Saturday, January 31, 2004

Damn. 6 questions, most just a couple of words long, and they pegged me. Funny quiz. Try it out!

You're the United Nations!

Most people think you're ineffective, but you are trying to completely save the world from itself, so there's always going to be a long way to go. You're always the one trying to get friends to talk to each other, enemies to talk to each other, anyone who can to just talk instead of beating each other about the head and torso. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, and you get very schizophrenic as a result. But your heart is in the right place, and sometimes also in New York.

Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

Spin Doctor

We hold the funeral, put up the crosses, and then
Whit and cull our memory to match
The illusion of the person we’d like to remember
It really isn’t you who died, is it?
Once you are gone, I can mold and shape what’s left behind
Until it’s mine.
And so I imagine burying my heart
Stuck with memories of love still too real
Such a mixed bag of sweetness and pain
I just can’t reconcile it all
With the version I was sold.
I thought time would be enough
But confusion doesn’t ease.

Let me find a rolling highway
With a blind intersection that’s already claimed a soul or two
Stop and dig a hole
Where angels tend and wreaths fade
In it pile the truth of who we were
The fights, the betrayals, the ecstasies, the silences
(I will likely need a deep hole for all the things
We called love)
Mound the dirt over it and erect a cross of latitudes
“RIP Love As I Knew It”
Solemnly await the oncoming formation of geese, sad cries of salute
Then flag down a passing pick-up and head somewhere new
Disowning the definitions my heart can not bear.

Friday, January 30, 2004

And one quick comment on the status of the democratic primaries so far. If you follow this stuff closer than I do, you probably have seen someone else advance this theory, but it seems totally obvious to me that the momentum for Kerry is simply the result of everyone who is "anti-Bush" holding out to see who is leading and then jumping on that bandwagon. My guess is that his lead will grow over the remaining primaries. Even though Kerry's not my first choice on his platform (I'd pick Kucinich), I'm going to vote for a frontrunner and do whatever I can to help build a landslide out of it.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Something about this article from the NY Times about the "science" of seduction both facinates and angers me.

Over the course of the day it occurred to me that my anger stems from my belief that a woman couldn't pull the same thing off. Let me amend that. I don't think a less-than-attractive woman could pull it off.
What do you think?

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Velocitus Apetitius

If love is the crevasse
And I find myself over the edge
It probably doesn't matter if I rushed coyote like into the oblivion
Legs cycling faster than brain...
Or rappelled down the cliff wall,
Each foothold carefully gained
The pretense of safety in an Acme tether
Cramponed in crumbling rock
Either way, I am found suspended in nothingness...
Toes prodding
What is, of course thin air
Anvil closely following my inevitable descent

oh well

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I don't pretend anything in my last post is novel or particularly eloquent. The feeling of being small is both a good and a bad thing.
Some pictures in my inbox this morning also remind me that we are a drop in the river but with a river, much is possible. In sometime near 3200 BC on a small hill in the Boyne Valley of Ireland, Newgrange was built.
5200 years ago this structure was designed to capture a ray of sun during the winter solstice to illuminate the interior chambers.

Designed by humans with far less than we have at our disposal today, they think it might have taken 300 people 20 years to build it.

The huge kerbstones didn't come from the surrounding area, making the task even more incredible.

They think the builders floated these huge stones on rafts down the river.
How do we become the river that carries something far larger than any of us as individuals?

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I had thought to post a cookie recipe. Or how the pair of mergansers multiplied by 5. Tell you about my dog's fondness for goose poop. My son's obsession with the word "bladder"

But instead I will tell you how powerless I feel in the face of all the power my country throws around. The money. The arsenal. The hype. The very power in how we throw these things around without (almost) ever having to face the consequences.

I was thrashing around on why we are so fucked up as a culture, about the violence, and in thrashing I asked some questions of butuki from Laughing Knees. He lives in Japan now, has the perspective of living both in the US and in other cultures and countries, and seems to have the most gentle of spirits. He is also very angry at us. In fact, as much as I'd argue I'm an exception to the ignorant American... I'm still responsible. I didn't vote for Bush. Did I do enough in the last election to be sure I wasn't outvoted? No. Did I think it would make a difference? No. I took my kids downtown and we demonstrated against the war with Iraq. Did I think it would make a difference? No. Sure I was proud Portland had such a big turnout, sure my kids became very aware of what was going on. But still, it seems/seemed unstoppable. Will I campaign this year against Bush? Yes. Will that be enough?

I am guessing probably not. I think there are so many of us who look at this administration with fear and yet what will make or break this election is...
The media.
The dollars spent.
The image makers.
The fear of "them" incited by deftly managed news slants.
The massive ignorance.
The unwillingness to look outside our boundaries.
The desire to protect ourselves.
The desire to control others.
The belief that we are better than everyone else.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Because commonbeauty will enjoy it....

Seamus Heaney, for Mary Heaney

There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose's wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith's scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Some topics I find interesting... Food. Travel. The quirky traits of human nature. Dale suggested I do a little surfing.

He's funny, irreverent, and he posts in bite sized portions. Check out Alton Brown's blog for a fun read about food, cooking and mad cows.

Rocks Shaped Liked Shoes. Reclaimed grocery lists. And more! I wonder what makes I am Keaggy tick. But I like it! And I really did for some strange reason get involved reading other's people's discarded shopping lists! Probably wierder than reading the obits!

A group weblog written by expats. A look at the cultures through the lense of an outsider. Some interesting stories about both naivety and arrogance. Some touching stories about how we are connected to our roots and also connected to the web of all human experience. Check out Lost in Transit

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Today's Field Note: The duck pond water level was extraordinarily high today, and besides a circling herring gull, there was little of the usual bird activity. For the last couple of weeks there was a pair of mergansers visiting, but there is no sign of them at the moment. They are a rare visitor to our pond and I hope they are not gone but just onshore somewhere. I let Joey swim because there were no birds to disturb, but by the third foray out to retrieve the ball he was shivering and too cold, so we played in the park until he had shook off most of the chill and then headed home. When the water is high like today, it pours over the small fall into the creekbed at such a fast rate that the creek bed fills and widens and it's obvious at some point this week, by the pools of water on the path and grassy areas, that the creek must have overflowed it's edges as well. The shed oak leaves are left appearing strangely white and flattened, I suppose the effect of the last week's snow, ice and now standing water are accelerating their decay.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

lekshe commented a few days ago on reading Rumi. I find Rumi to be an interesting contrast to the Middle Eastern Muslim that so many Westerners seem willing to stereotype as full of hate, immoral, fanatic fundamentalist, single mindedly willing the destruction of our way of life. I thought this meditation on war and conflict worth reading.
Mevlana’s Meditation on War.....
The snakes are scattering venom
and though the sour-faced folks distress us,
yet up in the mountains in hives among the trees
communities of bees still create their stores of honey.
As much as the poisoners spread their poisons,
these antidotes will neutralize them.
When you reflect, this world is all in conflict, particle with particle,
just as spirituality is in conflict with denial.
One particle flies to the left, and another to the right.
One particle flies up and another down:
Witness the conflict in every movement.
All of this visible strife is the result of hidden strife:
This outer discord springs from that inner discord. . .
By means of truly unto him we are returning.
We have come back from ourselves to Your Ocean,
and we have begun to nurse at the source that suckled us.
Phantoms have distracted you from the path,
so don’t boast of principles,
if you have lost the Principle.
Our war and our peace are in the light of essence:
It does not depend on us alone, everything is
between the two fingers of God.
The wars of nature, action, language—these terrible conflicts
exist in all the parts of this universe.
This world is maintained by means of these wars:
consider the elements in order to solve these difficulties.
The four elements are four strong pillars
by which the roof of this present world is supported.
One pillar is a destroyer of another:
the pillar of water is a destroyer of the pillar of fire.
And so this whole edifice of creation
is founded upon conflicts;
and for better or worse we are at war.
My own states oppose each other:
each is in conflict with the other.
If I am constantly warring against myself,
how can I be in harmony with another?
Behold the surging armies of my states,
each at war and in conflict with another.
Contemplate this same poignant war in yourself:
why then be so busy warring with others?
Unless God spares you from this war
and brings you into the single-colored world of peace?

Melvana Rumi, Mathnawi, Book VI: 33-39, 41-55,
Translated by Kabir Helminski

Now I read that France is trying to band head scarves in public schools next year.
butuki commenting on commonbeauty's post about gratitude at the expense of others was upset by how quickly we have narrowed down our view to that which the media portrayed (an isolated incident in it's sheer hatred) of Palestinians celebrating after the WTC tragedy. I found this interesting quote by our prior president this week, I thought it was both obvious and very perceptive at the same time, and certainly a risky thing to venture out with when your wife still has political aspirations. But hopeful nonetheless.
"Too many Americans know too little about the Islamic world, and much of what they know they learned after Sept. 11 through the narrow lense of terror," Clinton told U.S.-Islamic World Forum, organized by the Washington-based Brookings Institution and held Monday. "What people do out of anger, pain and fear both darkens and distorts reality."

I am so afraid that this rift just widens further to the point of an impassable gulf. Banning head scarves. I have to admit I look at this and wonder if it isn't some bizarre plot to further provoke the middle easterners against the "immoral westerner." What we do to protect ourselves simply creates greater threat. We fortify each side of the fortress in response to the other, and the walls get higher to balance each other, and the conflicts get more desperate. Who steps inward first to create the bridge?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Adrian Leon: Kachinas

An army of tiny kachinas
Each one blessed she said
To reach out and promote harmony
Lined up now on the kiva
Awaiting orders or my next folly
Expectant they expose the rifts in my making.

Long ago I believed
God sewed me up like a doll
Here, see the seams on my little toes
The spots where God filled me with stuffing
Turned under the edges and hand stitched me closed?
Puckered and gaping now, I pick open the stitches,
Then have the audacity to accuse God of doing a shitty job
Leaving the threads to pull loose or dissolve
Bits of courage, hope, patience pushing their way out
To get lost in the footsteps which carry me
Up through the winding streets of a Northern New Mexico town.

Dogs bark their challenge as I pass
Crumbling bricks, birch twig fences, doors painted the blue
Of a Caribbean lagoon
Alone and quietly aware of how each distinct detail
Revealed in this unsullied light
Can be both wondrous and damning
The imperfections apparent
It must be obvious here too that
I am leaking, God.
My stuffing just another piece of litter
To pile up on the gravel alongside
Sprite bottles and faded headlines.

There's an awful lot of mending to do here.
An army of kachinas should be enough, right?
November 2003

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Today's Field Note:
Just leaving the industrial park a large and rather shy bird appeared in an park strip landscaped with ground cover roses. He was pecking at the shrivelled rose hips and would have completely blended into his background had the snow on the ground not provided a white backdrop to his chestnut brown plummage. A better look while I waited for the light to change, yes, a male adolescent ring necked pheasant - it's been years since I've seen one in this area, so much has been built up.

I quickly chose my clothes this morning, disregarding the fact that the green panties do not match the navy lace bra. In Bend It Like Beckham Jule's mom comments that the point of the underwear isn't that others will see it, it's how it makes you feel because you are wearing it. I wonder if this means I feel mismatched.

I wonder if my metabolism is directly linked to my heart. It seems like the only times I can lose weight are when I've been hopelessly in love.

I'm not in love at the moment.

I wonder if there's a correlation between blogging and depression. There seem to be a lot of references to it.

I wonder if we sometimes call introspection and quietude depression by mistake.

I wonder why I get more upset about taking my dog back to the vet when the treatment doesn't work than I am going back to the doctor for my kid's ailments.

I wonder if this article from the Atlantic is right and I should quit worrying about why people of color don't work at my company, don't live in my neighborhood, don't ask me out to lunch.

I wonder if we are hardwired to need acceptance.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

I hope you aren't expecting a well documented and constructed post along the lines of Dave regarding religion and the propensity to violence, but it did start me thinking this morning. It swirled and mixed together with a conversation I had at work Friday about the propensity to violence in the U.S. compared to some other countries. The Friday conversation went like this: I asked: "What was your experience living in Japan?" He answered: "Everything is so well organized. And SAFE! At least when I lived there some years ago, there was no where near as much crime as I was used to here in the U.S.... Except that which we (he was a former Airforce maintenance guy) brought with us and introduced where we were stationed." Me: "I noticed the same thing traveling in Denmark. I could walk home from the bus at night and feel completely safe and it was so freeing!" Him: "Yeah, I wonder what it is about Americans that we have so much violence here." Me: "Yeah, what is it about our culture that allows that? Is it our willingness to allow such a huge degree of noncompliance, that it allows things to get out of control with certain kinds of people?" Him: "It does seem somehow related to our culture here."

I then read Dave's post, and started to wonder if or how religion plays into this. So I went looking on the web for something about the rates of people who attend some sort of church service and find this: "Even though some Americans worship only once a year, weekly church attendance is higher in the United States than in any other nation at a comparable level of development, according to a worldwide study based at the University of Michigan." Japan and Denmark are on the bottom quarter of the list, while the U.S. and several other countries I think of as being rather prone to violence are in the top quartile of church attendance. (wouldn't you love to see this data correlated against the crime per capita data for these countries?) (but then I'd be accused of using statistics out of context to prove a point and I'd be the first to point out that you can't take those two things and draw a conclusion on it's own.) (but still what if?)

So then today I read Dale's post about seeking comfort or challenge when turning to religion/spirituality. Damn I know there's a thread here somewhere connecting it all in my head, but frankly I'm probably afraid to follow it to its conclusion. I'm really such an optimistic person and the sun was out today and everything! but...

a. I tend to subscribe to the idea that many religions have taken on a structure that was designed to control people to non-spiritual ends rather than enhance the followers' connection with something greater than themselves (God if you wish to name it.) I like a lot of what Daniel Quinn's work has to say about this.

b. I also subscribe to the belief that when people don't have some sense of deeper inner connection with something greater than themselves, when people start to believe that they are superior to all other beings, when people start to think their own (including their children's own) fulfillment is of greater importance than any other goal, that they crash into an ocean of discontent attempting to earn and buy their way into happiness -materially - via status - via power over others.

c. At this point I start my internal belief struggle, because I also believe that to reach our potential, each individual has a unique set of values, talents, abilities, and that we need to provide as much freedom as possible to achieve their potential. Why does this create struggle for me? Because if I continue my train of thought in b. to it's conclusions, I would have to propose that some conformity and sublimation of the personal is necessary for the greater good. I get stuck because much of what I'm about in the world is supporting personal freedoms, equities, and individuality at the cost of people's discomfort with the unfamiliar, or fear of the unknown. But I have to question whether this might lead to a certain amount of self-centeredness which contributes to a cultural breakdown.

d. If I examine people who are deeply spiritual, many seem to have found a way to look at life and it's purpose, to follow a set of values about "right action" which stresses caring for our neighbor, caring for the hurt, caring for the poor, compassion, giving. But I do have a problem that so many of these paths seem to require a belief that their path is the only right path. There is a disdain, an arrogance that goes with that belief that I can't stomach. (*small smile arising from the recognition that so many of these religions claim humbleness as a core value*) But I have to go back to a point Dave makes which I agree with - most people need support to follow a spiritual path, most people need teachers, and so then how do you remove the evils of the structure, the temptation to be strict with the guidelines for right action, the need to put "punishments" in place to motivate followers, and yet allow for something consistent in intent and meaning to spread across thousands, millions of people you might wish to help? Is it surprising that religions become corrupt? Is it surprising that religions become controlling? Is it surprising that followers start to blindly follow?

e. Truly people turn to religion for many reasons, and for some there isn't a turning, it's a simple act of being born that way. Do people turn to religion to rationalize the horrible things that happen on the way to living and dying, and thereby find comfort? Or do they turn to religion as a means to perpetuate the violent power-oriented controlling nature of being human? It seems as many people use religion to positive ends as negative. When Dale talks of finding a challenge, is it not a challenge to live more compassionately in the world? This surely does not seem controlling or violent. But so often religion is the rationale for judging others as "less than", which then rationalizes discrimination, hatred, wars, terrorism. Do we blame a pursuit of God for that? If I need comfort in this world exactly because it is so violent, where do I turn? If our culture is soul-less, where do I seek my soul? If Mother Teresa was such a beacon of light, do we condemn her for following a religion that damns those that do not follow the straight and rigid path it prescribes?

I hit the wall right here in my thinking. If I believe we need to feel a connection with some sort of greater being, if I believe in the basic need for humans to have something more than their own self-centered need and want fulfillment to feel happiness, then I end up endorsing religion and thereby judging those who don't follow a path. And if I'm skeptical of organized religions and how they use power to control people and if I hate the presumption they can prescribe the one path to enlightenment, I still have to concede that people also need teachers or at least other people to help them follow a spiritual path, the support of a community, even of only a few, to stay afloat in a culture that more and more stresses the universal importance of the superficial, to the detriment of the soul. I am sure not going to learn about spirituality at Walmart (although I did have a pretty deep spiritual moment at a Walgreen's a few weeks back, but that's another story.) But I'm unwilling to judge those that don't seek something more. If I believe that diversity in being is the key to our success as a species, then I have to throw my supposition about faith out. Or do I? And if structured religions lead to so much harm, do I have to assume they are incapable of helping fill this cultural morass? Is conformity the price we pay for peace? If the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus hadn't started to emphasize their individual histories, beliefs and cultural practices, would we have the long years of violence in India? If conformity is the antithesis of diversity, the diversity which I believe leads to innovation, creativity, and the ability to maximize a person's potential then is unrealized potential the price for peace? Is there a suicide rate in Japan that counterbalances the lack of crime? Is there a way we can appreciate the differences so much that our diversity doesn't work against us? Is there a way to pursue spirituality without it turning into a power struggle for our allegiance?

We humans as a group seem broken. We're selfish, more and more compelled to violence, expanding our population without control, trying harder and harder to buy happiness and buy escapes, working more and yet producing less that matters. But the cause and effect seem so entwined as to obscure any clear answers for me. What do you think?

Friday, January 09, 2004

This week Dale brings up the question of the Dalai Lama and his alleged remarks condemning homosexuality, and whether he could condone some sort of remark of that nature. A rational look at the subject, worth a read. I especially resonate with Tonio who responded with one of my primary concerns about this sort of thing: "The sad thing is that it doesn't matter what he meant. If it can be taken out of context and used hurtfully, it often will be."

I dug around on the web, and found some info that appears as if the Dalai Lama explained his comments in a conference with gay rights organizations in 1997, and that these comments differentiated between his view of human rights (which extend to sexual orientation) and the teachings or the tenets of Buddhism which basically prohibit certain sexual acts regardless of the genders of the two partners. From what I read of his quotes, it was clear he was trying to balance his own set of values about tolerance with the stated guidelines of the Buddhist faith, and he came across totally genuine in his compassion for gays.

But as I thought about the question of how we hold leaders accountable to their stated beliefs and actions, it occurred to me that I had a pretty simple expectation which although possibly unrealistic, is my measure of the worthiness of those people who we place in positions of teacher, manager, elected official, role model. The words and actions of these people should be congruent, and should be consistent to a set of values or operating principles that guide the words and actions without failure. I felt pretty secure from the other things I had read and heard about the Dalai Lama's teachings and speeches and activities that he could not be condoning a position which would condemn a group of people and their actions on the basis of who they were. In 2000 at the Millennium World Peace Summit the Dalai Lama said this: "there can be no peace as long as there is grinding poverty, social injustice, inequality, oppression, environmental degradation, and as long as the weak and small continue to be trodden by the mighty and powerful." He has a long history of advocating support of diversity, dialogue about differences, mutual respect, he has felt firsthand the impact of oppression. If this is his experience, his belief, his promised vision of harmony, then to condemn homosexuals would undermine much of what he claims to stand for.

Similarly, I use the same rationale to question the election of Schwartzenegger as governor in CA. Maybe the media contrived to throw the election, maybe they went looking for dirt. But Arnold's comment that he hadn't lived in a way that assumed he'd be running for public office someday simply reinforces my belief that his man does not have any real respect for women. Can we trust someone who only behaves per the rules of the game they are playing and not out of any deeper personal value set? What makes me ill about that election is the message it puts out there to both men and women in general, that this sort of behavior, this lack of respect is not just acceptable, but to some degree irrelevant to a person's competence as a leader. He used his position as a public figure to treat the women he worked with inappropriately, and we failed to see that as a problem when we elevated him to a greater position of power.

Of course all of us have biases which affect our ability to work with others, which make us uncomfortable or unsure or ineffective in certain situations. But leaders are looked to as the role models for the values of an organization, in part we elevate them to do exactly this. By elevating them, whether in business, or elections, or following them as teachers and leaders in a faith, their value systems become the demonstrated right way for the people "below" them in the structure. When they goof up, they at least need to correct themselves so that the values have some credibility, so the system has some integrity.

When we put these leaders under pressure, in crisis, on the spot, they will fall back on their instinctive responses, which arise out of core values and beliefs, and in time most of us can then intuit the truth about who they really are. We can believe the Dalai Lama would practice tolerance and compassion for gays and lesbians even if we see information that might indicate otherwise, and we can doubt whether women in Schwartenegger's office will have equity, respect and opportunity even if he puts a good face on his future or a good denial on his past.

I guess I think it comes down to something I was asked to edit today for a group of Christian employees at work. In explaining some of the tenets of their faith, they mentioned how integrity of inner character was so much more significant than just the surface actions. At some point, a person of "bad character" will reveal their true nature even if they are trying to act good.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Coated in Ice
A beautiful crystalline shell freezing all movement. But there is so much extra weight on the leaves, branches, that even a squirrel or a bird's added weight snaps their hold.

How often do I surround my heart in ice? How often do I protect myself from further pain this way, only to find that the tiniest things, a careless comment, a child's impatience, a misplaced hope are too much weight to bear?

I watch the robin alight in the dogwood. He chips away at the icy glaze on the branch, whether to unearth a meal or to establish a dry place to stand I don't know. Patience will bring a thaw, and maybe freezing this picture in my mind will remind my heart to stay open to the light.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Call it the devil's trade

If you had exactly 6 months to feel
Utterly happy
Knowing you will forever seek to feel that way once more
Knowing you will measure all else against it
Knowing you can never again settle for "enough"
Knowing you had sacrificed many "enoughs" in its stake
Would you grab the ring? Take the ride?
Would you guess that years later you will wonder
Was it real?
Was it worth it?
Was that all there was to being utterly happy?
Was I meant to go through life haunted by that memory/illusion?
Why should I miss it now?

Those personality tests brand me an idealist. Sometimes I am sure this is wrong, because as optimistic about the future as I might be, I seem to cloud my past with doubts.

Not to obsess on the topic of Johnny Cakes, surely not one of global importance, but I found an article online about them and shared it with my Dad, it told the story of the owners of the grist mill that made the mix, as well as other kinds of flours and wholegrain meals. He wrote back last night with this: "Hi: thank you for the article,it brought back memories,i did not know the present owners of the mill but my best friend when i was 12-13 was the son of the owner of the earlier mill and had the same first name,(everett boyd) i spent many an hour in the mill on mill lane helping bag white johnnycake meal.small world isn't it? Love -old miller d."

Friday, January 02, 2004

Journey Once Again

I see your reflection in the birch trees,
Leaning out upstream over
Runoff swollen River...
If I plunge in wading,
and the River is deep and cold,
If the current pushes and pulls me down
and the rocks cut jagged tears in my feet
I will reach down to my salmon spirit
Knowing the current in my soul
Pulling me back to home
Spawning grounds memory
That place of origin and rebirth
Finding the drive to fight my way back there
Then wakening the river spirit inside me too
The knowing of shallows,
and eddys, crawdad and caddis fly,
Grey green boulders, and soft mud banks
Deep holes for resting in quiet when I tire
To remember the river's return to origin as well
Where spring became creek became stream
Where river became ocean became vapor
Where rain became runoff became spring again
All returns to source, as I return to you
A circle completing, a return to birthplace
The way of the river is clear before me
The way it has always been

Thursday, January 01, 2004

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, because I am sure of failure. But here I am on New Year's Day, starting this blog. Maybe tomorrow I will post again. Or the day after. You can see how my resolutions might be unreliable.

I am making posole. It's a stew with chicken, chiles and hominy (admit it, you've always wondered what people use hominy for.) And tonight, there are snack size carrots floating around on top, looking for all the world like baby penises. Ok they are bright orange baby penises, but still they disturb me. I find myself cutting them in half because one should not have tiny penises floating in the stew. None of this would have happened if I had had the energy to use regular carrots.

I probably should have mentioned the sinus infection that has settled in like an unwelcome relative justifying any irrational act, such as watching Will and Grace reruns, or hours of repetitive TV winter storm coverage, or starting a blog when I'm least able to write coherently. Oh but I'd like to fool myself into thinking I still can. Here.

New Year's Eve finds me working my way through the box of tissues and a bottle of advil, watching old movies, and wondering whether the neighbor's illegal fireworks will indeed crash through the 2nd story window and onto my bedroom floor as they appear imminently likely to do. They don't.

I awaken to that unnatural quiet light that fills a house as one sleeps in after a night of frequently disturbed sleep, and the arrival of 4 inches of snow. MMMMmmmm snow.

Wandering downstairs, I contemplate breakfast. Or rather brunch. Open the fridge and find little. Open the freezer and find... YES! There is something there. Something with potential.

My Dad grew up in Rhode Island. Somehow it bothers me that Rhode Island is now associated mostly with a disastrous Great White concert, or used to describe things that are in all reality not that big. An area the size of Rhode Island. Anyway. For breakfast they ate Johnny Cakes. Occasionally. Well truthfully I don't know how often. But they did, because once he moved to the west coast, the relatives would send the bags of Johnny Cake mix every Christmas. This made Johnny Cakes a precious commodity in my early years, the weekend would arrive, my Dad would get up early with his "little daughter" and make breakfast. In the months after Christmas, he'd mix up the Johnny Cake batter and pour them on the griddle, cooking them 3-4 at a time, me consuming them as fast as he could cook. Other times in the year we'd have french toast or bacon or pancakes, but my favorite breakfast was always the Johnny Cakes. I guess what was special was... he knew that the only way Johnny Cakes were really good was eaten immediately off the griddle. And so he cooked them for me until I was too full to eat any more before he made any for himself. There is something so symbolic in that action I'm sure I don't have to explain why I treasure this memory.

By now I suppose I should explain what a Johnny Cake is. It's a crepe like pancake, made with a very thin corn meal batter and poured into silver dollar sized circles on a hot griddle, flipped as soon as they are covered in tiny bubbles, and eaten immediately with lots of butter and jam (I'm partial to apricot but I realize jam's a personal sort of thing.) The meal, or mix, came in a small brown paper bag, like you get coffee beans in these days, holding maybe 5 cups, with a label that had something to do with a mill.

For years this went on, the holiday box from the relatives arrived, with some nice gifts for the kids, and the precious cargo of 1 or 2 bags of Johnny Cake meal tucked in as padding. But everything changes and sure enough, the year arrived when the box didn't include the mix. I don't remember now why, it seemed like sporadically for the next couple of years there sometimes was, and sometimes wasn't mix, but finally the boxes stopped (Aunty Bell was in bad health) and so did the Johnny Cakes.

Now, as I peer into my freezer hoping for something to cheer me up on this sinus infected New Year's morning, something to start things off diffferently than they ended, I find the bags of what I hope are.... Johnny Cake meal. I've done this before, and ended up with good pancakes, but not Johnny Cakes. This time I'm more hopeful, because the bags are almost exactly as I remember. There are three of them, (bags) rescued from the half-off shelf at Cost Plus a few week's back, popped into the freezer and forgotten in the holiday rush. I always assumed that the place that made the mix had just disappeared. It never occured to me that I would ever find the same mix again. I'm still pretty doubtful as I open the bag and measure in the ingredients - mix, water, egg, oil. But as I see it coming together in the bowl, I know I've won the memory lottery. Remember how you have to add more water than it says to get the right texture batter. Remember how one only wants to cook them as they eat them rather than making them all at once. Remember the way the batter sizzles when the pan is the exact right temperature, remember how the butter looks sliding across the tiny bubbles left on the surface, remember how as I kid I would fold them in half and eat them in a single bite, sometimes not even bothering with the jam, rather than having the patience to cut them up. Remember that luxury of having someone cook and feed you until you are stuffed and can't eat another bite.

The first batch is too thick and the pan isn't hot enough to make them bubble the right way. The second batch is... perfect. Hot mulled cider fills the kitchen with smells of cinnamon and cloves, snow sparkles and paints the yard new, and the year starts with a memory of being cared for, once by my father, and now by my self. I can't wait to make them for my kids.

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