Archive for November, 2007

A Message for Jim, pen and ink, November 2007, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

The first time it landed on Jim, he said he thought it was his brother David.

David was 15 months younger than Jim. His little buddy, his pal. David died of leukemia when Jim was seven.

No one talked about David’s death then, and Jim doesn’t talk much about it now. But if you meet Jim, you’ll notice a sadness in him. Like when he laughs, he never really gives it all up to laughing.

Yet he gives it up to the hummingbirds.

The first time is 1997. He sits on the front porch while Dee and a friend splash in the wading pool. A hummingbird zips in and around the feeders above Jim’s head, lands on a low branch in the giant catalpa. Jim stands, walks to the tree, reaches his arm toward the bird.

“It flew to my finger, just like that!” He is going on about it over the phone. “Dee held out her finger, too, and the hummingbird hopped from me to her.” He is almost out of breath. This is the most exciting thing that’s happened since Dee said her first words.

I didn’t believe him. Dee told me all about it when I got home from work, but still, I couldn’t see it really happening. If you’ve ever seen a hummingbird stop beating its wings and land in a tree, you’ll know what I mean. You want to shake your head. The idea of those tiny wings not flitting their 80 beats a second — there’s something unnatural about it.

Earilier that same year, Jim found a hummingbird, lifeless, on the floor of his workshop. He figured it got overheated in the skylight trying to get out. He picked up the bird, ran to the house and yelled for me to bring sugar water, quick, in a bowl. He held the tiny limp body cupped in his hands while I held the bowl. He dipped the bird’s beak into the water. “Drink, little bird,” he said in a little bird voice.

After a few dips in the sugar water, the bird’s beak opened then closed, opened then closed. Jim opened his hand. The bird sat, looked around, launched. Whirrrrrrr, into the sky.

“I’m pretty sure it was the same bird,” Jim is telling me the day by the wading pool. “I see,” I say, although I don’t really.

One Saturday the next summer, the hummingbirds fly around our yard like neutron dive bombers. Jim is watering the Spanish Broom; I’m weeding around the Butterfly Bush. A green hummingbird lands on a prickly pear cactus flowering brilliant pink-purple. Jim drops the hose, walks to the cactus, extends his arm. Plop, the hummingbird hops from the plant to Jim. He turns to me, smiles.

My mouth is open.

There are three more hummingbird messengers. Once a hummingbird comes to Jim after landing on the young cottonwood we’ve planted. Another time the hummingbirds hover around a feeder in the lotus before one lands on Jim. The last time is this spring, ten years after the first instance. We are preparing to move.

Jim has his head in the engine of the ’57 Chevy Apache; he is trying to start the thing, which has been dead for a year, so he can drive it to the new place. A hummingbird lands on the hook where the hood latches. Jim looks up, puts out his finger. The hummingbird hops onto him. 

By now this has become almost ordinary, yet I still look on as if I’m witnessing a miracle. Even more extraordinary, Jim moves his hand toward me, I put out my finger and the bird hops onto me. It is tiny, so tiny I can barely feel its weight. I feel its tremble, or maybe that’s mine. Jim says the bird has come to say good-bye.


One day last May shortly after we moved, Jim called me on my cell, excited.

“They’re talking about hummingbirds on Native America Calling,” he said. “Should I call?”

Native America Calling is a radio talk show where listeners call in to talk about issues and themes pertinent to American Indians. That day the theme was the importance of the hummingbird to Native cultures.

“Call,” I urged. I had just pulled into work, had a meeting in 20 minutes.

I stayed in my car, tuned in to the public radio station. The host had a panel that day — a well-known artist and a tribal elder. I listened to one caller, then another. I listened as long as I could; Jim didn’t come on.

Later that day, my phone rang. Jim. He told me they eventually put him on the radio. He told them about the many instances where a hummingbird, or several hummingbirds, landed on him. The host asked if he was Native. “No,” Jim told him, “but I was hoping you could help me understand, what is the meaning of these visits?”

The host asked the panelists what they thought. Both said it seemed extraordinary, nothing either one had ever seen. Jim waited. The host told him something silly, like, “They must think you’re sweet.”

“They didn’t believe me,” Jim said to me on the phone, dejected.

“I know,” I told him, “it’s hard to believe if you don’t see it for yourself.”

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        On The Road, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

On The Road, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

In September 2007, I finished reading On The Road. It was the day the book turned 50. I have this thing for Kerouac. I consider him the James Dean of writers. I guess I’m easily swayed by myth.

On The Road didn’t sweep me off my feet like James Baldwin’s Another Country or Giovanni’s Room. And it wasn’t understated and elegant like John Williams and Stoner. The book dragged in places. The relationships were passionate but doomed. And I couldn’t understand why Sal clung to the inconsiderate, egotistical Dean like the stabilizing, wagging tail of a kite.

The story didn’t find ground for me until I found myself sweeping across the yellow prairies of Nebraska, pounding through the arid, western Colorado desert, and driving over the mountainous Continental Divide. I like Kerouac because he was a boundary buster. He helped other boundary busters – the artists, writers, poets, and musicians of his time – find their voices. He changed the definition of writer.

There has been a lot of hoopla over On The Road in the last year. Primarily because the 120-foot, $2.4 million dollar scroll he wrote it on (over 20 days in April of 1951) is touring the country. But Jack didn’t write On The Road in 3 weeks. He’d been gathering, composting, scribbling in a pocket notebook, and dreaming about it for years. He was a disciplined writer who sat down between travels and wrote with a vengeance. He had been living this story a long, long time.

On the eve of the book’s publication, Kerouac was so poor he had to borrow money for a bus ticket to New York from Joyce Johnson, his girlfriend at the time. When the book became famous, he’d been done with it for several years. And after he hit it big, Johnson recalls mobs around him at parties: “Women wanted him to make love to them and all the men wanted to fight him.”

         Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.     Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.     Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.     Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

One of the best Kerouac accounts I’ve seen is the Audrey Sprenger interview by Jeffrey Brown that aired on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, September 5th, 2007. Sprenger takes an honest look at Kerouac, beyond the myth, to see the writer as he was:

I think the continuing popularity of the book stems from the fact that Jack Kerouac was brave enough to defy social convention and comfort to do quite a radical thing, which was to simply be in the world and write about it. He was a deeply, deeply disciplined writer who was committed to documenting America every day as it was lived by people, and I think that he really captured the ways that people lived and spoke. And that is what he was committed to as an artist, trying to develop a new way of American writing which would be evocative of how people actually lived, whether or not it followed the rules of grammar or literary convention.

  -Audrey Sprenger, Sociologist, interview from On The Road, Kerouac’s 50th Anniversary Celebrated

Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.   Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.   Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.   Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Kerouac died young, in 1969, at age 47. Was it alcohol, stress, Benzedrine, fame? Perhaps a deadly combination. We may never know. But On the Road continues to sell over 100,000 copies every year. I count myself among the minions.

Not all reviews are favorable. Suzanne Vega wasn’t a big Kerouac fan even after her Book Of Dreams. Herbert Gold didn’t give On The Road a good review at its release in 1957. But I tend to fall in the same camp as Kerouac scholar Douglas Brinkley, and can get behind what he says in a 2002 NPR article by Renee Montagne, Kerouac’s On The Road:

If you read On the Road, it’s a valentine to the United States. All this is pure poetry for almost a boy’s love for his country that’s just gushing in its adjectives and descriptions. You know, Kerouac used to say, ‘Anybody can make Paris holy, but I can make Topeka holy.’

I’m saving the best for last. Like the writers before him, Kerouac wrote haiku. He loved to do readings in Jazz clubs in New York. You can hear him recite Some American Haikus (a few of my favorites: the bottoms of my shoes, nightfall, in the morning frost) and read the history of his recorded haiku at Kerouac Speaks. It’s a gift to hear a writer step inside his own voice.

Jack Kerouac, On The Road, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved. 

After decades of never making it past the first few chapters, I’ve finally completed On The Road. And discovered Kerouac’s haiku in the process. It only took me 30 years. Who knows what my blocks were to reading it. Every book has its time.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Part III:

In the spring of 1949 I had a few dollars saved from my GI education checks and I went to Denver, thinking of settling down there. I saw myself in Middle America, a patriarch. I was lonesome. Nobody was there – no Babe Rawlins, Ray Rawlins, Tim Gray, Betty Gray, Roland Major, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Ed Dunkel, Roy Johnson, Tommy Snark, nobody.

I wandered around Curtis Street and Larimer Street, worked a while in the wholesale fruit market where I almost got hired in 1947 – the hardest job of my life; at one point the Japanese kids and I had to move a whole boxcar a hundred feet down the rail by hand with a jackgadget that made it move a quarter-inch with each yank. I hugged watermelon crates over the ice floor of reefers into the blazing sun, sneezing. In God’s name and under the stars, what for?

At dusk I walked. I felt like a speck on the surface of the sad red earth. I passed the Windsor Hotel, where Dean Moriarty had lived with his father in the depression thirties, and as of yore I looked everywhere for the sad and fabled tinsmith of my mind. Either you find someone who looks like your father in places like Montana or you look for a friend’s father where he is no more.

    –On The Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, November 29th, 2007

-related to post, Kerouac Goes To War

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By OmbudsBen

Yesterday Part 1 ended with my newsletter story “Coffee Muggings,” about the misappropriation of coworkers’ coffee cups. Little did I know, that was one of the more peaceful brew-hahas the stimulating bean would initiate for me. This was back in the years B.W. (Before Wife), and for a while I dated a lively young woman, more given to night life than morning’s tranquil pleasures. Still, as I got to know her better and we enjoyed more movies and meals together, we soon were getting a jump on our weekends by waking in the same place, too.

Which is when I made my next caffeine-fueled discovery.

For as extroverted as she was the rest of the day, as much of a dynamo as she could be when we went out evenings, mornings were an introverted affair — it seemed she waged a painful battle with wakefulness. I, on the other hand, happy to have made a new friend and mind alive with the prior evenings events and conversations, would wake ready to quietly say hello and pick up anew.

She might manage an answer or two, but her replies were decidedly monosyllabic, until she finally turned to me, impatiently brushing hair out of her morning face and plaintively whimpered, “It’s not fair! Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee!” before she collapsed face down into her pillow.

Well, that was easily remedied.

So I began making coffee for her, which brought me to the second discovery. After she had visited my place several times, we spent a night at hers, and I woke the next morning, ready for her to begin the coffee ceremony for me. Unfortunately, we had plans to be somewhere, and the demands of the morning were already upon her when she woke.

As I smiled and asked, “Is there any coffee?” she answered, “Yes, it’s downstairs. Why don’t you go make some?”

Which I did, and found mildly amusing, but my women friends shook their heads in warning. And they were right. It was the first whiff of inequity, a sort of coffee-colored blotch on the early relationship, and proved a kind of Rorschach test in reverse. For if some find love reproduced in the ink blots, I saw the opposite. Subsequent events outlined a distinct incompatibility, and we were soon waking apart, a move I’ve since learned was well-advised. And it was coffee that spilled the beans, as it were.

I do not drink coffee first thing in the morning. While it may be starter fluid for some, it is more the oil of my day. I rise and brew a pot for us, deliver a cup to my wife and reserve the rest for my thermos. She wakes slowly, and just as no blossom greets morning suddenly, her transition from somnolence to sentience is never abrupt, either. It seems a gradual emergence, and she takes in her coffee like a flower drinks in sunshine — thirsty flowers, especially. Once she gets started she downs a cuppa far quicker than I, drinking it while it’s still far too hot for normal human consumption. The marines may be known as leathernecks, but gauging from my wife’s ability to down a cup shortly after it stops boiling, the lining of her throat would well qualify for the few and the proud. She leaves me in her dust — or her grounds, perhaps.

My grandfather had a trick for drinking it while hot — he poured a little into his saucer. His wide hands would grip the saucer between thumb and finger and he lifted the disk carefully to his lips, blowing across the thin flat surface of the quickly cooling coffee, and winking at me as if sharing a good trick. I wish I could share a cup with him now, I wish I had a chance to hear him talk about FDR or Ike, the price of crops or telling jokes on his friends. (“What goes va-room, screech! va-room, screech! va-room, screech!? Denny Brighton at a flashing red light.”)

I wish I had a chance to visit my great-aunt Florence’s farmhouse kitchen again, with the smell of its wood stove, the thin-slatted white wainscoting, and her deep, full pantry. Even as a child, I felt transported back in time. I wish I had a chance to taste her coffee again, however thick it was, and however it “stands up” against the latest trendy blend. It could be that a good cup of coffee can be made just as much by the company you have as by the country of its origin.

I bring my thermos in to work with me, and do not pour my own first cup until I’m sitting at my desk. Now is the time I want the mind engaged, to be alert, aware. For me, my cup is still akin to Bobby, the companionable little dog, loyal nigh unto death. I like to recognize my mug, my boon companion, right away. If they ever invented a vessel that wagged its handle in recognition, I’d be a sucker for it. And microwave ovens are a blessing for me. Top it off and warm it up, and back to work I go.

In fact, my faithful cup is cold now. It’s time for a break.

About the author: OmbudsBen once traveled to the island of Java in Indonesia and ordered a “cup of java, please.” His traveling companion was quite amused by the blank stares the request drew, everywhere. While the Javanese are familiar with the term hamburger, and our word catsup comes from their word kecap, if they use slang when ordering a cuppa joe, it does not involve the word java.

Since then, he has met with similar rebuffs involving Vienna sausages, French fries, and Chinese fortune cookies. He found some consolation in a Belgian white ale. You can read more about him by clicking here.

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By OmbudsBen

I’ve known a lot of women who rely on coffee for ignition. A kind of starter fluid, rise and grind. In my experience, it’s enough to draw a tenuous gender distinction, so long as I draw it carefully, or at a safe distance. Of course coffee can be starter fluid for men, too, but in my family the percolation prerequisite (the perc perk?) is less dire for men. We’re early risers by nature. As a kid I was a morning paper boy and would no more have dreamt of having a jolt of coffee first than sticking a fork in an electrical socket.

It was different for my mom, who wakes like a tightly closed flower and isn’t going to open up until she’s got a little boost of caffeine running through her veins. Hoping for the best perhaps, but caffeine-fortified for the worst. I grew up in a medical household where one of the jokes was that the first IV of the day should be run from the coffeemaker upstairs to our mother. She might have tried it, too, but as she was the only one trained to start an IV, she wasn’t taking any chances with the rest of us. Not without having a cup of coffee first.

We brewed ours like everyone else did, out of an aluminum canister labeled “coffee” with a black plastic lid and kept on the kitchen counter next to three others for flour, sugar, and salt. After Mom had her first upon rising and most of us had a cup with breakfast, we were good to go, and I don’t think we gave coffee much thought after that. It was, at most, break fluid. You complained if it sat on a burner too long and cooked down to the consistency of 30 weight oil, but none of us ever thought to ask whether our beans came from Guatemala, Kenya, or Sumatra.

I now live among people who believe that coffee is more than just a plant, a product of agriculture. One of them told me that the word bean doesn’t do the fruit of the coffee plant justice. Beans are kidney, pinto, lima, and string. The elixir of coffee is finer stuff, more powerful; it is morning’s complement to an evening’s cocktail.

My grandfather would have scoffed at distinguishing coffee as separate from beans. He was a farmer before managing a grain elevator, one of the gray prairie spires that gather our corn, wheat and oats. His simple linoleum-floored office, with metal furniture and desk, kept coffee simmering on a burner, as a social gesture for local farmers. It was a place to do business as well as share a cup. They’d formed a cooperative, and I imagine sharing a pot of coffee was an extension of that, discussing the price of commodities and the events of the day as they sipped thin coffee. They were a dry-humored bunch of leather-skinned old farmers who told jokes about each other, and who grew the grain that may well have gone into sandwiches you’ve eaten.

So their coffee was more a social beverage than a starter fluid, meaning what they drank was weak by our standards. I suppose that way they could sip it frequently during the day. Or maybe after a few hours of cooking down on the burner it wasn’t too lethal, I’m not sure. But Grandpa wasn’t fond of thick stuff. My great-aunt Florence, on the other hand, favored a potent pot. “That Florence,” Grandpa said, “brews a cup of coffee you could stand on.”

Florence, I believe, resented the notion. I never heard Grandpa say it around her, but she complained about thin restaurant coffee to me once. “Just a spot of cream I added,” she groused as an aside, “and the whole cup turned white. It was too thin for cream. What that coffee wanted was milk.”

I left home as a young man, moving to a distant city, where the notion of coffee as sensory experience had escalated far beyond the kitchen counter canisters of my youth. My peers debated refrigerated or frozen, bought fancy grinders and coffeemakers that ground beans just before brewing, and they considered the qualities of foreign beans like the French discuss wine. My coworkers debated which vendor purveyed the best coffee; one disgruntled employee in accounting vehemently refused to drink the trendiest blend, a pungent brew he likened to the odor of camel droppings. (How did he recognize the scent?)

The topic of office coffee gathered so much steam we had a mini crisis over the cups, and I wrote a humor piece, called “Coffee Muggings,” for our office newsletter:

It’s Monday morning, and after the week’s first crawl to the office you’re approaching your goal – a cuppa hot coffee. But just as you near caffeine paradise, good humor is snatched from the jaws of java heaven as your very own coffee cup, the one your lips are accustomed to, is nowhere to be found. It happens, and there’s nothing to be done except snap at your boss or snarl at your secretary, or maybe blame Housekeeping and plot revenge. People seem to fall into two distinct camps on this. Some, like joyful beagles, go through life befriending all, eager to share any old coffee cup they have. For them, the trauma of separation from one’s coffee cup elicits nothing more than knit brows and a quizzical smile. Others are like Greyfriar Bobby, the Scottish terrier loyal nigh unto death, and a coffee cup is a treasure, a true friend lost in the moment of need.

This is a friendly plea from the terriers to the beagles. A number of cups are “missing in action” and the woeful howling emanating from our kitchen some mornings is a sorry sound. If you haven’t a cup of your own, please use a plain tan cup or one of the unclaimed castoffs in the far left cupboard. It may save on churlish morning manners – some bites can be worse than their barks.

And that was just about the cups, the collection of motley travel keepsakes from the Grand Canyon or Wall Drugs, South Dakota. Cups with heat-sensitive logos where the Phantom of the Opera would appear or some corporate logo would be revealed promising a solution to our temp employee needs, until the heat-sensitivity wore out and the poor phantom lost his disappearing act, looking a little bit sheepish.

Stay tuned for “Coffee Rorschach – Part 2,” where the author talks about the perils of caffeinated vs. non-caffeinated dating, his coffee habits, and how he prefers his coffee today.

About the author:  OmbudsBen once traveled to the island of Java in Indonesia and ordered a “cup of java, please.” His traveling companion was quite amused by the blank stares the request drew, everywhere. While the Javanese are familiar with the term hamburger, and our word catsup comes from their word kecap, if they use slang when ordering a cuppa joe, it does not involve the word java.

Since then, he has met with similar rebuffs involving Vienna sausages, French fries, and Chinese fortune cookies. He found some consolation in a Belgian white ale. You can read more about him by clicking here.

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The Wedding Gift 1991, Desert Rose Franciscan place setting and teapot, blue linocut print © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

There’s a tree outside the window near where I sit. I don’t know what kind of tree it is; it’s almost winter and the branches are bare. But I notice it has what look like buds on the thinnest limbs — although, how could that be? Maybe these are bud placeholders, dormant points where new life will come in spring.

I worry as a writer whether my mind can capture and hold the names of trees. Here, I’ll list the ones I know: Cottonwood, Catalpa, Oak, Maple, Plum, Red Bud, Blue Spruce, Apricot, Apple, Peach, Cherry, Russian Olive, Ponderosa Pine, Juniper, Globe Willow.

Growing up we had a Sycamore tree that grew in a round-topped formation. The seeds of the Sycamore hung like itch-bomb ornaments, which we plucked and threw at each other or exploded on the sidewalk for fun.

When you go to a restaurant, do you notice the color of the plate on which your meal is served? Is it red, and if it is red, is it brick red or candy apple red? I sometimes check my fork to make sure there’s no dried food in between the prongs, but I usually miss whether the handle has a beaded edge or a plain one.

I can tell you that right now I’m drinking coffee and steamed milk out of a Starbucks to-go cup, the medium size (although I don’t remember, is that tall or grande?, because grande makes more sense to me, yet it seems Starbucks considers it a tall).

The point I’m trying to make is, you’ve got to have detail when you write. You’ve got to be awake to what is around you.

Do this. Sit down, take out your pen and notebook, and do a ten-minute writing practice on “What’s in front of me.” If you need something more, empty out your pockets and write about what you see.

And if you’re ever at a loss for a writing topic, use “What’s in front of me.” It will remind you to be present to your surroundings. The more you wake up, the more detail you can call on when you write.


Pieces Of Becoming A Missus 1991, black linocut print © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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I feel loved when I feel appreciated. When people show up for me. Is that an act of service, showing up? I feel loved when I feel connected to something bigger than me. Like watching the Swenson-Lee family of 10 from Minnesota on Extreme Makeover – Home Edition. Their father died in an auto accident 5 years ago, their mother and her boyfriend shot and killed a year ago by a deranged ex-boyfriend who stalked the mother, first stabbing her in an attack, and finally killing her, the oldest daughter witnessing both her mother and father die.

I could not believe the courage of this young girl. It’s strange but I felt an all-loving god when I watched that show last night. Like a giant angel was hovering over the entire family and the sister that took her nieces and nephews in, treating them like her own. I cry every time I watch that show. I feel loved when I see people helping other people.

I feel loved when I walk through the woods. The smell of earth, a drip of rain, moss on a rolling stone. Yesterday, driving the Rebel along the parkway, as soon as I turned on to Theo Wirth, all I smelled was forest. The Eloise Butler Wildlife area is 100 years old this year. A vision of preservation and beauty. Thank goodness Minneapolis was raised on an elaborate system of parks, lakes, and Mississippi River trails, green city space.

I feel loved snuggling close, eating popcorn, watching a movie under a warm blanket. I feel loved when a person shows gratitude for my gifts, for the things I am able to give. I felt loved when I visited my family a few weeks ago. For all of our differences, there was so much love in that room the night I popped out of the birthday box for Mom. I feel loved when my friends give me a hug and say they are glad to see me. Or they have missed me.

I do like touch. Not in the same way I used to. I no longer equate sex with love. Sex can be a part of love. Sex is not love. I am talking about more loving touch: a kind gesture, an acknowledgement with the eyes, a touch on the cheek. I feel loved when Mom calls me Honey, or Liz calls me Shug, or when I listen to an old voicemail from my step-dad that begins, “Hey, Shug, I just wanted to talk to you before you leave…”, the Southern accent warm and comforting to me.

I feel loved when I listen to my saved voicemails, a chosen few, one from each person who is important to me. I save them because, once in a while, hearing the voices of those who love and care about me is enough. It lifts my spirits. I don’t have to be next to them. I know they are always with me.

Love is more of a feeling for me. I don’t really care about material possessions. I value time with loved ones. I feel loved when my opinion is considered. I feel hurt when I become invisible. As a girl, I tried to be invisible. To wrap up in the tiniest ball I could muster and disappear. In the loneliest of times, I thought I had succeeded. I feel loved when people really see me, deep down, for who I am, not who they imagine me to be. I am vulnerable, insecure, sometimes fearful and needy.

There is strength in vulnerability. This is the wisdom that comes from living. To be vulnerable is to be strong. Don’t believe them when they tell you it makes you weak.

Kindness and love, no, they don’t make you weak. It takes more courage to stand up and admit a mistake, to make amends, to tell someone you disagree with that you’re sorry and you love them, than it ever does to cut ties and disappear. I’ve run a fair time or two. It leaves a vapor trail. I try to show up, to do what I say I will do. I don’t always succeed. And if I can’t show up, I have to make amends.

I feel loved when I connect with the people that are important to me. I feel loved when Liz washes and folds the laundry, or Mom or my brother makes a home cooked meal for me. I guess those truly are acts of service. People do these things out of love and care. When I lived alone all those years, I felt loved when a friend would call to check on me. I used to think I could disappear into the woodwork of that old Northeast apartment and no one would find out for weeks.

I thought I might die old and alone. But in the end, I decided to take the risk of living, connecting, being hurt, opening up for others to see. I am flawed. And vulnerable. I don’t want to hide my weaknesses anymore. I feel most loved when I allow myself to fail.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, November 26th, 2007

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I feel loved when I hear the words, “Hi, you.” That’s what Jim sometimes says when he answers my call on the cell phone. They sweep me off my feet, those simple words, and if that were all he did for the rest of our lives together, I think I’d be happy.

I feel loved when Em comes up and hugs me. She reaches the top of my waist, hugs tightly, then pats my back with her little hand. I am surprised by her capacity to love, how did she get so much room in her tiny body?

I feel loved when my family gets along, no quarreling over sharing the peppermint bark or which movie to watch on the computer or who gets a skirt and who doesn’t. No bickering over your turn to cook or I’ve cooked all week. Mine is a need for harmony, and more than that, optimism and kindness.

I realized after staying in bed most of yesterday that I rely on others to make me feel loved, rely on the smooth humming of those who live with me. When Jim gets sick, as he was Thanksgiving night, with bad pains in his lower abdomen, I feel unloved, or overwhelmed, unable to carry forth. It’s not how I want to be, I want to be a strong, loving partner, but sometimes my strength comes too much from the strength of those around me.

I’ve been reluctant to write about love, reluctant to look inside my heart and ask, What is love? Love isn’t gifts, I know that. I love touch, but more than touch I need words. Simple “Good morning,” “I love you.” Even if “I love you” is doled out every few intervals, as long as it’s said with a lift in the voice, it takes me with it. On a trip to lovedom. Dumb lovedom.

Love, love is. I remember the movie Love Story. Larry watched it sitting on the orange beanbag in the den. It was past my bedtime, but I crept behind the bar separating the kitchen and den, and I watched to the end. Love is never having to say you’re sorry. The next night I crawled into bed with Mom and told her I thought I had cancer. I guided her hand to my chest and showed her the small lumps in my breasts.

“Oh,” she laughed, “those are breast buds, the beginning of boobs.” I cried, partly from humiliation, partly relief. I thought I had the same kind of tumors that killed Ali McGraw, thought my tragedy greater than hers, me younger, me real, me not loved by a handsome Ryan O’Neal. Never knowing love and knowing in the soul inside my heart what this meant, loving to the point of not needing to say you’re sorry.

Only later did I find out that I feel loved when after foul words are spilled, my beloved can tell me that he is sorry.


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Steve Almond would have loved this! I was visiting with my brother in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, when my niece and her friend charged in the The Pixy Stix Challenge III, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  door, all excited for a great scientific experiment: The Pixy Stix Challenge.

My brother prepared a wonderful dinner in the kitchen: mashed potatoes, brined chicken, sweet tea, apple cider, fall squash, pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Mom was on her way over after a hard day at work. I was checking the blog, tapping away on the laptop at the dining room table, laughing, and watching intently.

My niece proceeded to rip off the tops of the small Giant Quality Candy 100% Freshness Guaranteed Pixy Stix and pour them into the one large Pixy Stix she and her friend had only minutes before emptied (into their stomachs!).

The question? How many small Pixy Stix does it take to fill one giant Pixy Stix. I was way off in my guess. My brother was the closest.

So how many of these: 

The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Pixy Stix Challenge II, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Does it take to fill one of these:

           The Pixy Stix Challenge, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Pixy Stix Challenge, hands of my niece and her friend, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Go ahead, take your best shot. And after a while, I’ll ask my niece to make an appearance and tell you the answer. You might be surprised.

Oh, and Steve Almond would be disappointed if I didn’t include this detail – the place where Pixy Stix are distributed.

From the back of the package:

Distributed by Foodhold USA, LLC
Landover, Md 20785
S&S Brands, Inc
Quality Guaranteed or your money back.

Looking forward to your answers!

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, November 24th, 2007

UPDATE – November 26th 2007:   When I was researching this post, I found a fascinating link to the history of Pixy Stix, called Giant Pixy Stix. It’s on Candyblog by Cybele May and seems to be a must read for all things candy. I didn’t add the link to my original post because it has Pixy Stix details in tablespoons, inches, and ounces. Somehow, with all those calculating minds out there, I thought that might give the answer away!

And now that the contest is over, I wanted to add (for future readers) that the answer to the Pixy Stix Challenge can be found in the comments below.

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Smile, You're On A Banana Puddin'!, Thanksgiving Day, November 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Stirring the steaming, liquid vanilla pudding as it warms on the stove is kind of Zen for me. The silver spoon gleams and swirls through currents of milk and cornstarch. I stare, mesmerized.

Liz was bustling around the kitchen, dicing and dashing, mixing the Dijon, OJ, and honey basting sauce, chopping bananas, basting the naked Cornish hens, while I stirred, and stirred, and stirred.

It’s a meditative practice, stirring pudding. Anything can be practice. Cooking is grounding. Recipes provide structure. Food anchors us in detail. Natalie often taught us – if you want to ground your writing, write about food. The closer to your heart, the better.

I kept staring at the steam, lost in memories of all the times Mom would grab one of us kids to stir, and keep the pudding from scorching, while she hurried around the kitchen, trying to pull a meal together for our family of 8. I have a lot of appreciation for all the meals she cooked for us.

When Liz broke into the box of Nabisco “simple goodness” Nilla wafers, she smiled and pointed to the inside of the cardboard. There, printed in both English and Spanish, was the recipe for the Original Nilla Banana Pudding with meringue topping, the one that Mom talked about in her comment on Southern Banana Pudding.

           The Puddin' In Banana Puddin', Thanksgiving Day, November 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.        Baste With Care, Thanksgiving Day, November 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.         Chop, Chop!, bananas for banana pudding, Thanksgiving Day, November 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  

I remember the old style pudding and the time it took to make it. In further research, I discovered that the recipe for original banana pudding with meringue (that’s printed inside our Nilla wafer box) can be found at NabiscoWorld, Original Nilla Banana Pudding. 

There’s also a page of Spread Some Holiday Cheer Nilla recipes that includes a Meringue-Topped Southern Banana Pudding that uses the boxed vanilla pudding (not Instant but Cook & Serve) that is in R3’s recipe post — Southern Banana Pudding – A Family Tradition.

           Basting The Birds, Thanksgiving Day, November 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.         It's All About The Layers, Thanksgiving Day, November 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.         Thanksgiving Dinner, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Confused? Like I said, there are as many banana pudding recipes as there are families to make them. Each is unique, traditional for that family. It seems to me that as puddings and pies became more packaged and convenient, the recipes were slightly altered to adapt them to the additional speed needed to save time as women became busier and busier outside the home.

That’s my theory. So take your pick; try them all and see which appeals to you. Next time, I want to make the vanilla pudding from scratch, the Original Nilla Banana Pudding with meringue. Just like my Aunt used to make.

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. A Holiday to count our blessings. To be grateful for what we have. Now it’s time to head off to my writing projects. I’m grateful for the simple gift of time. This day is just for me.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, November 23rd, 2007

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Happy Turkey Week, Mama Azul on the plum tree, November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

Last Saturday my friend Jana L’Esperance, who goes by the Flickr moniker blueskydesert, came to the house to shoot the turkeys. “What’s she gonna shoot ’em with,” Jim asked, “…her huntin’ rifle?”

We — Jim and I — had reached the end of our rope as far as the turkeys were concerned. Much as we tried to keep them in the orchards, the turkeys insisted on spending most their time on the back patio, where they could watch us through the sliding glass door or have us watch them perform their amazing tricks. “Check your shoes for turkey poop,” had become our most frequently uttered sentence.

Then one evening a few days ago, we saw a news story about Frank Reese Jr., the turkey farmer responsible for saving heritage turkeys — the breeds raised for Thanksgiving Day since 1850 — from extinction.

Today’s commercial turkey has been genetically modified to get so fat in such a short period of time, the bird can hardly stand on its feet. It’s raised in confined spaces inside buildings, and it tastes nothing like bourbon reds, blacks, or any of the other breeds Reese Jr. raises.

Commercial turkeys produce more white meat than heritage turkeys. According to Reese Jr., most people today don’t know how real turkey tastes. The heritage turkey — that is, the real and original turkey — has darker, juicier meat than the Butterball that usually shows up on Thanksgiving tables. 

Well, the girls won’t have anything to do with our newfound interest in our, yep, heritage turkeys, so we’ve struck a compromise. We’ll keep the two mamas and one tom. That way we can have more turklets next year, now that we know more about what we’re doing.

A friend, Trish, who is the kind of woman you could drop into the wilds anywhere and she’d survive, is going to slaughter two turkeys for her family, and in the process she’ll teach Jim how to do it. He’ll slaughter two for our Christmas dinner. The rest we’re selling, and we’re not being picky about who buys them.

So far, one local guy bought three bourbon red toms. He raises turkeys for pets; actually looked at me askew when I told him I’d heard they were excellent eating. Said he’s had turkeys since he was a boy — he looked to be about 50 — and he told us we could come visit them any time we wanted. We know where he lives; seeing his heritage turkeys is what interested us in getting our own in the first place.

And, we managed, thanks to Jana’s visit, to get our entire flock back into the pen. So, this Thanksgiving Day morning, all is peaceful.

We’re up and getting ready to spend the day with Jim’s family. We’ll be eating a commercial turkey, but until we’ve tasted better, we’ll think it’s the best food we’ve ever had. Our turkeys will spend the day free, so to speak. No, they’re not out picking apples off the ground at their leisure, but they’re alive on a beautiful Thanksgiving Day morning, and I don’t think they could ask for much more than that.

Thank you, Jana, for “shooting” these gorgeous pictures of our birds. No matter what becomes of them, we can look back and admire their beauty.

Two bourbon red toms posing (both since sold), November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

      Mama Eagle Eye on the flagstone near the pond, November 2007,
      photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

Follow the Leader, baby following Mama Azul, November 2007, photo © by Jana L’Esperance (blueskydesert). All rights reserved.

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I write often about the movement of Providence. She is tied to Goethe’s dreams, but she is not Goethe. Each time I write of Providence, I can’t remember the quote that stands behind my words. They are the words of Scottish expeditionist,  W. H. Murray.


So I don’t forget:

But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

    Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
    Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

– W. H. Murray, from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951)

The Goethe couplet Murray refers to is from a loose translation of Faust 214-30 made by John Anster in 1835. Anster translating Faust written by Goethe and quoted by Murray (reference at The Goethe Society of North America).  Like I learned from my art professors at MCAD, there are no original thoughts.

Murray was a writer of many works of fiction and non-fiction. Mountaineering in Scotland was written on toilet paper and destroyed in a WW II prisoner of war camp. He started from scratch and rewrote the whole book again. It was published in 1947.

Providence moved too.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

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Old family recipes remind me of the good parts of childhood. The smells are familar and warm, enveloping me in a giant culinary hug. The tastes are like ancestral footprints, distinct to each family, passed down for generations. (They don’t call it comfort food for nothin’!)

My 5 siblings and I have started pulling together Mom’s family recipes, many of which are Southern. She grew up in the South but has lived in the North for almost 41 years. Out of 6 kids, 4 of us lived in the South part of our childhoods, and 2 have only known the Northern climates as home.

After we moved from Georgia, Mom learned to cook favorite Pennsylvania dishes. And we grew up with a distinct blend of Northern and Southern cooking. I think we are all richer for it. My heart will always be rooted in the South, but my feet have been firmly planted in the high North for over 40 years.

I posted Mom’s Soft Dumpling recipe a few days ago. My brother, R3, sent the Banana Pudding recipe to me in an email. There aren’t many gatherings in our family without banana pudding on the table. It’s a family tradition. And, let me tell you, it’s not long before it’s all gobbled up!

Here’s Mom’s Southern Banana Pudding recipe, complete with R3’s commentary. It’s perfect for Turkey Day. It’s perfect anytime!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Southern Banana Pudding (by R3)

Banana pudding has always been a family favorite.  I am not sure where it came from but it doesn’t seem like a complete family gathering if we don’t have banana pudding.

The recipe is basically very simple.  The ingredients are bananas, cooked vanilla pudding (you need whole milk for this) and vanilla wafers.

I usually make a 9 X 13 inch pan of banana pudding because that seems to be the right amount for our family. I also use Nabisco “Nilla” vanilla wafers because they are the ones Mom always used. I have tried others but the taste of the Nilla wafers reminds me of home.

As for the pudding, instant pudding cannot be substituted for the cooked version. Not only does the instant taste “grainy” but you need the heated pudding to help cook the bananas and to infiltrate the cookies to make them softer. The bananas should have no green on them and be just starting to spot, so they are still firm but at their peak of flavor.

Shopping list:

2 – 3 packages of cooked vanilla pudding (depending on the number of layers and the fact that the portion sizes from packaged foods are getting smaller. No instant pudding! Use the real deal.)

1 – 2 boxes of Nabisco Nilla wafers (I used to be able to use one but the volume of cookies has decreased, and my consumption while I make banana pudding has increased!)

3 – 4 bananas (depending on how big the bananas are and how many layers you make. Bananas should have no green on them and be just starting to spot, so they are still firm but at their peak of flavor.)

Cooking Instructions:

Cook the vanilla pudding per the package instructions (using whole milk for the total experience).

While the pudding is cooking, place a layer of Nilla wafers on the bottom of the pan and top with a layer of cut banana slices (cut into disks). I usually use 1 to 1 1/2 bananas per layer.

When the pudding is cooked, pour about a third of the pudding over the sliced bananas and cookies. Make another layer of cookies and bananas and cover them with more pudding. If you have enough for another layer then do another layer of cookies and bananas ending with a top layer of pudding.

If you want to get fancy you can put cookies around the sides of the dish, pushing them in vertically and another layer on top.

Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight (this is an important step because banana pudding is always best if it ages overnight in the refrigerator).

The next day grab a spoon, a cereal bowl and enjoy (cereal bowl is optional).

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

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Heart & Soul, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   

Heart & Soul, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, on the hill behind the zendo, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

My sister-in-law told me about a book she’d recently received as a gift, The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman. It’s about the ways individuals express love. And the ways they like to have love expressed to them. What makes you feel loved?

On a recent 62 degree November day, I was taking a walk by the Susquehanna River with my mother, and we started talking about the subject of love. The lively discussion led to many questions.

What if the way you are able to give love is not appreciated by your partner or spouse? What if your partner or spouse doesn’t know what makes him or her feel loved? What about friends? Isn’t it important that they know the things that make you feel appreciated?

According to Chapman, there are 5 primary languages of love:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

          Heart & Soul - Inside Out, Mabel Dodge House, through the zendo window, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved    Going The Distance, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved 

Think about the things that make you feel loved. Are they acts of service. Thoughtfulness. Gratitude. Is quality time high on your list. How deep is the well. Half empty? Half full? To love we need to be able to both give and receive. How do you like to receive? How is learning to receive different than taking?

If you’re having a hard time answering, Chapman provides some clues, questions to ask yourself to help determine your primary language:

Contemplation, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

 1) What does your partner or spouse do or fail to do that hurts you most deeply. The opposite is probably your love language.

After The Fire, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, along the path outside the zendo. Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  

2) What have you most often requested of your partner, spouse, or friends? That thing is the thing that will probably make you feel most loved.

Meditation Heart, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

3) In what way do you regularly express love to your partner, spouse, or friends? That method may also make you feel loved.

After answering the 3 questions above, pick up your pen and do three, 15-minute writing practices:

I feel loved when…

What hurts me the most is…

I know my friends care about me when…

 Heart Of Taos Mountain, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, outside the zendo, Taos, New Mexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Sheltered Heart, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved


The journey is discovery. Where would we be without love?

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 20th 2007

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Some topics draw me in right away, there’s no hesitation, no staring at the lines on my page. Not so Kindness. If the topic were Demanding or Disappointment, would it pull me into its loops and swirls, take me down with it, down to the grit behind my elbow?

Ah, elbows and grit and the dirt. The scoop. OK, here’s the scoop. I was lying on my bed after picking up the girls in carpool. I was remembering how compassionate the little Me was, the Me as a girl. How I’d cry when Larry stepped on ants. He did it to make me cry. How I couldn’t bear the thought of an animal dying.

Wondering where it went, how I got so hard. I’m hard-edged, straight-spined. Get over it. Words to live by, to tell others who are in pain to live by. And not that any of it is that cut and dried. I’m not horribly hard, but there is a veneer covering my soft parts.

I wonder if it’s Mom’s ranching sensibilities. Realism. Turkeys get slaughtered. Wooley and Wally, who I named the summer I turned 12, were hauled off to be butchered, but I lay my 63-pound body on the plank the sheep were to walk to get into the trailer. Lay there like those environmentalists who chain themselves to trees. Uncle Pat came and grabbed me, I stayed in repose, folded almost in a back-bend over his arms.

I sobbed, NO, NO, NO, you can’t take my sheep! Grandpa laughed. He wasn’t the kind of gentle white-haired man in a cardigan who would sit me down by a fireplace and tell me about the cycles of life, the food chain, where the meat goes, where the wool goes, how it is in the world. My grandpa wore a cowboy hat and a jean jacket and was missing a fingertip on either hand, lost slaughtering cows. My grandpa would have said, Getouttathere, you’re in the way. He’d have been embarrassed maybe, maybe mad for making him so. Life, this was life, this wasn’t meanness or anything slightly unkind. It just was.

Can ranching culture reside in your DNA, sleep in there like the cancer gene or a propensity to get rheumatoid arthritis? Lie in wait until you hit the age your mother was when you realized she wasn’t all buttons and bows either?

I always wondered, back when I was a teenager, how she could have taken my tom cat, Tiny Roy, to the pound and then claimed all along that he’d run away. How could she have left me crying night after night, praying for Tiny Roy’s return, her knowing all along that he wasn’t coming back?

It’s not just animals. It’s a way of moving forward, getting on with life. What is it, I have to ask myself now. Unkindness? A mean gene? A sense of reality?

Maybe none of the above. Just a moment frozen, like any other.


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A little kindness goes a long way. Simple things. I thought about kindness quite a bit last week when I was visiting with my family in Pennsylvania. The way everyone chips in to help each other in our family. It’s not like that for everyone. I don’t take it for granted.

The family donated money toward a ticket to fly me home for Mom’s 70th birthday. It was a last minute thing. She was completely surprised. The smile on her face said it all; every single penny was worth it.

What’s that saying, when you set your intention, then Providence follows? I can’t remember who said it, but it basically means nothing is impossible. When you set your intention on kindness toward others, the Universe lines up behind you.

I believe in things I can’t see. I believe in kindness. And generosity. And love.

My brother took off of work to drive me 2 1/2 hours to Dulles, both ways, 10 hours of his time and energy on the road. The whole extended family cooked for the birthday gathering. My brother and sister-in-law let me stay at their home the first two days I was there so Mom wouldn’t find out about the surprise.

My sister drove over to Mom’s to visit with me after a long day of work. A younger brother and his wife traveled from Delaware, a long night’s drive for them with my nephew. Everyone adjusted their schedules, gave up time and money, so that everything could come together.

We aren’t a family that talks much about feelings or emotions. There’s a lot of humor, cutting up, and bantering back and forth. But when it comes down to pulling together for family – my family is a winner.

Of course, the independence and resourcefulness we value means we don’t ask for help until things get pretty down and out (not the best emotional strategy). I’m the worst at thinking I can do it all alone. But when I hit hard times a few years ago, and finally got the courage to reach out, they were there. I didn’t have to ask twice. And they didn’t expect anything in return.

True generosity is giving without expecting anything in return. “We’re all family,” they say. “That’s the way you treat family.”

I’m not saying our family is perfect. By no means is that true. We’ve all got our problems, hang-ups, and quirks. We’re much like my sister said in her first comment on red Ravine – a vibrant patchwork quilt that all seems to fit together, no matter the pattern or stitch work, no matter how tattered or worn the cloth.

The whole is stronger than its individual parts. Kindness is the glue. We were taught respect for elders. And politeness. Manners. My brother still opens the car door for me. So did my step-dad when Mom and I were Down South in June. I never thought I’d admit how much I love that they do that.

I remember when I was a fiery young woman in my 20’s: a feminist, angry, wanting equals rights and pay for all women. It was a good cause, creating awareness and change. And I just could not understand when Mom said she still loved to have the car door opened for her, that she valued the feeling of care and respect. To me, chivalry was dead. A way to keep women in their places.

I’m much older now. I finally understand; it’s not about gender. Manners, politeness, altruism, and courtesy toward others are becoming a thing of the past. I recently heard a statistic that Americans are the most generous people in the world when it comes to donating money and giving to charity, yet we’ve jumped the fast track to rudeness, entitlement, rage, and lack of basic kindness toward others.

We’re losing sight of what’s important. Liz and I noticed the grocery clerk was rude to us in the checkout line last night. It was hard to smile at her. To turn the other cheek. What about simply asking if she was okay? Or if she had a hard day.

Maybe we *should* go back to living by clichés and recovery slogans. Keep it simple. Let go and let God. Work harder to be kind.

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, November 19th, 2007


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I was sitting in Amelia’s kitchen with the smell of Southern style chicken and dumplings pouring through my nostrils, when it occurred to me I should be writing her recipes down. I’ve never been much of a cook. But all of my siblings carry on the tradition of Mom’s cooking. That was in mouthwatering evidence on her 70th birthday last week, when all manner of Southern cuisine showed up on the birthday table.

Amelia's Yellow Squash, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved Each time I visit, I ask Mom to make my favorite “growing-up” foods, comfort foods you just can’t find in the Midwest. This trip, I asked for a pot of yellow squash (which I love), and found out the secret ingredients are butter, a dash of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of bacon grease.

After the squash was well along, Mom started the dumplings, I connected the dial-up at the kitchen table, fired up my laptop, and asked her to dictate the soft dumpling recipe (passed down from her mother), while I tapped her words into this post.

Soft dumplings are a big hit any season, but perfect for leftover Thanksgiving turkey. And since Mom’s a big fan of red Ravine, we had a good chuckle imagining one of ybonesy’s wild, New Mexico turkeys mingling with the steaming Southern dumplings.

When I got back to Minnesota and ybonesy mentioned that I should start posting Amelia’s recipes, R3 sent the banana pudding recipe (complete with his commentary), which I’ll post early this week.

But for now, plan ahead for those leftovers next weekend. Turkey and dumplings, anyone?

Amelia’s Soft Dumplings

Sift together:

2 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder (make sure it’s not flat!)
1 tsp salt

Cut in 1/4 cup Crisco
Add 1 cup of whole milk (make a well in the flour, then pour the milk in; be sure NOT to use skim!)
Stir with fork (until like coarse cornmeal)
Mix until dry is all wet

Drop by spoonfuls into boiling broth
Cook 10 min uncovered, still boiling
Cover and cook 10 minutes longer on low (this steams the tops of the dumplings)

You can drop these into boiling chicken, beef, or turkey broth. Or for a sweet dumpling, slip them into hot stewed apples or blueberries.

Then, in Mom’s words, “Call Amelia!”

Amelia's Soft Dumplings, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. There’s one last thing I want to mention. The pots and pans Mom used last week were antiques, probably purchased when I was about 3 and we were living in Tennessee.


Of course, she has a brand spanking new set of cookware around the kitchen. But these are the ones she loves to use for her favorite recipes.

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 18th, 2007

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Mr. StripeyPants At 3 Months, photo by Liz, Feb 1998, photo © 2007 by Liz. All rights reserved. When Liz woke up this morning, she mumbled something about Mr. StripeyPants’ birthday.

“What?” I said. “I missed his birthday?” I strolled into the kitchen and checked out the refrigerator door where Liz has the cats’ birthdays posted.

There (in Liz’s neat artist block print) was the following:

Kiev – ‘Kiki Bell’: Jan. 1, 1995
Chaco – ‘Wooley Pokes’: March 22, 1996
Mr. StripeyPants: Nov. 10, 1997

Sure enough, Mr. StripeyPants turned 10 years old last week, while I was visiting my family in Pennsylvania. And guess what November 10th is? The same day Amelia turned 70.

Happy Birthday, Mr. StripeyPants. Here’s to another 10 years, and counting. I didn’t realize until today, you have the same birthday as Mom. I’ll never forget your birthday again.

  Mr. StripeyPants, Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   The Lick, August 2005, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by SkyWire Alley. All rights reserved.  Mr. StripeyPants, Down!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Mr. StripeyPants, All Around!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Pants, so cute you could eat him up!, July 30th, 2005, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by SkyWire Alley. All rights reserved.

Pants (so cute you could eat him up!), Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2005, photo © 2007 by SkyWire Alley. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, November 17th, 2007

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