Archive for December, 2008

Bear At Sunset, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Got Your Back, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Circling, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Burning The Yule, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Fire & Snow, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Shadow Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bear circles Yule fire
drumming sunrise to sunset
gift of tobacco

cool blue snow cave hides
monks of the animal world
heartbeat disappears

long sleep of Winter
cubs born in hibernation
lean fat of the land

Winter Solstice past
contemplative Void lingers
the promise of Spring

American Spirit, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Bear Meat In Ritual, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Cool Drums, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Cool Drums, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Winter Solstice, December 21st 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Promise Of Spring

New Year’s Eve approaches. Black-eyed peas are soaking in a pot on the stove, awaiting the bone of ham. Taking a much needed rest, I’m reminded of the hibernation of Bear. We learned on a wind chilled, -18 degree Winter Solstice that bear cubs are born during hibernation in the black cold of January.

After the Winter cave of silent dreams, we move into 2009 with the promise of rebirth — Spring.

The Bear Facts

To learn more about the winter habits of Bears and other hibernating animals such as squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks, bats, rattlesnakes, and hedgehogs, visit these links:

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, December 30th, 2008, with gratitude to my friends Carol, Susan, and Gail

-related to post:  haiku (one-a-day)

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mii familia, “mii” family, friends, and strangers we’ve set up on the Wii we got for Christmas, December 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Santa brought us a Nintendo Wii for Christmas. Yesterday we had a good time hanging out at the house and learning how the Wii works. One of the best parts about the Wii is setting up each player, which is called a mii.

When setting up your mii, you can choose head shape, eye shape, nose shape, color of eyes, hair, etc. You can add moles, make-up, eyewear.

I think Jim did a pretty good job of fashioning his mii after himself. See if you can figure out which one he is in the screen shot above.

(BTW, if you find Jim, move over to his right—your left—and that is the mii the girls created to represent me.)

What were some of your favorite gifts and/or moments from the holidays?

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With the preparation being so labor and time intensive, tamales became holiday fare, made for special occasions. This tradition remained for thousands of years, with the women of the family working together to make the sauces and meats, preparing the masa, and finally assembling and wrapping the tamales before steaming them in large pots on the stove. The process takes all day, the preparation often starting one of two days in advance. It is virtually unheard of to make a few tamales. In most cases, when they are made, hundreds are made at a time. Everyone—young, old, family and friends—is invited to tamale feasts where they are enjoyed, savored and loved by all.

~from “The History of Tamales,” Tamara’s Tamales, Los Angeles, CA

Two Sundays ago the girls and I met my sister Bobbi and her daughter at Mom and Dad’s for the making of the tamales. Mom didn’t start making tamales until about 10 or 15 years ago. She began the tradition when my sister Janet began hosting the Christmas Eve family gathering at her home. Mom decided that what she wanted to contribute to the feast was several dozen tamales. Thus, a family tradition was born.

Truth of the matter is, Mom didn’t learn to make tamales from her own mother. My grandma got her tamales from an Indian woman named Benina. Every year Grandpa gave Benina the head from a butchered pig, and Benina in turn gave Grandma and Grandpa some of the tamales she made with the meat.

Mom tried to teach herself how to make tamales. Back when we lived on Neat Lane in Albuquerque’s south valley, Mom and a neighbor, Ruth, who also happened to be my godmother, tried one day to make tamales. “They ended up weighing about a pound each,” Mom recalled. She can’t remember how she finally figured out to make tamales, but she thinks it might have been her cousin Maggie who finally taught her.

Tamales are found all over Latin America but are said to be from Mexico, although back in the days when tamales first appeared, there was no such thing as “Mexico.” Which probably means that tamales were made by various indigenous groups—Aztecs, Mayans, the Incas. Tamales are made of one of the most basic staples in indigenous diets—corn. Several sources on the history of tamales described them this way:

In Pre-Columbian history, being on the move and at war, there was a need for a portable yet sustaining food; hence, the tamale was born. Tamales can be made ahead of time and steamed, grilled, put directly on top of coals to warm, or even eaten cold. There is no record of which pre-Colombian culture invented the tamale, but the evidence suggests that one culture did and the others followed the example.

Tamales caught on fast and there were a variety of dishes, many unknown to modern tastebuds. There were tamales with red, green, yellow, and black chile; tamales with chocolate; fish tamales; frog, tadpole, mushroom, rabbit, gopher, turkey, bee, egg, squash blossom, honey, ox, seed and nut tamales. There were white and red fruit tamales, yellow tamales, dried meat tamales, roasted meat, stewed meat, bean and rice tamales. There was sweet sugar, pineapple, raisin, cinnamon, berry, banana and pumpkin tamales. There were hard and soft cheese tamales, roasted quill tamales, ant, potato, goat, wild boar, lamb and tomato tamales.

The wrapping for these tamales varied almost as much as the ingredients. Cornhusks, banana leaves, fabric, avocado leaves, soft tree bark and other non-toxic leaves were used. The most typical wrappings were cornhusk and banana or avocado leaves.

Today, the most common tamales are red and green chile with chicken, pork, or beef. There are also cheese and vegetable tamales, which probably came about as more and more people have opted to not eat meat.


Making tamales requires plenty of preparation and a lot of determination. Mom makes hers over a period of three days, the last being Assembly. She doesn’t follow recipes, but I’ve done my best to document her methods.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Five pounds of pork loin.
  • About sixty or so chile pods, which you can usually buy in a Mexican fruit market, if your town has one. We often get our chile at a place called “Fruit Basket,” which is a local chain with little stores not much bigger than fruit stands.
  • A package or two of dried cornhusks, which are called hojas in Spanish. Mom gets these at Costco, or at our local tortilla factory. You can probably also get them at a Mexican fruit market.
  • A package of Masa Harina, which is pre-mixed corn mixture, or masa. This you can pick up at a regular grocery store, assuming your city has a pretty big Latino population. You might need to have on hand some baking powder to add to the mixture.
  • For seasoning, per your own tastes, have on hand fresh garlic, a few yellow onions, fresh or dried oregano and cilantro, salt.
  • A few big bowls, a kettle or deep pot, roasting pan, blender for making the chile, a food processor for mixing the masa, and a steamer that holds a lot of tamales.

Day One – The Meat & The Broth

Place about five pounds of pork loin in a large pot or kettle. Add enough water to completely cover the meat. Throw in an onion or two, about four garlic cloves, fresh or dried cilantro and oregano, and boil for about five hours. As the broth boils down, add more water to make sure the meat stays covered.

If the kettle is too big to store in the refrigerator and if you live in a climate that easily dips below freezing most nights in December, you can store the kettle outside in the garage. (That’s what Mom does.) If you don’t live in a cold climate, then make room in the fridge and place the pot in there overnight.

Day Two – Turning The Meat Into Chile Meat

The next day you’ll skim the fat off the broth; this is easy, since overnight as the broth cooled, the fat rose to the top and solidified. Take the pork out of the kettle, shred it into small pieces—it should fall apart after having boiled for so long the day before—and put them into a large bowl. Put the broth back in the garage or the refrigerator; you’ll need it tomorrow for the masa.

Here’s where the recipe gets especially intuitive. Mom makes about two blenderfuls of red chile, but we’re not sure how many pods one blender of chile requires. We’ve estimated you’ll need about 30 chile pods per blender (60 pods total).

Wash the pods in water and dry them a bit. You’ll need to clean each pod by slicing it down the seam, opening it up, and scraping out the seeds. Also discard the stem, which will require cutting it out.

The chile pods are dry and can break apart. That’s fine. Put all the “flesh” parts in the blender. Throw in a couple of cloves of garlic, a small onion (cut in fourths), a couple sprigs each of cilantro and oregano. Add in a bit of water, enough to get the blender going but not so much as to make the chile watery. You want thick chile for tamales. Blend until smooth.

Add the first batch of chile to the meat, and make a second batch. When that’s done, add it to the meat, too. You’re finished for the day.

Day Three – Assembly

Clean the hojas , which will be stiff and unusable. Put them into a roasting pan (you’ll need something long enough to lay the hojas flat), cover with water, and boil. Let the hojas boil for about two hours, until they are soft and workable.

Once the hojas are ready, the next step is to prepare the masa. Follow the directions on the package of Masa Harina, which per Mom’s recollection requires you to add salt, baking powder, and broth (or water). Put the dry masa into a bowl and moisten it with broth. Put the moistened mixture into the food processor and add more broth, a little at a time, mixing with a spatula until the mixture is moist. At some point Mom knows there’s enough broth and turns on the food processor for about 30 or 60 seconds.


Mom says you want the consistency of the masa to be similar to cake mix, but my take is that you want it to be stiffer, like frosting. (The good news is that the package will give you the right measurements, so hopefully it won’t be quite so ambiguous when you do this, although Mom doesn’t follow the package directions and instead relies on her senses to tell her when she’s added enough broth.)

Now assemble the tamales by laying out an open hoja, dropping about two or so tablespoons of masa into the center and smoothing it out like frosting, dropping about one generous tablespoon of chile meat into the center of the masa, rolling the cornhusk lengthwise until it’s closed, and then tying the ends. One person will need to tie the ends (using little strips of cornhusk, which that person can tear off to form a little pile of ties) while another person holds the tamale.

The Sunday of our tamale making adventure, we made about six dozen—not a lot compared to what some families make. We steamed enough to eat right then and there, but the rest got frozen. Tamales must be steamed for at least an hour, and depending on the thickness of the masa, maybe longer. It’s always good, too, to let a steamed tamale sit for about 15 minutes before you open up the cornhusk; that way, the masa can set.

Epilogue – To Tie Or Not To Tie

You may notice when you buy tamales at a market or order them in a restaurant that some come without ties. Many, probably most, people make their tamales by flattening the filling (much more than Mom does—hers are kind of fat and round) and folding up one of the ends of the cornhusk instead of tying both ends. This tends to be a personal preference. Some say that folding is easier and doesn’t require an extra set of hands. Mom insists that folding takes a special knack that she never learned, and so she opts to tie.

Whether folded or tied, tamales are one of the best-tasting foods there is. Maybe it’s that they’re made with such care and intention by so many loving hands. Maybe it’s the stories that get told during the hours of making, the laughter that is spilled.

We eat our tamales on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, smothered in red chile, or my favorite—on top of a bowl of posole (I’ll save that recipe for another day) and then the whole thing smothered with red chile. That’s all the nourishment I need.

Happy holidays to you and yours, whatever it is that sustains you this time of year. (And to my sister in Denver and her husband, my nieces and nephews-in-law, and my grand-niece and nephews—we love you and miss you!)

Online Resources

Corn, Maize, Masa, Nixatamal, Pozole by gourmetsleuth.com
A Thumbnail History of Mexican Food by Mexican Mercados
Making Tamales, by fellow blogger Corina of Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

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Antique Lights, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Antique Lights, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve. Our cat Chaco, who we discovered last week is chronically ill, is resting comfortably in the bedroom. He spent Winter Solstice in the emergency hospital. We brought him home from the vet yesterday along with three prescription medications and a bag of fluids we’ll be administering subcutaneously over the next few days. Dr. Blackburn says he’s a fighter; he’s walking better, eating more regularly, and his little Spirit has more life than it did last week.

We’ll take him back on Saturday to see how his vitals look. In the meantime, we are learning to care for a chronically ill cat. It goes without saying, Liz and I haven’t been getting much sleep. So the energy for posting has flagged. But then I ran across this inspirational poem by Russell Libby.

Described by kindle, site of the Northern New England Bioneers, as “a farmer, a selectman, an economist, a poet, and a visionary builder of local, organic food systems in Maine and beyond,” he seems like a man close to the Earth. Since 1983 he and his family have grown organic food for friends and family at Three Sisters Farm in Mount Vernon, and his Maine roots date back to 1635, when his forebears settled in the colony.

His poem reminded me of all the trees that lose their lives this time of year (31 million Christmas trees last year in the U.S. alone). Many Christmas trees come from tree farms these days (500 Minnesota tree farmers expect to harvest 500,000 trees this year), though I have been known to go out and cut my own from the forest of a friend’s ancestral lands. Fresh pine is the smell of Christmas for me. And I love sitting in the dark and staring at the lights on the tree.

Time For Your Close-Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Time For Your Close-Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Time For Your Close-Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Time For Your Close-Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Since we haven’t had time to put a tree up this year, I thought I’d post these photographs of the antique Christmas lights mentioned in The Poet’s Letter — Robert Bly. It was at Poetry Group that night that our friend Teri shared a story about how her family discovered the lights hidden on top of a rainwater cistern in the basement of a Minnesota farmhouse that has been in her family for generations.

Trees provide balance and structure for the thousands of lights that burn brightly this time of year. I am grateful for the untouched land, places preserved for old growth forests, trees with skins that will never be touched by an ax or saw.

Here’s one last quote for the trees I found in an Alice Walker book, Anything We Love Can Be Saved — A Writer’s Activism. It’s printed below a black and white photograph of a man with his arms stretched wide around a tree. It’s a good time of year to remember what is worth putting our arms around.

This photograph of an Indian man hugging a tree has been attached to my typing stand for years. Each day it reminds me that people everywhere know how to love. It gives me hope that when the time comes, each of us will know just exactly what is worth putting our arms around.

   -Robert A. Hutchison


Holding The Light, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Holding The Light, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Holding The Light, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Holding The Light, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Holding The Light, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

American Life in Poetry: Column 194


Father and child doing a little math homework together; it’s an everyday occurrence, but here, Russell Libby, a poet who writes from Three Sisters Farm in central Maine, presents it in a way that makes it feel deep and magical.

Applied Geometry

Applied geometry,
measuring the height
of a pine from
like triangles,
Rosa’s shadow stretches
seven paces in
low-slanting light of
late Christmas afternoon.
One hundred thirty nine steps
up the hill until the sun is
finally caught at the top of the tree,
let’s see,
twenty to one,
one hundred feet plus a few to adjust
for climbing uphill,
and her hands barely reach mine
as we encircle the trunk,
almost eleven feet around.
Back to the lumber tables.
That one tree might make
three thousand feet of boards
if our hearts could stand
the sound of its fall.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Russell Libby, whose most recent book is “Balance: A Late Pastoral,” Blackberry Press, 2007.

Reprinted from “HeartLodge,” Vol. III, Summer 2007, by permission of Russell Libby. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

-posted on red Ravine, Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

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Jim and his lapdog Rafael, Rafie in need of a bit of love, November 2008, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Jim is a Solstice baby. As a kid he resented that his birthday fell so close to Christmas. He still tells stories about how everyone gave him “combined” gifts. “Here’s your birthday and Christmas combined.”

We try to make a big deal out of his birthday. Separate gifts always, and not just a t-shirt. Definitely a birthday cake, homemade, with frosting and candles.

Jim’s birthday has passed and, yes, we’re on to Christmas, but before his carrot cake is just a few smudges of butternut frosting on the cake dish, I wanted to say a few things about him:

  • See the photo of Jim and his lapdog Rafael? Well, Jim is something of an animal whisperer. Critters of all types love him. And the reason is that Jim lets creatures be themselves. He’s part animal himself, in a good way. He speaks to them through some special language. So when 75-pound Rafie sidles up to Jim on the overstuffed chair, Jim knows immediately that Rafie just needs to get on Jim’s lap and fall fast asleep. The way Sony gets to do on my lap.
  • Jim loves the cold and winter. Right now he’s outside, has been all day, getting the corral ready to bring our horse over for the start of the new year. Jim works like a horse himself, and in the cool and cold months, he’s always outdoors. I used to think it was Jim’s Scandanavian blood (his grandparents were Swedes) that made him so comfortable in the cold, but I’ve come to realize, Duh, he’s a child of the Solstice. Winter doesn’t bother him one bit.
  • Jim sometimes forgets to take off his fleece cap when he comes inside. Sometimes it’s not until he’s about to get into bed that he realizes he still has it on. Jim’s not the kind of guy to look at himself in the mirror, even when he’s brushing his teeth. Once I gave him an old-fashioned shaver and shaving brush for Christmas; guess what I added to my sister’s flea market goods a few years later? I like that he doesn’t have a vain bone in his body.
  • Jim’s hair is longer than mine. He always said he wanted long hair, but since his hair is also wavy, he’d hit that awkward Bozo-the-Clown look and I’d beg him to cut it. Finally, he just did it. We both survived the “I am a ragamuffin” stage, and now he has lovely long hair that he pulls back into a pony tail, unless it’s right after a shower and he wants to make us all laugh (in which case he wears it loose, like Jesus). 
  • Jim doesn’t much care to get old. He came from the generation that mistrusted anyone over 30, and now being over 50, well, Jim doesn’t like to make a fuss over yet another birthday. But I have to say, and this isn’t my bias speaking, he’s aging well. About a dozen years ago we went to his 20th high school reunion. We took our newborn baby in a sling (she slept the entire event) and one guy asked if that was Jim’s grandchild in the sling. Apparently, most of Jim’s peers had their kids ages before and were already grandparents. I whispered to Jim that he definitely wasn’t old enough to be a grandfather. Yet.
  • I can’t quite figure out if Jim is Sagittarius or Capricorn. His birth date is on the cusp, and he’s not the kind of guy who’d ever get his astrological chart done, so my only cues are the ones I find in astrology publications. I’ve always considered him to be a Sag, probably because they say that Sag and Gemini (me) are compatible. Which we are. But there are some aspects of Sagittarius that don’t fit Jim, such as being an optimist. Jim can be a “glass half empty” sort of fellow, which is something I’ve often thought had to do with the dark side of being a Solstice baby. Yet, he’s definitely adventurous, honest, outspoken, and independent—all qualities associated with Sagittarians. Then again, he’s got the Capricorn characteristics of being tenacious, resourceful, wise, and constant.
  • Mostly Jim is kind-hearted, loyal, a good father and good steward of the earth, and the one I love.

 Happy birthday, old man! You’re still a hottie.


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Splash Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Splash Fire (Dreamscape), Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Winter Solstice is peaking in the Great White North. The darkness of winter reflects off the cold blue snow. Yesterday we had blizzard conditions and the cottage sits behind a wall of white. I wanted to get up and write in the shadows, calling upon dreams I wish to bring into the light.

Mr. StripeyPants sits beside me on the couch, trying to keep warm. Kiev and Liz are still asleep. Chaco, bless his heart, is spending the weekend in an animal hospital. He declined quickly this week and, after two visits to our vet, we had to make the hard decision to put him in emergency care over the weekend.

The doctor called last night to say he is steadily improving. At 12 years old, he is experiencing the beginnings of kidney failure. We are not sure how long we’ll have with him. Quite a few tears were shed this week. Into the fire it all goes. I can release the grief and pain. I don’t have to carry the burden.

Winter Solstice in Minnesota hit her highpoint around 6 a.m CST. From that moment on, each day takes us more into the light. The Universal Time for Winter Solstice in 2008 is 12 21 12:03:34 UT. In the Midwest, we have to subtract 6 hours to arrive at the accurate time zone. (To learn more about Solstices and how to translate time for your part of the world visit the links and comments in Solstice Fire In Winter or Winter Solstice — Making Light Of The Dark.)

Around Noon we will head over to our friends’ home for a Winter Solstice celebration. They usually use the dried and cut Yule tree from last year’s season as kindling to start the fire. On the longest night of the year, we’ll draw on the cave-like energy of Bear, Spirit Guardian of the North.

Bear is feminine reflective energy. She is known across many cultures as a symbol for divinity and healing, and a powerful totem. According to the Animal Spirits cards, illustrated by Susan Seddon Boulet, the Ainu people of the northern islands of Japan believed the Bear was a mountain god. In India, bears are believed to prevent disease and the cave symbolizes the cave of  Brahma. And among the Finno-Ugric peoples, the bear was the god of heaven.

Many Native American peoples regard Bear as a Spirit helper. Here is an excerpt from the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson:

The strength of Bear medicine is the power of introspection. It lies in the West on the great Medicine Wheel of Life. Bear seeks honey, or the sweetness of truth, within the hollow of an old tree. In the winter, when the Ice Queen reigns and the face of death is upon the Earth, Bear enters the womb-cave to hibernate, to digest the year’s experience. It is said that our goals reside in the West also. To accomplish the goals and dreams that we carry, the art of introspection is necessary.

To become like Bear and enter the safety of the womb-like cave, we must attune ourselves to the energies of the Eternal Mother, and receive nourishment from the placenta of the Great Void. The Great Void is the place where all solutions and answers live in harmony with the questions that fill our realities. If we choose to believe that there are many questions to life, we must also believe that the answers to these questions reside within us. Each and every being has the capacity to quiet the mind, enter the silence, and know.

     -from the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson


Bear is the West, the intuitive side, the right brain. Bear invites us to calm the chatter and enter the silence. To hibernate, Bear travels to the Cave, seeks answers while dreaming, and is reborn in the Spring. In the Dream World, our Ancestors sit in council and advise us about alternative pathways leading to our goals. They open doors to inner-knowing where “the death of the illusion of physical reality overlays the expansiveness of Eternity.”

My Grandmother Elise’s birthday is on Winter Solstice. And I often think of her this time of year and call her Spirit into the Circle; I can feel her looking down on us. Solstice is a time of release, a time to consider what to leave behind in the dark, what seeds we wish to plant that may mature with the light of Spring.

Happy Winter Solstice to all. The dark New Moon signifies the beginning of a new cycle that will come to fruition at the next Full Moon. May you celebrate with open hearts. Merry meet, Merry part, and Merry meet again.

     Bear Breathing Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Bear Breathing Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bear Breathing Fire, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Winter Solstice, Sunday, December 21st, 2008

-related to posts: 8 Minutes, and 10 Things I Learned Last Weekend (Solstice x Number)

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My first and probably last food fight was a snowy Thanksgiving in Missoula, Montana. I was in my 20’s, and since my family lived half way across the country, due East, I formed community with other Montana transplants.

There was Bev from Ohio, K.D. from Los Angeles, Mary from Pennsylvania, Gail from Minnesota, Leslie from Iowa, Lynne from Idaho, to name only a few. Many of us came to Montana via college, the University of Montana, and loved it so much we decided to stay. Others followed friends out West. I had always dreamed of living in the West. One day I just did it; I picked up and moved.

The food fight was after a Thanksgiving feast:  big old Butterball turkey, smashed potatoes with skins, homemade gravy and biscuits, cranberries, cornbread stuffing, and pumpkin pies. Back then we all drank, so there was lots of alcohol around. I don’t drink much anymore, a glass of wine on occasion. But then it was different. I would return years later for a reunion of these same friends, and many had gone into recovery. It was good to visit with them sober and clean.

There were a few native Montanans in our group, friends who knew the lay of the land. Some grew up in eastern Montana, Billings, some in the western areas of Great Falls, Missoula, Bozeman, and Helena. I would end up visiting these places over the course of the time I lived there, skiing the valleys, hiking the mountains. I lived in a two-story yellow house on Orange Street near the tracks, when there were no strip malls on Reserve Street, just a series of grassy fields.

The food fight was a culmination of hours of planning, cooking, talking, eating, and playing live music. At the time, we had a drum set, McCartney-style bass, keyboard, and a whole array of random percussion instruments in a basket in the corner. We usually played music together on the Holidays, anything from Joni Mitchell to Neil Young to lots of bluegrass — it was Montana in the 70’s.

That Thanksgiving I ended up with mashed potatoes in my hair. Bev threw a biscuit that landed in a ladle of gravy and splashed up on to our shirts. There were cranberry stains on the table cloth that never came out. I remember those days in Montana as good times, even though we all had our problems. We acted, well, we acted like we had not lived as much life as we have lived now.

Food is a metaphor for substance, nutrition, community, family, and friendship. Food is used to show love and nurturing. Food is mother’s milk. Food is not to be wasted. But it’s not good to take oneself too seriously. A good food fight once in a while never hurt anyone. Still, in some places, food can be scarce.

I have often thought of working in community service over the Holidays, something like a soup kitchen or a food bank. I’ve never done it. But I’m keenly aware this time of year that there are people in this country who don’t have enough to eat. They can’t afford it. You don’t have to go to other parts of the world to see how people without enough money to afford food struggle to make ends meet. How people sometimes have to make choices between healthcare and food.

I know a woman, a single parent, who has five children, temps for work in a corporate office, and has no health insurance. It’s available to her through her temp agency, but by the time she purchases it for herself and her five kids, she doesn’t have a paycheck left. She told me she’s one of those people who falls between the cracks. She works hard but makes too much money to apply for additional support for health insurance.

When faced with hard choices, she chooses nutrition for her family. I guess that’s a different kind of fight — the fight for everyone in this country to have healthcare and plenty of food.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, December 20th, 2008

-related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC – COOKING FIASCOS

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