Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thoughts on Apricots

There is one fruit that stands out to me. Not that it is my favorite, or superior to other fruits. But, I have a deep attachment to it. Apricots. Roundish, like a small peach- golden to orangey, the outside is slightly velvety and the smell...sweet and summery. I sigh. When I was a kid my family owned an apricot orchard out in Brentwood, California; it was a forty five minute drive from our home. Winding through yellowed hills in my dad's old pickup truck, the ride seemed agonizingly long to me. The only point of interest along the way was the eyeball rock. At some bend along the road there was a large round rock that somebody had painted to resemble an eyeball. Occasionally it would be repainted by a new hand- but it was always an eyeball, looking back at me on my way to the orchard. We would arrive, bouncing across the furrows and dirt clods, filling the air with dusty clouds. Each trip the orchard looked different.The trees would start leafing, then blossoming with intensely sweet blossoms and then the thick dark canopy of leaves would be dotted with green, then light orange fruit. I remember long days in the hot sun. The heat, a corporeal presence, flies buzzing around me, and the tired boredom that would sometimes over come my young mind. We would climb long ladders up to the branches that hung heavily with apricots; Blenheims, highly prized for being sweet and tart, and Tiltons, larger, firmer and tangier...The whole family would fill buckets, flats, and eventually the back of the truck. While the stillness of the heat was only broken by the sound of insects and the rustling cornfield lining our orchard or a song or two from a sibling, somewhere muffled within a tree. Sweat would trickle down my back or into my eyes. From the top of the ladder I would catch myself staring in a stupor for, who knows how long.The dark twisted wood of the trees looked scaly and slick. A startling blue, cloudless sky bore down and we would retreat for a water break. Sometimes the older kids would have fruit fights. I remember well the time my big sister got hit with a green apricot by my brother. Her revenge was...sweet. She took a large, squishy, over ripe apricot and dropped it down the back of his pants, giving it a good smack to make sure it splattered. Wow, was he mad! But, mostly the days were long with work. Sometimes there was a tent for us younger kids to relax awhile, never quite out of the heat. And at times a nearby farmer or wanderer would come through and join us around a campfire. In particular, a homeless man with a trailor, he had shabby clothes and long hair. He played the guitar and sang us a song he wrote called Living in the Bay Area. I felt sorry for him. He left with some apricots. Many people did. There were sometime migrant workers helping.We would have U-Pick days... a parade of families and if I remember right, elderly people would come and grab a bucket, then pay dad and go away smiling, with plans to dry, can or juice their fruit. But, the sweetest memory was the way we sold them out of our house. In the "Blue Room" we had an old swamp cooler in one window. The door had to remain closed. Flats brimming with fragrant apricots were stacked almost to the ceiling, with a walkway left down the middle. The only cold room in the house. I would walk slowly between the stacks, breathing in the cool, delicious air. On a very hot day I would sneak in, perhaps with a sibling, and lay down on my back looking up at the towering boxes, lovingly embraced by the smell of apricots. There were always some for us to eat. The flavor is hard to describe, because it is all its own, sweet, floral and sometimes slightly tart. Apricots have a particular fan club.People came, sometimes the same people for years, until the season was over and the stacks grew shorter and every box was sold. And in the fall Daddy would trim the trees and sell the firewood. We would eat apricot jam, dried apricots and apricot fruit leather through the winter. Sadly, as often is the case, we had financial reasons to sell the orchard, I can't remember when. In a way, we lost more than the future investment of the land which would have been large. The apricots had been a blessing to us.They were yummy, brought a small income and I am sure our skin benefited if nothing else. But there is something else, which selling the place didn't take from us. Apricots brought our family close. We learned to work together in that orchard, and we felt closer to the earth, aware of the seasons, and the harvest. My parents harvested much more than that sweet fruit, they also brought in a cash crop of memories, love and lessons in that old orchard. Anytime I eat an apricot, I remember and harvest again.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

As many of you know I am into whole grains (Brown rice, unrefined flours, etc) and no refined sugar. I have found this to be both healthy and liberating. If we are more conscious about what we put into our bodies we will also be more aware of our environment and our own place within it.
"So what the heck do you eat for dessert?", you ask. Surprisingly- the foods I have found are yummy and easy to make. I will post some of these recipes if there seems to be an interest. What I will say is the agave nectar is a versatile and delicious sweetener- I use it for ice cream, cookies, cakes and candies. I order it from Amazon to find a cheaper price than the local Health Store. My sister and I have been using it for years- long before anyone knew what it was or before Oprah made it a a more familiar name. Here are two recipes that can easily lead to more. Thankfully my children love it also.
1 cup Whipping cream
1/3 C Agave
Tbls vanilla
Tblsp butter
Dash sea salt
Combine in nonstick saucepan- let boil until golden brown. This recipe can be modified with more or less of any ingredient- I never measure anymore.
4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
1 ½ sticks butter (3/4 C)
1 C brown rice syrup (found at Good Earth)
½ C Agave
3 eggs
1tsp vanilla ( Or more)
1 C flour (white wheat flour or ½ red wheat, ½ barley or br. Rice flour, Tapioca flour, combine any you like) I like using half Brown Rice and half Tapioca flour.
Chopped nuts optional
Melt choc and butter together, stir in sweetner (adjust to taste some prefer more of one than the other)- Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add flour and nuts ( or grain sweetened choc chips). Spread intogreased foil lined 13by9 “ pan. Bake 350 for 30 min (give or take a few Toothpick should come out fudgy- don’t overbake. Cool and cut up.
Pour Carmel over it brownies and eat!
Stay tuned for homemade vanilla ice cream!

I came from Storey Lane...

Autobiographical Fragment

There were eight of us kids, now all grown, all parents ourselves. We came together for a trip down memory lane with our mom and dad. Prodigal Californians returned, driving slowly down Storey Lane.

“Oh, my- look at what they’ve done to the Baines’s yard.” somebody pointed out, marveling. Our neighbors the Baine’s had lived by us for years. They were Indian and had a restaurant that failed; not before they had hosted one of my sister’s wedding parties. Their home had smelled of curry, onions and body odor. Their grandmother lived with them. She spoke no English and would come begging at our door for food sometimes, in loose silky clothes. Her wrinkled, toothless face framed in draping fabric. The son was younger than me, but had grown much bigger one summer and had forced a kiss on me. I remembered how he used to run home crying to his mother to tattle on me and my brother. There was a lot of fighting and crashing of furniture coming from that house. But, we were friends. After they were evicted their property was left in a dingy, tumbling mess. It stood, shining like new now... the yard was park like and blooming. And next door was our place.

The big, blue, drafty house on the cul-de- sac where we had lived for years and where half of us had been completely raised. Like wanderers into some kind of alternate reality we found ourselves there again, intruders in an intimately familiar place. We were allowed inside to haunt the halls like ghosts. Floating across the threshold greedily searching...there used to be mirrored tile on the walls veined in gold and some orange and brown striped wallpaper in the entryway. I had always wondered why my parents hadn’t taken that junk down. Now I felt like a blasphemer in a tomb. Rather tastefully put together now... the old place had gotten a face lift in its midlife.

“My room is an office now.” I commented, looking with a strange detachment at the cubical I had called my own- had grown up in like a veal fattened on life. The window gaped at me in recognition. My, how I’ve grown. The pomegranate tree pressed its leaves against the glass from the outside as if for a better look. That window; I had leaned out of it in the darkness of night in secretive discourse with my best friend. The walls had been peach then. I had painted it myself with one of the boys who swore he loved me. It wasn’t my room now; white walls, bookshelves, a desk and a staring computer. My posters of Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, John Wayne and the other silver screen idols were gone. What had become of them when Mom and Dad packed up my childhood and moved? The worn wood floors had a new gleam to them. Who are you? And what have you done with my memories? I felt myself ask vacantly backing out into the hall. Everyone pressed around each other peering into every room, yet somehow alone in our thoughts. The foolish and oft heard “Didn’t this used to be bigger?” irrelevantly crossing our lips.

The “blue room” where the bookshelves and polished baby grand had been was no longer blue. The family room with the high hearth and river rock wall we would climb was neat and clean. No more sunken rust colored couches and friendly, hideous shag carpet. The fireplace was swept spotless. It would usually be mounded with ash. My dad taught us to love a roaring fire. Sometimes I hated this house and wished it looked better then...but now I quietly cursed it for being different. The big kitchen where we had gathered and eaten and celebrated so much seemed like a jilted bride, all in white, the familiar counter tops worn and chipped, no aroma of dad’s concoctions. Up the stairs in single file we drifted. We had run down these stairs dozens of times on a Christmas morning and to the call for dinner, or the knocking of the door. Oh, the streams of friends and family that had flowed through our doors. The laughing and shouting and singing had evaporated.

We snapped our cameras and smiled and gestured. Out in the back yard some trees were gone. The big plum tree stood embarrassed, as if caught in the act, brimming with fruit about to ripen for another family; our beloved pets of the past pushing up the green grass all but forgotten.

“I’ll be darned. That blasted fig tree is finally producing.” My father shook his silver head. It had never born figs before. I gave an ironic smile. Here were my five sister, two brothers and my parents, standing all together. I saw my older brother smiling at my older sister and she smiled, too. I wondered when that had happened last. It was inevitable that we should all be smiling and hugging. I was surprised that I didn’t want to cry. It was all a dream and the sense of loss at waking had begun to retreat and fade. The old place didn’t seem real... it was strange and almost unrecognizable in a way. Like when you meet someone who reminds you of a loved one... hey, doesn't she remind you of so- and-so. As we prepared to go and wandered out into the front yard my eye caught something; an old metal wheel on the side yard that had always been there. As kids we thought it was a wagon wheel. It was in fact, a bull wheel from an old fashioned printing press, chipping several layers of paint. I climbed on it and rolled it as a child. It was the same. That hit me for some reason... like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes. This strange place really was my home. That ridiculous wheel- was it evidence of pioneers before us or an omen for my future? I squeezed my nearest sister’s hand tightly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bits of Me...

Bits of me...
Falling dead leaves
I hibernate and wait
There was something I lost
I had it. It was me.
Where did I leave it and when?
Left behind in my youth.
Never seen again.

God has carried me through the blackest, aching midnight. In palpable sorrow, regret and pain. My tears run like rivers to His sea. The living water engulfs me, and He pulls me up to walk across it.

I dreamed of surgically attached wings.
My stiff ascension- an agonizing relief.
From above all was small.
They can have it.
Swarm it, consume it.
I glide over it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Convenience and Profit...Is it worth it?

Beijing authorities yesterday shut down a dim-sum booth that was
discovered stuffing its steamed buns with cardboard in an apparent
attempt to offset the rising cost of pork.

Disturbing??? Well...try not to think about it.

The cost of profit is high- the cost of saving money is very high. If anything is likely to back fire it is money love. Only a world that loved to make or save money so much could justify so much damage and insanity. Very bad things are condoned in the name of money. You know what I mean- I think everybody knows. I am as guilty as everyone on some counts.
The price of convenience is also high. I wonder how convenience has become the priority over all else. The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention- but I would say that laziness is. We put up with a lot of pretty awful things to avoid inconvenience. Everything from our children's education, health, the environment, morality, etc. have been sacrificed on the alter of ease.
Thank goodness we don't have to think about what is really going on, right? Who cares if they stuff spring rolls with cardboard soaked in animal fat and chemicals? What is really in the food we eat? What is big business doing to the environment? How do certain groups benefit from the philosophies they sell?
How is all of this effecting us anyway?
So, pollution increases, our health worsens, and... we continue to use our gadgets, eat our prepackaged food, heap our waste into mother earth And that is only the physical manifestation of what is happening spiritually on a global level. We buy into destructive attitudes and behaviors; excess, self indulgence, disrespect of life and laws and materialism is served up as the caustic meal-deal du jour . The fibers of our families and society shred and our children are given a raw deal. The media and politics, encased in a fluffy spring roll... the garbage we swallow without question. Killing us softly. Because it is so much easier that way.
Why does it continue...?
One of the best analogies I have ever heard is that we can put a railing up around the cliffs edge or have an ambulance waiting at the bottom. Nobody wants to bother with the time, energy and expense of building that isn't convenient and it has a price... when we would rather go zipping by and not think of it. So here we are, in the clamor of our day, the air filled with the metaphoric screams of sirens from every corner and it is a good thing, and a convenient thing that somebody invented earphones. Drown it out, baby, and keep eating those spring rolls.
OR... start to think about it. There are good books and films being made as a backlash to our George Orwell existence. Explore and fight back against the apathy, starting with you. Because nobody will do it for you- that wouldn't be convenient or profitable. Happy hunting!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rambling thoughts on cavorting with Hindus and Sieks

I was in a Siek temple, where sitting in solemn contemplation I saw that I was the only one there who was a white Christian. Astonishing. I have learned a bit about the ten gurus and how the tenth guru became enlightened and began the Seik religion out of an older Vedic religion. Seemingly so different than my own. But deeply embedded in this religion, followed by billions, I have found a startling familiarity. Krishna and Christ have a similar story. Both of divine descent, both hunted by an evil king who, fearing a prophecy, commenced the infanticide of an entire village, hoping to nip the child god in the bud. An avatar is a divine being in human form...they come for various reasons. Krishna is loved for his beauty and guileless nature- he escaped being killed by a dark serpent, hiding in a bucket carried on somebody's head...across a parted lake. He is also known as a butter thief. To test if somebody will be forgiving and generous he steals butter to stir up will I react when my butter comes up missing?
Hmmm... And like Christians they honor virtue and family and self mastery...and respect for life, which are typical of most religions. Those are good things. It is unfortunate that there are the extreme exceptions who fuel so much anti religious fervor. Certainly, having those beliefs are more likely to help society? Right? Because the opposite doesn't sound pretty- or functional...

My friend, who is a Hindu, has said she will reject nothing that is holy. She asked me who Christ was, and I gave her the cliff note version. She decided he comfortably belonged with the other 40 million, deserving deity and joined me at my church one Sunday. It was simple. Good is good and she politely joined the worship. The Sieks are more like me, she said. They believe in the one creator God and have a code of right and wrong they live by devoutly. They worship in their temple with covered heads.
So, here I sit with a brother... a man I could never speak to, but if I could I may find quite a bit in common with, as unlikely as that may be- a white, American, Christian female and her seeming opposite. I am sure that he has feelings and thoughts about life that I have had. We aren't really prepared for that. We don't expect it and are surprised to find that others are as human as we. But, I look for it eagerly. I find it reassuring.
Somebody who did not bother to know would only see his outside and think ignorantly that they beheld the enemy. Some don't bother to sort out facts...I, too have had people assume wrongly when they go on hearsay or scanty factoids about my religion.This "enemy" welcomed me, fed me and serenely sat beside me in a place of worship. If we would all stop trying to point out how different we all are we might just like being alike.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A childhood memory

Lady Bug Hill
I was an elf in the field nearby,
I tunneled through grass and mustard
Flowers as tall as my dad.
My kingdom had hills and a pond
Full of tiny frogs
And the bigger kids were brave warriors,
Kings of Lady Bug Hill on quests.
Collecting flowers and bugs,
Sword fighting with sticks like curved bone,
Shouting with triumph.
Like Rome my happy place is gone now,
The field housed magical secrets,
Children’s summer adventures.
Housing like headstones mark where fun
And make believe lived.

When visiting Chicago...

High Rise Spiders

No natural enemies so high,

The birds don’t even fly up there.

They seem to drop out of the sky,

And cling where no one else would dare

To grow up large upon the glass,

All because we fear to fall.

Dangling washers only pass,

So unmolested still they crawl.

Nightmares tickle at my mind,

Each time I look out at the view.

Up in my tower safe I find,

No place secure, no place is true.

Doorman, locks or padded cell,

Cannot escape arachnid hell.

GRASS (Down to the root of the matter)

It bakes in the sun like a mangy, flee bitten dog, patchy, weedy and dry. The worst lawn in the neighborhood in my own front yard. How did it get there? I would prefer the lush, thick, green variety , yet there it sprawls, dying on the ground in front of my porch. There is probably some theory about people with yards like mine but I probably don’t quite fit the mold. No cars are up on blocks and rusting at the side of my house and I have a full set of teeth. I am fairly educated, well traveled, and hygienic. Yet…the evidence is there- the corpus delicti- rotting in my yard.
My defense isn’t even long enough to ramble on about. I simply do not bother with it at this point in my life. But what does that mean? What is that indicative of? It occurs to me the real issue is that certain things we think matter to us in reality do not. If I really wanted the grass as nice as my neighbor’s- it would be. But there is something I want even more…to not be bothered with it. To not have to work on it when I do not feel like it.
This train of thought leads me to self analysis. I used to be unhappy with my weight. Wanting to be thinner- while actually preferring to eat whatever I want in any quantity and avoiding rigorous exercise. But, one day, losing weight was more important- so I did. There are other things I can point out in my life that I changed or did differently when it became more important to me. Sometimes it takes just that last straw or something tragic to change our priorities. Other times it only takes self realization and a desire for something better.
I try to identify the red flags when I am not owning my choices. If I find myself dissatisfied or bothered by the same thing for a long time it is usually because I am procrastinating or letting other things take precedence. So I should either deal with it or shut up. But, why is it that we do what we do and then try to blame other things or people for where we are. Wouldn’t it be more empowering to take the situation in hand and change it or let it go- whichever the wisest thing to do is- rather than complain, feel put upon, victimized or helpless? I say, YES. It is actually easier to not be lazy and whiny- we are just afraid that being proactive will be hard.
I know that sometimes people are afraid to even commit to change something or own something- because then they would feel more guilt if they can’t or won’t follow through. They should actually fear more the consequences of doing nothing and leaving their fate in the hands of other people or of their circumstances. Or not fear at all- is messing up really worse than not trying?
Do you ever get tired of hearing other people complain about the same thing forever? Not that you don’t feel for them- but, it gets old in other people, doesn’t it? Someone upset about a job, relationship or whatever. As if they have no input. If you wish you could have a better relationship with a family member- guess what? Your wish came true! You can have a better relationship- if you want one and are willing to do what it takes. Seems hard- but it gets easier. Just think- the next time you are mad or frustrated and you are directing it elsewhere maybe you’re really misplacing your own guilt and frustration toward yourself- for being too lazy and whiny to do what it takes to improve the situation. So is it more important to be happy or be wronged? Empowered or victimized? You can tell what people cherish and want by what they do and what they do not do. Loving that misery? Triumphantly the martyr? If you claim to want happiness than prove it by being happy.
Look around you- there is proof everywhere that things can be different- so it is possible. I think one thing that makes someone a great person is what they overcome and how happy they are- not how perfect things have gone or how many blessings they have. Can we even appreciate blessings we don’t acknowledge? I saw a Holocaust survivor cry with happiness for all his blessing during an interview. Think about that.
Its true- there are some things beyond our control. But it is amazing how our attitudes can even change those things. Empowerment and positive thinking are contagious- unfortunately so are their opposites. If nothing else you always have the power to be OK with whatever the thing is that you’re bent about.
So, yes, I confess I do have a horrible yard right now. But, that’s OK. I own it. Someday it will look better- I know it can be when I see the green lawn next door, but right now I am putting other things first. So I don’t need to blame anything to take the pressure off of me- because there isn’t any pressure on me if I don’t put it there. I choose not to. The cool thing is- on any given day I could do something about it. But today I choose to write about it. Breathe out and say “Oh, well…” it feels good. Own it. Move on. Mow later.