Friday, January 25, 2013

The sweet smell of childhood

by Graziella Buonanno

This week's Celebrate the Small Things Blogfest contribution: On Wednesday, February 6, I'll undergo surgery on my right eye to correct cellophane maculopathy and cataracts  Wish me luck. I can't wait to resume normal activities like driving my car at night, etc. I try not to dwell on the negative, but to keep a positive outlook.

And now for Graziella's post:

Someone who was leading/teaching a memoir class, said that of all the senses, the sense of smell is the strongest when it comes to triggering vivid memories from our past. I tend to agree.

Not too long ago, I was in Salisbury, CT , browsing in a pharmacy, just waiting for my daughter to make up her mind about some toys for the girls to play with, when I caught sight of a large, dark green container of talcum powder made by H. Roberts & Co.  It  showed a picture of a smiling nurse holding and sprinkling baby powder on a happy baby. Above the picture, in large, red letters, was the word BOROTALCO and below the picture, ROBERTS. It also said, “Se non e` Roberts non e` Borotalco." Translation: If it doesn't say Roberts, it's not talcum powder.

My heart jumped. OH MY LORD! Could it be?

Trembling, I took the container and turned the cap clockwise, to get a whiff of its perfume. I closed my eyes and froze, almost overcome with emotion.

I ran to my daughter and showed her my precious discovery. “ Annalise! Look what I found…” I could hardly speak…

Suddenly I was back in my childhood home, in Italy, right after the big war. It was Saturday,  it was afternoon, in front of the fireplace in our kitchen. I had just stepped out of the metal bathtub. Mama was drying me with a big linen towel, which had been kept warm by hanging over a chair by the fireplace, and quickly, lovingly, Mama was dusting my body with a puff covered with Borotalco Roberts.

In those days, life was tough. We did not have much, but my mama made sure that our bodies were fed, kept clean, and she splurged with a bit of luxury called Borotalco Roberts.

Having found that bottle of talcum powder was like having a little bit of my mother back.

I often go back to that pharmacy, and I’ve purchased several containers of Borotalco Roberts, and even a bottle of bubble bath by Roberts, for my granddaughters. Whenever they take baths in my lake house in Connecticut, they absolutely love the fragrance of the Borotalco Roberts, and I can only hope that some day when I am gone, they will find a bottle of the borotalco and remember their Nonna.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

When I was a sophomore in high school, the school offered a course in Speed Reading. While speed reading can be helpful with scanning a textbook for information, or going through volumes to find specific details for research, I hate speed reading.

I liken it to the difference between a plane trip and a road trip. The road trip takes longer, but instead of clouds, or distant landscapes, or miniature cities below me, I see every window in the city’s tall buildings, and people on the street who walk past them. I see light and shadows. I drive past a blooming cactus or a raven atop a sign post, or a family in a mini-van with a luggage carrier on its roof. Images that add to my experience.

When I read, I not only love a good story (which one can get in a quick read), but I crave details. I revel in an author’s word choices. I savor the way those words are put together to make similes and metaphors, the way the flow of words paints pictures in my mind. I want to lose myself in the character’s life. Sometimes there are subtle nuances in an author’s style that don’t come through in a quick jaunt through a story. No, speed reading is not for me.

But what about others? I talked to a number of friends about how they read. Do they skim or read every word?

Michele and Kathy (who are twins) like to read each word. Kathy will reread a paragraph or a whole page that she has especially enjoyed. Sometimes she’ll go back later and read it again. Michele often reads aloud to enhance the feeling of the words.

Dave said it depends on which Dave is reading the book. He was a teacher, who now works in a bookstore and makes decisions on which books to order. He writes a book review column. And he’s a parent. So Dave the Teacher, Dave the Dad, Dave the Book Reviewer, and Dave the Book Purchaser all read in different ways.

While my way of reading takes me longer to get through a book, doing that helps immensely when I’m asked to critique a manuscript. I can catch small details that someone else might miss.

The down side is my stack of books waiting to be read can become precariously high. (My Kindle is new, and I’ve only read one novel in Kindle form so far.) But if I’m going to take the time to read a book, I want to get all I can from the experience. Zipping through clouds is for the birds.

So what about you? Do you like to hurry through a dozen novels in a month, or limit yourself to a leisurely trip through two or three?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Year of Dreams

by Melissa Kline

RGB Happy New Year 2013 HD Wallpaper

One of my favorite New Year's rituals is to start fresh with clear goals and intentions. I've created a fun, easy writing exercise which helps to give focus and direction to these goals. Follow the three easy steps below to manifest the year of your dreams. :)

Step 1: Past – List of Accomplishments
Think of everything, big or small, you have accomplished in the past year and write it down. These should be things you feel really good about – efforts you are proud of, successes, goals met, unexpected or planned circumstances. List anything and everything that makes you feel good about yourself and what you have accomplished recently.

Step 2: Present – Gratitude List
List the things that you are thankful for in the present moment or as a whole. It could be as simple as, “I am grateful for the roof over my head, food to eat, etc.” You may have to start with the basics to warm up, but I have found that it gets easier the more you write. Incorporating a gratitude list into your daily routine is a wonderful practice.

Step 3: Future – List of Goals / Dreams / Wishes
Write down the things you wish to accomplish in the New Year. Try to stay optimistic, realistic, and flexible. Your list will most likely shift and change, but it is nice to have some guidance and a visual reference. 

Added bonus: Create a vision board of your goals, dreams, and wishes. Find pictures, scenes, or words that convey what is on your list and in your heart, then paste them onto poster board. You can add to your vision board all year long. 

Here's to a happy, successful, New Year! I hope all of your dreams come true. :)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The best nuanced characters

by Kim Van Sickler

For Christmas last year my brother Mike gave me and my husband all five seasons of the HBO juggernaut The Wire, which ran from 2002-2008. "This is the finest television show, ever," he promised. We started watching it shortly thereafter, selecting times when my youngest daughter wasn't around, due to the show's extremely adult subject matter. It was slow going at first. Season One focuses on the drug trade in the Baltimore, MD area. So many characters were introduced, and it seemed they were all African-American and speaking in the code of their trade, whether they represented law enforcement or drug traffickers. Will we ever catch on? I wondered.
Season One of The Wire
It was about episode six that the momentum started. My husband and I figured enough out to watch semi-intelligently and holy shit! I felt like a fly on the wall of a world I'd never be a part of. We bought into the premise, the characters, the situations. It all seemed SO REAL. It's been an amazing ride.

Season Two hones in on the workings of the Baltimore seaport, including the longshoremen, European gangsters, and the port authority police. Season Three spotlights city government. Season Four features the public schools. Season Five takes on the Baltimore Sun daily newspaper. Some of the characters carry over from one season to another, but in varying degrees. Some go away for awhile and come back again. It's a complicated dance of interconnectedness, but all with the same themes: Politics is rife everywhere. Good people get bogged down by the system. Good people turn bad under the pressure. Bad people sometimes succeed spectacularly.
Season Four of The Wire
The most amazing part of The Wire for me, however, is the incredible complexity of the characters.  No one is absolute evil or pure as the driven snow. Everyone is composed of varying shades of gray. Motives are key to these people's characters, and every one of them is flawed. Here are some of my favorite nuanced characters:

Detective Shakima (Kima) Greggs is an openly gay Baltimore City detective. She deals with a lover who wants her to leave the dangerous world of undercover narcotics operations and become a father-figure to her lover's planned child—one that Shakima doesn't want. Shakima can parlay, drink, work, and whore with the most hardened cop. She's savvy on the job, but less smart when it comes to her personal life.
Detective Kima Greggs on The Wire
Bunk Moreland is a slightly pudgy, dapper detective on the Baltimore Police force. He flies under the radar, having mastered the workings of the Homicide Unit, and knowing what he must do to get by. He's a straight shooter who understands the imperfect world he lives in. Puffing on a stogie, drinking, and whoring give him pleasure, but he's still able to function in real life.
Homicide Detective Bunk Moreland in The Wire
Omar Little is a murdering thief who lives by a code: he never harms a civilian (someone not involved in the drug trade.) He also disapproves of swearing, and is a man of his word. Scintillatingly smart, he's a modern day Robin Hood with himself as beneficiary. He robs from drug dealers and keeps the loot for himself and his loved ones. Omar's gay lover was gruesomely murdered in Season One and Omar hasn't gotten over it yet.
Criminal Omar Little on The Wire
Michael Lee is a middle-schooler with a drug addict single mother. He's taken over caring for his younger brother and also manages to take enough of his mom's government assistance money to actually buy them food before she spends it on drugs. Michael's actions lead us to believe that his brother's father sexually abused him before he was sent to prison. With his soft-spoken manner and watchful eyes, you get the feeling he's a smart kid who's going to be crushed by the unforgiving world he's been born into. He's cultivated as a good boxing prospect by a former drug dealer who gave up that life to open a neighborhood boxing ring. Imagine the shock when Michael turns out to be one of the biggest bad-asses on this show about bad-asses.
Middle-schooler Micheal Lee on The Wire
Bubbles is a sad sack drug user. He also makes a little money on the side as a confidential informant, a real buddy to Detective Shakima Greggs. The lows he sinks to, the indignities he endures to get his fix, are heart breaking. More so, because in his sober moments he realizes how pathetic he is, and he always has heart. Ultimately his fight becomes merely one to survive in a jungle where in the hierarchy of power, he's an ant.
Drug addict Bubbles on The Wire
For a gritty, real-life show with the widest range of nuanced characters, check out The Wire. You won't regret it. You might even agree that it is television at its finest.

For a clip of the show, click here. (Every season a new variation of the theme song is recorded.)

And now for a tongue-in-cheek comparison on how The Wizard of Oz is grittier than The Wire, click here.

And for a Funny or Die version, click here