Monday, December 20, 2010

With the holidays Comes Delay, Procrastination and Family Drama

It has been a while since my last post and I am going to blame life getting in the way. I am sure everyone knows what that is like, especially around the holidays.

Recently, I have been asked to pack someone else's stuff- my husband's stuff to be exact, while he enjoys the comfort of his new apartment, new girlfriend and her two small children. This amazingly enough is not something I would consider able to put me in the holiday spirit, but that being said, it does add a perspective on “gift giving” and the new year.

The end of a year, the end of a friendship and the beginning of the end of a marriage; this, like the holidays, includes wrapping things, placing things in boxes and sending them off to an expectant and, possibly, cautiously appreciative recipient. Some things given may be a surprise, some expected and some a disappointment, but all received with a similar anticipation of a small child holding his/her breath waiting for Santa’s presents under the tree.

Separating households is very similar to joining them. It includes looking at things each of you (or both of you together) own and possibly cherish, then determining what to keep and what to give away. It also gives way to these items bringing forth their own memories which drown the diligent worker bee in thoughts of the past, reminders of what could have been and anticipation (and some fear) of the future. It also causes a delay in the task at hand, which can be a welcomed form of serial procrastination.

Pictures come down off the walls, photo albums lose some of their resident photos, books and trinkets of a previous life are removed from shelves leaving only their shadows behind. Each item finds its way into boxes headed to a never-never world that matters not to you, as long as you do not think of it too much. Items that you knew the other regarded with disdain are carefully included amongst some of the most cherished- for balance, of course. Some slight satisfaction is gained, but only slight. There is no need to damage anything, the damage to the nested life and household is more than enough; and, even though everything is in its place, neat and tidy, the storms that raged can still be felt as if the fires have yet to be snuffed.

This “gift-giving” or relocating of "stuff" that is from a different life with two different people includes, on the brighter side, the gift of a new life, new friends and new beginnings. I hope each brings its own surprises, more pleasant than not, much laughter, only tears of joy and the ability to breathe deeply in my newly opened spaces. I hope in the future when I review this holiday season it will be seen as a liberating, strengthening experience. Even if it is not, at least I have got a jump on my spring cleaning.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Celebration (A poem)

You tear the darkness off me exposing my underside
The softness of your touch contradicts your glances
Hold your breath
Seas separating, leaving emptiness behind
Our waves of consciousness ebb and flow keeping me awake
Can you hear them?

Suffering in silence without uttering the safety word
Onlookers’ eyes wordlessly flicker bitter tasting happiness
Hold my hair and adjust the fallbeil to severe it fully
Rushing to the floor, the feeling goes
Numb and content, a job well done.

(J. Smith, 2010)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Little Throw Together Vegetarian Meal (Chicken, in a lemon, white wine, tarragon sauce)

As most of you know, I am not a cook. But as time passes, I am becoming more daring in the kitchen. Cooking is truly a learning experience. I've spent years watching a very good cook, but never doing much by way of assistance with the main meals. Rather, I came in for dessert duty. Slowly I am moving away from just baking and into actual cooking.

Last night I decided to throw together Quorn “chicken” (a meat alternative which is also soy free), in a lemon, white wine, tarragon sauce, sautéed spinach and garlic and roasted rosemary potatoes. I whipped up this little meal sans recipe.


Chicken, in a lemon, white wine, tarragon sauce

Package of Quorn cutlets (can substitute in actual chicken if you so choose)
5 cloves of garlic (sliced)
3 sprigs of tarragon (whole)
Bay leaf
“No Chicken” or vegetable broth (2 cups)
white wine (approx 1 cup or so)
1 whole lemon (cut in half. One half will be used to cut slices of lemon to place on top of cutlets)
Olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 tsp corn starch

Sauteed Spinach with garlic

1 package of spinach (fresh)
4 cloves of garlic
Olive oil

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

4 Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons dried rosemary (or 2 fresh sprigs)
1 tsp of dried garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Pulling the meal together:

Begin with the potatoes. Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut potatoes into cubes (leave skin). In a 9 inch baking dish drizzle oil and then toss in potatoes to coat with oil. Sprinkle garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. Toss again to cover all pieces and place in the oven for about 45 minutes- making sure to turn them every 15 or so minutes to avoid burning.

While the potatoes are baking, heat deep skillet pan, place olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) and butter. Then sauté the garlic slices. Place the cutlets in pan next (carefully to avoid splatter). Once these are slightly browned, add the (about 1 cup) white wine, broth, tarragon, bay leaf, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Place lemon slices in the sauce. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes to release the flavors into the sauce. You can cover it to keep in the moisture. Within the last 5 minutes or so, mix in the corn starch to thicken the sauce a bit.

While the chicken and the potatoes are cooking, go ahead and start the spinach. Heat wok (the wok is easiest way to fit all the greens in while the leaves are still firm). Once heated, place about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in wok and sauté the garlic. Before the garlic turns brown add the spinach and sauté until the spinach is wilted, but still whole.

At this point you are ready to plate and serve. I would suggest a nice white wine to go with this meal- maybe Evolution (an Oregon wine). It is a heartier wine (e.g. it also can hold up to many meat dishes too). Or, you can always go with a good standby from Trader Joe's.

Bon Appetite!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Toronto Evening

I find I am easily seduced by each new city in which I find myself. I believe any city worth its salt can seduce even the most hardened traveler. And yes, all worth visiting cities are femme to the core, regardless of what phallic shaped towers and art man attempts to conquer them with.

Toronto was the same for me. Walking down the glistening evening streets in search of a meal as pleasant as the city, I realized that wherever I ended up would have to outweigh taking photographs of the city’s movement, her curves and shadowed corners. I am intoxicated by the people passing, the pipe steam filling the graffiti filled alleys, the colors, the sounds and lights.

Queens Street. She is a beauty with so much to offer- down each side of the street with tributaries flowing off of her leading the meanderer to hidden gems. High on sensory overload, I walk; pupils dilated trying to absorb each sight knowing I may miss something if I do not pay close attention (like the friendly exchange in the tattoo piercing parlor). Oh, the colors, the emotions exchanged and shared. Even in the downpour I am pleased to be walking these streets barely aware of my soaked jeans and hat.

My original mission was to walk to a restaurant called Full Moon. I arrived at the stated address, but found not the restaurant. This was not the first time something such as this has happened, but I did begin to question myself as to why I didn’t stop at one of the many other places along the way. Quick bite to eat- get in/get out. But no, I want to experience more than just the eating. I can get sustenance anywhere. The pizza vendor, the “to go” creperie- these were all available to me, but no- none of these would fulfill my desire to dine well.

As I began to retrace my steps I noticed a little restaurant, Fressen. The name sounded familiar. Was this one of the vegan restaurants on my list? Why yes, and the serve late!! Lucky since I lose time when walking. Time only stands still in my head, everywhere else it marches on in ordinary course. Stepping inside, with an hour to go before closing, I am relieved when Sarah beckons me in with a warm smile and menu. I am alone; because of this, there is no reason not to eat seated at the bar. The vantage point is better and I like any opportunity to chat with locals.

I started out with lovely crisp croquettes on a salsa with greens, moved on to a seared encrusted tempeh with wilted greens and root vegetables, to finally end with an amazing dark chocolate ganache stuffed with a date and nut puree surrounded by fresh fruits. If all vegan faire was this delightful there would definitely be a larger vegan following. I hinted that they should consider Chicago for their next location. In between courses, Sarah, the beautiful petite server who welcomed me in with her smile shared gossip and travel stories with me.

This is what it means to experience a place. Why go on the “fish tank” tours where you touch nothing and nothing touches you? Get in, get dirty, but experience! I like to travel this way. I want to know that when I get home I was somewhere else.

After my extended dinner, I said my goodbyes and shared my gratitude for a meal well prepared and headed back to the hotel in the continued downpour. Contented that, yet again, with the disappearing of the destination that I had originally set my sights on, another opportunity, originally overlooked, had a chance to be noticed and, with that, a pleasant surprise changing the course for the better.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches I am reminded of this passing year. Some ups and many downs, but even with the downs I have received gifts from some of the most unlikely places and people. I have been lifted up by others I had no idea cared about me. I have even been lifted up by strangers. Never have I allowed myself to be as open to others has I have become this year.

I believe this year was a learning experience on opening my doors and welcoming others in regardless of the mess. Giving others a chance to offer their care and concern for me rather than push everyone away because I am strong enough not to need anyone. Strength doesn't necessarily mean going things alone.

I am thankful for each and everyone that has touched my life this year and provided me a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a diversion, a good story, a caring e-mail (from near and far), and a reminder that love still exists in all its odd shapes and endearing forms. This Thanksgiving I will be traveling for work- another gift. A chance to avoid a familial get together that I am not ready for, not yet.

I wish you all a very happy and thankful Thanksgiving. Thank you

Friday, November 12, 2010

Raspberry & Cream (Creme fraiche) Tart

This little treat goes fast and is easy to make. It has almost a cheesecake feel to it, but isn't as heavy.

I was invited to a potluck Halloween party and couldn't decide what to make so I went with the raspberry cream tart, a recipe I picked up from the Spice House. It was a hit- my cousin gives it 2 thumbs up. 


1 stick butter (softened)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
3/4 creme fraiche
2 cups fresh raspberries (or other berry)
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar

Oven: 350 degrees (preheated)

Beat butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar and salt. Then add in 3 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla. Beat together until smooth. Toss in 1 cup of flour and mix until combined. Pour mixture into tart pan making sure to spread it evenly over the entire surface and up the sides of the pan. It is sticky, it is supposed to be. If you don't spread it well, your filling will stick to the tart pan and make it difficult to remove.

Next, whisk together 3/4 cup of the creme fraiche and 1 egg. Mix in 1/4 cup of sugar and the last tsp of vanilla. Once mixed, pour into the tart pan and spread this evenly as well. If you aren't careful, it will spill over the sides and look be careful.

Once the filling is placed where you want it, begin placing the berries. Remember, the berries will be seen so try to make them look nice- leave the smashed ugly ones for snacking while decorating the tart with the prettier ones. After you have the berries placed where you want them, sprinkle the whole tart with vanilla sugar.

Place in the oven 50-60 minutes- until crust is brown and filling is set. Let cool and then have at it.

I am willing to believe, but I have not yet tried it, that you could probably throw in some unsweetened chocolate with the crust batter creating a chocolate crust, raspberry cream tart... maybe next time...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Embers of a Thought (a poem)

Pulling in the smoke of a lost flame...

Misplaced paths crossed and paths still chosen
Mistaken luck? I sit and ponder

Lost in thought
Lost in the labyrinth of my imaginary memory

I want, I long for…something
I can taste it, feel it, without knowing what I miss
It remains on my lips, yet to utter would be suicide

When it grasps me, I am unable, unwilling to break free
Without so much as a warning
Wanted hands, wanted heart, wanted words…

...unlock, what?

(J. Smith 2010)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First Night in New Orleans

The Big Easy... a place of mystery and secrets. A place where one can turn over the glitter exposing the dark to turn over the dark to expose the glitter- spinning like a coin- each a necessary side filling in the city's character. If I had to choose, I would argue strongly and definitively that city is definitely a lady.

She has all the seduction of the most alluring courtesan and the strength of the strongest of matriarchs. She holds her own, bringing the culled to her breast to hug and kiss away hurts, while drawing others in with her oil lighted lamps and promises of warm caresses for those willing to promenade her deserted streets. At night, lights reflect off her black ink river like flashes of lust from a restless lover’s eyes.

As one finds oneself uncertain of being awake after waking from a nightmare, I recently found myself in New Orleans (or N'Awlins or New Ooorleeaans) with the hope of freeing myself from the everyday boredom... and to volunteer time with Habitat for Humanity. Each reason gave its own lift to my soul, in different ways, but both necessary and long sought after. The evening I arrived (and after a strange exchange with the valet), I dropped my bags and headed out into the night with the vague notion of finding dinner- leaving Bourbon for another time.

Walking along her fairly deserted streets, I wanted her to fill me, consuming my disjointed thoughts and even more disjointed feelings. I hoped she would reveal some of her secrets in exchange for my homage. Quickly I fell under her spell soaking up her offerings in the shadow of barely lighted streets and creole homes wearing their history and familial ghosts seen through dark shuttered doors and windows as badges of honor.

At night after the crowds have dwindled the city breathes deep sighs of relief. Walking alone, a tinge jealous, I could hear the slight sound of restful life behind closed doors and open windows. I knew what that life was like, once. I remember the comfort of curling up in another’s arms and snuggling into the crux of his neck. With the fresh rawness of uncertain freedom, I hurried back onto more traveled streets, away from the slumber and damaged memories.

Monday, November 1, 2010

In Honor of Halloween (Pumpkin Heads, a poem)

Pumpkin heads

Shattering the commotion with your silence
Not the jack-o-lantern smiles left on your rotting skull
The tricks already played and treats savored
Remove your mask revealing sought after decay
Free falling thoughts from your candied lips

Wicked and sticky sweet your actions speak volumes
To your unwritten confessions of lost youth
You walk through the cackling laughing leaves
For without them the walk at dusk lacks

Carve deeply into the flesh
Leaving no room for interpretation or validation of strangers
Undoing time and space absorbed by your presence
Sucked clean like a snake bite offered in homage
to the handler fiddling with devotion

Embers snuffed with the last breath of smoke
Freeing itself through the uneven cracks
Light lingers still for a moment alive
Only for a glimpse into your madness

(J.Smith 2010)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Untangling the Web

Looking for things to occupy myself with while waiting for my coffee at my favorite cafe, I noticed a spider taking pieces of her damaged web balling them up between her spiny legs and casting them away. I have never seen a spider do this before, but it was fascinating. I was reminded of how we all do this from time to time. We take assessment of our lives, find things that are damaged or tattered, not useful to us anymore, and begin to clean up the mess. Balling parts of our damaged "webs" and casting them into the universe. Removing the traces of the damage and starting over fresh. Start anew. Leave nothing behind of the mess, it will only clutter the mind, clutter our already full lives with unnecessaries.

I will take heart in her lesson and begin taking assessment of my own life's damaged web and begin balling it up and throwing it away to free my mind and life, making room for the new. Liberation, by way of the spider.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Leo Tolstoy

Monday, October 18, 2010

Silent Ruminations (a poem)

Silent Ruminations

I told you my daemons existed
Those that hide behind the rungs of the chair

Their teeth dull and aching still wanting to gnash at you
In the shape of a smile, a gash on their eyeless faces

Hands shaped like worn branches
Reach out to hold you, broken and gnarled

Feet firmly planted in your dreams
And hearts licking your nightmares

Patiently waiting to taste the scraps of your thought
Starving for the light of your gaze to free them

Pet them; they will be soothed with your calloused hands
Speak their names curling them in the safe of your lap

Forget them not for they will disappear
In time with child infused innocence

(J Smith 2010)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lives of the Dead in Action

Last week I found myself drawn to an advertisement announcing a poetry reading at the Viaduct theatre, a small fringe theatre in Chicago. The Viaduct usually puts out interesting, albeit bizarre, plays and such so I was happy to oblige myself with attendance to its latest activity, "the Lives of the Dead" reading (which, I was pleasantly surprised to find was a performance of the poem, not just a reading- lucky me!).

The poem by Hanoch Levin focuses on the thoughts and emotions of the dead man- his yearnings and desires as the deceased. Although this sounds, well, quite morbid, the performers provided the intimate crowd an evening of entertainment and reflection into the embarrassment and trials being dead creates. Each performer personified the dead well and gave feeling to the once animate body now rotting underneath the soil touched by the living above.

As happens with some less traditional performances, the audience, me included, was not quite certain when the performance ended. We held our applause and waited when the performers came to a stand still; we waited when the performers took their leave; we waited when the house lights rose; we waited when the background music ended and began again; we waited while Johnny Cash sang his song; we waited when his last words faded away; we waited when we could hear behind the closed door the muffled sounds of the performers exchanging laughter and the cracking sounds of opening cans.

Finally, I could bear the waiting no longer and abandoned my desire to shower praise on the performers. I walked past the other theatre goers, all still sitting in their seating, waiting, ... as I got to the stage door, I heard the faint echo of the solo clapper, stubbornly refusing to accept that she had been robbed of her ability to praise the performers and then with the spell broken, the shallow sounds of chairs being exited and coats being applied rose from the room and followed me out.

I laughed to myself. I laughed at myself- both lightened my step as I headed out into the evening without clapping for a job well done. Good for them, I thought- the actors leaving us, without clapping, leaving us to deal with our own silence, uncomfortable and lame. Leaving us to deal with our inability to fulfil our part as the observer, just like the dead man- as he too in his death and decay could only observe...
and they all lay, a field strewn with skulls,
each man a skull deaf and dumb
fastened into the earth and gazing up into the night sky.
...And I laughed to myself. Bravo!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Golden Handcuffs of Comfort and Wanderlust

The lust for comfort murders the passions of the soul.
-Khalil  Gibran

Comfort is nice, but the draw to do exciting new things has always pulled me in directions unknown. Whether this is good or bad matters not. What matters is living as much as possible. Putting too much off for a rainy day creates a habit stunting the adventurous life. Habits are easily formed and difficult to break- I try to avoid accidentally falling into habit of inactivity for comfort's sake. Safety and comfort, in moderation, are good, but without excitement and adventure, what is life but waiting for death?

Getting lost. Taking chances. These are the things that make my day worth the energy of getting out of bed. I try to fulfill my hopes and desires because I am only here once. This does not mean disregarding relationships, but what it does mean is making sure not to spend my time just watching others live. I want to feel the wind in my hair and the ground under my feet; to be passionate about things, to have opinions.

As a child, days lasted forever, but time is a fickle creature, it has the habit of passing faster than one realizes.I try not to wish my days away. They all pass so quickly. 

I find the word ‘expire’ very interesting; it is a word that relates to both breath (that which provides life) and death (the ceasing of life)- different sides of the same coin. No one knows when they will expire. My hope is that I expire without regret.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Sound of Crackling Leaves

In honor of the first weekend of autumn, I headed out to one of our wonderful state parks to see what secrets the forest would share. Although I found no hieroglyphics etched in stones, I heard the rustling of leaves, the songs of the birds and the scurrying of small unseen creatures in the brush.

Some of the leaves have already made their final journey; their dried carcasses left upon the footpaths. I love the sound of crunching leaves underfoot even when it interferes with my chance to glimpse the life of those who make the forest their home.

The harvest colors are already beginning to appear: the soft browns, warm yellow-oranges, fiery reds and purples. The greens are still present along with the blue sky which presents the full rainbow of color, a true celebration of life.

As humans we are anything but quiet- we walk noisily, we talk noisily and rarely sit still. Sometimes I like to stop, shed those human qualities (if this is truly possible) and just be- to take in my surroundings, allow them to fill me with their stories. The trees speak of beautiful days basking in the sun and hard weather; birds speak of visitors, both friend and foe; and the little animals and bugs speak of change.

Stopping the rush of everyday life, of forcing things to go the way we believe they should can produce amazing results. It isn't necessary that our focus always remain on the future. Sometimes the now is more important, just to be. So much can be missed when we forget to look and direct our attention to what is in front of us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

And Autumn has Fallen

As I sit writing, I hear the wind, strong and purposeful, bringing cooler weather. A wind such as this shall bring good sleep and good dreams. Dreams of colored leaves and carved gourds. We are at the cusp of autumn! Today is the autumnal equinox and, although the sky I am under is overcast, I hear that this is the brightest harvest moon seen in the last decade. I hope those of you who (saw) can see it are reveling in its glow. The autumnal equinox is the balance between night and day (theoretically speaking).

A day of balance.

Welcome autumn with your fiery glow of leaves and cheeks
One last burst of color before the sleep of winter blankets you 'til spring
The nights linger longer and the days taste of the final harvest
Masks and shadows expand and disappear
Welcome autumn, my favorite time of the year!!

Make sure to dance by the light of the moon tonight!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Storytime at the Whistler

On Sunday, after a trying morning, I coaxed myself to attend a poetry/short story reading at the Whistler. The bar was warm and friendly, small enough to feel cozy, but large enough to move around. And, as an added bonus, it also has a patio! There are so many hidden gems within my neighborhood, and after Sunday evening, I must add this place to the list.

I have always enjoyed being read to and this was no different. Storytelling is a lost art, a sad relic of a time before television. When stories are read to me I become entranced; the child all comfy in my footed pyjamas waiting breathless for what will happen next resurfaces. I believe the crowd felt something similar...

There is something special about hearing people's work, something they are clearly proud of, being read by them. They know where they wanted certain intonation and tone. They know the color of the story. Without having to question the author, the listener shares in the secrets of the author's thoughts. Some funny, some absurd, some melancholy, but all wholly the author's.

One of the authors reading that night was Davis Schneiderman. He provided us with a taste of his book Drain, a futuristic story about the drying up of Lake Michigan and the colony of peoples that moves in. Sounded to be an interesting read.

Davis Schneiderman

The next reading is scheduled for the 3rd Sunday of October (actually the 3rd Sunday of every month). If you are free and want to hear some interesting new material, you should stop by... oh, and the drinks are pretty good too. Go for the violet concoction... very nice... Maybe I will see you there...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Once I Dreamt… (Poem)

This photo inspired the following poem:

Once I Dreamt…

Once I dreamt I was the trees
I grew in the mountains and shivered in the breeze
I held steadfast to the ground and the rock
Moss clung to me and blanketed me from the winter’s cold stare
I was wise and gentle, yet strong and solid
In youth I was fictile, often changing direction as the wind
Time wore on and I grew into myself and strengthened my foundation
With the strength I withstood the defects of my youth
Old age brought blight and rot
I was devoured from the within
Unable to shake the emptiness, I died
Once again the ground that I consumed, consumed me
And all was well…

(J. Smith 2010)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Visual of the Renegade Craft Fair

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rememberance of Things Large and Small

Today is the anniversary of a day that any American alive nine years ago will remember. The destruction of lives and families that occurred on this day nine years ago was unfathomable. The memory stays with one just like the explosion of the Challenger Space shuttle or the assassination of President Kennedy. The difference between the other events is how many lives 9/11 actually touched. The attacks of 9/11 were on such a great scale, greater than we have ever experienced and it rippled throughout. It destroyed families, friendships, and shook our nation's belief that we were safe from harms such as this. These sorts of attacks happened elsewhere, not on our soil. We were wrong.

My heart goes out to those who continue on while still experiencing the loss of the loved ones missing from their lives.

I remember that day well. My husband (we had just started dating 2 weeks before 9/11) and I worked together at the time. He was on his way to an on-site meeting in Indiana. After he left for his meeting, I received a call from a supplier who shared with me that the towers were under attack. I was in shock. At the time my husband did not have a cell phone and there was no other way to contact him. I knew he was driving through downtown Chicago to get to his meeting and all I could do was worry. Chicago, being a financial center, and a large one at that, very well could have been on the list of targeted places. We were luckily spared. Sadly, other places were not. When he returned to the office I was so relieved. I have never been so happy to see someone return as I was him. Not long after, he asked me to marry him. We were married March of 2002.

Nine years later, I am experiencing the destruction of my marriage, which oddly began in March of this year when my husband decided that he would have an emotional affair with another married woman regardless of our happy marriage. This would be the same woman he went on date with this past weekend disregarding the fact they are both are still married. I have to believe something good will come out of this destruction as well. This is something on a significantly smaller scale, but one which affects my life completely and has created large ripples in the lives of those affected.

I make it a point to remind those I care about how much I love them and never leave them angry. The events of 9/11 reinforced my belief. I also like to believe that something good can come out of all destruction. As with the phoenix,

“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune's spite; revive from ashes and rise.”

(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra )

I hope this is true. We all have struggles, challenges and sadness in our lives. For those dealing with their own struggles, challenges and sadness, I wish you all peace, a heart large enough to forgive and the gift of love.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Celebrations and Resolutions

Today is Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah (my understanding) is also the first day of the high holidays, a time of repentance. To me, this means inquiry as to what needs to be forgiven of yourself and others.

Tomorrow is the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The purpose of the fast (once again, my understanding) is to develop strength to live a life of purity, patience and obedience.

I find both of these traditions beautiful. I believe we need more reflection, repentance, patience and strength to steel ourselves from temptations. As I have previously said, I am not religious, but I can certainly appreciate what I consider positive contributions from all religions. I believe that as a whole, we need to pull these virtues back into our own lives. Maybe by starting with those we surround ourselves with- our family and friends.

How often have you looked at someone you should know so well, as well as yourself, and realized that you have no idea what they are thinking and who they might be today? This could be a spouse, a friend, a family member, whomever. How well do we know our best friends? Can we recount their deepest darkest secrets, do we even know what they are? When was the last time you had an in depth serious conversation with that person? Can you remember it?

I wonder how often we forget to examine the person next to us because, we believe, wrongly I might add, that we know that person without continuing to reach into their hearts, into their souls to understand them and their wants, needs and desires. This is something we should forgive ourselves and others for, but resolve ourselves to correct and have the patience to do so.

People change. This is a fact. They may look much the same, but new ideas are everywhere, each experience changes us. It is up to each of us to reexamine our friends, family and loves often to learn who they truly are. To share who we truly are with them. Only then can we continue our journey with them. Without that understanding of each other we can easily drift apart, creating conflict and miscommunication.

We are more than just our physical being. We are more than just our actions. We are our thoughts and dreams, our ambitions, our fears, our successes, our failures. All of the things that make us complete are special, unique and, in love, should be shared.

On this Rosh Hashanah, maybe take a look inward and then outward, make your peace with the world and then consider a resolution for this year to be more open to sharing, loving, giving and forgiving of yourself and others. For those who celebrate Rosh Hashanah, happy new year! For those who do not, each day is a day of renewal and you can begin your "new year" at any time, so why not today?

Maybe we can all be reminded that patience is necessary to understand our world and the people in it, during this the end of Ramadan. For those who celebrate Ramadan, Happy Eid! For those who don't, maybe consider introducing more patience and understanding into your lives and celebrate those strengths.

Both are recognition that we should strive to be better people. What a wonderful world this can be if we all try to be better people. Better to each other, better to ourselves, better to the world around us.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Actors and Observers Lost in the Tide

I am hungry. Hungry for a change, hungry not to feel like my world is coming down around me. I am looking for signs hoping that by keeping watch I will catch that "ah-ha" moment.

As many of you know I enjoy photography. I keep my camera very close at all times, just in case something catches my fancy. Just in case all the celestial beings line up providing me that perfect shot. Most of the time I am appreciating the comfort of the camera's weight- it reminds me that I am in the here and now. I have a choice, I can capture it or I can live it. I don't know if one can do both, not for that single moment. We are either the actor or the observer, but not both at the same time. It is difficult to pull oneself from the play of life and just watch the goings on when one is also actively acting. When it is your cue you must race to your mark on the floor, no time to observe your surroundings. Out with your lines!

This weekend I was the actor. I said my lines, finally. I do not know how they were received, or if they were received at all, but they are out. Now, I am the observer. I am stepping back, waiting to see how this part of my life will turn out. I cannot claim to know. I am no magician, I cannot read or tell the future from leaves and cards. If I could, I believe the excitement (good or bad) of what is to come next would be lost. I am sure I will be stepping back into the actor's shoes very shortly, but for now, I am taking a deep breath and just observing.

To him that watches, everything is revealed

                                                               (Italian Proverb)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Vietnamese Spring Rolls in Translation

While teaching English as a Second language, my friend and student Mai, determined that I learn to make something Vietnamese, suggested I make spring rolls. She guaranteed that they were easy to throw together, especially since I would be making a vegetarian version. As with most "cooking" type things, I did not believe her. I tucked away her suggestion and then last weekend, on a whim, I decided to tackle the spring roll.


dry Rice wrapper (round)
shitake mushrooms
bean sprouts
rice noodles (thin)
really good soy sauce
sesame seed oil

For Dipping:

Spicy peanut sauce
Really good soy sauce
Plum sauce

First, bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles. Do not add the noodles yet.

While waiting for the water to boil, saute the shitake mushrooms with a little soy sauce and sesame oil put that aside to cool.

Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat and add the noodles. keep stirring the noodles until they are soft- once soft drain the noodles and allow them to cool.

Julienne both the cucumber and the carrots.

Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water to rehydrate the dry rice wrappers. Take your first rice wrapper, while holding it, dip it into the bowl until it is soft, but not disintegrated.

Once the wrapper is moist, lay it down to begin adding the filling. I place them on a cutting board to make it easier to move around.

On one end, place some of the noodles, carrots, cucumber, shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts and cilantro. Pull the end of the wrapper where you placed the filling over the filling completely.

Fold in each side of the wrapper to secure the filing and then roll away from you. The wrapper is sticky and will seal itself. Place on the side. Repeat these steps until you reach the number of rolls needed. You can keep the rolls cool in the refrigerator while finishing up the remaining rolls.

Toss cut scallions over the rolls as garnish.

Use one or all of the dipping sauces and enjoy.

Have you ever notice how much fun rolled foods are to eat?  There are burritos, tamales, egg rolls, spring rolls, etc. Anything that is self contained and easy clean up is alright by me. I also enjoy the versatility of these rolled foods. The fillings can be replaced, things can be added or removed, all giving a nice twist to the traditional.

Thanks Mai!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Masks and Reality Revealed

Leaving Our Masks Behind

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

 - Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Who are we truly? Are we the person we present to others or are we hidden? Do we even know? When the masks come off do we feel liberated and embrace the other we only knew through the mask or do we shrink back into our protective shells, cursing ourselves from sharing what we did with a perfect stranger? 

 I do not know. Only time and experience can answer this question. 

This will be a laborious weekend for me as I ponder these issues and hold my breath... 

I wish you all an enjoyable Labor Day weekend and last days of summer for those who believe summer ends this weekend (even though summer lasts until the September 22nd when we are graced with the fall equinox... and my favorite time of the year!). 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Girls with Guitars (and Drums and a Bass)

On the last Saturday of each month (during the summer), my neighborhood puts on free musical performances in the square. Sometimes they are good, other times it is just nice to be outside enjoying the weather. Last night was more than a nice night to be out.

When Flying Feels Like Falling, previously called Circular Convention, an all girl alternative/punk band, entertained the Logan Square crowd with a couple covers including one from Blink 182, and some originals from their own collection. WFFLF came together while the young women were participating in a rock music summer camp through Girls Rock Chicago. It was refreshing seeing these girls up on the stage with their skinny jeans, purple hair and punk attitudes rocking out to music they created. So few girls are ever encouraged to get out there and play. Nice music and great job!

Girls Rock Chicago, through its summer camp, works with girls between the ages of 8 and 16 teaching them how to play instruments and form a band. This organization has been in operation since 2005 and is growing with more girls, more staff and more great music.

I applaud the founders of this organization because Girls Rock gives girls a chance to explore their musical inclinations and supports their talents while showing them the ropes of what it takes to be in a band. Programs such as this which provide guidance and an emotional outlet to pre-teen and teenage girls  are so important in developing strong individuals. I remember from my teenage years most bands tended to all male with no room for any female talent. It is nice to see girl bands holding their own out there.

I cannot say enough good things about this project so I will end here. If you get a chance, you should check them out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mirrors Visted, A Poem

I recently started reading Gaiman's "Smoke and Mirrors." The mystery and intrigue Gaiman inserts into his short stories brings me back to my childhood wonder about all that was then magical in the world. When dragons and unicorns could exist and peacefully live together with the other forest creatures. And Mommy Fortuna could capture them for her own wishes.

This quote inspired the poem that follows:
Mirrors are wonderful things. They appear to tell the truth, to reflect life back out at us; but set the mirror correctly and it will lie so convincingly you'll believe that something has vanished into thin air, that a box filled with doves and flags and spiders is actually empty, that people hidden in the wings or the pit are floating ghosts upon the stage. Angle it right and a mirror becomes a magic casement; it can show you anything you can imagine and maybe a few things you can't.
(Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors)

Mirrors Visited

We do the dance opposite of one another,
Facing each other,
Turning the mirrors at 45 degree angles, changing reality
Producing the magic and telling the lies only magicians can tell.
We all do the dance and tell the lies and live and love and dance opposite of each other.
The music is secondary. The each other is tertiary.
It is only the mirrors that remain in first.
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.
Behind the mirrors exists nothing.
Ignore the emptiness just beyond.
Look into the mirrors see happiness.
Keep smiling into the mirrors, they will smile back.
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.
Even when we dance alone in front of the mirrors there are two.
No one is lonely in front of the mirrors.
We smile big smiles and bow to each other.
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.
A small candle glow becomes a bursting of light and the smile returns upon the lips of the reflection.
Step out of the mirror and dance the dance and smile the smile.
Twirl faster and faster and the light brightens and the smile widens
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.

(J Smith 2010)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Music to My Ears

This weekend was the 9th Glenwood Ave. Arts Festival in Chicago. Hands down, this is one of the best neighborhood music festivals around. Rarely if ever do I enjoy the music played at the festivals I attend. I focus on the people watching, which was plentiful at this one too. Although I cannot replicate the music from all the wonderful bands we saw, I can provide a photolog of the musical journey. Regardless of what your musical leanings are, each band was enjoyable and provided a great festival atmosphere to go along with the visual art.

The first band were were able to catch was the Sons of Susan. This is a blues and swing type band.

The next band we found our way to was the Lowdown Brass Band. They bill themselves as Afro-beat, Funk and Crunk. Fun group!

We were entertained by Bible of the Devil. A metal and rock band and definitely lively. They drew quite a crowd. 

Mississippi Gabe Carter was the next act up. This is a blues type band. Really great! 

The Polkaholics were a very lively bunch! They kept the crowd entertained with various songs including Went out for a beer.

Walking on to the next stage, excited to see what was in store, we came upon Ode. A gypsy punk band. This was one of my favorites at the fest.

Finally, our night wrapped up with Tom Holland and the Shuffle Kings. What a finale!

Other than all the wonderful bands scattered throughout this wonderland of sound, there were also the other painters, weavers, knitters, and street artists. This woman was kindly entertaining the puppy with her baton twirls.

The day was long, but so worth it! If you find yourself in Chicago while this festival is going on you should definitely get out to see it for yourselves. Not one to be missed!