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31 August 2014

WALK ON THE BEACH

It rained hard in the middle of the night, so hard that the sand above the tideline is pocked. Most mornings we walk the shore and we covered over three miles this morning and only came in because by 7:30 we wanted to avoid people with dogs.  

This morning Gary talked about his childhood in Arizona, the terrible things he did and felt guilt for even at the time—terrible kids stuff like caching bees by the wings until he was stung, driving a flicker from its nest and attempting to sell it to the bird farm where he liked to buy pigeons (he had to let it go because the bird man told him it was illegal to cage a flicker). He played with "water snakes" that seemed harmless and "water scorpions" that were not exactly the bugs I found in a Google search, "more of a Mutt than a Jeff" and looked scary. The water snakes were black, slow-moving, and shorter than a ruler, with a distinct head or mouth. Were they eels or leeches or something else? He doesn't know. 

He and his friends caught snakes and scorpions and horny toads bare-handed. They avoided rattlers, but kept bull snakes and tortoises as pets. His friends in those days were a snapshot of America—children of all sorts of backgrounds and religions. My manuscript Blond Indian, later renamed Living in Snakeland is built on the stories Gary has told me of his seven years in Arizona. My father denied my Indian great grandmother, but Gary's mother was proud of her Indian relatives, and that was the beginning of his fascination with Indians. It was the times, too, of course, those years of cowboy Westerns on TV. My husband always played the Indian.   

Once, years later after college, while working for the Woodland Park Zoo, he drove out in a pickup truck on some errand and discovered a group of Athabaskan men standing, soaking wet in the rain. They were from Tanacross, Alaska, above the Arctic Circle, down for a powwow at the Seattle Center. Their ride hadn't shown up and they were trying to decide what to do about that. Gary drove the pickup back and got a van to transport them. I'm sure the conversation was lively and funny on the ride. The men invited Gary to attend the powwow and he did. 

Neither of us remember whether I went to that one. I have no memory of it, so probably I was working. There were other powwows in Washington and Oregon and a naming ceremony up at Tulalip. Mostly these were in the years Gary was fluent in Puget Coast Salish in the 70s, working with the Tutalip Reservation to develop their language program, and later when he was tutoring Indian kids for a public school district before we moved to Oregon. 

It was a good walk recalling these old stories. The stories are old now, since tomorrow is his birthday and Gary will be 65. Some of his Arizona stories are sixty years old, and even our Seattle stories are more than 35 years behind us. 

Time passes, the tide swings in and out. It was a good summer with a lot of walks. 



30 August 2014

WHAT WE VALUE

There is a very popular myth that sports are necessary to success in life. I've heard it all my life and despite overwhelming research to the contrary it persists. 

I enjoyed physical activity from childhood—running in the woods, biking for miles, volleyball, badminton, gymnastics, then later came running. Somehow, for some this healthy exercise becomes more than a game. It's a matter of perspective. 

It’s too bad the article below is written to suggest the school didn’t hire a teacher who could coach on the side, but a coach who would also be teaching. 

"A High School Hires Boys Basketball Coach

"The A High Athletic Department has recently hired AHS alum, Joe Shmo, to serve as Head Boys Basketball Coach. Mr. Shmo is a 1992 graduate of A High School and a 1997 graduate of A University where he earned his degree in Liberal Studies - General Science. His education also includes a Masters of Science in Curriculum and Instruction, which was earned in 2004 from A State University.

"Mr. Shmo was most recently an assistant varsity basketball coach at Central High School in A, State. Prior to this he served as the Head Boys Basketball Coach at A High (A, State) from 2011-2013. He also has head basketball coaching experience having served as the head coach at A High (A, State) from 2002-2007 and at BHigh (B, State) from 2000-2002.

" 'We are very pleased to announce Coach Shmo as our new boys basketball coach. His understanding of our school and community is certainly a huge advantage to a person in this important position. Whenever we have quality people that want to come back home and serve our community in teaching and in coaching, we've hit a home run. We would not have been able to find a coaching candidate that would have more pride working with S High student-athletes than Joe Shmo. What he will bring in leadership, to not only for our basketball players but also for our students in the academic wing, will be tremendous.' - AHS Athletic Director, B Teacher

"Joe is the son of Man and Woman Shmo, longtime educators of the A School District. Man served as a teacher and coach at AHigh and Woman served in elementary education, primarily at A Elementary. Man served as the Head Boys Basketball Coach for many years and was at the helm when the AHS Boys Basketball Team won the state championship. Joe's sister Jo, is also a graduate of A High School.

"Mr. Shmo will teach in the AHS Mathematics Department. His wife, has also recently accepted a position with the A School District working in special education. The Shmo's have two children: Little and Littler."

It's possible that the school district who hired the coach, did, in fact, hire the teacher first before considering whether he could coach, but I wouldn't count on it. It's also possible that the coach is an excellent teacher who puts classroom ahead of extra-curriculars, but that is also a long shot. Small districts need people who can do double-duty, and this usually means hiring the person with the best public (sports) face over other candidates. 


While athletics do not have to come at the expense of academics, the fact is that they often do. The student too busy with sports often has no time for reading. As one reader commented: "I feel that the problem with an over emphasis on sports in our schools lies in the extemely visible celebration of the athletes to the exclusion of the public acknowledgment of those students with high acheivement in academics. Let’s have assemblies that celebrate those who are working hard to obtain excellent grades rather than only those who excel on the field or the court. Maybe then our young people would strive for better grades instead of the largely unreachable goal of becoming top athletes."

In the mean time, beginning especially in college, athletes have an attitude of entitlement and a well-documented tendency to violence. Was this what we had in mind when we encouraged them to play sports?

And then there is the very real danger of injury and the pressure to be perfect

I wish only that we could keep sports in perspective. They are games. 



25 August 2014

45 YEARS TOGETHER

How We Met 

The jeans and flowered shirt,
the long hands and mustache,
the guitar music sparked
my imagination like your paintings
hung over the stairs. Perhaps
you were too old for me,
too good, I thought, better
than I deserved.

At the movies, I believed
you were with another girl.
We sat in the same row
in the dark for hours,
and we saw the smitten
die for love. I thought,
I envy her.

You sat on the grass, fingers
gathering a constellation
of strings. You said, “Juliet!”
and somehow I remembered
the name: “Romeo.” I sat
at your feet and listened
to your music and imagined
where it might lead.

At Seward Park, the guitars
loud enough to puncture
souls. I sat on grass this time
making daisy chains. You
walked past all your friends
and sat beside me. You accepted
a chain about your head,
breakable and dear. 

On the rock in the river
well past Mount Index,
you kissed me for the first
time and I thought, yes,

please, and that was that.


23 August 2014

LMMTD: MY MOTHER'S HORSES

One day during lunch at school, I must have been complaining again about how often Gary and I stopped by my mother’s house and all the little tasks we did for her. Someone at the lunch table commented that perhaps if we did less for her she would do more for herself. This was a kind person who said this, a thoughtful person, and I had to consider what she was saying. Were we doing too much? 

My mother always told me I was doing too much. Even when she asked me to do more, she was also saying aloud, “You’re doing too much.” 

Often she was right. 

Was I doing too much for my mother? That day, I was tired and worried and I felt entitled to complain. It’s true that I was resentful and must have sounded petty when my co-worker said that. My mouth hung open and I looked down at whatever I was supposed to be eating in my 25-minute lunch break, and abruptly remembered listening to a Canadian friend complain about her elderly mother, who was living with her. She had seemed selfish to me. I regretted that judgement... now that I was in a similar position myself. So, after that, I kept my mouth closed during lunch unless someone asked how Mom was doing, and then I tried to remember not to complain. 

I did not complain to my mother except once (another story). In fact, I had to assure her over and over that she was no trouble. Eventually I would sort her pills for her, argue with the manager of her assisted living facility, hang up her clothing, run her errands, try to make sense of her checkbook, complete her tax forms after she sold her house, and lie awake all night on her couch, listening to her breathe in the next room. 

But that day at the lunch, I had no way of knowing most of the hard work was still before me. I felt only remorse. Was I making my mother too dependent? Was I enabling her weakness? Until the previous spring she still showed up at my classroom door now and then. She was having trouble walking, but propelled herself forward on her toes, built momentum and stopped herself by walking to a wall, where she’d catch herself and turn another direction. Yes, it’s true, my mother was walking into walls. I would hear her slam into the lockers just outside my classroom door. And there she would be cheerful and with some bit of news to share, an article she’d read, a new book of poetry to share. 

I loved my mother, and I think I was nearly always glad to see her. I tried always to make her feel welcome and though she phoned so often Gary “recognized her ring” during the years she lived a few miles from us, I don’t think I revealed how often her calls interrupted my work. This changed after May of 2002 and the surgery to fuse the crumbling vertebrae of her spine. 

Mom encouraged me to attend a writing workshop in Georgia. I had to take days off from teaching. Even though I received a Fellowship to attend the weeklong event, I’d had to pay for my plane fare. I would be working with Bret Lott and I hoped to make significant progress on a novel for which I’d completed a first draft, A Single Fact Can Spoil a Good Argument. This was the week before Memorial Day. 

In late May 2002, my mother drove the few blocks to the Post Office and found she did not have the strength to get out of the car. She drove home and crawled back into her house. I think she must have called Gary to get her to the ER, but he doesn’t remember this. In fact, the story about the Post Office only came out later. Perhaps she called for an ambulance, but she didn’t like paying for an ambulance. She almost always found another way to get to the ER. Usually, in the years following, Gary and I drove her. 

My brother had agreed to substitute for my classes while I was gone to the writing workshop and he and his wife were staying at our house. On the Friday he drove his wife to the airport in Portland. By then, doctors decided to send Mom to Portland where she was scheduled for surgery. She told Gary not to call me thousands of miles away, but he did, and I tried to find a flight home. Since by then it was so near a holiday, every flight was booked. Further, I was in Milledgeville well off the major highways leading to Atlanta. The organizers of the event were sorry to hear of my trouble but offered no assistance in getting me to the airport or even advice about how I might manage to do that. It’s hard to imagine now that a dozen years ago I didn’t have a cell phone and though one person at the workshop offered me to use of his, I wasn’t comfortable running up someone else’s phone bill. I had to find a land line. I talked to several airlines. They all told me the same thing: They were already overbooked. I could come to the airport and wait to see, but they were not encouraging. I talked to my mother and she kept saying she was fine. My mother would be “fine” with a broken hip. She was always “fine.” 

Her surgery was scheduled for Monday and I would be back Sunday, so I stuck it out and arrived home in time to sit in the waiting room and worry while the surgeon did his best. He promised Mom that she would feel immediate relief, that her pain would subside and she would be able to get around fine within a few hours after surgery.  

He was wrong.

But this was later. She would have the surgery, be sent back to Seaside in Extended Care for a few weeks, then briefly home in July, argue with me on the phone in October, and then choose Assisted Living in November, an arrangement she regarded as temporary. 

In the years before this more obvious downward spiral, she was already in pain much of the time and having trouble getting around. We had adjusted our schedule. 

I had given up coaching that year and in the next year I would give up advising the yearbook. Though I loved doing both these extra duties, I could not spare the time. As an English teacher I already had plenty of work to read and score outside the school day. I generally planned at least one day a week with my mom. I would stop by on my way home from school and these visits grew to a few hours, and then most of a weekend day. I do not think I resented this time. Mom and I mostly got along very well. She sometimes, well no, she always told me what to do, and I assumed all mothers did this. She had opinions about most things—politics and social justice, but also clothing and furniture and jewelry and just about everything. She thought that my running was ridiculous and my choice to become a vegetarian was a silly inconvenience since it meant I no longer roasted the Thanksgiving turkey, which had been my job since I was in high school. Some things I gave up to please her. Just as stubborn as my mom, some things I simply stopped talking about. 

In the years before her surgery, Gary had begun doing things for her. He always asked first, but did them sometimes over her protests. “Do you want me to set up your coffee?” She would say no, she was fine and would manage it on her own. Later in the day when he stopped back, the coffeemaker would still be empty and she would thank him when he offered. That’s how he learned to just go ahead and make coffee first thing and bring her a cup. 

After her surgery, of course, this all became more intense.

Gary stopped by on his way to work to set up her coffee for her. He ate his lunch while walking back at lunch to see what she wanted and to tidy her house, and then sometimes again on his way home from work. I was there on my way to and then on my way home from work to spend an hour or so visiting. We often came back later in the evening together, sometimes more than once. Gary sometimes visited four times and I stopped at least three times every day. 

Gary, who hadn’t had a beer in sixteen years, began having one each evening, usually quite late because we waited to be sure Mom was okay and in bed before we were able to relax. This turned our clock upside down. Gary liked to be asleep by nine and up by four. Our day shifted later because Mom wasn’t usually in bed till ten. I began having a glass of wine each night. We would sit upstairs watching the clock. At ten we figured we were off duty and let out a sigh before heading downstairs for our drinks. These are all warning signs that we were in over our heads. 

Were we enabling her? Yes, in some sense we were. Without our help, she might have moved into assisted living sooner, and certainly she only agreed to go there because of an argument we had on the phone about what was happening with her care. She only truly came to accept her dependence in the last months of her life. For years she believed she was “fine” when she really was anything but. She had regular visits from physical therapists, home health nurses, and occupational therapists. They explained the exercises she needed to do to regain mobility and range of motion, rearranged her furniture and tried to set up her home in a way that would be safer, free from stumbling blocks and poor lighting, and checked her diet. She lied to them. She undid their work. She set up Meals on Wheels and rarely ate what they brought. Periodically Gary or I would toss the freezer-burned meals. 

We were all afraid she would trip and fall, since this had happened many times and would happen with increasingly dangerous results in the years after her surgery. The OT would come Thursday morning and push in the bottom drawer of the armoire in the living room. It would be pulled back out by the time I stopped by after school. She wanted her things the way she wanted them. At one point I realized that one reason she was no longer reading was that she could not see. She hated overhead lighting and so I designed her little house without it. After her surgery, she could sit in only one chair and there was no light nearby. I rearranged her lamps so that she could have light on a book in her lap, and reach the pull to turn it on and off, but like the drawer she wanted open, she put things back the way she wanted them. 

She lied to her doctors. I took her to her appointments and she usually asked me to come with her to the exam room. They asked about how much water she was drinking, her diet and exercise, and she lied about all of it. Sometimes she would become all coy and sheepish when I called her on her fibs. She did not argue with me. 

I did for her what I could, whatever she allowed. For years I worried that my colleague was correct, that somehow I had encouraged her frailty. But by the time I saw an Xray showing the terrible distortion of her spine, I already knew I’d only done the best I could. She thanked me during the last week of her life. “You always did what I asked you to do, even when I know it wasn’t what you thought I should do.” There might have been a lot of things we each wished were different, doing for her was not one of them.

Mostly, I think she was very much afraid of losing control of her life and herself. She had always worried about finances and budgeted carefully until her last years. Only near the end of her life did she lose track of the real world and real worries. She asked me if I didn’t think that a small hanging lamp was too heavy for the 4x12 beam she meant to hang it from. She forgot sometimes. 

Mom wanted to have her way to the end, to be herself, and then to die in her sleep, the way most of us hope to leave the world—peacefully at home and surrounded by our loved ones. That is almost how it went for her. The night before she died in a hospital bed, after I went home for a few hours. I called the night nurse to check on Mom and learned she was asleep. “She was telling me about all her pretty horses,” the nurse said. My mother was a child of the Depression, of divorce, and of the Second World War. She picked berries in the summer and worked her way through a couple of years of college at the UC Berkeley. She worried about money all of her life. Mom never had horses, not real ones. She did not ride, though as a girl she’d stroked their velvet, whiskered noses. She’d read the horse books she passed on to me. Perhaps her horses came for her at the end. 

22 August 2014

LOVING MY MOTHER TO DEATH: IMPERFECT DAUGHTER

from the left: My dad, Mom, my mother's sister Marcie, and Uncle Harry, September 1949. This is my mother's wedding picture. My parents would have been married 65 years next month. In fact, they had only 38 years together. 

This Sunday is my husband's and my 40th wedding anniversary. I have known Gary since 1969, longer than my mother knew my dad. 

I have been trying for seven years to gather courage to write about my mother, especially about her dying over a five-year period. Here is a beginning:

One of my advisors during my Masters program liked to warn writers of memoir that “Everybody’s mother dies.” This is a reminder that ordinary suffering is not the same as a great story. I was writing fiction at the time, but his words come back to me as I struggle to write about my mother’s dying. I am a Boomer and my mother was of the Greatest Generation. I lived through a period of simultaneously caring for the generation in front of me and my children coming along behind. 

My mother was a sweet, stubborn, independent, creative, and exasperating woman. She never did anything she didn’t want to do. She was famous for asking advice and then doing the opposite, for expressing her opinion, for reminding me to "think how the other person must feel" in any situation. Widowed at sixty-two, she moved to Oregon, just a few miles away from her son and daughter. Mom’s sister died at seventy-four in 1998 and Mom became the oldest member of her family at the age of seventy-three. 



By then, her health was already seriously undermined. She had a lifetime of bad eating habits and little exercise, osteoporosis, worry, and anxiety. She did not expect to live to be older than her own mother or sister who each died before the age of 75. Though a friendly person, she liked living alone, but the deterioration of her spine and loss of balance made getting around increasingly difficult. Later, this determination to be independent worked against her since she would neither accept assistance from non-family members nor could she manage on her own. She embraced a (false) diagnosis of angina because it was something her mother’d had, but she refused to allow a doctor to diagnose Parkinson’s, though at least two doctors tried to talk to her about it. I was there and witnessed these discussions. Gradually, her ability to drive, to climb a step or into a car unaided, to stand, to walk across the room, to get to the bathroom—all this left her. She would "rise to the occasion" for someone she hadn't seen recently, but then spend the next day in the ER as a result of overextending herself. She needed help getting the places where she satisfied her need for conversation. She had a long habit of phoning me every day. By the late 90s I stopped by once or twice a week, and within a few years she needed me several times a week—and later several times a day—and I was crowding out other obligations to make the time. 

Before I fully recognized my mother’s decline, I was already in deep. I knew then about as much about caring for the elderly as the people forming educational policy know about public schools. I’d lived through the deaths of a wide assortment of grandparents and step-grandparents, my in-laws and my father. I had some sense of what I was in for, but Mom’s slow loss of herself still managed to take me by surprise. I didn’t know a thing about finding assisted living or nursing care, how to manage her finances or medical decisions, or how to manage my mother who liked to hear advice but not take it. I never learned how to manage my mother. 

I am not a gerontologist or psychologist, and I have no sort of medical training. I have been a baker, fast-food worker, retail clerk, professional artist, drafter, graphic designer, and a mother and daughter. I had two sons still in school at the time she began her serious decline and I was working full time. I am still a public school teacher with genuine respect for information and authority. When I needed to understand what I should be doing for my mother, I went looking for a book. 

There are many memoirs written, by women usually, who had reconnected with and found great solace in caring for their mother or father during the final days or weeks of their lives. I was already months past that. I think I could have managed perfect daughterdom for a month, or at least for two weeks, especially with full time nursing staff hanging about and offering support. I could have used a sibling who would have spelled me, but my brother was only an occasional visitor. My husband and I tried to get her to move in with us, but she wouldn’t have it. 

As it was, Gary was as attentive and kind in his care of my mother as anyone could have asked. Yes, I am very lucky. 

And I found a book that gave me some general information about caregiving and a full page outlining warning signs for the caregiver. This book is long gone, but I remember my hysterical giggles as I read the list. At the bottom of the page was the suggestion that if the caregiver checked off three or more warning signs, they were probably over their head. I had checked off every one. 


My mother and I were very close. We had always talked regularly. Even when we lived far apart we had an appointment to talk on Saturday mornings and these conversations often went on over an hour or more. We went on trips together. She visited us in Oregon, and I drove to visit her in Seattle. After her retirement, she moved just up the road, and the phone conversations were daily, sometimes several conversations each day, in the days before cell phones. Mom kept the television on and was always eating something when she called. She nearly always remembered something else she’d meant to tell me, after she’d hung up, and she called back. The phone would ring and I'd know it was Mom. This was kind of a joke between us. 

She sometimes complained about my brother and how seldom he called, how reluctant he was to talk to her even when she was able to get him on the phone. She believed he blamed her for the unhappiness in her life. I’m sure he would say he never did, but Mom was a worrier and a fusser—if there was not real problem, she could imagine one to occupy her mind. Later in her illness they talked more often. Mom and I talked about movies and books and the people we loved. She handed me Tracy Kidder’s House and Anne Tyler and Alice Hoffman novels. I handed her William Stafford whom she loved, and Toni Morrison whom she found too taxing. 

Gradually she became more dependent, calling several times each day, she occasionally forgot things, she overdosed on vitamins (twice), and there were falls, and visits to the Emergency Room began. 

Then in 2002 she began her long decline in earnest. I did not understand this at first. It is only now that I can see how she suffered five years of dying. A surgical procedure in 2002 was supposed to grant her immediate relief, did not. There was post-op hospitalization, assisted living, home, a broken hip and hip replacement, assisted living, home, more falls and broken bones, assisted living, home, another broken hip and replacement, nursing home, assisted living, and then death. 

During those years, my husband and I visited as often as seven times a day. There were months where we dared not be more than an hour away from her. There was also a time when she had a romantic relationship and rode all the way to Denver in a motorhome—a trip she mostly paid for, but which was great fun for her. There were many, many hospital visits. Each one left her weaker and more confused. 

I was not a perfect daughter, and I never found the book that would explain to me how to be one. I tried to make her proud, I tried to follow her example of kindness and compassion. I tried to do for her what she asked, even when it wasn’t what I wanted her to do. For years, she was almost never out of my mind. I thought about her first thing when I woke and the last thing at night. Even now my most common dream is that she is sleeping beside me. I mark her dying from the surgery on her spine in May 2002 to July 2007. Five years. I had the support of a devoted and generous man in caring for my mother. And while I know I could have done better, I did what I could. I think I did enough.

I am not one of those who believe that everything happens for a reason or that what does not kill us makes us stronger. I do think everyone suffers. Some people are better at hiding their suffering. Some people are better at avoiding it. No one gets through life unscarred. Caring for my mother in the last years of her life was not a wonderful, transformative experience like it was described on the back covers of the memoirs I found on book store shelves. It was a soul-destroying and painful journey into death and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But I am writing about it anyway. Maybe someone else is on a similar path and needs to be reminded to grasp joy when it’s offered, that no one should be expected to be courageous while watching someone they love die, and that the sun comes up whether we notice it or not. So notice.


There are more things I could have done for my mother, but those were things she refused to accept. A stubborn, strong person, she had her way to the end. In her last full day, when she was too tired and in too much pain to answer questions, she looked me in the eye and smiled as medical personnel and I talked about her care, euphemistic conversations about allowing death to come. She was ready. If there is any grace, that is how it comes. 

I was there at the end of my parents' lives and I am here to tell about it. 

20 August 2014

JUST DO IT






“...What you fear will not go away; it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you. That's the world, and we all live there.” ― William Stafford


People often comment that they do not see how I get so much done. This morning I was asked how I managed to write a blog post every day for three months (something I did this past spring). What advice did I have for accomplishing such a task?

The best advice is always "just do it." And that's not helpful at all, is it? My favorite advice comes from Bill Stafford, of course. (I have no right to call William Stafford "Bill." I met him, of course, and I heard him speak, and I've read his work and watched the TV specials and I've written to prompts based on his poems. But I did not know him or know his son Kim Stafford, whom I have met many times.) Anyway...

Stafford got up early every morning. On alternate mornings he ran a set course, but every morning he lay down on the couch and wrote. He began by writing the date. Then he wrote a boring prose line, a view… Then he wrote a single sentence, an aphorism of some sort that would NOT become a poem. (This is mostly stalling.)

Then he wrote a poem. 

"Start your day on your terms," he advised. "Turn a question into a few words." Surrender to something simpler—what we see—everything is salvation. He advised "a light touch with your students, yourself, the navigation through." And his most famous advice when you cannot think of anything worthwhile to write: "Lower your standards and move on." 

This past April, I wrote a poem every day and posted it. I began with one or another of the poetry prompts from National Poetry Month—mine or one I found online—and then broke all the rules of the prompt writing it. I did this entirely on my computer, not allowing myself out of bed until the task was complete. (My stalling was to find and post the prompts first. I think the stalling mechanism is a critical less-mindful, first step. You can lie to yourself about all you really need to do while accomplishing those opening bits. I also often revised the following morning before posting the previous day's poem. That gave the poem a little time to gestate.)

You have to want to do it. And perhaps you really, really have to want to do it. The obligation is to yourself. Though I used my public blog and my (mostly imaginary) audience as incentive, my blog was all about my goals. The poems were something I wanted to write. I kept the promise to myself and to my rapidly dwindling readers. ("Dwindling" because Americans are afraid of poetry and few of even my more faithful readers read the poems. No one commented on them, not even when I had a good start—and a few of them were not terrible.) I posted and wrote something new every day. I felt enormous energy—the sort right there on the edge of panic. (And fear works as a motivator too.) There are about 30 poems and 60-some essays from the end of February to June. They kept me out of trouble, perhaps. 

When I stopped posting, I felt an emptiness rather than the relief and rest I'd hoped for. 

What I really need to do is set up the same sort of schedule for writing about my mother and what I know about age and grief. It's been on my mind and I have the title: "Loving my mother to death." 

In the mean time, my two fabric big pieces are back from the machine quilter (Astoria Quilting) and I have a new warp on my loom. School begins in earnest on Monday and my college writing classes are now 4-credit classes, plus the fiction class is another three so I can award 11 credits to my seniors who choose to take the series. I am still trying to make my course pack and syllabus work for WR 121 as a four-credit class that includes the Senior Research Paper required for graduation. 

If you are accustomed to working with very long pieces, grand pieces but want to write something new each day, adjust to that goal. Perhaps something shorter? Something easier? But more of it? I always set a goal for myself that I am certain I can manage. (Though once in a while I'm wrong about that, I find that's usually because I didn't really want to do it.) I will lie to myself: Write again today to finish this, even though you wrote yesterday, I will tell myself. Just do this much and you can stop, I reason. And then, write three days in a row. Then, write every day for a week. And then, Well, you could do a month, couldn't you? It goes like that. Posting the work helped and I cross-posted on FB where I had people click "like" and sometimes comment, and that helped me too.

(I used to lie to myself about my running too—Just a short run, a couple of miles—Oh, just a little further… and further… Well, now you might as well run all the way home.)

Public exposure is a strong motivator. The potential for public humiliation can push me past doing nothing. But really, it's the promise to myself and the sense that I can prove it here—that's the trick that worked for me. 

In fact, posting on my blog and FB might be the way to go for my nonfiction project I've been avoiding. Hmmm… that would commit me, for sure. I was teaching at the time last spring during my diligent posting, just as I was both running and teaching full time when I worked on my MFA. Perhaps contrary to Stafford's example, I have found that sometimes the best way to get busy on a project is not having enough time to do it.  

TOP: The "Flamingo" quilt is classic self-deception. This was supposed to be a super-simple twin-sized batik quilt but as I worked on it turned into something a bit more—larger and more complicated than I'd "intended".

18 August 2014

VEGAN 4-LAYER CHOCOLATE CAKE

Our oldest son is vegan and so was his birthday cake. By request: 


4-LAYER VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE for ALAN
This is the best vegan chocolate cake I’ve managed so far. The cake is impressively tall, dark, and moist. (You were expecting “handsome”, weren’t you? Well, it’s that too.) Though I find the cake itself is relatively tasteless compared to the buttercream, it is very tender and the brush with Irish Whiskey makes a huge difference. We wanted to lick the bowl with the buttercream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 7” X 3” springform baking pans with vegan margarine and parchment in bottom, then oil again + dust with flour

2 c. + 2 T. whole wheat pastry flour 
1 1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt (I think 1 t. next time?)
Whisk together all of the dry ingredients, set aside.

1 1/2 c. lo-fat coconut milk
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 c. strong brewed coffee
2/3 c. melted coconut oil
2 t. pure vanilla extract
Add the rest of wet mixture ingredients and beat until JUST blended. (Next time, reduce applesauce to 1 cup and add 1/4 cup Irish whiskey)

Fill pans 3/4 full and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. This takes longer than you might expect—allow an hour or more. Cool completely and cut each in half horizontally, splitting to make four layers.

vegan buttercream:
2/3 c. vegan margarine, softened
2 1/2-3 c. powdered sugar
2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
6 ozs. dairy-free semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
2 t. pure vanilla extract
2 T. Irish whiskey
1-2 T. coconut milk
Beat together all ingredients until light and fluffy, adding the powdered sugar in small amounts until you reach your desired consistency and sweetness. If it becomes too thick, add more coconut milk. If it's too thin, add more cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Beating for a few minutes will create a light, fluffy frosting. This makes enough buttercream to put between each layer + sides and top, but I prefer to leave the top plain and dust it with cocoa powder because the cake itself has an interesting texture.

Brush cut sides lightly with Irish whiskey. Put first layer on plate, spread buttercream, repeat twice, settle the last layer, leaving it plain on top. Spread buttercream around sides of cake and dust the top with cocoa powder.


Serve garnished with leaves and perhaps a scoop of dairy-free ice cream. 

NOTE: I use all organic ingredients, except for the the whiskey.
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