Trivia


This marks week one of my commitment to write for at least twenty minutes every day.  A good way to “force” myself to do this is to blog daily.  In this past week I have heard from new people and received more comments than usual.  I had something already written out and then decided against posting it.  Because I am at least one hour behind on what I planned to do when I arrived home from work, this blog may be a bunch of trivia, depending on what you consider trivia.

I had not planned on cleaning my barn in preparation for fifty 100 pound bales of hay, but when they told me they would deliver Wednesday instead of Friday, it changed this evening’s plans dramatically.  I had to move the remaining hay from last November’s delivery to a different spot because I do not want “old” and “new” hay mixed.  100 pound bales do not weigh all that much less than I do so moving them is not all that easy.  Once moved, I sweep the loose hay up, lay down pallets, and sweep up everything.  I do not like hay to lay directly on the cement floor of the barn.  All that took over an hour.  Then it dawned on me that I should probably eat something.  Time mandated simplicity so I made a salad. Suddenly it reminded me of salads Gaston used to make.  Gaston lived with me for six months–a handsome exchange student from Argentina, who rode horses, played the piano while I cooked dinner, and then when I gave the word, made beautiful salads, kaleidoscopes of color, orange, red, green, yellow, purple.  Tonight, in a rush, I finally managed to make a salad as beautiful as Gaston’s.  In addition to his other assets, Gaston’s name is a song for the ears and the heart:  Gaston Luis Zulaica del Sueldo.  I love his name so much that it is the title of one of the poems in my new book of poetry, “On the Rim of Wonder”.  His counselor at school here loved it so much that she insisted on practicing it over and over and over to get it right when she announced it at graduation.

Salad eaten, once this post is complete, I must finish the baby blanket I promised today to deliver tomorrow.  More than eight years ago, I taught freshmen English.  One of my students, who has since gone to college, graduated, and now works for the school district where I work will soon be a father.  His wife, through her work as a neonatal ICU nurse, became a good friend of my daughter’s.  Their baby is due in a week or so.  I am running out of time.  I MUST finish this tonight.  Since I have to get up at 5:30 to get to work on time–I work 25 miles from where I live–it would seem that since it is now 7:49, I had better quit writing this and get to work.  Tomorrow I promise more exciting material.

The Story Circle Network Conference and My Commitment: This Is What I Know


ad_scnconfWhen I first started blogging more than two years ago, I committed to blogging once a week.  That I managed for a year or so and then since that time, it became more sporadic.  Full time job, writing poems for my book, visitors, mini vacations, all sorts of stuff got in the way.  Really, I let it lapse, but refused to give up.  Last Thursday, I drove to Austin with my daughter and grandson for the biannual Story Circle Network Conference.  The plan:  while I conferred, they played.  The Story Circle Network is an organization for women which encourages women to write, to tell their stories, to share these stories, and when possible and desired, publish those stories in various forms from memoir to poetry.  This was my second time to attend and my first time to attend as a new board member.  A former mentor/teacher of mine, Len Leatherwood, facilitated  a workshop entitled “Transforming Your Writing Life in Just 20 Minutes a Day”, the last workshop I attended.  She blogs everyday.  I follow her blog.  No matter what, she sits down and writes 20 minutes minimum a day separate from the writing she does with her students–she teaches writing privately in southern CA.  One of her recent blogs has been accepted for publication–a piece of flash fiction.  She nearly begged us to commit to this kind of writing practice.  Previously, I had refused, flat out refused, partly thinking that if I tried it, more than half the resulting writing would be crap.  Nevertheless, she and her workshop convinced me that at least for one month I must try this.  Now all of you following my blog will be inundated with daily blog posts.  I am filled with curiosity as to how people will respond.  Maybe it will be like my Facebook posts–yes, I am an almost addict–the posts I consider most meaningful for the universe at large are the ones people ignore and the ones I consider personal trivia receive the most response.  Maybe I will track what appeals to my readers.  Some I won’t know because with blogging I share to Facebook and to a couple of professional networks, I have no clue who read what.  Once I received an email regarding a poem I posted. Although it never showed up as a like, the lady actually told me she read my poem in church!  Who would have guessed. I forgot to time myself so have no idea how long I have been here writing.

Here I am writing about why I am writing.  On the stove I smell Jasmine rice cooking.  I love Jasmine rice from Thailand.  I am a very picky rice eater and prefer to mix equally white Jasmine rice with black and red.  For one thing, it looks lovely when done–a sort of dark reddish purple.  Since I sautéd chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the rice and sautéd for about 15 more seconds, then added water and some broth just before I started writing this, the smell of Jasmine rice fills the house.  I piled a bunch of paper towels on the top before I put on the lid or you can use some cloth towel–a habit I picked up from my Iranian ex-husband.  Iranians really know how to cook rice.  I am also drinking a glass of Cupcake Shiraz which I bought on the way home from work.  And yes, Shiraz is also the name of a city in Iran where they actually grow grapes or at least used to. But of course, drinking wine is no longer acceptable in Iran or at least not publicly.  Good Muslims do not drink at all.

I did write something worthwhile while in this workshop and will share–doing this last because it won’t count as my daily writing since I wrote it yesterday.

 

This Is What I Know

 

My parents loved me, really loved me.

My mom was proud of my accomplishments.

Dad gave me a love of books, intellectual curiosity, and a

sense of wonder.

Mom gave me a love of music, beauty, and cooking.

Happiness is a choice.

I do not believe in luck.  You make your own luck.

Life is an exciting adventure.

Horses give me joy.

Singing gives me joy.

Dancing gives me joy even if I rarely have the opportunity.

Family relationships can be distressingly complicated.

I am proud of my children and their accomplishments.

Religion matters much less to me than 99 per cent of the people I know.

Ethnic and religious prejudice distress me and I do not

understand those kinds of attitudes.

I am a good writer.

I want to make a real difference in the world.

I am happy 99 percent of the time.

Blessings flood my life.

My close friends and children and grandson are more

important to me than they know.

Writing has enriched my life.

I have few regrets:

One I have rectified;

the other I cannot–

my dad is dead.

A Happy Birthday with Three Penny Opera


After a certain age many of us do not expect all that exciting a birthday, but mine this past week was a huge exception to anything I could have expected.  First, on the day before, these spectacular flowers arrived from my son, Erik Karlsson.   Parie Designs in Amarillo, Texas, really knows how to do flowers out of the ordinary.

 

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Almost two weeks ago, Walker Lewis, the Director, and Jeromy  Hunt, the Production Stage Manager, of the upcoming production of Three Penny Opera (Amarillo Opera Company) arrived to stay with me for three weeks.  Yesterday, my birthday, was an off day for them.  Chad Armstrong, one of the baritones, came over to ride my  horse, Rosie.  Romy and Walker gave me a bottle of good cab and bought me a birthday cake.  We relaxed on the rim of wonder (my patio), ate, and rode Rosie.  Then last night we all went to the annual opera gala.  Unfortunately, one of the opera performer’s husband became ill so now I will have my tiny fifteen minutes of  glory playing the madame of the brothel, pretending to smoke a cigarette, counting money, and watching “my girls” and the customers, or so they tell me.  Later today, I go for a fitting and start the one week of rehearsals remaining until the first performance on Saturday night.

I could not have ordered a better birthday.

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Chad Armstrong on Rosie, Walker on the left and Romy on the right.

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While Romy, Walker, and I hiked around, Chad rode off here and there, disappearing for a while and then showing back up.  Rough riding in canyon country.  Neither Romy nor Walker had ridden since childhood.

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Walker Lewis learning to ride–on Rosie.  He loved it and will ride again this coming week.  He kept smiling all over!!!

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Romy on Rosie with my dog, Isabella resting in the shade of a juniper tree.

Apparently, riding Rosie produced so much fun that the other singers want to come over later this week and ride.  Nothing beats fun friends, fabulous food, and pretty well broke horses for a day to remember!!!

 

 

Holiday Break Fun and Recipes


Because of my job, I am on the last day of a two week holiday break.  What a productive and fun time it has been.  Christmas Eve, my friends, my daughter, and my grandson came over.  For the first time ever, I made ham in a big Crock Pot and it melted in our mouths.  They requested I make my signature Refried Black Bean Cassserole and roasted vegetables so I did.  Other food requests included chocolate spiders for dessert–they are cookies.

Ham in the Crock Pot

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with a 1/2 inch thick layer of brown or turbinado sugar mixed with 2-3 T tapioca. Place ham on top of the sugar.  Cover the top of the ham with preserves of your choice.  I used homemade pineapple/apricot preserves I had made several years previously.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Note:  I used spiral sliced ham precooked.  You do not need to add any liquid, it will make its own.  If you wish, once some liquid has accumulated, you can periodically baste the ham.

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Christmas Eve dinner, eating and relaxing at the dinner table.

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At the bar before dinner while I am still cooking.

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Lingering and relaxing around the dinner table.

These same friends came over about 1 1/2 weeks later.  The special request that time was for another round of Refried Black Bean Casserole.   This is one of those recipes I invented but never measure anything, just make to taste.  This last time I decided to work at paying attention to what I used so I could share.  It may or may not be exactly what I do every time, but it is close.

Refried Black Bean Casserole

2 cans black beans drained

Enough olive oil to cover bottom of large skillet

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

3-4 Tablespoons organic ketchup

3 Tablespoons cumin–add or subtract to suit you taste

Tortillas

Grated white cheese–I usually use monterey jack

Heat oil in skillet and add onions.  Cook until translucent.  Add black beans, one can at a time.  Take a regular table fork and mash beans repeatedly until most of the beans are mashed–I like to leave some not totally mashed to add a bit of texture.  This is easier to do if you only add one can at a time.  Thoroughly mix beans and onions.  Add the cumin and ketchup and stir thoroughly and keep mixing until the mixture it thick and heated through.  Use a round slow cooker or casserole dish.  Oil bottom of dish and place one tortilla in bottom.  Place enough of the black bean mixture on top to cover the tortilla, then sprinkle the grated white cheese on top.  Repeat layers, ending with grated cheese.  You may use any kind of tortilla.  However, I prefer whole wheat flour, but anything works.  Heat through until cheese is melted.  You may also make the bean mixture a day in advance and refrigerate.  If you do this, it will take longer to heat the casserole.

In between cooking adventures, one of my best friends and I decided to take a quick trip to Albuquerque, NM.  We visited our favorites places in Old Town, ate here and there when we felt like it, and stayed someplace new to both of us, Los Poblanos.  We loved this place.  It is located a bit north of downtown and Old Town, off of Rio Grande Blvd. by the river,  and includes 25 acres of lavender fields, a barn, a solar powered swimming pool–not open in the winter, a restaurant, a farm store, an herb garden, paths for strolling here and there, and an impressive tree lined entry drive.

SAM_1421Looking down the entry drive of Los Poblanos.

SAM_1418The barn and other out buildings.

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The lavender field.  They offer many lavender products in the Farm Store as well as balsamic vinegar, cookbooks, and various other items related to what they grow and organic farming and cooking.

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A view of the main house and restaurant area.

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A view near one of the many walking paths.

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The fireplace in our room.

Although I have been to Old Town in Albuquerque many, many times, never before did I go inside the beautiful old church on the square.  They allow photography so I took a photo.  It was all decorated for Christmas with a nearly life sized nativity scene.

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Tomorrow I go back to work.  With friends coming over for Christmas Eve, a trip to the local museum with my friend Roberto Borja, his family coming over for dinner again, the trip to Albuquerque with my friend Zuriash, hanging out with my daughter and grandson, it turned out to be one of the best holiday breaks ever.  Here’s to an equally wonderful 2014.

Fun, Food, and Community with Vegetarian Enchiladas


A couple of weeks ago, one of the blogs I follow, getsetandgo, created a post about “community” with photos of an Indian festival where all sorts of people come together to celebrate–a community.  She requested others post photos of their community events.  After reading her blog post,  I decided to tell about my attempt to start a monthly “community” :

Several months ago, I reached way out of my comfort zone and started a monthly potluck.  When and where I grew up, inviting people over for a potluck was socially unacceptable.  If you invited people over, you cooked everything yourself.  If people wanted to bring something, insisted, well, ok, but otherwise, no, no, no.  Because of work, writing, and singing, I invited a number of friends over only every few months.  In September, I decided it would be far nicer to see people  more often and invited some friends over for potluck.  They asked if we could do this regularly so a monthly ritual began.  More and more friends keep asking to join.  It remains a type of hit and miss thing.  Sometimes 16 people show up, sometimes only five.  My most recent event was a week ago.  Because some of these friends are vegetarian, I invented a recipe, vegetarian enchiladas, just for them.  I also made pork roast and chicken enchiladas.  The vegetarian enchiladas disappeared quickly and everyone wanted the recipe.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

Six tortillas (I used whole wheat)

1/2 purple onion, chopped finely

1 large poblano pepper, chopped finely

1/2 medium sized red bell pepper chopped finely

1 package cream cheese

Olive oil

1 tsp Mexican spice mix

1/2 tsp chipotle pepper, ground (I used Spice Appeal-adjust to hotness desired)

Shredded monterey jack cheese

Red enchilada sauce–I used canned because my cooktop is awaiting repair

Saute onions and pepper in just enough olive oil so they will not stick or become too dry.  Mix in cream cheese and spices until thoroughly blended.  Fill the tortillas, roll up, and place in an 8 inch casserole dish.  Cover with a light layer of enchilada sauce.  Sprinkle enough shredded cheese on top to cover.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Place in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.

In the spirit of the getsetandgo blog, I took photos of my friends as we talked and ate.  The enchiladas were all gone before it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a photo.

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Additionally, I regretted not taking a photo of three of my women friends with long hair.  Another friend who has spectacular, very dark grey, long hair and just turned 70 recently told me a story about how a mutual acquaintance came up to her and told her no woman over 60 should have long hair.  It annoyed me so much in an odd sort of way that I now wear my hair longer than usual.

Bedtime Reading or Not–the Hazara


A lifelong habit that helps me settle down to sleep remains reading.  However, occasionally I delve into a book that turns out not to be so wonderful to read just before going to bed.  The topic turns to the disturbing and then, suddenly, my mind churns.  By that time, it is too late to go back.  Or, like the book I am reading now, parts of it consist of stories inspiring, amusing, enlightening, parables for life.  Then there are the other parts:  the abuse of an entire people by the other ethnicities surrounding them, genocide, turmoil, invasion.  I remain a lifelong lover of libraries.  Recently, while browsing through new books, I found this one:  The Honey Thief  by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman.  Mazari grew up in a Hazara village in the northern part of Afghanistan, the area known as Hazarajat, became a master rug maker and fled from the Taliban to Australia in 2000 where he met his now close friend and coauthor.  For several days now, it has been my bedtime reading.

The Hazara people speak a dialect of Farci, the language of Iran.  Data varies, but they number approximately seven million in Afghanistan and remain one of the largest ethnic groups there.  Nevertheless, in spite of this, other groups discriminate against them for various reasons, including the fact that most Hazara are Shia Muslims surrounded by Sunnis.  Until 1893, they were the majority when half were massacred and many fled to live in Iran, Pakistan, and India.  Some believe the Hazara are the descendants of Genghis Khan’s warriors.  Many resemble the people who live in Mongolia today and in many ways parts of their culture resemble that of Mongolia, e.g. their tents look like yurts; no one knows for sure.  They have lived in what is now known as Afghanistan for hundreds of years.  They are people of the mountains who have learned to cultivate beauty and farm in high, inaccessible places.  They are famous for poetry and story telling.  Unlike other women in Afghanistan, they shunned burkas, fought along side men as soldiers, and believed in education for women.  These attributes fueled discrimination by other groups there.

Now back to bedtime reading.  Several stories in particular contain what I consider the necessary qualities for bedtime perusal:  entertaining and instructive without gore, controversy.  They also hold an unusual quality of something you cannot quite quantify, a hint of the mystery of life, of a particular kind of not quite describable beauty.  Hoping that at least some of you will find the book and actually read it, I will first list the stories to read without dread or worry if you want to read at bedtime:  “The Wolf Is the Most Intelligent of Creatures”, “The Music School”, and the “Snow Leopard”.  Under no circumstances read “The Life of Abdul Khaliq” and “The Death of Abdul Khaliq”.  You will, indeed, learn a considerable amount of Afghan history, but unless you are quite heartless and insensitive, you probably will not be able to drift off to a pleasant dreamland for hours.

If all this stokes your curiosity, here are two websites to learn more about the Hazara:  www.joshuaproject.net and http://www.hazarapeople.com.

The Gift


On the wall for forty years,

a copy of some famous painting.

Almost everything a strange dark

shade of blue, a blue not quite

blue, the merest hint of green:

antique cupboard, curved table

base, ladder back chair, window

frame, even the tree outside.

The only exceptions:

white table cloth,

newspaper in the lady’s hands,

her pale pink floral dress with tiny

darker pink flowers,

large copper antique teapot

in the cupboard, the black and copper

pots on top.  Her teacup, saucer, plate

of toast, white and blue, an old Danish pattern.

I’ve kept this gift,

hung on too many walls to count.

My college roommate, the giver, said,

“This reminds me of you.”

I look at it; all these years

have wondered why.

We’re still friends.

I’ve never asked.