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Marylin Schultz and her first bicycle outside of her North Hollywood home in 1946. She was an original valley girl!

My First Bicycle, North Hollywood, California, 1946, family photo © 1946, 2014 from Marylin Schultz & Mike Schultz. All rights reserved.


By Marylin Schultz

What pleasant memories this prompts. My first bicycle was the only one I ever owned. A Birthday present, back in the dark ages…1946. She was a beautiful blue and cream colored girl’s Schwinn. Before bikes had “models,” your bike was simply either for a male or female! I have to admit, as time went by, that I secretly admired my best friend’s English “racing” bike. It had narrow, harder tires and seemed to be easier to pedal than the fat, “balloon” tires on the Schwinns.

There were no school bus rides for daily use, only for field trips. Before we got our bikes, we walked the few blocks to elementary school. Mine was received shortly before I entered 5th grade. In the city of Los Angeles, the schools were planned so that no one had more than five blocks to walk. Our school was on Victory Blvd, and that was its name, as well. It had been built in the 1920′s or 30′s, in a Spanish style; with arches of stucco, the color of adobe, and red tiled roof. It had to be razed after extensive damage it received in the “Northridge” earth quake. Elizabeth and I rode our bikes together to Jr. High for three years, which was two miles away.

My fondest memories are of our summertime rides to and from North Hollywood Park, about a mile from Elizabeth’s and my homes. Both the Library and Plunge, (aka public swimming pool) were in the park, and we pedaled back and forth; our baskets full of library books, bathing suits & towels. Summer mornings might be for chores our Moms had lined up, but the afternoons were gloriously free.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — MY FIRST BICYCLE is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Marylin Schultz adds her Writing Practice to those of QuoinMonkey and Bob Chrisman.

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Walking The Bluff, last Midwest Writing Retreat, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Grafton, Wisconsin, March 2013, photo © 2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Writing friends are hard to come by. Friends who are good practitioners of writing, even harder. The last time I saw Bob was at the Milwaukee airport in March 2013. He smiled and gave me a hug, then we walked to separate gates after five days of Sit, Walk, Write with Jude and Teri. We met many years ago at a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in Taos, New Mexico. The Midwest Writing Group we formed has continued to meet every year since to practice writing. To honor silence.

For me, Bob was one of the pillars of our writing group. He held the space, led the slow walking, kept time when we wrote, engaged in lively discussions at the dinners he prepared. He was an excellent cook. I will never forget his laugh. Bob contributed work to red Ravine and continued to post practices with me after others fell away. I could count on him. Today, Sunday, August 4th, 2013 at 3:30pm, a memorial service for Robert Tyler Chrisman will be held at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut St., Kansas City, Missouri.

Bob Chrisman, born Robert Tyler Chrisman on May 3, 1952 in St. Joseph, Missouri, passed away peacefully Friday, July 12, 2013, at Kansas City Hospice following a massive stroke. He was surrounded by family and friends who sang to him until his final breath. When I was reading back through Bob’s writing on red Ravine, I realized we had done a Writing Practice together in 2011 on Death & Dying. I find comfort in his words:


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Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


-Bob Chrisman, excerpt from a 2011 Writing Practice on the WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING.

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GATE GATE PARAGATE
PARASAMGATE
BODHI SVAHA

Gone, gone, gone beyond
Gone completely beyond
Praise to awakening


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 4th, 2013. I miss you, friend. And I carry you in my heart until I pass from this earth. I believe..

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Mr. Stripeypants wraps his feline body, a curled half moon in front of the space heater. Liz is still sleeping. Out on the deck, the bear chimes I purchased in Ely last July ripple with the wind. The sky is dark. It’s 50 degrees. Later in the day, the wind will pick up, the air will drop into the twenties. November darkness refuels my passion for the Arts. It’s a chance to reflect, to take stock of my life. Not the long term dreams and goals I harnessed as a twenty-year-old. But the smiling clerk in the grocery line at Byerly’s, lunch alone at Como Park, the smile in my lover’s eyes — minutes that end up creating years. I am grateful for each moment.

I used to dread change. I thought it meant the loss of loved ones, the fleeing of love, abandonment. Now I welcome what is fresh and new, the unplanned. Change means I don’t have to cling to what I have lost. Change means I don’t have to stay stuck where I am — emotionally, spiritually, physically. Change means I am willing to face the future. Change means I don’t have to like something or someone to accept them, or forgive. Change means the body breaks down, the mind remains stubborn, the heart swells with appreciation. Change. I am grateful for change.

Thank you to family, friends, readers, teachers, patrons of the Arts. Because of you, my life feels rich and full. Happy Thanksgiving.



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Gratitude Writing Practice 2012


A is for altitude, the steady climb before the peregrine’s dive. B, let me not be brittle, but open to the opportunities life has to offer. C is for centered, concrete, creative, cushion. D, that last cool drink of water from a mountain stream. E, grateful for all the Elizabeths in my life. F will always be for family and friendships, for those who have stuck with me, even when I hit my bottom. G, gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. So much to be thankful for. H reminds me not to hurry. Slow down. Watch for the edges. Hypocrisy, emerald hedges, the hollow bone. I, irresistible words. Letters, dots, dashes, the incurable love affair with language. J is for justice, judges, journey work. The realization that I can’t control what is just and fair. Acceptance of the slow turn of arbitration. Solomon. Did he have it right? K is for the keys to the passage, low island reef at high tide. Keystone, quoin, foundation, groundwork. L for the lionhearted, those with courage, grace under pressure, the fearless who inspire me. M, morgue, decay, melodrama, the things we leave behind. Laurie Anderson reminded me, it is in times of death that we experience the most intense feelings of love. Anyway, N is for nesting, nudging noxious thoughts away, purging what is not useful to living a full-hearted life. O, owing a debt of gratitude to those who serve humanity. Out-of-the-way places where I can be my true self, unmasked, unafraid of a face-to-face with my own shortcomings. P is for play, paper, Mr. StripeyPants, Kiev, parables forming nuggets of truth. Q, there are Questions, there can never be too many questions. Quandaries, crossroads, quagmires, quests. A call to action. R, rest, solitude, unconnected, unavailable, alone. Remember, reverberate, don’t be too rigid. S, steady, slow, steadfast. Grant me the serenity. Sugar, shug. T, the topple of empires built on shifting sands. Trounced by the tough and true-hearted. U is for unburden, unbroken, unbound. Underdog, under the weather, underestimated. V, vivacious, high-spirited, don’t play your cards so close to the vest. W, the winsome and wise do not dismiss what is wistful and wintry. A windfall comes your way. X is for seeing through the xenophobic, just in the nick of time. Y, yearning for solitude, receiving a yen, unwilling to be the yes woman, corralling the yowling, howling courage of my youth. Z, life is a zigzag of faithful moments laced with bad decisions, and wretched zaniness. A short walk through zoological gardens of wonder, a long conversation. Listen. Listen.


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-related to posts: Gratitude Mandala — Giving Thanks, This Thanksgiving Weekend, Make A Gratitude Journal, A Simple Gratitude List, gratitude haiku (orange), The ABC’s Of A Prosperous 2008 – Gratitude, Feelin’ Down For The Holidays? Make A Gratitude List

-posted on red Ravine, Thanksgiving Day, November 22nd, 2012

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There is not a cloud in the sky, only a penetrating late summer haze. Who would have known the temperatures would be in the nineties this week, humid and sultry for our day at the Minnesota State Fair. I am not geared to spend time around throngs of people. It’s something I have to get myself prepared for. Once in the right mind set, an introvert can navigate dense crowds with the best of them. But at a high price.

I like learning about clouds. There are scientific details that I will never understand. Still, I like learning the science behind their magic. My vision feels clouded the last few weeks. Leading up to Art-A-Whirl in June, there is a busyness about summer that does not let go until after the Fair. It’s a steady pattern. This year I chose to work on the yard after the arborist came and trimmed the trees. It is work that is yet unfinished. We may take the rest of the mulch and level it out for a shed base where we will store the motorcycles this winter.

Winter. Fall, then Winter. I hesitate to wonder if we will even get any snow clouds this year. Last year, I only shoveled twice. It was the strangest Winter on record. There was no Spring to speak of. The weather immediately turned so hot and humid, we had to spend most of Spring inside. The air is not good to breathe in urban areas when it gets too humid. It’s like a cloud of wet towel around your head and nostrils that follows a long narrow path into your lungs.

I am not making any sense in this practice. That is the nature of practice. I am using it to ground myself this morning, a practice about a cloud to ground a day leading into the Holiday weekend. Labor Day. What is the nature of work? What is the nature of your work. I have had so many different jobs, all leading to a single goal—a creative life of writing, photography, art. There are jobs. And then there is work, a life’s work. Creative work.

I sit in the silence of morning, air conditioner humming in the background. Silence wakes me up. Thoughts penetrate and spur emotions. When I just sit, I feel at home. Thoughts are not always comfortable. Emotions rile. Silence can be lonely. But it is what it is, and on its own terms. It took me a long time to realize that I could not live life on my own terms. I had to live it on life’s terms. That means taking the good with the bad, the difficult with the joyful, and learning to sit with both.

I found an old notebook this morning, a small 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 black book sitting on the piano. Curious, I strolled through the pages of words I had jotted down in 2009. On one leaf was a note from Harpers. In small block print, it read: psychologist revealed that the secret to a happy marriage is accepting that life without suffering is impossible.

Maybe the secret to happiness is being able to hold the struggle and the joy in the same breath. Or maybe it’s realizing that we don’t need to be happy all the time. Why would anyone want that to be their goal.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CLOUD is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. QuoinMonkey joined Marylin Schultz and Bob Chrisman in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Marylin Schultz

Clouds of black dirt rolled across the plains of midwest America in the late 1920’s and the 1930’s, giving a generic name to the era, “the dirty thirties,” as well as “the dust bowl” to the affected land. PBS has publicized a Ken Burns’ documentary on that bleak time in our country’s history, and I have a personal story to add, told to me by my mother.

My parents were married in 1932, a brave and hopeful couple, living more on dreams than dollars. Although my father was employed in the insurance company begun by his father in Childress, Texas, before the “crash of 1929,” most of his income came from commissions, and insurance was considered a luxury by many people during those poor economic times. He was in charge of the branch office in Albuquerque.

The first child was born to the couple in 1934. My mother decided to visit her mother who lived in Amarillo. She was on a bus with her infant, about halfway through their journey east, when a cold wind picked up. Off in the distance was an unbelievable sight. In the sky, to the north, a huge black wall seemed to be approaching them. A wave of darkness, reaching from the ground, hundreds of feet into the sky, was rapidly rolling towards them. The driver pulled the bus off of the road and hurried down the aisle with a container of water, shouting an explanation and directions.

“It’s top-soil, comin’ fast, and here’s what you got to do. Dampen your handkerchiefs with this water and hold it over your nose and mouth, ‘else you’ll choke to death!” My mother was terrified, especially for her infant. She carefully dipped two handkerchiefs into the offered water and tied one across her baby’s face and the other across her own. Of course, the tiny infant was upset by the unusual circumstances and began crying. The anxious mother hugged him to her breast and tried to comfort the struggling child.

“Close your eyes,” the driver continued, now back in his seat. “We just got to wait it out and hope it don’t take long to pass by us.”

The black cloud was now upon them. It was darker than a moonless night; absolute, total darkness. The bitter, cold wind shook the bus. With the eerie whistling of the wind came muffled screams and moans of some of the passengers. The few minutes it took for the cloud to move beyond the bus, seemed like a long journey down into the depths of hell and back!

The welcome relief of stillness and daylight lasted several minutes, before anyone spoke.

“Everyone okay back there?” the driver called out. Then, like a flood, the comments came forth. Exclamations of the incredible experience filled the air. Dirty faces now emerged, but with grins that showed how no one minded “a little dirt,” because they all survived the momentary terror!

Many years later, my mother and I were tourists in the Black Hills of South Dakota, being guided through a deep cave. The tour guide, as part of his usual lecture, turned off the lights to let us experience the total darkness. However, he did not tell the group ahead of time, that this was his intention. The result of being plunged, once more, into total darkness, my Mom grabbed my arm and screamed! When the light was turned on, she gave a brief, embarrassed explanation of the fright she had experienced so long ago.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CLOUD is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Marylin Schultz is joining QuoinMonkey and Bob Chrisman in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

Clouds disappear in the night sky here in the city. Before the sun sat, gray clouds had covered the sky and now I can’t see anything except a dark gray sky. If I go outside and sit on the steps I’ll be able to see the cloud cover because the spotlight from the disowned Frank Lloyd Wright on the Plaza will shine off the clouds and I’ll know if the clouds have gone away.

The summer has been free of cloud for the most part. We look with anticipation at any cloud that floats across the sky. Rain? Will it bring showers? The cloud floats by and leaves the ground dry.

The clouds have passed over us, except for a rare sprinkle here and there. You can almost hear the trees sigh with relief as any water, no matter how little, falls on them. They swallow it up and beg for more, but this summer, more has not come their way.

The edges of the leaves have dehydrated as though the moisture had leaked out of them—some leaf vampires have attacked all the leaves on every tree. The victims of these vampires turn brown and fall to the ground. Color has left the leaves and turned them to a dull green. A few have turned a pale yellow, but for the most part only shades of brown are visible on the trees.

We will have rain tonight. That’s what the weather people say. Showers. But, at almost 9 p.m. the air is warm and still. The cicadas saw away in the trees outside, a deafening chorus that arrived early this year.

Everything has come early this year: the heat, the drought, the turning leaves. The only thing that hasn’t come at all is a cloud to relieve the thirsty earth.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CLOUD is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman is joining QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Elizabeth Statmore


Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.


Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


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About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

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By Bob Chrisman

I believe that I will never know the meaning of life, where I came from, why I’m here, or where I’m going when I die (if anywhere) because I can’t know those things from my limited perspective of the universe and how it functions. I believe that my not knowing doesn’t matter because I can’t and won’t know everything in this world or in the cosmos. It doesn’t work that way.

I believe in the inherent goodness of all people which somehow gets mucked up along the way by the environment in which they live, the people who raise them, and their capacity to endure hard times without being embittered. I believe we all start out life as innocents and the world around us works hard to turn us this way or that depending on so many factors that it’s pointless to worry about what one person did to influence someone.

I believe I will die. My personal experience tells me that everyone I know who has died is really dead and not faking it. Some people think they won’t die and I’m willing to hang around and see if that’s true or not. I can’t imagine anything more horrifying than living forever in this world or in another.

I believe I was meant to be a happy person—actually that we were all meant to be happy, but the world of illusion works to convince us we are not happy and are incapable of being happy without something else. We are constantly assaulted with the idea that if we have this pair of jeans, that pair of shoes, this religious faith, that spiritual practice, this deodorant, that breath spray—that something will allow us to live in eternal bliss. We have all we need right now to be in a state of bliss. Easier said than experienced in our world.

I believe the things that happen to us are neither bad nor good, that we don’t “deserve” to have certain events occur in our lives, and that life is random with no “cause and effect” in play. And by that, I mean we aren’t the victims of some karma or some deity who wants to even the score or restore the balance. I do believe there are consequences of our actions, but we can’t always know what those will be.

I believe for every drop of rain that falls…time’s up.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — I BELIEVE… is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey, Laura, and Sandrarenee in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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I believe the sunrise I saw this morning holds the same rank as the snowflake that dotted the tip of the windshield wiper at noon. I believe I feel best when I am rooted where I stand, when the frozen cedars whistle in the wind, when the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven slips through a hole in the screen and calls me to attention. I like to believe I will live a long life, foolish to ponder. There are no guarantees and that takes me back to the sunset, the flip side, the underbelly of a Moon on the rise.

I believe it’s 30 degrees colder than it was yesterday. I believe the crow I saw on Highway 10 mixed it up with a flock of sparrows making me pay attention to the dew tipped grasses on the edge of the bowling alley parking lot. I believe I’d like to go back to St. Simons Island, the place I walked with Liz and Mom, the lighthouse, the restaurant where we ate fresh shrimp and Liz ordered a Po’ Boy and the sweet tea melted in my mouth. The shore was flat and hard, stiff enough for bike tires to travel. There was one lone white chair against the horizon. We ran down by the Atlantic and slipped our hands in the undercurrent. I felt the pulse of the world.

I believe in time I’ll accomplish my dreams. They seem simple to me now, simple minded, not complicated. I’m not looking for fame or fortune. I want to be content with what I have. I believe we will move to a new home in the next five years. I believe in my dreams even when I don’t know exactly what they are. I believe in the circle of life, in living and dying and living again in some kind of spirit form. I believe I carry the dreams of my ancestors. Their sins, too. Not in a heavy way, but in the way all cultures pass down their dreams and sins and complaints. I believe in 7-year cycles, 7-year itches, 7 months and it’s summer, 7 months and it’s my birthday, hottest time of the year.

I believe in deja vu, rules of thumb, the law of threes, not superstition, but belief. I believe in the weather, not in the scientific sense, but in the long extremes that happen in places like Minnesota, the middle land, the hinterlands, the mountainless bowels of America. I believe in working hard at every turn. A work ethic passed down to me, the same one that takes parents out of the house, trying to make a living for their families. I believe it should not be so hard to make enough to pay the mortgage, eat well, and have good healthcare. Access to good healthcare should not decide where a person works. I believe the richest country in the world can also be the most benevolent, gracious, and kind. I believe in the Wind that chills me to the bone. The cold exhale of the Dragon, breathing down my neck.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — I BELIEVE… is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. QuoinMonkey joined frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman, Laura, and Sandrarenee in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Mike Carter


So thinking about some early memories of chocolate, I am reminded of going to Mabry’s store as a kid in Vancouver, Washington. I was maybe ten years old and they used to have these little bars called “7-Up” which had seven kinds of little chocolates in them. 7-up, there was one piece that was a chocolate covered Brazil nut, and one that was like a chocolate covered section of an orange slice candy. I always have had a thing for nuts, especially cashews. Mom would send me to the store for cigarettes and she would give me a dime for a candy bar. Yes, a dime. I don’t think these little 7-Up bars were around very long.

I inherited the chocolate tooth from my mom who liked all things sweet and on Friday nights would beat homemade fudge with a wooden spoon, in a Revere Ware copper lined one quart saucepan, while watching T.V. in the living room. We would take turns beating and it took some time, like an hour. Your forearms would get a nice little workout. Yea, chocolate is always an essential ingredient and one of my top 10 essential foods. I don’t like being chocolate deprived and there was this one time in junior high after not having chocolate for four months, dieting all through wrestling season, when my little sister was selling these boxes of chocolate covered almonds for a class fundraiser. I took a whole box and devoured it in a closet in one sitting. I think it was like a pound. I hid in the closet. Guilty pleasures. I always had a sweet tooth and, by the way, pecan pie is foremost on my list.

Living this past year in Hawaii, I got to see an actual Cacao tree which has these red-cinnamon colored pods that grow from the tree. These pods look like a pointy cucumber and are five or six inches long. Inside these pods are the little chocolate beans. They have to put up these big fences around the chocolate trees or people will steel the pods. If you go to the Ho ‘omaluhia garden you can see them. It is on the windward side of Oahu close to Kaneohe. It is a REALLY cool garden and it has lots of one of a kind trees, like the amazing blue marble tree. I think they have two chocolate trees in the garden. And if you get there, also try the Roselani brand chocolate macadamia nut ice cream, which is to die for and has a strong dark chocolate flavor and a very creamy texture. It is a little pricey at 9 dollars for a half a gallon, but sometimes you can get it on sale at Foodland for 4.50/half price. Best ice cream ever, to die for.

Actually, the best ice-cream here is Haupia, which is a very tasty coconut custard ice cream confection. Amazing stuff. The last month I lived there, I ate nothing but ice cream. Other favorite chocolates, well Mr. Goodbar is also on my top ten list, but it is hard to match my mom’s Friday night fudge. Grandma Carter also made some great fudge around Christmas time and she also made Divinity, which I miss. Chocolates I have known. And chocolates I have remembered.

Also cool are the little bars of Madeira Mexican chocolate which we can get in Seattle and you break off a chunk of these and mix with milk and sugar for amazing hot chocolate. I don’t go in for the high percentage chocolate bars like 60 or 70 percent —is a little much and too bitter for me. And what is the name of the little chocolate shop at Pike’s Market where you can get the bacon chocolate? Seattle Chocolatier or something like that. It is on the Seattle Food tour if you get there. Beer, bacon and bratwurst. These are my three essential nutritional building blocks.


NOTE:  Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is one of the five main botanical gardens on Oahu. Ho’omaluhia means to make a place of peace and tranquility.

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About Mike:  Mike Carter has been living in Kaneohe, Hawaii for the last year, working at Hawaii State Hospital. He will be returning to Seattle next month, and would like write a memoir of his year in Hawaii. Inspired by  WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE, the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine, Mike joined Bob, Teri, and QM in a Writing Practice on the topic.


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I’m staring at the leftover box of Mrs. See’s chocolates. When I lift the lid off the pure white box with the gold script, I see there are five pieces left. Well, make that four and 3/4, one with a bite out of it. One of the three of us must not have liked the flavor. Now I’m thinking of my mother-in-law who boarded a plane for Wyoming this morning. The See’s was a gift from her the first night she arrived in Minneapolis. If I remember correctly, she has three layovers and may not be home until very late. She flies into the Twin Cities once a year to see Liz. Her brother flies in, too. I look forward to their visits. We go out to eat, a play at the Guthrie, watch a few movies. It feels like a vacation for me, too.

I’m wondering what flavor Mary See has left in the box for me. I just took a nibble. Hmmmm, chocolate flavor bursting on the tongue. It is nutty, minced nut with a hint of almond? Creamy, and milk chocolate, my favorite. I run my tongue over the back teeth to grab every morsel. There is a patch of chocolate stuck to a filling. A nut wedged between two teeth. I have maybe three bites left. I’m one of those people who savors. As a girl, I was the type to keep my Easter basket around for weeks. I’d take little bites off the rabbit head, nibble away on an ear of white or milk chocolate. Some used to say that white chocolate wasn’t real chocolate. But I disagreed. I went through a white chocolate phase around junior high age.

Nope, never been a gobbler. Always a savorer. Hmmmm, last bite of the piece with the jagged dip out of it. It’s gone. And now there are four pieces of See’s chocolate left and Mrs. See is staring up at me from the edge of the box. She’s got glasses like John Lennon’s, gray hair, a kind smile. She’s wearing a knitted shawl. The photograph is tinted brown and shaped like a cameo. Did Mrs. See live in San Francisco?

Liz will be home from work soon. I want to see which piece she chooses from the box, her next to the last. It’s not like the boxes of Whitman’s chocolate where they print each type of candy on the inside cover so you can see what you are choosing. Do they still do that? I’d rather have the surprise. Last night, I bit one, and then asked Liz if she wanted it. Tasted too rich for me, too much like licorice. I don’t like the flavor of licorice all that much.

Chocolate reminds me of all the good things in life. It’s sweet, creamy, something to be shared, something that people are happy to share. We’ve got a bag of bite-sized Snickers in the fridge. I like them frozen. Liz has a bag of Dove almond dark chocolate, silky smooth promise next to the Snickers. A piece of chocolate lifts the spirits. A box of chocolates makes me feel rich, nectar of the gods. What is it about chocolate that is so satisfying?


-related to Topic post and practices: WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE, PRACTICE — CHOCOLATE – 15min, PRACTICE –CHOCOLATE – 15min

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By Teri Blair

This is the first time I’ve done a timed, 15-minute write on my Royal Deluxe manual typewriter. I bought this green machine in Amherst, Massachusetts—Emily Dickinson’s hometown. The man at the shop told me it was the model Hemingway used. Did Emily like chocolate? She like ginger-tasting things like ginger cookies and ginger cakes if memory serves.

My first strong memory of chocolate were the Mr. Goodbars Mom had hidden in her purse. We were allowed pretty easy access to her purse (she wasn’t private about it) and she always shared pieces of her Mr. Goodbar. There was an unwritten understanding if we didn’t ask why they were always hidden there, we’d always get to have pieces. Sometimes she’d shake up the mix and have a Hershey Bar with almonds, never plain. Even now, when I want to buy her a treat she is delighted to be given either.

She told us the story of the Milky Way incident during her childhood, a guilty memory that still taints her love affair with that particular brand. She grew up in Hawick, a tiny town in Minnesota. There was one general story, the type that had the post office in one corner. Her parents would send her to the store for supplies from time to time, and she was always instructed to charge everything to John Everson’s account. Once a month her father, the town blacksmith, would get his itemized list of charged groceries. These would only be the necessities his family of nine needed. There was nothing extra to throw around during the Depression. After Mom charged the Milky Way (and stole away to a private place to eat it), she lived in mortal fear of the impending grocery bill. They’d know then. She’d lied and wasn’t worthy of their trust.

But when the bill came, not a word was said. It wasn’t until Mom was about 50 that she told her dad about it. I remember it. Even though he was a kind, gentle man, she still didn’t want to disappoint him. He smiled, I suppose, and told her in his thick Norwegian accent that it didn’t matter. Knowing him, he probably went right out and bought her another one. He was sorry he couldn’t give his kids more. When they asked him for money when they were children, he’d turn his wallet inside out to show them it was completely empty. After he died and they cleaned out his house, she found that old wallet. She keeps it on her dresser.

They were broke. It was the Depression. They lived on potatoes, headcheese, and lefse. Maybe an occasional chicken some farmer paid his welding bill with. There were bums who came to their door begging for a meal. Her mom made them a plate of their starchy food. Surely no chocolate on the plate.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

The temperature at 3:50 p.m. is 101 degrees with a heat index of 106. Chocolate melts in these temperatures. I can’t even buy it and put it in my backpack without arriving home to a glob of a candy bar wrapper that, at one time, held a perfectly solid bar of chocolate.

I’m going into withdrawal in this heat. Either I eat the chocolate as soon as I buy it or I don’t have it. The summer isn’t fair to us chocolate eaters. I pray for cooler temperatures, ones below the melting point of chocolate.

Perhaps that accounts for my foul mood of the last couple of weeks when temperatures soared into the upper 90’s and I abandoned any attempt to purchase chocolate and walk home with it. The withdrawal has reduced me to a feral human being scouring the fridge for substitutes. Carrots won’t do it, neither will broccoli or Brussels sprouts. I could always eat butter and crackers, but the mere thought of being without any chocolate, even for chocolate emergencies which occur quite frequently in my house, has made me sullen. I WANT CHOCOLATE…a bar of chocolate, a chocolate kiss, a dish of chocolate ice cream, a piece of chocolate cake…no, cake won’t do…it’s not the pure joy of the taste of chocolate on my tongue.

Pure chocolate (and I’m talking milk chocolate) melts on my tongue and wraps each of the thousands of taste buds in the bliss and ecstasy of the taste. They go orgasmic surrounded by the luscious liquid that bathes them in milky darkness. The saliva fills my mouth at the thought of the experience. This isn’t a good thing. No, I must quit thinking about chocolate or I’ll go crazy and rush out in the heat to a store where I will buy and eat chocolate bars until I satisfy this craving.

Reminds me of the time I decided to diet. I found myself in church with a friend who recommended the minister because of his good sermons. As he got up to deliver his address, I noticed that he walked like a chicken. The thought of chicken made my mouth water and from there my thoughts descended into all my favorite chicken dishes: fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken in a tarragon cream sauce, and finally my mind settled on cashew chicken from my favorite Chinese restaurant with a side of the greasiest and best egg rolls on the planet. My mind danced with the image of that dish, the smell, the taste. My stomach rumbled with anticipation.

Cashew chicken. I must have cashew chicken. I’ll die if I don’t have it. Feed me cashew chicken.

I felt the drool running down my chin and quickly wiped it away.

My friend turned to me, “Did you enjoy the sermon?”

“Yeah, I did. Is church over?”

“Sure is. What do you want to have for lunch?”

“Chocolate.” No, that’s now, not then. Right now I want chocolate in whatever solid form I can have it, heat or no heat.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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My first bicycle. Royal blue, silver fenders, metal training wheels bolted on to the frame. Practicing, practicing, practicing until I got it right. Riding a bicycle, my first taste of freedom. My second bicycle, a 26 inch with a wire basket in the front to hold my text books. Books covered in brown paper that was once a bag, drawn on, colored on, with stickers and awkward handwriting. I never had good handwriting. I remember learning to ride a bicycle. The scariest part was the space between the wobble from one training wheel hitting the ground, then the other. Or maybe the scariest part was when the rubber actually hit the sidewalk and it felt off balance, like I was going to tip over, fall to the pavement, scrape my knee.

What I remember about my first bicycle isn’t as much about the object as the person who cared enough to hold the back of the seat until I got my balance, the person who ran along beside me when I teetered, who knew when it was safe to let go after the training wheels were unbolted—let go and let me fly. It’s the memories more than the objects. The objects are triggers. When we moved to Pennsylvania, our breezeway was always full of bicycles. Kids and bicycles. There was always one kid learning to ride a bike. It was the way my brothers roamed the streets with their friends.

I don’t remember riding in a group. It was more of a solitary effort for me. A way to get away and be alone. I clearly remember one ride to elementary school. I was so entranced with the ride, with the process, with looking down and viewing my feet turn the pedals, that I forgot to look up, and ran smack dab into a parked car. It jolted me, my text books flew out of the basket and on to the ground. I caught myself before I fell over but that jolt! when the tire hit the chrome fender, I will never forget it. I was embarrassed and looked around to see if anyone saw me fall. Which matters most? The fall or those who witness the fall.

Now that I think about it, my first bicycle taught me to trust. The second taught me how to fly solo, to be faster than anyone else, to not be afraid. My bicycles taught me independence, to trust myself, how to balance when things were careening out of control, how to stop on a dime right before the pothole swallowed me. My first bike was more than a bicycle. It was the beginning of learning to hold the world in the soles of my feet and the handlebar underneath my palms. It was a way to get away from the crowd, time to think, the feeling I’d later experience again when I learned to ride a motorcycle. There is no freedom like being on a two-wheeler, running under the power of your own two feet.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — MY FIRST BICYCLE

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By Bob Chrisman

When I was eight, I received a new robin’s egg blue, girl’s bike for my birthday in May. I had selected that particular bike at the shop in the South End where we lived. I wanted a girl’s bicycle so I wouldn’t hurt myself every time I slid off the seat when I stopped. That always happened on boy’s bicycles and kept me from enjoying riding.

My father looked at the price tag and shook his head. “I don’t think we can afford this much. Let me talk with your mother.”

At eight years old, I had already heard that one phrase, “I don’t think we can afford this much” so often that I knew I would never own the bike I wanted. That’s the way things worked in my family: you didn’t get what you couldn’t afford and we couldn’t afford much at all.

On the morning of my birthday I ate my breakfast and opened my birthday cards. When I asked if I had any presents, my mother rolled the bicycle I’d picked out into the kitchen. “Your daddy and I decided that you were old enough to have this, even though it cost more than we would usually spend for a present. You’ve got to take good care of it. Okay?”

I leapt out of my chair and grabbed the bike before it vanished. Only when I held the handlebars in my own hands was it real. I had the bike I wanted.

Later that morning I opened the screen door and made sure to pull the bike out before the door slammed. I took it down all the stairs to the sidewalk and rolled it down the hill until I reached Ozark Street which was flat and graveled. Only then did I climb on my new bike and pedal along the street with the wind in my face. I felt so happy and so proud.

My friends congregated up the street and I rode my new bike up there to visit with them and show them my birthday present.

When I arrived, one of the boys said, “Hey, Bobby, why you got a girl’s bike? You a sissy?”

“No, I wanted a girl’s bike because it’s easier to get on and off. That’s why.”

“No, you’re a sissy. He’s a sissy, isn’t he?”

Everyone laughed.

Then the kid said, “I want to ride your sissy bike.”

“No, you can’t. It’s brand new. I just got it and I want to ride it for awhile before anyone else does.” I held on tight to the handlebars.

“Hey, sissy, that’s not very nice. But, I don’t want to ride a blue girl’s bike anyway.”

I turned around to ride home. The kids screamed names at me as I rode away. I’d reached the end of the block when a clunk sounded on my rear fender. A cheer went up from the kids. I crossed the intersection and started pushing the bicycle up the hill. When I was out of sight of my friends, I looked at the rear fender. Someone had thrown a big rock and dented and scraped a place on my new bike. I lost it. I couldn’t stop shaking and crying, but I pushed the bike up the hill, up the stairs and parked it on the porch.

My mother came running out of the house. “What’s wrong? Did you fall?”

I couldn’t speak so I pointed at the rear fender. My mother looked at the damage. “So that’s what you’re crying about? For heaven’s sake, it’s only a bicycle.”

No, it was so much more than that.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — MY FIRST BICYCLE is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Judith Ford

This is, I think, the first year I’ve begun to accept the notion that I will one day die. Not that it’s been a big secret. I watched each of my parents die. My mother, who was always the dramatic one, died peacefully, while my father, who’d never been much for self-expression, died struggling and full of fear and rage. Resisting all the way. Someone once said to me that we all die as we’ve lived. Not my parents.

I turned 63 a couple months ago. Not one of those BIG ages, like 21 or 40 or even the big 6-oh, but for me, a signal. A signal to pay attention. There isn’t as much time ahead as there is behind me. I might have said that last year or even ten years ago but for some reason, on this birthday, I got it: not a whole hell of a lot of time left.

When I say that to Chris, he gets all defensive and hyper-rational. Says things like, “yeah yeah, you’ll drop dead tomorrow.” “No,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll die tomorrow, just sooner than I want to.”

My father was 77, my mother was 74. I am healthier than they were. I don’t smoke. I exercise. Will that allow me to avoid the strokes that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered?

I always imagined, when I was in my 20’s, that I would die, at 84, falling off my motorcycle on a mountain road. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since my first child was born. I’d had one crash and after that, couldn’t ride without awareness of my vulnerability. When I had my daughter, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take that kind of risk any more. I kind of miss my little Honda 90. Was it a 90? I think it was. Its predecessor was a Honda 50, a slow old thing that, when I was 22 and had never owned a car, opened up worlds for me.

Back to death. Yes. Back to death. I had a brush with it when I was 42, a major flare-up of an auto-immune disease I didn’t, before then, know I had. After that, life was different. Everything was different and nothing was different. I mean, I was vividly aware of my mortality and of how much I wanted to stay alive. For months after I was discharged, following many weeks in the hospital, I experienced the world through a bubble of heightened senses, everything glowing and glittery and inexpressibly precious. Then, it faded. Of course, it faded; things that wake you up to the utter wonderfulness of being alive always fade. Routines settle back in. I went back to my habit of writing to-do lists that would choke a cow. Back to my pattern of going to bed each night with my head abuzz with what I hadn’t yet accomplished and must get to tomorrow. Now and then, I would remember. Then 5 years later, when I had flare-up number 2 and once again did not die, I thought I would never ever stop feeling grateful for yet another reprieve.

But I did stop. I do stop. None of us is alive and awake all the time, I guess. Would I want to be? Maybe not. It’s a bit painful.

In the past few years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer and are out of the immediate – but not the long-term – woods. One friend died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 10 years ago. My golden retriever died the same year as my father (1995). My favorite therapy teacher, Dick, died that year, too. How did all these vital parts of my life stop being here, taking up time and space? They were here. Now they are not. How can that be? Not even a jagged hole in the air left from where they used to be.

So when I say I’m beginning to accept the notion that I will one day, sooner rather than later, die, I am whistling in the wind. I have moments here and there where I kind of get it and then it’s gone. And I’m left with the delusion that I have all the time in the world, until I think about it. I do not have all the time. I don’t like it that I don’t have more time.

Three years ago, I pretended to have only one year left. I followed a guide by Stephen Levine, did meditations on the subject, wrote about it, kept notes, but eventually, it all felt like a sham. I knew, the whole time, that I wasn’t going to die at the end of that year. I was pretty sure.

And I realized that, if it were true, if in fact I knew for sure I had only a year, what I would do was… nothing out of the ordinary. I would do the dishes, walk the dogs, fold the laundry, sit at my kitchen table and watch the finches flock to my bird feeders. I would choose to be alone. I would choose only those I love best to be with me. I would go to the grocery store. Maybe I would clean up my files so none of my writing would be inaccessible to my daughter (who is named in my will as the trustee for my writing.) I would go on as usual as long as I could, wanting the familiar, wanting to savor, wanting to bequeath, but quietly.

I know that at 63 my remaining vibrant years are dwindling. So what do I do? I make a commitment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my 23 year old son next spring. Why not? There will never be a better time.

I have no grip on this at all. I think it’s a horrible terrible thing to do to people, get them all juiced up on life and then slowly – or all at once – take everything away. Not fair. I wish I could opt out. Of death. Of the many losses of aging.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Judith Ford joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Teri Blair

15 minutes into the grief group I knew it was a mistake. There were still two hours to go, and the stranglehold around my neck was suffocating. It had been, as every attempt had been, an honest effort at finding my way around my father’s death. When he was alive, I thought something would change when he died. It hadn’t. It was all still there.

The grief group leader was hired by the funeral home. A funeral home that was part of a chain in the metropolitan area. He began by telling the group his pedigree. I thought this was to assure us he hadn’t just fallen off the turnip cart. He was a professional with twenty years of grief group experience. We could relax now. In his good hands.

But by the fifteen-minute mark, I saw he didn’t know how to establish boundaries for the group. He didn’t set any for himself nor anyone else. When he told us in flourishing detail how he would be buried in a purple casket, wearing a bathrobe and holding a martini, we had to listen. He needed us to laugh and think he was crazy. Outrageous. When the 70-something woman kept interrupting to loudly wail and moan about her 93-year-old mother “she never thought could die,” when one of the others began openly to flirt with the leader…. when all these things happened within 15 minutes I knew it was a mistake.

I looked at the door, wondering if I could bolt. Then he called me out by name. He knew it because of the name tag I wore. He said I must have a question for him, and that I could ask him anything. I thought There is nothing on God’s green earth you can tell me or show me or answer for me. When I said I didn’t have any questions for him yet, he could see in my face I wasn’t going to fall in line with all the other success stories of people he had helped over the course of 20 years. He turned ever-so-slightly hostile and said to me, in front of the group, that some people just aren’t ready to do the difficult work of grief.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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