Monday, September 26, 2011

Making Chow Chow

I have been savoring MawMaw's Chow Chow in my memory for more than a year now. I resolved that my meager green thumb was going to somehow grow enough green tomatoes to make her delicious relish. Having a grandmother in the 50's usually meant canning days were a part of my life. Unfortunately Mom didn't can much, and I can only remember a day or two at MawMaw's where she was canning which was enough to instill a memory of a hot kitchen in August. My aunt and grandmother in sleeveless floursack aprons, Damp wisps hair plastered to their necks and foreheads, endlessly chopping green tomatoes, cabbage, and onions. Then the sweaty hot business of stirring and stirring with a large wooden spoon in a cadaverous black pot on the gas stove... forever. As a 12 year old it looked like too much work, no fun, and probably much like my mom...too old-fashioned to be a part of my daily routine. But... the end result was...heaven. I guess I never really learned that little lesson from Henny Penny to earn your rewards, so being able to take home a can or two of the rich green treasure wasn't like a job well done, or a deserved award...just a chance at a good meal of blackeyed peas with the spicy tangy topping of "MawMaw's Chow Chow." It was a great fall dinner and an absolute MUST on New Year's Eve. Years after leaving home, every begging year, I feared that my luck would be ruined because the idea of black-eyed peas (with that relish) was not the first thing that passed my lips.
Fast forward almost 50 years and for some reason I wanted to create that same scene, but this time I wanted to earn it. Wyoming wind never gave me a chance to grow anything successfully so my chance came when we moved to Colorado. It wasn't until our third summer here that I was able to grow enough tomato plants to produce the little green charms that I would need. I would shuffle out each morning to scan the plants to count the little yellow blooms and then the eventual bulbs that would be my "green 'maters". I figured that by the end of July the 'maters and I would be ready. Enter deck building weekends and a surprise 10 day visit from little sis and I woefully watched as the green gems began turning red. A delight for our daily salad but a fear that I would not be able to pick enough green ones and how am I going to find the time to let canning take over my kitchen? Especially with the memory of Two Sisters in the kitchen creating Mom's Merangue Pie?  Janie's fragile nerves from a trying year already was the reason for her visit, and was I asking for a meltdown (not sure from her or me) by inviting her to partake in this memory fest? Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was now or never for this season.
Two days after the Saturday Deck Party, a few donated green 'maters from a dear friend and my promise that he would get the first jar, Janie and I gathered the ingredients and began the New Millennium Chowchow Creation.
I had already bought the 2 heads of cabbage, the onions and the carrots. That morning before Janie got up, I chopped up the cabbage and put it all in large plastic bags. A little later,  the onions with the every present tearing eyes were packed away. After seeing Wayne off to work and a couple of cups of coffee and the needed "Gotta have my protein" Breakfast for Janie, I started to assemble the works.
"Do you have the cabbage?"
"Yes, all ready to go."
 "And the onion? I think she was beginning to think I was going to do this all alone. I had to give her something to do."
"Oh, no, would you chop those for me?"
After  the pound of carrots were chopped, we sat and looked over the recipe for the 10th time.
"I really don't remember carrots it it".
"Me either. It says here that she never used hot peppers but I remember the best part was that it was really spicy."
"Me too.and really GREEN. Maybe she put food coloring in it."
"I'm not going to do that."
"Well, it's getting late. Let's go to lunch."
As I looked over the assembled ingredients, the ready pot and the makings for the syrup, I didn't want to leave now. Our speedometers were definitely not on the same cruise control setting. Never has been, and certainly not this visit.
"Janie, we just got started; why leave now?"
"You know I need to eat lunch and I've got to not just sit here all day. I sit at home alone every day. We need to get out."
  Again, the kid gloves go on, and we pack up everything back into the refrigerator and off to NoNo's Cafe. I had promised myself much to my daughter's chiding that I give in to her aunt's demands way too much, to not make waves this trip. The woes of grown children and the typical husband bashing dominated the conversation once again with the repeated barbs of accusations that her daughter would lay on her mother that she was trying to manipulate her life..."How can she say that? I don't have a manipulative bone in my body."
In mid-chew of my hamburger, I had to say it..."Yes, you do." Uh-oh now I've done it. To my surprise the astonished stare from across the table only lasted a few seconds. No fire back, but a request for how that could be.  I tried my best to lovingly point out something that we all suffer from, not really knowing ourselves but how we are perceived by others. She seemed to just ponder the thoughts.
An hour later, we are back in my kitchen and the process of making Chow Chow was once again on track.

"No, no I think you've got it."

This time I know I earned it.
Like the chow chow, the memories of our lives are  bottled up into a conglomeration of  tiny little bits, some are sweet, some are biting or even a little burning hot, but together they can be combined to be stored and later opened up for all to enjoy who want to bring a little of us to the table. There will be someone who doesn't want to try it at all, some who will fondly remember and savor it, and others who will enjoy the newer version. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Walk on the Dark Side

A long ago forgotten memory. I was probably around 8 or 9 because I would have been able to walk home alone (in those days) without big brother who was already in junior high or tag-a-long little sister, not yet in school .

        A beautiful spring afternoon to walk the 10-12 blocks to our house from the elementary school.  Never a creature of habit even as a child, I would shuffle from sidewalk to street gutter to add variety to my steps.  I let my eyes scan the ground for various treasures abandoned for whatever reason.  Unusual bits of broken glass, abandoned  balls,  pencils,  or tattered school papers adorned the little swept street.  My favorite sighting would be rocks of various sizes and shapes.  Once I had found a strange red sandstone-like rock that looked like a rose..
      So, this particular day I knew I could take my time to search  for new objects and knew I might have some luck.  Just a block or two from home, I found IT. But what a strange smooth tiny rock it was!  I picked it up and marveled at its beautiful blue speckled color. It seemed unusually hard and heavy.  What possessed me to do what came next, I still do not know.  I tossed it up in the air. Caught it. Then squatting close to the ground, I smashed it into the gutter.  Did I really believe it was a rock?  Why couldn't I recognize or admit that it was a robin egg?  What ever evil thought I had, I really do not remember, but I do recall with vivid acuity, the horror.  Even though the yellow yolk and glistening white spilled from the shattered remains, and my adult mind now knows that this abandoned egg was probably never fertilized, my child mind sized me up as an evil killer of a baby bird.
      First thought of death...
      First thought of my power to end life...
      First thought of my internal wickedness.

     Eggs are the symbolic essence of the beginning of life, of purity, birth, renewal, of nature's miracles. Ironically my first thought or memory of the word "egg" created just the opposite.  But, could it be that nature is powerful enough to hold lessons from both poles of good and evil within ourselves, and we can be grateful for that power to teach us.
     We can so quickly point out the evils in others or in the world, but until we can recognize those seeds of evil within ourselves, we cannot heal the world around us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My School of Learning

The mind is not a vessel that needs filling but wood that needs igniting -- Plutarch

         Four plus years out of the educational setting, and I still can't shake the "teacher thoughts."  Not that I want to go back or should go back, the quotes and thoughts I shared with kids everyday still stay with me.  Each morning for 32 years -- without fail, I wrote a quotation on the board.  My initial "fresh out of college, eager to ignite minds" purpose rarely achieved the "ah-ha moments" I expected my passion-impaired charges to grasp and hold dear. But, I persevered. Everyday a new bit of wisdom was plastered up there for all to see and share.  Dutifully they wrote. Silently they sat for 5-10 minutes while I performed the required first of class duties of taking attendance, picking up homework, and passing out graded work. Of course there were years of variation to place the writing at the end of the hour so I could also share in the writing time, but much of the time was to secretly prepare for the next storm of students.
         So what did they learn from my daily quotations? I hope more than I am presenting here, but I really will never know.  I do know I learned a great deal:
 #1 There are a lot of wise quotations out there. The sea is endless.
                 (As a matter of fact I never ran across this one posted above)
 #2 Different perspectives of something said is as varied
                   as the number who hear it.
 #3 hmm, I have a #3?
           Probably not, but I do ponder on Plutarch's words. I agree that I could not pry open the Richard Craniums and pour in the knowledge. I had to try to give a spark and hope that someone's perspective allowed a bit of a firestorm in his pursuit of learning.  But on the other hand, mighty Plutarch, once ignited and a grand bonfire of knowledge is before our eyes - what is left but ashes?
      So, I will probably lean toward another quotation when it comes to "lighting up someone's mind"
The one I favor was originally Thomas Jefferson's but picked up in different forms as I have here:

         Using your candle to light someone else's, 
doesn't take away your own light, 
but adds to the brightness of the room.

              As least on this blog, my world is definitely brighter when I hear from you discovering new life for yourself  in my words.  It's a lesson I hold dear.  
Thanks for being here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

God? Did you just call?

Several years ago, I, like probably many wives, hit a time of wondering if our marriage was going to survive. We had hit a financial catastrophe with a failing business and hope was at its lowest -- at the time.  I had grown up believing God was with me but no real connection until one night my pen seemed to speak for Him. Four nights later He tried again. I've never experienced this before or again, and since then, I've come to re-create my faith. However, this one experience did ring true then and now.

12:08 a.m. July 28, 1997
A phone call woke me up. Wrong number. Odie wants outside. So, I'm awake, can't go back to sleep. Spiritual Literacy is keeping me company while I wait for the dogs. One entry speaks of Morton Kelsey's experience of being awakened at the same time every night and a friend told him God wanted to talk to him. Then I heard (or wanted to hear) Suzy, I'm proud of you.
                                                                                                      Oh, God, really? I'm feeling so ashamed and stupid right now. 
So very weak.
But you have shown what My love is supposed to be - unconditional and forgiving.
I'm still not sure if it's really love, Lord. Rather a vow and a concern for the kids.
But that is love. You have exhibited love by staying with Wayne.
It's not over yet. There's a lot of unknown territory out there. I'm not sure what 
kind of damage his business actions have actually caused.
Just recall the feeling of getting into bed a few moments ago. 
Wasn't that more comforting to lay beside him than the balled up fear 
in your stomach all day?
Yes, it was. I told him so, too. And I fell asleep comforted.
I just knew you needed to hear from someone
 that you are doing the right thing, Suzy.
Then, what are these tears for, Lord? Relief? --I'm not relieved.
Grief? - I'm still there, grieving for our loss of security. 
Is this just a way to resolve my lack of action?
Oh, but you still have a lot to do. And action is one beginning.
You have to push this through. Yes - even nag. You've been
 passive, yes, but I will be there to help you through this.
I wish Wayne could hear you, too.
Me, too. But that's something he has to do himself.
 I'll be here when he does.
I've been hoping for more than 20 years, Lord. He's going to be that same
 stubborn rock-island trying to do and fix it all by himself.
I've been waiting longer, dear.
I've been a little lost from you, too.
I know.
I did start the gratitude journal and the Spiritual Literacy before all this hit the fan.
I guess you could think they were my doing, to get you prepared for all this. 
Or maybe, you knew you needed it all by yourself.
We humans do possess a lot of inner power. I'll always believe that.
  I just haven't used it to help him.  I've been more
 of an enabler, than a helpmate, haven't I?
You could see it that way, but you seemed to be doing
what you thought was best.  This setback is tough, but
you both needed it to get back on track. It's up to you
to get up and start walking on it.
Just stay close by, okay?
It's a promise.

2:45 a.m. Aug 1, 1997
Lord, I woke up. Did you want to talk to me?
Not really. But it looks like you need me to. How's it going?
Night sweats are back, and now I can't seem to get back to sleep. 
Thinking about Chris's care package, afraid I sent it to the wrong address.
thought about calling him, but decided against it.
It wouldn't help to know now anyway.
Told Wayne yesterday about getting my own lawyer.
You are entering an unknown area for yourself.
I still feel that the action will just stir up more negative feelings from the kids.
It will. Children never want the status quo to be upset.
 It's fear and they will display it through anger. 
Accept it and try to stay calm. But don't let up.
Will I lose more than what I gain?
Just keep you eyes open as well as your heart. You're strong.
It doesn't seem that way. I feel I got into this mess because
 of my weakness and desire for my husband to take care of me. 
I deferred to him to make all the decisions - to make him feel stronger..
Very few women would have hung in there.
I keep wanting to defend him. Protect him. 
But that has been to a fault. It was a mistake to enable his ego.
You're really not here, are you?
Wrong number?
You just need to help yourself now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Odie's First Day in Heaven

We have always had a menagerie of animals around our house. Kids growing up in the country collected everything from salamanders to stray cats, and 4-H kept us up to our ears in pigs, chickens, lambs, calves, horses, and even a goat. Of course dogs were ever present. I took backstage to all the animals, allowing the kids to claim and care for them all...until of course the kids grow up and the animals stay...and stay...and stay. We have had dogs last as long as 19 years (Huckleberry) and I still care for Stephanie's first cat who is now reaching the ripe old age of 22. Of all these animals gone and present, I lay claim to only one - our big black lab, Odie.  This was the only pet that I picked out as a pup and brought home. Of course, he soon became Chris's but silently...he was mine too. He was with us a wonderful 13 years, and we lost him to cancer a of couple years before Chris died. I had a chance to honor this sweet, lovable animal in a poem, thinking of all the things he could no longer do on earth and maybe fulfilling those dreams in heaven.

He welcomes the morning sunlight
Which shimmers golden through the patio window.
And his bones feel limber and strong and his supple
Muscles quiver for action,
Not pain.
A shining sparkle of diamonds coat the snowbanks
Built during night's gentle late spring snowfall.
He runs and chases high-pitched, falling
Invisible snowballs mixed
Showers of shoveled snow sprinkle
A stardust coating on his glistening black fur.

At noon, he settles his lumbering body onto
The warm lambskin rug and patiently awaits
For his dish to be set before him.
After a cozy nap in the warming sun,
He bounds through the muddy melting snow
To the lake.
He submerges his heavy torso into the soothing
Lapping waves
While his Huckleberry friend
Takes head-bobbing bounces
Through the bull rushes
Avoiding water at all costs.

The evening is filled with tireless luxurious long
Gentle strokes across his black
Velvet face and ears.
An occasional chocolate candy delights his senses,
And the sweet moves through his body free
Of danger or threat.
He curls his thunderous thighs and barrel chest
Into a ball on an unforbidden couch
To dream of rabbit races.
His body twitching in miniature moves
With each twist and turn of the imaginary hills
And muffled woof's reveal his victorious tale.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Aside from the immaterial irritations of society’s rules, I have really not known restrictions of any unalienable rights. I have not had to experience chronic mental illness, physical pain or disfigurement. I haven’t suffered through civil wars, rape, genocide, or totalitarian injustices, so I wonder if I can authentically express this exalted opinion of individual freedom.  I do know that on this 10th anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded of that day when I was only a few weeks into mourning my own son’s death, and mixed in my sequestered grief for me and all the attention directed to this national tragedy.  To say the least, my mental state was not working toward the good.  Where do we not exercise our greatest freedom?

Customs and social mores fence us in. Society’s laws and red tape freeze us.
We are bound by the fear of failure, pain, reprisals, and rejection.  

Where can we go that we shouldn’t?
What can we do that we shouldn’t?
Who can we see that we shouldn’t?
What can we say that we shouldn’t?

Yes, we have “ties that bind” – by society’s laws or social customs, but as long as we exercise our freedom to have the attitude we want, how can we be enslaved?  If Viktor Frankl was able to withstand every atrocity imaginable during the Holocaust, and still say that no one can take away his attitude, then this has to remain true for me as well.

We are imprisoned by financial woes, children’s choices and consequences, parents aging with dementia, personal health issues to speak of exterior restraints.  There will always be some kind of tether that will keep us from moving the way or the direction that we want.

But a far greater, more horrific prison is that of our own attitude.  If  we put up barriers and walls that only make us look at the past, or “what could have been,” or “what we wish we had,” or that chokingly awful  “if only,” then we suffer a loss of freedom far greater than anything our fellow man with his inhumanity, laws , or customs can inflict on us.  If we have this power, and don’t exercise it, then we become our own jailor.  

The chains of un-forgiveness
The bonds of bitterness, resentment
The shackles of self-centeredness, self-doubt, self-worth
The ropes of regret, un-met expectations,

All of these put us in a solitary confinement. They separate us from unconditional love, unbridled joy, and unfettered acceptance.  These are the freedoms I can’t live without, and I am the only one who has the key to open them in my heart.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Softest Thing

.       My first thought on this topic was only an image of softness, not a tangible softness. And not too long ago, that image was brought up in a conversation with my sister in which I had to tread “softly.”
        First, the image as I remember it. When we were little, mom would put my sister and me down for naps or for bedtime with stories of Miss Blue Mouse (for me) and Miss Pink Mouse (for sis). Mom would spin tales of details about what they were wearing, the friends they would visit. Picking out dresses, shoes, and purses. Planning parties. Her vivid descriptions helped fuel my imagination, and I knew that if I ever saw Miss Blue Mouse I would know her instantly. Years pass. Miss Blue Mouse was replaced with my own dresses, friends and parties. Although wee animals have been illustrated before by  such famous souls as Beatrix Potter, A.A.Milne, Richard Scary, and the close but not quite right Wee Village, I just never saw Miss Blue Mouse again.
        Mom got cancer, and by the time I was 22 she was only a few months from leaving us all. On my 22st birthday, I went over to the little apartment she and Dad had on Slide Road. After dinner she handed me a small package. It contained a small 4x4 blue frame surrounding her pastel drawing of Miss Blue Mouse. As the tears brimmed in my eyes, I said , “Her nose is so soft!” My gaze was met with her own tear filled eyes, and she softly spoke, “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.” Miss Blue Mouse was one of my first memories, and she was the last picture Mom (a devoted mother and talented artist) drew for me.
      Recently, Janie called me so excited about meeting a woman who struck up a conversation (Janie can talk to any stranger and leave a friend) about her own plans for a party she was planning. Janie told her about our Miss Mouse stories and the lady sparked Janie’s enthusiasm to write a children’s story about it. When she called, she was already talking about finding a publisher. Trying not to spoil her moment I told her to just write everything down, and we would go from there. We hung up, and moments later (really!) she called again to read her story to me. It did bring up all those wonderful stories again. They even added to the paragraph above. Again she was ready to call a publisher. Not being an expert, but at least a little knowledgeable about writing, I knew we would first need to work, draft, revise and edit it. I know that the publishing business can be brutal, and I didn’t want to go to that disappointing corner. I unthinkingly blurted out that we could even write it in 5 different perspectives to see which we liked best…..dead…silence. Then in her Janie way, she told me that she did not want my negativity (a REAL sore spot with me) to spoil this for her. She did not want me to overwork it so much that she would not want to do this any more. She didn’t want to change it at all, just find a publisher and an artist to illustrate it.  Although a trained and talented artist in her own right, she said she can't draw from her imagination and wanted me to do all the leg work with her story as is.
         It took everything I had to walk softly through this conversation. It easily could have ended up a yelling match bring up the old feuds we had when we were younger. I have achieved the dubious honor of being Miss Negativity and probably not without reason. I, of course, would consider it walking on the side of caution, but the reputation is solidly fixed. At the moment I felt I was being chastised for negative remarks that hadn’t even happened yet. In her perspective, Janie saw revision after revision as a killer overworking her inspiration. We did back pedal (both of us) to let’s just exchange ideas and see where it goes from here.
        Soft. Too many connotations that don’t even come close to the baby’s bottom, bunny nose, chinchilla fur touchables that most might think of. Then again. Memoirs are about connection and most of those are with people…not objects; and, with  people, emotions, actions, and relationships are more important. They have to be handled softly.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hearing Loss Poetry III

Okay, time to have a little fun with this, then I will put this subject to rest for a while.  I wrote this when I was still wearing ITE (in the ear) hearing aids.  My apologies to anyone offended, but you have to admit the power of words are only given their strength through the mind of the reader.


He whines and moans when her hand
Fondles his curves of flesh.
Beady eyes peer into her dark canal
She turns him on,
And he echoes
The delights of the world,
Picking up
All the garbage,
Not just the juicy tidbits.

Because his inner soul
Remains too complicated for her to
Care, his purpose is only
Functional, not

His deafening silence becomes
Unbearable, and she
Rips open his chest to
grasp his dead heart,
Replacing it with a new Air-Zinc

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hearing Loss Poetry II


     A distant chirp jars
my mind to the unforgettable companion
living in my head.
A multi-personality ogre whose chirp
evolves into an
electronic Highlander's
then crashes
          dead silent.
A turn of my head and the left side of my brain
                           takes over
belting out a staccato succession
                                                     of beeps and buzzes,
lined up,
The omnipotent high-pitched scream
                          forever loyal,
never leaves my thoughts,
as I pound out the day
wondering if the noises I'm missing
outside my head are as boisterous as those within.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hearing Loss Poetry I

You may not relate to this specific "disability," but I wish to share the frustration, sense of loss, and attempts to adjust my attitude. We all fight some kind of malady. Maybe you can find a little hope struggling with your own.

She strains to pick up
whispering songs
around her head.

The mystic voice within
whistles a Reality
Check tune. She
ignores the melody and

Trudges on, stoically,
hoping that someone
will create a new path for
her silence to disappear.

Shrouded ones
sleep snugly behind her ears
all the while, she
struggles and gropes through the
jabber, like muffled
screams of a
pillow-smothered victim.

Useless whispers are
like the hot summer gnats that
dance in and around your ears, buzzing
annoying nonsense
until you
absent-mindedly swat them away. Only,

She is brushing away the
marriage of Voice
and Ear which conceives the precious child,

The rational voice within
convinces her -- Listening
is superior to hearing, and 
that requires no decibels or pitch. Yet,

The stinging vibration echoes -- The notes
must be placed on paper,
before the symphony can begin.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Calgon, Take Me Away!

Ever think your life could be a movie? In MY movie, I'd have to let Calgon take me away...

The bug-gut green that I am spreading along the vanilla trim will
Eventually turn to "Bay Leaf  Brown" -- so says Sherwin - Williams.
Each stroke of the plastic bristled brush tries
In vain to hide the house's splintered past.

The ladder trembles under my paint-splattered Rockfords. My eyes
Squint in the afternoon sun, while dribbles of bayleaf bug-gut
Trickle from my novice fingers to my bony elbow.

A spaghetti western flute invades my ears.

The beating sun nearing the horizon
Chisels a ghost rider drawing closer.
          Clint Eastwood, riding?
I wipe my sweating brow leaving a bug-gut trail across
My nose as I peer at the approaching figure.
The half-painted house wails
This Calgon cowboy comes
            traveling, riding, approaching
Under the ladder as a slipping shoe betrays
My balance and I fall into his embrace.

I've come to take you away.  Grasping his muscled torso,
I nestle into his arms as we ride off into the sunset.
Bug Gut Green dries to its promised Bay Leaf Brown
All alone.