Monthly Archives: June 2012

Little Talks and Ethernets

Every week at this time I have a little talk with myself. “That blog isn’t going to write itself, you know?” I ask. Blogs don’t write themselves any more than novels, memoirs, or short stories do. As a mom raising girls I was famous for having “little talks.” In an effort not to embarrass them or myself, I’d pull them aside or wait for an opportune time to “have our little talk.” We seemed to settle everything this way. Now I have no one to pull over but myself, and apparently this has to happen repeatedly. Especially with one of the activities I most enjoy, which is writing.

Blogging holds my feet to the fire in a way I haven’t known since grad school. My daughter set up my blog for me. She was twenty-six at the time and while I was still hemming and hawing about whether or not I even wanted a blog, she set it all up on WordPress. Seeing it, I could title it. But she got me rolling. Her recommendation was that blogging be weekly, at a minimum. “You will lose all your readers, mom, if you do not post consistently.” It must have been pounded into me. That was last Thanksgiving, twenty-nine posts ago, and I haven’t missed a beat. Still, what she can’t see is that I go through this insane ritual every week like a high-wire act, trying to dodge out of it. In the meantime, it’s good practice….

One foot in this world, one foot in the old, that’s the precarious balance of our time—unless one is young enough, or nerdy enough, to be at home in the ethernets. I am reminded of a story of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation to the throne in 1952, following the death of her father, King George VI. Elizabeth too was twenty-six years old. This would be the first coronation ceremony since the advent of television and BBC would be broadcasting it live. Millions of British citizens were expected to huddle around television sets, many for the first time, and one of the overriding national concerns was: How are we going to know if the ladies aren’t wearing their hats?

That’s kind of where we are today, between worlds. Oh, the things that work for my daughters that weren’t in place for us. They have no idea. We were moving about and marrying and changing our names at their age, and all too easily losing track of one another. But with today’s technology and social networks, the twenty-somethings are part of an ever-growing community they carry with them from school to school, job to job, city to city, one name to the next. They and their friends and acquaintances are like satellites positioned and moving around the world at all times, and I am in awe, really.

Now, if I could just pry my heel out of this net….

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My Prayer to the World

For decades now my Sunday morning ritual has typically been walking or gardening. I believe that by staying off the religious road I have found a more spiritual path. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking that I might go to church if I could find there what I find so readily on walks, in the garden, or in the arts: and that is something new, something realized, or unexpected.

For example: at this month’s graduation speech at the UW’s Foster School of Business, the student speaker quoted the poet Mary Oliver with the line, “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” And last month at “Resonance,” a Seattle Pro Musica concert in St. James Cathedral, we witnessed the world premiere of “I Sing Love,” a choral hymn by Bernard Hughes embracing Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Remarkable moments like these are not only what I most love in life, they are what I live for!

Through love bitter things seem sweet,

Through love copper becomes gold.

Through love dregs taste like pure wine.

Through love pain is as a balm.

Through love thorns become the roses,

Through love vinegar becomes sweet wine.

(Excerpt from “Two Wings to Fly,” written by Jalal ad-Din Muhammud Rumi)

Just as love is spoken in many languages, I see the world’s religions as different expressions of the same thing. So I believe in it all. Walk into my writing room with me for a moment. A collection of antique Santos and a stone Buddha sit upon the writing table, silent and nonjudgmental.  I could never write with anyone but Buddha and saints looking on. Crosses hang around the neck of the tallest Santo. Milagros and crucifixes adorn the walls, a reproduction of a Hindu temple carving that was given to me, a handmade candle from the Holy Land, a Wiccan wreath from Salem, Massachusetts, a Native American dream catcher hangs in a window, and a Tibetan prayer flag drapes in a corner. Initially I strung the prayer flags across the room but it looked too much like a gas station.

Despite all the icons, it makes perfect sense that I would wind up in The Pacific Northwest—a region so secular, it’s almost European. One Sunday morning a Seattle friend and I were walking and the subject of religious intolerance came up. She is agnostic, and you know me, I don’t declare myself anything. The insufferable Republican primaries were raging at the time and about to swing through the South, where many of the Evangelicals were having a “problem” with Romney’s Mormon faith. As outsiders, I can’t tell you how provincial and tribal this looks! Ironic, isn’t it, that it falls on people like us to be the most religiously tolerant in all the land? I mean, we don’t care if you are Muslim or Mormon or what-have-you. And I’m proud of that.

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Sufferin’ Succotash

“There are many ways to love a vegetable. The most sensible way is to love it well- treated.”  M.F.K. Fisher

Remember when the old refrain “eat your vegetables” could be heard ‘round and  ‘round the dinner table? How did we go from that to making salad an entrée, to going for the grilled vegetables even before the steak? Well, they’re all good now. Even Brussels sprouts. Especially Brussels sprouts! Turns out, it was all in the preparation.

Foodies have fun bashing the 1950’s, for good reason. With the exception of door-to- door milk delivery (even in the cities!), nearly everything was mass- produced, processed, and packaged. We’re talking Velveeta cheese, Jell-O mold salads, bottled salad dressings, and frozen t.v. dinners. Cakes came from a box, gravy from packets, whipped cream from an aerosol container, and unless you lived on a farm, vegetables from cans. One has to wonder where we would be in the U.S.A. today had it not been for Francophiles Julia Childs and James Beard. In an country infatuated with “instants,” their message was to take the time to cook good food, and to cook it right. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I even like lima beans now.

The old way was to over-cook (canned) vegetables. The new way is to eat it raw, or under-cook everything fresh. The old way was to peel vegetables. The new way is to leave them in their skins. The old way was to submerge the vegetables in water, over-boil, and then pour all the water down the drain. The new way is to sauté, roast, or grill the vegetables. Or if boiling, in as little water as possible, as quickly as possible, and know that whatever juices remain are beneficial and should be used—as stock, if not in that particular dish. The new way brought extraordinary color, flavor, crispness, and nutrition back to the vegetables. It got us growing our own again, shopping farmers markets, or organically. Washing, cutting and chopping, and creating a still life each evening in the kitchen as beautiful as any painting.

My husband and I are very fond of the artichoke, which can be grown in most any climate and harvested summer through fall. For this he has perfected an aioli sauce, and we like to dip the leaves in it while sitting on the sofa viewing Anderson Cooper’s news program at night. Eaten in this manner an artichoke alone can be filling, or maybe it’s the news. Artichokes remind me of my parents, when they were younger, and I was younger, and I’d come into their bedroom at night to find them sitting up in bed with pillows propped against the headboard, mom in her nightgown, dad in his pajamas, eating artichokes in bed. A dish of mayonnaise between them for dipping the leaves, and a small glass of wine on each nightstand. They too were watching television, a small black & white portable set well across the room. This was a ritual they must have engaged in frequently when artichokes were in season. Consequently, the artichoke is the only vegetable I associate with the bedroom, so much so that when we enjoy ours, I keep thinking we are doing something that belongs in bed.

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The Speed of Life 101

So it goes.  The wheel turns, generation after generation,

around and around.  We ride for a little while, get off and

somebody else gets on.  Over and over, again and again.

(excerpt from “Seventy-Two is Not Thirty Five,” by David Budbill)

 

My friend and I are at the University of Washington for the undergraduate graduation celebration at the Foster School of Business. Students file in donning caps and gowns, filling twenty-one straight rows of chairs. The graduates look loose and excited, cheering each other on. We spot my friend’s son at last. He is tall, good looking, and beaming. Much as I remember him at his Indiana Jones birthday party when he turned five years old, just yesterday.  It’s been quite a ride. Anyway, the important thing is that he looks as extraordinarily happy today as on that day when he was dressed in little khakis shorts and shirt, fedora, and boots.

Here he is in the auditorium hooting and calling much like he did on that day leading the charge at the piñata. It’s easy to see that he’s on good terms with everyone around him now, just as he was then. Back when we knew all our children’s friends. His mother, my friend, had decorated the yard with Tiki torches, dried palm fronds, and painted masks posted on the fence and gate. Today his black gown drapes, and as he adjusts his cap I remember the fedora flying off his head as he swung his way through on a jungle-gym-turned-obstacle-course. That hat, purchased one day at Disneyland, was what started the whole “Indiana Jones” themed birthday party. Children in costume become their part, and on that day he was indeed a miniaturized Harrison Ford. Today he’s “The Graduate.”

The student speaker catches my attention with the delightful line from the poet, Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” For his fifth birthday party his mom had made a Volcano cake with dark chocolate “lava” embedded with rock candy and gummy worms, sprinkled with cocoa, and adorned with plastic flies. This week he turns twenty-two with a double-major in Entrepreneurship and Marketing and his tastes are Epicurean.

Guests at his birthday party dug for buried treasure, arrowheads and glittery “gems.” The Foster School of Business grads intend to find success. The student speaker suggests that “when we do the things we love, we do them well.” They are the strategic thinkers. All I can do is hope. Everyone assembled here believes in bright futures. “Optimism in the face of adversity” is the theme of the keynote address. “At some point pessimism about the future becomes self-fulfilling,” he warns. Don’t be afraid to fail.

As little Indiana Jones he practiced cracking his make-shift bullwhip on the patio floor, again and again.  Today he is flicking his tassel. The graduates throw their hats in the air and it is over. Or just begun. Just like that.

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