Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #17

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From Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg:

Tell me all you know about Texas.

I know almost nothing about Texas. I almost said I’ve never been there, but then I remembered that I was. Still, I don’t know much.

My sister Brenda knows Texas. When she was in the eighth grade, she chose that state to do a major report about. She wrote to whatever agencies a student would write to to gain information. She received a fat manila envelope filled with maps and brochures. She clipped photos from them to illustrate her project. She added to her knowledge with research from our own encyclopedias, and from books she borrowed from the library. She typed her report and put it all together in a brown duo tang folder. I was intrigued, as I was was always interested in anything Brenda was doing, but I didn’t pay that much attention.

Many years later, my sisters, Sheila and Robin, their husbands and my brother David all moved to Texas. I didn’t pay attention then, either. They went to the gulf, to go swimming. David had an accident at his workplace that – I think – resulted in an injury to his feet. That’s all I know.

When my oldest daughter was a young adult, she moved to Texas with her fiance, who was transferred there for his job. I visited her there. She had a boa constrictor, and a small collection of mice that had started out as live food for the snake, and became pets when he took too long to devour them.

I spent a great deal of time sitting near her pool with a book. My daughter and I were both reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series, by Jean M. Auel. We hadn’t yet gotten tired of the huge swaths of repetitive background information she inserted between every new occurrence, and enjoyed sharing our thoughts on how the story was developing.

One day, we went for a long drive; I don’t remember the reason or the destination. Cities in Texas can annex surrounding lands as long as they are able to provide services for them. Because of this, highways are expanded outward in the most confusing manner, running in ever larger circles around the heart of the city. That’s the only thing I learned about the state while I was there.

Many years after that, my sister Nita moved to San Antonio, Texas. Her grown children lived there, too, during much of the time that she was there. Nita loved the heat, worked – when she could – at a small factory, and lived in a community with many people who spoke mainly Spanish.

Finally, last year, my sisters Brenda and Cheryl, with their partners, went to Texas on vacation. Brenda had a bout of vertigo, and missed some of the side trips. The weather was grand. The food was good.

That, I think, is every single thing I know about the state of Texas!

 

Mushrooms

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After a dry start, summer finished up with quite a lot of wet weather that has continued into September. The roadsides and fields are filling with mushrooms. Last week while blackberry-picking on the family wood lot, I came upon a huge patch of beautiful white ones. “What a shame,” I thought, “that I don’t know mushrooms!”

There are some delicious fall mushrooms. I know, because I’ve eaten them. Gathered and prepared by friends who know how to identify the edible ones, they are rich and flavorful. I hear folks talk about the “shaggy manes” but I don’t know what they look like. I don’t trust mushrooms, or my ability to tell the good ones from the deadly ones. I’d rather err on the side of caution.

In the spring, I look for morels. They are distinctive in appearance and perfectly safe. Even so, one year I gathered a bag full of the brain-shaped “beef steaks,” thinking they were morels that had grown deformed. Though people eat them, it is not advised. They contain a component that is similar to one of the ingredients in rocket fuel. It builds up in the human body. Some people eat them all their lives with no problem. Others enjoy them without issue for years, then suddenly drop dead after a meal. No, thank you!

In the fall, the only mushrooms I know and trust are puffballs. They grow, pure white and stemless, as big around as a basketball. Evidently, my grandfather had a bad reaction to them once, and didn’t allow them on his table. My dad said he and his brothers used to kick them around like a soccer ball when they’d find them in the pasture. I have never had a problem with them, and they pop up annually in by back lawn this time of year.

Unfortunately, of all mushrooms, puffballs are pretty tasteless. They will, however, pick up the flavors of what they are cooked with, so can be a nice addition of texture and protein. I brought a nice one inside last week, with the intention of dicing it, then marinating the cubes in ginger and soy sauce before sauteing them in butter. While it sat on my counter, a large white worm pushed its way out of the surface. I threw it out, then, and find I have now lost my taste for that type of wild mushroom.

This year, I’ll get my mushrooms from the grocery store, and enjoy the wild ones only in photographs!

The 52 Lists Project #39

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List the most beautiful things you have ever seen:

  • My mother’s smile. Most of her children inherited the small mouth and thin lips of my father’s side of the family, but my mother had fantastic full lips, straight white  teeth and a beautiful smile.
  • She had great legs, too. Though she opted for slacks and comfortable shoes for most of her life, in a dress that barely covered her knees and a pair of high-heeled shoes, Mom’s legs could take your breath away.
  • Babies. My own, of course, but others, too. The tiny, dimpled fingers and toes, the lush eyelashes and silky hair: I could study a baby for hours, for the little miracles that they are.
  • Miller’s Marsh, full of water lilies in full bloom.
  • An exhibit of Jasper John’s work, at a little gallery in Chicago. It was a trip with my daughter, Jen. We were out for a stroll. We just happened to stop to look. The work of one of my favorite artists was on exhibit! The art was tremendous; the whole day was serendipitous and wonderful.
  • The Parthenon. In Nashville, on vacation with my sisters, I learned that there was a full-sized replica of the Parthenon in that city. Touring the city in the evening, we stopped to see the structure, glowing white under the stars.
  • The work of Vincent Van Gogh, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Though he’s been dead for over a hundred years, when I see his work in person, with his heavy impasto brush strokes, I feel like he just stepped away from the easel!
  • The Northern Lights, here on Beaver Island, in the year that I turned forty. My family was here, to help me celebrate. We had gone to our separate places of lodging, at the end of a long day. As I was getting out of the car to go inside, I just happened to look up. Amazed, I drove to town to grab my sister, Cheryl, from her hotel room. Together, in the middle of the night, we wandered, looking up as ribbons of pink and green chased across the sky. I’ve never seen them so beautiful before or since.

This Gift to Myself

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I have taken this weekend off. Not free of all responsibility. Not traveling. No vacation, except from my job in town, at the hardware store.

I have been struggling to fit everything in, that needs to be done in my life. I have been behind in everything. My personal stuff gets set aside first: studio time, the garden, yard maintenance, housework, laundry, reading time, relaxing time…for the pressing obligations of work.

The hardware store is easy, in its way. I go in, work hard, come home. I don’t have to carry it with me. I am busy enough that other obligations are – of necessity – set aside. I don’t stay awake at night with what is left to do.

The work I do for my aunt is not hard. I shake rugs, dust, vacuum, sweep and mop floors. Sometimes there are beds to make up after visitors; sometimes do a little grocery shopping for her. It’s a pleasure. The only thing that makes it difficult is that I work it in to my own schedule. Aunt Katie is so agreeable about when I come, it’s easy for me to procrastinate. Then, before I know it, it is jammed in with several other last minute obligations.

The news-magazine is what catches me. It keeps me awake at night with worry over things not done. It fills me with guilt for every free moment that I am not spending on catching up with things that are behind. I am frustrated at my seeming inability to do it right. I struggle. But then, I get tired of the struggle, the constant, nagging worry, the piles of things to complete, the lack of time.

I waste time. I procrastinate. I shut down. Defiantly, I tell myself, “I need time for myself, too!” Yet it is not time spent mowing the lawn or doing one of a dozen organizing jobs around the house, or even doing productive work in my studio. I would feel too guilty taking time for personal obligations over this job I have taken on. It is time spent going through Email or flipping through a magazine, making lists or playing word games. Then there is guilt, and depression, and no progress. In any area.

This weekend is my gift to myself. I started today with a two-mile walk before my morning coffee, and a couple chores. I am making a check list of things I want to do. I cannot get everything caught up, but I will see some headway! Starting now!

Long Day, Late Night…

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Yesterday was a long, hectic day at work. Freight days always are. Even when there are few customers needing service, there is plenty to do. Often, it involves heavy lifting, climbing up and down ladders and running up and down the aisles. There were plenty of customers needing service yesterday, too: keys to make, pipe and conduit to retrieve from the high storage area and paint to mix. It kept me busy!

Near the end of the day, I got a dinner invitation. As I’d been eating nothing but chocolate-butterscotch treats all day, it was an invitation I couldn’t refuse. I rushed home after work to pick up the dogs, who were invited, too, their dinner, my bread dough and baking stone, and headed out again.

To complement my friend’s offerings of an asparagus and pasta salad flavored with yogurt and lemon, homemade tabouli  and hummus, I made fresh pita bread. We also had wine. And ice cream. We watched an excellent movie. The dogs chased chipmunks. It was a lovely evening!

I am not, however, accustomed to having anything to do outside of my own home after work. A dinner out is a big change in my routine. Even if I get home at a decent hour, which I did, it takes a while to wind down after a night out. So, sleep came late. Morning comes early, always, no matter what. And work is waiting. So there you have it.

Timeout for Art: Bill

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I had to run to the bank yesterday, to do a little money-changing. Next door to the bank is the wood-working shop that used to belong to my friend, Bill. I would stop in for a cup of coffee and a bit of conversation whenever I had a few extra minutes. I’d watch him put together buckets, or see how he was coming along on canoes in progress.

Bill died almost five years ago. His shop is now run by a young family. It has been cleaned up and expanded to produce kayaks, skateboards and paddle boards as well as the canoes and buckets that were his staple. T-shirts advertising the wares hang in the windows. Time marches on.

Yesterday, though, as I left the bank, for just an instant I forgot. I almost turned to step in the door to call out a hello to my good friend, Bill. It was just a second – a little time-warp – but enough to keep thoughts of him close to me for the rest of the day. For that reason, I pulled up this old drawing, so I could see his smile.

Some Random Thoughts

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Not counting today, considering that I published a blog on December 31, 2015 (before the start of my year-long writing commitment!) and that February had twenty-nine days this year, I have posted a bit of writing 265 days in a row! I think I may finally have run out of things to say! At least it seems I am coming up empty this morning. I have nothing to offer but a few random bits.

  1. I finally got my SD card reader in the mail, and figured out how to get my photos from the camera to the new computer!
  2. After another rain, the blackberries are still ripening on the bushes. I went picking again yesterday, and put another two quarts of berries in the freezer.
  3. I enjoyed homemade flat bread pizza for dinner last night, topped with tomatoes from my cousin Bob’s garden, basil clipped from the plant on my counter, and fresh mozzarella. I cooked it on top of the stove in the cast  iron frying pan, so the crust was very crisp. I might make it again for dinner tonight!
  4. I washed my comforter and hung it on the clothesline to dry. That wonderful smell makes bedtime a sensory experience.
  5. One good thing about not having television is that I am not inundated with political commercials and campaign coverage.
  6. One bad thing about not having television is that I’m missing the new show pilots and premieres. This is my favorite time of year for TV.
  7. Though the days are still warm, there is definitely a hint of fall in the air.
  8. I am reading A God in Ruins by Kay Atkinson, Daily Rituals by Mason Curry, 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman and Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.
  9. One good quote: “The greater part of happiness depends on our dispositions and not our circumstances.” ~Martha Washington

That’s it! I have nothing more to say today.