Friday, January 29, 2016

The Power of the Senses



This morning, as I hovered over my kitchen counter getting my morning cup of coffee together, my eye fell on a can of tomato sauce I failed to put in the pantry the day before. I picked it up, looked at it, and unexpectedly, very old memories flooded over me at the sight of the old Del Monte label and pictures of red, perfect tomatoes! Bittersweet memories I had not relieved in years.

I was seven years old and a very precocious child. Tina, teenage daughter to our close neighbors, stood at the door.
     “My mother sent me to borrow a cup of sugar, please. Company showed up suddenly and we’re short of sugar for the coffee.” She even brought the cup to be filled.

    “No problem,” said my mother, smiling sweetly. Neighbors help each other.” She went to the kitchen and came back with the cupful of sugar. After Tina left, my mother remarked with a sigh, “That was very thoughtful of her, to bring her own cup.”

The following day, Tina once again stood at our door. 
    “Sorry to bother you again, but my mom sent me to ask if you can spare an onion. She’s making the sofrito, and we have no onions. Just one onion is all we need.”

My mother smiled sweetly. 
    “You are in luck. I think I have onions.” Off she went to the kitchen to find the precious onion. Now, you might be thinking that such things as borrowing a cup of sugar or an onion are just not done. Well, not today, no. 

Our society has changed so much that neighbors rarely are in such familiar terms today. When I was a child, it was very different. Why take a trip to the store for an onion or a cup of coffee? Everyone helped each other, and no one thought it strange or inconvenient.

The next day, Lily, Tina’s younger sister, came to the door. 
    “Momma wants to know if you have any garlic you can spare. She’ll replace it Friday when she goes to do groceries.”

    “I have a few bulbs. I may be able to spare one.” Now, my mother was as neighborly as any other, but we were far from comfortable. She watched every penny and found a dozen ways to stretch the minimum-wage dollar that my father earned with so much sweat. Mom knew when she was being used and abused, but she was always a lady first and always polite. “Here you are, Lily. I hope it solves the problem.” 

In private, she gave vent to her real thoughts. 
    “What does Doña Elisa, (sounds like ‘Donia’) think I am? Her keeper? Her welfare office? Doesn’t she go to the grocer like everyone else? It makes me so angry! Every day, every day for the last month, she has sent to me for something. Her husband is a carpenter and makes much more than mine. Can she not ask the other neighbors too? I swear, next time she asks for something, I am going to tell her off!”

I had seldom seen my mother so angry, and I understood. The next day, Doña Elisa herself came to the door. 
    “Hello, my dear. I am so embarrassed to have to once again bother you, but you are so kind and sweet, and I really feel like you are my own sister. I always tell Carlos that we are so lucky to have you as a neighbor. Class, that is what you have. It seeps from your pores, class does.” She gazed at my mom as if she was gazing at a statue of a Madonna in church.

My mother melted. Her anger of the previous day forgotten, she simpered and blushed and smiled. 
    “Of course it is no bother, Doña Elisa. Anything, anything you need, I will gladly share it if I have it. I do not mind at all.” 

Without thinking, I looked at my mom, eager to help. I needed to remind her because she’d obviously forgotten. 
    “But that is not true, Mom. Just yesterday you were angry and complaining, and you said that the next time Doña Elisa wanted something, you were going to tell her off.”

The world came to a stand still as both women turned to me. That was the first time I got a “whooping” from my usually gentle and loving mother. It was also a lesson in discretion I never forgot. Never forgot the lesson, but I’d forgotten the experience. This morning, the sight of a familiar can of tomato sauce, recalled it for me. How strange!

This brings to mind how objects, colors, images, smells, and sounds can transport the mind. A good author uses those things to appeal to your senses, your mental images, and take you somewhere. As an author, I endeavor to do that. 

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Don't Let Negativity Ruin Your Morning

It is a beautiful day in sunny San Sebastian. A cool breeze ruffles my hair as I sit on my rocker sipping my first cup of coffee and gazing at the lovely patterns that dot the countryside. Perfectly shaved squares of terracota-colored clay soil dot the land, ready for the plantain seedlings that will soon be planted.

The "meaito" trees with their bright red  blooms seem to have taken over the landscape; they create the most beautiful play of read on green as they sway in the morning breeze as far as the eye can see over the hills and mountains. Today, I will open only one set of French doors because if I open all three, birds will flock in one door and fly in circles inside my living room, wildly twittering and looking for the other doors out.

I have work to do, and I can't sit here admiring nature all day. I pour myself a second cup of coffee, and I head for my computer. My first stop is my email, where I answer a message from my newly hired personal assistants. My second stop is  Facebook. Every morning I check my social networks and answer any messages before I start my writing-related tasks. 

The real world hits me light a freight train. First, there is Donald Trump claiming that the reason there are rapes in the military is that "idiots" put men and women together. Then, there is a British video of a lioness watching as dozens of wildebeests run by, while the commentator rants and raves about a female's inability to make a decision. It was clear to me that the lioness thought her idiot male should get his own lunch! 

Then, there is the running story about Amazon placing "needs editing" notices on books. This leads to a long, heated argument among my author community on the job of an editor. Trying to stay out of that argument, I scroll down and run into the very scary video of a woman being stalked in a parking garage. I find out that 83% of us have been or will be victims of a crime. I now live in mortal fear of parking garages!

By the time I am faced with the image of a dozen breast-cancer survivors posing topless, the feeling I had of rising to a beautiful morning has evaporated. The weight of the world lies heavy on my shoulders. I am ready for some cute kitty videos. Thank God Facebook is full of those.  See Here!

If you want romance, adventure, mystery, don't look for it in the social media. Instead, read Zeece's novels and shorts. Visit her website at https://zeecelugo.net  and leave feeling good about the world!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cup of Coffee, Please?



There is an old saying that says: the more things change, the more they stay the same. I am a lover of old wisdom, but I disagree with that one. Lately, the more things change, the more they change. Little things we take for granted become hurdles to be conquered. Take the simple pleasure of coffee, for one.

I love to start my morning with a cup or two. I get up, make myself presentable, make my bed, and turn on my Keurig for a delicious cup of plain, Green Mountain coffee. Keurig has become so popular that even the old, favorite Bustelo brand my mother brewed throughout my childhood years, is now offered in little Keurig tubs.

I consider myself quite progressive in my use of my Keurig. My mother used to make coffee using the old-fashioned, low-tech “colador” or strainer that was made of cloth. She’d boil a few spoonfuls of coffee grounds in a small pot of water, and she'd strain it in a cloth colander. The result was the most delicious, simple, black coffee you will ever taste.

Of course, that was years ago. She never accepted the automatic coffee makers; she made coffee the old-fashioned way to the day she died. I, being brought up to the American way, quickly adapted, and my cup of black coffee with a teaspoon of sugar became a lifetime habit.

On most mornings, you will find me sitting in my open terrace with my simple cup of coffee and my morning novel. Every few minutes I look up from my book to sip my coffee and take in the beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. I enjoy my hour of reading and coffee before tackling my writing and social networking. The exception is when I have an early appointment in the city.

Last week I had to rise early and drive to the nearest big town which is about an hour away. About eleven o’clock, I was feeling hungry and irritated because I needed my coffee. I walked into a brand-new Chili’s and, as soon as I was seated, I asked for a cup of coffee. The young, cheerful waitress asked if I wanted a regular cup or the small cup. Of course, I asked for the regular.

Soon, I had in front of me a large mug full of the aromatic black stuff. I noticed that it had foam on top. On tasting it, I found that she’d brought me a mug (10 ounces at least) of thick, black Espresso!  Now, if you know coffee, you know that Espresso is imbibed in tiny cups, and there is a reason why. It is a “concentrated” brew so heavy in caffeine that a full cup of it will put you through the roof!

Back in Miami, my Cuban friends would drink it after dinner, and it served to stave off the somnolent state that often follows a heavy meal. At work, we drank it in tiny paper cups when our energies were floundering, usually at two or three in the afternoon. At no time is it advisable to down ten ounces of thick Espresso, unless of course, you’re hoping to stay awake for twenty four hours straight. I called back the waitress, and the conversation went like this:

    “There has been a mistake. I ordered regular coffee." 
    “That is a regular coffee. You asked for the regular cup.” She smiled politely.
    “No, this is Espresso. I want regular coffee. You know, the one brewed in a drip coffee maker. It is regular American coffee, thinner. A cup of this will kill me.”
    “That is American coffee. We brewed it here.” The girl was looking confused.
    “No. I am not making myself clear.” At this point, I’d love to conjure dear Flo, of Mel’s Diner. She’d know what I mean. “Do you know what Espresso is? It's meant to be drunk in tiny cups because it's super thick and concentrated.”
    “Yes, but you said you wanted the big cup!” She looked at me with growing frustration.
    “Yes, the big cup of regular coffee!”
    “But I pushed the regular button on the machine,” she insisted.
    “You mean the Espresso machine?”
    “We only have one machine. The coffee machine.” She looked frustrated and pitiful. I felt sorry for her. I gave up. I took two sips of the thick brew and left it.

Yesterday, I had to visit Home Depot, another drive to the next biggest town. Afterwards, I pulled into Applebee’s for an early lunch. This time, the conversation went like this: 

    “Do you have regular coffee? Not Espresso. I want regular Folgers or Maxwell House made for drinking by the cup.”
    “I don’t know,” said the young man. “I’ll have to ask. I am new here.” He smiled nervously and went off to ask. A few minutes later he returned.
    “Yes, we do.”
    “I’ll have a cup. Bring it right away. I’ll need a few minutes to look at the menu.” Five minutes later, the cup of coffee sits in front of me. Imagine my frustration when it turns out to be, you guessed it, Espresso! I recalled my young waiter.
    “This is not regular coffee. This is Espresso! It is not what I ordered.”
    “I’m sorry. I will take it back and get you the right thing.” He seemed flustered and nervous, but eager to get it right. He was back quickly with another cup of coffee.  I did not have to taste it to see that it was the same.
    “I am not trying to be difficult. I understand that you have a tough job and many customers are rude and demanding. But honestly, don’t you know what regular coffee is?”
    “I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t drink coffee.”
    "Ok," I tried to explain. "You should have two different coffee makers. One to make Espresso coffee, this one. You should also have one that makes regular coffee.”
    “No, ma’am. We have one machine. We push one button for the small cup, and the regular button for the regular cup.” He smiled at me condescendingly, as if explaining to a child.  I smiled back and refused the coffee.

I understand we are in the age of Starbucks where dozens of coffee concoctions that have little to do with real coffee are the craze. When even McDonald’s puts up the McCafé, you know a trend has turned mainstream. But is the simple, regular cup of coffee disappearing?

Obviously, selling a simple cup under $2.00 is not as lucrative as selling the $5.00 cup of Espresso or the $8.00 cup of Cappuccino. Or is the answer as simple as the young waitress or waiter not knowing where the regular coffee is? I am baffled. At least McDonald’s still has regular coffee, but I fear it will not be for long.


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Monday, January 11, 2016

Names Starting With 'Z': Looking for Your Readers?

Names Starting With 'Z': Looking for Your Readers?: How do readers differ? The answer to this question is one that may, at first glance, seem trivial, but to authors struggling to find a ...