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Aretha: The Queen of Soul and Then Some

Did I ever tell how much I love Aretha Franklin? I am reminded again how great she is in so many ways after the Kennedy Center Honors clip that has been making the rounds on social media. I just love her! I am talking ‘love’ as in ‘worship.’ I love the fact that the woman is a great singer, never stops working and still has the proverbial ‘it’ after decades in the spotlight. That is the no-brainer part.

But what makes her stand apart is the fact that while she’s working the THE NUMBER ONE DIVA angle [yes, I meant to make that all caps],  throwing down fur coats on stage, she also keeps it really real. Everything about her is a level above cool. Yeah, she’s wearing a fur coat and a golden gown, but somehow, she still doesn’t come across as glitzy or snobby. Her humility comes through. Her thankfulness is real, not part of the show. I love her for that!

She’s overweight and has no problem wearing her sleeveless gown, throwing her arms wide to her audience. Her face is the face of a 73 year old woman, which is exactly what she is. Her skin is lined and beautifully expressive, not a pinched lesson in plastic surgery.  I totally love her for that!

After decades of being a star, Grammy’s out the wazoo, several lifetime achievement awards and being the first woman to be inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin actually went  to music school to learn classical piano in the 1990’s! That is a move of someone who is always willing to be better, take a step further, and know you are never above it all.  I so love her for that!

Many artists give you the impression that they are doing you a big favor by allowing you to watch them perform. Her attitude is the exact opposite. She offers us her song. She shares her voice. She’s truly behaves like she is there for the common good somehow. . . like, well . . . a Queen. And I really love her for that!

About ten years ago, I got to see her perform in a relatively small theater. There was an issue with sound engineering and the woman stopped the show, saying, “These nice people paid to come hear us play, let’s give them a great show!” She left the stage, then came back after everything was fixed and sang practically her whole songbook for the following two hours. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever experienced.

And then there is stuff like this:

and this:

So go on, Aretha, throw down that fur coat – even PETA won’t hold it against you. As the Queen of Soul, R&B legend, and my personal living deity, thank you. Long may you continue to reign.

PS – Do you want to drop by for lunch some time? Y’know, next time you are on your way to visit the O’bamas or something. . . .


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My Traditional Thanksgiving Menu is Not the Same As Yours

My Armenian grandparents came to the United States in the early 1900’s. Our family embraced being American and Thanksgiving was a big deal at our house.  Any holiday with a food focus was perfect for us! Eating at a huge table, elbow to elbow, with as many family members as possible fit right in with the psyche of our heritage.

Of course, as they learned about American culture they gleaned that turkey is supposed to be Thanksgiving’s main attraction. But, people don’t generally discuss the rest of the traditional menu and from the get go, our family had an Armenian spin on the meal. All through my childhood, I was under the impression that my mother, grandmothers and aunts served traditional Thanksgiving food along with the required bird. I thought everyone had Armenian rice pilaf and eggplant as side dishes with their meals. Didn’t all houses serve appetizers of yalanchi (grape leaves stuffed with a rice mixture) and beoreg (cheese-filled filodough)? The normal holiday dessert was always khadaif (a very sweet dough and cream cheese pastry).

It wasn’t until high school that I figured out that we were different. A dessert invitation to one of our neighbor’s home on Thanksgiving day enlightened me, when I saw that they didn’t have any of the side dishes we had. Their leftovers did not even resemble ours. Rolls? Mashed potatoes? Corn? What was all that? That was the first time I’d ever eaten Pumpkin Pie.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one duped into this idea that MY Thanksgiving dinner was an actual traditional menu. An Italian-American friend of mine also had this issue. She grew up in New York. Her family had also arrived to the U.S. several generations back. When she was in college, she was invited to the home of a mid-western friend for Thanksgiving holidays. As she sat at the dinner table in a farmhouse in the middle of Ohio, she naively asked her host, “Where is the penne?” The table fell silent as her friend’s family stared at her in shock and confusion. She’s lucky they didn’t throw her out of the house!

Another friend from China grew up with cabbage side dishes. Someone from India always had naan bread and some kind of curried spinach. Just the number of rice dishes that various ethnic friends have with their turkey is astounding – spanish rice with peas and corn, jasmine rice, persian rice with pine nuts and a million different varieties of curried rices dishes.

The historian nerd in me wants to point out, also, that even if you are a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, your family is still probably not serving what the real Pilgrim diners ate in 1621. For one thing, the Mayflower survivors at Plymouth did not have access to white potatoes, since they didn’t exist on the North American continent back then. So, no mashed potatoes. They certainly didn’t have string bean casseroles with fried onions on top. No deep fryers in the Massachusetts woods. They may have had pinto or some other kind of common bean, though. Corn was different back then, too. It was more like the animal feed of today and they did not eat it off the cob. It was ground into meal and made into loaves, maybe similar to cornbread of today. There was no sugar, so no baked pie and probably not cranberry sauce either. Chances are good they actually did eat turkey (which still exists in the wild in New England), squash and maybe the precursor to the pumpkin pie – roasted pumpkin with honey. But they probably also served fish, venison and other wild birds like goose and duck – none of which is in the modern Turkey Day menu.

Someone needs to do a college thesis on why it was the turkey, and not the flounder or goose, that became the compulsory meat for this holiday. It’s not really fair that venison lost out, considering the abundance of deer in everyone’s back yard. We could be bringing in the holiday dinner from our rose garden.

My takeaway from all this is that “American” is as Americans do, and no matter where we came from, we are all Americans now. It’s a culinary free for all – well, almost. As long as there is a turkey on the table, you can still call it Thanksgiving. As my grandfather, who knew what hunger really was, used to say at the end of every meal, “Thank you. God Bless America.”

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This Week’s Oxymoron Practice

Got all dressed up for a dinner out, then had to fix the hem of my blouse with duct tape.

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Poignant and reasonable discourse on real issues – we need more of this

Chenjerai Kumanyika is my new hero. He used to write and perform music. He is an American with a funny name. He is a journalist and writer of poetry. He talks a lot about race. He has a degree in communications.

That description sounds a lot like. . . well. . . me.

But of course there are some differences. For one, he is a black guy in South Carolina. I’m a white girl in Maryland. Another is that he has a Ph.D. and has a ton of professional bylines out there. I have my skimpy bachelor’s and this blog (and a forthcoming novel about racial and economic stereotypes, but more about that later).

I heard him on NPR this morning talking about an unarmed teen who was killed by police in Seneca, SC. He was upset by it. Then he found out the teen was white.

And he was still upset about it.

His words on the Code Switch Blog last week and today on NPR’s All Things Considered were brave and on-point.

This is how we should all be talking. This is how people of different backgrounds become one group of people who care. We are so polarized by the color of our skin, the neighborhood we grew up in, the knee-jerk politics, that we miss the point.

Compassion is for everyone and I am so glad that Chenjerai took this step – to visit the boy’s vigil and see clearly a different angle from his own.

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The teen was not amused

unamused Zabel drawing

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real text exchange between me and my teen

teen: We did our chores. Can you turn on the WiFi now?
me: No, You are being punished for not doing the chores yesterday.
teen: There’s nothing to do.
me: It’s the last free weekday before school starts.
Go outside.
Ride your bike.
Explore the creek.
Do an art project.
teen: All art projects are digital.
me: What do you think people did before WiFi and computers?
. …
teen: Burn witches at the stake and die of the plague.
. . . .
me: *sigh* just go OUTSIDE!!!! There is no WiFi today.

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How to write a Business Bio

I was recently asked to help someone at work write a bio for themselves. They went from telling everyone nothing to telling everyone too much. This is the outline I gave them:

In general, the order of a bio would be the following:

  1. Your current position, when you started it and what you do in it
  2. How your career started – including education and first jobs in the industry
  3. Key Positions you’ve held over the years – whether you’ve worked at other companies and big name clients you’ve worked with
  4. One personal line (where you live, if you have a family, if you have a passionate hobby, etc)


Fictional example:


[1]Garine is President of the World Complaining Society. [2]Garine began complaining at a young age and attended Generic Complaint Academy, where she honed her skills in Grumpy One Liners.

[3]Previous to her current role, Garine acted as Touchiness Manager and Director of Irritation and worked  with many distinguished clients including John, Dick, and Harry.

[4]Garine lives in Cranky, MD, where she volunteers for Perky Girls Anonymous, helping those in need of balanced cynicism.

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A certain age – short series of Birthday Reflections

Birthday Reflection #1: Knowledge comes with experience, but  wisdom does not. I’m still the same wise@$s I was at 12 yrs old.

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just a thought

human relations observation: clueless and immature is BETTER than mean and vindictive, yet sometimes garners the exact same results.

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This Week’s Oxymoron Practice

Today’s oxymoron practice: took a 45 minute walk, then came home & ate a sleeve of thin mints

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