Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"My Head in the Cool Blue North"

Born: May 17, 1944, Bossier City, La.
Died: April 11. 2014, Charlottesville, Va.

When the news came of the death of Jesse Winchester, we were both shocked and saddened at our house. When we were in our salad days, we had the privilege of meeting him when he preformed in Aspen, Co., in 1977. His quiet but gentlemanly manner made a big impression on me and he gained my husband's admiration, as well.

As I worked in a club where he played, I heard his music night after night. It never grew tedious in the slightest. The crowds swelled and by the end of that week, the likes of John Denver, Hunter S. Thompson and gasp, Willie Nelson, came in to hear Jesse.

This week, as tributes poured in from cities far and wide, colleagues and peers heaped praise on the body of work created by Jesse Winchester.

Along with his personal achievements, it is pleasing to note that his songs have been sung and recorded by a host of great people: Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffet, Joan Baez, and Emmylou Harris to name a few.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the America Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007. The Commercial Appeal in Memphis where his family was originally from eulogizes Jesse as, “One of music's sweetest voices and most incisive songwriters.”

From those of us from the “cool blue north,” Jesse, we are honored that you came to be with us for a time.

Nothing But a Breeze

Life is much too short for some folks
For other folks it just drags on
Some folks like the taste of smokey whiskey
Others figure tea is too strong
I'm the type of guy who likes it right down the middle
I don't like all this bouncing back and forth
Me, I want to live with my feet in Dixie
And my head in the cool blue North
And there we'll do just as we please
It ain't nothing but a breeze
In a small suburban garden
Not a single neighbor knows our name
I know the woman wishes we would move somewhere
Where the houses aren't all the same
Jesse, I wish you would take me
Where the grass is greener
I really couldn't say where it may be
Somewhere up on a mountain top
Or down by the deep blue sea
And there we'll do just as we please
It ain't nothing but a breeze
One day I'll be old gray grandpa
All the pretty girls will call me "sir,"
Now, where they're asking me how things are
Soon they'll ask me how things were
Well, I don't mind being an old gray grandpa
If you'll be my gray grandma
But I suggest we go have our milk and cookies
In the shade of the old paw-paw
And there we'll do just as we please
It ain't nothing but a breeze
©1977 Jesse Winchester
From the LP "Nothing But A Breeze"

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fare Thee Well, Coldwater Creek

Elizabeth S.

Every company has a story. If it is a good one, people will be attracted to it.
The story of Coldwater Creek has come to the last page. Bankrupt and closing its doors, many analysts cite reasons, but for those of us who think of it as a living breathing entity, this is a sorry state of affairs.

Started in a ski condo, in 1984 by Denis and Ann Pence, it had an unlikely beginning. After moving to Sandpoint and saying goodbye to their corporate jobs, they decided to launch a catalog business. Their first attempts when, described by Dennis, were funny. A whale watching instrument which ostensibly one could play on the coast and illicit a response, yielded but one sale. It was later returned. One day a package arrived, unbidden. A stunning silver buckle with a native theme became the product that launched the company. Ann came up with the name as they walked along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. A former copywriter, she played a huge part in creating a national brand selling women's fashion over three channels: catalog, web and retail. It was not long before they became a Fortune 500 company.

It was 1999 when I answered an add in the paper and began a new chapter in my life. As a hands on Mom at home, my previous place of employment had been a ski lodge and nightclub in Aspen, Co, back in the late seventies.  After agonizing over my resume, I went down to the call center and sat in the lobby for about twenty minutes. I wanted to get a sense of the people and know the feel of the place before I tossed my hat in the ring. A woman walked by with a pail. Thinking it looked a bit odd, she responded to my quizzical expression by telling me that she was going out to feed the birds. That was the clincher for me. The fact that she took the time to speak to me, a stranger sitting there as if waiting for something. Feeling that it would be a friendly, welcoming place, I took the leap. Initially hired to be on the 'phones as part of the rank and file, we were told in training class that if we could write a letter, we should apply for the web team. While the title sounded daunting, we were informed that live chat was just around the corner and they needed people to man it. 1999 was the year America discovered online shopping. Oh, how we had to coax people to pull out their credit cards. Business went through the roof and the intrepid little web team worked at breakneck speed. We would be up to five written conversations going on simultaneously, while answering email. Not only did we manage, this small team of fourteen people won an award for best Internet Customer Service and we were written up in the Wall Street Journal.

After that, I went on to become a Product Trainer. Teaching agents in both Coeur d' Alene, and by video teleconference, West Virginia, we enjoyed continued success. Something strange began to happen when the customers would call in: they began professing their love for us. We were given an ethic of customer service and we were empowered to make our customers happy. If they complained about shipping costs we were allowed to erase it from their account. We took any return; we bent over backwards to make sure that they were pleased with their purchases. We knew their figure problems, their life problems, their weight gains and losses. We were allowed to talk, off script, within reason of course, but we enjoyed those relationships. Through it all, it seemed unlikely that such an endeavor could spring from a small town like Sandpoint.

The company grew and expanded. Denis Pence had the essence of a true entrepreneure. He tried new things. He scrapped ideas that didn't work. He knew every product. He would come and talk to us, meet with all his agents, and hear their concerns. We didn't sit in those meetings mute with fear: we spoke up and told him what were hearing from customers. They wanted long tops, we told him. The wanted to be comfortable. They wanted to get out of sweat pants, look nice, but still be able to move and bend. They had a hard time finding pants that fit. We all got on the 'phones at Christmas. Men would call beseeching us for help. We gave them a set of steps. Go to her closet. Find something she wears all the time. Get a tape measure and give us the statistics. It used to make me laugh to hear them go to their toolbox and get out the metal one used on fix it projects and carpentry, but they were so happy to have a plan in place. 

Training manuals, letters, live chat, and interpreting the copy, all fell under my jurisdiction. It became a job of both writing and speaking. Defining the brand became an interesting challenge, especially as it grew and changed. I relished the chance to be writing, in whatever form, and I thanked my lucky stars that my love of fashion and writing had come together in this form. Having gone to a girl's school and a women's college, the best part of punching a time clock every day for me, came in the form of a work place full of kind and caring women. We had nice guys there too, but they were greatly outnumbered.
Any company is so much more than the products on the shelves, or the ebb and flow of dollars out and in. It is a complex set of relationships. It is also a story. The garments in my closet still hold the Coldwater Creek label. For most people, it will be nothing but a memory soon. Yet it will be something different for me. A lesson learned, a collective of people of good faith, and a never ending sense of gratitude for all the great souls I met along the way.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Bible , A Source For Writers

Kathy Cooney Dobbs

Allegory, parable, poetry,
dialogue, discription, characterization;
Plot, narrative, conflict; and the resolve thereof.
Writers can glean much about writing from what
some call the greatest book ever written, the greatest story ever told
 - the Holy Bible.

The treachery and heartbreak of Good Friday
gives way to the glory of Easter Sunday and the Risen Lord.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

P.L. Travers, Walt Disney & Mary Poppins

Kathy Cooney Dobbs

   I was one of many moviegoers watching Disney's  popular musical , Mary Poppins  when it opened in theaters in 1964,  and like most, fell in love with the practically perfect Mary , the Banks family and chimney sweep, Bert.                                                   

   While I knew nothing about the author, I enjoyed the  book Mary Poppins , and was a  huge fan of Walt Disney -  a child of the 1950's , I grew up with The Mickey Mouse Club , Zorro, The Wonderful World of Disney and movies Old Yeller, Bambi,  Dumbo, Toby Tyler, Pollyanna and The Parent Trap . Living in Southern California allowed me , along with my family to visit Disneyland every summer. When I graduated high school we even had our all night party at Disneyland!  Walt Disney was like an old friend.                                                    

     Not until I saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks, the Disney account of  P.L. Travers and the  tug of war, what Travers referred to as 'uneasy wedlock' ,  between her and Mr. Disney  and the making of Mary Poppins, did I learn something about the author. That she was a   somewhat difficult,  determined woman, one without much  humor or joy. Her biographer, Valerie Lawson portrays the same in Mary Poppins, She Wrote  - The Life of P.L. Travers. Travers being a  rather humorless, difficult  woman, but also a woman with talent, imagination and fortitude. And most protective of what today she might call 'her brand' - her beloved Mary Poppins.

    Lawrence writes her search for Pamela Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff) began with the discovery she was Australian, and  "like myself had been a dancer, actress and writer. For me, Travers became more fascinating the more I learned of her mystery."

    Travers began writing as young girl and wrote several poems , including  Mother Song published in The Triad in 1922

Little son,
you must be sleeping;
Baby stars are peeping,
One by one.

'Time for bed !"...
Hear the Dustman crying,
As he comes with flying
Wings outspread...

    Lawrence writes 'Mother Song' was an unabashed piece of sentimentality (I think it sweet) , notable only for its mention of stars , the theme of so much of her later work, the phrase 'time for bed' , one of Mary Poppins favorite orders, and  the idea of the flying angel in the form of the Dustman.

    On March 20, 1926 the Christchurch Sun published  "The Strange Story of the Dancing Cow" , accompanied by a panel boasting "Miss Pamela Travers, who writes this story of the Sun is rapidly winning fame for herself in London. Few writers  today can equal her in the realm of whimsical fantasy. Read here in the Old Red Cow who awoke to find herself smitten  with star fever." In the first Mary Poppins book, published in 1934 , Mary told the same story of the cow and a king within a chapter called , "The Dancing Cow."

    During one interview Travers  says, " When I was in my teens, I wrote a small story about someone named Mary Poppins putting children to bed. I can't remember what paper the story appeared in, but the name was a long  time a-growing, a long time in existence, perhaps."  While during her lifetime no one ever discovered when she created Mary Poppins, and she certainly didn't tell, one can surmise Mary Poppins was always part of P.L. Travers. I'm sure that's one reason it was so hard for her to relinquish any control to Disney for the movie adaptation. Mary Poppins belonged to her.

     Travers admitted she liked the movie, but was always peeved with the title screen,  'Walt Disney's Mary Poppins' and felt it should have been  Mary Poppins arranged for the screen by Walt Disney. In the end one might say, it was the  magic of Travers and the magic of Disney that brought Mary Poppins long lasting life, and generations of fame.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Green Tea & The New York Times

Kathy Cooney Dobbs

    Yesterday after church, I had the pleasant experience of sitting in Starbucks drinking a refreshing glass  of  iced green tea while casually reading through my two favorite sections of The New York Times - Book Review , and Arts&Leisure.

    I don't often read print editions of the newspaper, I primarily  read articles on line now, most often The Spokesman-Review and Los Angeles Times. But having the paper in my hand with its  newsprint smell and inky feel reminded me of how important reading the daily paper once was to me, especially the Sunday paper. Turning actual pages, seeing the layout, perusing each headline.
    Statistics show print media is struggling , subscriptions and readership are down.  Many reasons are cited , not the least being the immergence of the internet .  But yesterday while browsing the paper ,  I thought how newspapers  once provided fertile ground for  young writers to hone their skill. Learning to work with an editor, rewriting and editing a story, and the pressure to  meet a copy deadline.  I thought of my own long ago days when I was one of those young writers just out of college , and was hired to write feature  stories for a community newspaper in Southern California. The editor  stressed what my journalism instructors did about writing a news story, the importance of five W's and H - Who, What, Where , When, Why and How.   

    The same  can be helpful for other genre's as well. In the telling of any story , fiction or non-fiction the reader is wanting to know who the story  is about, what is their purpose , where are they, when is the time frame, why did the characters act like they did,  and how any conflict is resolved. 

    Prior to the internet  and 24 hour cable, Newspapers were a primary source providing  news and other information for the average person;  Crime stories, society, sports, politics, obituaries, opinion, food, theater, advertisement.

    In yesterday's New York Times I found many articles informative, and interesting,  including Laemmle's List: A Mogul's Heroism , a biographical sketch by movie critic, Neal Gabler about Carl Laemmle, a founder of Universal Pictures and East Meets West, Over Cocktails - a history and recollection of vanished Chinese nightclubs. I was surprised to learn during its heyday in the 1940's, the Forbidden City in San Francisco billed itself as "the world's most famous nightclub" which often included celebrities like Bob Hope and Lauren Bacall in the audience. Then there were the Display ads touting Broadway shows, an upcoming movie release, and the American Ballet Theater.

    I discovered drinking green tea and reading The Times makes for a happy union, and rediscovered the pleasure of reading the Sunday paper - something I plan to do more often.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Fun with The Word UP

Jennifer Rova

I received this in an email today and smiled. The author is unknown but he seemed to be up for writing something funny.

The word UP in English has more meanings than any other two-letter word.  It is listed in the dictionary as an [adv],  [prep], [adj], [n] or [v]. To  be knowledgeable about the proper uses of  UP, look UP the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with UP to a hundred uses or more.

 It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, 
 but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake  UP?

At  a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why 
are the officers UP for  election; if there is  a tie, it is a toss UP Why is it UP
to the secretary to write UP a  report?  We call UP our friends, brighten UP a 
room, polish UP the  silver, warm UP the  leftovers and clean UP the kitchen.  
We lock UP the house and fix UP the  old car.

At other  times, this little word has real a special meaning. People stir UP trouble, 
line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To  be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And  this UP is confusing:  A drain must be opened UP because  it is  blocked  UP.

We  open UP a  store in the morning but we close it  UP at  night. We seem to be
 pretty mixed UP about  UP!

When  it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding  UP. When the sun comes out, 
we say it is clearing UP.  When it rains, it soaks UP the  earth.  When it does not 
rain for awhile,  things dry UP. 

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now . 
 My time is UP!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Writing Notes of Sympathy

Jennifer Rova
Sending a store-bought sympathy card when someone dies is better than not acknowledging a death at all. A sincerely written note or letter of condolence is infinitely better. It is more personal and tells the recipient that you are thinking of them more deeply then just a “Hallmark moment.”  Because I am a writer, people expect me to express my thoughts on the death of someone with perfectly chosen, heart-felt sentiments and so may acquaintances of yours.

Writing a letter or note of condolence is not difficult. Express your thoughts conveying what you feel. It need not be long. The words can be written on the left hand side of a card or on plain stationery enclosed in a card or in a plain envelope. If you knew the person who died, you have things to say that you remember about him. If you did not know the deceased, you know the person to whom you are sending the letter. 

If you knew the deceased, you will have memories, a nice story or an overall impression of the person. Focus not on how she died but how she lived.
      “Your dad always kept your cars sparkling. I can still see him washing and vacuuming them       every Saturday in the summers.”

     “I loved going to your brother’s baseball games with you and your father. He explained the finer points of the game which I am passing on to my children.”

     “Your Aunt Ruth was glad to see me when she visited. Her smile was lovely. I  liked her.”

     “Brian helped to teach my boys how to act around adults with his happy greeting and stated interest in what I was doing."

     “I knew Jesse only a short time but I remember fondly how he taught your dog, Dudley, tricks.”

     “Your grandmother was such a picture of good grooming. She displayed a caring nature I wanted to 
        emulate when I grew up.”

Refer to the deceased by name. 

If you did not know the person, say something about your friend’s relationship with him.
            “I remember you talking often about how positively your mom influenced your choices in life.”

            “Your grandfather played such a big part in your life when you were a child. The funny stories you told about going to the farm every summer still make me smile. I am sorry I never met  him.”

           " Dan deployed to Iraq just before we moved here. Your family is rightly proud of his service to keep our country safe as are we. John and I cannot imagine your loss. May your many memories bring you happier thoughts."

1.   Do not mention how they are feeling. Nobody has been in the exact situation even if you have experienced a similar loss. You do not know how they are feeling.

“The loss of your infant son, Chase, is so sad. No one understands your grief but John and I send our heartfelt condolences. We want to donate to a cancer facility of your choice in his name. I will contact you in a few weeks to discuss which one you and David prefer.”

“ Tom spoke often of his grandfather. What a tragic situation to lose him so suddenly.”

“Mary Jane told me of the passing of your daughter-in-law. Beth’s death leaves a heartache nothing can heal but may your memories of her live in your hearts always."

2.    Refrain saying they will get over it, their grief will pass, it was for the best, or you are sure he is in a better place now, or it was God's will.

3.    Avoid bringing in religion unless you know you both share the same feelings. If you are religious and say something like he is better because he is with the Lord now, even though that is what you believe, the recipient may not.

 Signing a card is tricky. Some people use the term “Warmly,” or “With warm thoughts.” For some reason I always think versus “Coldly"? 

            We are thinking of you,
            With caring thoughts,
            May the blessings of peace be with you,
            With loving thoughts,
            Our prayers and thoughts are with you,

 Here are two samples of letters of condolence.

June 30, 2014

Dear Mary and Jake,
            Bill and I were so sad to hear of the death of Mary’s mother. Although we did not know Evelyn, we feel as we did because of the many nice and funny stories you told us. I still smile when I think of Evelyn stuck in the tree trying to rescue your cat. Or the time the four of you went crabbing in Maine and it snowed. The obituary in yesterday’s paper was lovely.
            We are thinking of you with deepest sympathy and caring thoughts. I understand the funeral is this Saturday and we will be there.

With heartfelt condolences,
Sheri and Bill

July 7, 2014

Dear John,
     It is with a breaking heart that I express my condolences on the loss of Jeannie. Her prolonged illness was a terrible ordeal for both of you. We share comfort in knowing that she is no longer in pain.
     Your marriage was a long and charming one that many of us tried to emulate. During my extended friendship with Jeannie, we shared so many fun activities. Picking peaches, trying to solve the world’s problems over a glass of wine, volunteering together at the food bank and exchanging solutions for problems at work will be forever instilled in my memory bank of happy thoughts.
     It is difficult to see past Jeannie’s death. May looking back at your lifetime of memories help you. I keep a picture of the two of us laughing over something I have now forgotten but I will not forget how much joy Jeannie brought to life.

With caring thoughts,