Making the mundane magical one orphan story at a time

As a reader, I appreciate short stories, brief self-contained literary nuggets make reading an entire book more time friendly. Each little orphan story lends itself to a natural stopping point, facilitating my actually closing the book so I can sleep, eat, make the plane, clean the house, or whatever I might have waiting.  When put together, these individual children create a family of ideas that embrace and entertain with the best full course novel: but like haute cuisine hors d’oeuvres, the brevity also means they are either very good or very bad.  Today I offer to your mental palette,  two amazing collections and one actual novel by the gentleman who taught me what short stories should be. None of these are new writers nor are they new books, so I shall present them in the order they appeared on my shelves.

The gentleman, and he truly was a gentle man, that set the bar for which every short story writer ever after would aim, was Ray Bradbury. His short stories in collections like “The Illustrated Man” and “Martian Chronicles”, would come into my life the following fall via a yet unmet school library, but it was the first day of summer in 1960 something. My sister and I had walked ourselves, in our brand new summer tennis shoes, library cards stuffed in cut off school pants, the familiar six city blocks to restock our entertainment.  My sister made her way to the shelf with her favorite book, “Adventure in Forgotten Valley” by Glyn Frewer, and I followed touching the spines of  dozens of well read friends, watching for something new. (I had  already read this part of the library from A-Z, and held my next two books in reading the non-fiction portion in order in my hand. I was up to the 590’s and flora and fauna.) When there it was, a new book faced out and waiting, “Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum: Twelve Shuddery Stories for Daring Young Readers.”

I remember it now as destiny, that the first story I opened to, while waiting for my sister to pick her other three books, was “October Country” by Ray Bradbury. I asked the librarian what “whole books” she had by this man Bradbury, maybe hoping for more of the Elliot family (which would not make its way into any reader’s hands until 50 years later in “From Dust Returned”) That day I went home with my two books on zoological identification and evolution of the mammal, Hitchcock’s Monster Museum, and Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” brought over from the Young Adult area of the library (cuz they did that for me,  I was kind of an unusual kid.)

I read books now the same way I did then, from first printed word to final printed word. This is from Mr. Bradbury’s introduction, “if your boy is a poet, horse manure can only mean flowers to him; which is, of course what horse manure has always been about.” I knew in that sentence I had a friend who understood me better even than my sister, who knew my heart in a way few have since, and for the first time in a very alien universe I was not alone.  That morning Bradbury’s prose broke a spider web on my face and I knew this summer would be different. I am much older and have reread this, as well as his better known books, dozens of times, and every time some new phrase or nuance reaches out and embraces all the real parts of me.

If you have never read “Dandelion Wine”, there is no more perfect time than summer, to meet Douglas Spaulding and John Huff and Grandma and even the Junkman, and if it is your first time you will not need to wait a lifetime as I did to return again to Greene Town, Illinois as “Farewell Summer” was released in 2004.

I have always had a certain passion for things fantastical and found that drugstore paperback shelves could offer me, if often less powerful prose at least more prolific hits, than the local library in this genre. It was here I first met the next gentleman friend of my imagination, Mr. Peter S. Beagle.  His “Last Unicorn” was a better quality read than the usual paperback fare I would read for hours behind the rack, I used my saved pop bottle and milk money to buy it.  He was not as easy to find as Bradbury, and although I found him in an occasional anthology (I particularly remember werewolves in Terry Carr’s New Worlds’s of Fantasy #3) and managed to carry a collection of his works with me when most everything else I owned was lost, I had never met the man.

That is until this year at Phoenix Comicon, I asked him which of his books he had there to sell he would recommend, and so I am now a proud owner of a signed “The Line Between.” I just finished reading it for the second time, and am slightly ashamed as a previous “cricket” to not have adequate words for the range of this man’s talent. Although the gem to most Beagle readers will be “Two Hearts” the not disappointing return to the world of the” Last Unicorn,” my favorite is the final entry, “A Dance for Emilia” which made me both laugh harder and cry harder the second time.  If you have any doubts about why you should read this collection, let’s just say I am mentioning this man’s short stories in a review sandwiched between Ray Bradbury and Charles de Lint.

Charles de Lint introduced me and many others to a new kind of fantasy where faery magic happened not in some far green country but the dark edges of our own dreams and city street corners. I did not meet his books until I was a writer myself, and an adult who was still pretty busy hiding her “geek” reads behind the more acceptable classics and feminist tomes.  It was in fact women writers,  Terry Windling and Ellen Kushner who deserve an entire blog of their own, who helped me find him in a place they like to call Bordertown.  De Lint’s “Waif and Strays” is the third book I recommend for a perfect summer read. For established fans of Charles the collected orphaned stories are literary visits to Tamson House, Newford and Bordertown. For those not yet fans, there is Tamson House, Newford and Bordertown; three places you will visit in your own dreams that will forever alter how you see through your waking eyes as well.

That ability to invade sleeping dreams and change waking reality are the connecting threads in these three books. Find them, read them, and then go visit the authors pages and thank them. Even if for Bradbury it is posthumously, I believe somewhere a particle of him will know he’s made another set of eyes see flowers instead of manure, and maybe a cat will dance for you.

http://www.raybradbury.com/

https://www.facebook.com/petersbeagle

https://www.facebook.com/charles.delint.

 

 

Everything costs something.

 

Everything Costs Something

“Everything costs something,”  the old woman said, shook her head

And pulled her hand away from the brand new hat and gloves I proffered.

“ I have more at home,”  I tried to make her understand.

“A gift,” I said “I just thought that you look cold.”

I hadn’t much then myself, but Utah winter had bit her till she bled in spots

And I had the old ones, still no holes at all, at my journey’s end.

“They’re free.” I pushed them towards her, once again.

“Everything costs something,” she repeated, more forceful this time

And rustled in her pile of shopping cart treasures .

We settled on a battered dictionary whose brittle, yellow pages

I still sometimes slowly turn

Searching for the meanings of some forgotten word.

 

“Everything costs something’”

No equivocation here,

Sitting as I do now,

Old as she was then

poised between  my  unwashed dishes

and the story filled pages of one more ending day.

I watch  last week’s dust bunnies be chased by today’s tufts of  golden retriever hair,

And  balance my bank account.

I Weigh the Time and money spent here

Against dreams I cherished there, and search the numbers

Each subtraction at a time

hoping to find myself again

Somewhere

On the balance line.

CC

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Wondering how to scientifically test that thesis. Also pretty much adding nothing of import today, and yesterday was a complete miss.  So relatively speaking, do you find yourself  liking my posts better after silences? The stats would not support that conclusion. Seems in our digital age, absence makes the heart just wander.

But I have nothing and no time to really write. Not a recipe or humorous quip is inhabiting my consciousness at the moment. 12 hour nursing shifts seem to do that to me these days. So go write your own blog, poem or take a few photos and com back and leave the link in a comment. Then everybody will have something worthwhile to read, or make today the day you go visit your local library. Just come back and see me tomorrow when I will have something worth saying.

Namaste.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs…

In case you are one of the many who don’t know, that is the first line from one of my all-time favorite poems. It is not by Robert Frost, although two poems by him are in this category, and clearly not Dickens or Emerson or even Whitman, although they as well have followed me from the time when I was green and golden and sang in my chains like the sea. Have you guessed the poem yet? The poet? No cheating now, no Googling the metaphors or opening line, I will tell you in the end.

I have a lot of favorite poems, but to make the “all-time” list I must have first memorized portions of the poem prior to graduating high school and still find depth and meaning in its lines.  These poems, and the music of dead minstrels who played around me as the poetry wove into my adolescent awareness, are the things I am listening to these days.  My Ipod is playing Dusty Springfield, Karen Carpenter, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Dan Fogelberg,  Maria Hawkins and Nat King Cole, Bob Welch (in his early Fleetwood Mac days); and some living ones too, like Dave Brubeck, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and these are all joined be even more old minstrels whose status I can’t remember without Googling them myself,  like  Hot Tuna. And all these  voices of the 1970’s are just lovely background to what I am listening to the most; hours of  Interviews I am transcribing about a remarkable someone’s  life in that time.

The music isn’t just background; these artists are after all,  like the poem,  “all-time” favorites. New artists have joined my favorites music list over the years like Queensryche, or Dreamtheater,  Sharon and the Daptones, The Black Keyes, even recently Adele. I listen to these favorite artists repeatedly, appreciating them more with familiarity, but they can never be part of the personal history that makes the oldies resonate.

Even my TV time is currently rife with nostalgia, I am watching season 1 of  The Waltons, and a little more recent (OK, a lot more recent) but with its own poignancy the 2002 documentary   “Lost in La Mancha,”  about Gilliam’s ill fated quest to make my absolute favorite book EVAR into a movie, the production of which was once again just called off last month.

So that is what I am listening to and watching this week, and I can wholeheartedly recommend all of it, especially if you are too young to have heard or seen any of it the first time. All of these artists contributed something important and unique to the face of modern music, but I will also completely understand if you just laugh at me and tune into the modern fruits grown from these folk, jazz, blues and rock music roots. Because after all the owls have not yet borne your farm away and your wishes still race through the house high hay.

And the poem, by the way is Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas, for whom my youngest son was almost named. As to my homesteading updates, I am about to cook and eat the one winter squash (aka spaghetti squash) that made it to adulthood and harvest, I have already consumed the one cantalope, and the scorching Arizona summer is upon us, so the garden is going to sleep for awhile.

Improvement over last year, although I am a loooong way from any form of urban self-sufficiency, I did actually eat from my garden this year. Yea! This was a first since moving to the desert. I will be studying, planning and feeding my garden dirt in preparation for the next planting season…as I always say “Nothing  is impossible, it’s not that I can’t, its that I haven’t yet.”

Now back to patiently transcribing….

Its not that easy eating green… or now I’m a vegan, what can I put on my salad?

I love salads, and I love raw vegetables. I can relish a bowl of mixed spring greens drizzled only in a bit of lemon juice, or add black beans and toss the whole thing with salsa and satisfy my tastes and my ethics.  Crudite and a small dish of sunflower seed butter is a fast tasty snack. So for months I only ate my salads and cut raw veggies with the obvious out of the jar dips and dressings like nut butters and citrus juices.

But one day, I went to Sweet Tomatoes with my son and DIL for dinner and drenched my vegetable goodness in real live dressing. My mouth stood up and did a dance, and although I still can eat all things green in a simple garment of lemon or thinned hummus, my quest had begun to re-introduce the excitement of  taste layered dips and complex creaminess into my vegan life.

I do love to cook, but I also have a busy modern life, so first I looked on store shelves. Reading ingredients lists on bottles quickly alerted me to the fact that as a vegan, I would either be making my own dips and dressings or finding a more lucrative career so I could afford the organic prepackaged offerings.  (It has always amazed and flumoxed me how leaving ingredients out of a product increases the price exponentially.)

What follows are my three favorite dressing that now replace Italian, Ranch, and Russian dressing in my food lexicon. I am still experimenting and trying recipes I find in vegan books. My favorite coleslaw for vegans is found in “Skinny Bitch in the Kitch” so no need to post it here, besides the fact it would be plagiarism, Freedman’s book is readily available at libraries and bookstores (like Changing Hands http://changinghands.com/)and chock full of other tasty vegan treats, so if you want good coleslaw, check her out, http://roryfreedman.com/. A qualifier here is that I am not bought into the whole skinnier is better or prettier paradigm,  but her vegan recipes have never failed to please even “meat”atarians.

So here are Sally’s favorite salad dressings, no coleslaw among them (see above) although I LoooovE coleslaw, with a reminder that the quality of ingredients used will determine the quality of the finished product.

Italian Dressing

1/2 cup Bragg’s organic Cider Vinegar

1/4 cup Organic Olive oil

1 T Bragg’s Amino Acids

1 small clove garlic, pressed

1 T Organic Italian seasoning (I mix my own, but it can easily be bought)

Place in glass bottle with lid and shake well, it is best mixed an hour or two before serving. I do store it in the fridge but take it out well before dinner as the oil will coagulate! To make it creamy Italian just place it all in the blender with 8 ozs of tofu, but then it must sit for 8 hours or the the tofu will take over the taste.

 

Creamy Vegan Ranch

1 3/4 cups cooked (one can) cooked, drained, and rinsed garbanzo beans

1 T tahini

2 tsp.  garlic balsamic vineger (the vinegar used makes a huge difference in this recipe, so experiment with flavors, but stick with Balsamic or high quality wine vinegar)

1 tsp Bragg’s Amino Acid (if soy sensitive, omit this. This is the only soy based ingredient, and it does change the flavor by omitting it but it is still good, just salt and pepper to taste)

1 tsp Bragg’s Organic Sprinkles or (what I do)use 1 T fresh parsley with 2 tsp chopped fresh chive and 1 tsp fresh chopped dill for a more “ranch” flavored dressing.

(optional ingredient to get that creamy taste and feel is adding 3 T vegan sour cream substitute).

 

Vegan Russian Dressing  (also an easy tasty sweet potato fry sauce!)

1 cup vegan mayonnaise

1/4 cup organic ketchup

1 T fresh lemon juice

1 tsp horseradish

1 tsp Brag’s amino acids

1 T finely chopped pickles.

Mix together in a jar and let the flavors blend for 2-3 hours then dip or dress!

 

So fellow vegans and/or foodies go forth and try these homemade condiments and tell me what you think , and maybe even share your own recipes.

Tomorrow some Homesteading updates and a bit about what I am listening to and watching (even if a lot of you may laugh!)

 

 

Places to visit without leaving the comfort of your air conditioning.

My day started busy and is definitely going the stay that way so today’s blog is just a brief itinerary of some other blogs to travel to today while mine is being boring and neglected.

First off is http://jentheredonethat.com/. I used to be young and beautiful, not so much in person anymore, but I still get to experience youthful travel and foodie adventures vicariously through following this blog.  Check her out.

For all my Geek friends who, like me, will not be at San Diego Comicon this week-end, I give you these sites. Meet five of my favorite Con guests  (I have at least a dozen, some just aren’t blogging much right now due to other obligations) up close and personal (I mean the internet is personal, right, we are really all friends?) , and there are no long lines.

http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/

http://cmpriest.livejournal.com/

http://www.kevinhearne.com/

http://ginikoch.com/

And finally here are two sites to visit if you want to be inspired by others courage and maybe do some good today.

http://razzzberries.blogspot.com/  Go back a few and read forward to be amazed at this woman’s courage and plucky determination to make rainbows and lemonade.  Feeling grateful for your own health? Express your gratitude to the universe by donating a few dollars. As someone who has dealt with life altering illness professionally and personally, I tell you thank-you in advance.

http://www.welcome.to/desertcry If the small forgotten creatures of the world are more your thing than humans, or if maybe you want to do two good things today, go cruise around this sight a wee bit and learn about the furry things with whom we share the Arizona desert and then paypal  a small donation for some four legged patient’s food and/or medicine.

And now I am off to drive an hour and half in the heat listening to my favorite tunes (thank you Apple for the Ipod) cause I am blessed enough to have  veteran’s medical coverage. (And, no, I wasn’t being sarcastic, I really am grateful for medical care I can afford, and someday when lifetime caps and pre-existing conditions are not part of the insurance business, I will find me closer care. In the meant time, I deeply appreciate what I have.)

Namaste.

Tomorrow maybe some more vegan recipes. Those seem to be reader favorites.

 

Putting pen to paper or how to do anything, including write.

One of the faults I am most aware of in myself is the desire to “do it right,” and that goes for anything, from how I get out of bed in the morning  to interacting with animals, people, and even the feelings in my heart and the voices in my head.  At first that may seem a strength, perfectionism has its perks and many of life’s tasks are best learned using other’s experience.  My innate intelligence, desire to learn, and ability to mimic made me pretty good at many things relatively quickly.  However, believing there was and wanting to do it “the right way” is not the same thing as wanting to be better, so a disproportionately large portion of my life was spent taking classes, reading books, studying others, trying to learn the “right” way to live instead of living. I was frozen, stuck in my past choices, wondering which road would lead me out of the the dark, dreary wood.

I kept gorging myself on large helpings of this spirituality or that self-help book. I  owned a dozen books each on how to parent, how to write, how to cook, how to sew, how to house clean, how to decorate on a budget,how to knit, how to crochet, how to exercise, how to lose weight, how to be happy, how to be grateful, how to be a good person, etc. Sometimes I would start the project, a few I even completed but I was still a fat (actually not really), sedentary, unhappy person who “almost finished” everything, I rarely even completed a craft project. I knew   I was a fake, I was doing life all wrong and although at the time I was regularly completing paid writing projects, I was never even starting all the crazy ideas in my head that mattered to me. I felt I was a failure at all of it, and so I just kept looking for the “right” answer that would make it all, make me, okay.

I wish I could pinpoint the epiphany moment, but I think it was more of a gradual process.  In the early 90’s I knew I was running away from a failed relationship and a belief I had failed at life and I realized how scattered I was. I was fleeing me, although to the world it looked like a move towards a writing spot on a smaller paper more in-line with my beliefs I espoused and a chance to focus on  parenting-friendly and insurance-granting stability of  multi-store retail management.

In preparation for flight, I was packing box after box of books to donate or sell and do remember realizing that I had read hundreds of how to books but “done” none of them for very long, if at all. So I carefully picked and packed a box of those books I meant to actually put into practice once my now much smaller family and I were settled in Albuquerque, because in this new place, I was going to do it right, the way my friends thought I should.

And I did. I burned my politically incorrect bridges and road off onto the sunset to do it right this time.

I was “doing it right”. The company I worked for helped us find an apartment in the right part of town for the right price, I was doing Yoga daily, cooking nutritious meals for the boys, reading my meditations, writing in my Journal.  As a journalist I was covering things like “Womyn’s Festival” and as retail manager I turning a nice profit at the two stores and making all my goals at work.  That lasted all of about 4 months, maybe 5, and the rug was pulled out from underneath me when I came to work one day and the doors were chained shut. That is someone else’s tale, but lets just say the owners son had been using interstate shipments for more than stocking the store shelves. I was without a job except for the pittance I was earning at the paper, and then two months after that, they folded.  Everything fell apart. Long story short, I ended up homeless for the second time in my life, only this time I had Wil, Rick and Dallon to take care of as well.

So just like the little claymation Christmas characters, I started putting one foot in front of the other again, building a life the books, and magazines and friends and family told me I should have. I was the little train that could. Of course my “doing it right” castle of sand crumbled again and again.  And the next (but not final) time, not only were we temporarily without a place to call home (this time due to my health, no FMLA benefits, chemo) but someone  had stolen every single thing we owned right down to baby pictures and underwear. So again I did what I thought was the “right” thing, and I agreed to move in with and marry a man who was seriously courting me, said he would take care of me and my boys; and I married the right situation again even though my gut opposed the idea, and yea that was the final sand castle.

Today, I don’t believe there is a “right” way to do things. I do believe there are rules that make functionality improve or  deteriorate, like never stirring sour dough starter with a metal spoon or never licking metal sleds when its zero degrees outside. I also believe that there are many people who have tested and tried behaviors and are willing to report their own findings which I incorporate into my daily life without trying the same experiments myself.

But when push comes to shove, the only way I can ever be good at anything is just to do it, frequently badly, many times over before I show improvement. Today I still own a plethora of cookbooks, craft books, spirituality writings and even a few self-help books. The difference  is now I implement the author’s suggestions and if the “do” fits, I wear it.

That is how I, or anyone else, can actually do anything;by listening to their own instincts and then doing it, allowing for the fact they may do it badly at first, and second, and sometimes third. Achievements are sometimes easy, sometimes hard, but achievement always take action.

I still write professionally today, although I try to avoid a byline, instead I write the things that matter to me. I do that today by putting pen to paper (or often like now, fingers to keyboard) for the time or the goal I have allotted.  I am currently in the infancy of a writing project I would never have attempted, even five years ago, that just may be the most important thing I have ever written. I believe this not because I have a lucrative contract, or that others would even get why I am pursuing it, but because  my gut tells me it is important.

My gut is pretty smart. My gut also led me to pursue nursing as a profession; to travel to London with a friend;  to take a patient to Kenya as a volunteer; to take that job at Borders; to start a game night; make friends with Jen, Sara, Anne, Regina, Angela, Pat, Gil and others,  to train for a Sprint Triathlon. Basically my gut has pushed me in the direction of all that is good in my life today. My gut gave me the direction but then I have said hello, got the passport, said yes, put pen to paper, studied for classes, took the tests, put my face in the water, feet on the pedals, and went the distance.

And that is what I know to be true for me today. If I am hiding something, or making excuses, or feeling stuck today, I will still probably pick up a how to book, but more importantly I will meditate, journal and talk to the universe (some might say I am just talking to myself, that’s OK too, I just believe its more than that) figure out where I got turned around, what I need to accept, what I need to change, where I need to go next and if I need help to get there, and then with my goal chosen, I start moving.

When two roads diverge in a yellow wood today, I will still have a moment of freezing and  wondering which the right one is, but then I breathe and I just take one…..