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Archive for May, 2007

From Beth Howard

May 30, 2007 

Dear Cindy,

        Yesterday, I read in your on-line diary that you are leaving Crawford, Texas and going home to California. You wrote, “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement.” There is so much energy in politics and government that is not peaceful. Much of our democratic process seems to be fueled by the energy of war, but we do not call it that. We call it the “two-party system” and sometimes, “competition.”

        Later in your diary, you wrote, “I am going home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost.” Maybe now, you will have time to focus on cultivating the seeds of peace planted so firmly in your own tender heart. I hope that you will grow an oasis of peace within your family and community.

        I am deeply sorry for the death of your son, Casey, in Iraq. I cannot imagine your pain and deep sadness. Please, accept my condolences and also my deep sadness that insults were added to injury in your effort to honor your son’s life by working for peace. One day, I am terrified that I may follow in your footsteps, with the loss of one of my own sons in this war. It is the subject of all my worst daydreams and nightmares.

        My 21-year-old son, Peter, is a soldier in Iraq. Three weeks ago, the truck he was riding in was blown-up by a roadside bomb. Peter, the gunner, was thrown off the vehicle, when the five-ton truck was flipped on its side. He has a piece of shrapnel in his thigh, some bruises and abrasions, but otherwise, is okay. He was awarded a Purple Heart and after two weeks off, to recover from his injuries, he returned to his regular duty. Last week, he completed another mission, taking turns serving as the gunner and driver in the 113 degree heat. Peter’s tour of duty in Iraq was extended three months with the rest of the Army. I can hardly bear it, but how can I possibly complain, when so many sons, like yours, have died? As the mother of a living soldier, I am one of the “lucky” ones.

        This was a difficult Memorial Day, with the possibility of violent death before my eyes and too close for any comfort. I wore a small pin with two blue stars, signifying that I have two sons in military service. Peter’s twin brother, Andrew, is a Marine Security Guard, serving in Saudi Arabia.

        When my sons joined the military, I honored their choice to stand for the courage of their convictions. Their father and I had taught them for years to do just that. Their strength was an inspiration to me and I seized the opportunity of their enlistment to act and work for peace. I started with myself, my family and my community. In spite of the daily horrors of war, I can still find peace in those places and I continue to grow it from that fertile soil. I prefer to think of peace as one of those tenacious perennial plants, growing in the garden of my life. Year-to-year, it gradually spreads to take over everything. I have a very good, real-life example of this plant in the garden of my yard, which serves as a valuable reminder to me that peace, too, is hardy and persistent.

        Peace persists, even in Iraq. When my son, Peter, was home on leave in April, he showed us a slideshow of pictures from Iraq on this laptop. He had many pictures of children, running beside their convoy. He said they ask for food and water. Sometimes, he tosses them his sandwich.

        Last week, during an Instant Message conversation with Peter, I asked if I could send some granola bars for him to toss to the children. He replied, “If I remember, I grab muffins before the mission, because I can chuck a muffin pretty far.” I asked if I could send some muffins and he replied, “Mom, there is no short supply of muffins in Iraq.”

        We will seldom, if ever, read such stories in the press, so I hang on to this one, to remind myself that small acts of kindness are happening every day in Iraq. These acts are tiny seeds of peace being sown and I hope that they will grow, even in the intense heat of summer and of war.

        So now, at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I think of ways that I might “chuck a muffin” for peace. On Sunday night, I slept at my Unitarian Universalist Church with a homeless mother and daughter. The mother was exhausted after working two part-time jobs as a motel maid. I played basketball with the energetic eight-year-old girl and shared a few simple yoga stretches with them before bed. In this small way, I shared peace with one family in my town. Now that you are home, I hope that there will be many opportunities for you to cultivate peace in your own backyard.

        Years ago, unknowingly, you and I collaborated in the Mindfulness Bell, “A Journal of the Art of Mindful Living in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh,” (Issue 41 Winter 2005-2006). I wrote an article titled, “Peace Is Every Step” on the LA Peace Walk and the International Day of Mindfulness and Peace. Your article was, “I Have Arrived, I Am Home,” on walking with Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) in MacArthur Park on that day. Our articles appeared side-by-side.

        In that issue, Thay said, “There is much in the peace movement that is not peaceful.” You have learned this first-hand. Someone once asked Thay what could be done to bring peace to the situation in Iraq. He responded by saying that there are many wrong perceptions on both sides. We must begin, he said, by looking deeply at our own practice. To have peace in the world, we must first have peace within ourselves.

        Thich Nhat Hanh will be teaching across the U.S. again this year. There will be another Peace Walk in MacArthur Park on September 29th. His tour schedule is at: www.greenmountaincenter.org. If you see him, I know that Thay will chuck you a muffin. He bakes them daily in his peaceful heart and gives them all away.

Wishing you a peaceful heart,

Beth Howard



Going back to Iraq, photograph by Beth Howard 2007, all rights reserved
Going Back to Iraq, Photograph by Beth Howard, “I took the photo
because I knew it was how a lot of people saw Peter every day,”
© 2007, all rights reserved



About writing, Beth says: My regular writing practice includes writing letters and postcards. I got the idea from reading, Home Before Dark, Susan Cheever’s book about the life of her father, author John Cheever, who wrote 30–40 letters a week in addition to short stories for The New Yorker magazine. My volume of letter writing is considerably more modest. 

My friends at this site first suggested that I might write a letter for red Ravine…but, a letter to whom, I wondered? I was committed to the topic of “war & peace” and when I read Cindy Sheehan’s letter of resignation on-line, I knew I would write to her. The best gift of a letter writing practice is that you sometimes get a letter back.

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Today the holder of a $62.8 million Powerball ticket stepped forward. The ticket was plucked (or at least that’s how I picture it – plucked, from a glass bowl) days ago. It took until today for the winner to come forward. Turns out he’s an auto mechanic from a small town in northern New Mexico. You can read about him at this link.

This post isn’t about winning the lottery; it’s actually a list of topics we might use to inspire our writing on red Ravine, today or tomorrow or later this year. Plucked out of a notebook or computer file somewhere. Just the ticket we’ll need to break through, chuck our day jobs, and become famous.

Or not.

They say people who become instant millionaires go on to have tragic post-lottery lives. Take Jack Whittaker who won $314 million (before taxes) or Mack Metcalf who with his wife won $34 million. Read about how their lives changed for the worse after they won the lottery.

Writing is hard work. There is no winning lottery ticket. Days like today I wish there were. Either that or I wish I weren’t so compelled to write. Today I’m anything but inspired.

And that’s why I’m here, writing this post. Making a list of topics I’m going to keep in mind for my writing practices in the coming weeks. Use them if you’re so inclined. Just remember, not a one of them is going to land you where you want to go. Only hard work and persistence – a dedicated practice – will get us there.

     1. The sound of water dripping

     2. Living in cities

     3. Old buildings

     4. The seasonal life of roses

     5. Toes and how they run in the family

     6. Hummingbirds

     7. The smell of skunk

     8. Barking dogs

     9. Inertia and why it strikes

     10. White noise

     11. What I would do with $63 million

     12. Superstition




-from Topic post, COFFEE BREAK

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  1. why I like midnight
  2. my favorite times to write
  3. blue moons
  4. what it is about being the oldest child
  5. fresh air
  6. what I learned from my favorite teachers
  7. the Tao of Underdog
  8. why I don’t write pulp fiction
  9. everything I know about State Fairs
  10. the last concert I attended
  11. the first concert I attended
  12. the day I learned to drive
  13. who taught me to drive and why
  14. classes I loved
  15. classes I hated
  16. the first time I thought I might like to write
  17. favorite places to write as a child
  18. where I used to hide out
  19. how to get space in a family of eight
  20. what was I like in junior high
  21. my first crush
  22. the last time I played on a seesaw
  23. bottle rockets
  24. the best intentions
  25. why loss is forever
  26. why no one wants to accept that loss is forever
  27. life after healing
  28. states I’ve lived in
  29. my favorite coastal town
  30. my favorite coast
  31. the first time I flew
  32. the last time I flew
  33. when I was in New York
  34. driving country roads
  35. why I wanted to be the Lone Ranger
  36. what happened to Dale Evans
  37. people I know of who came from Texas
  38. ways to identify your suitcase on the luggage carousel
  39. how many miles I’ve flown
  40. favorite places to visit
  41. my favorite vacation
  42. the year I turned 30
  43. old address books
  44. where to find memories
  45. where to lose memories
  46. the last time I was at the ocean
  47. everything I know about body surfing
  48. the last time I played hide and seek
  49. people who have forgotten me
  50. people who have remembered me
  51. people I’ll never forget
  52. people I wish I could forget
  53. the last time I ironed
  54. what I know about spray starch
  55. the unforgiven
  56. the last time I played chess
  57. walking in the park at night
  58. French fries and milk shakes
  59. where I go for a good hamburger
  60. the last ride to the airport
  61. old hangouts
  62. the first time I learned to ride a bike
  63. the first time I roller skated
  64. my favorite bike
  65. what I love about motorcycle riding
  66. what I remember about nursery rhymes
  67. what scares me
  68. what makes me stronger
  69. my favorite snacks
  70. frozen yogurt
  71. when I buy toothpaste I
  72. makeup counters
  73. my favorite color lipstick
  74. what I know about Crackerjacks
  75. towns I’d like to forget
  76. the last roller coaster ride
  77. last time I took the bus
  78. folding chairs
  79. picnics I remember
  80. last fly in the soup
  81. green inchworms
  82. rose bushes
  83. gardens and gates
  84. what I love about travelling
  85. what I hate about travelling
  86. last time I tasted buttermilk
  87. famous cow names
  88. famous horse names
  89. stone fences
  90. green is the color I
  91. when I get angry I
  92. Barbie and Ken
  93. slow boats and fast trains
  94. the last musical I saw
  95. fresh fruit
  96. mad dashes
  97. what I find unforgettable
  98. what I find unforgivable
  99. the nature of spring
  100. summer in the city

- from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – COFFEE BREAK

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Breakfast at Amelia’s, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Breakfast at Amelia’s, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


What could be better than fresh grits, hot from the stove (smothered in butter and cheese), scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and French Roast? For lunch we had pimento cheese sandwiches, peanut butter pie, and sweet iced tea.

Breakfast, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. For the family gathering tonight, my brother made banana pudding. My sister made a turtle cake. There will be Southern potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and a pineapple angel food cake.

That doesn’t even scratch the surface. Food is grounding. And in writing, it’s something you can really sink your teeth into. Food shapes more than the body. Food is about culture. I bet if you listed all the foods in your family history, there would be a story in every dish.

Mom doesn’t cook much anymore. But when I’m home, I get as much in the way of homestyle Southern cuisine as I can.

It’s just hard to find grits in the Midwest. And it’s even harder to find sweet tea almost anywhere but South.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

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Puzzle Pieces, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Puzzle Pieces, May 29th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Arrived safely into Baltimore after an hour delay in the flight. I had the very last window seat on the left side of a plane filled with chatty middle school kids, a toddler, and a screaming baby one aisle over. I’m not complaining. I was happy to catch the flight. I practiced just sitting.

My mother and brother were there to meet me at the gate with open arms. They were a sight for sore eyes. After the hour and a half drive north, I walked back into the Pennsylvania home where I spent my teenage years, and the first thing I said was, “Smells like home!”

“Smells like home,” Mom repeated and kind of smiled as she hugged me and went through the daily mail. I’m tired tonight. Not much umphhh left. I bet you’ll find typos and rambling sentences in this post. But I wanted to get the aerials on the page.

What I realized is that the area around Baltimore is even more lush and green than Minnesota. You don’t get the patchwork quilt of fallow fields or the splat of glacial sky puddles. But you do get jigsaw forests and sea inlets, briny make up of a showdown between aquamarine salt and bluesy freshwater.


                  Bridge, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

                  -Bridge, May 29th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.
                   All rights reserved.


And I think that’s the beginning of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, though I don’t know for sure. I’ve driven it a few times on the way to Ocean City, Maryland with my family. But from the air, and with my spatial ineptitude, I could be staring at a foot trail through the Rockies, and I might not know it. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong. I wish I had shot this last one a few hundred feet forward. That’s when the bridge opened up to the huge expansiveness that it really is.

Alas, it’s time for bed. I’m downloading on dial-up and all my electronic gizmos, cords, and gadgets are spread out on the bed. It takes an arsenal to travel and capture the subtle nuances of the environment. Changes from day to day.

Already I’ve talked to my step-dad and we might make a journey to Tennessee to see the places where I spent some of my younger years. He said most of the houses are still standing. My brother said he’d fire up his GPSr so Mom and I might be able to do some geocaching in Georgia and South Carolina. Mom and I talked about Savannah over dinner at Rock-It Pizza & Subs down the way. And I tried to track down the address of my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Juarez.

Let the sleuthing begin. So far, so good. I’ve called many places home. But of all of them, this place smells the most like what I remember as home. The house noises are starting to resonate. My mother has lived here over 40 years. A long time. And at the same time, only the blink of an eye.


Wednesday, May 30th, 2007


- related to posts, View From The Sky and  Arriving Albuquerque From Seat 21A

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Poster of Actors World, painting by Dee, ybonesy 2007, all rights reservedThe girls are off for the summer. This morning I head out the door for work. “Whaaat?,” they cry, “Whereyagoin??” I tell them I have to go to work. “Wer-erk?, but it’s summer!!”

This happens every time they don’t have school. Presidents Day, Fall Break, snow days, teachers’ in-service. In their minds, all the world revolves around school.

I wish it did. I wish when I woke up today all I had to look forward to was figuring out whether I should ride my bike to the library or stay at home and organize my room. I’d love to live by the school calendar. I did once. Sort of.

About three years ago I got a sabbatical from work. Two months paid time off in addition to my regular vacation. I piled it all together and took the summer off with Dee. (Em wasn’t in school yet.) That’s the summer I taught Dee how to do writing practice. We sat together on a squishy blue sofa in a cafe near our house and wrote on topics like, The Rio Grande for 10, GO!

Purple and green, painting by Dee, ybonesy 2007, all rights reservedThat’s also the summer I realized how good Dee was, how good we all are when we don’t have a monkey in our heads telling us otherwise. Dee showed me what beginner’s mind was.

Now she writes all the time. And paints, too. Writing and painting journals fill her shelves. She leaves homemade books lying around the house with illustrated stories about horses and girls and fairies. Em is starting to write, too. I’ve just realized she’s probably at the age where I can teach her writing practice as well.

Now that the days are lighter later, we can pull out our paints or pens after work and practice together. Just the girls. Not as great as having the entire summer off, but pretty darned good.

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Leaving the Land of 10,000 Lakes, photo © 2007 by Liz. All rights reserved.

-Leaving the Land of 10,000 Lakes, photo © 2007 by Liz, all rights reserved


Inspired by ybonesy’s Arriving Albuquerque From Seat 21A and Leaving Portland From Seat 21A, I wanted to post Liz’s aerial shots from her trip last week from Minnesota to Wyoming. I wrote about the Minnesota puddles above in Shadow Of A Dragonfly. The two shots below are Wyoming from the air.


Follow the Red Road, photo © 2007 by Liz, all rights reserved

 -Follow the Red Road, photo © 2007 by Liz, all rights reserved


 The Path to Yellowstone, photo © 2007 by Liz, all rights reserved

-To the Path to Yellowstone, photo © 2007 by Liz, all rights reserved


In the last shot, Rattlesnake Mountain is on the right, Cedar Mountain on the left, and more of the Absaroka Mountains in the distance. I anticipate views over the Great Lakes as I fly from Minnesota to Pennsylvania in the morning. There is something about changing locations, covering over a thousand miles in less than two hours, that kind of wakes you up. I think it’s good for the creative soul to zip from place to place, flying like a bird. Though I have to admit, I’d much rather drive.


Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

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