Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Last Day of Christmas

So, there's a lunacy, a luxury about.

I was combing Obi's luxurious coat, trying to pry out some mats.  He was through with it before I was.  So he grabbed the metal comb in his little paws, and then sat on the comb so I couldn't get to  it.  He took it away from me and hid it.  There's always more to animals than you think.

So church stuff.  I made cookies for different groups of people, and took them to the early service this week.  Lilly came and sat with me, and saw the bag and the small bags within that were filled with Christmas cookies.  Lilly and her sister Lea are two kids who have come with challenges, and it's plain hard work for them just to  grow up.  Lea is a creative genius, and Lilly is a endlessly curious, high energy kid.  They've adopted our buddy Tim as their God-father, and Tim adopted them right back. Lilly was looking for Tim.  When she saw the cookies, she asked me if there were any cookies in there for Lea and her.  She asked with that tiny whisper that kids use when they are entirely unsure.  I pulled out a bag and a card, with their grandma's and their names' on it.  Lilly carefully read the card, gave me a Christmas hug, and then quick, like a bunny, was off to share the bag with her family.  Grandma said her face was covered in joy, that someone had remembered them at Christmas.

You just never know what small acts of kindness might be important.

I was at the Christmas eve service and was trying to help with some necessary tasks.  (I don't know how helpful I was; I spilled coffee all over the computer and a whole stack of bulletins.)  Anyways, I was talking to the task leader, Kelly, a young mom with two little kids and a brilliant husband, whom we are very fond of.  Kelly was decked in a slinky black dress with some amount of cleavage, bright red lipstick, and beautifully done hair.  I told her how pretty and how saucy she looked.  She gave me a big wink and whispered,  "That's what I was going for.  The sexy elf look."

So, the Christmas eve service, the early shift, the 2:00 p.m. the first of seven services.  It's always a beautiful service, with our liveliest singers, everybody dressed in red, somewhere, somehow. About 200 people.  Toward the end of the service, when the lights go down and the candles are lit, in comes the Holy Family.  I don't notice them until they are past me.  To my great surprise, Baby Jesus is a real baby.  An even bigger surprise, who the child was, and who the parents are.  Three or four years ago, I made friends with two high school girls.  One of those kids is in college, with sterling grades.  The other girl fell in love, was inseparable from her young boyfriend.  As you  might predict, there was an early pregnancy,  and this is the mom, the boyfriend, and the baby.  They might have married, or they might have not.  They are still really young.  But those two young people are devoted parents, very clear about what they know, and what they don't.  They both are extremely attentive, proud parents, and the child is flourishing, clearly in love with both mom and dad.  After the service, another young mom is looking for help, although this one is married, with some money, a gorgeous young woman.  She says she is part of the Holy Family for the next service.  She and her husband have adopted a baby.  There is a chance that the child is of a different race than the parents.  It seemed to me that when we talked, she was expecting a foreign child.  

Every family is a Holy Family, no matter; and every child is to be  loved, adored, protected.

A little Christmas Christmas. I am a fine cookie cooker, and I was passing out bags of cookies for sharing. I had a bag for Cousin Julie, so she could offer cookies to her guests. I slipped her bag of cookies between us on the seats. And then they flat-out disappeared from planet Earth. Gone. If I hadn't shown them to Julie minutes before, I would have thought I was losing my mind. People behind us looked. No cookies. That was exceedingly odd. Then Julie cracked the case: One of our homeless men that Julie recognized had been sitting in the seat behind us. He vanished, along with the cookies. The cookies probably slipped out between the seats, the chairs are constructed so that could easily happen,  and literally landed on his feet. Can you imagine what that was like? Being so danged hungry and cold you can't see straight and then having Christmas cookies fall on your feet? At church? 

That pretty much seems like a Christmas miracle.

And my family.  My beauteous niece and nephew  are home for now, brilliant kids both.  Grandma Rita and Cousin Julie are cancer survivors.  Julie had another scare this fall (that turned out fine) and Grandma Rita completed her treatments a few months ago.  Steve and Maggie, my brother and sister-in-law, have a beautiful home, and the smells of the season are perfuming the house.  It is the Christmas that everybody wants:  a family that gets along, that actually likes each other; presents that are worthy but not over-done,  a big beautiful tree, kids you are proud of, kids who are kind, hard-working, and gorgeous.  It's an easy, companionable evening, sweet and deeply loving, grateful and warm.  

And that is entirely enough.   

Blessings, Everyone.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Third Day of Christmas

     Presents come to you in different forms.  Already Christmas has been packed with such abundance, you can't imagine.

Wildlife.  In our pretty little city, we're just on the cusp of the mountains to the east and the north, and the dessert to the south and the West.  So wildlife come calling fairly frequently.  Three deer came through our V.A. hospital grounds and wound up on a downtown street.  Three teen-aged boys were trying to herd deer in downtown traffic with shouts of real joy and purpose.  You should have seen their glowing faces as they got the deer to safety.                                                                                                                                

Next up, geese.  Honking, hissing, pooping geese come to our town in early winter.  We're a stopping off point on their migration routes between the Arctic and Mexico.  Every wide expanse of grass, like a baseball diamond, has hundreds if not thousands of the birds.  I really love them when they land, coming in on those low, slow spirals.  They are a presence.  For sure.

Next, a little golden fox sprinted across my front yard when I got home.  Now I know what it means to high-tail it. They are  endearing as they sit for awhile and watch me walk across their landscape.  Love those little guys too.

So Christmas pageants. This is the big, city-wide Christmas celebration that our church presents for the community.  They hosts about a thousand people for each service, and there are three services.  Grand events, each one of them.  The church is awash in candle light, and every choir  sings a song, even the 3- and 4-year-olds.  Their scrubbed-until-they-are-gleaming little faces are enough for tears, and it's so fun to watch the proud, and a little bit watchful, parents.  Such a rite of passage.
Paul, our own personal music man, writes, directs, and publishes beautiful, powerful pieces for large choirs  and small orchestras—just the right number of people for our smallish choir space and altar.  Paul's music is majestic, beautiful, full of passion and grace.  It truly does take the heart and refuses to give it back.  He's been rough on batons, lately, and broke another one because it got caught in the  collar  of his tux—while he was wearing it.

Then on Sunday  morning I got to talk to Mary and her parents.  Mary is my nephew Scott's girlfriend, and we love her already.  She is such a solid citizen, such a love, such a way-smart student.  It's too soon and they are young just yet.  But I'm hoping for a long lasting, brilliant relationship.

And literary Christmas parties.  Two friends of mine, Rita and Judy, published significant books in the same month: The Blue Doorknob and The Angel of Esperanca. Both are books that have been decades in the making.  Both women have had life-altering health and family issues that lasted years, so the writing came and went, and then came again.  Rita was off to a signing at a local book shop, and Judy came to read to us.  It was at Sue's lovely house on the river, and we have just enough snow to claim winter.  The whole house was adorned with Christmas, coming in heavy on the scents of carrot and sweet potato stew with a little curry and ginger, a roasted winter vegg salad, breads with a lovely crust, and my own little oat and cranberry cookies, which were so delicate and light.  All of that and a little champagne to toast these two magnificent writers.

Then there was Julie, whom you may know had a big  bout with cancer.  She'd had a questionable blood test a while back.  Turned out there was an itty-bitty cancer, which could be taken care of with an uptake in meds. It's not going to upset  Julie's life in any way.  Scared us into next year, those things do.  She's OK.

My job this week was to take a couple of Christmas boxes to Inga.  Inga is a shut-in, her family is in another town.  Our church sent out nearly 250 (about $70 each)  of those boxes to people who need them.  I kept hauling in stuff, hauling in stuff, hauling in stuff.  Inga, who lives on her social security check, was stunned.  "This will feed me for three months," she said.  "I love all of it."

If that was not enough, my church family took me out for dinner to celebrate my 66th birthday.   And my family family did the same thing, only we celebrated at home. Both kids were home.  Just the best.

Beautiful, beautiful, a thousand times beautiful.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Creaky, Squeaky Cold

                      So, we lost the photo credits for this photo.  If you let me know who took it, I'll give credit where credit is due.  This is my town.

Two or three times a winter, we get inversions.  That's where the cold air from Canada and Alaska swoops down from the North, settles into our protected little valleys, sending the warmer air aloft, where it does us no dang good.

Aiyiyi, we're laughing today because people in  LA are bemoaning their 40-degree winters.  It's not particularly happy laughter.  We're high into judgement here.   I went to church on Sunday in minus 7 degree weather.  My car never did warm up.  Every bump in the road caused creaks and groans.  That was me.  The car was worse.

We are hunkered down, little nips of something or other in the hot chocolate, little nips of something else in the apple cider.  It can be a season of joy and warmth, if you work it right.  A fireplace.  A good chili.  Homemade bread.  Family and friends to share it with.  A book you can't get out of.  Some old movies that make you laugh out loud.  The Awful Truth.  Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Little Miss Sunshine with Olive and her peppery grandpa.

So, here is my chili recipe.  Best served on a cold, cold day.

An onion, chopped up into smallish pieces.
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced

Cook those down in a little  bit of olive oil, until they are soft.

The add 11/2 pounds of meat.  Can be hamburger, ground chuck, veal, pork, chicken.  Or all of that mixed  together.  Let the meat brown in the onion and garlic mixture.  Season with Salt and Pepper.

Add 1-3 cans of beans.  Your preference: red beans, black beans,  white beans.  The more people you are feeding, the more beans you'll need.  Add 2 cans of beef broth and 2 cans of tomato. . . somethings: sauce, diced, mashed. Whatever you like.  Start with a can each of the tomato and broth.  See if that's enough.  Add more if you need it.

Then begin layering  in some veggies:  a red pepper, 1 - 3 fiery peppers—taste as you go, a green pepper or two, roast those in the oven until the skins are blacked, take the skins off, add a can or two of corn, some sliced zuchini, maybe some mushrooms.  Add a tablespoon of cumin and then another of oregano, 1-4 tablespoons of ground California chili, some paprika, about a teaspoon.

Let it all settle in the pot for the afternoon.  When you ladle the chili into pottery bowls,  top it off with pine nuts, some chopped cilantro, some avocado diced, and a rich shredded cheddar.   An icy full-bodied beer goes ever so well with the chili.

See, it's not so bad.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Second Day of Christmas

Last night, at church, we had a roast beef dinner and Christmas-Advent party for the kids.  The room was lined with Christmas trees, lighted and sweet as a peppermint.  After Christmas last year, our leaders asked that if anybody had an artificial tree they wanted to download if they would bring it to church.  Lots of people did that and some of the trees were large enough it took two people to carry them.

So now there are Christmas trees in every nook of the church.  There must be twenty in the worship center, alone, brilliant in a glow of little white lights.  So charming.  It was fun to see the little kids interacting with their parents while they were decorating Christmas cookies, singing at a bonfire—in 17-degree weather, and making beautiful advent calendars.  Some kids were pretty slap-dash about the task; others were the sheerest artists.  

Our maintenance guys are going to be scooping up glitter for  a month.

I talked to Bob for awhile.  He'd lost his wife in the last year and was facing down their first Christmas apart.  He and his children were doing something brilliant, traveling to Mexico, sans too many presents, creating new traditions, new celebrations.  He was hopeful, sturdy of spirit, infused with a little bit of grace.  I'm guessing that as rough as it might be, the whole blessed family will come through suffused with strength and light.  Exactly what a father should be doing, leading his children along long and difficult paths.

Then I got hugs from Charlie, one of the little boys I loved from Vacation Bible School.  We hadn't had a lot of time to talk for a while.  Charlie is driven by extraordinary energy levels. One of his blessings is being in a school well prepared for his kind of issues and that takes him seriously exactly as he is.  Charlie explained to me the math that is rolled up in square roots, that he loves math, and, I'm guessing here, very soon science, being about eight years old, a third grader.  He is the sweetest little guy, guided by ever so vigilant Mom and Dad.  They have two other kids, and they are both gifted children.  There are lots of parents here that are fully engaged with their children, teaching, revealing the big truths, being present and accounted for.

Life turns out to be really hard work for some people.

Christmas is getting more poignant by the second.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The First Day of Christmas

These days, Christmas comes all through December.  As soon as the last slice of pumpkin pie is licked clean, Christmas descends, full of fudge, and golden bells, carols, the sweetness that crosses each child's face.

When I was younger, Christmas was a day, a morning, a fete for immediate family.  Now it's expansive, gloriously fun,  deeply meaningful.  It's the month when the light comes back, the first full month of winter, and we focus on celebrations that hit the high notes for us.  For me.  That includes church with all the little kid's choirs and candlelight.  It's being together with friends, whose friendships go back 30 years.  It's family, community, wonderful things to eat, to cook.

If the American economy was based on my spending habits, we'd be a ship lost at sea.  Our family doesn't buy the big gifts for each other.  It's a book, a bracelet, a knitted scarf, wrapped in paper, tied with a pretty bow. It's being generous with the Food Bank and the Humane Society.  The simplest, sweetest things.

We went  to the first community celebration yesterday—a Christmas tree festival, sponsored by our local Catholic hospital.  Lots of the trees were done by designers.  The trends this year included putting 18-inch glittery balls deep inside the tree.  Really pretty.  The tree I could live with though, was a simple flocked tree with all kinds of birds peering out here and there.  Wonderful.

It's hosted in a very large convention center, and there were lots of little dancers, singers, and musicians who performed throughout the afternoon.  At one point there were a thousand people in the main ball room, all of them families with at least two children, some of them with four or five.  Young families.

My favorite kid was a little blond bombshell about four, who danced with such imagination and vigor. She was way off to the side and was half a beat behind all the other kids, but she was a dancer.  Music.  Big movements.  Even bigger joy.  Her hair so carefully fixed by her Mom, just bounced. So did she.

All those little kids had faces suffused with wonder.  Which, it turns out, is Christmas enough for me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Attitude Is Gratitude

I've been inundated with gratitude lately.  All kinds of folks are doing 30-gratitude journals on Facebook.  Our sermon series has been asking us to move from being grateful for the good things that drop in our laps to having a grand response to the goodness of life in everybody.  A tall order.  While I appreciate the encouragement, I just don't have it in me.

I  need to start lower and slower to get me past my slumpy grumps.

Here are the basics: 1.  Our ScottMan is home for Thanksgiving.  Our brilliant car guy is coming home from Texas.  We only get to see him a couple of times a year now, but I am plenty grateful for that.  2.  Our Miss Mackenzie is at a crux in her life, between school and career.  What a tough time that is.    She is our multi-talented artiste with too many interests to choose just one—in a state that is 49th in economic recovery.  We appreciate her and how tough this battle is.  3.  I appreciate that I have an extended family that still gets together for holidays, and Maggie is a great cook.  Not everybody gets that. 4.  Julie is doing well, going through six-year retests for her cancer.  Nervousing, which is why I'm a grump.  In spite of that, we are overwhelmingly grateful for her life and her generosity of spirit.   5.  I still can write, maybe even better than before.  Keeping up with brilliant young techies who are internet investigators and attorneys.  Now that pleases me.

So, doing a little better here.

Next up, the secondary, tertiary gratitudes:  1. I am so grateful for my church and the foundation it provides for my life.  I am quickly reaching my kitty, naps, and tea years,  and finding that there are few "rules" doesn't impinge my freedoms, but frames them.  2.  I am deeply grateful for my kitty, my champion snuggler.  3.  I am so grateful for my friendships, which feel more like family now, anyways.  4.  Things still interest me: books,  weather patterns, riotous ideas fueled by a sensibility of helping other folks, a really good belly laugh.  5.  What is important is very important, and what isn't. . . isn't.  I am increasingly abysmal at hiding the difference.

Deep sigh here.

And lastly, a couple of things that  hardly matter, except that they do:  1.  I'm so grateful that I can still make a really decent pie.  A succulence.  Fed fathers, uncles, and grand fathers, traveling physicians and their families, brothers, cousins, and three sterling friends, an officer and two professional drivers; nephews and nieces who adored them when they were little, little kids.  Comes in handy this time of the year.  And 2.  I catch onto skullduggery, outright lies, brouhahas, undeterred silliness, pufffery, idiocy, miswhacks. and dipsy-doodles ever so much faster.

Must mean I'm still learning.

So grateful for that.  Makes me smile.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kids I Grew Up With

A photo taken of my four-room elementary school, complete with a bell.  We had homemade rolls and fried chicken for lunches in the basement.

I missed my 50th reunion, but the people who attended had so much fun and rousted up such good memories that they decided to keep in touch.  I was invited to join in.  Said yes.  Pronto.

I'd lost touch with so many of those kids, even though we started first grade together and graduated, pretty much intact.  I think only Carmelo, our resident Basque kid, moved away.  It's tough to place the photos of people now with the children and teens I knew then.  Names changed too, particularly with the girls, through marriage.

Melba in the 1950s and 1960s was a mystical farming community, with fields in varying shades of green, well kept homes, neighbors and their children on farms that were a quarter mile away.  I was a dorky sort of kid, more interested in books than lipstick, although the boys were pretty darn cute.  All that bucking hay bales gave them wonderful shoulders and strong backs.  They were all nice, and a little shy.  There were 28 kids in my graduating class.

So it was with some surprise that a lot of us geezers and geezerettes wound up on Facebook.

We share a checked past, post-high school.  One of my best high school friends, Bob T, turned out to be a gay man and he died of AIDS.  His obituary focused on the truth, which I imagine, he held close and kept dear.  It wouldn't have made a whit of difference now, but then it did.

Two boys, Donnie and Bobby G, died in Vietnam, a thing our Harley guy, Perry, still grieves.

Eddy died in a car wreck not a week post-graduation.

Donna died of a brain tumor,  Another Barb, a year older, died of cancer.  Eileen and probably Billy K were suicides.  Janel,  Paula, and Joyce have the most children.  Larry, I think, made the most money, but his sister Nancy might be dead.  There are a few serial marriages, a few with their original marriages still intact,  a few divorces.  One of which was my old boyfriend, Bill, who is now living with a woman sans marriage in a far-away city.  I wonder if it isn't my fault.  I was such a mess, due to a death in the family, the last year we dated that it might have marked him for life.  Certainly, it marked me.  Carole is a splendid artist,  I'm a writer, Judy is a wonderful photographer, and Janel was the musician.  Still might be.  I still see posts where our Harley guy writes poetry about his post-Vietnam experiences.  We're all pretty arty for such ragamuffins.

David is a pastor, married to his high school sweetheart, and we just saw each other a couple of Sundays ago.  David reminded me, not too long ago, what was said at my mother's funeral.  She was the high school secretary and the unofficial school counselor, and people have told me, "Your mom saved me, more than once."  So.  Sweet, that.

Most of us are parents and grandparents, aunties and uncles, loving the children that trail behind us.  A few of us are still renegades and not just the boys.  Most of us are ardent conservatives and my brother and I might be the only liberals, but we'll keep that our little secret.  

It's quite wonderful, 50 years later, seeing those family names reappearing again.  It feels like a grounding and a returning.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Sideways Kind of Light

November.  Thanksgiving.

We're getting close to  winter as the sunlight gets weaker and and wobblier, it also gets slanty.

And that accounts for the changes in our perceptions.  For example, a merely yellow tree turns into solid gold, and the leaves into golden coins.  It's only at certain times of the day or just after a storm.  Perhaps it is merely in our imaginations.  But the autumn sun does something to our colors and what we expect of them.

We expect them to dazzle.  These roses I captured today on a walk.   They are rosier than they were a month ago, the reds sweeter and more seductive.   The maples now  orange and red transmogrify into a rich and succulent merlot.  The frosts shed all the leaves on an Aspen in one night.  And the dark browns move through the caramels and the bronzes into a deepening mahogany molasses. 

Then it's time for a long, sweet nap, before the first tulips find the February sun and hold it accountable. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

So, Church

The October sun, which is filtering through the golden leaves outside, streams in through the stained glass rose window, which means the morning started off, base line, as staggeringly beautiful.

Next, the high school kids sang "He Never Failed Me Now," a gospel, spiritual, jazz piece that had the whole congregation, on it's feet, clapping and shouting, which would not be the only time that happened this morning.

Tim.  Of Tim and Julie.  I'll never have a son, but if I could choose. . .  He has a profound heart, acts as a God-Father to two little girls who really, really need him.  Is the best husband to Julie.  Is a big goof, who has no idea that people just follow him around.  Like Louetta.  Like Larry.  Like Stephanie.

Stephanie's dad, and three other men,  sang the 23rd Psalm.  Grandly.

We were roiling in the old Methodist hymn, Come Thou Font of Every Blessing.  I told Tim I didn't know what an Ebenezer was, as in "Here I raise my Ebenezer."  "Scrooge,"  Tim replied.  "Sometimes you just have to play along."

Julie was on Tim's other side and we all stood to sing.  I was hoping that Tim didn't forget which side Julie was on and pat my bum by mistake.  So, I did it.  Tim is enough taller than me that when I put my arm around his back, his bum got a little pat.  Yow.

Sometimes, I swear, God gets a good laugh in church.

Sometimes you just have to play along.

Then Yve Evans sang to us.  She was in Sun Valley last week for the Jazz Festival.  She has a Doctorate in music.  And she had us on our feet too.  Our little too-quiet Methodist selves were having the time of our lives.  In the next service, she'll tell us that she was diagnosed with a terrible lymphoma, from the base of her throat to the top of her pelvis.  Full of as much cancer as you can imagine.  From one "tit to the other."  Her words.  She went from walking into the doctor's office to Intensive Care in the space of a couple of hours.

Now, she's cancer free.   Six years out. She had me crying like a month-old baby with that one.

Yve promised that she would be unfiltered tonight.  Pastor  Duane said he didn't realize that she wasn't already.

So, if you want to understand joy, you'll have to come and see a cancer-free jazz angel sing her heart out and tell a hundred jokes.  Then you'll sorta understand.

As far as I could see, only two old guys slept through it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

When A Great Kid Bites the Dust

Well, you sorta need to live in a football-crazed town to understand this.

It happens that I do.

We're not as rabid as Texas, but we're close.  I live within a half a mile of Boise State.  Between Boise State and my friend, Larry, I admit I've come to like college football games.  And those are more fun when you win.  Larry is an avid fan, one of those rare guys that understands the whole shebang.  He has a whole lotta 'splainin to do where I'm concerned.

I'm not a fan of those big blow-outs, and we've lived through some of those.  I'm a simple-minded fan, like high scoring games, games where everybody gets home with their dignity and their digits intact.  My idea of a contact sport is doubles ice dancing.  So I'm a prissy sort of whimpy sort of auntie, who'd rather make chocolate chip cookies, most of the time, and spoil the local kids rotten.

Our quarterback broke his ankle, fell on it, rolled over it, had it stomped on.  Don't know for sure.
What I did see was a student who was frantic and out-of-your mind frustrated with that event.  You know how horses get this wild-eyed, head-twisting, need to escape when those babies are terrified.  That was the look Joe had as he hopped, on canes, toward the locker room.

I felt so bad for him.  His senior year.  Any hopes of NFL play, dashed.  The big plans he had for this year.  Gone.   Stunning to lose all of that in a minute, and to have a completely uncharted future in the time it takes to snap your fingers.  Can you imagine the adrenaline coursing through that kid's veins at that moment?

Here's what I hope for Joe:  that he relishes the time he had as quarterback and realizes that he had a great gift that few kids get; the he buckles down with his studies and charts out a newer future, one that requires the grit and fire football required of him, maybe art, maybe quantum physics, maybe history; that he listens to his mom and dad, his friends, and maybe a girl friend who will reassure him that he is still loved and respected, grandly.

The new kid, Grant, stepped up and did a magnificent job.  He'll get the spotlight for awhile now.
Football has some really tough lessons attached to it.  Hope those kids remember that, at base, it's still a game.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

So this Story Is True

"Hey  Sophie!   What are you doing here?"

My friend Diane had stopped by to deliver some poetry stuff and was staying for tea.  I was fussing in the kitchen.  She was in the living room.

I don't  have a Sophie that lives with me.  I don't know a Sophie.

I walked around the corner, and Diane was talking to a curly-haired, black pooch, who seated, was still about chest-high.

"Well hi!"  I said and reached out and scratched Sophie's ears.  She was mightily glad to see some humans that liked her and wanted to pet her.

Sophie lived with Diane's next door neighbors and that was about a mile away, as the road goes, about half a mile as the crow flies.

Apparently,  Sophie had escaped, run down the hill, couldn't find her way back home.  She'd spotted Diane, whom she knew, followed her into my apartment building, then knew enough to search the open doors on a summer day, found my patio door open, walked in, and plopped her sweet self down until Diane spotted her.

I still shake my head.  How do dogs know what to do?

Diane called Sophie's human mom and she popped down the hill and picked up Soph.  Now there's a dog you want to know.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fall's Roasted Chicken

If you could only see fall, looking out my windows, you'd still think it was August.  The catalpas are still as green as can be, although the beans are long and droopy.  The birch looks as fresh as the first part of summer.

But the morning air is crisp  and you can smell that a change is coming.  Some of the nights are verging on the chilly.  Very few of the leaves have fallen so I expect them to fall in a whoosh.  Can't wait.

It's the time when you can revert to long, slow cooking.  My favorite kind.  Here's a roasted chicken  recipe that I yearn for.

Fall's Roasted Chicken

3  lbs of bird.   Or so,   A whole one.  (Martha says you shouldn't  wash or rinse them, that you spread the germs,  however,  I'm an old girl and I like to wash them off and pat them dry.  A ritual.  M is right on the money, though, about washing your hands after.)

Some softened butter or olive oil.  Rub that over the bird.  Put it into a roaster.

Add these veggies.

2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-4 inch chunks.
1-2 red onions, peeled and quartered
2-3  Sweet potatoes and/or yams,  not peeled, cut into chunk
2 red apples,  not peeled, but cored and cut into quarters,  put those flesh-side down in the pan
1/2 cabbage,  cut into 8ths

Put everything in the roaster.  Salt and pepper.  If you want a little more spice, add 1/2 tsp of Ginger and Cardamom and sprinkle it over the bird and vegg both.  Add more if you like.

1 cup good quality apple cider/juice,  pour that over the vegg,

Put the pan  in a 300 degree oven for at least an hour. Because every bird a little different you'll have to watch it closely the last 15 minutes or so.  It might take an hour and a half.   Baste the bird in the apple juice every 15 minutes.

The chicken fat will melt into the juice, which is fine.  If the vegg get too dry, move them about a bit in the juice.  The sugars and pulp in the apple juice will burnish the bird,  so it looks like copper.  And the vegg will be succulent.

Wonderful, wonderful.

Monday, September 30, 2013

My Little Library

Some places you just take for granted.  The grocery store.  The State House.  Your library.

I love my library.  I'm there once a week, usually Friday.  I get at least 3 books and a couple of movies, maybe a CD.  This month I've read Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist (I'm still not right.  Like really good writers, Brady writes about things you don't understand well enough you understand it viscerally) and now I'm working through James Rollins' The Blood Gospel (Can you accept vampires who take Jesus seriously?  I'll be thinking about that one for a while).

There's the main library and a few neighborhood centers.  But I love the main one.

I'm a sucker for opera and it's over-the-top emotionalism.  When I first heard Puccini I'd found a home.  And movies.  So I still check out The Lady Vanishes and every Cary Grant movie ever made.  The Thin Man movies left their mark as well.   And the dancers, particularly American boy Gene Kelly.  I marveled at Fred, but I loved Gene.

I can still find stuff that feeds my soul there.  I need something with a real story in it.  I need characters with good hearts capable of true love.  I like exotic locals and food I've never tasted before.  I cute my teeth on murder mysteries.  So I'm writing one now and I know that the thousand or so I've checked out will somehow shape my story.

So when Bev called me a few months ago and asked me to be a library ambassador, I was more than happy to help.  My job:  just tell people what a great place the library is and how much it matters in our community.  Easy peasy.

Last week, there was a little celebration to show off the ambassadors recognition wall.  Actually, a window.  Our names were painted on the spines of books—my favorite place.  I saw friends from my church, friends who were writers,  friends who worked in the hospital.  It is lively in a Dr. Suess sort of way.  Can you say More. Than. Pleased.  ???

My one library mishap:  One day I was having a chocolate attack.  You can have one of those just about any time.  And so I did.  I opened a little bag of M & M peanuts, poured them into a pocket and forgot they were there.   That is. . .  until I was deep in the fiction stack and leaned over to read the bottom shelf and all the little M & Ms fell out and rattled down the stacks.  They rattled the whole way across the room. A long, long ways.

So this week, Josh Groban is in town for a concert.  Yeah, that Josh Groban.  He'd captured the exclamation point at the end of  Library!, which was donated by our local pizza company.  The photo showed up on his web site today.

More. Than. Pleased.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dang Dumb Luck

I was hungry.

Call it September's Blue Plate Special.  I thought I was cleaning out the fridge.  There was half a baked potato, a white onion,  black kale, a handful of itty bitty tomatoes, basil, and some mashed up garlic.

And it turned into lunch pretty much all on it's own.

So I melted some margarine, a better thing than butter, in this instance, because it took more heat.  I  heated a cast iron skillet, which I'm sure had a lot to do with this.  Tossed in the onion and the kale (took out the spines and cut the kale into bit-sized pieces.)  Then I added some potato and the garlic.  If I'd had some sweet red pepper, I'd have used that too.  Last, I tossed in the tomatoes and pulled the leaves off the basil.  Tossed it all together to cover the veg with the fat and let it go for awhile.

Then I got distracted.

A football game was on television, and it was right at one of the good parts.  I checked the e-mail and sent a couple of photos to Lea, the kid who borrowed my camera and shot almost 200 photos in four days.  (Her photo is at the top of the page.)  I ironed part of a shirt in the bedroom and cleaned the toilet.  Then scrubbed my hands and checked on the game.  I began to smell lunch.

So, back into the kitchen. Time for the salt and pepper.  The onions had become sweet; the kale and basil had become paper-thin, stand-up-chips, the tomatoes had cooked through and browned in spots,  and the potatoes were crispy brown.  Ready.  The little tomatoes exploded with flavor—all of the veg did.   You'll  have to figure out how long it took.

It was perfect.  A French country cook could not have done it better.  Everything had carmelized, gotten crispy, had cooked itself through.  I had a glass of milk, but a cold beer or a glass of icy white wine would do as well.

You have to understand, this was totally an accident.  Nothing was planned, timed, or measured.

And yet, and yet.

Some days, you just get lucky.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Judy and her New Book

A couple decades ago I decided  (actually I was no dang good at anything else) to write.  Write what?  Didn't know.  Make a living?  Still up in the air.  Find compatriots who were along the same path.  Got that covered.

One of the people I met was a journalist, Judy Steele, who was writing a column for our local paper.  She was the beloved journalist, but she was also hungering to write something much more serious, much more visceral.  And because we belonged to the same writers' group, I heard big passages of a fiction book that Judy was writing, set on a plantation in Brazil.  She had spent her formative years as a Volunteer for the Peace Corps—in Brazil and had loved the people and the landscape.

Something that never leaves  your soul?  Probably something you should write about.  That's what Judy did.  But then she got distracted.  In the most massive way possible.  Her sister-in-law caught a big, bad cancer and it turned the whole family on its ear.  After years of treatment.  Judy's sister-in-law made it, thanks to good medicine and a good family.

The book went into the dresser drawer.  And after a cancer scare, people are just not in their right minds for awhile.  But Judy revived her heart and her mind, and moved forward.

So here we are,  two decades later, I  attended a book-signing party last night for Judy, now Judith McConnell Steele, a published novelist. and Mill Park Publishing, owned by the astute and energetic Elaine Ambrose. I am beyond pleased.  This is a serious, lyrical, sensitive, elegant book, one of great depth.  I'm sensing that the book will have a long and fabulous publishing run.

And, thanks to Elaine,  Judy is getting to do the things authors need to do: get great reviews, meet the people who love your words and your story, and sign lots and lots of books.

You can look up Mill Park Publishing and order a copy.   

Monday, September 9, 2013

One Thing That's Next

So, last week, we went to an evening workshop for cancer survivors.  It was held at the hospital where my cousin had her treatments.  Most of you know how scary that time of our lives was.  Now we're over five years out.  Still left a big mark.  Altered Julie's body.  Altered my brain cells.

One of the things I most needed when we were in treatment (the whole family is in treatment, no news to you), was to see and visit with people who had been through it, who had come through it.  No one gets through it unscathed, but they do get through it.  I needed to see that.  Even a wave from somebody who'd been through cancer was enough to reclaim my right mind for a few days.  Priceless.

So, I signed up to become a lay minister at church and asked if I could be the support person from our church  for cancer patients.  I didn't care whether people were part of our congregation or whether they were sick people in need of a person to tell their story too.  People who needed and wanted prayer could have a prayer.  I could be that person.  That living evidence of a return to life and health.

The great good news is that more and more people are getting better.  The medicines are better, the research is richer and provides more answers, the docs and nurses are wonderful, wonderful.  We love them.  Hope is very real.  In fact, I don't much believe there is such a thing as a false hope.  Hope is hope.

So, I am unafraid.  And last week, I talked to the social worker from the clinic and they welcomed me.  They said that community resources, and that includes churches, were incredibly important.  I'll get to be the person bearing presents: a prayer shawl, a healing journal, some cookies.  Visits, prayers, and daily encouraging e-mails.  We'll obey the privacy laws, too.

So we're getting started.

Wish me luck.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tomato Line Dancing

Years ago, my aunt and uncle gave me a bushel of vine ripened tomatoes.  Those tomatoes were to be split between my brother's family and me.  But they had a new baby girl and my dad's needs were on the front burner; they didn't have time to deal with the little red beauties.  So.  Me.

I decided to make tomato sauce and freeze it.  No jars.  No little freezer containers.  I had none of that stuff and since it was likely none of it was coming my way, I settled on freezer bags, the pint variety.  I made the sauce in batches.  Not every tomato was exactly at it's peak and my pans were mid-sized. We could wait on some of that.

I cooked away.  I cut the tomatoes into quarters,  gently settled them into a cook-down, fished out the peelings, put them through a colander with cheese cloth to gather up the seeds, back into the pot.  I didn't even put in salt.  It was the purest, most sweet and succulent sauce ever.  Vibrantly tomatoey.

While the sauce was still warm, but no longer hot,  I gingerly filled the freezer bags and put them on the counter, letting them cool a little bit more before they were frozen.  That's where the problems started.

The stuff moves.  Like a dozen little red poltergeists.  The heat creates enough energy in the bags that the sauce rolls.  Imagine stacking your product on the counter, allowing it to cool over night, and then waking up the next morning and none of the baggies were in the same place.  They rolled all over the place.  A few of the bags opened up and spread tomato sauce all over the counter, all over the floor, on the stove (OK, that was me), and some of them broke open when I tried to put them in the freezer.

I wore a substantial amount of tomato sauce—my cheek, my arms, my pants, my t-shirt all had tell-tale patches of tomato.

The moral of the story:  when you finish one step in the cooking process, let the food cool before you move onto the next.  Patience is not only golden, it's probably sanity, not to mention—effectiveness.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

300 Kids and Me, All Week

Mornings last week I spent with 300 kids and 150 adults at Vacation Bible School at my downtown church.  Talk about controlled chaos.  The morning started off with raucous music, 300 kids singing at the top of their lungs, doing their superman poses, shrieking "Stand Strong."  About a dozen times in half an hour.  The kids were dancing in the aisles, using the Irish jig moves they'd learned at school.  Our pastor and our youth pastor were racing up and down the aisles, moving with highly playful dances, high-fiving the kids.

You didn't have to be there.  You could hear it six blocks downtown.

The first few days, the noise alone wore me out.  Our leaders had a really interesting and effective organizing strategy.  The kids were broken up into groups of six kids with an adult as a team leader, and if we were really lucky, an older child as an assistant team leader.  That way, every child had an eyes-on adult with them every step of the way.  The kids moved in age groups through a story time, a short animated video, a really cool crafts session, and some times outside to play.   The teachers stayed put; the kids moved.

Our church is a downtown church with a ministry to homeless people, sometimes people newly out of prison.  So,  safety and security strategies were taken seriously; but they were inconspicuous, i.e.  somebody had to accompany a child to the bathroom,  scope it out, then allow the child into the empty bathroom, and stand guard at the door.

I was lucky enough to have four sterling girls between 10 and 11, headed into 5th grade.  I was devastatingly impressed with them,  They were such smart, beautiful, well behaved kids, friends from school.  I will pray every day for them, but they have got such a handle on life at such an early age, I have no fears for any of them.  They were a little uptight at the first of the week; by the end of the week, they were dancing in the aisles, giggling, and laughing.  Their real selves were beyond delight.

My assistant team leader took the lead in getting the kids to the bathroom, of getting enough snacks for them, for getting their badges and their crafts.  Wondrous help.  Her shyness abated a little bit too.  We were safe for her.

Then there were the Two Little Boys.  When I volunteered to help, I decided to pay attention to the Vacation part of Vacation Bible School, that the goal was to assure that the kids had big fun.  So unless the kids were doing something overtly wrong: disrespect for me, other people, or each other, for starters, I wouldn't get in their way.  My assignment was to watch over each one of them and to use each child's name in a loving way every day.  

First  Little Boy was such a prince, getting his behaviors pointed in the right direction, from day one.  Then there was Our Little Guy.  He had an excess of energy and decibels.  Other team leaders knew him by his first name by the end of the first day.  But He had me by the first day too.  He had the ability to look at you with such love and tenderness, as if he understood every thing that had ever happened to you, could read everything that might happen to you.  He was the most loving of children.  So all week, when ever he shrieked too loud or ran ahead of us too fast, or raced to the snack table too quickly, he was guided with gentle words, with a touch on the shoulder, with a game.

Here was the payoff.  The Two Little Boys and I became fast friends.  We sat together a lot of the time; they snuggled in.  Once, they came down from the high seats in class to the lower seats, where we were, because it was more fun with us.  They would calm down during the skits and the wildly appropriate sermons from our two pastors, and get really comfy and quiet.  They were safe with me and my girls.

One of the flukish things that worked really well:  I picked up my camera from home and brought it, thinking that the kids were going to be really cute and we should get their photos.
True enough.  But in a flash of inspiration, maybe a God thing, I suggested that the kids could take as many photos as they wanted to take.  They took over 1,000 and the little cross at the top of the page is one of theirs.  Maybe we discovered some budding photogs, a great career for anybody who can't sit still.  

Our pastor came over to say high to each of the kids.  His presence overwhelmed them a little bit.  But he high-fived everybody and used their names in a beautiful, high-energy way.

They got something that they might not get so much in regular life.  They were adored and, within that kind parameter, they flourished.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chicken, Collards, and Cassavas.

A city park.  A hot, lazy Saturday afternoon.  People bringing food in large vessels, food covered carefully so it would stay hot, food with a cultural history,  food that feeds the soul.

Cities everywhere, I think, have weekend picnics to celebrate their heritage and the places where their citizens came from.  That's particularly true in the West.  Because, of course, we all came from some place else. Our lineage here, in this pretty little city, only goes back a little over 150 years.  In fact, we are celebrating our sesquicentennial this year.  If you are unfamiliar with the word, I didn't know it either until it popped up in the news.

Hence, we have a German picnic, we have an Iowa picnic, we have a Scottish picnic.  We are all part of a large family, somehow, who traveled from some where.  The people who were here first were the Utes, who lived across the Great American Dessert in the West.  The rest of us came later.  My own family came West in the 1880s, one of the last families on one of the last wagon trains.  It turned out my ancestor was a philanderer, and his wife had had it.  The family went West, dad and 8 children; mom went East.  We don't know what happened to her.  We're what happened to him.

So yesterday, I was in our city park with people who came from somewhere else.  The Caribbean.  Island people.   I seriously fell in love with them.  They were gentle people of great strength and a shining integrity. 

I loved the men, who were the guys that if you were having trouble were the ones who came to help you without being asked.  Kid can't get the lid off the licorice canister.  A big guy come along and popped it off.  Tables not in the right place or in the right amount.  The men would be lifting and hauling tables.  A toddler who outran everybody.  No problem.  A guy came shooting out of the crowd, tracked him down, and brought him back to grandmom.

 I loved the kids, who were ever-so well-mannered and well-behaved.  The parents had brought games for the kids to play and they played them.  Nobody fussed, nobody cried, nobody pouted.  The kids were gorgeous, all boys, except for one young lady whose long, lean limbs and her beauty made her a stand-out.  She played in all the tag and chase games along with everybody else, up for big fun.  My favorite little guy wanted something from the dessert table, something still with a lid.  He asked.  That's right.  He asked if he could have some.  And there was the beautiful toddler.  He had me with those big, beautiful eyes.  

The women shared a deep sensibility of community, of faith and a blessing of the table, of laughing and talking, and sharing their truths.  The food was extraordinary: fried chicken, several kinds, rice and beans with delicate, exotic  herbs and spices, a potato salad with waxy spuds and sweet potatoes, celery, onion, and radishes in a creamy dressing, macaroni and cheese, home made with crusty, baked cheese on top, and my favs, the collard greens.  That and Marcia's kale salad with the cashews.  I got to taste cassavas, a sort of a sweet potato, except longer and leaner, with a infamously tough skin.  Those were peeled and fried.  Never had a cassava before, they won't grow here.

All in all, a really delicious afternoon.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

An Awakening, Of Sorts.

I awoke this morning with this question ringing in my ears:  When have your emotions led you astray?

If you ever felt hungry, were you not also hungry?  If you have felt laughter bubbling up, were you not bubbling over with laughter?  If you ever felt lonely, were you not alone and lonely?

Suddenly, so much made sense.  In my sixty-six years, my feeling, my emotional state was a true response to the things that were happening—even if I didn't possess all the information I needed, even if a thing had not yet occurred, some odd thing signaled an unease.

Why would I not trust those feelings?  Did I think they were flawed intuitions?  Rarely were they wrong.  I know instantly those folks, men and women, who will become heart friends.  And sure enough, that happens. I know, pretty much, right off the bat, what work will work for me.  I know, once in awhile, when something is terribly wrong with my family or me.  I had a flash about my mom's death, my cousin's cancer before they occurred.  I know when it's really, really time for me to leave a job, no matter what.  Things fall deeply apart and there is no retrieving them. I know it in my gut.  Probably have known for months.

I distrusted those feelings because the scientists in my life thought feelings were mercurical, had no weight or merit.  The people in my family, with their very, very smart reliance on what makes sense, have no room for overly sensitive or overly emotional responses.  Those do drive people a little crazy.  I've worked in education and medicine, for decades.  Neither of those disciplines are very good with emotions.

Granted, I can be led astray once in a great while by a good-looking man.  But I've also found my way a thousand times by something a good-hearted man has figured out.  It bears watching.

Some day I'll talk about my religious or spiritual perceptions, but I'm not ready yet.  They weren't what I thought they might be either. A hint:  God must be a thousand times kinder than I am, know a million times more about love than I do.

So, my dear friends,  when I ask, "How are you feeling today?"  I mean it.

If you like this little story, click on the ads.  It's how we get paid.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Where Little Doggies Roam

Life Moments.

When Everything Conspires To Teach You Everything.

My dad and I were fishing at Cascade Lake.  (He was good at it; I was not).  We were packing up to come home and stopped by a field of clover, a pasture, full of milky-brown cows and some bulls, just to look at them.  I grew up with bulls and cows, but these were mammoth, peaceful, full.

I had a little dog, Tink, part chihuahua, part dachshund, no bigger than a minute.  She was amazingly cute, full of pep and vinegar, would not, could not be potty-trained.  The world was her oyster.  She was also a compete love, taking her naps stretched out on the nearest lap.

She'd been my dog, until I took a long trip and I gave her to my Dad.  They became fast buddies, really happy together.  My dad could manage her, given her tiny size and her tendency to snuggle.  I'd come weekly to scoop up the poop and hose down the carpets.  As I said, happy.

So we were off fishing.  She'd had the run of the beach, loved the sand, pooped everywhere.  She spied the bulls, she spied the pasture, she spied the deep green of clover, and off she went on a dead run.  Not knowing the bulls, I didn't get into the pasture.  They might have been fine with company, they might not have.

Tink was not bothered, leaping over the greenery, as full of joy as a pup can be, on a rip-snorting tear.  She got nose to nose with a massive bull and barked as if her life depended upon it.  I waited a long minute to see how that was going to go.

The bull reared his head up, took a little leap, snorted, bawled, and ran away.

That only propelled little Tink onto the next one.

Same thing happened, then happened again.

At the launch of the third massive bull, Tink was finally satisfied with her work.  She's vanquished three animals with a combined weight in the tons. A couple anyway.

Oh joy.

That little baby girl ran back to us, literally jumping with the pride of accomplishment; eyes dancing, sparkling.

Must be a universal need.  To do something grand every once in a while.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies: My fav cookie recipe for summer

I live on nibbles in the summer.  Nothing too big, nothing too complicated, nothing  too much.

Watermelon.  Corn on the cob.  Fried chicken.  Food that you can eat with your fingers,  foods you can take places, food you crave when it's 103 degrees outside.

Bake these early in the day.  Then serve them with iced tea or lemonade.

Here is a note on the recipe.  This is a Weight Watchers recipe, with one very small adjustment,  however, like most WW recipes,  it's more of a protocol for chemistry than a recipe that you can adjust with abandon.  Just don't do it.  I switched out a couple of ingredients once (only once) and did not like the texture.   (Cakey.)

The only change I made was to double the amount of vanilla.  You need a really good vanilla.  The one with  Madagascar in the label.

Thin and Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Measure carefully, sift and whisk together.

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups butter, room temperature

Cream these together until  they are light and fluffy.

2 large or extra large eggs
4 teaspoons good vanilla
1/4 cup water

Add these to the butter and sugar mixture.  After the wet ingredients are incorporated, add the dry ingredients.  Finish up by adding  2 cups (12 ounces or 1 large bag) of good quality chocolate chips.
Find a brand with real chocolate.   Milk chocolate/dark chocolate?  Use your preference.  Don't use the substitute chocolate.  Good, but not as good, in my opinion.

Mound the cookie dough on the cookie sheet.  Make walnut shaped and sized balls, put 12 on a cookie shape. Flatten the balls a little bit, and make sure the cookies retain a circular shape.  Bake at 350 degrees for 4-5 minutes, then switch the cookie sheet, side to side, and bake for another 4 minutes.  The cookies will spread a bit, and yield a smallish cookie.  The cookies will be flat, chewey, with little bumps of chocolate in them.  Let them cool 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before you remove them and let them cool further.   You can bake them for 12-15 minutes if you want a more crispy cookie.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Loving Home

My dad was a farmer.  By mid-spring he was cultivating our fields, turning the dirt over, getting it ready for planting.  The sea gulls would trail behind him, looking for worms, finding them.  That scent of newly-turned soil was as luscious as spring itself.  My brother, a realtor, when he says he's selling dirt, means it in the nicest possible way.

Petrichor, a word I've used before, means the scent of summer rains on dried-out soil.  Still a scent that roils the mind.  You are just not the same once those scents find their way to your bones.

When you remember it's scents, it means you adore the land itself.

Politics come and goes, and how you feel about that changes too.  Money and economies mean different things in different parts of your life.  Religion may be a thread that runs throughout your life, but how conservative or however liberal you turn out to be depends on the last good idea and the experience of love coming in a thousand different ways.

The land remains.

Our fireworks are finished for this year.  The weekend is still open for camping.  We've survived the opening salvos of summer, an 111 degree start last Monday.

But we will love this place, these people, this land and this freedom for as long as the heart beats, and the breath remains.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Vacation Bible School - For Adults

So last week.

I got to go back to school.  Our church provided a week's opportunity for rigorous learning for people who were retired.  Anybody could come, about 150 did.   And boy howdy, what a week.  It was hosted and coordinated by Ed, a retired college professor, and his wife Susan.

There were about 30 classes you could pick and choose.  They were held in the morning so we could get our naps in.  There was real content.  Real learning.  Our pastor hosted classes so we could get acquainted with our neighbors:  A little bit about the Methodists.  The Episcopalians.  The Mormons.  The Muslims.  Turns out we have much more in common than we'd ever guess.  The same God, mainly.

That was sorta interrupted for my buddy, Tim, who spent one of the mornings talking to one of our homeless folks who was in deep distress.  Another required an ambulance, so it was a busy day.

My two classes were powerful learning experience.  Just because we were ripened learners didn't mean that we were coddled.  The first one was a photography class taught by Michael, who was a Hollywood Director of Photography for 40 years.  His work left us stunned in its beauty, profoundly moved by its depth. He showed us his most personal and beautiful movie:  Hidden in Silence.  And he got me my first focused photo, and I got the photo into the computer and printed.  Success.   Success for other folks were lessons in composition, lighting, movement, color, texture, context.  No dumbing down for the old folks.

The other class was in simple living, taught by Joe, who has been teaching, with his wife, those classes for years to help people live responsible, joyful, simplified lives.  It works.  Not so simple, it turns out.  But richer by far, and you get money left over at the end of the month.  It was so much more than developing a responsible budget; it was developing a responsible life.

So, thank you ever so much,  Susan and Ed.  It was a sweet week.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sue's Garden

Two fat quail grace the backyard, as they peck and push the dirt to reveal the little buggy critters that might be dinner.  They stroll from garden spot to garden spot, an already green and living space.  Their sweet gentleness allows the garden some breathing room and some space to spread out.

The clematis are big as dinner plates.  The rosemary is seeking citizenship in a neighboring state.  The roses are so exuberant that their limbs will not support such a plethora of pink.

Where do you go, when every sprout, every bud wants to go there too?  Do you give them a turn?  Or do you plan to make them bend towards your will.

Good luck with that.

Each living thing will be it's own self, in it's own way, in it's own time.

Best learn to live with it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Dad

I've been listening and reading people's accounts of their dads: how grand they were; how loving and understanding they were; how much fun.  I am sorta  jealous.  My own dad was big trouble.

He did not have trouble with cheating; he was absolutely faithful to my mom.  The most he had to drink was a beer once in a while with a guys in a lively, little polker game at the Odd Fellows hall on Tuesday night.  He could make good money.  In fact, money came to him, often by the bucket loads, a gift my brother  inherited and I did not.

But he was still trouble.  He had muscular dystrophy.  Problem enough.  My mom died way too early, problem enough.  But the clincher was this:  there's an opportunity for an Autism diagnosis here.  He could swear like a pirate, at awkward times, imperiously so.  He could do complex math and map out heavy duty construction projects with nothing more than a stubby pencil  and a 2x4.   He completely depended upon my mom for love and warmth.  Without her he was a cantankerous lost soul, and he didn't care whom he offended or whom he over-powered.  He was a tough one.  His autism looked like this:  he was a brilliant guy with glitches. In his 20s, he was as fine and beautiful a human being as there could be. He was obsessed by odd things at odd times.  He read life differently.

Here's what heaven might look like:  the people are whole and complete, utterly themselves and utterly normal, healthy, loving, funny.  At least when I picture heaven in my mind, this is what I see for my poor dad.  His kids have turned out all right.  His grandkids are glorious.  I have my own glitches, but they are tolerable.

So, here's to all the dads who are somewhat less than perfect.   Here's to all the dads who utterly love their kids, somewhat  imperfectly.  It's enough.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summers in Idaho.

 Bare feets.  Long, dusty walks to the ice cream store.  Swimming  in irrigation canals.  Bing cherries. Almost black, sweet bombs of summer pleasure.

We've hit 92 degrees.  The rivers have opened up for rafting and tubing. The first corn on the cob has been served. The daffies have faded, but the roses are so thick on the bushes, they define extravagance.  

Summer.  Now are the days you want to take long drive in the country.  Haggerman Valley in the south-central part of the state.  Endless water falls.  Fishing boats.  Irrigated crops.  Outcropping of granite and sagebrush.  A swimming pool with its neighboring alligators.  Wine that is hauntingly delicate.  Might be sweet.  Might be ethereal.  Might be earthy too.  Pelican nests on the Snake River.  You can find the best hamburgers in the world out there.

To the north, McCall.  One of the most traveled roads in the state.  Graceful arching bridges.  Long-slow flat rivers,  fed by the most riotous white water in the Western United States.  Basalt and granite canyons.  Banks, the river-stop restaurant, at least 5 decades in business.  Emerald hay fields, cattle ranches, small, white churches.  Cascade, where the rivers feed the village and you can fish downtown.  

Southwestern Idaho,  miles of cheat grass prairies,  volcanic boulders in the middle of grain fields, mysterious mountains that can totally disappear on cloudy days, purple mountains on clear days, the sweetness of wide-open spaces, communities that host dances as long as the hooch stays in the pickup, wild, tangled gardens  with radishes, baby lettuces, sweet corn and tomatoes the size of dinner plates, so densely sweet, they make an Italian mama cry in gratitude.  

I swam in irrigation canals when I was a child.  Probably should stick with pools now.  One a cow tried to jump the wide, shallow canal on my Uncle Happy's place.  Lit in the middle. There was something to see.  Our parents were careful with the polio vaccines.

Waste from the fields.  Rain water.  You know what kind of fertilizer was available in those days.   You wouldn't think that a proper place to allow children to paddle in.  Sure it was polluted.  But everything was a natural mess, even if it was a mess.  Here's the thing—we have the strongest immune systems imaginable.  Rarely have colds and flu.  We were exposed to a lot.  We survived even more.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What Didn't I Think of This Before?

Didn't get to the grocery store.  Tired.  Hungry.  You know the drill.

You do the best you can with what you have, when you have it.

Boil some spaghetti, add salt to the water.  When it's done, you drain it.

Saute half a small onion and one clove of garlic (mashed) in olive oil.

I had a smallish zucchini, so I grated it.  Fairly small pieces.  Squeezed the liquid out.

Add it to the frying pan with onion, garlic, and olive oil.  Let it sit for about
10 minutes.   Start checking at about 8 minutes.  You are looking to cook the veg and add a little char, which is why you don't mess with it too much.  Add a tiny sprinkle of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

Turn it over,  Let it cook another  5-8 minutes.  Again, you want a little bit of char.

Put the spaghetti on a plate.  Add the fully cooked veg.  It will have cooked down enough, it acts as a sauce for the spaghetti.  Add  a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.   Make a simple green salad: lettuce, any kind of crispy green veg (cucumber, celery, and green onions, maybe), a lot of fresh, chopped parsley,  and some olive oil, S & P, white wine vinegar.  Add bread, as you desire, and  berries, for dessert

You can use any kind of green veg for the sauce: brussel sprouts, spinach, green beans, other summer squash, broccoli.  I just used one kind of vegetable—it's what I had.  Mix to your heart's content. Just make sure the dice is small, so they cook evenly.

It's just the most elegant, flavor-full, beautiful, simpliest of dishes.

Just what you want for summer.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What We Remember

Memorial Day,  America's Day of the Dead, which is far closer to the Mexican Day of the Dead, than Halloween.  It is the Day of Honor.  The Day of Remembering.  The Day of Family.

I come from a family of giant souls, men and women, who fought, worked, cared in ways that leave my generation gasping for breath.  It's not that we haven't had our moments of bravery, humor, deep love, we have.  And our children will have the opportunities for that as well.  But they were something else.

When my parents were young, Memorial Day, was celebrated in a much bigger way.  My mom would gather buckets of iris, catapla blossums, snow balls, peonies and lilacs  and pile  them into the trunk of our 1957 Chevy, and off we'd go to the high country—Council, Midvale, Weiser—to meet family from all over  the state.  The family was buried in the Midvale area, on a beautiful hillside that allowed for the seeing of great distances.  We'd leave copious bundles of flowers on the graves of our matriarchs and patriarch, flags on the graves of the people who had served in any way, in any generation.  There were family who crossed the Great Plains, the last people on the last wagon train.  There were homesteaders, warriors from several wars, people who had birthed families of 7 and 8 children, all of them at home, people who went to the first schools, who drove the first cars, who tended ancient apple trees, people who told their stories.  Uncle Bemus.  Grandpa Ollie.  People of Honorable Lives.

Then we'd gather for lemonade, fried chicken, potato salad, and Grandma Belle's chocolate cake, and then settle in for the long drive home.

They did a better job of it than I ever will.  But those ghosts are alive and well in my genetic disposition.  I say something and  wonder where in the world that came from—my own personal ghosts.

I come from an ordinary Western family, with roots that go deep within the south-eastern part of my state.  Immense strength, humor, creativity, bravery, sense of duty and honor, God and Country, are my heritage.

And I suspect, yours.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh, Oklahoma

We know you.  We know your families, how there are three generations close by, with the kids coming home on Sundays, and mama makes a cake and mashed potatoes.  Maybe some ribs.  We know your low rolling hills of stunning green and your history with the dust bowl.  You've known great suffering and great love of the very dirt in your fields; the loss of everything and the ability to hold everything that matters, what faith feels like, what hope looks like, what love acts like.

Tonight, we feel sorrow.  Our earth is sending out the message of extremes, and we'd best pay attention.  We hold close to our schools, our churches, our baseball games, our farms.  The institutions that most make us American.  So do you.

You'll be tough.  You'll get organized fast.  You'll be of help.  Your medical people will work around the clock doing the best work of their lives.  Your teachers will carry the sacredness of these stories.  Your counselors and your pastors will reinstall hope.  Your police, your paramedics, and your fire fighters will be heroes a thousand times over.

As you will.

Brew the coffee strong.  You'll  find the clear light of dawn in a green and generous state.

Monday, May 13, 2013

When They Matter Again

When we were tiny, birthdays were such important milestones; we were soon to be old enough to go to school or to drive, somehow we were yearning for our first kiss, our first road trip without our folks, the first time we tipped our toes into an chilly ocean.  Momentous.

Then as we left adolescence, our birthdays ticked by and our milestones were further apart.  Not so many momentous firsts.  In my forties I lost track of how old I was.  It just didn't matter all that much and I'm still off by a year or so. 

Now that we are all in our sixties or close to them, birthdays again are exuberant celebrations, with tons of teasing, goofy jokes, great food, lofty surprises, the wealth of glorious friends and some amount of family.  I got to go to one of those last week at  a local restaurant, Cottonwood Grill.

It was Marty's sixtieth birthday.  You have to understand this about Marty, she looks like she's thirty-five.  She has a fairly new PhD, a growing reputation in the wholistic health field.  She's a nurse. Mom to Molly and Matt.  Wife to Mike.  We'd been plotting  her party for months.  The we here is The Blackberry Tea Club, Marcia, and Mike.  

The party started about 6:3o and Marty was appropriately surprised, due to some minor skulduggery by her friends, Marcia and Sherry.  Her friends from the university, her old friends from the hospital we all worked at, Molly was there and her friends, as was Mike and his golfing buds, great guys who pretty much stayed in the background and had a Scotch or two, a half-brother, Mike, whom the family particularly loves.  Marty thought that was it.  Plenty at any rate.  

Then her sisters stole the show.  They got there about 7:30, five of them flying in from all over the west.  Molly blasted the music We Are Family, and in the sisters come:  they each had on Mardi Gra masks, they were wearing purple boas, and vests with spangles.  And they were dancin'.  You couldn't call it dancing.  They are each doing their own spectacular moves, which might or might not have been in time with the music or each other.  Priceless.

I got to make the cake.  The restaurant was willing to do a cake, but it would have cost $150.  So I volunteered.  Here's what I learned:  that you can defrost a bag of strawberries or raspberries, mash them up to replace the liquid in your favorite recipe, and add it to the cake batter, along with 4-6 eggs and a cup of veggie oil.  I think you can use your old stand-by recipes or even a mix.  I doubled the recipe and baked them in layers in a big, big round pan.  Top it off with 7-minute icing, and you have a serious birthday cake that is moist and lovely. 

Marty was in tears.  


Monday, May 6, 2013

Baseball, And All That Goes With It

You know spring in the Pacific Northwest.  It can be 70 degree one day and snowing the next.  We can forgive our pansies for being the least bit unsure of their welcome.  We watch the Iris shrivel in the cold.  The lawns get green, then brown, then green again, particularly after the irrigation kicks in.  But that doesn't stop our kids from playing hard in the cold and the wind.  

It's the season for baseball.

I have a baseball park in my neighborhood.  Actually four in a quarter-mile radius.  So may be my confusion about which park is which . . .  is not unreasonable.  I was to meet up with my  buddies at one of those parks.  Of course, I got the wrong park.  Three times.  It not like baseball parks are subtle.   

In my search,  I knew I was on the right track when I saw some baseball-looking legs poking out from beneath the fence.  Red.  The team I was looking for was wearing red uniforms.  Bingo.  The park has an old-fashioned feel, mismatched bleachers, small stands for hot dogs, Cokes, and pie, everybody crammed into a small space, an electronic scoreboard you can't read when the sun hits it just right.  It's a lovely evening.  So there's some sorta magic involved here.

We were there to watch Noah pitch.  He's a junior in the neighborhood high school, the son of good friends, and a tall, skinny kid.  He's got strength enough that the ball pops hard against the catcher's mitt.  He's good already, but not as good as he will be.  He has a high cool factor too, a stand-out in lots of ways.  

I sit and talk baseball with Larry, our expert and enthusiast.  He loves to explain why this kid bunted and that one fouled out, why the pitch went awry, and why baseball is so American.   I have a hot dog, and who wouldn't?  Tim, who can' sit still for any length of time, has a piece of apple pie while walking around.  Perfect. 

I lose my mind for a minute and use the word: Yipee.  As in, "Yay! Noah!  Good inning! Yipee!"

The local five-year-old is appalled.  He whispers to his brother. . . "She said, Yipee!"  Would that he be so sensitive to all the other words kids say to  each other on a baseball diamond. . .

I have grey/silver/brown hair that stands straight-up most of the time.  Straight-out too.  I'm in my sixties, perfect for "the eye."  You know the one I mean, the one with one cocked eyebrow, no lapse in eye-contact, no humor or forgiveness.  I make the best use of that. 

He's not entirely sure he's home free.  

Also perfect.