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Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Last Post For The Ultimate Blog Challenge: A Poem About Writing




Today marks the end of my first experience with the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Writing something every day for a month and sharing it was difficult and I'm glad I did it. Some days/posts were better than others, and that's okay. Tomorrow starts NaNoWriMo, which means national novel writing month, and I think I'd never have the nerve to try that. NaBloPoMo also begins tomorrow, which is another month long blogging challenge. And then there is ManiWriMo, a challenge to write an ebook in the month of November, and I've signed on, although I think it's a sign that I've finally lost my mind.

In my last post I shared a poem by Don Coburn, and his poem inspired me to write this one.



Writers' Group

The new lady read her memoir and I thought
that was very brave to share something so personal
with this group of strangers who call themselves writers.

The guy who makes a living as a Christian writer
said nobody wants to hear another bad childhood story
unless you were really tortured or lived in the closet or something.

The romance writer said the story wasn't about
a bad childhood, it was about forgiveness and grace
and something about a stray black cat.

The English teacher said she really loves punctuation and
the quotation marks go after the comma and
by the way it should say their instead of they're.

The poet asked about symbolism and the cat
which reminded the retired pastor of something
that happened thirty years ago that he talked about

until the facilitator interrupted to ask if anybody else
brought something to share and papers slid back
into notebooks as heads shook no

except the loud lady who read her miracle story
and didn't realize it wasn't about a miracle at all
because the inflection of her voice could fool anyone.

The mystery writer said he would be out of town for
a while and the humor columnist wondered aloud why certain good
writers haven't been with our group for a very long time.


What about you? Are you brave enough to share, whatever the response might be?





A Don Coburn Poem: In The Workshop After I Read My Poem Aloud


Today I'm sharing a Don Coburn poem. Even if you're not into poetry, this will give chuckles and insight to anyone who writes.



IN THE WORKSHOP AFTER I READ MY POEM ALOUD

All at once everyone in the room says
nothing. They continue doing this and I begin to know
it is not because they are dumb. Finally

the guy from the Bay Area who wears his chapbook
on his sleeve says he likes the poem a lot
but can't really say why and silence

starts all over until someone says she only has
a couple of teeny suggestions such as taking out
the first three stanzas along with

all modifiers except "slippery" and "delicious"
in the remaining four lines. A guy who
hasn't said a word in three days says

he too likes the poem but wonders why
it was written and since I don't know either
and don't even know if I should

I'm grateful there's a rule
I can't say anything now. Somebody
I think it's the shrink from Seattle

says the emotion is not earned and I wonder
when is it ever. The woman on my left
who just had a prose poem in Green Thumbs & Geoducks

says the opening stanza is unbelievable
and vindication comes for a sweet moment
until I realize she means unbelievable.

But I have my defenders too and the MFA from Iowa
the one who thinks the you is an I
and the they we and the then a now

wants to praise the way the essential nihilism
of the poem's occasion serves to undermine
the formality of its diction. Just like your comment

I  say to myself. Another admires the zenlike polarity
of the final image despite the mildly bathetic
symbolism of sheep droppings and he loves how

the three clich├ęs in the penultimate stanza
are rescued by the brazen self-exploiting risk.
The teacher asks what about the last line

and the guy with the chapbook volunteers it suits
the poem's unambitious purpose though he has to admit
it could have been worded somewhat differently.


First published in The Iowa Review. Reprinted in Hard Choices: An Iowa Review Reader, edited by David Hamilton (University of Iowa Press: 1996); In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop, by Steve Kowit (Tilbury House: 1995); The Portable Poetry Workshop, by Jack Myers (Wadsworth: 2005), and The Starving Artist’s Survival Guide, by Marianne Taylor and Laurie Lindop (Simon Spotlight Entertainment: 2005). Also in Another Way to Begin (Finishing Line Press: 2006) and As If Gravity Were a Theory (Cider Press Review: 2006).


Ah, the psychology of writing. Are you ever hesitant to share your work for fear of judgment?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monkey Mind and Fascist Feet







My monkey mind really gets going around 2 a.m. on sleepless nights. Or mornings, as the case may be.

An infomercial about orthotics was on TV last night and I thought it was the most interesting thing I’d ever seen and I wanted to turn on the lamp and find a pen and paper to write down the location and phone number of this magical place that could make all bodily pain disappear by putting something in my shoes.

I couldn’t get up to take notes any more than I could get up when I thought I smelled smoke because I was just…so…tired. For that problem I just prayed that my kitchen wasn’t on fire while the infomercial host talked about something that sounds like planter fascists. I know I have foot problems, but I’d never considered that they might be fascists. Now I'm pretty sure they are, as they do try to rule the rest of me, and when I disagree with them and try to wear cute shoes, I'm tortured for days.

And the noises, the noises that time of night. Mostly cat noises, I’m sure, but you never really know.

There could have been a stranger-burglar in the house knocking things around, looking for something…maybe a pen and paper ‘cause his feet hurt too.

Maybe the stranger-burglar was smoking or lit a candle and that’s why I was praying the kitchen wasn’t on fire, and if it was a stranger-burglar who smoked or lit candles, I hoped he was careful because the cat already has a bald spot on her chin because of hovering a little too close to a flame.

I studied the infomercial more intently so I could just remember the name of this place that I wanted to give my money to and also to try and block thoughts of everything that could be happening outside my bedroom.

Then I noticed that infomercials do not have commercial breaks. If they did, would they be 60 second clips of Modern Family? Revenge? Who knows.

I’m going to bed. 



Do silly thoughts race through your mind in the wee hours?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's National Cat Day and I'm Not Celebrating





It's National Cat Day and first I'd like to say...why? Why is there a cat day? I suppose it isn't as bad as National Turkey Neck Soup Day (March 30, if you'd like to mark your calender), but at least on Turkey Neck Soup Day you could make a pot of soup and maybe a cake shaped like a turkey neck.

If you think Turkey Neck Day is weird, check out this website. Every stinking day it's something. Fig Newton Day...give me a break. And who got to decide that we'd all celebrate National Pfeffernuesse Day on December 23rd? I mean, isn't that National Start Your Christmas Shopping Day?

We're not celebrating Cat Day over here, but I had a talk with the cat so she wouldn't hold her cat breath all day, waiting for an empty bag or box or some toy that she would immediately shove under the fridge and lose.

After our talk, she took a nap.

Then she looked around to see where I was, and where the spray bottle full of water was. After determining that her odds of getting squirted were pretty low, she leapt onto the kitchen counter, dropped off some cat hair, and stole two pens, which entertained her until they disappeared under the fridge about 30 seconds later.

Irritated over the loss of her pens, she found a spot of carpet that she hadn't yet clawed to bits and went to work. Then she ate some kibble and curled up for another nap.

I started feeling guilty about Cat Day and considered giving her an empty box to play in. Then I decided if I caved and acknowledged this day, it could lead to very bad things when Turkey Neck and Fig Newton Days roll around.

And I'd be forced to figure out what a Pfeffernuesse is.



Monday, October 28, 2013

An Evening With My Youngest Friend





If you only socialize with those close to your own age, you're really missing out. In my recent post My Friend Mary, I shared a story of an older person who is fabulous.

I spent my Sunday evening with my favorite 8 year old.

She brought a small pumpkin and dried out paints to decorate it. While studiously painting, we discussed salty foods vs. sweet foods, and decided that salted caramels are the perfect food.

I offered her a coupon for a free sundae from Dairy Queen - She said "No thanks, I don't take things from people." I said, "Okay, I'll give it to your mom." She said, "Mom doesn't take things from people either." I said, "OK, I'll just throw it away." Pause.... "Well, if you're just going to throw it away..."

She then told me how much she misses her dog Maddie, that died last year. Then she got in the floor and played with my dog and we laughed like fools.




She wanted to draw and asked me what she should draw. I suggested a cat, and she said she can't draw cats. I told her I'd show her how, and drew the circle head, triangle eyes and nose, bla bla bla. Then she took the pen and drew this:


And then this:


A gangnam style cat is no easy task...

We texted the cat pics to my daughter, the art foundations teacher, and then my young friend said, "Well, I should lay down now, since I have to get up at 7:30 for school. But wake me up when your phone dings that Jess saw my pictures."

The phone soon dinged, and then my friend was out.




Please take a moment to tell me about either your oldest or youngest friend!







Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Silence is Not Always Golden


Today I'm happy to share a guest post by Emi Mead, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.




SILENCE IS NOT ALWAYS GOLDEN 



For most of us silence conjures peaceful, quiet moments. Perhaps when we think of silence, we think of it as a quiet corner of our world when we can sit on a beach and enjoy watching the spectacular pink and orange hues of a sunset as it paints its colors across the water and then dips past the edge of the horizon into the sea.

Silence is softly tiptoeing into a sleeping child’s room to watch the wonder of that child as it slumbers peacefully, with breaths quietly and slowly measured in and out, in and out.

Silence is watching snow falling, grateful to be inside a warm place with a good book and a hot cup of coffee, while looking out to see the snow as it covers everything in sight with a fresh, white blanket. 

But silence is not always golden. Silence also hides secrets. Secrets that are too embarrassing to be told.  Secrets that are too dangerous to be told. Victims of domestic violence know of this silence all too well.  For some, silence is the only way they know to be able to stay alive.

In years past, speaking out against violence toward another family member’s or neighbor’s life was taboo. Just mind your own business, we were told. Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. It’s between them. Just be quiet. Just be silent.

Thank goodness, much of that has changed. A victim doesn’t have to suffer in silence any longer although many of them still do. Threats of even more abuse are made to silence the victim if she dares to tell anyone.

Today, if we suspect someone we know is being abused, we need to let them know that there is help out there for them. They are not alone. We need to let them know they can safely talk to someone.

We need to give them the opportunity to break that silence.  




Thanks for sharing, Emi!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Blog Challenge Inside A Blog Challenge and Some Things I've Learned





Suzan St Maur recently posted a challenge to write a blog post of 26 sentences, in order, from A to Z. Take a look at her post here. I got busy writing mine and then realized I'd written entire paragraphs for each letter. Oopsie. Here's the edited version:




As the Ultimate Blog Challenge draws toward its end, I’m thinking of things I learned, and here they are, in alphabetical order.

Be active in the group, and you’ll meet great people.

Create good content. 

Don’t participate in the comment chain and then leave comments that say something vague, like “Good post.” 

Even if you really read it and thought it good, lazy comments sound like you couldn't be bothered with reading.

Find your voice and use it.

Give credit where credit is due - if someone’s post gave you a great idea for your own blog, thank them. 

Have some fun and then write about it!

It is easier to write a post per day than to try and catch up after missing one. 

Just do it.

Kill your darlings. 

Learn from others. 

Make a list of ideas for upcoming posts, and keep adding to it.

Never be a Negative Nelly.

Overlooking errors?

Put it away for a while, and when you get back to it, proofread. 

Quit making excuses.

Research.

Stop comparing yourself to others. 

Try.

Use your friends and family for blog material, with permission, of course.

Visit the blogs of those who leave comments for you. 

Whining is for children and dogs, so no whining online.

Xanax is an option if you find yourself checking your blog stats every 10 minutes and/or begging others to leave comments for you. 

You really shouldn’t get so worked up. 

Zebras are cool. 


I really haven't learned a thing about zebras, but if you write a blog post about them, I'll read it.

So tell me - what have you learned? Be sure to visit Suzan's blog, because she's posted an update on the A to Z, and there's a prize involved. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why I'm Single Saturday: Membership Canceled


Well aren't you excited. It's Why I'm Single Saturday already. Here's one from the online dating days:



The man mall. The woman warehouse. I had shopped online for months and my self imposed deadline for finding love or signing off had arrived. I had met some interesting people, but if I had to experience one more meet and greet over coffee or cabernet only to realize I had to tell another that this just didn't work for me, or worse, he told me, well, I just couldn't handle it.

I couldn't help making a final cruise around the site, grinning at my favorites, who had their own favorite someone elses, who in turn had their favorites, to make sure I hadn't missed my dream date.

And there was The Guy: Cute, looked happy, and he had written a book!  So what if he lived a couple of states away? If we fell in love it wouldn't matter. We would move anyway, to the country, where we would spend our days writing, breaking only to glance adoringly at each other. Just like that Chevy Chase movie where they move to the sticks and he struggles to write even though he's already a writer, and she's not a writer but gets inspired by a squirrel or something and whips out a best seller.

 I sent him an email, saying only "You. Me. Writers' group."

We spent months getting to know each other through emails. We sent each other writing prompts and shared our creative processes. We shared parenting and ex- spouse stories. We sent each other updated photos of ourselves, our homes, and even kids and pets. He had a current photo of me and liked me anyway. Winner winner.

The time to meet in person finally arrived. I was excited but not really nervous, as I was comfortable with The Guy. He would drive to my home and we would just hang out like old married folks with nothing to stress over. I realized that even after months of emails, I didn't know much about his book and reminded him to bring me a copy.

My friend Jack, whom I had met on the same site months before, insisted that I give him this guy's full name and phone number in case I disappeared. Said you can't be too safe.

The Guy arrived, looking just as expected. As we settled on the couch to have a drink and plot dinner plans, he offered up his book, with the inscription:

"Deb, 
Remember, it's just a story.
T.G."

The title gave away that the book is about online dating. Just as I started fanning through, looking for an interesting part to comment on, the lights went out. Not all of the lights, not even all lights in the living room. Just the lights in the area we were in. Certainly just a power surge, even though this had never happened before.

The Guy said writing the book really helped him to release the anger he'd built up during his marriage.

Fortunately, we soon went to dinner, where I discovered that communicating online is writing, not talking. The Guy was so shy that he hardly spoke at all. He had no suggestions, no preferences, no opinions.

Jack kept making annoying datus interruptus calls to my cell until I answered and assured him that The Guy was not a sociopath.

Behaving like a gentleman, T. G. made the long drive home that same night. I had absolutely no idea how he felt about me or global warming or brands of beer, but he seemed nice enough. I snuggled into bed and read his book.

The book is about a man who responded to his horribly abusive marriage by meeting women online who reminded him of the wife, lying to them about who he is, and then meeting, torturing and brutally murdering them. The plot was good really, with plenty of twists, but the parts about slicing womens' breasts off, or cutting them open as you might to dress a deer, just didn't do much for me.

A low-budget self published tale, the horrific grammar and punctuation made the whole story especially frightening for me. I had learned enough about The Guy, through his emails (if he was telling the truth) to know that this story mirrored his life in many ways.

The protagonist thought the first killing would be enough to free him from his tortured past. The Guy thought writing one book had healed him. The protagonist found that he had to continue the killing to find relief.

I couldn't handle the thought of a sequel.

This dating chapter had to end, and I was happy to sign off and leave my "matches" to the other single ladies.








Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One of These Things is Not Like the Others


Well, it's been a long time since I last heard this song, but because there's 25 minutes left of day 23 in the UBC, and I've got nothin', I thought we'd just play One of These Things. 

So turn your speaker up, listen to the song, and guess which of the things in my iPhone photos does not belong. All correct answers will go into a random drawing, and the winner will receive a cookie. 










OK.....Here we go!










I know, it's tricky! Just make your best guess : )

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sometimes the Wrong Words Fall Out







I wonder if there is a term for when we’re talking and think we know what we’re saying, but something very wrong comes out.

Like this:

I once worked for a family business that built fences. Their name started with B, so when we answered phones, it sounded kind of like “Burp Fence. May I help you?”

There were a bunch of siblings that worked there, and the brothers often fought. One day they were screaming and throwing office supplies and books at each other and it was all very stupid.

The phone was ringing, and I grabbed it.

But rather than saying that thing that sounds like Burp Fence, I said “Bulls!#t.” The office went silent. Mortified, I hung up on the caller.

Years before that incident, I was working a switchboard at a temp job in Seattle. I had to page an engineer named Tuk Din, and I didn’t know how to do it without my voice echoing through loudspeakers “TUCKED IN. Line 3. TUCKED IN, Line 3.”

I giggled. Some dude with no sense of humor came to my desk and banged his fist on it and said, “You’d better get it together.”

My sister used to work for the circulation department of a newspaper. On break one day, she read an article about circumcision. When break was over, she grabbed the phone and said “Times P.I. Circumcision, may I help you?” This time the caller hung up.

My sister claims to have no recall of that conversation (it's okay, we all block painful memories) but says, “I still remember a caller saying, 'Why did you just say the words Metro Wilson?' I told him I hadn't, and didn't even know what that meant. He argued with me that he knew I had!

I’ll never know for sure if she said Metro Wilson or not, but that should be the term for the wrong words escaping the tongue.

So tell me. Have you ever had a Metro Wilson moment?  I'll laugh with you, I promise.




Exploring Cannon Beach, Oregon

Yesterday, Holly Higbee-Jansen blogged about Big Sur, California and made me want to pack my bags. Her post (see it here: http://www.jansenphotoexplorations.com/big-sur-photographers-dream/) inspired me to share a few photos from the Cannon Beach, Oregon area. I think this is my favorite place on earth.

I'm with Holly on slow travel. My last trip, we didn't venture very far from Cannon Beach. If we had, we would have missed adventures that are right there. This photo of the Tillamook lighthouse was taken from Indian Beach at Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach.



We were probably too fascinated with this little guy that we met on Indian Beach, but you don't see squirrels like this in Missouri.




Oswald West State Park is only 10 miles south of Cannon Beach. This photo was taken on the hike toward Short Sand Beach, and the color was not adjusted - the rainforest really looks like that.


In Cannon Beach at low tide, you can walk out to Haystack Rock to explore.




You get to see this:


And that makes me happy.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Monkey Bars


Bartleby Snopes holds an annual dialog only writing contest. I'm not very good with dialog, but improving, and this story was written in dialog only for practice. If you're ready to try your hand at it, check out the contest. And excuse my lack of quotation marks. Hey, I'm still one post behind in the blog challenge. That's my excuse.





Law firm, may I help you?

Hi Mommy!

Hey, how’s your day? Wait. You’re at school. What’s wrong?

I’m at Grandma’s!

What? Why?

Because Doctor Ginsberg said I should take it easy for the rest of the day.

Doctor? Why? Why didn’t you call me?

School said they couldn’t get you so they called Grandma and Papaw took me to the doctor I got a cool sling but I don’t have to wear it to bed but I want to wear it to school.

What? A sling? Where?

At the doctors! Oh, he said to remind you to get rid of the trampoline but I told him we’re keeping it.

Great. What body part is injured?

My arm.

How did you hurt your arm? Do I need to come and get you?

No way, I’m playing scratch off tickets with Papaw.

I see. How did you hurt your left arm?

It was awesome! We were having a contest to see who could hang on the monkey bars longest. Wait, how do you know it’s my left arm?

You are scratching lottery tickets. You are right handed. Hanging from frozen metal is awesome?

No silly Mom. That’s why I had my mittens on. ‘Til I fell off. I lost my mittens.

I think I know where to find your mittens.

Gotta go, Papaw just won twenty bucks! What a great day.




Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Friend Mary


*I wrote this after meeting Mary in 2009.







Mary (not her real name) is a hospice volunteer who likes the night shift since she doesn't sleep much anyway. She is 74 years old, about 4 feet tall, with a hunchback and about three times the energy I have. She says she's good at sleeping in chairs because her brother is a midget and she slept next to him in a recliner for a while.

Mary travels a lot in her old Buick. The other day I told Mom Mary was on her way up the drive. She was supposed to be in Liberty but I knew it was her, as the car appeared to barrel up the drive with no driver. Really there was a large tree in the car that appeared to be driving. I thought "Aw, she shouldn't have." She didn't. She brought Mom some wet wipes, a friendship plaque from the dollar store, and some priceless stories.

She told us about her travel adventures: On the way back from Liberty she stopped in Warrensburg at a nursery, where she got a great deal on the tree that appeared to drive the Buick.The lady at the nursery said the tree wouldn't fit in a car, and Mary said anything would fit in her car. So the lady said to pull up the drive, close to the door, and they would try to fit it in.

Mary went up the drive, thinking it was very narrow, and parked. Then the employee explained that the drive was on the other side of the building, and she had driven up the sidewalk. She had knocked numerous flats of plants off their stands in the process. Mary insisted that the employee call the owners of the nursery right then with her insurance information and said not to worry about the dent in the Buick - that was from last time.

Before I could catch my breath Mary said she does pretty well going forward, that backing up is usually what gets her in trouble.

For instance, she was at the SOS one day, "where everyone went for gas and beer and cigarettes because they were the cheapest around" and she didn't want to wait for the guy in front of her to leave the pump, so she decided she could "rock" the Buick back and forth and get out from between cars.

Would have worked except the guy behind her was standing between his car and hers and what with Mary being so short, she didn't see him. She backed the Buick into his knees right there at the SOS.

Then Mary told us she'd best get going, as she wasn't too good at driving in the dark.

The tree waved out the window as the Buick cut ruts in the yard, finding its way back to the road.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Heading West

According to Safe Horizon.org, one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Learn more here.

This is my flash fiction piece about it:


Heading West


He said she was nothing when he found her and would be nothing without him.

When she started sleepwalking he called her bat shit crazy. Sometimes she did normal things in her sleep, like watching late night television; Sometimes stranger things, like weeding the flowerbeds-- in the kitchen floor.

When the flowerbeds were clean and late night shows were reruns, she did other things like organizing drawers and packing for vacations that were only dreams. Sometimes she frantically scribbled to-do lists in the dark. When he found them he thought the preschooler wrote them and told him he hoped to God he turned out smarter than his mother.

He said he’d take the children she didn’t deserve and disappear if she didn’t see a shrink. She kept every appointment, twice weekly for months, but the sleepwalking continued. 

If her subconscious activities woke him, he would sometimes strike her, but things that happened in sleep were not as painful as words spoken in daylight, in front of the children.

After six months of therapy she came home from a session and found him drunk and still drinking with a buddy, laughing too loud about what a stupid stupid bitch he’d married.

Later, when he was good and passed out, she sleepwalked for the last time. 

She went to the dresser in the guest room and removed all the cash that he’d hidden there, slipped it into her bag next to the lists of contacts her doctor recommended, and loaded packed luggage into the car. 

She weeded flowerbeds in the kitchen once more, removing the things she’d hidden under a loose board: more cash, important papers, passports he never knew existed.

Then she carried the sleeping children to the car, buckled them in, and headed west.






Friday, October 18, 2013

The Perfect Chicken Chili Recipe for Lousy, Lazy Cooks

It's day 18 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge and Whoa, this is...well, challenging. I'm still one post behind because last Sunday I thought this daily blogging stuff was a breeze so I could take a day off and then write two the next day. Nope. Still haven't written that one extra.

I do a lot of brainstorming. I look at books with writing prompts. I even do the writing prompts - I scribbled for 20 minutes on everything I know about Texas and I don't even know anything about Texas. I read lots of other blogs to see what others are doing. I gotta tell ya, there's a blog for stinkin' everything: Yoga, tarot, how to drink more water, poetry, cooking, parenting, photographing birds, and on and on and on. You'd think I could just pick something and write a couple hundred words about it and be done.

Since I can't seem to, I'm cheating today. Yep, I'm sharing a recipe. No offense to food bloggers. It isn't cheating when they do it. It's only cheating because it's not what I do.

Here's a delicious chili recipe that you can't screw up:





Chicken Chili

Get this stuff at the store. If you feel like it, check your pantry and freezer first to see what you have on hand.

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (eh, more or less)
3 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes, undrained (There's a million varieties. Just pick one.)
4 cups frozen corn (Oh just buy a bag of frozen corn and toss it in. Why dirty a measuring cup?)
2 cans (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained (Hold your nose! Man, those things stink)
2 cans (14.5 ounce) chicken broth
1 can (4 ounce) chopped green chiles
3 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (If ya think you need it. With the other spices, you don't)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sour cream and grated cheese for toppings. And Fritos. Big bag.

Directions

Cook your chicken. I cook it on the George Foreman grill. Don't care how you do it.
Then cut that bird up into bite size pieces. Don't overcook it - remember it will cook more while the chili is simmering.

Throw all the stuff in a big pot and stir. Except the toppings. That would be stupid. Bring it to a boil, no not a raging one, then turn it down to a simmer. Simmer for a long time. Like hours. Stir it sometimes. Taste it. Add more spices if you want it hotter.

Serve with sour cream and cheese on top. Or don't.

No, I don't know how many servings this makes. A lot. A family of four would have some leftovers. Is that close enough?



*recipe originally found in Taste of Home. Then tested and changed repeatedly until perfect.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Showing Up







Connie Schultz writes a column for Parade called Life in the Middle Ages. Her September 6 column is about showing up, even when it’s uncomfortable.

When people are dying, when people have died, we tend to not really know what to do, and often do nothing because it’s so hard to get in the middle of suffering.

I’m one of those that never handled death well. I’ll never forget an older roommate I once had convincing me to go to a funeral with her. I’d never met the deceased or any of her loved ones, yet I stood in that cemetery and blubbered - so much so that strangers were coming to me, offering hugs, and saying things like “Oh honey, you two must have been very close.”

The thing is, once we reach a certain age, we lose friends and family more often, and because of our own losses, tend to better understand the importance of showing up.

I still stink at it. I still much prefer to visit before a funeral. And I like to think that counts too. 

Connie's piece is excellent, so read it, and instead of repeating her sentiments, I'll just share one of my favorite memories about showing up.

My father was always very picky about his lawn, and due to his efforts it always looked like a well-maintained park. When his first round of cancer and chemo struck, he became too ill to mow.

One day I was visiting, and saw a truck stop in front of the house. It was Dad’s friend Bob, from work.

Bob didn’t come to the door. He unloaded a mower and cut the grass. Then he loaded up the mower, got a weed trimmer from the truck bed, and finished the job he came to do. Then he climbed into his truck and left.

I don't remember whether Bob attended Dad's funeral years later, but I'll never forget him showing up to mow the lawn.

What about you? What is your favorite memory of someone showing up?



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It's Time to Clean the Bathroom


I know my bathroom has two sinks because I took this pic when I bought the place.




My bathroom is a mess. 

Blow drying has left enough hair in the floor to keep Dolly Parton in wigs for the rest of her life.

The second sink is full of clothing, because I’d have to take another two or three steps into the closet to put it away. In the movie It's Complicated, Meryl Streep says "The second sink makes me sad." I never thought I felt bad about the "his" sink, but maybe it's a subconscious thing, and my mind just chooses to hide that sink by burying it in crap.

My tub is full of tealight candles. They’re supposed to be in the windowsill, but the cat likes to play tub hockey with them. 

The tiny adjoining toilet-room stores magazines and empty toilet paper tubes. The cat likes playing with those too. The tubes, not the magazines. 

The mirror looks gross, because the one time ever I hired a cleaning service, they used some magic product on it, that looked fine until the next time the mirror was cleaned. The combination of my products and theirs created a big smeared up mess.

And the countertop. Oh God, the countertop. You don't want to know.

My mom died in 2009. On her deathbed, she liked to wag her finger at me, grinning, and say, “I’ll be watching you.”

Mom was pretty obsessive about cleaning.

Last night I dreamed that I got up to go to the bathroom, and oddly, the door was closed. When I pushed to open it, it slammed shut from the inside. 

This was a little frightening, considering I live alone.

Then my mother emerged from the bathroom, and said “It wouldn’t kill you to clean your bathroom.”

It's late. I'm tired. But I'm off to clean the bathroom. 

Because it's a mess. And my mother is watching.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

OH RATS






After an exhausting day at work, Jess greeted me at the sitter’s door, hollering “Mom. Ma. Mom! Guess what? The rats had babies and Cindy says I can have TWO! Can I? Can I? Can I?

My daughter was always coming home from daycare pointing out how great the provider’s daughter had it; a big house, a pool, candy bars every day, lots of pets.

As a single mom I couldn’t do much about the house and pool, but I could provide the occasional candy bar, and a kitten seemed doable, but Oh Geesh, not rats.

Before I could say maybe, which would buy time until I could say no, the sitter’s kid brought out the cage and showed off her rodents. The sitter picked one up and caressed it.

“They’re really easy and no trouble,” Cindy bubbled.

“We could use my Little Mermaid tank since you killed my fish,” Jess said.

Those red, beady rat eyes didn’t do much for me, but I told her I’d think it over while the babies were growing enough to leave the rats’ nest.

Every day after, until I caved, we could not leave the sitter’s without a rodent update. Due to the extended visits, I was starting to experience that same juvenile jealousy of people who have better stuff than me. 

So I stopped after work one day to buy some bedding and whatever it is that rats eat, and then picked up the kid and two rats. At least the rats wouldn’t give a rat’s ass where they lived.

Cindy walked us to the car and whispered, “The pet store will take any extras.”

The rats took up residence in the old pink fish tank, placed in Jess’s room. About twenty minutes later the smell was unbearable and in about thirty minutes, more rats were born.  I mean, you can change the bedding and scrub the cage umpteen times a day and that stuff still stinks. And doesn’t matter if you buy them tiny exercise tubes and treats and all, apparently all they want to do is breed.

So I scrubbed and griped and made regular runs to the pet store to make “donations” until I couldn’t take it anymore. Jess was getting ready for a visit with her dad, and I explained to her that the rats were just not a good pet choice for us, and they would be much happier living at the pet store, where she could go and visit them once in a while.

“I should have known,” she said, “considering the fish…and Santa Claus.”

This was not going well.

Jess went off to see her dad, and before I could get to the pet store, a coworker who had snakes (by choice, no less) asked if I could help her out.

I agreed, as I already knew that any rats we visited at the store later would look the same, but not be the same ones. Next day I put Mickey and Minnie and Hewey and Louie and Dewey and Sleepy and Doc or whatever all the stinkin’ things were called in the car and headed to work.

About lunchtime my friend Dana wanted to see the critters so we went outside. She opened the car door and said that they seemed to all be napping. Then she picked up the Mermaid cage and tipped it to one side. The rats slid with the tilt, then back the other way when she tipped it again.

Although I always knew how the rats would meet their demise, up until this point I had chosen to believe that I was just rehoming them. Now I was clearly a killer.

The snake keeper coworker said it was cool – they were good baked too – and not to worry.

I spent the afternoon trying to work but mostly pondering my parenting failures; no house, no pool, and once again no pets (Isn’t there a sad country song about that?).

Once home, I saw an ad in the paper for a stray kitten, and made a decision to go get him. I was the best mom ever when I picked Jess up at the airport and the little guy was waiting to surprise her.

Jess named him Toes. He did not stink or contribute to pet overpopulation, and managed to live, despite me, for fourteen more years.