Thursday, May 24, 2012

Crow ~ The Great Beyond

Walking in the blazing morning sun
thinking about decisions and life changes,
Crow flys past, closely.
I look up as I usually do,
to acknowledge his presence.

I walk, bag in hand, books, library.
Not a few steps--and wings--the graceful thrust echoes
upon the closest part of my hearing, as though
If I moved but one inch, his wings
would have scraped my cheek.

I move my head after he passes.
He flies up to the top of the traffic light.
This is the closest Crow has ever come to me.
I look up, adjust my gaze upon him,
look up with reverence and awe--
Indescribable moisture wells;
the beating of my heart in tune
with something from the great beyond.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Intersecting Moments

There are many intersecting moments that I am feeling inside and the moments are whizzing at such a fast pace that I don’t feel that they are able to properly come out of their space of twirling air. I appreciate when I open up to the universe and I feel and receive gentle nudges both through small happenstances and clues that present themselves; and also through dreams. Sometimes it's difficult to pin point just which moment occurred first or exactly when they intersected and in a way all that matters is somehow these blinks came together.

It began almost two weeks ago. It’s been much slower at work and as I’ve stated and keep giving thanks for, I am grateful to have a job. That it’s slow right now is temporary. But it was the talk I had with the boss and I wanted to be honest to let him know that it was difficult for me during these slow times—difficult to fill the hours with a steady workflow and since I’m an hourly employee, I feel the diminished hours too. I told him that as in the past, I might try to see if there are other part-time opportunities out there, so that I can both keep my current job and find another job to supplement. As I sat there, I realized and told him, it’s really about feeling productive and in my mind I thought—and useful.

This may likely be the slowest of our slow periods yet. I think the largest obstacle for me and one that I believe was hitting home with me through reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is in feeling that I am slipping into mediocrity and non-usefulness. When I had the talk with the boss a couple of weeks ago, that is when I decided that because I may have a little more time to use, I was going to try to put it to good use by finding a volunteer opportunity. I’ve always had a soft spot for seniors so when I did a search on the web, I found a volunteer website that searched by zip code. As I looked through the listings I found one that I knew I would be doing one day. I started that process and awaited an email to find out the next steps. I will be a “friendly visitor” to a senior through Meals on Wheels and Senior Outreach Services. The program asks for a 1 hour per week commitment for a 6-month period. I’m excited and nervous because it will be something new for me. The program matches you with a senior who has similar interests as you do. This new experience has brought me to a book that I found through Kindle, then checked it out through the library because they happened to have it. It’s called How to Say it to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with our Elders by David Solie, M.S., P.A.

From the short bit I’ve read so far, what I can tell I’m going to appreciate about reading this book is hearing the author’s perspective on the developmental stages of our elders. I remember how my grandparents both had different stories they shared—stories that they would repeat. I listened and as far as I recall, I never said, “You told me that already, grandma.” There were frustrations with my grandfather, but luckily, I think I only corrected him once and after that, I just allowed him to believe what he needed to believe and worked with it as best I could, going along in most cases. My grandfather did end up developing Alzheimer’s, while my grandmother did not. My grandfather regressed into a childlike manner; my grandmother did not. It was difficult and sad at times to watch the deterioration and I saw how my uncle was able to keep everyone’s spirits lifted with his natural sense of humor. My uncle is now 81, but he is still able to maintain his independence and goes out and about. I’m thankful for that. I hope that I will return to this blog with reflections about the book, How to Say it to Seniors, to share what I recall from my own experiences and explore what seems true.

When I am paired with my senior friend, I will offer a smile and allow them to lead the way—of how we will spend our hour and we’ll take it from there. When I visit with my uncle, I mostly listen; I also ask questions and we laugh.

I admire that which I do not hold within myself. Ayn Rand’s character Dagny inspires me, not to be as harsh as she can be—but to find within myself the self-confidence that I sometimes have, but mostly don’t. It could be called something else. I know that it’s been with me every since I can remember. I reach a certain point and then I stop. The only constant is writing. I always keep writing near. An example that comes to mind is when I was going to complete an accounting certificate through DVC years ago. In 2001 I took Principles of Accounting and I passed, but I didn’t do great. I learned some bookkeeping on the job during this time. In 2007 I thought I would try to earn an accounting certificate and all the while I would be sure if I was taking an accounting or business course, I was also taking an English or writing course to balance it out with something I loved and wanted more of. Still in 2007, Intermediate Accounting wasn’t going too well. I dropped too late, ending up with an “F” on my transcript. The concepts covered in Intermediate Accounting were not wrapping around my head. I knew that what I really wanted to do was to gain the skills to become a proficient bookkeeper, not an accountant. But, alas, self-confidence, lack of internal motivation in that direction put that on hold. Today in my current job, I am able to do light bookkeeping, but I do not do the full cycle that a full-charge bookkeeper would perform. Inside I know I can do it, with a few learnings along the way. However, it’s that self-confidence—it’s that feeling of not wanting to be found in a situation and not knowing the answer. I admire those with an entrepreneurial spirit. They dig right in whether they know something or not; they are resourceful and learn along the way. I’m resourceful. What I lack is something else. It’s a fear of not knowing.

The boss has been on vacation and it’s given me time to do some clutter cleaning at work and thinking. I came across some materials that I had printed out some time ago on becoming proficient in QuickBooks; I also found some descriptions of what a full-charge bookkeeper does and I saw the gaps in my knowledge base. Then yesterday my co-worker was working on something and made a comment about how the bookkeeper for a particular client did not code certain things properly and he was surprised that she didn’t seem to know. I had recalled from my accounting classes, when he told me the example, that it wouldn’t have gone where she put it and I knew where it would go instead. We were done with our conversation and I thought I could do this!

I hopped on the computer and did a search in the adult education brochures online. There were two accounting classes that started the following day, which is today. Often classes are already full. I called to inquire about availability. There was space. The next question was do I start anew and take their version of accounting I again or go to accounting II. It felt like only a few years ago that I took level I, but when I looked online at my transcripts, that’s when I saw that it was all the way back in 2001. Because the nature of my work now is mostly administrative, I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on the whole process from start to finish again. Tonight will be my first class. It feels good. I’m also enrolled in the short story writing class for the Fall semester and who knows—by then I might also enroll in the accounting levels II/III thorough adult education. I figure that by the time I meet with my boss for my annual review coming up, I will have a better idea of how I can use my bookkeeping skills more, whether it is with him or by being an independent contractor and going out and marketing myself—once I gain more experience and knowledge. Bookkeeping itself is not difficult and QuickBooks and other computerized programs make the task easy. However, if one doesn’t have a solid understanding of how the debits and credits work together with the different asset and liability accounts, the financial statements will not give an accurate snapshot of how the business is doing. I often hear accountants say: “Garbage in, garbage out.” As I continue along, I would like to work with small businesses in a bookkeeping capacity. All I need now is to trust in my abilities. It’s an interesting hat to wear—the hat where you know deep inside you can do something, but you hold yourself back. I’ve lived it far too long and it’s time to do something about it; hearing myself say—write those words—feels good. We’ll see how it goes.

Writing will always be with me—that I can be certain of. And even if I had to set it aside, it would still be with me.

One day I would like to work in an assisted living facility or for an organization such as Meals on Wheels and Senior Outreach Services. I could see myself in a bookkeeping or administrative role, but I would especially like to be involved with an activities director to help facilitate and develop fun and meaningful activities for the seniors. So one day when I’m ready to launch my wings in this direction, if the pull is still there, I will know that I’ve stated my intention. By writing this here and now, I am focusing myself and preparing myself for what is to come. I will know and keep in mind that as the seasons change, so too my path may change at any given moment. I will be grateful and appreciative for today. Today feels better for being able to begin to be of more use in the world—if even in a small way—through my words, through my smile, through sharing.

Every moment counts.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Making a Difference

Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing the graduating class of 2012 from the Nursing program at Merritt College. The speakers imparted their last words of encouragement and wisdom as these new nurses-- men and women--would go out into the world to help care for people and to put people at ease when they need it the most inside of sterile hospitals, that though filled with people, can feel like the human element is missing. I was so proud to be a part of the applause, the tears, the joy, the celebration of these new nurses.

The human element was held high. Don't forget that as you're charting and dealing with instruments--don't forget that there's a human there sitting or lying in the bed. Take the time to ask how they are doing. Take it slow, be mindful, compassionate--and be flexible. These were some of the words of wisdom that were imparted to these nurses. And all the while I was thinking YES. Not only yes, but why aren't these simple human principles practiced in daily life? Too often were in a hurry. Too often smiles are nonexistent. Too often we grow impatient.

As I sat in the audience amongst the families and friends of these graduates, I felt proud and for a few moments I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to be part of a profession that touches lives. I know nursing is not my path, but being a part of this celebration affirms for me that helping in some way is in me--it always has been--and that I'm no longer able to feel this joy in my own job--at least not to my capabilities and desires.

A week ago I began a process to go in that direction--on a voluntary basis--in the direction of being helpful in a small way, to hopefully brighten someone's day. I hope that along the way, I gain the courage that I need to find a new career path or find a mix that will allow me to both make a living and make a difference. For now, if the process goes well, it will be enough.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

May Morning

There's a restless stillness to the morning.
Cars roar by, beeping horns.
Little birds chirp away interrupted
by morning doves cooing in the distance;
trees shake and bend--a graceful urgency--
in deep conversation with the wind.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Estate Sale ~ Hearts and Ramekins

Over many weekends we’ve seen signs posted for estate sales and garage sales. We’ve caught a few garage sales toward latter part of their day, only to find that there wasn’t anything left that we wanted. This past weekend while we were running errands, I saw a sign that read “estate sale.”  I expressed my interest in stopping, especially since I’d never been to one before. To be quite honest, it really hadn’t sunk into my head what an estate sale really was. Even though the words couldn’t be any plainer, it didn’t register and my mind had imagined a whole block of homes that were participating in selling their goods.

I saw the sign with the address followed by #227. My significant other said that we would take care of our errands first and then we would catch the sale on the way back. It was still early.

Done with what we set out to do, we slowed as we approached the street and when we saw the large neon sign, we pulled over and found a place to park. It was a hot day, my mouth felt dry, and the air was thick. We walked toward the sign and followed the arrows through the gate. This seemed to be an apartment complex for seniors and it was the most peaceful location. The grass was well kept and there were benches for sitting and enjoying the trees, fresh air, and flowers. There was a hush that silenced the outside commotion of cars and machinery. I could see myself living in a place like this. Peaceful, serene, a sense of community.

As we came around the corner to #227, my significant other said, “there will probably be a lot of knick-knacks.” And just as he said this, I saw in through the window to a windowsill filled with figurines. We entered the home through its open door to be greeted by others looking through the various items that were displayed on tables. We made eye contact with the woman who was holding the sale and said hello. She seemed in her late 40s and was not overly friendly. I went first to two small bookshelves of books. It was like any other home with the types of things that one has surrounded themselves with to make a home feel like a home.

It didn’t start settling in until I saw photos that were also part of the sale, possibly photos of the woman who owned all the items in this home before she passed on. To see her photo and the many other small black and white photos in a box waiting for someone to buy left an unidentifiable feeling inside of me. How did I feel rummaging through this woman’s things. I assumed it was a single woman because there wasn’t any men’s clothing. She could have been a widow.

On one of the tables I saw a small flat metal heart that couldn’t be used for much, except maybe to place a dried flower or a pair of earrings or a few pieces of candy. There was something about it that I liked, though. I left it there and would point it out to my significant other when I found him in another room of the house.

The home had a scent of many old memories planted all around, soon to be dispersed and forgotten.

Every item was well marked with price tags. In the kitchen, I saw a set of four ramekins for making custard. I had wanted to add a set to my collection of kitchen supplies after seeing a recipe for flan.

It was a tight squeeze in the home navigating the other people and the long tables set up in the middle of the small living room displaying a variety of trinkets and knick-knacks for sale. We took our things up to the lady and she wrote down what she sold us and the cost on a sheet of paper, adding to a short list she had already started. We gave her the money, thanked her, and we were on our way.

As we walked away past the green grass and back onto the noisy sidewalk, my significant other said, “how sad.”

“I’m not sure how I feel. I didn’t feel like it was wrong. I know what you mean though. I wonder who the woman was,” I said. “Maybe her daughter?”

“It could have been her caretaker.”

“She didn’t seem sad. It must be sort of odd having someone go through your home while you’re right there.”

“It doesn’t seem like she’s going to get rid of much. It’s mostly little things that no one’s going to want.”

“I wonder how she’ll get rid of the rest.”

I carefully placed the ramekins in the car, so that they wouldn’t bump into each other.

On the car ride home, I wasn’t sure what to feel or how I felt rummaging through a deceased person’s things, seeing her picture smiling up at me from its small frame. I do know that I will put these ramekins to good use one of these days when I set out to make some custard or flan. I’ll think of the woman and hope that she’ll know that her ramekins are in good hands—and that her heart found mine—hearts all around.

Children’s Books ~ Timeless Connections & Endless Joys

This week’s blog topic comes at just the time when I’ve been busily checking out picture books from the library, looking at a few on my own shelves, and searching the shelves of the library bookstore for a gem or two to add to my small children’s book collection.

When I gave the topic more thought, the George and Martha books written and illustrated by James Marshall immediately flew into my field of memory. I most definitely remember the illustrations without even looking at the books. These are books that I remember my mother bringing home for me from the library. I don’t remember reading them, only looking at those lovely pictures and knowing by the illustrations what silliness George and Martha were up to.

After that short reverie back to childhood, I am back to the present, and I have chosen one that I’ve had for some time now as my favorite, but there are three others that I would like to mention first.

Click, Clack, Moo
Cows That Type
By Doreen Cronin.  Pictures by Betsy Lewin.

This is a fun picture book that is a delight to read out loud and made me laugh several times. The large colorful illustrations capture a lot of personality as the cows try to negotiate with Farmer Brown.

Dog Loves Books
By Louise Yates

The soft illustrations in this thoughtful book feel as light as cotton candy dancing across the pages to the story’s end. Dog is the star with his many expressions to suit the occasion as he tries to get his bookstore off the ground.

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art
By Eric Carle

This is a gorgeous book for children and adults alike. Each artist talks a little bit about themselves and how they came to be artists; the opposite page includes a photo or self-portrait of the artist and a fold out page of various small clips of their illustrations and sketches, as well as the artist at work.


And now for my favorite illustrated book:

The Three Questions Based on a Story by Leo Tolstoy.
Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth.

We follow the young boy, Nikolai, as he sets out to answer his three questions. He will have help from different creaturely friends and gain new experiences along the way.

The story itself is like a gentle ripple in a still lake of compassion—rippling out, impressing itself upon the vast oceans. The illustrations have a quality that invites me to become a part of the story—and that makes me feel that I am a part of the story. I want to dip my toe into the page’s shores, keep stepping further in—and by the time I’ve reached the story’s end, I am left with a sense that I am indeed a part of the story.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Morning Page: Writing it Out ~ Books

There is a nervous buzz of energy and at the same time there is an excited, eager energy waiting to see what I decide. Don’t stop. Don’t look at the words on the page. Let them out of their own accord. Look away. Tap away. Type it out.

I don’t know why there is hesitation at taking a short story writing course in the Fall. I think there will be room, but I’m not sure. I won’t be sure until my registration date. I’m surprised I’m still in the system, since it’s been a while since I’ve taken a course. I’ve taken the creative writing course and that included a good amount of short story writing. It seems the teacher thought I was best on my darker stories, but that was a different time. I don’t find the short story to be a natural container for me. It is a challenge and that may be why I would like to take this course.

I recently pulled one of my old journals. Just as I often leave books unread, it seems I’ve also left a few journals unwritten in with many blank pages. In this journal from 2002 I found a few entries where I had written my reactions to books that I was reading. The one that made me go looking for the book in my shelves is Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel. I read my notes and then I tried to find it on my shelves, but it looks like I gave it up during my move. In the process of searching for this book, I found Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers. It’s a collection of her lectures as is Kundera’s. I pulled that book from my shelf and I began reading. I had never finished it, but remember that it got my head spinning and it had the same affect this time. I took my pencil in hand and underlined passages that especially spoke to me or that I wanted to come back to later. I adore her absolute confidence as a writer: “In regard to precision of language, I think myself am the best writer today” (pg. 10). She made this statement sometime in 1958.

While searching the library catalog for Kundera’s The Art of the Novel, I came across Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. I recognized it. I had it in my possession at some point—again another unfinished book. I wasn’t ready for it at the time is the only explanation I can think of. I put a hold on it, so that I could check it out of the library. I then placed an order through Amazon for Kundera’s book. The moment I started reading Bradbury’s book of essays, I was in love instantly with his writing and how he expressed himself. I am almost done and am savoring every single word, not wanting to reach the end. Besides reading fiction, I absolutely love reading writers sharing their process. I’m glad that I have rediscovered Bradbury. Since getting this book of his essays, I have checked out a couple of his short story collections and read a few of his short stories and plan to read more. He is an amazing storyteller and his imagination and inspiration seems never ending. I have since also picked up a copy of Fahrenheit 451 because I never did read it.

What’s interesting to me is that it took the authors themselves, to discuss their own works, to bring me to their fiction. With Milan Kundera, I had read his fiction first. With Rand and Bradbury, it was their non-fiction that I read first. And it was Rand’s own words that finally convinced me that I needed to read Atlas Shrugged and that I would not regret it. I tried to read it a long time ago. I was daunted by its massiveness and I wasn’t able to get into the story right away. I downloaded it to my Kindle last week and I started reading it slowly, taking in her precision of language. I was able to enter the story with more interest partially because my grandfather worked on the railroads. I had to find an in. My interest was also galvanized when she said, “A sentence in Atlas Shrugged that is applicable to all rational people, but particularly to writers, is the one where I say that Dagny ‘regarded language as a tool of honor, always to be used as if one were under oath—an oath of allegiance to reality.’ In regard to words, this should be the motto of every writer” (pg. 10). She sealed it for me and my decision was made that I would read Atlas Shrugged when she said, “For instance, the theme of Atlas Shrugged is ‘the importance of reason’—a wide abstraction…Every chapter and paragraph of Atlas Shrugged is set up on the same principle: What abstraction do I want to convey—and what concretes will convey it?” (Pg. 13). I am fully absorbed this time while reading Atlas Shrugged and I will allow myself at least three month’s to finish it while still trying to read other books. I seem to do best when I have too many books to choose from. I cannot stick with one book at a time.

I’m still thinking about Rand’s words and that’s one of the aspects of reading that I hunger for. Sometimes I want to read for pure enjoyment, but mostly I want to read a piece of fiction that will push my mind—that will make me think and plant seeds that I add to my conscious and subconscious garden and that will blend with other seeds along the way, storing these seeds in my mind for later use—for continued connections and patterns.

This morning I drew one Tarot card for guidance for the day and also with regard to the short story writing course that I want to take—the hesitation. I pulled a trump card: The Universe. The card helped me come to the page. I feel grateful that my soul gravitated to this card and not seeing any of the cards while I chose with cards face down and my eyes closed, taking my hand and going back and forth until I felt ready. The Universe: The principal of totality, individuation/wholeness.

I do feel at one with the Universe, and I am grateful for that. And I am grateful for my inner guidance, for writing, for reading, for love—and even for sadness, for I can’t feel without it—grateful for being able to feel and express.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


‘Do not look for happiness in life.  Life itself is happiness’....

From Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Magical Year of Reading by Nina Sankovitch.

This morning at the brink of waking, I felt my lips form a turned up semi circle. I smiled wide for no reason or perhaps it was because I was alive—because I had been traveling to faraway places in my dreams; and perhaps I didn’t travel anywhere at all.  I was only aware of my sealed eyelids, my body and the warm body sleeping next to mine. I was aware of the muscles on my face in their state of pure relaxation and joy and this upturned smile and bodily sensations held me. I felt my lips begin to part and the smile took over and it was pure bliss.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Morning Moonlight

The birds sing--reach my senses
as a bouquet of yellow freesia and pink sweet peas.

I sit up in bed, look out the window and a bright light is beaming at me; it is the moon. I sit up taller and it's as though the moon is merely feet away from the trees below and speaks to me--whispers, here I am.

The hush of the morning enveloped in birdsong, the moon, and the faint breeze tickles my spirit--we breathe as one golden ray of light.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Religion

She is in their home; she is a guest. It is a Catholic home, very much like her grandmother’s, with images of The Virgin Mary, candles, angel statues, Mexican cooking wafting in the air.

A belated birthday celebration, it is a day of sunshine, laughter, and soap bubbles.

She is feeling hungry again, hours have passed; the sun has begun its descent. She asks if it’s all right to go inside for a bowl of beans. “Yes, of course. You don’t have to ask. Help yourself,” second elder sister says. She goes in by herself, spoons a few helpings of beans into her bowl, sits at the kitchen table in front of the television that has been on a Catholic station all day. Right now a priest is cooking something for his viewers: French toast and an egg scramble. He’s using large pats of butter in every pan. He reads her mind. He justifies the butter by saying, “It may look like a lot of butter, but this is for four servings, so it isn’t as much as it seems.” That’s what she tells herself when she bakes.

First elder sister, who is visiting her sister—second elder sister—, comes inside because she is still hungry too. Both sisters are now in the kitchen, the quiet has broken. The woman continues eating her beans, staring at the television. First elder sister starts to chitchat about anything. “Is that salmon he’s making?” she asks. The young woman replies, “No, it’s French toast.”

“Oh, it doesn’t look very good.” First elder sister often has faraway look in her eyes, the look changing with first greetings or when children are around.

The woman is almost done with her beans. First elder sister turns to the woman and asks, “Are you Catholic?”

The woman has been to this house many times before and thus far no one has asked her directly. Second elder sister knows that this woman’s grandmother worshipped as she does. First elder sister doesn’t know the woman as well; she will ask questions of the woman, which makes her uncomfortable at times. In first elder sister’s presence, she mostly listens, and sometimes what she talks about is depressing.

The woman shoves the last bite of beans in her mouth, chews, and says, “I was raised Catholic.” She trails off, bowl in hand, heading for the sink.

First elder sister says in a nonchalant way, “Oh, so you don’t have a religion.” It wasn’t said so much as a question as it was an unequivocal statement.

“I wouldn’t say that.” Her words trail off. She begins to add more words, but by now first elder sister’s attention has been drawn to something else. The woman finishes mumbling her reply, to herself, in case first elder sister is still listening. She is not.

She would normally wash her dish. Instead, she can’t get out of the kitchen fast enough and sees that first elder sister is still distracted, distracted by her baby grandson.

The woman, a guest in this home, goes back outside to the fading sun to where she hears laughter and lightness. She places her hands in her sweater pockets, looks out to the vast ocean sky, and wonders how often it is that people ask questions that they don’t want the answers to, to ask in such a way that makes the other feel that they are the other.

She thinks a lot about this question—statement by someone who knows nothing about her—“so you don’t have a religion.” It pierces at her. She feels hurt by the words and wonders at the same time if she isn’t making more of the words than is necessary. She ponders the many possibilities of why this statement bites into her so much. There could have been a dozen other responses but first elder sister chose to mark her religion-less. The woman, after pondering the statement until she could ponder it no more, realizes that there is truth in first elder sister’s words by the traditional sense of the word. And she also realizes it’s all right. Nevertheless, she feels slightly cast aside by the words.

Still days go by, weeks even—and the statement sits with her; it stares her in the face and she acknowledges it. She isn’t angry. Annoyed maybe. She is also frustrated that a close ended question was posed without the opportunity to elaborate on her thoughts, yet she’s glad first elder sister became distracted because she didn’t want to justify nor defend herself and she’s not good at that anyway, especially not with certain elders that she does not know well enough.

As the woman continued to digest the question, she finally wrote in her diary: My religion is nature, kindness, compassion, love.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

April Reading

I count a book as read the month I finish it. All the book versions were selected and finished in April, while the audio books took a couple of months, but were completed in April.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading (2011) by Nina Sankovitch. In Nina Sankovitch’s memoir, she takes us on her journey as she deals with the grief of her older sister’s death. She shares her insights, impressions, reflections; the way she weaves all of this together with quotes from her reading felt seamless and complete—her writing is luminescent. 

The Paris Wife: A Novel (2011) by Paula McLain
Narrator: Carrington MacDuffie

While listening to this audio, I asked myself if I would be as interested in the book if it had not been set in Paris and if it had not been based on the author’s researched and imagined life of Hemingway. I’m still not sure of my answer. The writing style won me over and the narrator did a great job of bringing the fictional Ernest Hemingway to life.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2004) by Mary Roach.
Narrator: Shelly Frasier

I may not have chosen this audio if it had not been offered for sale amongst a selection of other discounted audio books. I was pleasantly surprised at how informative the book was, while having a certain bit of humor injected through the writer’s style and the narrator’s ability to hone in on this. There were a few times I smiled and maybe even laughed, not in a disrespectful manner. You will understand if you ever listen to it. Overall, a respectable treatment of the subject matter that made me think more about what happens to human cadavers and understand the process better and how we don’t often have a choice of how our bodies are used if we donate them to “science.” Very eye opening.

How to Cook a Tart (2002) by Nina Killham. I found this on the shelves of a second hand store in San Francisco. It was the most organized book section in a second hand store I had ever seen. I felt like I was in a regular used bookstore. This was a light read and a bit over the top.  I can’t say I loved it. It was entertaining for what it was: A cookbook author obsessed with rich foods, food, love, an affair, temptation—sometimes ridiculous, but entertaining.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School (2007) by Kathleen Flinn. I absolutely loved this book. A memoir about a period in Kathleen Flinn’s life that revolves around cooking, passion, love, dreams—ultimately her experience as a student of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and all that she gains along the way. I was riveted from page one until the end.

The Pearl Diver: A Novel (2004) by Jeff Talarigo
A work of fiction that takes place in the year 1948 in Japan, the first 34 pages set the stage for the young pearl diver who develops leprosy and is sent away to begin a new life of isolation from the world she must leave behind. The remainder of this short book of 240 pages is told through “the artifacts of Nagashima.” The book is sad, haunting, poignant—it will linger with me for a long time.

A Day All my Own

I had Friday off and was in need of a day to reenergize and follow the day where it led. The library was a must because I yearned to search the shelves and lose myself in the task of finding the next stack of books to bring home, since I had finished several books and was in need of more; none at home nor on my Kindle were calling out strong enough to lure me in. I felt empty. I’ve also been quite exhausted during the evenings for no reason.

I needed this day.

And so it began. Even though it may not be the best activity, I wanted to do some cleaning and because I was out of energy the past few days I had left rinsed dishes in the sink for days. It felt good to get that out of the way. It’s the little things. I then thought I’d get a head start on laundry and decided to take the bedding to wash.

I saw an elderly man walking as I drove through the parking lot to the ATM machine. I do a double take as I wait for him to slowly inch across the road. It seems he’s wearing one brown shoe and one black. It’s possible his eyes didn’t register the colors or perhaps that’s just how he bought the pair. From what little I could tell from a short distance, the shoes looked worn about the same.

I walk to the ATM to get money for laundry. As I approach a bird’s shadow above my head causes me to look up into the sun. I don’t see him. Where did you go?  I continue to the ATM. Finished with my transaction, I step off the curb, turn around with my hand covering my eyes, to look for him. The security woman sees me and says, “He's hungry.” She is friendly and lets out a chuckle. “Ah,” I say, “he's looking for something to eat, huh?”

“I checked my pockets, but I don't have anything for him,” she said.

I smile. I didn’t have anything to give him either. Crow continues cawing, I continue walking. The air smells of home cooked potatoes from the nearby restaurant, and at the same time, it smells like crisp fresh laundry. I inhale deeply.

At the library, I didn't make it out of the first row of books. I did find a stack to take after reading the first few pages of several books that looked interesting, and that first seized me, either by their covers or titles.

Outside again, I am greeted by white wisteria glowing in the sun and moving gently in the breeze like a white wedding dress, bees gathering nectar, buzzing with purpose and instinct; cascades of rosemary line the short walls. I rub my fingers on the green herbaceous tendrils as I rest my gaze on their purple blossoms. I bring my fingers to my nose and deeply inhale the vibrant fragrance of rosemary.

Since I haven’t cooked dinner all week, I wanted to prepare something light and delicious. One of the places that I found myself yesterday was TJ Maxx. I was looking through the household items when I saw two cute baking dishes: A rectangular one at 7 inches and a square one at 5 inches. Then I saw that the brand was Le Creuset. I then also remembered my significant others cousin’s husband telling us that TJ Maxx often has Le Creuset at great prices. I couldn’t resist and planned on using the baking dishes for the evening’s meal.

I had one more library to go to and noticed that the day—all my own—was nearing an end. I looked at the recommended books and saw 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die. I needed to select a red wine for tonight’s meal. I took the heavy book to a table and began looking in the red wine section. The photos were breathtaking. I wrote a few choices down realizing I probably wouldn’t get any of them for tonight. And then I remembered that I had downloaded a Kindle book called Great Wines Under $20 (2011) by Elyse Luray. After feeling satisfied that I had written a few wines down for future, I checked out a few other potential books, went to the car and looked at the e-book on my Kindle. I saw a few options that I bookmarked to take in the store with me. One in particular caught my attention: Cloudline Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. The description said, “A great everyday wine, light but feels full-bodied, with fruity, well-balanced flavors.”  It was time to go shopping for dinner.

I knew I wanted to prepare fish, but I had to look to see what looked fresh. I gathered the few other items I needed and saw some nice looking red snapper. I went over to the wine isle hoping to find one of the wines I had bookmarked. I looked at the labels to see if anything looked familiar and then I saw Cloudline. It was settled.

Dinner was kept simple. I had some jazz playing in the background so when my significant other walked through the door, he would be greeted with the soothing notes alongside the aromas from the kitchen. I prepared polenta and smoothed it into the new small baking dishes and set that aside. Then I gently sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil, added mushrooms, spinach, salt and pepper. What I did different this time was to add a little texture by way of a few breadcrumbs and slivered almonds. The mixture went on top of the polenta, and then I sprinkled the smallest amount of “Ghost Pepper Sea Salt” on top before adding the freshly grated Parmesan and then into the oven. I seasoned the red snapper with salt, pepper, and a new spice blend called “Pirate’s Bite,” then sautéed it in olive oil.

When my significant other got home, after he settled in, he opened our bottle of wine; we toasted and eased into our meal, chatting about our days—then he noticed the almonds and liked the added texture. I’m glad he noticed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Journaling & Weeds

I was browsing through the travel writing books on my Kindle before our trip and came across this title: Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip) (2011) by Dave Fox. The term Globejotting has a nice ring to it and is visual in an active way. I downloaded a sample, and when I reached the end, I went ahead and purchased it for $5.95. As I flipped through the e-book, I saw that it was published by Inkwater Press in Portland. What a coincidence!

Dave Fox has a humorous writing style. He's informative and shares from some of his own journals. I’m not through the book yet; I’m taking it slow. I like his concept of Speed Journaling, which is free writing with a fresh spin. It helps to have fresh ways of looking at familiar concepts and that’s what I like about this book so far. I feel that I haven’t done as much free writing as I’d like lately. I think this book will give me a boost and I noticed that I put Speed Journaling into action during my trip, which was great. As I was reading thorough some of my journal entries, I was glad that I had written down so many details to bring a moment to life again. And because I was writing so fast, I had trouble reading some of my words; that only affirms how much in the moment I was, rather than thinking too much.

What’s great about this book—and what I’m looking forward to—is reigniting my free writing space. That happens best in my notebooks. It’s too easy to hit delete and backspace and reread what I’ve written on the computer screen. I’ve been able to freewrite on the computer; it’s not quite the same, though it does work for me sometimes.

I’ve touched on this before on a blog or two. Something that I still struggle with is how I feel about sifting through my journals and finding something that I want to post, but because I wrote it in the past, whether it’s a few weeks or years, I feel that because it’s not in present time, I waver on weather I should post it or not.

When I sift through my past journals, I am sometimes in awe when I come across an entry where I can tell I was right there without my internal editor and the thoughts pour out unhindered. I was able to enter the free writing space and that’s what I miss. It still happens and I am able to take certain things and flesh them out. But still, I suppose I will have to come to accept that’s it’s quite all right to rework what I’ve already written or post it as it was. I have done this before. It’s just that there are times when I hesitate, when I question it. On the other hand, this is partially what journals are for; for venting our thoughts; for bearing our souls; for sharing, and at times, not sharing. Journals are the stuff that we are made of and the observations, anguish, joy that we feel. It is all of these things and more. And this is where the mind gets in the way and I’m glad to write it here because I am saying to myself, to my rattling mind, I see you and I’ve had enough of you and why don’t you get out of my way! Don’t be afraid to write everything you are feeling. And some days, there will be nothing—utter blankness—and usually, eventually, something will flourish out of nothing.

I’ve been carrying a quote with me since the moment I read it from A Birthday Book: A Keepbook of Dates to Remember. I saw the book in a consignment shop about three weeks past. The quote is the main reason I bought the book. There are other quotes too. The quote has since fizzled away, but when I read Michael Seidel’s blog “Weeding” the quote sprung up into my consciousness again.

The first quote is the one that hooked me, the second a perfect accompaniment.

“And what is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
From Fortune of the Republic by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.”
 From A Fable for Critics by James Russell Lowell

I feel at home amongst the weeds and wildflowers.