It Would Get Easier; Adult Assembly Required (currently on my nightstand)

Paula McClain: Circling the Sun; The Paris Wife; Love and Ruin (marvelous historical fiction)

Erica Bauermeister: The Scent Keeper (absolutely gorgeous writing); The Lost Art of Mixing; The School of Essential Ingredients

Again, this is only a partial list because this blog post can’t go on forever (even though I wish it could). Summer is starting, so if you’re looking for a wonderful book (or five) to take on vacation, or to the beach, or just to your favorite reading corner, perhaps you’ll find something here to pique your interest. (Unabashed plug: if reading about women whose art is their heart and whose heart is their art – combined with mermaids and mahjong and magic and mystery – sounds enchanting, check out the first novel by yours truly.)

I believe that reading is indisputably one of life’s great pleasures. I believe that books are the best gift ever and that bookstores are national treasures. And I believe that one of the most delightful sounds in the world is that of a page turning.

New chapter.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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no words

In the face of the horrors of these past few days – hate-crime shootings in Buffalo and in southern California – I find myself with no words to express the fear, the sadness, the utter despair at what our country seems to have become. The fact that so much hate exists, still, after all that we thought we had accomplished, is nothing short of mind-numbingly awful, a seemingly downwardly spiraling vortex of pain.

I guess that I’ve found the words.

Like others in my generation, I never thought we’d be at a place in our lives where America the Beautiful is not a given. Where the simple act of shopping for groceries or worshipping on Sunday is riddled with the fear of losing one’s life – all because of an unstemmed hatred flourishing beneath the surface and yet again showing its fiercely ugly face in incidents large and national-news worthy or smaller and equally terrible.

But I’ve got to believe.

I’ve got to believe in words like faith and light and change. I’ve got to believe that those souls who died for nothing more than looking different will somehow move us all to affect a cure. I’ve got to put my heart in a place where it trusts that good will triumph over evil.

And so, dear readers, on a day like this, I hope you will forgive a blog post that is heavy with the shared grief of our current events. Light-and-funny is just not in my heart or my words today, but a never-ending hope is – because without it I fear that we are lost.

Hope for the better. Hope for the brighter. Hope for us all.

One word. Hope.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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study hall

Because teaching is one of the world’s most noble professions, to limit appreciation of teachers to just one week seems not enough. That having been said, given that we are in the midst of Teacher Appreciation Week, I am presented with the perfect opportunity to express my admiration for those teachers who have made much more than an impression on me – teachers who have actually helped me to realize who I might become in life, all by sharing their knowledge, their joy for learning, and their spirit. To wit:

My first-grade teacher. A warm and welcoming woman whose love for children came through with each lesson, my first-grade teacher is the person who opened up the world of reading for me, putting me on the path toward discovering the magic that books held. Much more than teaching us our a-b-c’s, she taught us how to put those letters into words and those words into sentences, and then read those sentences as they appeared on the pages of beautiful, beautiful books. Because of her, I still open every new book with bated breath, eagerly anticipating all that awaits me inside.

My high-school AP English teacher. Picture me in high school. Shy, not confident, unsure of myself. Enter a gregarious, intelligent, personable English teacher with the talent to see his students’ potential and tap into it in a supportive way. It was in his class that I realized that I could really write (thanks to his encouragement) and, more important, that I loved to write. Without his ongoing cheerleading, I would never have entered the national writing competition that I actually won; without his drawing me out of my shell, I would never have been brave enough to believe I might be a success at writing in college; and without his talent for bringing out the best in his students – through creating a positive, stimulating, and validating classroom experience – I might never have become a writer (including of this blog).

Three wise men – aka a trio of college professors. The thing about being at the top of your high-school class (even 45-plus years ago), is that, if you attend a college at that same academic level, everyone else there is equally top-of-their-class. And that can be very intimidating – trust me, I know. But the funny thing is that a great professor can help take that intimidation and turn it into a non-threatening intellectual challenge by teaching you how – not what – to think. If you’re lucky (I was), you can emerge with the kind of confidence, inspiration, and “aha” moments that influence the rest of your life. The three wise men in question, who taught Chaucer, Russian Lit, and 20th Century American Poetry – a lot of reading, I know! – all managed to instill in me the belief that I could get through it, I could understand it, and I could excel at it. Bravo, gentlemen (and brava, me).

Finally, one more teacher. My lawyer-turned-college-professor husband who loves helping his students understand the fine points of Business Law and who takes incredible joy in helping his students succeed and get from point A to point B in their lives. Who applauds their efforts and beams with pride at their accomplishments. Who keeps in touch with them for years after they have left his class because he cares so much. He has taught me, too, by example – lessons about compassion and fairness, kindness and integrity.

The best teachers don’t do it for the money (good thing). They do it because it is a calling. They all deserve our thanks and the proverbial shiny red apple – and a better excuse than, “the dog ate my homework.”

Life lesson.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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right time, right place

What does it mean when a place calls to you? That it’s where you were born and have your roots, and where you always feel at home and need to return? That it’s where you met the most-loved person or people in your life and constantly feel that bond pulling you back? Or that it’s the place where you’ve finally found the elusive piece of happiness or peace for which you’ve been searching your entire life?

None of the above, maybe; all of the above, perhaps; or some of the above, most likely. And when it comes to those three options, it’s the last that resounds the most with me.

“There are places I remember / All my life though some have changed,” wrote Lennon and McCartney – and it seems that the more trips around the sun I take, the more those words ring true. To wit:

While I spent the first 35+ years of my life as a New Yorker, that city is not one of those special places for me. My years there, while formative, were not the times I recall first when I think of where it is that makes me happy; the city itself, while arguably one of the world’s greatest, simply does not hold the piece of my heart that it once might have. Do I miss my dear friends who live in the area? Of course. But New York City itself – the place where my career took root, where I grew up socially and emotionally, where I took advantage of all the culture a city might offer – isn’t the place I yearn to go anymore, nor is it the center of my universe. Despite the often-heard adage, you can take the girl out of New York and yes, you can take some of New York out of the girl. The memories, no; the attitude, actually, quite a bit; the belief that it’s home – those feelings have faded (the love for NY pizza notwithstanding).

No one was more surprised than I was to learn that California is where I’m supposed to be. All the sunshine. All the color. All the natural beauty. All the brilliant light. Something about living here just feels right. Los Angeles has its own vibe – its own bright energy – that feels like the sun to me. Literally. It has given me the warmth to bloom. It’s a hard-to-describe feeling of being comfortable in my own skin here and of feeling my creativity take hold in a different way than ever before. What LA lacks, though, is an outer peacefulness that allows for a greater inner peace. It’s busy and it’s crowded (think of all those shoulder-to-shoulder NY subway riders and now put them bumper to bumper on 5- and 6-lane freeways) and the air quality can certainly use some work. But it’s home – imperfectly, improbably, impressively – home. It calls, and I answer (the Lakers’ last season notwithstanding).

But when it comes to the place that beckons me time and time again, that title would have to go to San Francisco and the Bay Area. As readers of this blog know, San Francisco itself is my single favorite place in the world – I was caught up in its magic as a little girl and it continues to enchant me each time we visit (and we visit almost every year). It’s no surprise that I set my novel there and no surprise that my face lights up each time we arrive, even if we’re just driving through. B. has actually determined that my smile quotient is higher and more consistent when we’re there – and, as he usually is about these things, he’s completely right. The breathtaking beauty of the entire area – from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands to Muir Woods to towns like Sebastopol to the north; to the gorgeous coastline of Pacifica and the gem that is Half Moon Bay to the south – all combine to call my name and welcome me. With absolute joy (all outstanding).

Places, every one.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

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