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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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Some consider Memorial Day the first weekend of summer. At red Ravine, we’re celebrating spring and summer by sliding in a new masthead.

Thanks to Wallinga Design, the logotype and tagline pop against a palette of bright lemon yellow. The photograph in the masthead is a detail of the larger image below, Yellow Rose. It’s a telephoto shot in natural light on our deck, straight into the petals from the Ecuadorian roses I gave Liz a few weeks ago.

The logotype font is Dead History. For more details, see our About red Ravine page under the section on red Ravine Graphics & Design.

Those who handle the administration and graphics “behind the front page” know the kind of detail work that goes into maintaining a blog on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. We are grateful to those with the expertise to make our behind-the-scenes work a little easier.

Happy Summer. Walk to the bottom.


           Yellow Rose, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

           -Yellow Rose, May 9th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey,
             all rights reserved


Monday, May 28th, 2007

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It’s the day before I leave on a two week trip to Georgia and Pennsylvania to do some research for my book. A memoir. I talked to my mother this morning, a short check in before I fly out tomorrow. I told her I am keeping my heart and mind open and looking forward to the time I will get to spend with her. Since we live in different towns, different states, the visits become important. Every minute counts.

I’ll be excavating information, excavating lives and people and roots and history. Untangling loose ends. I don’t remember so many things that my mother remembers about the South. And I have my own memories that I now get to ask her questions about. I just thought of that Baldwin quote from that 1973 interview with Nikki Giovanni:

“Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation.”

Liz is down in the garden, pulling a few last minute weeds. I’m having French Roast on the deck. The clouds have lifted and the sun is peering through the oaks and ash that surround the house. It’s quiet. All the garden and yard work we did yesterday made my back sore. I’m no spring chicken anymore. In fact, wasn’t it just this morning I was noticing the spaciness of hormonal shifts and laughing about them with my mother? She confirms the craziness of aging because she walked it before me. More history. More bones.

I’m thinking of ybonesy near Taos with her father on their annual pilgrimage. Soon my mother and I will visit the graves of close loved ones and distant relatives in Georgia and South Carolina. We always go to my Aunt Cassie’s and my Grandmother Elise’s gravesites. I visit with them quietly there, spread out on the grass, and ask Mom the questions I might not have asked before. For me, this is memoir – excavating memories. Questing for truth. I want to hear her stories. And skirt the edges of the places I’ve come from.

There may be Myrtle Beach and Savannah. I’ve never been to Savannah. What writers are from Savannah? Flannery O’Connor for one. Maybe we’ll walk past the Cathedral of St. John, the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Georgia, and then one block south is where Flannery grew up. Maybe some of my relatives know of her. Maybe not.

I’m sad to be leaving Liz for so long. And our gardens and home. And Mr. Stripeypants, Kiev, and Chaco. I am fortunate to have a partner that understands. She is loving and supportive of me and my writing. She gets what it takes. I’m lucky that way.

I am lucky for a lot of reasons. I feel a great abundance in my life this morning that is hard to describe. This practice doesn’t do it justice. And there are next to no details. It’s mostly about feelings. And anticipation. And gratitude. For everything that has led me here.

Mom said my step-dad had read a piece on the blog and said, “I didn’t know she felt that way. I didn’t know she had positive memories of that time.” It’s true. Some of my memories used to make me sad. But I’ve done tons of work. It’s in the past. The river keeps flowing. And on the first day of summer, it feels like these steely memories make me who I am. Some writer from the Northwest and Southeast and Northeast who now lives in the Midwest. And once in a while, travels back for a visit.

Monday, May 28th, 2007

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Evening clouds from the patio, ybonesy 2007, all rights reserved


Every evening the clouds gather. I read in the newspaper today the question on people’s minds is, Is this the monsoons? No, the meterologists say, the monsoons don’t come until July. The weather is cooler, cooler than average. This is the fourth wettest May in Albuquerque since 1913, I read yesterday.

I’m living in the new house. It was such a drawn out move. I had time to mourn our little house, then get tired of it, then finally almost hate the sight of it. Now I walk out on the patio and see the Sandias. Before I moved to this place I couldn’t see the mountains for the trees. It’s louder where I live now. I hear the city, the sirens that make all the dogs in the vicinity howl. The trucks that shift into low gear as they climb the hill. I wonder what this place was like before any big boulevards were even there. I wonder if the original family moved when civilization encroached.

I should put links in this piece, but I know I won’t. What to link? I’m writing it almost like a practice anyway. I’m starved for writing. We don’t have internet connectivity yet at the new place, so I have to come to cafes to get connected. For the past four days, you can find me parked outside a cafe with my computer screen glowing pale green in my face. I must look ghoulish to anyone walking past the car. But most times I’ve wanted to connect, it’s been late. Bands playing in the cafes, lots of people. It’s quiet in my car, and besides, I’ll be back online Tuesday.

Right now the sky is pretty clear. I have a feeling it’s not going to rain tonight. I have a feeling the clouds won’t even gather as much as they have been. Maybe they’ve been called to a convention in Amarillo. Who knows. What do clouds do when they’re not hanging out around here?

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I am sitting on a burgundy leather couch in the Satellite coffee shop. I used to come here and write with a small group of people, we did Bones-style writing, and I remember how much the music bothered me. Today, now, it’s a bluesy piece with an organ played low and a woman’s smoky voice. Lounge music. It all sounds the same to me. I wish they’d turn the volume down just a hair or two.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day observed. I think Wednesday might be the real Memorial Day. Is it May 30? I go tomorrow with Dad to Costilla, to the graveyard where his mom and dad are buried. It’s our tradition for this day. I told someone about this and she said, Isn’t Memorial Day for soldiers who’ve died? I don’t know, I told her. All I know is this is what we do, me and Dad. Not always, but for the past several years. Maybe seven or eight, I don’t know. Dad has done it for a long time. I joined him back when I realized it was a time to get to know Dad better. To get to know where he came from. I spent so much time knowing Mom and her parents. Dad’s were dead by the time any of us came around.

And now that musician with the head of curls, the one that Julia Roberts married for a while. What’s his name? That’s who’s playing over the speaker now, and I’m trying to think what I might have to say about Memorial Day that this song is preventing me from getting to. Nothing, perhaps. Nothing except Memorial Day seems to have become a holiday for grilling steaks or hamburgers, drinking beer. Opening up the pool. That’s fine. It’s good to have a day off, and for most people, when they have a chance to finally sit back and not think of much of anything, they think about their grandparents or parents or uncles or whoever it is that’s passed on and out of their lives.

Dad will meet me at my house at 7 in the morning. The girls went home tonight with Mom. This is about the first chance I’ve had to just sit down and write. To check on the blog. To do much of anything besides unpacking and organizing and staining those cabinet doors I took off the cupboard below the bathroom sink over a month ago. And now we’re living in the new house, things are all over the floor, paintings and photos. We have so much stuff. I thought we were getting rid of things along the way but somehow we didn’t lose enough.

And now an upbeat song by one of those young female vocalists like Avril Lagrine, or whatever her name is. I keep thinking my alarm has gone off, there’s so much noise in here now. Someone ordered an icy drink, the blender is blending, and the guitar accompanying the singer is going wild. I suddenly feel a sense of melancholy. Like maybe these trips I take for granted aren’t going to last forever. Dad is 83, and as I left him today after dropping off the girls I noticed the tremor in his hand was worse than ever. I love that man so much. Isn’t it just like life that you realize how much you love someone as the time they have left with you starts to get small, like a dot in the distance as you move away.

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-Shadows, May 26, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Shadows, May 26, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


She planted the deck flowers: tickseed, Meadow Cranesbill geraniums, Oranges and Lemons, red poppies, Fragoo Pink strawberries, and leaf lettuce in the garden. In between: cloudy gray rain, fall gusts, striated slats of sun, stunned clouds propelled by 25mph winds. It doesn’t feel like summer. Drove by the cemetery to see 100′s of flags in honor of Memorial Day. Thought of the uncle I lost in Vietnam

Listened to NPR, a show on Cody, Wyoming, about America and hunting and killing. The man being interviewed said if a person goes out to hunt only to pull the trigger, he’s not a hunter – he’s a killer.

I listened carefully and thought about the practice of hunting: waiting in the fog and misty rain, stalking the herd, firing the rifle, skinning and quartering the elk, packing the meat out of wilderness in three, 11-mile hikes, then on to the table for food.

Ancient ritual. Shared generation to generation.

I visited with a friend. I watched a movie with Liz on the couch. The hours fly by. Everything is green. We looked at Liz’s aerial photos from her trip to Cody last weekend. Around the Snake and Cheyenne, lime patches twist and turn next to the furrowed Big Horn Basin. The prairie in the distance is a rusty chocolate mixture of dry glacial ruts against puffy blue skies.

The view over Minnesota – bedazzling emerald streaks and anthropomorphic sky puddles amount to corn and cattails and soybeans and thousands of widemouthed lakes.

Dragonfly landed on the porch next to the screen door. “Grab your camera,” Liz said. Snap, snap, snap. Dragonflies were flying when dinosaurs roamed the earth – 300 million years of history, sitting on the doorstep.

-Aerial, May 26, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Aerial, May 26, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Saturday, May 26th, 2007

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Icon Painting, May 19th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Icon Painting, May 19th, 2007, all photos © 2007 by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved


A week ago, I was at Art-A-Whirl in Northeast Minneapolis, where I spent most of the time in the Casket Arts Building (see Casket Arts Photoblog).  ybonesy asked in a comment if the building had a funeral home during the time it was a casket factory.

The answer is no. But what I did find out was there were whole floors of needle-clad seamstresses who sewed quilted silk liners and cushions for the caskets.

I had pictured the factory as mostly men, a likely scenario for woodworking factories during the late 1800′s. According to John, one of the owners, that’s far from true. He said he thought the energy of the building was so good because of all the women that were there every day, honing their craft.

No funeral home. Mostly women. The building produced custom made caskets up until it was sold a few years ago.

I could imagine it – a woman of the time taking great pride in her needlework softening the loss of a family member (and the ride to the other side). John also said that some of the rosewood and cherry leftover from building the caskets had been used to patch the floors up on the 4th level. They discovered it when they sanded and refinished them.

I don’t know about you, but details like this light up my nights. The history of century-old people and architecture gives me something to hold on to, a thread of continuity, a place to stand. Buildings are living, breathing places we walk in and out of every day. We spend so much time there. We take them for granted.


      All That Glitters, May 19th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Pigment, May 19th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

      Mary, May 19th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Origins, May 19th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 


One of the best parts of Art-A-Whirl was walking down the street a few blocks to St. Mary’s Russian Greek Orthodox Catholic Church built in 1905. Haunting melodies echoed between solid oak doors and out into the late afternoon sun. I couldn’t help but imagine some of the casket workers from the early 1900′s walking down to a summer service.

As part of their participation in last Saturday’s community art event, St. Mary’s had been giving painting lessons on iconography . Rows of jars of handground pigments graced a short table at the entrance to the service. When we arrived, they were breaking for a 30 minute service. Incense filled the air.

The man who established the church, Rev. Alexis Toth, was a rebel. What artist wouldn’t like that? The history is rich. You can read the whole account in New Advent. 


Here’s a snippet:

The first great impulse to the establishment of the Russian Church in the United States on a large scale was given in 1891, when the late Rev. Alexis Toth, then a Ruthenian Greek Catholic priest in Minneapolis, disobeyed the instructions of Archbishop Ireland and, when threatened with a recall to his native country, left his parish, went to San Francisco, turned Orthodox, and submitted to Bishop Nicholas, and on returning to Minneapolis took over his whole parish to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The guy was on fire. And so were the artists I supported last weekend. I had a peaceful evening, full of art, friends, and the creative spirit. At the risk of sounding overly romantic, these kinds of connections sustain me.



Saturday, May 26th, 2007

-see Because Sometimes Catholicism *Is* Scary for another perspective

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Chewing Gum Doodle, ybonesy 2007, all rights reserved

This week sit outside one morning. Take your notebook and pen and your coffee or tea or glass of water. Drink the whole thing. Take your time. Try not to think as you sit. Use the time to clear your mind of all the thoughts that invade. Use the time to just be. Notice how the drink tastes. Notice what’s in front of you and around you.

Then open your notebook and make a list of topics you want to write about. Anything. As many as you can think of. I’m not even going to give you examples. But do me a favor: share some of them via the comments. One or two or the whole list if you want. We’d like to use some for red Ravine as the year goes on. Your inspiration and our own.

Thank you, and have a safe weekend.

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We moved into the new house yesterday. I’ve been unloading all my saints and folk art. I’m not sure where to put everything, so I’m sticking things wherever I find a decent spot for them, just to get them out of the way.

I put one of my carved wood statues from Guatemala in a perfect-sized shelf in our bedroom. The shelf has cubbies for several statues. I was thinking maybe I’d put all my collection in that area.

This particular one I got a long time ago at an auction. I liked how big her eyes were, like maybe you’d just walked in and caught her off guard. Here’s a not very clear picture of her:

Santa Scarita

This morning when I got up, I noticed she had moved. I fell fast asleep while Jim read in bed. I guess he got to thinking she was a little spooky. Maybe she reminded him of those portraits like my grandma used to have where the eyes followed you all around the room. Maybe Jim started to feel like my wooden saint was staring at him.

Here’s what she looked like when I saw her this morning:

Santa Scarita’s Back

I guess I’m going to have to reconsider where she goes exactly. Or, maybe she can stay in the bedroom with us and spend daytime watching over the room and nighttime staring at the wall. We’ll see.

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I Spy, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 
-I Spy, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved


Job Haiku

sprawling pecan tree
rusty monkey wrench
1 fixed, 1 adjustable

Thursday, May 24th 2007

-from Topic post, Job! What Job?

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What I loved about sharpening dental tools was the pay. What I hated about sharpening dental tools was the pay. The jobs that paid well in a sleepy Western town weren’t necessarily jobs that you could sink a growing brain into. I loved the precision of it. There were certain tools that I was good at sharpening – I can’t even remember their names now.

There was one tool with a scoop neck that was just too hard. I couldn’t get the curve to the grinding wheel at the right angle. I’d grind a little, neck down, eyes penetrating and alert, stop, pull up to the micrometer. Measure. Too little off. Too much off. I blame it on my lack of spatial awareness.

What I loved about picking cherries was the view. What I hated about picking cherries was the pay. Just didn’t pay all the much for the blood, sweat, and tears. We wore these belted buckets around our waists and chatted it up while we stood atop tall ladders between gnarled branches and plucked cherry after cherry after cherry.

Most of my friends smoked back then. We probably spent more time on smoke breaks than we did picking cherries. Not to worry, the owner of the topside grove stood puffing away with us. The view was stunning. Flathead Lake. The drive from Missoula to Flathead through the reservation was peaceful and still. I loved the country there. I ached for the mountains after I moved to the Midwest. Ached.

I settle for the Great Lakes now. And prairie grass. And colder, windier winters. What I loved about pumping diesel for semi’s was the people. The truckers were friendly and well-versed in the gift of gab. The waitresses were hot. The food was cold and greasy. Truck driving food. The lights were bright. And I used to like the smell of gas. Plus at that time I was proud to be able to do physically demanding jobs. They kept me fit and trim and made me feel solid. Grounded.

That’s what I can say about jobs like cherrypicking and pumping diesel and checking oil on big Peterbilt or Mack trucks. Grounded. Step up, pull up the latches on the right side of the hood, or was it the left?

The office I worked in was about 12 x 12 and smelled like Granddaddy’s shop used to smell. A mixture of male sweat, girlie calendars, oil, gas, grit, and grime. That’s exactly what it smelled like. I used to like that smell. And the times we would visit him on Reynolds Street.

About 7 or 8 years ago, I headed Down South with my mother and sister. We went to the old haunts. My granddaddy’s shop was closed up tight. And it looked almost exactly the same as it did in the late 50′s, early 60′s. The Bear alignment sign was still hanging out from a rusty pole. And the auto service sign, we nabbed that one for my brother.

When we got back to the North, I gave the sign to him. And asked him to hold on to mine for me. I don’t know what happened to them. I need to ask. For a long time they were hanging in his barn. They tore the shop building down a few weeks after we left the South and widened the highway. All that remain are my photographs. I think that’s why I love photography.

I have an affinity for signs. I don’t know why. I shoot them all the time with my camera. Maybe it goes back to those hot humid days we’d visit my granddaddy at his shop. And drop salted Planter’s into the frosty, dripping tops of Coke bottles. We’d pull them out from between those machine pinchers hooked to a red metal cooler that went clink and suck down the caramel acid sugar between bits of swollen saltless peanuts.

Maybe that’s why I liked the smell of gas. And working at gas stations. Maybe it’s in my blood.



Thursday, May 24th, 2007

-from Topic post, Job! What Job?

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