Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hibernating Through the Holidays

I've always claimed I couldn't understand the concept of a "staycation." Whenever my late husband would suggest I just kick back and watch reruns of "Gunsmoke" all day with him, I'd laugh and scurry off to clean out a kitchen drawer or to open the laptop to check call outs for submissions or I'd bound upstairs to change the bedding.

Vegging out at home has never been a possibility with me. There's a residual inner voice--is that you, Grandma?...scolding away. But last month I caught a cold...and it seemed as if it were going to stay with me for the rest of my life. After three weeks the sniffling finally ceased. I'd never had a cold last so long. Then I realized that my resistance probably was next to nil. I'd rushed through this year, editing, writing, paying homage to Charles Dickens in his bicentennial year, promoting this, that and the other with community service, and feeling guilty because I'd let the gardens go to weed.

Then I came across this passage by John Steinbeck, in The Log from the Sea of Cortez: 

John Steinbeck
“It was a good thing, we told ourselves; the eyes grow weary with looking at new things; sleeping late, we said, has its genuine therapeutic value; we would be better for it, would be able to work more effectively. We have little doubt that all this was true, but we wish we could build as good a rationalization every time we are lazy. For in some beastly way this fine laziness has got itself a bad name. It is easy to see how it might have come into disrepute, if the result of laziness were hunger. But it rarely is. Hunger makes laziness impossible. It has even become sinful to be lazy. We wonder why. One could argue, particularly if one had a gift for laziness, that it is relaxation pregnant of activity, a sense of rest from which directed effort may arise, whereas most busy-ness is merely a kind of nervous tic.
How can such a process have become a shame and a sin? Only in laziness can one achieve a state of contemplation which is a balancing of values, a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself. A busy man cannot find time for such balancing. We do not think a lazy man can commit murders, nor great thefts, nor lead a mob. He would be more likely to think about it and laugh. And a nation of lazy contemplative men would be incapable of fighting a war unless their very laziness were attacked. Wars are the activities of busy-ness.”

I decided Steinbeck was right on the money. I didn't need to commit a murder nor lead a mob. I needed to rest, to commune with myself. I needed time alone...not to write, but to replenish my empty coffers. Here it was nearly Thanksgiving, and I'd run out of energy, out of enthusiasm, and out of eggs. I could remedy the latter with a quick trip to the supermarket, and while there, I could stock up on necessities and just hunker down. I didn't need to fly to relatives this Thanksgiving. Instead, I could send warmest wishes, and spend my holiday week...yes, a full seven-day week!...reading, watching videos, going to movies, playing with the dogs, napping, eating and reading some more.

So for this entire past week I didn't open the laptop, where I do the writing and editing and work for the organizations I volunteer with. I checked email and Facebook and my daily news feeds on the computer in the living room, even taking time to play a few rounds of Spider. If it were noon and I felt drowsy, I napped on the sofa. If it were midnight and I awoke, I'd read until 3:30 without worrying about getting up and to work at the laptop by 8 a.m.

What a wonderful way to refuel. What a treat...and it cost me nothing, really, compared with what a trip someplace would have cost. Yes, I did miss visits with my granddaughter in Arizona or my family and friends in California. But we'll meet again. They all know I love them.

In the meantime I've learned to assign some value to indolence. And here's the payoff: my old energy and enthusiasm have there's still over a dozen eggs left in the bottom of the fridge. And plenty of time to make a mid-morning omelet before I open that laptop in a few minutes and get back to work.

This Thanksgiving I've been grateful for so much...including the everlasting wisdom of John Steinbeck!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hot and Heavy at Thanksgiving

Though more than a week remains before Thanksgiving, I'm already planning how I'll celebrate that day. This year I'm staying home. No sense in roasting an entire turkey for just me...but a turkey breast might fill the bill. I plan sweet potatoes, creamed onions, stuffed celery and olives, and certainly pumpkin pie. And I don't plan to count calories, not even when I sneak downstairs to make that midnight turkey sandwich, layered thickly with cranberry sauce.

In my preteen days, Thanksgiving provided a chance for me to bond with Mama and Grandma. Several years ago I wrote about how I helped prepare the feast in a story, "Spellbound by Swanky Swigs," which was published in Thanksgiving Tales: True Stories of the Holiday in America. When I wrote that story I remembered how much I always looked forward to this particular holiday.

Unfortunately, by the time I hit high school, I no longer enjoyed Thanksgiving. Of course, I wanted to see my aunts, uncles and wasn't that. I just didn't want to see the food. I'd sit at the table, watching my rotund uncles shovel down mashed potatoes, and worry that if I tasted as much as a morsel of Grandma's apple/raisin stuffing, I'd add two inches to my hips. By that time I'd been sold the idea that a good girl, a pretty girl, a decent girl was...a thin girl. Less is more was the mantra of the '50s. Though I didn't know anybody who ran to the restroom to throw up after every meal, that revolting activity was just around the corner. My friends and I thumbed little calorie counters available at every drugstore checkout station. We were already engrossed in obsessing over every mouthful of food that we no longer quite enjoyed.

In  Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion, released last month by Seal Press, Virgie Tovar has assembled the stories of 31 women who have spent their lives dealing with the weighty issue of weight, and have finally adopted a different what you've got, and quit waiting for life to begin once you've become thin. I'm one of these women. My story, "Elephants Never Forget," harks back to the time that I became aware that I didn't measure up...or, rather, measured up far too much. Here's an excerpt:

This incident marked a turning point in my life. Sixty years later, I still remember that at dinner that night I'd turned down seconds on mashed potatoes and I'd even skiped the cake Mama served for dessert. Obviously, I'd have to cut back on eating. Food made me fat, and made me lazy and unlovable in my mother's eyes.

I'm proud that my story is included. The cover copy announces: "Writers, activists, performers, and poets write about everything from fat burlesque and queer dating to plus-size modeling and building the ultimate fat wardrobe. Long overdue, Hot & Heavy is a fierce, sassy and joyous send up to living large--and loving it."

To celebrate the publication of this book, that celebrates hate loss, not weight loss, I intend to take back Thanksgiving. I'm going into this holiday season carefree and calorie-counting-free.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On Borrowed Time

The evening of November 1, 1987, El Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead in Mexico and much of Central America, I had just taken my vows as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize City, Belize. I'd left Long Beach, California, just six weeks earlier, full of hope that I'd find a new direction in my life. As it turns out, I did.

After the swearing-in ceremony that moonlit night, a male friend volunteered to walk me home to my host family, and we were winding our way up Baymen Avenue in the Caribbean Shores section of town, not far from the place I was staying in King's Park.

Two young men appeared out of nowhere, one wielding a fence post he'd uprooted from somewhere nearby. While one thumped his makeshift weapon against my friend's forehead, the other grabbed my shoulder bag and yanked. The strap twisted around my forearm, and I fell to the ground. He dragged me a few feet along the gravel, growling at me to let loose of the purse. I wasn't holding on. It just wouldn't unwind from my arm. He batted at me several times, the purse finally unwound, and the two of them ran off.

I crawled back to my friend and leaned over him. I saw he was unconscious, but could see his chest rising and falling, so knew he was still alive. His white shirt was spattered with blood, and it took a moment for me to realize that it was spurting on him from my upper left arm.

That's when I realized that I'd been stabbed, and an artery had been severed. I started to run toward the Peace Corps training director's house...we'd passed it a few minutes earlier...shouting for help. People streamed out of their houses. One phoned the police. Another helped me fashion a tourniquet from my slip. Soon we were on our way to the Belize City Hospital, and eventually airlifted to Miami Beach, where we both had surgery.

We recovered, and eventually returned to Belize to carry out our Peace Corps assignments. I was 50 at the time, and my friend a few years older. Nobody had expected us to come back...but we did.

Now, on the 25th anniversary of that harrowing night, I'm thankful for the opportunities those additional years provided for me. I had the chance to travel to the far reaches of the world, to live and work in other countries, to gain a wider perspective during my decade overseas at how fortunate I am to have been born in the United States and to own an American passport.

I had the chance to live in other states upon my return home...Arkansas, Maryland, Washington. I married again, and gained stepchildren and grandchildren and even a great-grandchild. And four-footed friends, dogs and cats. I've also been able to write about my stories have been or will be published in around 75 books.

Each November 1 I eat a pumpkin treat to commemorate that I'm very much alive on the Day of the Dead. When I lived in Antigua, Guatemala, my friend and I would join the throngs at the local cemetery and leave pumpkin cookies on the graves.

I won't be getting to a cemetery today, but I will stop by my local Safeway and pick up a pumpkin pie. They're on sale right now. Maybe I'll buy two and freeze one for Thanksgiving...I've got a lot of celebrating to do and a lot of thanks to give.