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Web & Dew: The Space Between, BlackBerry Shots, July 2010, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Over 90 inches of snow have disappeared from our lawn in temperatures that reach the 50’s by day, drop down to freezing at night. Winter is dying a slow death. Seasons change, transitions in temperament and landscape. The snowmelt runs into rivers and streams, the salt leaves potholes. But soon, tiny shoots of emerald will erupt through the dank, dead, chestnut grass. Winter must die to usher in Spring.

There is power in recognizing impending death. I remember the year my mother told me that when her time came, she was ready to die. We were visiting the South, walking down the cemetery hill from my grandmother’s grave in Georgia. I burst out crying; she hugged me and held me close. I thought the tears inside would never stop. “Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Frankenbelly 3's Birthday - 321/365 Last year, my brother nearly died, before receiving a liver transplant at the 11th hour. It’s an experience that pulled our family together, one we share with countless others. If a person who loses their spouse is a widow, what’s the name for a child who loses a parent? Or a parent who loses a child? There should be a formal naming. For children, it should not be the word “orphan.” That implies that you never held the person close, lived with or loved your parent. There should be another word.

I think of what it must be like to be the one left behind. When I saw writer Joyce Carol Oates in Minneapolis at Talk of the Stacks last week, I bought her new memoir, A Widow’s Story. Her husband Raymond died unexpectedly late one winter night in 2008; the next morning Joyce was supposed to have gone to the hospital, picked him up, and brought him home to recover. It’s the story of loss, grief, and pain; of giant gift baskets, grieving cats, and mounds of trash; of how no one really understood. Yet in the end, she realized that everyone understood. Because Death is a universal experience. It’s just that we don’t talk about it anymore or know how to incorporate it into our lives.

Porkys Since 1953 There is more to Death than the loss of loved ones. Sometimes whole cultures die, like the Anasazi who inhabited the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300, and then disappeared. Cultural traditions die, too, like Porky’s Drive-In in St. Paul. It was owned by the same family since 1953, and closed its doors last Sunday, April 3rd, 2011. Animals die, and it is certain that we will probably outlive many of our beloved pets (our cat Chaco died a few years ago, June 25th, 2009).

Groups we are in community with have life spans, too. Circles of intimacy change and grow; sometimes we end up leaving people behind. Or they leave us. During one session of a year-long Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, one of the participants was killed in a car crash. The group was stunned. These were people we thought we would sit and write with for an entire year. It was not to be. I remember we chanted the Heart Sutra. I remember finding comfort in the ritual.

Cemetery Fog At Workmens Circle - 70/365 Ah, I feel a heaviness this Spring. But it’s a collective heaviness. Like something is shifting in the Universe. There’s too much going on in the world, too many catastrophes, too many unexpected deaths, too many aging and dying people, too many widows and widowers, for there not to be something going on at the Spiritual level. But that’s just my belief. I know there are people who say this occurred at every period in history. But there are certain paradigm shifts that happen and change the planet as a whole. We can either learn our lessons and get on board the train that moves forward. Or stay stuck in the past, not doing the work that’s required of us.

It’s the New Moon. New beginnings. There is value in what has come before, in the history we have with other people we were close to at one time. It’s good to honor and remember. All of that follows us, and I believe we transform it. All energy is creative energy. Even the energy of Death. It cycles back around into new life. Death can be a release of suffering. It also creates a giant abyss of loss. Maybe we’d be wise to befriend the Grim Reaper. Maybe it is others who are dying or have passed over who teach us the courage and strength to face our own death. Maybe the space between death and dying…is life.


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Transitions - Catch & Release Though many of our ancestors accepted and honored the process of Death through rituals, sitting, slowing down, it feels like our fast-paced modern world doesn’t know how to stop moving, how to have a conversation about death and dying, or where to put it in the flow of our day-to-day lives. It makes for a good Writing Topic, a good topic for discussion on red Ravine. Why can’t we talk face to face about death? Maybe it’s easier to write about it.

Take out a fast writing pen and notebook, or fire up your computer and write Death & Dying at the top of your page. Then 15 minutes, Go! Or do a Writing Practice on everything you know about any aspect of death and dying. Please feel free to share any insights in the comments below.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011. Parts of the piece were taken from several Writing Practices written last weekend, April 2nd & 3rd.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS, Reflection — Through The Looking Glass, Make Positive Effort For The Good, The Uses Of Sorrow — What Is It About Obituaries?, Reading The Obits, and a great interview with Joyce Carol Oates on MPR Midmorning with Kerri Miller – A Widow’s Story — The Story Of Joyce Carol Oates

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I spent yesterday up to my elbows in dust bunnies, paper filing, and boxes of old memories. I have started Spring Cleaning. In the middle of this seasonal ritual, I stopped to read an old letter that revealed a secret, found a bulging folder full of fun city facts dated about the time Indria (our home) was purchased, and discovered a buried file that Liz had labeled Essential Oils and Homemade Air Fresheners. I thought it would be fun to post the old-fashioned cleaning remedies. Have you ever tried Borax, white vinegar, Ivory soap?

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Homemade Cleaning Remedies


All Purpose Cleaner I

1 tsp Borax
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vinegar
1/4 tsp dish washing liquid
2 cups hot water


All Purpose Cleaner II

Fill a 32 oz spray bottle nearly full with water. Add a squirt or two of Ivory liquid dish soap. Put the sprayer back on and gently shake the bottle until the soap has been evenly distributed. Use Ivory because most other dish soaps leave behind a filmy residue. Ivory is especially safe for Corion, marble and wood counter tops and butcher blocks. And it’s safe to use on brass or gold plated faucets.


Carpet Cleaner

1 cup crushed herbs (lavender or rosemary)
4 drops essential oil (lavender or rosemary)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp clove
2 tsp baking soda

Shake in a jar to blend & sprinkle carpet.


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Homemade Air Fresheners for Household Odors


Cinnamon & Cloves

Boil the spices for a fragrant smell. For ease of cleaning, make a cheesecloth bag to contain the spices, and boil the cheesecloth bag. An excellent alternative when entertaining is to steep spiced tea or cider.

Oil of Wintergreen

Dampen cotton balls with oil of wintergreen and place out of sight, but where air will touch them.

Vinegar

Distribute partially filled saucers of vinegar around the room or boil 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in 1 cup of water to eliminate unpleasant cooking odors.

Vanilla

Place pure vanilla on a cotton ball in a small saucer. Place the saucer in the car or refrigerator to remove odors. Vanilla is renowned to remove even skunk odors. Keep the cotton ball out of reach of children; vanilla has a high alcohol content.

Baking Soda

Place a partially filled box of baking soda on the refrigerator shelf. Replace every 2 months. Pour the contents of the used box down the drain to remove odors and keep the drain clean. Baking soda can also be used to deodorize bottles by filling them with undiluted baking soda and allowing the bottles to soak overnight. Then wash as usual. (To read about the difference between baking soda and baking powder, see WRITING TOPIC — COOKING FIASCOS.)

Borax

To inhibit growth of odor-producing molds and bacteria, sprinkle 1/2 cup Borax in the bottom of the garbage can. Empty garbage frequently and clean the can as needed.

Vinegar Or Celery Stalk

To avoid or remove onion odors from your hands, rub white vinegar on your hands before and after slicing. Rubbing hands with the end of a celery stalk will also remove the odor.

Potpourri

Buy or make your own potpourri from your favorite herbs and spices. Place the potpourri in a small basket or jar or in small sachet bags.

Ventilation

Open windows or doors in the house for at least a short period every day. This will help to reduce toxic fumes that may build up indoors.

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We have written about cleanliness and attitudes about staying clean in WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS. But seasonal cleaning rituals set a different tone. What home remedies were passed down in your family? What are your favorite cleaning tools (I’m fond of Wanda Wooley). How clean is clean?

Do you do windows once a year, twice a year? Does your entire family pitch in on the seasonal cleaning of your house, or does it fall to you. In Minnesota, Spring arrives late after a long Winter. Do you start your Spring Cleaning in February, March, April, or May? You can even write about how you hate Spring Cleaning!

Get out your fast writing pen, your laptop, or a spiral notebook and do a Writing Practice on Spring Cleaning. Fifteen minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 13th, 2011

-related to post: What If Madge Were Chicana?

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Joy Is, Joy Is Not, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis,
Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The days are dark, the nights long. Five days until Winter Solstice. Holidays draw us to friends and family, gift giving, service work. I want to go inside. Reflective heat, ambient light. Darkroom blues. I have spent hours under red safelights in black and white darkrooms. What color is Joy?

At times when there is the least light, we need to find ways to tap more joy. I look to the small things. Sunrise, Tuesday morning. Snowstorm, Friday night. Digging out. Digging deep. An old recipe. A new flame. Joy takes many forms. Clay dangling from red string. One new liver. Two hibernating black bears. Three things I am grateful for.

Some are afraid to feel the full strength of Joy. The intensity makes them fearful. What if Joy leaves in the middle of the night. How will I fill the hole.

What brings you joy?

Joy is a giant taproot of swirling lava at the center of the Earth. Joy is a burning ember in the middle of an indigo night. Behind every Black Dog, Joy sits like the mountain.

Write I feel joy at the top of your Writing Practice notebook. Or sink into the underbelly — I don’t feel joy

Joy is, Joy is not. Ten minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

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Orbs In The Barn

Orbs In The Barn, Glenwood, Minnesota, May 2006, photo © 2006-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s Halloween, the time of year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Have you ever taken a photograph and were later surprised to find you had captured an orb? Orbs are small, floating, transparent balls of light, most times unexplainable in the context of the photograph. Some claim that orbs are the building bricks from which ghosts are formed.

Do you believe in ghosts? When I was in high school, we would drive around looking for abandoned buildings that might be haunted. We rarely saw anything supernatural and most times managed to scare ourselves silly. But in the years since, I have been visited by two ghosts. One was from my grandmother in Tennessee the night that she died. She came to see me in (what I thought) was a dream, and told me she loved me. The next day I called Mom to ask if Granny had passed away. She said, “Yes, how did you know?”

The second ghostly visit was from my friend Leslea not long after she died from pancreatic cancer. She appeared in my bedroom, pulled on my toe, and knocked a writing book off the shelf at 3am in the morning. It was one of those cover your head with the sheets moments. I didn’t want to see, but could not forget. There are many TV shows that deal with the paranormal these days. Ghost busters and ghost hunters who travel the world documenting the presence of ghosts. What are your ghost experiences?

In his new book Ghost Hunting — A Survivor’s Guide, John Fraser documents a brief history of ghost hunting and explores definitions of poltergeists, doppelgangers, animal ghosts, and crisis apparitions that occur at the point of death or near death of a loved one. Fraser has several chapters on methods of ghost hunting. He divides ghost hunting tools of the trade into scientific and low-tech. Many of the paranormal ghost hunters we hear of today are using high-tech, scientific methods.


High-Tech Ghost Hunting Equipment

  • EMF Meters — commonly called ghost detectors and used to measure electromagnetic fields of various frequencies. These devices measure fluctuations in electromagnetic energy in the environment. [Last week I heard a radio interview with a psychic that said many times EMF detectors are not useful because ghosts like to hang out where there is an abundance of electrical currents like airports or malls.]
  • Cameras — used in ghost hunting for well over 100 years, commonly to capture orbs or mists
  • Thermometers — traditional mainstay of a ghost hunter’s kit used to register changes in air temperature. Digital is the best today. Some use infrared thermometers for target spotting. The theory is that ghosts often suck up the warm energy around them, leaving cold spots where they hover or stand.
  • Tape Recorders — Ghosts and poltergeists often make audible sounds or electronic voice phenomena called EVP. You will hear EVP’s recorded with digital recorders in many of the ghost busting TV shows.
  • Camcorders — camcorders are placed in paranormal hot spots and later reviewed for images or disturbances
  • Night Vision Scopes — for open-air locations where mediums feel more comfortable operating in the darkness
  • Barometers & Motion Detectors — compact and digital, to measure changes in air pressure. Like EMF meters, barometers do not detect ghosts but indicate a change in the environment or warning of poltergeist activity.
  • Spirit Box — a regular portable AM/FM radio modified to continually scan up and down the dial without stopping. The radio produces small snippets of clearly distinguishable voices as it scans the stations, noises that are clearly not part of any broadcast. Many believe that the spirits, who lack a voice of their own, are able to harness and manipulate radio signals to give voice to their thoughts.


Low-Tech Ghost Hunting Equipment

  • Graph Paper — for drawing clear plans of the haunted site
  • Rulers or Tape Measures — used to measure distances of objects moved
  • Watches — digital and viewable in the dark for timing events, synchronized among investigators
  • Voltmeters — used to check electrical power faults and cuts
  • Strain Gauges — to measure the force it would take to open a door or drawer, or the weight of an object that has been moved
  • Magnifying Glasses — for closer viewing of evidence
  • Transparent Envelopes — safe place to store unusual objects collected
  • Flour — simple device for sealing off a room, sprinkling a large area, seeing if footprints are left by any intruders
  • Black Thread — for sealing rooms to detect and prevent hoaxes
  • Torches — to light dark ghost hunting corners, castles, and caves
  • Candles — for lighting and to detect air flow changes
  • Whistles — to call for help if needed. Can also use a two-way radio.
  • Survey Maps –– to document history of what the property may have been used for in the past
  • Chalk – to make temporary marks showing the location of objects before and after they have been moved


Many ghost hunters also use human sensitives, intuitives, psychics, or mediums to help detect paranormal activity. If you want to read more about ghost hunting, your local library is a great resource for books on the paranormal, including the newest from John Fraser. Get your ghost hunting kits ready because tonight is Halloween. We’ll have a fire in the fire ring and candy in hand, ready to stave off tricks in favor of treats.

Ghosts make for good Writing Practice too. Whether haunted by figurative ghosts or the real thing, there is juice in ghost writing. Write the word Ghosts at the top of your page — 10 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 31st, 2010

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Sunrise On Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County

Sunrise On Lake Michigan, Bob walking 10,000 steps on the beach, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sitting, walking, writing with the Midwest Writing Group on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. This is the 7th time we’ve met. The first was October 2007 at McCreedy’s in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. Somewhere in the middle, there was Kansas City, Missouri. The last retreat was on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota.


We arrived on Thursday; the Moon was new. The mornings and afternoons are silent. Here’s our daily schedule:

  • Wake up in Silence.
  • 9am to Noon — Sit, walk, write.
  • Noon to 1pm — Lunch in Silence.
  • 1pm to 4pm — Free Time. Read, write, walk, sleep, stare out the window.
  • 4pm to 6pm — Sit, walk, write.
  • 6pm — Dinner. Free to talk and break bread.


 

Writing Home, Lake Michigan

Writing Home, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 


If you’d like to join us, here are the first 14 Writing Topics. During Day 1 of Sit, Walk, Write (Natalie Goldberg style) we wrote 14 practices at 10 minutes each:

  • Reading under a blanket
  • Fortunate life
  • Friend of the family
  • Piano lessons
  • I’m waiting for
  • Bits of garbage
  • Should I stay or should I go
  • I guess I’m doing alright
  • Walls
  • A path through the weeds
  • Cries for help
  • Don’t tell me it will be alright
  • Distractions
  • Luckiest person in the world


 

Sit, Walk, Write

Sit, Walk, Write, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 


Observations:

  • Took all of Day 1 to debrief & unwind from busyness
  • Travel days take a lot out of you
  • Resistance high on Day 2
  • Breathing deeper on Day 3
  • Staring at the lake calms me, blood pressure drops
  • Walking the beach spurs fresh creative ideas. I’m part of something bigger than me.
  • After 3 years, I feel comfortable & safe with these writers. We’ve worked out the logistics of living, eating, sleeping in close quarters.
  • Everyone holds the space
  • Grateful to the timekeeper who holds the structure
  • Writing about family, place, home, writing projects
  • Free time is essential. Sleep & rest without guilt is essential. Silence is essential.


Back next week. Get out your fast writing pens and spiral notebooks. We follow the Writing Practice rules. And try to Make Positive Effort For The Good. Sit, walk, write.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 10th, 2010

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My Refrigerator

My Refrigerator, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota, September 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To some, refrigerators are bare places, slick and spit-polish clean. Enamel, stainless steel, plastic. Avocado greens and lemon yellows in the 1970’s. Black, white, and stainless steel, the current aesthetic. For some, appliances are pieces of art — sleek, retro, places that make a statement through even curves and vintage hardware. In our house, the fridge is a place that collects — grocery lists, receipts, magnets, calendars, bits and pieces of our lives. One day, we realize the clutter for what it is, throw the valuable photos and magnets in a shoebox, and toss the rest. Until the cycle begins again.

The front of my refrigerator reflects a timeline of my life, something I call fridge typography. Magnets from Ocean City, Maryland, an old photo of Liz’s sister when she was a small girl, the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl, the official Geocaching logo, Lily and Hope black bear swag from our trip to the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota last July. There is a school photo of my niece, a postcard of Hershey Kisses I sent to Liz when I was in Pennsylvania in May, another of the World’s Largest Boot (size 638 1/2 D) sent to Liz by Bob (or was it Jude) when we were down near Red Wing, Minnesota for a writing retreat earlier this year.


Fridge Topography - 259/365

Fridge Typography, September 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


What does your fridge look like? Is the outside uncluttered and sparse? If so, open the door. What food do you have inside your refrigerator? Is it all fresh and ready to eat? Or are there a few rotten items to be tossed. What about the freezer? Do you have old-style vintage refrigerator coils (remember what it used to be like to defrost condenser coils)? Or is yours state of the art, energy efficient, humming along quietly in the night.




Fifteen minutes should do it. Or if you’re on a roll, go for 20. Get out your fast writing pens and Writing Practice notebook. Jot down My Refrigerator, and Go!




-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, September 19th, 2010

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Scar Geography, Burn Scar From An Art Project, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Scars may be an odd topic, I know. But scars, random warrior marks across body (and mind), remind us that we’ve lived a full life. A nick, a cut, a slice. I remember when I was a young girl, my mother sliced her finger open while peeling potatoes; the wound took several stitches and weeks to heal. And when I was about six, my young brother fell off his tricycle while standing on the seat, reaching for a pickle jar resting on the brick window ledge of our carport. There was blood everywhere; it scared me to death.

Scars have a long memory. They follow some kind of trauma in a life. Here is a little scar geography from the years that I have lived:

 

#1 — Index finger in the crease above the knuckle. I was sharpening dental tools in the late 70’s, when a blade caught on a grinding wheel and popped up into the air. I watched in slow motion; gravity took its course and the steel tip landed in my finger. (Occupational hazard of the dental tool sharpener.)  — Montana

#2 — Middle finger, second crease above the knuckle. While performing the perfect high dive at a pool party (showing off for my high school friends) I didn’t realize how shallow the deep end was. Bam! scraped my knuckles on the bottom and came up bleeding. Not cool. — Pennsylvania

#3 — Inside wrist, right side, a burn scar shaped like a lop-sided heart. I was helping an art school friend paint scalding hot bees wax on her senior project, a huge sculpture made of all natural materials. She’d heat up the dark brown bees wax in an old electric skillet her grandmother gave her and slather it across branches of wood. Memories of art school. — Minnesota

#4 — Inside of left calf – a light burn scar shaped like the edge of the tailpipe I brushed against when stepping off the saddle of my uncle’s Honda. I was about 13 and asked if he’d take me on a ride across Pennsylvania back roads around East Berlin. He forgot to tell me the first rule of the road about motorcycles – always step off the side without the 500-degree tailpipe. (Ironically, it’s the same day I fell in love with motorcycle riding.) — Pennsylvania



Do you have scars on your body, the kind of unexpected life happenings that leave a little mark? Or maybe you’ve had surgery under the knife (before the laser) and have a long zipper down your abdomen or across your right knee. My brother has had two liver transplants and I am awestruck by what he has endured, evidenced by the long scars down his chest. He recently became a candidate for a third transplant, and the last time I was home, he joked that he was going to tattoo a dotted line down his chest – – – – Cut Here.

Scars can also be psychological and emotional. Childhood trauma, abuse, post traumatic stress, or scars associated with cultural rites of passage. Stressful life events become markers, cairns on the journey. Scars provide a rich vein of material to be excavated. In your next Writing Practice, follow the scars across your body. They contain deep memories and feelings, a topographical map through the past.

Scars — 10 minutes, Go!

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