Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Barnes & Noble

The Cost of Picking Grape Leaves


One day years ago I discovered outside of a Barnes & Noble bookstore a fence covered with grape leaves. I hurriedly got into my vehicle and informed my mother and sisters of my finding. That same day, we all squeezed into my minivan, empty plastic grocery bags in our hands, and drove to the back of the store. My daughter sat in a stroller and watched – she must have been a year or so – as we excitedly picked the grape leaves.

We were plucking away when a tall man dressed in professional clothing suddenly appeared from around the corner. He was the manager of the bookstore and he hesitantly approached us and asked what we were doing. He looked a little nervous. We had all been dressed in black because my aunt had recently passed away and we were in mourning for forty days. Obviously the sight of us frightened the store manager, so we explained that during summer we picked grape leaves, enough to last throughout the winter, to make an Iraqi dish called dolma (a pot of stuffed vegetables). He said that was fine, but if we could just inform someone in the store next time we decide to pick grape leaves so that they wouldn’t be surprised by our sudden presence.

Last year I asked my Iraqi-American neighbor, who was throwing away his perfectly good grape leave into a garbage bin, if I could pick them. He said, “They’re all dead.” They were not, but I let it go and since then have been buying jars of grape leaves.

Today I was at my friend’s home. She told me of a man who shot a woman picking grape leaves somewhere near his house. Another man was picked up by a police officer who asked him, “What are you doing?”

The Iraqi man did not speak English and motioning with his hands towards his mouth he said, “Food! Food!”

The police officer, feeling sorry for this man, took him into his car and drove to his house where he gave the Iraqi man ten dollars, thinking he did not have money to buy food and thus was eating leaves.

People – if you see someone picking grape leaves, it is okay! God created everything in this world to be used, not be wasted or just sit there and look pretty.

My Writers’ Group

Rochester Writers' Group

I was determined to make it to the Rochester writers’ group meeting last night and much to my surprise, I did it! It had been years since I was able to attend, not counting the Christmas potluck parties held every year Mary’s house. Mary is the leader of the group.

So how did I make it there? I improvised. I called my uncle’s aunt, picked her up and had her watch the kids at the Thomas and Friends train table at the back of the bookstore – my son’s favorite place – while I sat with the adults, some whom I’d known for many years, some of whom I just met.

I listened to a meaningful poem, a hip novel excerpt, a drastically improved and revised first chapter of another novel, a beautiful memory of a romance, one soldier’s experience in the army, and a man’s heartfelt story about caring for his dying father – though I must admit the parts in the caretaker’s story about the feces were a bit much, especially when enjoying a hot cup of hazelnut macchiato, a new drink I was excited to try at Barnes & Noble.

I received delightful feedback on the material I read – even clapping! It was like the olden days, when I was in doubt about some of the scenes in my chapter and once I read them to this group, I knew what worked, what didn’t, and I walked away feeling a sense of peace and accomplishment.

The biggest difference between then and now is that yesterday, in the midst of the meeting, I began to hear my son’s voice creeping up behind me. I turned around and there were my kids with my uncle’s wife.

“We’re hungry,” my daughter said.

Rochester Writers’ Group


The day didn’t start off quite well. My daughter and I argued in the morning over her wanting to stuff her snowsuit in her backpack to take to school. There was no room left for her shoes, which she would slip on after she took off her boots in class. I ended up squeezing everything in, yet we still managed to be upset at each other. So before I took my son to nursery, I dropped off a card at her school to tell her how much her dad and I love her.

I spent a few hours at Panera Bread working on my book before I picked up the kids from school, then went home and prepared dinner. I was hoping I would have a chance to stop at Barnes & Noble for the writers’ group meeting that is held on the second Thursday of every month at 7:30pm. Although I joined this group over fifteen years ago, I have not attended in a very long time. I have however made it to the Christmas potluck almost every year. The potluck is always at Marie Gates’ house. She has been leading the group for the last 26 years.

It is in this group that I first dared read my work to an audience. There must have been at least ten people when I read the rough draft of Chapter One of my first novel, The Feminine Art. I was so nervous that I had to stare at the carpet as I awaited my turn so that I would not lose my courage. The experience was powerful. The listeners gave me so much constructive criticism that I became a regular attendee.

The Rochester Writers’ Group started out at the Rochester Hills Library and in the process of rebuilding a new library, the meetings were held in different members’ homes, and then they finally settled at Barnes & Noble. It was led by a couple who later decided they wanted to travel and so handed the job over to Marie Gates. When I met her, Marie was working on her first book, Shadows on My Mind. She has since published a second, Are We Our Past? Marie Gates managed to be a wife and mother while earning an M.A. in psychology. For several years she taught in colleges and universities and she has spent the past thirty years exploring reincarnation.

Last Christmas when I went to her house, I enjoyed drinking wine, tasting good food and talking to “intellectuals.” I learned from others’ personal experiences things about China, Poland and Russia. Over tea, I expressed my ideas about starting this blog, received the usual support and honesty that I’ve gotten from this community over the past 15 years, and returned home thankful that I have friends who understand my career that live just around the corner.