Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Next Iron Chef: Storytelling and a Small Token that Snuck In

On Sunday evenings at 9:00 p.m. sharp, I am tuned in to the television to watch The Next Iron Chef. I used to watch the Iron Chef back when they had dubbed voices for the Japanese-speaking judges. It was actually quite comical. You could tell that the judges were having a good time, laughing a lot in between their comments as they watched the chefs cook off for a win. At some point in the years, the judges changed and the show was no longer dubbed. I stopped watching on a regular basis and became an intermittent watcher. I had never watched how one became an Iron Chef, but when I saw a few weeks back that The Next Iron Chef would be airing, I knew I would be glued to the TV for an hour each Sunday.

It’s all about the secret ingredient and how successfully you incorporate it into your dish. Several Sunday’s ago stands out to me as one of the most challenging competitions: The Concessions Challenge. The chefs would have one of several concessions items: root beer, malted chocolate balls, and sour candy, to name a few. The chefs would have to create a masterpiece in an hour showcasing the secret ingredient in their dish. Can you imagine? It’s exciting to watch the chefs, as they figure out quickly what they will cook as they set to work, concocting, tasting, plating. It’s a culinary whirlwind.

This past Sunday’s show was my favorite so far: Storytelling. The chefs were presented with six postcards featuring six iconic New York City locations: Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Central Park, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. Wow! Food and storytelling—this would be a dream episode to savor. I started to think about food in general and the story that it does tell. I thought of memorable meals that I have experienced and if I were to cook from a perspective of telling a story, what would I cook and what story would I want to tell.

Back in Kitchen Stadium, each chef would pick a number from one to six and be matched up with a post card. The chef with the advantage from the last competition would go last and have the option of keeping their postcard or swapping for one of the five in hand. All of the chefs seemed pleased with their offerings. As usual, I watch in anticipation and excitement at the creativity and passion that these chefs exhibit as they set out for a win. The clock ticks down. Time goes fast. Time’s up: Step away. Judging time.

Two stood out to me for different reasons.

What I recall about Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s presentation is that she wanted to evoke the smell of New York, of walking the streets and being hit with that NYC smell. Her creativity is what got me. Along with her meal, she had a small brown paper bag that was meant only for smelling and in it were the burnt roasted peanuts to bring the judges there to NYC. Her overall meal was not that exciting and she did have some bumps, but her creativity got me.

Chef Anne Burrell was the clear winner in her story, food presentation, and delivery of her own memories tied to Central Park and what it represents to her. She personalized it and made it universal. It was as though from the moment she got her postcard, she knew exactly where she was headed. She recounted how most may think of her as a city girl, but she was actually raised in a country setting and it was this feeling that she received from sitting in Central Park, with the pigeons, trees, grass, and birds.

And how could I not think of Red Room member, Mary Wilkinson (m), in all the stories—stories that she has served up with food and words. It made me reflect for a moment upon her blogs, especially the food blogs and the wonderful stories that come out of her kitchen. And for the lucky passerby in her cozy area, they could probably catch the mouth-watering smells that sneak from her kitchen windows. I imagine her on her culinary journey and how she gets to do what these great chefs do in this one particular episode of telling stories with food. I guess this last part is a small token of appreciation to, m, all the way in Ireland: An ode to her and an ode to all the chefs and aspiring chefs of the wordly and culinary world.


Monday, November 28, 2011

A Series of Events: Unexpected Light

There has always been a spiritual home inside of me, and at times, it may have grown dark and cold, but mostly a light was always left on because of my grandmother. When I was "finding" myself in my late teenage years, I rejected aspects of my Catholic upbringing. This struggle would continue as I wrestled with myself and tried to find what was true for me on my terms.

A fading memory flickers in and out, always there, but reawakened on a recent visit to Carmel. I’m in my early twenties, sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother discussing how the Catholic religion is not the only one that is good. On that she agrees, but I feel her desire to want me to embrace it as she has. At the time, I was exploring Eastern thought.  When I saw the look in her eyes and knowing her passion and devotion to Catholicism, I realized it didn't matter and I backed down. I didn't want to take that from her. At the same time, I didn't want her to take my explorations from me. At that moment, her own wisdom to me whispered in my ear: To respect my elders.

I remember a point in my life, a seemingly long sporadic time of feeling angry at the world, easily upset, slightly depressed. Time shows that there is an order to events that don’t often go in a straight line, but usually connect, disconnect, and reconnect. Amongst the many synchronistic influences and events along the way, one defining moment was when an old friend called me out of the blue with an extra ticket to see a Buddhist monk speak in Berkeley.  I didn't have anything else to do that night so I went along. I didn't know who Thich Nhat Hanh was at the time and didn't know what to expect. I still have the ticket stub. Touching Peace: Thich Nhat Hanh, Berkeley Community Theater. The year is 1993.

I met my friend in Berkeley. He would have to head back home to Santa Cruz that night. We caught up on old times while we waited in the long line to enter the auditorium. Inside, we took our seats. The whole place buzzed with conversation, people finding their seats and visiting with people they knew. The velvet red curtains stood out to me. They looked regal and added warmth. 

Next I remember people taking their seats and the chatter fading to silence after someone announced Thich Nhat Hanh.


As soon as Nhat Hanh walked out to the front of the stage in his robes, the Buddhist nuns nearby, I felt an instant peace in every part of my being. And then he spoke in his calm, loving voice. Nhat Hanh radiated the most positive, loving energy that I have ever felt and it spilled out into the room. I was touched. His voice was low and it was difficult to hear him at times. But because of how he spoke and the genuine smile on his face, the love and compassion—his body language—this made the words not matter. He embodied the words, the teachings—and delivered them with love. He was truly present with every ounce of his being right there in an auditorium emanating with his inner peace, that same love and compassion reflecting back to him. 

Ever since that day, I felt changed. I felt renewed; the light inside of me would be restored. As I continued to learn from Nhat Hanh through his books, I appreciated how he respected all religions and encouraged us to make peace with the religions we were raised in. Over the years in between, I came to embrace Catholicism, mostly the way I remember my grandmother practicing it through her actions, through her loving kindness.

The two spiritual traditions that guide me most today are Zen Buddhism and my grandmother's Catholicism. Nature serves as my all encompassing teacher, which is embedded within and lives in me. I am a human being that connects with her grandmother’s light, connects with human light, who does this on her own terms, where the great blue sky and all the creatures are her guides.

In Carmel, walking through both the monastery grounds and the mission grounds, I feel my grandmother's presence and I also feel Nhat Hahn's presence. I feel the light inside as I walk quietly through the small monastery garden and pathways with images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the ocean in sight. I light a candle at Mission Carmel, sending positive thoughts to those in heaven and all around.

I feel blessed to have been touched so deeply by two living angels and to know that I have that presence in my being—in light and dark times. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Leaves Burst

Leaves burst like warm blood.
Through burning roots, Sun explodes
on a clear palette.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Carmel Beach on a Monday Morning

We took a weekend trip to Carmel to celebrate our one year anniversary together. Our weekend began on Sunday and ended on Tuesday. We both love the sleepiness of Carmel, the quaint fairy tale feel of it— and the ocean being right there.

I wanted to take a piece of the ocean back with me.

I noticed I’ve been recording videos on my iPod Touch here and there. The snippets are starting to collect, and naturally I decided that it was time to open a YouTube account to make it easier to upload and share.

This video is just a small clip of Carmel Beach on Monday morning. The Crow always finds me, as you will see at the end there. He was rather friendly and seemed to enjoy being close to us. I found him to be quite beautiful. The big white dog caught my attention too. You can’t hear it in the video, but each time he walked by, the sound of his clop, clop, squish, in the sand made me smile so wide.

Rebb’s Video of Carmel Beach (44 seconds)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Morning Relaxation

It was a stiff morning, and though my body is still young-ish, it sometimes creaks. It seemed a good day for Yoga. Slow down. Center yourself. Invite peace. Offer peace.

The same CD always brings an instant calm—more than any of the other meditative CDs. Why is that? Was it the one that I used from the very early stages?

And so I begin with the poses that I’m familiar with and that my body yearns for. It’s a brief session; next time, perhaps longer. As I lay there, transitioning toward the end of my session, body face down, head to the side, fully relaxed, the music washes over me, the plucking of the sitar lulls my body deeper into relaxation, punctuated by the ting, ting, of the chimes, a deep breath exits my mouth. I feel all the muscles loosena deep calm permeates the tight muscles of my bodily container. I hear the rain outside through the bedroom window. It snuck in—wheels driving by on wet pavement turns to the swish of waterfalls.

I rise out of this pose slowly, carefully, in small stages. After a few more poses, my body decides that my next to last pose will be the warrior and my mind decides it will be for strength.

The last, how I always end, is to give thanks. Today, I turn to the North, East, South, and West, and bow with my hands in prayer, held close together, like angel wings surrounding a beating heart. I then kiss my palms and blow a kiss of love into our home and out into the universe.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Afternoon Walk

An afternoon appointment sent me on a brisk walk through the streets from work to the doctor’s office. I was going to drive but thought it was walkable, and if I kept a very quick pace, I’d make it on time.

I slipped my headphones on, turned the iPod Touch on and began listening to the audio. I don’t usually listen to anything through headphones when I walk, but today I was in the mood, and I could still hear the cars and other noises. I wasn’t completely shut out.

It was a quick visit. Leaving the doctor’s office, I thought how nice it was to receive good news for a change—or rather news that wouldn’t lead to a follow up appointment; and then several more follow up appointments. I left the office with a slight worry shed from my shoulders and I walked back to work at a much slower pace, no headphones. I’ve walked this path many times. And as I looked up, down, and around, at the homes, the gardens, cars parked, men working, this is what I saw and this is what made an impression in that moment—a continuation of the little beauties in the world:

Walking back, inhaling the sun, little wooden birdhouses sit just outside the window—three in a row. Each with a heart for a doorway—a doorway for a heart.

On the cabled wires above sits a squirrel, looking down at her. Walking, walking—red and orange leaved confetti tossed on the pavement, glows in the sun.

She turns the corner after seeing pink blossoms scattered on the eucalyptus. A Great Oak is just ahead; two large connected roots reach up. She looks and looks and then sees the folds and nooks, the skin of the Oak, and right where the large roots meet, the image she sees is of large white angel wings. It takes her breath away and all of these little moments gathered here, were prompted to be written down because of the Oak and right before she pulls for the paper and pen, a black crow sneaks into the pine tree near her next turn and she smiles because he is friend to her, and it is as though he is also summoning her with his caw caw and the way he bends his head—to write it down and enjoy this day. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PO Box – Letter to Self: Eight Questions

Has it been that long and so short? one year and five months. Summer of 2010. I know that I’ve mentioned the public speaking class I took on a few occasions recently, but it felt as though it was much further in the distance than I realized. Time has gone by fast in 2010 and continues to speed by as the end of 2011 is near.

When I sorted through the mail, I saw a familiar address label, both receiver and sender: Rebbecca Hill. Hmm. What is this? No memories triggered. I didn’t know. Probably another bill. I opened it then and there. Now I remember…yes, the instructor had us do a first assignment: Answer eight questions. Be honest, he said. This is for you. Turn it in to me with a self addressed and stamped envelope. I will send this back to you in one year.

It felt good. It felt true. And it came at the right time, when I needed to hear my own encouraging words to myself at this point in time. I held it close, and I laughed and thought, all be darn. It’s seems so long ago, yet, it’s only a little over a year.

I still have the assignment on my computer, but I really had forgotten about that piece of the class, and I’m glad I forgot because it was a great surprise to receive a letter from myself, well not a letter, but a reminder of where I was and where I am in eight questions. The destination is similar and I continue on my path, making adjustments, just as I have been and it feels right.


Rebbecca Hill
June 14, 2010
SPCH 120
MTWTH 8:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

First Assignment

Part 2

1.  Why am I attending college?  I love learning and will attend college or take classes as long as I can—hopefully I don’t run out of classes.

2.  What do I believe I might be doing in a year (specifically)?  I’m honestly not sure. It’s possible I may be doing work with my voice and by then maybe I will have finally submitted something for publication.  In 5 years?  In five years…wow, that seems like a long time out.  Let’s see, in numbers, in five years, I’ll be 42 years old.  I can see myself teaching or communicating.  I may have found just the right teaching environment by this time and I may have found out how to make it happen as far as credential/education needed to do this.  And I hope that I am able to make a good living doing what I love.

3.  What three values does my life stand for/represent to others?  This is hard to answer.  I think people see kindness, curiosity, love for life. I think many people see me as a teacher and writer.

4.  What about me do I want to change?  I think I’d like to continue working on my situational social shy skills.  I’d probably like to see me become a better networked and be open to more friendships, which time wise can be a challenge.

5.  What about me do I hope stays the same?  I hope to always maintain my zest for life, my childlike curiosity and wonder and ability to continue laughing and trying to make the best of life.

6.  What is happening in my life now that I hope to be able to laugh at in a year?  I can’t think of anything in particular, maybe I’ll have a good laugh about voiceovers.

7.  What do I want to be sure to remember about my life today, and remind myself about approximately a year from now?  Keep remembering to appreciate every moment and to honor and respect the past and future, but to keep the present in mind—in perspective. Remember that you signed up for public speaking and you decided to face one of your biggest fears head on. You should be proud of yourself :)

8.  What about myself, my family and my friends do I want to remember to celebrate?  I guess just celebrate life! Keep it simple. Appreciate every day!
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two Birds, One Stone

When I was at the bank, waiting for the deposit to be processed, I noticed that the teller behind the counter seemed young. He was an Asian man and he wore dark slacks and a blazer to match. I don’t know that I could work in a bank. Getting dressed up everyday would be dreadful. I noticed that he had a small golden Buddha sitting up on his counter. It was the Chinese style Buddha with the big belly. I wanted to tell him that I liked his figurine. Instead, I kept quiet. The transaction was taking a little longer than usual. He apologized for the wait.

“No problem. Could I also get some more deposit slips?”

“Sure, I need some myself. I’ll kill two birds with one stone.”

I coil inside at the words. The image is violent to me and though it suits the situation, I still have trouble with this common expression. I want to say something, but what? Finally, I say,

“It would be nice if there was a different way of saying that, No?” He smiles.

“I’ll be right back with those deposit slips.”

I look at the Buddha. Then I set my eyes to the counter and wait patiently with my hands atop the counter, fingers folded together. He comes back, hands me the deposit slips, and receipt.

“Thank you.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I quickly steal a glance of the Buddha one more time.

“That’s it, thanks.”

I walk out the door and the best that I can come up with is changing “Kill” to “Live.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Morning

Monday mornings have not been easy for me lately. I don't find myself wanting to go to work. Instead, I'd like to stay home all day and do what I feel like doing, which could be reading, could be writing, could be staring out the window, eating. I hope that by the time I get to work, the day doesn't begin as rocky as it did last Monday.

I feel as though I've been experiencing a reading frenzy and it could be the feeling that has always been there but that I've wanted to follow and talk about. When it becomes too full, though, it makes it hard to know where to begin or how to enter the speaking space. I've written about a few of the books that I've been reading, and this is just as much a journal account for myself, as it is to share with whomever is interested. I find safety and comfort in books. Since I haven't always loved books, I have a different sort of appreciation for them. I wasn't always a reader, but once it took hold, it mostly stayed constant. This is my way of remembering my reading self.

My reading journeys this weekend took me back to some books that I had left for later. I settled on a new audio. I began with The Interior Castle and needed to take a break. The image itself of the mind as mansions and the soul entering and embodying leave me wanting to leave it to my imagination. Lately I have preferred the audio book to the radio in the car when I drive to work. I decided to listen to Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why. I love listening to his analysis and his words. It was re-listening to that audio with a clearer focus that brought me back to Russian literature. I have read a few short Russian stories and began a few novels. I found some Kindle freebies and began with the first short story. Once I was at home, still with books on my mind, I decided to revisit The Brother's Karamazov. It was difficult for me to settle on a translation for Kindle. I have the book, but it's bulky and now I'm spoiled by the slenderness and lightness of Mr. Kindle. I found a translation that feels as though it flows and I do pray that it stays true to the original. My intuition tells me it does. I was so thrilled to be able to pick up where I left off and the chapter I bumped into after the first had a familiar name, which I imagine is a common Russian name: Lizaveta. The same name was in the short story I had read: "The Queen of Spades" by Alexsandr Pushkin. As with most short stories, they seem to require more than one reading to fully absorb what is put between those pages. I hear Bloom in my ears talking about the different Russian writers and how they write simply, but don't be fooled by the simplicity he seems to be saying. What I get from what Bloom is saying is that they write what is real and what is true, what they see and feel. But it feels, from what he is saying--or what I am understanding--that they do it in such a way that they don't try; they just do because they bloody have to because their souls require them to. I'm reading these short stories to enjoy, and at the same time, I'm also reading to learn--not just learn about the craft, but to learn about what seems different. He talks about other short story writers and at first I was disappointed that he didn't think much of Poe's writing or his stories. But if I try to see it from his perspective, I think I can see what he means. For some reason the Russian writers are calling to me because of listening to Bloom. And then somehow Mark Twain slipped back into my mind and I'm not sure if it's because of Bloom or something else triggered it. When the mind starts going in many directions, it becomes difficult to keep track of.

I remember my fifth grade English teacher reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer out loud to us. That's when I most definitely was not a reader. I listened, but I don't know that I was enthralled. Since I have been lulled by the short story recently, I have also decided to read some of Mark Twain's short stories and essays. I truly appreciate the humorist and I don't know what has kept me from reading Twain for all these years. I suppose that's another reason I've felt this frenzy and excitement--because for year's I've collected and intended on reading certain works; started and stopped, always pulled by the hand by another book or piece of writing, including blogs and anything with words and communication.

I don't have quite as much time as I'd like to complete all the reading that I want to in this life time, which is why even if I only make time to experience bits and pieces, that to me--for me--is better than not. I feel also this need to turn back inside in the sense of keeping my private thoughts for my private journals and writing more about what I'm reading. I'm sure that will change and I know that what I say this moment can change in that moment. And I wasn't planning on writing so much and maybe just rambling and writing about nothing. But it's my way of processing and it started out with no direction and who knows what the real direction is. All I know is that there is this moment and this space and I never quite know how I'm going to fill it. And sometimes I'm scared and always a degree of self-consciousness; sometimes I just have to keep pushing myself and telling myself to keep going. It's nice to be able to be one's own coach because in the end, all you've got is yourself. I think that's my Uncle talking. But to some degree it's true. Only I alone have an appointment with God and with Death when that moment comes, so for me it's important to keep that in mind for myself and to prepare myself internally--as has been my goal since I can remember--to try and live each day as if it were the last and to remember that though writing and reading are a passion and sometimes they consume me, I must not lose sight of what is important outside of the books and pages. I tell myself this mantra, have told myself. I must live it. I feel that I have been true to myself for the most part and then what makes me wonder is when my mind goes back to the past. Reading helps me, ironically, stay in the present. Even when we go back even further to the past; it's someone else's past. There is solace in that. By now, I really am rambling and a part of me is saying, maybe you should just keep this in your journals, but the other part of me is saying, you may as well post it and if anything, it becomes a part of your collection--a marker for you to look back at, to remember--and to maybe laugh at yourself.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good Day ~ After Morning Blog

It was a good day. My morning blog felt like a sort of purge. I felt uncomfortable posting it at first because it felt negative. I realize though, that even if it was a bit moody, I can’t push down feelings, which is why I’m posting an after morning blog—not something I do often, but every now and then.

Today was a good day because my smiles were returned by strangers, if even only noticed out of the corner of my eye. It’s difficult for me to set emotional boundaries and I think that’s what makes me feel out of control at times. I can sense people’s body language and sometimes I react to that. Today was a good body language day. It felt free and positive.

I finally finished an audio book that I’ve been listening to for a couple of months. I am now ready for another to join me on my short drives. I’ve also been enjoying a young adult book called The Librarian (Book One: Little Boy Lost) by Eric Hobbs. I just checked—I guess it’s recommended for kids 10 years old and above—and adults that are kids at heart. Well, I’m enjoying it immensely. It’s a fun lighthearted adventure through a library with a mysterious history and the characters so far feel real to me. I learned about it through a blog I subscribe to on my Kindle. It’s a free download.

Another book that I am enjoying is a biography-memoir called Camus, A Romance by Elizabeth Hawes. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but I came across this one and it intrigued me. Hawes’s passion for Camus began with her college thesis and grew into this book. I’ve learned little nuances about Camus that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It is just as interesting to follow along with Hawes, as she explores herself, maybe even begins finding herself through her exploration of Camus.

A fun book that I came across is Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness by Arnold Kozak, Ph.D. It’s like having good dose of mindfulness each time you open the book and read the small excerpt. I can tell that I will want to start all over once I’ve read through all 108. 

Morning Musings ~ Firecracker ~ Writing Into It

Trucks drive by, clunk, clunk. A car zooms close after. The shutting of a door. These things represent outside for me today and most mornings. The refrigerator rumbling softly, my coffee cup sits on the upper left side of this small desk that faces a wall with a window behind, near the bed. The music drifts in from the living room, the same soothing CD that somehow gets my days started. I’ve been wanting to stay inside, reading mostly, and some journaling too. It’s been difficult to want to go outside, when outside soon becomes the inside of an office building, with stale air and carpets that I don’t like looking at, colors that are drab. I adjust. I keep colorful calendars, colorful in images and words—to keep me company. I’ll be honest, I think what is sometimes frustrating is when humans in general aren’t aware of their own “stuff.” You hear them complain about the same things over and over and wonder if there is some adjustment they can make. And I wonder if we don’t all—me included, of course—from time to time operate as though the world revolves around us. I have great days most of the time and every now and then annoyances get the best of me because you begin to see how other people operate, you see little things, observe little things—things of the psyche, things often cloaked from their own awareness. I then look to myself and ask why certain behaviors bother me so and it comes down to a miscellaneous grab bag. In certain environments, I have a pet peeve for inefficiencies; I don’t particularly like when people don’t have faith—trust in your following through and somehow turn to a micromanaging demeanor. It’s with the smallest of things that this can occur. The mail—worried that you didn’t take the letter down only because your letter is there, not stopping to think that the mail always makes it down to the box. Why would your piece of mail be treated any differently? If it’s in the pile, it will get mailed. It’s little petty things. And then I ask myself: Am I not being somewhat petty by bringing this up with myself? I don’t know. I do know that I have certain buttons and even with that awareness, it doesn’t stop the buttons from going off from time to time. It happens. I’m human. I suppose this is my way of having a conversation about it with myself because one cannot always have these conversations with everyone—or specifically the person. I can, thank goodness, express my frustration in an open fashion with most—the ones that it counts with—counts in the sense that if I was keeping everything inside with them, well, I’d be miserable and they’d be miserable and who needs that. I’m a firecracker at times—could be hard to believe. But it’s an aspect of myself that I am aware of. I’m a firecracker in a good way and sometimes it can overwhelm people that have a more level way of being. I find it difficult at times, knowing that I have chosen to put this firecracker inside of a box that is necessary to make a living. That’s why when I write, when I journal, when I read—when I am in some way interacting with the page, I am in heaven—I am in my bliss. Sometimes it’s going to feel good and sometimes it’s not, and as I always remind myself: That’s OK. I accept the positive aspects of myself and the negative; and in the end, I try to do the same toward my fellow human beings. What’s important is my intentions are positive. It’s complicated being a human firecracker, especially when it’s somehow stifled and that can be felt in many ways—not just the obvious. Fire needs air to breathe; Fire also needs air to grow.