Friday, April 24, 2015

The Problem with Spring

Every spring as the tulips wave their colorful hellos from the beds, I think, "I'm planting more bulbs in fall." Every fall, I think, "I'm too busy," though I did plant a few bulbs last fall. Not the hundreds I envisioned. 

Maybe I've got a greed problem, an insatiable appetite for tulips? I heard at Disney they drop three bulbs into every hole. Maybe I want more intensity?

I spent part of the fall and winter schlepping my kid to dance class, and I spent another part of it in class with the playwrite which included reading a few drafts of his stories. Today I watched both performances.

The thing about spring is that it bears the fruits of our time and labor from fall and winter. It makes me glad all over again that we have long cold dark days that drive us into flaming petals of outrageous colors, acts on the stage, and little girls in tutus that leap on the stage.

That's the problem with spring, you reap what you sow. You have to do the work in the dark days to get to the sunny ones.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sunburnt Feet & Frostbitten Toes

Barring four years in high school, I spent most of my childhood down south. However, I'm a Yankee, of some sort, by constitution. I tend toward writhing glances versus the spoken word, unsweet tea or, even worse, hot tea instead of sweet tea ya'll, and reading books, not the bible, in coffee shops. It's not just the heat that stifles.

Lured onto the church bus by promises of candy and prizes, my mom rightly let me figure out for myself that my butt on a foldout chair or planted on a wooden bench were the real prize. My fascination with droning fans probably began at a three hour bible study I demanded to attend. By age nine, I started declining bus rides to bible study even though it cost me a few friends. 

I wanted to fit in, but an uptight bookworm with a misguided sense of equality and a modulated Midwestern cadence is not easily accommodated. I liked all the wrong things- anoraks instead of polos, funky shoes instead of flipflops, and the occult held more appeal than the Southern Baptist church.

"Do you take Jesus Christ as your personal savior," a young man queried me in earnest before having the gumption to ask for a date. "Personal? No. No, I don't," I replied. "Well then, there's nothing more for us to talk about," he said. Open and shut, black and white, and the world of gray, Protestant, dismissed in the blink of an eye. The heat of my car welcomed me as the feeling of having just missed a death knell to my spirit washed over me. 

Still, nearly every woman I knew or knew of, got married around this time. I began to get comfortable with the idea of being single forever even if it did feel like a case of leprosy. I counseled myself that Christ ate with the lepers. 

Then there was the time a neighbor threatened that something might happen to my house because my roommate dated a black man. "Some people frown on that sort of thing around here," she said. I shrugged at her comments. There was not much that could be said to the neighbor though she did tell me it wasn't her that I needed to worry about but those other people. "Other people?" I asked. We left the middle of the road by the mailboxes in a stalemate. I didn't act as frightened as she intimated I should be. I opted not to mention it to my roommate, it was the little thing I could do to stop the insanity from spreading. 

The stifling window of how a woman may conduct herself, what interests are deemed appropriate, and my own inability to fit the southern girl mold with aplomb sent me in search of alternatives.

Now, I visit the Redneck Riviera, admire the fit and not so fit ladies, and linger over the long drawls, noting the ways I never could quite catch. I eat grouper, greens, and grits. The handbags bursts with color. The beer is mass produced. I drink a cocktail, walk in the sugar sand, and I am grateful for staying true to some parts of myself. There's still plenty more lost causes filed away in my drawer of truths to reckon with someday, but for now, I'm glad to be heading north with both sunburnt feet and frostbitten toes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Lesson from Marie Howe

A few months ago, a voice so rich, so full of goodness, came through a podcast I listen to so I listened to it again. The voice belongs to Marie Howe, the poet, who just so happens to be at the Spring Lit Fest at Ohio University.

Howe's talk of poetry akin to spells got to that funny place inside me where the light can pierce the dark. Oo oo, I thought when Howe said, "... we all need to walk around with, a handful of counter spells, you know. And, and poetry, when you think of its roots, you know, is that." I bought her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time so I could sit with her words on my search for counter spells.

Today, Marie Howe gave a talk at the fest about writing and poetry. I had missed her poetry reading on Opening Night so in hopes of arriving at the start time, I hustled to Alden Library- in case you noted a black blur streaking up East State Street. Except she wasn't first so I was alright, and Brian Doyle was wonderful, but I'll save that thought for another time.

Marie Howe told us that poetry holds a silence at the center of it, "the what that cannot be said or reduced." Though I'm no poet and know nothing of the craft, her words rang with truth. She read poems to us, and then she talked us through the fine words and quiet places.

Howe gave us a writing assignment to contradict ourselves to force ourselves from where we want to go. The writing prompt? "I did not know...."

I wrote this when I got home:

The Man Who Could Not Hug

I could not imagine myself sitting and sitting and sitting.  I became a nurse full of busy-ness, action,  stuff to do. Sometimes I watched the dying or listened to the pain. Sometimes I held a hand or shed a tear. Sometimes I polished old skin until it gleamed. Sometimes things smelled awful but still the moment was tangible with presence and ripe with palpation, it was real stuff.

Now I sit here with words. Words do not smell or weigh of anything and yet with my words I want to take you to a hospital room where a man’s blood pours out, gushes like a spring river, from every cavity. The smell of lead or maybe something dying permeates the moment. The rustle of blue plastic pads and the hum of fluorescent lights are punctuated by the color of dark red as hands and arms disappear into deep cavities of a man's body.

Someone at every limb pours something back into him. Still his insides seem to be faster than us. We press on, we dump, we’ve got replacements, we can keep this up.  In my memory, there are ten of us to the one of him. The senior nurse tells me, we can do this. I nod my head unsure, but keep my eyes on my hands, my work. I have never seen anything like this. I will never again because I choose other work, later, but in that moment I am appalled at how close to the edge we are.

We fight, each on our front, with his body at the center in hopes of restoring him, of calling him back. Our weapons are blood and fluids and medicines. It goes on and on for hours. When I leave at the day’s end, empty plastic bags liter the floor.

Almost a year later, he returns to us. He walks into the Surgical Trauma Unit to say hello to a place he can’t quite recall, but his family can.  He comes back to see the place that saved him only it never works quite like that. We, doctors, nurses, techs, aids, and other personnel, instead gather before him. I remember wondering what do we expect from him? Turned out that it was as if he knew that we had played a part in saving him. We did, but then it was if he had returned to save us with his words.

This man with no arms, not anymore, he tells us this, “I miss being able to hug someone. I didn’t know how important that was when I had arms, but now that I can’t, I know it is the greatest thing I’ve lost.”

I turn and walk away so I could stuff my heart back down into my stomach or under it or wherever the hell it is supposed to go or stay.

My damned heart sneaks out when I’m busing doing other things. I’m that weepy soul that cries over every little thing if I don’t keep a collar on it. I pull, it tugs, shimmies, and morphs as if Houdini. I keep telling the story of the man who could not hug, but until now, I did not know that it is because I’m hiding from the pain.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spring Lit Fest Stops My Heart

I walked home in a drizzle with my lit fest friend filled with a sense of hope after listening to the voracious drawl of Dorothy Allison tell us things about writing and being a writer like, " My moma loved terrible books. She consumed them like candy." She told us the airplane version of why she became a writer, "My career as a waitress wasn't going that well."

Allison went on to say, "Why am I a writer? Because I have a debt. Because a book saved my life." She followed this with a quote from Nabokov about wanting to write to produce, "that little sob in the spine of the artist/reader." My heart quivered with recognition as I thought, Oh yes, that's a worthy place to aim for. Then Allison said, "Fuck that. I want to stop your heart." 

I left with a book or two to read,  hoping my heart will stop.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


 "It is better to be high-spirited even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent."

Van Gogh

Monday, January 5, 2015

Making Ramen Noodles

It took the new year and several days off to chill for motivation to spike for an all out ramen fest. We used the recipes from the Ivan Ramen cookbook (they work great!) and enjoyed the feast.

Ramen refers to the noodles and soup which in our case was a triple broth mixture including chicken stock, pork stock, and dashi. We purchased back up frozen noodles from the nearby Asian store. My honey bunny did most of the work as he made the roast pork, stocks, menma (bamboo), and sofrito. I made the noodles, steam buns, and assisted with the dashi.

The ramen noodles were made using my kitchen aid mixer with a pasta attachment. These were the first try of Ivan's Toasted Rye Noodles.

Ivan's Toasted Rye Noodles

75 grams of Rye Flour
620 grams high protein bread flour
300 grams cake flour
10 grams Kansui powder (bake baking soda at 275ºF x 1 hour)
430 milliliters cool water
13 grams salt
Cornstarch as needed

1. Bake the baking soda x 275ºF x 1 hour. Cool.

2. Toast the Rye flour in pan over medium heat about 4 minutes, until you can smell the aroma. Use 70 GRAMS in the recipe.

3. Mix water, salt, and kansui until fully dissolved.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine flours and add water mix. Mix for 10 minutes-- add a spoonful of water if it isn't coming together. It will be on the dry side. Dough should form into a ball of sorts. Cover the dough and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

5. Flatten dough into pieces and cover with a damp cloth.

6. Set up your pasta machine and adjust for largest size. Pass piece of dough through, fold onto self making a double sheet, run through thinner setting, and repeat for the thinnest setting. Run through 4th time without double sheeting for the thinnest you can get them. Set aside and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

7. Pass thin dough sheets through a cutter or cut by hand. As you work, toss the noodles with a little cornstarch to keep them from sticking together, shake off excess before cooking. Store the noodles in a container wrapped tightly with plastic (or individual portions in ziplock bags) for up to a day.

8. Cook in boiling water for about 50 seconds (varies with water and flour used). Drain. Place into bowl of hot soup broth. Garnish.

Making ramen noodles