Cooking with Love

I’ve always had a very specific vision for my writing.

I imagine a tiny restaurant.

You know the one. Before sitting down, your favorite dish is on the grill. The owner greets you with a hug, inquires about your family, and cares about the answer.

The meal is always the same. Consistent. Hot. Cooked with love.

It’s a question I ask myself often: Am I cooking with love? Readers can taste a lack of effort; it’s no different than a restaurant-goer.

Most cannot explain why the meal is different. Something is missing. Maybe too much salt, maybe not enough. Not sure. But something is not quite right. The same is true with just about everything we create. In my case, readers may not be able to put their finger on what is not working, and even if they can't distinguish between a dangling participle and a sentence fragment (neither can I), they know something is off.

Almost always it comes back to love.

That is why I am constantly thinking about that tiny restaurant. And...

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22 Years

The other day, my boys and I stopped by the barbershop for haircuts.

As the three of us settled into the couch, waiting for our names to be called, I sorted through a small stack of old GQ magazines on the coffee table until I found one that caught my interest.

On the cover was a familiar face. It was Josh Brolin, who just happens to live in the next town over from me here on California’s Central Coast. I have never met Brolin, but he and I do have a curious connection. We both have the same plumber, Pete. I call him “Pete the Plumber,” and the fact that I have a plumber is another story altogether. Anyway, Pete the Plumber loves to talk; loves to tell me what his buddy Josh is up to. Every time I see Pete I wonder how much his conversations end up costing me. Actually, I can do the math: at $60 per hour, it works out to $1 per minute.

I was interested in what Brolin had to say, mostly because of our one-degree of separation, but I was also enticed by the cover...

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Decomposing Room

When I worked at The New York Times, there was an office upstairs we called the Decomposing Room. I think about it often.

My kids find it inconceivable, but it is true that there once were no computers. And that was also true at the newspaper where high-tech meant setting hot led type and, later, cutting and pasting—I’m not talking about right-clicking the mouse—then splicing wide format film. All those things, of course, are dead and gone. Extinct.

But, not everyone got the news.

Which is why The New York Times had a Decomposing Room. The old-timers, who back in the day, did it all by hand may have seen the headline, “Things Are Changing,” but they did not bother to read the story. Instead, they kept doing what they were doing in the only way they knew how.

The rest of the world passed them by as they were still learning to turn on the Linotype CRTronic 360 photo-typsetting machine. But, because they were valued as long-time employees and were...

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All-One

Nine years ago, I went for a walk in the Sierra Nevada backcountry. A very long walk.

The timing was terrible, having just launched a magazine and with three little ones at home, all under six years old. But, I was at the point where I needed to clear my head; at least according to my little sister. She was always roping in hiking partners, and she had her sights set on me this time. Big brother.

The first night, we set up camp next to a creek. My sister, Emily, tossed me a little blue bottle of soap, explaining it was earth-friendly stuff. I waded in, about mid-thigh, and scanned the unfamiliar label: “Dr. Bronner’s All-One Hemp Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap.” Above and below the name, everywhere, every square inch, was covered in microscopic type. Under a canopy of sequoias, increasingly enveloped by a darkening sky, I began to read.

“Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the Moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong...

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The Omelet

I am fascinated by high school students who have 4.5 GPAs. For me, I was generally able to get the “.5” part of that number, but the “4” always eluded me. Math was never my thing; in fact, the only arithmetic I was ever proficient in was the kind required to calculate the fewest number of classes I would need to graduate. And, the only thing that stood in the path between me and my diploma during my senior year was Home Economics 2, which was known as “the cooking class.”

It was sometime in May of that year when my parents received a one-line letter that ominously read in all-caps as if it were a telegram from 1929 crying out the news of the stock market crash: “THOMAS DEAN FRANCISKOVICH HAS 53 UNEXCUSED ABSENCES THIS SEMESTER.” Along with my unsanctioned sabbatical, I was also lugging around a D- average, which meant that I was at serious risk of not graduating. Despite Mom and Dad’s crystal-clear instructions to fly straight...

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Taco Bed

A month or so ago, we replaced our bed. It had a good run, at least ten years, but it had started to falter lately. I was surprised by the emotions that welled up when they hauled off that misshapen old mattress down the hallway toward its ultimate resting place.

My family was in expansion mode when we bought that bed, with our third child on the way. Tempur-Pedic was the new thing back then; it was made of memory foam “originally developed by NASA for its astronauts,” according to the sales guy. If it was good enough for astronauts, it would be good enough for the five of us. I say “the five of us” because we’ve always had an open bed policy.

Any kid who wants to sleep with Mom and Dad are welcome, and pretty much every night we could count on at least one of them joining us at some point, usually all three. A debate rages among young parents as to whether or not a “family bed” makes sense, but for us, we would not have had it any other...

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Toast-R-Oven

The other day, my teenage daughter, Geneva, was running late to school. As she was frantically getting herself ready, she called out from the bathroom asking me if I would slice a bagel in half and put it in the toaster for her. A few minutes later, she appeared as a hurricane blowing through the kitchen, and she scolded me down the hallway: “Dad, you burnt the heck out of this thing!”

After she left, just for fun, I went online and searched “1980s toaster oven.” In a split second, I traded places with my 15-year-old when on the screen popped up the words “General Electric Toast ‘n Broil Toast-R-Oven.” Yes, sir, that was the one.

The orange and brown that framed the skinny plastic control knobs was the thing I remember most—orange for broil; brown for toast. But, the faux wood grain that wrapped the sides was a dead giveaway that we actually had the 1970s model. And that would make sense, considering that it caught on fire about 20% of...

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Alpha Probe

Similar to most red-blooded American kids of my generation, it used to be a yearlong enterprise as I wrote one draft after another seeking perfection in my letter to Santa. If I could ask in just the right way using just the right words, I knew that he would squeeze down our chimney with everything on my list.

One year, I must have been around 9 years old, the same age my son, Harrison, is now, J. C. Penney mailed out a supplement to their annual catalog just ahead of the holidays. It used to be that the only thing my sisters and I had to guide us toward a successful Christmas was that old catalog, which was filled with everything from underwear to jumper cables. Now, we had it all at our fingertips—toys and dolls—in one simple, concise publication. Brilliance.

As I sat at the kitchen table waiting for my oatmeal to cool, I flipped open the dog-eared supplement yet again. Although I had already committed it to memory, I found comfort in the predictability of its pages....

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1-800-COLLECT

I was wrapping up an interview the other day when my phone vibrated. Glancing down, I could see it was my daughter, Geneva. Her text read, “Dad come pick me up at the gym.”

Not happy to cut my conversation short, I mostly took exception to the tone of the message. There was no “Please,” no “Thank you,” and I was right in the middle of something.

She was the only one there, and I spotted her black and yellow SLO High hoodie instantly as I rolled up to the curb. “Sorry about that, Dad,” she said as she climbed into the car. “Geneva, what? You don’t even bother to say, ‘Please’ anymore?” I asked.

“I’m really sorry, Dad, but my phone was running out of power; it was at 1%. See, look,” she said showing me her phone, “it’s totally dead now—and I wanted to make sure the message went through.”

“I doubt that typing out ‘Please’ would have drained the...

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20 Minutes

Five years ago, I conducted an interview that changed my life forever.

I sat down with Botso Korisheli, who was then 92 years old, in his Morro Bay home on California’s Central Coast for a conversation during a typical fog-enshrouded midsummer morning. There, with my voice recorder clicked on, I began the interview as I always do, by asking for some background information. “If it’s okay with you, Botso, let’s start by talking about your childhood, about where you are from.”

Through a heavy Eastern European accent, Korisheli revealed that he had grown up in the Republic of Georgia when it was brought under Soviet control. Slow and measured in his speaking, he began sharing the story of his father, a famous actor in the capital city’s theatre. “My father disagreed with the government—the rule was that theatre and drama and arts should serve the politics. But, dad disagreed. He said that it should serve the people. And, he did not budge...

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