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A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Birthday: The Antidote to Rejection from a Writers’ Workshop

The price tag for the weeklong memoir-writing workshop was $700. Then there would be the cost of lodging in this resort town, meals and transportation, maybe another $1,200 or so…I would have gone for it although, for me, it was a significant chunk of change for a week of my life.

However I was one of the two-thirds of applicants who didn’t make the cut. Rejected, I immediately rationalized that it was just as well since my garden starts wilting on its second day without water and it never rains here in July. In fact we just got through the first heat wave of the summer with temperatures from 105-107 around the weekend of the Fourth. And my poor feral cat would survive but would be very pissed at me after a week of foraging for her own food from the pesky wildlife that also resides on this property, primarily gophers.

In lieu of the workshop, I decided to give myself a functional and aesthetically pleasing birthday present—July also being my birthday month—in the form of a new gas range. Chrome of course. The old white range had been a hand-me-down of uncertain age and in the ten years I possessed it, all the numbers wore off so I could only gestimate the oven temperature. The gas for the burners often had to be turned on with pliers then lit with a match and then all of the jets did not work. Sears said the new range would be delivered on July 1, when I purchased it online. But they called the following day to say it would not be delivered until July 8.

Laying the tile

I immediately drove to Lowes and purchased a new kitchen floor of Italian marble-looking tile. I could not see putting my very first brand new range on a sad, lumpy, probably 1960s linoleum self-sticking tile floor in a faux wood pattern. That was my entire Workshop budget but the results were amazing. Norm, my tile guy, also leveled the floor so now I have a 2.5 inch step down into the living room and no longer have to prop up the appliances in back to get them level.

And I have been cooking up a storm, baking apple pies, canning applesauce and apple pie filling with apples courtesy of my apple tree, canning bread-and-butter pickles from my home-grown cucumbers, and canning home-made salsa from my garden-ripe tomatoes.

I won’t say that reading The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith was a substitute for the weeklong workshop, because, of course, I didn’t attend. But it certainly lives up to its subtitle, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life, and I highly recommend it.

Yes, it was a happy birthday and the icing on the cake (or ice cream on my homemade apple pie) was birthday phone calls from my adult children out-of-state. Thanks for asking.



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Hating a place is safer

Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found by Jennifer Lauck is a tough, loving, sad and painful story about a little girl adopted to give her adoptive mother a reason to live and fight the cancer eating her away. Her 9-year-old brother tells 7-year-old Jennifer she is adopted. “Adopted,” B.J. says, “not real, not one of us,” after a social worker comes to call and questions Jennifer about who is caring for her. In truth, it is she caring for her mother who, at the culmination of the visit, wets the couch because she did not want the social worker to know she needed a urine bag and then “poops” in her pants on the way back to bed. Young Jennifer gets her cleaned up and back into bed, cleans the bag and hooks it up, gives her mama her pills, washes out the soiled clothes and then goes out to play.

Not too long after her mother dies, on B.J.’s 10th birthday, Daddy informs them they are moving in with a lady and her three children (yes, the evil step-mother). It’s not that her handsome father ever did not love her but he works himself to death trying to provide an upscale lifestyle for this California hippie, new-age, health-nut wife, who clearly favors her own children.

Then things get really bad.

For the young Nevada native, her time in California was pretty much all bad memories except her annual day at Disneyland on her birthday, with her dad. She hates living in Hermosa Beach and is afraid of the ocean, a dislike and fear that stay with her into adulthood. She’s talking about the places I grew up.

Since we cannot as children accept that our pain and suffering is the result of abuse by our caretakers for how else should we survive? I believe we attach these feelings instead to places—from houses to neighborhoods, to towns, cities, states and even countries.

I love the beach and the ocean because of beautiful memories garnered there. But I dislike a particular neighborhood and hate a style of house (pastel-green stucco, tract home) for the trauma I experienced from adults in those locations.

Do you hate or fear a particular place as a result of childhood trauma?

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The View From My Window

The View from my window right now.

 Is there a mythical pot of gold? Or is the View as good as gold?

What do you hope to find at the end of your rainbow?


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In Italian pizza means ‘pie’

Homemade pizza. Note holes in the pizza pan.

Every few years some person or persons decide to open a pizza parlor in this small rural town. It always seems like a great idea, but they all fail. I don’t know why except that I’ve never helped any of them stay in business. If I want pizza I’d rather make it.

My son came to visit for a couple of weeks during Christmas and he loves pizza. In fact, I bought him a specialty cookbook titled PIZZA when he was heading off to college. I know that because I have inherited the book and inside is my inscription “Student Survival Cook Book 1997” signed Love, Mom. It’s a stupid book. Who really wants a pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza or a smoked pheasant pizza? If you can’t find smoked pheasant, they recommend using smoked chicken or smoked duck, bleeech!

Making pizza is easy, if you have a pizza pan with little holes in it, so the bottom of the crust gets crispy. The trick is cooking the crust first, at 500 degrees until lightly browned. Then put on the pizza sauce. I use the commercial variety because it just ain’t pizza if the sauce doesn’t taste like pizza parlor sauce. I use pre-shredded mozzarella because mozzarella is too soft to shred easily at home. My favorite toppings are sausage, which I pre-cook in the microwave, sliced olives, and mushrooms, canned or pre-cooked.

Zap the pie back in the oven until the cheese is melted, season with parmesan and crushed red pepper and viola!

I can make a whole pizza, have a slice and freeze the rest. I put slices in individual baggies. It only takes two minutes in the microwave to make it piping hot and just as tasty as when it was first baked. The only problem is pizza makes a good breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not a balanced diet, not even with an organic salad from my winter garden.

According to the USDA, the annual per capita consumption of pizza is 23 pounds or 11 billion slices. That doesn’t count those of us who make our own pizza. It is so much better than anything available in the frozen food case, I promise. What about you?

Pizza Crust
1 envelope or 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
3 ¼ cups bread, semolina, or unbleached all-purpose flour, or a combination
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil, preferable extra-virgin

Dissolve the sugar or honey (which feeds the yeast) in the warm water until a thin layer of foam covers the water (about five minutes). Combine salt with 3 cups of flour. Pour in
yeast mixture and oil. Mix then knead while adding remaining flour just enough to stickiness. Set in a warm place 75 to 85 degrees and let rise until double in bulk, about one hour. Roll out on floured plastic wrap or parchment paper. Cook at 500 degrees until lightly browned. Put on toppings and return to oven until cheese melts. Makes enough dough for one sixteen-inch pizza, one cookie sheet pizza or two smaller pizzas.

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Support Your Neighborhood Artisans

‘Tis the season to buy unique gifts made by local craftspersons. No one really needs more mass-produced trinkets from China or wherever.  

Today there was a small crafts market outside our independent little coffeehouse. A fire in a large metal bowl or brazier welcomed visitors. Next to it was axe-chopped wood, perhaps in the spirit of the event. Nearby were exquisite custom-made saddles, unlike anything available commercially.

The first booth on my right had locally grown and processed foodstuffs including nuts, honey, oranges, beef jerky, trail mixes, all of it healthy and tasty. I bought a bag of garlic and onion flavored pistachios and some navel oranges. Everybody’s gotta eat. Food unique to your area is appreciated by loved ones across the miles, seniors in particular, as well as by visiting relatives. 

One of my neighbors was selling hats and scarves she had loom knitted from goat yarn she harvested from her own goats. Another friend was selling jewelry made from precious stones she had collected, polished and set in her own designs. A man-made inlaid wood boxes that the ladies might favor. He also carved boxes out of solid pieces of wood—sandalwood, driftwood, Manzanita—boxes within boxes, ideal for a man’s jewelry. New this year was a fit looking fellow who made bows and arrows that looked like they could have been made by the Indians of the Old West, complete with stone carved arrowheads, suitable for deer hunting he said. Springville’s famous wildlife artist Steven Ball was there with a selection of his lifelike watercolors of scenes from nature. Also for sale were plants, potpourri, leather goods and children’s toys—something for every pocketbook.

 Not only can you find a gift that is unique, beautiful and won’t go out of style, such purchases support the arts, your local economy, and a Merry Christmas for all.

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Antevasin in the backcountry

The word ANTEVASIN appears on a number of spiritual seeker blogs (several no longer posting). It is Sanskrit for “one who lives at the border–one who had left the bustling center of worldly life to go live on the edge of the forest where the spiritual masters dwell.” But what if it is literal. I did move from the bustling cities, several of them including New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles to end up here on the edge of the Sequoia National Forest. 

I found this explanation in an old notebook and may have copied it from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert since she is the one receiving most of the credit on a number of blogs. It goes on to explain that the antevasin was not one of the villagers anymore, not a householder with a conventional life. But neither was she a transcendent–not one of those sages who live deep in the unexplored woods, fully realized. The antevasin was an in-between. She lived in sight of both worlds but looked toward the unknown. She was a scholar.

These woods were originally home to the Indians, the Tule tribe, then came the hunters and trappers and then the loggers, then the federal government claimed ownership. And these days all the information, be it sage or otherwise, is available at one’s fingertips.

But it’s nice here in the backcountry, in sight of both worlds. It seems unlikely I will be fully realized in this lifetime. In-between is a good place, in sight of both worlds, looking toward the unknown.

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When Will We Ever Learn


When will we ever learn…? And, must we continue to up the anti with each generation?

Let’s go back to 1969, to the Santa Barbara oil spill when a disabled rig released 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel over eleven days. One barrel contains 42 gallons so that equals 4,761 barrels of crude. Just days after the spill began Get Oil Out (GOO) was founded. It is said the environmental movement was ignited as a result of the spill.

Santa Barbara reported that oil clogged the blowholes of dolphins causing massive lung hemorrhages. Seal carcasses floated up with the tide, having ingested the oil. By count, 3,600 birds were dead, not to mention countless fish and marine invertebrates.

This prompted a Congressional moratorium (12 years later) in 1981 on new offshore oil leasing, with the exceptions of the Gulf of Mexico and parts of offshore Alaska. In September 2008, the Environmental News Service stated,” Earlier this year, President Bush lifted an executive moratorium on oil and gas leasing offshore, so with the signing of this bill the petroleum industry is free to lease areas of the Outer Continental Shelf that have been off-limits for 27 years.”  

Twenty years after Santa Barbara, on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill released an estimated 250,000 barrels into Prince William Sound, Alaska, 50 times more than the Santa Barbara spill. It covered 11,000 square miles of ocean and 1,300 miles of coastline. In addition to the previously mentioned sea life, this spill killed salmon, sea otters and other less visible critters. 

Although the ocean covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) less than five percent of the ocean has been explored to date. The NOAA says that finding new living marine resources and understanding how they fit into the larger ecosystem is critical to our future, but we are too busy destroying what we have, destroying our future. 

Along the Gulf Coast it has been the brown pelican and oysters getting most of the press, with mention to the shrimpers and other fishermen, but what about the whole ecosystem, from plankton and barnacles on up?

Today is day 84 of the BP oil blowout, as it should be called and was so described by Marine Conservationist Rick Steiner in an interview on MSNBC. “There is an inherent risk in this system which offshore oil companies have known for years,” said Steiner who was involved in all aspects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 20 years previous. He said there needs to be an adequate blowout response plan instead of engineering, designing and experimenting with it during a blowout. To fail to manage this he said “is gross negligence on the part of the federal government.”

Almost simultaneously it was announced that President Obama had placed a new moratorium on offshore drilling.

Meanwhile, BP underestimated the amount of the spill from day one. A new cap to contain the oil could be in place today, if they succeed. The reason all this has taken so long the commentator said was because BP does not want people to know how much oil is spewing out because the information will up the price to them for damages from the blowout.

There just doesn’t seem to be much outrage that the blowout is despoiling the Gulf and its marine life possibly beyond redemption. Are we so inundated with big business machinations that we expect and accept them without protest?

The one bright spot in all of this to date was singing along with Jimmy Buffett and what looked to be between 10,000 and 50,000 fans at a free concert on the beach in Alabama yesterday. They covered the sand as far as the eye could see (kind of like the oil blowout estimated to be leaking between 10,000 and 50,000 barrels per day for the last 84 days).

Dressed in flowered surfer trunks, a yellow T-shirt on which was written “One Love, One Ocean,” barefoot and wearing sunglasses, Buffett brought breath of fresh air. “It was bound to happen when crud and greed appear,” he sang, “I hope that I’m around to see when the coast is clear.” As are we all.

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CELL by Stephen King

The last Stephen King novel I read was The Tommynockers back in 1990. I was on an overnight flight to Santiago. After arriving, I took a taxi to my hotel and spent another two hours finishing the novel, after which I swore off Stephen King novels, annoyed that I was at wasting time, delaying exploring this city I was visiting on a turn-around three-day trip from New York.

I am not a horror fan although I confess I did read Misery because I was intrigued by the premise. And now that I have discovered audio books (on CDs) I picked up one more Stephen King novel, Cell, again because I found the premise fascinating. I also get a lot of gardening done while listening.

For me it was Don Johnson in the TV series Nash Bridges that put the cell phone on the map. How he could hear anything over that sports car in which he roared around the streets of San Francisco is the question. But cell phones soon became annoying…on the way to becoming ubiquitous, the use of which is now accepted under most circumstances.

I personally thought they reached their peak the day I observed a heavyset woman wearing Bermuda shorts, a sleeveless blouse and flip-flops, and leaning on a shopping cart she was pushing around the supermarket while yammering away. Her chubby child and skinny, unkempt husband were in tow. But she was not talking to them. She was talking into a cell phone attached her ear by a large rubber-band that was leaving a red welt across her forehead.

King has his cell phone users killing one another in unexplained fury after hearing a “pulse” that fries their brains or “erases their hard drives.” Our hero, comic book artist Clayton Riddell, has eschewed owning a cell phone. He has just signed a comic book deal in Boston that puts him in-the-money. His estranged wife doubted his talent but now she will see, if she isn’t pulsed. He must get back to Maine and find his son before Johnny hears the pulse on his new cell phone.  A gay man and teenage girl join Clay on the trek.

The phone people evolve from primal beasts to a “flocking” behavior, eventually herding the “normies” toward the small town of Kashwak, Maine, where, according to dreams or mental telepathy, Clay intuits the normies will accept their demise by willingly hearing a cell phone pulse. There is plenty of gore: hanging eyeballs, bitten off noses and ears, unwashed zombies in soiled clothing, dismembered burning bodies, etc.—the King palette.

Will the phone people become the ruling class?  You know the panic you feel when you see that flashing warning that your computer has been infected? Multiply that into an ongoing, life-threatening situation and you get the timbre of Stephen King’s Cell.

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Fire up the grill for some healthy grass-fed beef

Skeptical about the source of “healthy” food products such as grass-fed beef? Visit the cattleman. Visit the cows. Not practical? Following is an in-person report on one rancher’s operation. 

Jared Holve, 58, a former minor league baseball player and lifelong coach, has been “doing the cattle thing since high school after showing a steer that won.” At six-foot-six, he looks like a walking testament to eating healthy. Holve raises grass-fed beef under the name Springville Ranch.

On a recent Saturday, about a dozen adults and a half dozen children were treated to a slide show at the Springville Ranch with narration by Holve on the benefits of his product before going out to see the cows along with some chickens, ducks and turkeys, all free range of course.

Holve says his grass-fed beef operation is the largest in California. Benefits of eating grass-fed beef include: it is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids;  it contains high levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (which aids in weight loss); lowers the risk of  such diseases as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, type II diabetes and Parkinson’s;  grass-fed beef is lower in fat and calories, and rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and E; the cattle are raised without antibiotics or hormones; it is dry aged and 100 percent natural—the way nature intended.

“Grass-fed can mean this much,” Holve said, spreading his hands apart like one describing a large bass they have caught. “All cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed and then they go to a feed lot and are corn fed.” This can take 90 to 120 days. That’s where they put the fat on, the marbling that helps keep the meat tender, but is not “good” for humans. Holve says not only is grass-fed beef much better for human consumption than grain fed, but this meat is “far more healthy than farm-raised fish” (which is dominating the seafood selection in your supermarket these days) because farm-raised fish are fed grain.

 Cattle are ruminants; their stomachs are better at digesting grass, not grain. To increase marbling and rapidly increase weight gain, “the contemporary beef cow is being selected for the ability to eat large quantities of corn and efficiently convert it to protein without getting too sick,” according to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.

The cows we visit are standing knee deep in a field of rye grass, a variety that grows year round. It is irrigated with water from the local Tule River, fed by snow runoff from the Sierras. To keep the grass tall, the herd is moved to different sections by simply running an electric fence, just one strand attached to slender metal poles, around a given area.

 Holve began by managing a cattle ranch in Springville almost 40 years ago, mostly Herefords. He said there was a big transition to European breeds in the 1970s and ‘80s. “I followed the trends a little bit but then stopped and ended up just doing commercial cattle, middle-of-the-road type cattle.” The majority of his stock is purebred Angus. Two years ago he started selling beef locally, to buyers looking to purchase half a cow. Last November he began selling his grass-fed beef at farmers markets as fresh-from-the-farm T Bone, New York, Rib Eye, Porterhouse and Sirloin steaks, and most other cuts including roasts and ground beef.

The thing to remember is that very lean steaks should not be cooked past medium rare (generally the preference for beef eaters) or it will become “something akin to shoe leather” according to the Springville Ranch. First coat the meat with Virgin Olive Oil then place over a medium-hot fire, searing both sides for a minute. Then reduce the heat and continue cooking at temperatures close to 200 degrees F, or until the internal temperature is 150 degrees or medium rare (about six minutes on each side). To your good health.

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