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Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

View from Marylin’s, Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was a month ago to the hour when my mother-in-law died. Liz was on her way back from a business trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma when her sister called. I was sitting by Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota about to eat my lunch when the phone rang. The Dallas airport echoed in the background; Liz’s voice was brisk but heavy. “Mom just passed away,” she said. “She went peacefully.”

Marylin had requested a bath the night before. Tracy, Liz’s sister and her mother’s caregiver, had gotten up, given her mother a bath, and was combing her hair when she stopped breathing. I could picture this because when Liz and I were in Cody, Wyoming in May, Liz brushed Marylin’s hair as she sat in her favorite chair by the window with a clear view of the bird feeders. When Liz was finished, Marylin gently closed her eyes, smiled, and seemed in total peace after a night of tumultuous dreams.

I miss my my mother-in-law; grief takes many forms. Marylin was like a second mother to me. She championed my writing like my own mother, Amelia, who supported my creative life even when it twisted, turned, and spiraled up and down. Marylin and Amelia never met, but felt a love and kinship to each other. They were there for Liz and I through courtship, dating, and marriage. They saw only our love for each other and the compatibility of our lives together; there was never any doubt. I will always be grateful for that.

A few weeks ago, Liz and I watched the documentary on writer Joan Didion, “The Center Will Not Hold” by her nephew Griffin Dunne. When the film ended we sat in silence and wept. Dunne uses intimate archival footage, photographs and on-camera interviews to document the span of Joan Didion’s life. Having lost her husband and daughter within the span of two years, Joan knows grief; it gnaws at her bones.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.

-Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

After Liz called on September 5th, 2019, I could not finish my lunch. I sat in a Chevrolet Silverado staring at the lake, wondering at the breadth of Marylin’s spirit as it lifted skyward. The day was cloudy, the wind erratic and scattered. Summer was letting go.



Summer’s End, September 5th, 2019, iPhone Video, Rain Garden, Lake Como, St. Paul, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Rest In Peace, Marylin. I miss the way you smiled and called me your daughter-in-love. I miss the depth of our conversations around writing, haiku, and politics. I miss the way you held Liz and me in your heart in a bubble of love. I miss your love of theater, your writing and your contributions to redRavine. I miss your optimism and the way you gave back to your community and the world around you. I know you are with your father, maybe running by the Pacific Ocean with Queenie, wild and free. I am a better person for having known and loved you. We will meet again.

-written October 5th, 2019 between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. CST. Everything is in Divine and perfect order right now.

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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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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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Cutting The Cake, Amelia's hands cutting the cake, the day she turns 70, Central Pennsylvania, photo by QuoinMonkey, November 2007, all rights reserved.

Cutting The Cake, Amelia’s hands cutting the cake on the day she turned 70, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I’m sitting in Amelia’s kitchen. The smell of homemade chicken and dumplings spins across the room. My brother and sister-in-law stopped over for breakfast. Amelia made Canadian bacon, grits with butter, crumbled bacon and sharp cheese bits, scrambled eggs, scratch biscuits, orange juice, and French Roast.

My sister-in-law had us in stitches over a story about a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We were cracking up over our second cup of coffee, and it reminded me of all the rambunctious activity, laughter, and fun that’s taken place in this kitchen. Mom has lived here over 40 years. I find it comforting that she has the same Ma Bell wall phone with same old-fashioned  “ring” and the same 20 foot coil of cord that extends all the way across the kitchen so she can chat while she cooks.

In this fast-paced world, it’s nice to be able to go home.  And for home to still be there. Home and hearth were so closely connected in Mom’s generation. And many generations before her. These days a family is lucky if even one parent can stay at home, much less the whole family sitting down to a home cooked, family meal around the kitchen table at the end of a long day.


Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    Balloons On The 70th, Mom's Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Mom turned 70 last Saturday. She’s seen a lot of change. The week before, my brother called with an idea to fly me home. My five siblings chipped in to buy a ticket from Minnesota to Pennsylvania so that I could surprise her. Everything went like clock-work, from pre-Holiday ticket prices, to flights, to coordinating busy schedules. It was meant to be.

It was so hard to stay at my brother’s for two days without calling Mom and spoiling the surprise! The first surprise was the party with my 4 brothers, 1 sister, and all of the extended family. I didn’t get to see this part, when she walked in with a huge smile on her face (I was hiding out in an appliance box!). She hugged everyone, my sister placed the tiara on her head, and she sat down to open presents. When my sister gave the verbal cue, “It’s too bad QuoinMonkey can’t be here.” Out I popped, arms spread, singing Happy Birthday off-key from a wrapped, bowed and ballooned, dishwasher box where I had been hiding the last 20 minutes.

Who's Inside The Box?, Mom's 70th Birthday, Central Pennsylvania, November 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey's nephew. All rights reserved. Mom burst into tears. I was soon to follow. I’d never seen her so surprised! (She’s very intuitive and we were rarely ever able to keep any secrets from her when we were growing up.) We exchanged a long hug. The whole family poured into the kitchen, and dove into all the homemade Southern food. There was banana pudding, pork barbecue, beef barbecue, hushpuppies, biscuits and sausage gravy, black-eyed peas and rice, sweet tea, lemon meringue pie, and a glorious birthday cake. (Hey, all family, please chime in in the Comments if I’m forgetting anything!)

Home and hearth. What matters to you? Each time I come back home, the grandkids, nieces, and nephews are taller, the parents and siblings are older. Health fluctuates, situations challenge and change. Home connects me to the past, and forges the future. It’s as if everything I ever did tumbles through a parallel universe. It’s good to spend time with my family.

Happy Birthday, Mom.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

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Boo!, All Hallow's Eve one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Boo!,  All Hallow’s Eve by the fire, one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2006, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




 

North

pumpkin-faced Milk Duds
Willy Wonka candy corn
12 tricks for a treat?


South

Dead flash toothless smiles
2 Grandmothers walk the earth
Spirits dance on fire


East

gloved hands wipe chafed lips
crooked teeth eat twisted stems
shadows swim through oaks


West

hollow frosted rose
Hunter’s Moon drops the sky
veils the Evening Star





-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – HAUNTED, The Great Pumpkin Catapult

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The Great Pumpkin Catapult, Grantsburg, Wisconsin, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Great Pumpkin Catapult, The Lee Roberts Farm, Grantsburg, Wisconsin, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Yesterday Liz and I traveled out to Siren, Wisconsin with friends to check out Verne Peterson’s lifelong rock and mineral collection. It was a beautiful Fall day and the almost two hour drive flew by like a breeze. Founded in 1895, Siren used to be Syren, the Swedish word for lilac. But the Postal Department later changed it to Siren.

It took us several hours of talking rocks with Verne and perusing his vast collection before the four of us decided on the day’s catch. I ended up with a Zen piece of black and white Calcite from Busse, Iowa and a piece of Kona Dolomite so heavy I can’t lift it with one hand. When we left, the trunk was two boxes deep in rocks and minerals.

Great Pumpkin Counterweight, Grantsburg, Wisconsin, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. On the way home, Liz spotted The Great Pumpkin Catapult along Highway 70 near Grantsburg and the four of us stopped to check it out. For $5 you could take your shot at hitting the barrel castle in the distance with a medieval sling designed by farmer, Lee Roberts.

Lee hopped on to his rusty tractor while his son, Duane, and middle school grandson hooked up a chain to hoist the pumpkin counterweight, an old backhoe bucket full of rocks.


When the catapult was set, I braced to pull the string while my friends chanted and cheered:  P-U-MP-K-I-N, P-U-MP-K-I-N, complete with hand gestures and acrobatic bends. All at once, I yanked the white string, everyone held their breath, and the great pumpkin went flying out of the cloth sling and landed about 19 feet away from the castle, a solid miss!

8 Bundles Make A Shock, Grantsburg, Wisconsin,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  It was great fun. And as we were carefully choosing and buying our Halloween pumpkins at the end, Liz kept saying how Letterman should cover Lee’s Great Pumpkin Catapult on Halloween.

I can see it now, live remote from Grantsburg, Wisconsin. With the P-U-MP-K-I-N cheerleaders dancing in the wings.


Note:  the battery died on my camera about this time (after taking over 100 photos at Verne’s), so I took these 3 photographs with Liz’s Canon. Liz took more photos and detail shots of The Great Pumpkin Catapult, along with a few of Lee and Duane. If she ends up posting them on her Flickr account, I’ll add the link.

Have a great Halloween!


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 14th, 2007

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 Edges, Thursday, June 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Edges, labyrinth in Martinez, Georgia, June 7th, 2007, all photos © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was 96 degrees at 5pm. Mom and I did a quick geocache in Martinez, Georgia, right off of Columbia Road and Buckboard Drive. Geobrother, who has logged more than 1000 caches, gave us a few tips. I have barely learned to use a GPSr. Mostly I depend on Liz who easily navigates geocache land with stealth and grace.

When we got to the cache site, Church of Our Savior stood in the middle of a drive around circle. Cars were parked on theLabyrinth, center detail, Martinez, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. grass, edging their front bumpers up to the hedge. We spotted a cool resting place next to the path and grabbed a pen, handwritten directions, GPSr, and Canon gear. When we turned the corner past the hedge, there it was, a beautiful brick paved labyrinth. Mom knew it was there because she had been talking to my brother earlier. But I had not been clued in. I was gleefully surprised.

I told Mom about walking the labyrinth at Carondelet as part of my practice during the writing Intensive last year. The pattern at Church of Our Savior drew a familiar map – a medieval replica of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral. I couldn’t have been happier. Mom immediately spotted the high resting cache, Inward Peace, from the edge of the labyrinth. Liz will be ecstatic. It’s our first cache in Georgia.

Geobrother’s map of found caches goes all the way up and down the East Coast. Liz’s goes from East to West – Maryland all the way out to Wyoming. And now we can add Georgia. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll grab a cache in South Carolina before we leave for the far north on Saturday.

Oleander, Augusta, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.For those who love labyrinths, there is a great tool out there called World-Wide Labyrinth Locator. You can type in a zip code, city, country, or state and up pops a list of addresses and descriptions of labyrinths in the area. Some have photographs and there are details of the architect and model, and whether the labyrinth is grass, brick, dirt, concrete, painted, mowed, or buffed.

We didn’t have a chance to walk the whole labyrinth this afternoon. Though I did take a few photographs of Mom winding toward center. The brick red against summer green created high-contrast beauty. The surrounding inner path was lined in oleander. Only the evergreen leaves were present but I was taken by their shape and beauty. Oleanders are also poisonous and loaded with myth and history. My mother knows all the plants down here, most which bloom in stunning and fragrant color. I have spent much of the trip asking her detail names of plants and trees.

Magnolias, miniature gardenias , crepe myrtle, mimosa, yucca, and lantana to attract the butterflies and bees, are only a Lantana, Augusta, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.few. We saw a brilliant lantana yesterday when we stopped to see a home that had been in my family. The same woman Mom met last year when she brought my youngest brother down was standing outside the house, tending her plants.

“Remember me,” Mom laughed. And the woman said, “Yes, sure I do,” as she walked toward the car for a chat. She said she used to visit her own grandmother in the same house.

I asked her if I could take a photograph and she graciously agreed. When I stepped behind the chain-link fence, the squat, bushy lantana was to the left, covered in dipping butterflies and darting, fat bees. And that’s when my step-dad and mom piped up about the nickname, Ham and Eggs. I kept being amazed at their knowledge of the plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers surrounding them. It reminded me of what Natalie said about knowing the trees in her neighborhood, about paying attention to the details of our environment. It’s important to know what surrounds us in earth, sky, and water.

I felt glad my parents were in tune with the history of the land around them. And I knew they had passed that down to me. I felt joy at spending that kind of time with them. As an adult, I have come to appreciate the unpredictable and solid makings of a family. For the hundreds of times in my youth when I wanted to run the other way, there are only moments left to discover what I might have missed.

Brick by Brick, labyrinth in Martinez, Georgia, June 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Brick by Brick, labyrinth in Martinez, Georgia, June 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Friday, June 8th, 2007

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From Beth Howard

May 30, 2007 

Dear Cindy,

        Yesterday, I read in your on-line diary that you are leaving Crawford, Texas and going home to California. You wrote, “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement.” There is so much energy in politics and government that is not peaceful. Much of our democratic process seems to be fueled by the energy of war, but we do not call it that. We call it the “two-party system” and sometimes, “competition.”

        Later in your diary, you wrote, “I am going home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost.” Maybe now, you will have time to focus on cultivating the seeds of peace planted so firmly in your own tender heart. I hope that you will grow an oasis of peace within your family and community.

        I am deeply sorry for the death of your son, Casey, in Iraq. I cannot imagine your pain and deep sadness. Please, accept my condolences and also my deep sadness that insults were added to injury in your effort to honor your son’s life by working for peace. One day, I am terrified that I may follow in your footsteps, with the loss of one of my own sons in this war. It is the subject of all my worst daydreams and nightmares.

        My 21-year-old son, Peter, is a soldier in Iraq. Three weeks ago, the truck he was riding in was blown-up by a roadside bomb. Peter, the gunner, was thrown off the vehicle, when the five-ton truck was flipped on its side. He has a piece of shrapnel in his thigh, some bruises and abrasions, but otherwise, is okay. He was awarded a Purple Heart and after two weeks off, to recover from his injuries, he returned to his regular duty. Last week, he completed another mission, taking turns serving as the gunner and driver in the 113 degree heat. Peter’s tour of duty in Iraq was extended three months with the rest of the Army. I can hardly bear it, but how can I possibly complain, when so many sons, like yours, have died? As the mother of a living soldier, I am one of the “lucky” ones.

        This was a difficult Memorial Day, with the possibility of violent death before my eyes and too close for any comfort. I wore a small pin with two blue stars, signifying that I have two sons in military service. Peter’s twin brother, Andrew, is a Marine Security Guard, serving in Saudi Arabia.

        When my sons joined the military, I honored their choice to stand for the courage of their convictions. Their father and I had taught them for years to do just that. Their strength was an inspiration to me and I seized the opportunity of their enlistment to act and work for peace. I started with myself, my family and my community. In spite of the daily horrors of war, I can still find peace in those places and I continue to grow it from that fertile soil. I prefer to think of peace as one of those tenacious perennial plants, growing in the garden of my life. Year-to-year, it gradually spreads to take over everything. I have a very good, real-life example of this plant in the garden of my yard, which serves as a valuable reminder to me that peace, too, is hardy and persistent.

        Peace persists, even in Iraq. When my son, Peter, was home on leave in April, he showed us a slideshow of pictures from Iraq on this laptop. He had many pictures of children, running beside their convoy. He said they ask for food and water. Sometimes, he tosses them his sandwich.

        Last week, during an Instant Message conversation with Peter, I asked if I could send some granola bars for him to toss to the children. He replied, “If I remember, I grab muffins before the mission, because I can chuck a muffin pretty far.” I asked if I could send some muffins and he replied, “Mom, there is no short supply of muffins in Iraq.”

        We will seldom, if ever, read such stories in the press, so I hang on to this one, to remind myself that small acts of kindness are happening every day in Iraq. These acts are tiny seeds of peace being sown and I hope that they will grow, even in the intense heat of summer and of war.

        So now, at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I think of ways that I might “chuck a muffin” for peace. On Sunday night, I slept at my Unitarian Universalist Church with a homeless mother and daughter. The mother was exhausted after working two part-time jobs as a motel maid. I played basketball with the energetic eight-year-old girl and shared a few simple yoga stretches with them before bed. In this small way, I shared peace with one family in my town. Now that you are home, I hope that there will be many opportunities for you to cultivate peace in your own backyard.

        Years ago, unknowingly, you and I collaborated in the Mindfulness Bell, “A Journal of the Art of Mindful Living in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh,” (Issue 41 Winter 2005-2006). I wrote an article titled, “Peace Is Every Step” on the LA Peace Walk and the International Day of Mindfulness and Peace. Your article was, “I Have Arrived, I Am Home,” on walking with Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) in MacArthur Park on that day. Our articles appeared side-by-side.

        In that issue, Thay said, “There is much in the peace movement that is not peaceful.” You have learned this first-hand. Someone once asked Thay what could be done to bring peace to the situation in Iraq. He responded by saying that there are many wrong perceptions on both sides. We must begin, he said, by looking deeply at our own practice. To have peace in the world, we must first have peace within ourselves.

        Thich Nhat Hanh will be teaching across the U.S. again this year. There will be another Peace Walk in MacArthur Park on September 29th. His tour schedule is at: www.greenmountaincenter.org. If you see him, I know that Thay will chuck you a muffin. He bakes them daily in his peaceful heart and gives them all away.

Wishing you a peaceful heart,

Beth Howard



Going back to Iraq, photograph by Beth Howard 2007, all rights reserved
Going Back to Iraq, Photograph by Beth Howard, “I took the photo
because I knew it was how a lot of people saw Peter every day,”
© 2007, all rights reserved



About writing, Beth says: My regular writing practice includes writing letters and postcards. I got the idea from reading, Home Before Dark, Susan Cheever’s book about the life of her father, author John Cheever, who wrote 30–40 letters a week in addition to short stories for The New Yorker magazine. My volume of letter writing is considerably more modest. 

My friends at this site first suggested that I might write a letter for red Ravine…but, a letter to whom, I wondered? I was committed to the topic of “war & peace” and when I read Cindy Sheehan’s letter of resignation on-line, I knew I would write to her. The best gift of a letter writing practice is that you sometimes get a letter back.

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By mimbresman


Little place: (physical, the bike, the trailer, the country)
Big place: (culture, family, etc.; my head)

Everything has its place: food, water, extra clothes. It is Christmas Day 1997, and I am packing my bike for a 5-day bicycle tour in the backcountry of Big Bend National Park. The weather is cold for Big Bend, near freezing. The sky is overcast.

The previous night I have a great Christmas Eve dinner with Mike, his partner Jim, Jim’s wife, and Mike’s full-time RVer parents. All of us were crammed into a 5th wheel travel trailer. It was tight quarters, but it was the best meal I enjoyed that whole year.

What am I doing in Big Bend? I am escaping. I am running away from the cold weather of the Navajo Indian Reservation, I am running away from my immediate family. I am running away from my father’s death. I am running away from my own failure. I decided I’ve had enough! Enough moping and depression! Enough weirdness! It is time to get on with my life and I have decided to start it by doing my favorite thing at my favorite place.

To get to Big Bend, takes commitment. It is remote and isolated, some 8 hours southeast of El Paso, TX. Big Bend is named for the northward bend the Rio Grande takes on its journey south and east to the Gulf of Mexico. Within the park are the Chisos Mountains, the southernmost mountain range in the U.S. It is big country in the heart of the Chihuahuan desert. It is a spectacular contrast: green mountains, brown desert. It is a place where I find peace.

Zoom ahead to Day 2:
So much for escaping the weather…On the second day of my trip, I am dealing with snow flurries. I have every bit of clothing on that I packed. The desert is beautiful with the blowing snow.

At camp 2, I unload my bike, do a quick hike to Ernst’s Tinaja, return to my camp to get my bike and ride 10 unloaded miles down the Jeep road to the hot springs. I push my bike along the trail until I get to the edge of the hot spring pool. I am alone. I strip naked in the blowing snow and hop into the steaming water. The Rio Grande rushes past the wall that contains the hot water. Mexico is just a stone’s throw away, and I have the whole place to myself!

I am healing.


About this practice, mimbresman says: It’s about coming to terms with two big life changes. First, my dad’s death. My dad and I were close. He was a pharmacist and owned the local drugstore in our small town of Silver City, NM. Family time was important. He worked 7a to 7p most days. The store had a soda fountain, so as a family we spent a lot of time at the drugstore. Then he expected us to be home and ready for dinner when he got home around 7:30. He wanted to sit with the family and listen to what happened in our lives that day. On his few days off, he liked to explore the area around Silver City. I guess that’s where I got my appreciation of nature and of the natural history of where I was living.

The other loss in my life was the closure of my business. In 1993, after eight years of teaching, I had started a mountain bike clothing company called Mimbres Man. There was no such thing as mountain bike clothing then. Mimbres Man was a pioneer company and received positive press as being original. But unfortunately, I was not a great businessman and Mimbres Man folded in 1997.

As it often does, my mountain bike pulled me through. I’ve enjoyed bicycling since I was seven years old. I tried motorcycling but found them too noisy and felt like I was cheating. Bicycles are quiet and have been a great way of exploring, traveling, and getting out in nature around the Gila and beyond. I’ve been to amazing places because of mountain bikes.

I eventually went back to teaching, and I’m glad I did. Teaching is my main creative outlet, plus teaching brought me to Venezuela and my wife Tania. She is funny, and I enjoy being with her. (I read her my practice, btw.) We are so different yet we are connected. We sometimes don’t even need to speak to each other because we are thinking the same thing. Two cultures, two languages, two skin colors, but one love. Corny but true.


-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – A PLACE TO STAND

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By dzvayehi


I didn’t have to even think about this. My favorite shoes are my fuchsia high tops, which I bought at Ross’s a few months ago. In fact, it already makes me sad to know that some day these shoes will be a thing of the past, the red suede is already getting worn out and faded in places, especially around the toes. That’s because I wear them all the time, even in the rain and snow and mud. And then there was the time I picked up a bottle of lotion in Big Lots and the top fell off and the stuff spilled all over the left shoe. I was so upset I ran to the bathroom to try and blot the stuff off with scratchy paper towels. I’d only had them two weeks, and it felt kind of like that first accident in your brand new car. I even stopped to talk to the cashier, threatening to sue the store if the stain didn’t go away when they were dry. I remember how she leaned over the counter with a puzzled look on her face, looking at my fuchsia high tops.

But I want to tell you more about why I love them. First of all, they’re that bright playful color, and the day I saw them, they screamed at me, “here! We’re over here!” and I put them in the little top part of the shopping cart and wheeled all over the store with them. I kept looking over my shoulder too, certain that someone else would probably covet them and that I had snatched the last pair. But then I saw another pair, and had a moment of doubt. Maybe they weren’t so special after all I began to think. But then I looked at them again fondly and just knew I had to have them, especially since they were just 10 bucks. Then there’s the arches too, soft and cushy and lots of support. And the way they fasten – laces on the bottom, and two velcro straps running across the tops. The really good part about this is that I can slip them on and off without unlacing them and I don’t have to smash down the heels.

Which brings to mind mules. I was over fifty before I discovered mules – those dorky looking sneakers that have no heels. But come to think of it, I guess they are not heels are they? What I mean is the back part of the shoe that rides up over the heel. High Heel Sneakers, I think that’s my favorite shoe song. But why hasn’t anyone written a song about platform sneakers? You know the kind I mean – the ones that have a two or three inch platform running the entire length of the shoe. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a pair of high heel sneakers – do such things exist? But what I really want to know, is what do you call that back part of the shoe, if it isn’t the heel. And now I’m thinking of all the opportunities I had to ask this question in fancy shoe stores I used to shop at and in dry cleaning places that do shoe repair. But I never asked, never even thought to ask, assuming as I did then that I knew all there was to know about shoes.

I guess I’ve always liked colorful shoes, bright things on my feet that make me feel like dancing though I haven’t danced in many years, and don’t really like to dance except with my dogs. Just last summer I bought a pair of cyan platform thongs. They made me about three inches taller (this is important) and were such an electric shade of turquoise that I felt neon when I wore them, not to mention, tall. I think I picked those up at TJ Maxx for $2. But just when they were starting to get comfortable, I left them in the living room one day and when I got home, found that one of the dogs had chewed the heel on the right one. He took off about a half inch or so, and when I wore them to the grocery store that night I found I was limping.

But my favorite shoes of all times were the deep purple/royal blue/wine red two-inch heels I spent $75 on in 1989. I’d never spent that much money on shoes before, but these had me hypnotized, and they were that soft creamy leather that you love to touch. I used to take them any time I traveled, in case I had to get dressed up for something, and for some reason I even took them home with me when my mother died. It was the middle of February, light slushy snow on the ground in the cemetary, and I left them in the closet that day. Following the service, our house would be filled with visitors, and my brother had locked all of his dogs, including his new puppy, in my bedroom to keep them from messing up the house.

When we got back from the graveyard I went down the hall and to my room to change into the black kaftan I wore each day of shiva that week. And as I went to the closet to find a pair of slippers to replace my wet boots, I saw the damage. Just one shoe, the heel mangled to where the white plastic showed through, like the shiny bone of a piece of raw chicken. The other shoe was perfectly intact, and I felt like everything, my mother, my shoes, my life, was slipping through my hands. And I felt stupid and guilty too, for grieving over a pair of shoes. The puppy wriggled at my feet and wagged her tail but I was still pissed. I took the chewed up shoe to three shoe repair places, but each man shook his head sadly, like he was giving a prognosis for terminal cancer, “nothing to be done,” they said. I think that might have been the last time I spent more than $40 on a pair of shoes.



LittleRedShoes

Fuchsia High Tops, photo © 2008 by dzvayehi. All rights reserved.



About writing, Diane says:  They say we create our own realities. What scares me most about writing is I see myself creating my own past. I have been working on a memoir on and off for about six years now, more off than on. It began when I told my brother, as he was dying, that I would publish his paintings and poetry. It seemed so simple a thing to do at the time. But then, when I began to think seriously about it, I felt that I would also have to write something about who he was. And so I began my writing journey, taking workshops and joining writers’ groups, telling people I was working on a memoir about my brother.

Then people began asking if I was writing about my brother or myself, and soon, I began to ask myself the same question. I also began to realize that as much as we may love someone and think we know them, they are still an unfathomable mystery in the end. And with each step further down that path, I found there was a story in me that wanted telling too.

The more I write the less certain I am about what I remember, and sometimes I am left wondering who was living those lives I thought I had witnessed. I’ve taken workshops that talk about theme and character development and story arc and plot, and I have looked for these elements in my story and am still looking. As my own story unfolds, through writing and therapy, I am often surprised and humbled by what I learn. Most of all, I am grateful for the actual gift my brother gave me – the path of writing. Even if I never complete either story, or never publish, writing has brought so much into my life, especially the other writers I have met, in workshops, groups, and in books.


-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKIN’

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