What She Learned About Jack

micRead this article and you’ll understand why I’m interested in gathering and writing personal histories.

It’s called What I Learned From Jack, and it’s from Barbara Allen Burke’s excellent blog I Am Story.

An excerpt:

For the past 2 ½ years, I’ve had my version of Tuesdays with Morrie. I’ve had “Wednesdays with Jack.” Just about every week—with occasional breaks for holidays or travel—I’ve spent a couple of hours with a bright, engaging 89-year-old former military colonel and inveterate sailor. Each week, I’ve gone to Jack’s apartment, armed with a tape recorder, my laptop computer, and an atlas. Jack sits in his favorite chair and I set up my equipment and sit next to him. And then we talk. Read the rest

Click over and you can read a little bit about Jack, and why putting together his family and personal history was so satisfying and rewarding to Barbara.

What a life! (Bonus points if you get it right: Am I talking about Jack, or about the writer?!)


Christopher Kimball & The Troll

kimballI have been on Christopher Kimball‘s email list for years, and though I don’t live in New England and I don’t have time right now to cook the wonderful foods he writes about, it’s great writing and I always take time to read it.

He is, according to Wikipedia, the bow-tie wearing founder, editor, and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, and formerly publisher of the now defunct Cook’s Magazine. I know him from Cook’s Illustrated — what a neat magazine that is. Here’s his Christopher Kimball blog. And I love reading his occasional emails, which talk about the sugar season in Vermont and relay charming small-town stories.

This is a funny, timely, small-town story that came in his email today. Could it be true? He represents it as though it is. And of course it could be — people are crazy.

Back in Vermont, here is a recent story that sounds completely made up. A resident of a nearby town is very well liked but more than a little crazy and a bit of a drinker—you never know what he will do next. His wife came home one day and noticed that he looked a bit shaken. He said, “I caught a troll!” and proceeded to lead her upstairs. When they got to the bedroom, she heard a voice from the closet shouting, “Let me out! Let me out!” Well, he had all sorts of furniture stacked up against the door to keep the troll in. Once the way was cleared, she found a very pleasant, rather short gentleman in disarray, shaken after having spent a few hours locked up inside. He was working for the U.S. Census, had rung the bell, and, as soon as the door had opened, the husband had somehow mistaken him for a troll, spiriting him upstairs. No word yet on the impending lawsuit.

My favorite sentence in this bit is: “…as soon as the door had opened, the husband had somehow mistaken him for a troll, spiriting him upstairs.”

I cannot think of anything else to say about this, except: Thanks for the good laugh!


Ways In Which I Am Exactly Like Julia Child

cilantrohatCilantro is such a heated subject. People seem to either love it or hate it, and there’s not much in-between.

My friend Kris and I were just saying so, and the next day a New York Times article appeared about this exact topic (thus confirming what I thought: that I partly control the world with my mind).

Kris is a cilantro lover. She sent me a recipe that had tons of the stuff in it.

I am not a picky eater, but cilantro (also known as coriander) tastes to me like something that has spoiled and should immediately be thrown away. I immediately threw away the cilantro recipe. Also, I would not be able to stand the wearing of this cilantro hat.

And then I read the New York Times article, and this:

Culinary sophistication is no guarantee of immunity from cilantrophobia. In a television interview in 2002, Larry King asked Julia Child which foods she hated. She responded: “Cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.”

“So you would never order it?” Mr. King asked.

“Never,” she responded. “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.”

I hear you, Julia. I too am a “supertaster” of sorts when it comes to cilantro. Though I have no beef, so to speak, with arugula.

The article goes on:

The authoritative Oxford Companion to Food notes that the word “coriander” is said to derive from the Greek word for bedbug, that cilantro aroma “has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes” and that “Europeans often have difficulty in overcoming their initial aversion to this smell.” …

Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro, according to often-cited studies by Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. But cilantrophobe genetics remain little known and aren’t under systematic investigation. Meanwhile, history, chemistry and neurology have been adding some valuable pieces to the puzzle. (Read more)

I don’t believe we need to throw a lot of money and time into understanding the chemistry and neurology of why cilantro tastes like bug-infested bedclothes smell. There are certainly many things that are much more important.

But I related to this article and especially to Julia Child. I wish I’d gotten to sit next to her when cilantro was served. We would have tossed our bits of nasty-smelling and -tasting cilantro on the floor to such an extent that birds would have been gathering it up for their nests.

If birds like cilantro.


The Little Travelers

My young daughter likes to learn. She will tell you that. “I want to know about everything,” she says, “because I’m curious.”

When she was 3, I happened to read the book Lonesome Dove for the first time. What a wonderful book, and I loved it from that first great sentence. One day I clasped the book to my heart and told her, with feeling, “I am enjoying this book so much. I can’t wait until you are older so you can read it and enjoy it too.”

She listened with every pore and then smiled and told me, with great sincerity, “I will.” She meant it, and I believed her.

It is so satisfying, this business of having a child who loves to learn and experience, because there are so many things I want to share with her and she is all ears.

travelers-copyOne thing I want is for her to travel and see a bit of the world. So I was thrilled a couple years ago when I stumbled upon The Little Travelers, a series of DVDs by a southern California woman talented in video production who homeschools her two little girls and travels extensively with them.

The Little Travelers Production company was founded by Angelina Hart. The goal of the production company is to present the world to children in a format that they can easily receive. Through a variety of media we offer a travel documentary series designed specifically for children, yet interesting and appropriate for all ages.

Through the methods of basic field observation, rather than a scripted production, a rich and authentic experience is portrayed of each culture. The children portrayed in the series are not actors. We feel that by having children speak in a way that children naturally speak adds to the charm and authenticity of the childhood experience.

We offer a multicultural experience for those interested in travel and learning about other cultures and foreign countries. We hope to inspire all who come in contact with our products to have adventures of their own, whether in a foreign country or their own backyard. Happy traveling!

My mom got two of the DVDs for my daughter for Christmas that year when she was 3: The Little Travelers – Japan, and The Little Travelers – The British Isles.

We have watched them over and over and over. They are wonderful.

In each location, the mom and two kids rent a home and stay for several weeks. The unscripted, documentary-style movies explore, for instance, a Japanese home, and show what they eat there and what the bathrooms look like. The girls visit temples and play in cherry blossoms.

The two girls, who are perhaps 3 and 6? in the first movie, meet and play with local kids, even when they don’t speak the same language. They are not observers, but are participants.

In The British Isles, we watch as they go on a caravan adventure.

These movies show kids (and their parents) what it’s like to travel and live in another country. What it looks like there, how people live and what their history and legends are. In the Japan movie, they go to a school and the movie shows seven or eight kids teaching how to pronounce the same simple words, and laughing.

These are wonderful DVDs. When we traveled ourselves with one of the movies, and somehow lost the disk, it caused a bit of a crisis and we had to order it again.

Since then, The Little Travelers have taken other trips and now there are two more DVDs. I subscribe to their blog‘s feed, so I hear about the trips in progress and know when a new DVD is available. We have those now, too (Bali, and Iran).

Angelina Hart actually took her two young girls into Iran, and we got to see what the people are like there. I would never go into Iran in these times, but I’m thrilled to have gotten to see it through The Little Travelers’ eyes — and for it to be my daughter’s first look at Iran, too.

It was a movie not about politics, which is all that most of us know of Iran, but about the people and culture.

She and I look at these places on the globe, and when she hears one of them mentioned, she recognizes it.

“Indonesia?!” she’ll say. And I know she’s got pictures in her mind of The Little Travelers learning to throw clay on a pottery wheel there, and children in their traditional dress, dancing, as well as water buffalos walking through rice paddies.

Here is an interview with Angelina Hart, the girls’ mother and producer of the DVDs.

Watch video trailers of The Little Traveler DVDs here.

I highly recommend this series of DVDs, which is appropriate for the youngest kids and has been thoroughly enjoyed by every adult who has seen them with us, too. They make great gifts, too.


100 x 100

I sometimes do what people call “spring cleaning” at the end of a year, when I get a hankering to straighten up the place — to get rid of some of the clutter that inevitably creeps into our house over the months, clean, and make room for a fresh, clean new year and its possibilities.

It was in the middle of my current purging of no-longer-needed papers from file cabinets and taking no-longer-worn clothes to Goodwill that I stumbled across a project by the photographer Michael Wolf.

Wolf is a German photographer who lives in China, and in 2006 he took photos of 100 residents in their flats. These are tiny flats in Hong Kong’s oldest public housing estate that each measure only 100 square feet. He calls the photo collection 100 x 100.


I found the photos fascinating. I looked through all 100, and then I looked at them again.

People made such different use of the tiny, windowless and identical living spaces, but I notice almost all have a refrigerator, a t.v., a clock and a calendar. Most have a bunk bed, part of which they used for storage. In some, there is evidence of what the person does for a living — a sewing machine and material for some working as a tailor, for instance. I did not see any computers, but I did notice a couple land-line phones. Perhaps some of these people carry cell phones, which are everywhere in Hong Kong.

A few have rather amazingly comfortable, well-thought-out spaces, and a few look like they are living in scary, over-filled storage units, and there is everything in between.

But what struck me most is that the photos do not suggest “bleak.” They are glimpses of lives, and people, that for the most part look comfortable and whose expressions generally look upbeat. People’s walls display pictures of grandchildren, and kids wear school uniforms and smile, and the photos show people who seemed, at least in these shots, rather relaxed and content. After all, it’s only a living space. It’s not a whole  life.

That housing project was built quickly in the 1950s to house thousands who lost their homes in a huge fire. It was scheduled for demolition a month after Wolf’s photos were taken — and I wonder where these people went. Where, and how, are they living now? I’d love to know some of their stories.

In the meantime, I am strikingly reminded yet again that we don’t need as much stuff as most of us in the U.S. have. Lighter is so much freer and better. I’m lightening up.


Ford Motor Company’s Poet


Oh my, how fun to read.

From the New York Times:

Poetry in Motion

Published: August 15, 2009

Baton Rouge, La.

IT seems that we’ve done just about everything to get the American auto industry out of the doldrums. We’ve forced bankruptcies. We’ve exchanged cash for clunkers. But have we tried poetry?

The question is brought to mind by the story of Marianne Moore, the famous American writer, who served for a brief season as the Ford Motor Company’s unofficial poet laureate…. (Read the rest here.)

Imagine, Ford Motor Company called up the poet Marianne Moore to name their new series of cars. Would that happen today? I wish it would.

Make sure you read to the end.

photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231]

Dottie Thompson, George Naope, & the Definition of “Resplendent”

Aunty Dottie Thompson and George Na‘ope, together credited with starting Hilo, Hawai‘i’s Merrie Monarch Festival 46 years ago, are both looking frail this year, and both attended the festival briefly on the final night in wheelchairs.

Still, one can always count on Uncle George to look absolutely resplendent.


Re·splen·dent   (rĭ-splĕndənt)


Splendid or dazzling in appearance; brilliant.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin resplendēns, resplendent-, present participle of resplendēre, to shine brightly : re-, re- + splendēre, to shine.]

Splendid. Dazzling. Brilliant. He definitely still shines.



Hilo’s Sig Zane and the Ho‘ike

Damon Tucker just posted about an interesting video interview with Sig Zane. Sig is the well-known clothing and fabric designer in Hilo whose clothes are absolutely da kine. And I’m sure Merrie Monarch week must be his busiest time of the year, because all the hula enthusiasts swarm to his shop. He has the loveliest clothes.

Sig Zane’s shop (even the shop is beautiful) is at 122 Kamehameha Ave Hilo, HI 96720. Phone (808) 935-7077.


Sig is married to Nalani Kanaka‘ole, one of the kumu hula of Halau O Kekuhi*, and is a member of the halau. He danced at tonight’s Ho‘ike (the free, exhibition night of Merrie Monarch). I don’t think I’ve seen him dance before. I loved seeing it.

I loved the whole Ho‘ike performance. And Halau O Kekuhi’s first number: The hair on my arms stood up — such power, strength, confidence, knowing. Would a hula performance 400 years ago have looked much different?

They performed for about an hour altogether, from the tiniest keiki on up, and it was great. Lovely auana, strong and powerful kahiko. Just amazing.

I’m really looking forward to the first night of the hula competition tomorrow night.

* I went searching for an article about Halau O Kekuhi to link to, and found a Hawaiian Airline in-flight magazine article by, um, me. I have a short and scattered memory, don’t I?!


Other People Named Leslie Lang


I want to be clear that the person in the video is not me. I know somebody will miss that! It’s not. This is a post about someone else whose name is Leslie Lang.

The other day I wrote about a standup comic who lives in San Jose and has the same name as me, and then she saw the post and emailed me! 

And she sent me a link to her comedy act on YouTube, which is, indeed, funny. I enjoyed it.

I like her and we’ve been emailing back and forth and it’s WEIRD. I keep almost missing her emails in my box, first of all, because they just look like they’re copies of emails that I sent out. How weird is that to get emails from someone with the exact same name as you?

She’s making a website right now and told me she bought the domain name “leslielangisfunny.com,” which I like, because if someone Googles me and sees that, even if they eventually realize it’s not me, the idea will be there that I’m funny. I told her I’ll link to her on my leslielang.com site, and she said she’ll do the same.  

And then I had the idea that it would be fun to have a little section on my site where all I do is link to people name Leslie Lang. “For Leslie Lang, the stand-up comic in San Jose, click here.” “For Leslie Lang, the AP medical writer on the East Coast, click here.” Etc. It’s the least I could do, having nabbed the “leslielang.com” site and all.

So if any other Leslie Langs happen to end up here, please feel free to be introduce yourselves, so to speak, further confusing and astounding me.

By the way, I was talking about this and mentioned that the other Leslie Lang is starting her own website called “Leslie Lang is Funny,” and my five-year-old daughter said, “You are the Leslie Lang that is funny!”

My husband suggested that we could have a reunion of all the Leslie Langs, and I thought it would be really funny if we all wore nametags that read “Leslie Lang.” And all the husbands could have tags that said, “Mr. Leslie Lang.” And our little girl would wear one that said, “Leslie Lang’s daughter.”

She (Leslie Lang) also mentioned that she considered moving to Hawai‘i a couple years ago, and I wrote back that I had a small anxiety attack when I read that because I would like to be the Leslie Lang here. But then I told her that after I thought more about it, I realized that she too is about building up her name, for her comedy, and two people working on building name recognition FOR THE SAME NAME would be great!

Anyway, the whole thing is really strange but kind of fun. But strange.

But fun.


Leslie Lang ‘R Us

I have a Google Alert set up for my name (do you?) and today I got an alert about how great I was when I did my comedy improv act in San Jose recently. 

I, um, don’t do comedy improv (maybe some occasional, unintentional slapstick), nor do I frequent San Jose. But I’m glad to hear it was enjoyable.

Isn’t it strange to find other people with YOUR name? Maybe somebody named Steve Smith is used to it. But I don’t think my name is all that common, so when I occasionally stumble across another Leslie Lang, it feels so odd. Does anybody have any interesting stories about coming across someone else with their same  name?


(If that Leslie Lang in San Jose has a Google Alert on her/our name, and runs across this post, wouldn’t that be a little freaky for her?)