Monday, November 24, 2014

Popular Pumpkin Bread


¾ cup margarine (1½ sticks)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (if nuts are too pricey, skip 'em)

With a mixer, cream margarine and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add pumpkin and water, starting on slow speed, and mix until combined.

Add the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves.

Starting on slow speed (otherwise you will be wearing the flour mixture), mix well, increasing the speed as the flour mixture is absorbed. Add nuts and give it a whirl again to mix them in.

Grease and flour pans or squirt them with baking spray. Pour pumpkin mixture into either two regular loaf pans or six mini loaf pans. Fill pans about two-thirds full.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about an hour. Large loaves take a little more time; small loaves take a little less.

This bread is not as sweet as cake (I reduced the sugar from 2 1/2 cups), but it’s so much more flavorful than dry, boring zucchini bread, and requires no butter or cream cheese on top. The pumpkin bread freezes wonderfully when wrapped in plastic wrap and topped off in foil.

FUN FACT: I found this recipe in Cosmopolitan magazine when I was 16 (!) and have been making it ever since. The original recipe called for chopped maraschino cherries as well, which I thought then (and agree now) is WAY too much trouble. Enjoy!

WARNING: Once you hand out mini loaves of this great bread, people start asking for it every November.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Joy of Solo Shows

Why am I learning how to develop a solo show?

A better question might be why aren’t you? Everybody has a story, and with coaching and direction, we all can learn to tell the best parts of our story.

That’s why Gene Gore, 82, developed and performs “Cheesecake and Demerol,” her award-winning solo show, which runs through Oct. 19 at Stage Werx Theatre in San Francisco.

“I like being part of the theater community, I like connecting with the audience, with new people, and I like telling my story,” Gene said over tea Friday at CafĂ© Reverie, one of my favorite places to sit around and hear stories.

“At last Sunday’s performance, I really hit my stride, was in that place where I could tweak some lines to get laughs I hadn’t gotten before.” (See for info on future performances.)

A retired nurse and mother of four, grandmother of three, Gene has been working in theater for about a dozen years. She has appeared in a handful of plays and another handful of movies and done some commercials. Gene has studied acting, voice-over work and improvisation. She also has taken workshops in solo performance with David Ford, where she says she found her voice, and has been directed by David and most recently by Wayne Harris.

Here is one review from her performance at the San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2012: “Attending Gene’s show is like having strong coffee with your gracious, vivacious and very witty grandmother. Documentaries and fiction can’t compare with the rare opportunity to experience history through the eyes of a woman who lived it all and tells it like it is. Plus, she’s funny as hell.”

That she is! Gene has fans of all ages, including a 14-year-old who was inspired to take up acting after seeing “Cheesecake and Demerol.” When I saw it earlier this month, I thought it was funny and profound, a mesmerizing look back at the important choices Gene has made in her life -- and those that were made for her.

At the theater, I also leaned in a little to study how Gene “shows” instead of “tells,” how she uses a few props to flesh out important points and how she paces the stories in the show for maximum impact. All those are things I need to learn as I work on developing a solo show.

In August, I attended an intense three-day workshop conducted by Alicia Dattner, who also has won awards for her solo shows. Alicia has performed in San Francisco, New York, Hollywood, Bombay, Chennai and London. (See I saw her amazing show "The Oy of Sex" last week.

At the workshop, for three days we talked, performed, wrote, did theater exercises, wrote some more and performed some more. By the end of the workshop, I had seven pages of material that included several of my stories about aging, about how older women being underestimated or disregarded, all strung loosely together.

Here’s how I started, and yes, I sang the first line. Of course, as I continue to revise the material, the current beginning may end up deleted, replaced by something else.

“I am 16, going on 17 – I know that I can’t sing. A few lines later in that song comes this: I need someone older and wiser, telling me what to do. That works! I am 66, going on 32 - -the perfect age to tell my 16-year-old self what to do. 

Just so you know, I am not upset that I am old. I have made a point of collecting plenty of experiences that I can use to startle and delight people on the porch at the nursing home as we sit rocking, rocking, rocking.

What I am upset about is how some people perceive me based only on my age and the life they presume I am leading. I am concerned about the disconnect between what I feel inside, who I see in the mirror, and the person others see. When they notice me at all.” 

My work made people in the class laugh, made them think and made them say really nice things about my writing. They also seemed impressed that I’m not afraid to stand up and perform. That said, Alicia pointed out that what I have is more of a narrative than a script, and that I need to pull apart some of the paragraphs so I can develop characters and write dialogue for them so that I show, rather than just tell.

I haven’t done that yet. This has been a busy month – my new book with Eve Batey is just out (see or, where we’re posting great photos!) and some in-depth freelance work came my way. But that’s okay.

Procrastinating is okay because in mid-October, I will begin an eight-week workshop on solo show development with Charlie Varon (see, who has been writing and performing for over 30 years. Since 1991, he has created award-winning solo theater work in collaboration with David Ford at The Marsh (, where I have seen half a dozen wonderful solo shows since I moved to San Francisco.

I was familiar with the genre long before that, of course. For me, solo performance seems like another way to tell stories, something I’ve been doing for over 50 years. “It’s expensive,” cautioned Gene when I told her I was just beginning.

“Often, you pay for the space, you pay for tech and you pay for publicity,” she said. Gene is tackling that problem by researching grants and launching a crowd-funding project on Indiegogo. (Read her amazing story at She’s way ahead of me!

A dear, generous friend did pay my workshop expenses (corporate sponsorship, this early in the game!) but I haven’t looked any farther ahead. Right now, for me this project is about joy, about learning something new, about being determined to live an interesting life while I’m still here.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Party Talk in St. Louis, Jimmy Fallon & Phyllis Diller

A chorus of tree frogs after dark. Laughing with Judy. A cardinal chirping just after dawn. Gathering with the Five Favorite Female Friends. Surprising Edward at a coffee date. Squealing with glee at seeing Ellen. Delivering drive-by hugs to dear friends who answered their doors. Coping with 100 degrees one day and then basking in a night cool enough to open the windows. Being entertained by stories from Gail and Gail. Reveling in the company of the Wise Women Book Club. Eating fabulous meals with Judy and Scott.

These are just some of the highlights of a recent quick trip to St. Louis. Though I lived there for 62 years, I don’t call it home anymore. Four years ago I headed west, and I’ve been around long enough to know that dwelling on the past does not serve me well. So when a guest at Judy’s wonderful birthday party asked me whether I miss living in St. Louis, I said no. His face registered shock and dismay.

“Don’t misunderstand,” I said to the man, someone I do not know well. “People I love live here and it means a great deal to me to be with them again. But I don’t miss St. Louis.” When I left town, I felt as though I had interviewed everyone (at least three times!) and been everywhere and done everything multiple times. I was ready for a new city, new people, new experiences. I have embraced that every day in the City by the Bay.

A friend in St. Louis told me when she mentioned my name to a woman she knows, the woman immediately brought up the column I wrote in the Post-Dispatch when my son went to college. That column was so popular that it ran in August for several years in a row! How nice to learn that someone remembers it.

In that column, I wrote that it’s important to take responsibility for living an interesting life. It’s certainly easier not to -- and yet, at 66 I am even more certain that the only way to avoid confronting sameness on a day-to-day basis is to generate change, to expand, to reach out, to learn something new, to go a little crazy now and then.

I’m taking my own advice. Here is an excerpt from an email I sent recently to about 70 women:

“Here, in the cocktail hour of my life (thank you, Ken Page, for naming it so perfectly), I have decided what I want to do next!

I have enrolled in a three-day workshop in August and then an eight-week workshop in October on how to develop, write and perform a solo show. Both workshops are with experienced professionals and opportunities are available if I want to go further. Added bonus: A friend believes so strongly in this venture that she has covered my class fees -- my first corporate sponsor! 

Jimmy Fallon, here I come! (Oh no, what to wear???)

Back to reality: My theme is the chasm between what we expect of ourselves at this age and what so much of society expects, and how those expectations influence how we think of ourselves. I used to be on the outside looking in, personally but also professionally, as I covered aging and Boomers and interviewed many older adults for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Now I find the view from inside is so different!

Though I have never taken an acting class, I am comfortable on stage, and not just dancing in red sequins and fringe. (Long live Voluptua!) I've given hundreds of speeches to audiences large (650 at the Ritz) and small (eight women in a church basement) and I know how to tell a story, get a laugh, maybe help someone think differently.”

I asked my friends to send me stories about their experiences (troubling or funny) when they thought they were being underestimated because of their age. Now I am asking a broader audience, so please share this blog post with any likely suspects.

Thinking about being funny (and profound) on stage has brought to mind time spent in Phyllis Diller’s house in Webster Groves. In junior high, I was friends with her daughter Stephanie. We took the family-leased cab to a shopping mall and McDonald’s, we tried on Phyllis’ costumes and, with Steph’s siblings, we played musical instruments in the Dillers’ basement. Sometimes, Phyllis asked us to sort through jokes sent to her, and recommend which ones she might want to incorporate into her routines. I tell myself now that that part of my past proves I can move forward in this new adventure with confidence. 

Voluptua’s sequins seal the deal.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lesson Learned: Want What You Have

Announcement: I am not getting new eyeglass frames, and it’s my mother’s fault.

I got glasses when I turned 14, glasses that I didn’t want and was prepared to despise. When I put them on, for the first time I could see the neighbor’s back fence from our kitchen window. (Hi, Cheri!) I decided it was okay to wear glasses after all.  After brief flirtations with contacts (hard and soft) in college and later on, I have enjoyed wearing glasses ever since.

Early on, my mother told me to take good care of my glasses, to protect them from getting bent or broken or otherwise abused. So I did, and I always have. I don’t wear my glasses pushed up on my head where they may fall off and I don’t let them ride around in my purse or tote unless they are in a hard case.

In the past, I bought new frames every four years or so when I needed new lenses -- and what a collection of fun frames I’ve had: big red round glasses, studious horn rims and lovely malachite-colored frames.

A week ago, a frame I did not seek out caught my attention. These glasses sang to me, called my name, lured me in, even though I was not in the market for new ones. These saucy frames were in a locked cabinet (never a good sign) at the ophthalmologist’s office, where I had an appointment to find out why my left eyelid kept twitching.

The twitch was nothing, the ophthalmologist said, but he recommended I have an eye exam, as my last one was two years ago. At that appointment last Thursday, the optometrist said my vision had barely changed; if anything, it was slightly better than it had been four years earlier, two appointments ago.

Doctors rarely tell anyone my age that any body part is improving, so I decided to be pleased. “What about my frames? Do they look okay?” I asked. The doctor said my frames looked brand new. They are not – they are seven years old. My sunglasses are even older, but she said they look great too.

Rats! Even though I didn’t need new lenses and my current frames are in excellent shape, I marched down the hall and into the office where frames are sold. “I am here for a budget meeting,” I told the receptionist. “I need to know what new glasses would cost.” The woman nodded and signed me in. Then she looked at me more closely and said, “I L-O-V-E those frames you have on! They look great on you!”

I thanked her. Then I confessed that I wanted to try on the frames I liked so much, the ones locked in the cabinet down the hall. “It’s the $400 Tiffany Lux frame,” I said, “beautiful horn rims with flashes of turquoise.”

The receptionist said, “I know them -- that’s the most expensive frame in the shop, but they are pretty!”

The optician who waited on me calculated the cost of new lenses and factored in the amount my insurance would cover. Then she fetched the Tiffany frames. I took a deep breath and put them on.

Whoa -- they were all wrong! Suddenly the song they had sung became discordant. Oh, the color did indeed look good on me, but the top of the frames covered my eyebrows and the sides extended out too far. I was thrilled and despondent at the same time because although I was saving a ton of money, this also meant that I was not going to walk through the world wearing these magnificent glasses.

Then the optician asked to examine my current frames, which I have loved since the day I bought them, the day I went in to have my burgundy rectangular frames adjusted and accidentally came out with the glasses I now wear.

“This frame looks brand new,” she said. “I see no scratches or stressed places or any damage at all. Why did you think you needed new glasses?”

I told her I had not intended to shop at all, but had been captivated by the Tiffany frame. I also told her that my hair (gray and silver with a smattering of brown) often seems neutral to me and my current glasses echo that color scheme. I told her that maybe I needed more color in my face. I also told her at least three of my friends had suggested an inexpensive solution: lipstick.

The woman laughed. Without stopping to put on lipstick, I headed off to catch a bus. Riding home, I grumbled that other people get new frames all the time. So why not me? Because, I realized, I take really good care of my glasses, just like my mother told me to over 50 years ago.
So it's her fault, at least in a round-about way. 

Of course the entire experience reminded me of something else I already knew: Want what you have.

P.S. Realized I already have something besides lipstick -- Susan, my co-madre (her daughter married my son) gave me a bonus blush she got at a cosmetics counter that did not suit her. It's called Alluring Rose. C'est moi! 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oops, It's February Already!

Zoom zoom zoom – that was the last couple of months, zipping by on their way to future calendars depicting different years. See you later! Here is a recap of recent highlights from the City by the Bay.

What would I write just for myself if I had the time, and no paid work to do? People ask me that often. Early in January, when work was slow, I had a chance to find out. After three weeks of focused work, I am now ready to enter a memoir contest. Those three weeks weren’t all about writing, of course. First, the contest rules ask for just the first 5,000 words of a memoir. Second, I spent at least a week arguing with myself about taking on the project, even as the words I needed danced in my head and taunted me for having doubts.

Overall, the work was fun and easy except when it was frustrating and hard. That’s how writing goes. “I guess I am doing this,” I said to a friend over lunch. She pointed out that whether or not I am named a finalist (if I am, I get a short time to complete the manuscript) I can always give the work to Milo, my grandson, when he is older. Good idea!

I did not start with my great-grandparents, worthy subjects though they may be, and I did not write a traditional narrative. Chronology is not always an interesting approach, in my opinion, and the research, the fact checking and the required drilling into the memory bank all seemed too overwhelming. I chose instead to tell stories, out of order, with slender threads tying them together.

A slight digression: I once went shopping for a couch with my five favorite female friends because I wanted to buy new furniture that all of us found comfortable. I approached the memoir project in a similar way. A few friends, mostly randomly selected, read different drafts of the piece as I worked. They all provided encouragement and some offered insightful critiques, especially the “hired gun,” a former copy chief at the newspaper where we worked. With each bit of feedback, I wrote more and the manuscript grew and breathed more freely.

One friend, no slouch when it comes to writing himself, posed an interesting question. After offering several compliments, he said, “My question is: Where is this going? This is a great beginning -- I can't imagine the readers will not be hungry for more. Just be sure you know what that more will be. If they ask you how this memoir is going to end, what will you say?”

As it turns out, I do have an ending, a perfect ribbon to tie it all together, ready to go. Tomorrow I will turn in the initial entry, and then wait to hear if I am chosen as a finalist.

On Saturday, I was a clear winner. My friend Emmeline Craig threw a party to celebrate the first anniversary of The Blissful Gallery, her serene art space in Stinson Beach.  (See Emmeline was my first new friend in the Bay Area, and I happily volunteered to take photos at the party. My son recently helped upgrade my camera equipment, and I was excited about working with the new stuff. I packed a little pouch with lenses, a back-up battery and the flash and headed out for the gallery. When I got to the party, I realized I had left the actual camera on my desk. Oh well! I shot pictures with Emmeline’s camera instead.

Patrons of Emmeline’s are really interesting people, and it was fun to mingle and meet new friends. Kelsey and Ben overheard me tell another guest that I moved to San Francisco from St. Louis, and they wanted to discuss Midwest roots. She is from St. Louis, and he is from Cape Girardeau. Kelsey’s grandmother lives in Chesterfield, and sends her stories about the Bay Area that are published in the Post-Dispatch – including one I wrote about the joys of West Marin! (If you missed it, see

One more note: Milo just turned 2, and we have dinner together at least once a week. One recent evening, I said, “What would you like for supper?” His response? “A quesadilla.” Though I was impressed with his perfect pronunciation, I didn’t have tortillas on hand, so we settled on another dish. Maybe next time, Milo will cook.