Losing Yourself for the Better

Mrs. G. changed his name for privacy purposes but this is really him! Thanks Google.

When Mrs. G. was in college, she was flat out in love with Professor Wright. He didn't know she existed, but how could he when he had at least three hundred students in his Survey of Early American History. Mrs. G. was just a face in the crowd, a face in the crowd that wanted to kiss his at least fifty-year-old cheeks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday when class was in session.

Professor Wright always wore a trench coat and lugged a battered brief case on his way to class. He had unruly salt and pepper hair and was constantly pushing his thick glasses back in place. He read while he was walking around campus, oblivious to those around him. He was a fixture on campus, so most students knew that if Professor Wright was strolling down the sidewalk with his nose in a book, to get the hell out of the way.

If you spoke to Professor Wright out of class or in his office, he came off as a shy, unassuming man who was a little uncomfortable in his skin. It was clear he was most satisfied inside his books. His office was overflowing with them.

But when this shy, unassuming man was lecturing about Agrarianism or the Civil War, he was in his element. He became alive, worked up, nearly beside himself. Every once in a while, when he was really into, say, the battle of Antietam or Shiloh, he would climb up on his desk, swing his arms around and smile, truly stirred by the extraordinary information he was sharing. When Professor Wright climbed up on his desk, the energy shifted in class. Some students, like Mrs. G, were into it, others snickered like he was a wack job, while still others just couldn't wrap their minds around the fact he was standing on university issued furniture. But Professor Wright's goal, Mrs. G thinks, was to bring history to life, fire his students up, and he mostly succeeded. One afternoon, a student had his head down on his desk sleeping, and Professor Wright threw a pencil at his head. Nobody felt bad for the guy because when Professor Wright was standing on his desk, shit was real.

Mrs. G. hasn't seen Professor Wright for over twenty years. She hopes he's still alive walking the streets of Eugene with his face in a book. It's hard not to admire the daring stoutheartedness it takes to climb up on a real or metaphorical desk and share your genuine self, what really makes you tick, even at the risk of being mocked. Professor Wright did that and Mrs. G. thanks him for it. And to this day she has a fervid attachment to personal passions, odd birds and unruly salt and pepper hair.


Good For What Ails You by Aunt Snow

I had an inkling I was catching a cold in the morning, when I awoke with a headache and it took a while to banish the sleep from my mind. At work, my cold came on gradually and inevitably. I sat at my desk feeling the chills prickle my skin, and the skritch in my throat when I swallowed. When my husband was a little boy, he once described to his mother how a cold makes everything in your body ache; he said, “My hair hurts.”  That’s how I felt.

It's an old wives' tale that hot soup helps cure the common cold. I'm not sure if that’s true, but I know that when I’ve been brought down low with a cold, I want a good bowl of phở, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

I wish I could remember who introduced me to phở. I know I tasted my first bowl in Seattle, a city whose grey and rainy climate fosters a primal need for such a hot, steamy comfort. There’s a little wedge-shaped clapboard shack at the five-way intersection where Rainier Avenue meets Jackson Street, so small its windows were always fogged up from the steam that arose in the kitchen. That may have been the first place I sat, crammed behind a formica table, slurping up broth and noodles flavored with herbs, and chopsticking slices of tender beef in hot sauce.

But it could have been a little counter downtown, hidden behind a jewelry arcade just across Fifth Avenue from the old Nordstrom’s building. I would go there for lunch break when I worked at the Fifth Avenue Theatre or the Paramount, when I wanted to be by myself instead of grabbing a beer and a sandwich with the guys. A bowl of phở was cheap – under five bucks, back then – and there was something both comforting and solitary about sitting on a stool at a counter with people who spoke another language.

Phở is the kind of dish you find in the proverbial hole-in-the-wall joint. When I first came to Los Angeles, and worked in the nearby city of Long Beach, I ate lunch at a strip-mall Chinese take-out place. After I learned they had an off-menu selection dishes for Vietnamese students at the nearby university, I never ordered orange chicken again.

Phở is made with beef marrow bones, cooked for hours with spices that include cloves, cinnamon, and star anise. The broth is strained, defatted and clarified, and then heated up again to a searing boil. To serve, the broth poured over boiled noodles called banh phở, flat white rice noodles, and garnished with sliced onions and cilantro.

It comes to the table in a huge steaming bowl, and alongside a platter heaped with herbs, bean sprouts, sliced green chiles, and wedges of lime.

Just breathe in the steam. If you’ve ordered phở tai, thin slices of rare beef eye of round float atop the broth, slowly losing their pinkness as they cook in the hot liquid.

Sip a little broth to taste. Then customize it as you like - add a squeeze of lime, handfuls of sprouts, torn bits of fresh basil or sawtooth herb.

Hold the spoon in your left hand and your chopsticks in your right.  It’s okay to put your face down low to the bowl. Some people put a bit of onion or herb, a bit of beef and some noodles in the spoon and sip. Others just use chopsticks to eat the noodles. It’s okay to slurp.

The bean sprouts are crunchy and have that faint chlorine taste, while the basil is the purply-stemmed Thai kind, sharp and anise-like. I like to float a round of jalapeno on top for its fragrance and flavor.

Tables in phở joints have an assortment of condiments at the ready, like hoisin sauce, Sriracha hot sauce and fish sauce. I like to mix sauce in a little dish and dunk the slices of beef before I eat them.

Phở is said to have originated in the northern city of Hanoi. Before the French colonial era, cows were used primarily as beasts of burden, but the French had different tastes. The French took the meat, leaving the Vietnamese the bones – which were perfect for broth. The word "phở" may be derived from the French "feu" or fire, as in "pot-au-feu" which is basically beef stew in a pot. And, indeed, that’s how it’s pronounced – like “fuh” or even “furhh”, not “foe,” as it looks to our American eyes.

Diners can choose from a wide variety of beefy treats to add to the soup. For phở tai, beef eye-of-round is sliced thin and added to the broth – it’s so hot it cooks the raw beef in the bowl. Other versions serve sliced brisket, flank, tripe, little round meatballs, and something called "tendon," which, I admit, I haven’t tried. You can also get tripe. At a restaurant, if you see Phở dac biet on the menu, it’s the house specialty, and means you get a little bit of everything.


Though Seattle was where I met its acquaintance, southern California is heaven for those who love phở.

Garvey Avenue in El Monte is a wide paved hodge-podge of muffler and auto-body shops, tacquerias, markets, liquor stores and botanicas - and dozens of Vietnamese restaurants. Some have a full dining menu, others are simpler and more focused, but almost all of them serve phở. Competition is fierce on Garvey Avenue – and the customer is the winner.  You can get phở made with filet mignon, the raw steak chopped like tartare in a dish alongside.

One place, Phở Huynh, which shares a parking lot with a muffler shop, serves Hanoi-style phở bắc with fresh rice noodles, which are wider and more soft and silken-textured in the mouth. It comes to the table in huge double-walled stainless steel bowls. Hanoi-style phở is more austere and less fancily garnished than southern phở nam, sometimes called phở Sài Gòn after that city.

But even the basic phở dac biet sets you back only eight dollars or so. For that, you get a bowl of soup that will help you sweat out that fever, clear your bronichals, soothe your aches and pains, and fill your emptiness. A pretty good bargain, I’d say.


Aunt Snow is one of the most interesting women Mrs. G. has had the pleasure to meet. She is a true renaissance woman who writes about the need to celebrate life all around you. You can read more of her writing at her blog, Doves Today.


Blueberries For Sal: The Director's Cut

Years back, Mrs. G. and her class of third graders were just finishing a lesson on active verbs. Mrs. G. explained that active verbs allow Superman to leap, lions to roar and fairies to flit. She had them each write out five sentences using active verbs and then let each of them read their sentences out loud. But the deal was that when they came to one of their active verbs, they had to yell it out in their loudest voice. It went a little something like this:

My dog bit my sister and then ran and hid under the bed.

told my mom I hate beets and she made me eat them anyway.

The lesson was a big hit. Sanctioned screaming in a classroom is always well-received and kid-approved. The energy level in the classroom was through the roof. Mrs. G. sensed that the kids were moving toward nutty and reckless, so she told then to grab a carpet square, take a deep breath and settle themselves on the floor for a story.


She pulled this little 1948 classic out of her book bag. It was Mr. G's favorite book as a child and shortly after the birth of Mrs. G's daughter, Mr. G's mother gifted Mrs. G. with the original copyshe had read to wee Mr. G. and his three siblings. This book has been read, loved and slobbered on by three generations. Mrs. G. treasures it.



The story is about a little girl named Sal and her mother who go out into the country to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries for winter.



Little Sal walks behind her mother with her small tin pail picking the sweet, plump berries and eating every single one.



Meanwhile, on the other side of Blueberry Hill, a kindly mother bear and her sweet baby cub are meandering the countryside eating berries for winter, preparing for their impending warm and cozy hibernation.



Sal keeps swiping blueberries from her mother's pail, so her mother tells her to run along and play so that she can gather enough berries to can for the winter.



Sal heeds her mother's words and scampers off to play, but she gets a little lost.

Mrs. G. could tell by the faces of her third graders that they were into the story. She had to hold the book in front of her for a while, so that everyone got a chance to see the pictures.



So, anyway, Sal tramps happily along when suddenly she hears a noise and is sure that she has finally found her mother...



but instead, Little Sal finds herself nose-to-nose with the kindly mother bear.

"What do you think happens next?" asked Mrs. G, trying to keep the childen engaged.

Five of them threw up their hands, wiggled around on their carpet squares and begged to be pickedAs she often did, Mrs. G. ignored the loudest, wiggliest kids and turned her attention to one of her more wary, more reserved students. In this case, a quiet, serious boy who had a grim look on his face.

"So what do you think happens next?" Mrs. G. asked him brightly.

"What do I think? I think Sal is a goner."

"Oh, no no no no no," said Mrs. G. quickly. "I've read this book hundreds of times. Sal doesn't die. The mother bear is a niceloving bear. I promise!"

The kid wasn't having any of it.

"I saw a show on the Discovery Channel," he said. Bears are unusually aggressive. A mother bear is called a sow, and a sow is very protective of her offspring. A sow will always attack if she thinks she or her cub is being threatened."

To bring it on home, the boy took his finger and slowly slid it across his throat.

A couple of the kids squealed for effect.



"Hold up!" Mrs. G. said emphatically. "Sal is not going to die. Let me finish the story. Sal's mother turns around, sees the sweet little baby bear cub and finally realizes Sal is missing. She sets off to find Sal..."

"That's the end of her," another kid piped up. "That mom is dead meat"

Discovery Channel boy nodded his head; it was clear he was now in charge, the new Superintendent of all things Bear:

"Approximately 70% of bear caused human fatalities are the result of mothers defending their cubs."


"NO ONE DIES!" Mrs. G. insisted. "Look at this picture. Do you see? Sal's mother finds her alive, safe and sound and in one piece...not mauled."


Mrs. G. went on to read the last page:

"...And Little Sal and her mother went down the other side of Blueberry Hill, picking berries all the way, and drove home with food to can for the next winter— a whole pail of blueberries and thee more besides. The End."

Mrs. G. closed the book and scanned the faces of the small, innocent children in front of her. They were unimpressed. They were let down. They didn't want blueberry freezer jam and happily ever after. They wanted carnage and mass murder. They wanted a full-on bear bloodbath.

Kids today. And their bullshit cable.


Originally published in 2007 when 17 people read this blog.


Baby Shoes

Hemingway (far left) and friends at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan

A friend of Mrs. G's told her an interesting anecdote about Ernest Hemingway, the literary legend, and his prowess as a word slinger. 

Let's set the scene according to a secondhand witness:

"More than thirty years ago, at the beginning of my career, I had lunch with a well-established newspaper syndicator who told me the following story: Ernest Hemingway was lunching at the Algonquin, sitting at the famous "round table" with several writers, claiming he could write a six-word-long short story. The other writers balked. Hemingway told them to ante up ten dollars each. If he was wrong, he would match it; if he was right, he would keep the pot. He quickly wrote six words on a napkin and passed it around. The words were "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn." Hemingway won the bet: His short story was complete. It had a beginning, middle and end."

Mrs. G. thought it would be engaging and compelling for us to try writing our own six-word-long short stories. They can be based on your life or pulled from thin air. The only rules are to use just six words and carve out a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. You can enter three if you like.

Mrs. G. will add hers in the comments but, trust her, this is not an easy assignment. She jotted down a few potential stories this morning and in her mind, all of them fell short. It made her irritable and argumentative when she did yard work all afternoon. She cursed daffodils and foxgloves, and mocked a few aggressively cheerful red tulips. But let's face it, she can be this way.



Mrs. Fusselli


Mrs. Fusselli was Mrs. G's kindergarten teacher. She ran the school out of her home, which was probably best because if anyone in the school district had come to supervise her methods, she would have undoubtedly stared icily at them until they left the premises ten to fifteen minutes later and got the hell out of dodge. 

Mrs. Fusselli was unusually tall and had orange hair that didn't move. If she bent over you to survey your work, the smell of Aqua Net was strong enough to temporarily burn your eyeballs. Mrs. Fusselli wasn't out and out mean, but referring to her as nice would be exceeding hospitable. She was strict and had no truck with monkey business whether you were six or forty-four. She called everyone by their surname.

Mrs. Fusselli likely thought she was encouraging when she looked over your coloring work sheet. "Miss Copeland," she would say to Mrs. G, "that is excellent coloring but in order to familiarize you with reality, I must tell you that dogs are not purple. I appreciate your creativity but real world sensibility inspires a life long mastery of a successful and worthwhile existence." Mrs. G. was six and far less interested in a worthwhile existence than the graham crackers and apple juice passed out at snack time.

One morning, Mrs. G. slammed her pinky finger in her grandmother's car door as she was getting out of the car to head to class. While Mrs. G. carried on, crying and screaming, her grandmother tried to comfort her. Mrs. Fusselli marched out of her house and demanded Mrs. G. wiggle her pinky finger to prove it wasn't broken. Mrs. G. did and Mrs. Fusselli declared Mrs. G's bruised an swollen finger a second-string accident. After all, it was her left hand, which according to Mrs. Fusselli was attached to an inferior limb. "Chin up, Miss Copeland. You're fine. It's not like your grandmother ran you over with her car." Mrs. G's grandmother kissed Mrs. G. head and told her to shake it off. This was a time when teachers, like dinosaurs, ruled the earth and didn't care what parents thought. Mrs. Fusselli wouldn't have it. And most parents, like Mrs. G's grandmother, didn't dare question a teacher's proficiency. They just lit up a Camel cigarette and drove off in their Dodge Dart.

On the day Mrs. G. was to graduate from kindergarten and receive her diploma, she opened the medicine chest to grab the tooth paste. A silver wrapper caught her eye and when she opened it, it was chocolate. It wasn't beyond Mrs. G's grandmother to hide candy (particular Applets and Cotlets) so Mrs. G. assumed this was her grandmother's new candy hideaway. Mrs. G. nibbled a square and within six minutes she had eaten the whole bar. She marched into the living room where her grandparents were sitting in their chairs no one else was allowed to sit in and told her grandmother she had found her covert chocolate stash in the medicine cabinet. Her grandmother shot her grandfather a terrified look and muttered, "Hells Bells, this is going to be a day." The "chocolate" was Ex-Lax.

Mrs. G. spent most of the morning on the pot, swearing to Jesus and Mary and Joseph that she would never eat unidentified chocolate or open the medicine chest again. "How are you doing in there?" Mrs. G's grandmother would ask outside the bathroom door. "How do you think I'm doing? You've poisoned me with your underground candy railroad." 

Mrs. G's grandmother called Mrs. Fusselli and explained the situation. Mrs. Fusselli insisted that Mrs. G. attend the graduation to teach her an important lesson about consuming "food" from a medicine chest and building character.

Of course, Mrs. G's grandparents drug her to the graduation, and Mrs. G. walked up to receive her diploma focused on squeezing her butt cheeks as tightly as she could, and, frankly, not pooping her pants at such an esteemed ceremony. When Mrs. Fusselli handed Mrs. G. her diploma, She said, "Miss Copeland, I am proud of you for coming. You will realize from first-grade on, life is hard." So is your helmet head thought Mrs. G, but she just took her diploma and found her grandparents pronto to get her ass home. Mrs. G's grandfather drove as fast as he could, which was five miles over the speed limit. Unlike Mrs. G, he was not a law breaker. They made it home just in time, and Mrs. G. spent several more hours on the pot and had to miss her favorite show, Cagney and Lacey . But her grandfather, no doubt feeling sympathy for a six-year-old's simple mistake, yelled the plot to her as she sat in the bathroom.

Now that's the kind of love a kindergartner deserves.

Mrs. Fusselli didn't get it, the need for kindness and love children hunger for, and in hindsight, maybe she didn't get it when she needed it most.


I Just Can't Let You Miss This. I Love You Too Much

Not safe for work or shrinking violets or nuns. Mrs. G. promises she will wash her mouth out with soap tonight and get her ass back on the track of righteousness. Profanity and such.

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full confessional thursday. feeling a little feisty so let's shake things up buttercup.

The photo in this post is, depending on your ethics, off-color, bawdy, shady, spicy and damn near wicked. In other words,some of you might find it immoral. Mrs. G. is not joking, so if you want to protect your eyes and psyche, come back tomorrow. Please, please don't click after this explicit warning and then leave a critical comment. That is hypocritical and passive aggressive and Mrs. G. is in no mood for it.

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Full Confessional Friday! 4/4/2014

Be it Venial or Mortal (there's no escaping Original), we've all got secrets -- light, dark, funny, sad -- worth bringing to light. The act of confession can be liberating, mollifying and entertaining. Contrition? Repentance? A shot of Tequila? That's your call, sister.  

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