"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Say NO to Sulfide Mining in the Upper Peninsula

Media Mouse: Say NO to Sulfide Mining in the Upper Peninsula - Grand Rapids News & Independent Media

Find out more about the proposed sulfide mine on the Yellow Dog Plains in Marquette County and what it will do to the surrounding rivers and streams that drain into Lake Superior, ultimately effecting everyone in the Great Lakes Basin.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Who Came Before You

Christmas is a season of traditions. One of the oldest ones in our family is making Brandy Alexanders on Christmas Eve. Our father, decked out in his wool trousers, suspenders, and a bow tie, sets out the cordial glasses from the china cabinet and lines them up on the counter. Then he gets out the blender, the booze from the liquor cabinet, ice cream, and the old fashioned ice cream scoop. The formula is two parts brandy to one part Crème De Cacao with enough vanilla ice cream to fill the blender. Once the mixture is creamy and frothed, he pours it into the glasses and then, lastly, sprinkles a dash of nutmeg on the top of each one. (What we've been taught is the final essential step.)

The first time I was ever offered an alcoholic drink while growing up was on Christmas Eve, a sip from the bottom of a cup. And then at the age of seventeen or so I was presented with my own glass. It was a moment to be remembered, a drink to be savored with the aroma of nutmeg and the bite of brandy filling the senses, and with the fragile stem of the glass between my fingers, I felt like I was joining the adult world.

Three nights ago we repeated the tradition. Though his fingers are now swollen with arthritis and he walks with a cane, Dad scooped out the ice cream and poured the measures of liquor and brandy into the blender and then filled the glasses. But he forgot the nutmeg. We passed it around, each adding our own.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love sent to me...
twelve beggars begging,
eleven bankers laughing,
ten gamblers gambling,
nine strippers dancing,
eight maids trash-talking,
seven crooks a-skimming,
six senators lying,
five bags of weed.
Four hedge funds,
three French whores,
two beer bongs,
and a partridge in a pear tree.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Sixth Toe

Does anyone else find it indicative of a paranoid society that so many people won't answer the phone anymore unless they know who's calling?

Is it the “I Spy” mentality of the internet, or the commercialization of our culture, or the privacy notices stuffed in our mailboxes that are to blame? None of this? All of this? Everything about us can be gathered and scrutinized, from the books we read to the votes we cast. My theory is that people are overcompensating for this loss of privacy by doing things like screening phone calls. Or they pretend to be absorbed in a cell phone conversation when they aren't so they don't have to make eye contact or engage in conversation or acknowledge what's going on around them.

We hunker down in front of our laptops and poke people. We are like a nation of hermits in a crowded auditorium, each with a blue tooth and a cell phone, in touch with the world but not the guy beside us. Will we eventually lose our ability to look a stranger in the eye and converse face-to-face? Will social skills be genetically weaned out of us by natural selection, like a useless sixth toe?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Is your glass half empty or half full?

What I was reminded of during a recent contest at Miss Snark's is that a good opening sentence gives setting and conflict. I repeat...a good opening sentence gives setting and conflict.

There are basic writing rules we all have to occasionally be reminded of. Some of my favorites are:

* 90% of writing is rewriting.
* Write what you know but more importantly, be honest.
* Write about what you're most afraid to write about.
(The hardest exercise I was ever given was to write about 10 things I was afraid to write about.)
* Use synesthesia in your writing “the old man had a wrinkled voice" but avoid the easy comparisons.
* Be completly absorbed in your writing.

This writing business is a solitary endeavor. An exhilarating, lonely, heart-breaking endeavor.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Higher Plane

The disciple left
his stained Koran
inside the strip club.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Casino Economy

Meet Mt. Pleasant,casino capital of the state. Soaring Eagle, where senior citizens can write personal checks against their social security. Where ATMs are plentiful and drinks are free. Where the light of day will never enter and my friend saw a woman giving a guy a blow job for enough money to keep gambling. Soaring Eagle. They name casinos like they do gated communities, after that which died to make way for development. This is not my Michigan.

Michigan, my Michigan... boundaries of water, wintering lakes and black woods . . . the majestic nests of a diverse bird population now visible in treetops. Detroit's no longer making Thunderbirds but we are surrounded by the oil of the 21st Century and all Americans should be actively participating in protecting this national treasure from a parched world, and, yes, from the desert southwest where development will come to a screeching halt if the true cost of fresh water is ever passed along to the citizenry. (Check out the current issue of Time and the picture of Lake Mead from where Las Vegas draws 90% of its water, predicted to be dry by 2021.)

Casinos have come and will hopefully go the way of the Thunderbird, but we will still be surrounded by fresh water and a strong manufacturing infrastructure and with forward-thinking leaders(a new president who is committed to keeping invasive species out of the lakes and incoming senators not regionally fixated), our rich, diverse ecosystem will thrive and our economy will rebound into the green.

SENATE BEAN SOUP

(From the Michigan Bean Cookbook)

1lb navy beans (Michigan quality preferred)
1 meaty hambone or 1 1/2 lbs hamhocks
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves minced (or use that garlic press)
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups mashed potaotes (if on hand)
1 1/2 t.salt
1 t. pepper
1t each of nutmeg, oregano, and basil
1 bay leaf

Wash and sort beans. In large kettle cover beans with 6 to 8 cups hot water. Bring to boil; boil two minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 1 hr. Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer 30-40 min. until beans are tender. Remove ham bone, trim off meat,return to soup. Serve hot. Makes about 3 qts. (or about enough to fortify 6 senators)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What hooks you?

The first two sentences of two different novels:

1) The over-heated engine of the Chrysler was still ticking when Katie and her younger sister, Chrissie, ran to the edge of the dock to watch their father disappear under the surface. The wood was warm under their feet, and the lake stretched out before them like a canvas.

2)The vultures circled patiently above the trees that lined the drainage ditch on the Sopal family farm, with the deepest part of the gully the pivot point of their compass. In spring it would be a respectable creek flowing into the Black River, but now it was just a ditch.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lost in a Lake Effect

Ahh...December. The season of Advent arrived on a snowy morning. The season of lights.

Our lights are still on, though we had an outage in the night with a heavy wet snowfall...clocks were all blinking this morning. I'm steeping a cup of hot tea with the temperature dropping and the wind shifting from out of the East (a sign of tumultuous weather), winding down from a treacherous drive home, during which my rear door suddenly came ajar on the highway, and the dome light came on giving me the bejeebies. Maybe a freezing/thawing explanation. But I had to leave the door ajar because I couldn't reach the handle without taking an eye off the road and a hand off the wheel and there was no easy place to pull off so I just left it and drove home with the whisper of the road wafting through the crack in the door panel, and I thought of how easily one could become lost in a storm.

LOST

How quickly does the familiar become
a thing you've never seen.
You lean against the steering wheel,
as the road traveled nightly becomes one you do not know.
Turn on the radio. You could be anywhere.
Snowflakes attach themselves to the wipers—
silent, silent,
softening tread and resolve to hurry.
There can be no hurry.
No light emerges to meet your own;
no porch door swings open, only silent driving
through the radio static of a forgotten song.


Still looking for an agent who will see worth in my writing. Farewell. Whistle the teakettle.

Still Life

in the chipped china plate
you won't throw away;
in arms that drape shoulders,
graceful as the legs on the bistro chairs,
enclosed in a frame.
The ruffled tutu of the fuchsia
falling off to ground
is frozen by the chance
of a backward glance.
The sun sets a twenty-second fire
to the ridge across the valley from the shelter,
fleeting as the shrug of your shoulders
to have missed it.
The self-portrait I couldn't finish
stands in the back of the closet,
behind sketch pads full of hands.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Doomsday Clock

The doomsday clock is a symbolic gauge of the danger we are in, dating back to the Cold War. In 1962 during the Cuban missle crisis it was one minute to midnight. And there was no easy way of communication, no red phone, no computers. The fastest mode of communicating between Washington and Moscow was via teletype and by the time a message was deciphered, it took 12 hours to reach the other end. Historians use this as an example of how important a trait personality is in our leaders. Intelligence experts today say it is five minutes to midnight. Obama is thoughtful and deliberative in the mode of Jack Kennedy, but will he be able to turn back the clock? Stop it? Are expectations for an Obama presidency too high? Can one man bear the burden of a nation in free fall . . . like Atlas on ice skates in a melting pond?

All I know for sure is that the dog is at my feet next to the register and the lights are on.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What's Under The Bed

Every celebrity has a diet nowadays and secrets for getting rid of wrinkles. Organic wrinkle remover is the latest. But once you have them, can they really be removed with a cream, organic or otherwise? This is all you need to do:

Sleep on your back.
Hold perfectly still.
If you're prone to curling up in a ball,
hands clenched under your chin for protection
from what is under the bed,
train yourself to unfurl.
Open your hands and stretch your fingers,
let go of yourself.
(Are you afraid of falling out of bed?)
Relax your elbows and point
your toes to the ceiling
then let your feet fall where they will.
Sleep on your back and leave your face alone.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shotgun Shells and Spaghetti Sauce

Walking down the gravel road towards dusk with a bowl of spaghetti sauce under my coat, gunshots went off in the woods to the north of me, and then along the creek to the south of me and in the woods behind me, and I wonder that there aren't more accidents than what are reported. I wrapped my arms around the bowl for warmth and made my way up the incline of the road. It was snowing, but not hard. Shots were still going off, but receding and the ribbon of the road stretched out in front of me on a surreal trajectory.

If you're hit by a bullet, do you feel it? Does it hurt? I imagine my bowl of spaghetti being blown to smithereens, sauce down the front of my coat and in my hair and then what would they eat for dinner? How long would it take before someone noticed my lifeless body in the ditch? And if I was only wounded, would I be able to make my way home?

PATTY'S SPAGHETTI SAUCE
A handful of sliced fresh mushrooms,
1 onion, several stalks of celery and
fresh garlic (as much as you like)
diced and simmered in 1/2 stick butter
and/or olive oil until translucent.
Add two quarts of canned tomatoes,
1 bay leaf, 1t oregano, more garlic (pressed)
2t salt and 2t. pepper.
I like to add meatballs
for substance, but if you don't
have a local source
for good meat you can chunk it
up with winter squash (delicata are nice)
Simmer all day on the stove,
stirring frequently.
Your sauce will thicken as it simmers.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Dog Named Clyde

Today was opening day for deer hunters. It rained all day, but the termperature dropped into the low thirties around 4pm, and the rain then turned to snow.

Hunting season is steeped in tradition in our area of the Thumb. Opening day on pheasants was especially memorable, because we would make friedcakes with our grandmother(recipe to come if I can find it), and it was exciting to have all those strange men tromping around in their boots and fur hats with their guns on their shoulders, signing in at the back door, exchanging stories and anecdotes, then coming back at the end of the hunt to report in and get a warm friedcake and a glass of milk.

We had several hunters today, city cousins who are still drawn to the farm at times like this. I am reminded of a visit to Scotland we took several years ago in the fall, tromping around the countryside and chancing upon a little pub and the hunters who were warming up by the fire with a pint.
This is an excerpt from my diary that day:

Nothing moves on the mountain
except water tumbling in mad want of the sea.
Silver ribbons of falling water
rolling green, falling, falling water.

We trudged along rushing rills
and found a pub sandwiched between.
The inside was warm and comfortable
The regulars talk up the hunt in coal smoke.

A tall, gray man enters with a dog
that looks just like him,
a massive poodle with long legs bred to hunt.
He walks his dog to the pub every day
(he tells us this), his name is Clyde,
and he is content to lie across the man’s boots
and follow us with his great liquid eyes.

Other fellas are over from Finland for the hunt.
Handsome and laughing, they tell us to stay here.
There is plenty of fun at night
and you can hear water falling all day.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In the night

You have stumbled upon Yvonne's new blog. Check it out and then come back again!

I'm alone in the house and night has a tight hold....no stars, no moon, no neighbors. The rain is falling and the temperature is dropping. Will there be snow come morning... should morning come? Check back and I'll let you know.

What's in this for you, gentle reader? Great recipes!! And the opening scene of a new story.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Food Wanted

I delivered beets today to the food pantry. People were lined up at 1pm with their containers and they couldn't sign up until 2pm. When we turned the bushel over to one of the people working there, my husband said, "these are organic beets." The fella said, "Organic? What's that mean?" Oh well....they were very appreciative and now more educated. We also passed out copies of my sister's Basic Roasted Beets recipe (see below). Thanks Mary Pat.

On a more serious note, my father who remembers the Great Depression says we're in for a real food shortage. I'm afraid he's going to be right...again, and nobody talked much about farming, food safety and inspection and sustainable agriculture during the campaign.

We didn't talk much about the fact that there were so many people waiting for food in our small town where you wouldn't think anyone could be hungry.

Lake Effect

We are far enough from the lake that we don't directly feel the lake effect my grandmother used to complain about, the prevailing wind and the cooler temperature, but our weather is still governed by the Great Lakes, our national treasure. Fresh water and good food will be the oil of the 21st century. I know a little bit about good food and healthy soil and the painstaking efforts of many small famers to keep poison off their fields and out of your food.

What's on today's agenda: Delivering a bushel of beets to my local food pantry.

What I'm working on: Putting away the soaker hoses for winter, along with all the garden utensils and the tomato cages. The garlic is planted and already I received my first seed catalog for next year, and all I want to do is hunker down in front of my laptop and work on my novel!


Recipe for BASIC ROASTED BEETS

Scrub beets but do not peel. Leave a ¼ inch of the stem if removing greens and a bit of the growing tip also. Rub with a little oil. Bake in a pan or on a baking sheet at 400 degrees or whatever oven temperature is convenient until whole beets are easily pierced with a knife. (I like to wrap them in foil.) Skin will be bubbly in places. Small beets take 30 to 40 minutes. Large beets can take an hour to 90 minutes depending upon size and oven temp. They become very sweet with thorough baking so don't undercook them. Cool and then remove the stems and sking. Skins should slip right off and beets can then be sliced, quartered, or left whole. They are ready to be reheated with a little butter, vinegar or in your favorite recipe. Many cooks feel they are best enjoyed in salads with citrus or salty flavorings. They can be kept and refrigerated for up to a week. You may also cut them as desired and put into freezer bags to enjoy through the winter.

More recipes for using beets to follow.

Yvonne

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beets for Good Health

I'm awash in beets...baby beets, adult beets, deformed beets, and perfectly round beets. Two two-hundred foot rows of Detroit Dark Red, planted thickly and thinned and sold from June 1st through November, the gift that keeps on giving, and giving and giving...

ROSY BEET RISOTTO

2 medium beets
3 T. olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 ½ cups Arborio or short-grain rice
2 T. snipped fresh basil
2 14-oz cans chicken broth
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place beets in the center of 18-in square of heavy foil. Drizzle with 1 T olive oil and fold , allowing room for steam to build. Roast 1hr and 15 min or until tender. Cool 30 minutes. Remove beets, transfer liquid to measuring cup, add water to equal ½ cup. Pour liquid in medium saucepan. Peel and cut beets in wedges. In 3-qt saucepan cook onion in remaining oil until tender; add rice. Cook and stir 5 minutes. Meanwhile, add broth to beet liquid in saucepan. Bring to boil. Recue heat and simmer. Carefully stir 1 cup of hot broth into rice mixture. Cook, stirring frequently over med heat until liquid is absorbed. Then add ½ cup broth at a time, stirring until absorbed before adding more (about 20 min). Stir in any remaining broth. Cook and stir just until rice is tender and creamy. Add beets, heat through. Remove rice from heat, stir in half of cheese, snipped basil and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining cheese and basil leaves and serve. Makes 8 side-dish servings.

*Recipe from the kitchen of Bette Linck-Nikodemski