Sunday, May 5, 2013

Society of Professional Journalists Region 8 Conference

Putting on a regional conference is a lot like birthing a baby. Seven Board members of the San Antonio Pro Chapter of SPJ spent nine months on the project. We had mood swings, strange food cravings, sleepless nights, and anxiety attacks. At least we were spared the morning sickness and swollen ankles.
Then came the labor pains -- egad, we may not cover expenses. But when we saw the birth announcement, aka program, it was beautiful enough to almost make up for the blood, sweat toil and tears.
At last we were there - at the hotel, opening a bottle of celebratory wine, greeting our fellow journalists in the hotel's gorgeous courtyard, eating tasty snacks and meeting a peacock.
And wonder of wonders, next morning all the presenters and moderators showed up on time, aced their sessions, educated and entertained their audiences all day long.
As we trailed, weary but triumphant, back from the conference center, through the courtyard, the peacock saluted us repeatedly with trumpet and fan!
It was over only yesterday and already I think I'm going to miss those tacos and all the wet hair and sleepy faces at weekly early morning meetings.  

See the tweets and photos at On the Record

Friday, April 26, 2013


To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction; or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.
- Newton's Third Law of Motion, translated from the Principia's Latin

Or as Sir  Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion is most commonly stated, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Works for cooking. An hour and a half of creating a made-from-scratch pizza  generates 90 minutes of clean-up -- for me. And an hour and a half nap for Charlie.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Could I be -- a hipster?

Well, just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, the world throws you a curve. I had just said to myself that I might as well find out about this “hipster” thing to see if I might be one without knowing it. At my age, it’s a little hard to tell where you fit in the social scheme of things, what with X and Y generations, not to mention Millennials, Phase 1 and Phase 2. I missed the Greatest Generation by 20 years or so, and the Baby Boomers by a decade. I think hipsters can be any age at all 00 but where do I fit?
I decided to approach the question scientifically. I’d draw up a list of pros and cons to see if I fit into the hipster mode: H (for hipster) in one column and NH (non-hipster) in the other.
Okay. Then I had to look up just what is a hipster. First thing: a hipster is one who is thought to be cool by cool people. That’s easy. The coolest people I know are my husband, the 50-plus geezers I hang out with, my daughter, and my three grandsons. And guess what – they all think I’m pretty cool. So chalk one up for the H side.
On the other hand, I have no idea what you would do with a mustache on a stick or a horse’s head mask that I saw on a hipster gear website. (NH).
I’d rather live in a small town in Texas than in Portland. (NH)
On the few occasions when I have been coaxed into a cocktail bar, I order beer. (NH)
I do own an e-reader (H), but the books I have stored on it probably cancel that one out.
I have a laptop, and I can use an electronic recorder, download and edit audio and burn a disk (H), but I don’t have any e-games, or a smart phone and I mostly use my computer for work (NH)

I blog – but mostly I communicate by email; no tweeting, no skyping, and I don’t have anything stored in a cloud (what is that, anyway?) (NH)
Then, this morning, as I was driving to my fitness center (H), in my beat-up Ford F-150 pickup (NH) listening to AM talk radio (Two or three NH’s at least), I heard something that rocked my world and skewed all my calculations.
 Are you ready for the latest “old school” game hipsters have embraced? Here’s a clue – it’s spelled B-I-N-G-O.
A Ms. Fiorentino -- black-haired, red-lipsticked, black-framed eyeglasses and all whose picture probably appears in the dictionary next to “hipster,” and who makes her living as a drummer for Smashing Pumpkins, was recently spotted  playing Bingo at a tea shop owned by Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan.  
And that’s not all. The hip crowd has also embraced  knitting, bowling and euchre.
That puts me over the top. Hand me my Bingo card, my knitting needles and a mustache on a stick.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I don’t know what other people call them, but sometimes, a shrub or tree shows up in our yard on its own.We call them "volunteers."
One day, I noticed a sapling next to the sidewalk leading to our front door. It had a long, woody stem topped by a bunch of dark green, leaves, gritty and sticky. It was ugly and I said it should go, but my husband, Charlie, said we should wait and see what it turned into. Well, I waited – and what it turned into was bigger, and uglier, and more of a nuisance with every passing season.Whip-like branches snaked every which way and snagged people who walked by. Every month or so I threatened to whack it off at its roots and Charlie procrastinated.
Finally I'd had enough. If it was going to stay in my front yard it would have to be better behaved. So I pruned it. Cut those snaky branches down, cleaned the suckers off the trunk, and when I finished I had an actual tree – small and lean, with a scaly trunk and a round crown.No more grabbing at passersby. But there were still those sticky, gritty leaves.
A friend came over. “Hey, he said, that looks like an anaqua tree.” Oh, the thing had a name. Now we were getting somewhere. I researched anaquas. They had another name – sandpaper tree. I looked up as much as I could find about my new landscape feature. The photos showed a well-shaped tree covered with white flowers which are supposed to appear in the spring followed by berries.
Sure. Right. Years went by. Spring after spring came and went. No flowers. No berries. Just sandpaper leaves on a slow-growing tree. Well, the trunk was slow-growing. Those branches still kept shooting off in every direction and I kept lopping them off so the tree would keep its shape.
 I e-mailed an agricultural expert who writes a column for a Texas Hill Country newspaper to ask him why my anaqua was barren. He didn’t bother to answer.
Winters in San Antonio usually last a week or so and then it’s business as usual – back to sub-tropical. But the winter of 2009-2010 was cold. And for the first time, the anaqua lost its leaves. With the leaves gone, I could see that the branches had formed a dense tangle and there was an abandoned dove’s nest deep in the snarl. That spring, bright new (but still gritty) leaves appeared on the tree. And, wonder of wonders, a few tiny bunches of white flowers, like miniature bridal bouquets. The next spring brought more flowers and a few berries.
Birds discovered our tree. They looked on those springy, tangled branches as a kind of jungle gym.  In the spring of 2011 we left our front door open so we could listen to the bird symphony going on in out there. 
Last February we had a surprise hailstorm. It lasted 45 minutes and stripped the leaves off many of our plants – including the anaqua. We wondered if it would recover. By the end of March the leaves came back. The doves returned to raise a family. In April the leaves almost disappeared under a white dome of blossoms. Then came the berries. Along every branch hundreds of tight bunches of green pellets ripened into pea-sized yellow, orange and red fruits. Now we have an all-you-can-eat buffet outside our living room window. Squirrels practice acrobatics on the branches, stuffing themselves with berries, trying to fend off the sparrows, finches, swallows, cardinals and doves muscling in on the free buffet. Meanwhile, mockingbirds do their best to knock the squirrels out of the tree
Our Anaqua is an overnight sensation.  It gives shade.  It attracts butterflies, bees and birds. It’s drought resistant. And just think. It only took ten years.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I find the delete button on my computer quite handy. I delete a lot of things – documents and images I no longer need to keep on file; whole paragraphs of poorly penned prose; e-mails with too many “Fwd’s.” I instantly delete anything marked “a must-read.” (Sorry, that’s my rule).
But there is one thing that makes me pause with my finger over the delete button and regret what I am about to do. I work for an association with a little more than a thousand members. Most of the members are World War II veterans who served with the 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard. When they were just teenagers, or barely adults, after basic training, they sailed off to war, leaving mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sweethearts, wives, and sometimes children behind.  They trained further in North Africa, then sailed once again – to Italy, where they became the first American troops to set their boots on European soil in the Second World War. When they had liberated Italy, some of them went on to liberate France, and some to the Pacific, until the fighting was over. Then they came home to try to take up their lives where they left off.  
My uncle is one of those men who bought our freedom for us at a great price. He’s 90 now. Most World War II veterans are in their 10th decade. None of them is younger than his middle 80’s. After all, the war’s been over for 67 years.
Over the past six years, serving as membership secretary for the association, and editor of their quarterly newsletter, I have gotten to know some of the veterans. They’re a mixed bag of brash, ornery, humble, shy, outgoing, and reserved gentlemen. They are mostly nearly deaf; their eyesight isn’t so keen, and while some are still nimble on the dance floor, I see more and more wheelchairs and walkers at the annual reunions which I attend.
As editor of their newsletter, I read their correspondence and I edit the war stories they send me for publication. I speak to them on the phone, I exchange e-mails with them.
When I open my mail, I usually find at least one notice that another old soldier has faded away. Someone sends me an obituary from a newspaper. A widow writes to say that after 60 years or so of marriage, she is now alone. Sons, daughters, grandchildren or friends of the veteran send me the news. Saddest of all is to get back a piece of mail, simply marked “Deceased.” It makes me wonder if the man had no family, no friends, no one who cared.  However I got the notice, though, it’s time for me to go to work.
I list the name and date of death in the newsletter, under “Taps.” I add the name to a roster of those who have passed away during the current year. Their names will be read at a memorial service during the next annual reunion, and widows of veterans will place a wreath in their honor.
I still have one more task. I open the database file that contains the names, addresses, units in which they served, and I highlight that veteran’s entry. Then I pause, with my finger over the delete button. 
It’s easy to delete a line in a database. But how do you delete a hero?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Can "thankfully" be far behind?

That long, despairing groan you heard the other day did, in fact, come from me, upon hearing that the Associated Press Stylebook will henceforth accept the usage of the adverb “hopefully.” This is now acceptable instead of, “We are hopeful that,”  at the beginning of sentences -- as in “Hopefully, the city council will vote today on the ordinance.” I know, I know, too many pieces have already been written, pro and con, the vast majority of them in language much purer and more engaging than mine, but I’ve never been known for letting that stop me from venting.
The rationale for the update is popular usage.  Now my English ain't perfect. And I’m all for the evolution of language. Even my use of "And" to begin a sentence would have gotten me red-penciled in my early English classes. I applaud the new words which creep into our vocabulary every year. It's great when Merriam Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary formalize them and they become part of our language.  I like a word or two of slang in the middle of a formal sentence. It's like finding an unexpected sliver of jalapeno pepper in a casserole. It gets our attention and spices things up.
But, as an artist should demonstrate his ability to draw a cow that looks like a cow before he throws paint around with abandon and calls it art, a writer, a journalist, should know the rules of grammar so that when he flouts them, he does it on purpose, not out of laziness or ignorance.
 I don’t even know why the AP bothered to change the rule. We’ve been seeing this misplaced adverb in newspaper articles for yonks, along with other egregious misuses of our glorious English language – the language of the King James Bible, the Bard of Avon, Bill Buckley, Strunk and White, George Will, Beryl Markham, and Honest Abe.
 Can we at least acknowledge some standards of purity – in language, if in nothing else? Language is a society’s means of communicating its history, philosophies, culture, arts, laws, research, contracts, and, yes, news, which is history in the making.
Here in the United States, we have a Bureau of Weights and Measures, which ensures that when we buy a pound of fish or fifty feet of fencing or a16-ounce cup of French roast coffee, we get just what we pay for. Shouldn’t we have some standards to depend on in our language?
Winston Churchill wrote that, as a boy, he was not considered bright enough to study Latin or Greek, and so he was taught English. He credited four years of studying sentence structure at Harrow under a great teacher for his command of the language. Churchill’s speeches galvanized, energized, motivated, and gave hope to a nation during its greatest crisis. His written sentences, up to 100 words in length, are as solid and artfully constructed as the buildings at Oxford, and easier to read than your local newspaper. 
Please, since we can no longer rely on the AP Stylebook, can we bring back sentence diagramming? Or at least read Strunk and White?

Sunday, January 8, 2012


“Both the turning of the season and the ticking of the clock say the planet’s one year older, so are you.” (Al Grierson, Till the Circle Is Complete)
The year has turned over – from 2011 to 2012. Its January in Texas, and we’re glad of the change from a dry blistering summer to cool, cloudy weather, which makes me want to cook something spectacular. I think I’ll bake bread. Not truly spectacular, but satisfying.  As for the ticking of the clock, well, my eldest grandson turned 23 in November -- an occasion guaranteed to remind me of the swift passage of time.  The great wheel of life spins faster and faster.
 I once watched a potter at a crafts shop making a vessel. His hands were sure and his foot had perfect control of the wheel as it turned – now fast, so that the clay changed shape swiftly, then slower as he performed some delicate process to create a lip on the rim, or a narrowing of the neck and finally the incised decorations on the surface.
 I know life has been compared to being formed on a potter’s wheel – a process we can observe from the outside. But the older I get the more I focus on the view from the potter’s wheel. Just what does the clay see from the wheel? Well, to me it seems as if the world and everything and everyone I’ve ever known is flashing by in a blurry whirl. And so I have the peculiar sensation that I am slowing down while the world around me is speeding up.
Am I shaping up to be a bowl, a vase, an urn?  I know that with the spinning of the wheel I have acquired a family, friends, skills, knowledge, possessions, extra pounds, some gray hairs. But what do I look like? Not the image in the mirror, but the woman inside? I really don’t know. I shall have to rely on my reflection in the eyes, the minds, the attitudes and the affections of others. They can see the process from the outside. They watch the clay take shape under the Potters’ hand.
 I watch them and they watch me.
 As the potter at the crafts shop finished his piece, the most fascinating thing of all happened. He took a length of slender wire and slid it beneath the soft clay vessel to cut it loose from the wheel. I have that to look forward to: the time when I can be cut loose -- completely and perfectly formed in the eyes of the Potter.