Friday, June 18, 2010

The Liquid of Life

I have often used that phrase to describe my relationship with coffee. It is an addiction I share with my mother: we both require a regular infusion each morning before we are alive enough to start each day. What I didn't realize was how many people share that need in the small circle of my family. My sister had her baby at the end of May and we had family come to witness and greet my little niece. 

The first arrival was my little Italian grandmother. Her need for coffee seemed to satisfy the need to do something with her hands. Holding a hot cup kept her settled and in one place, settling the nerves that had her jittery and pacing while we waited. At one point, and I have no idea how she managed it, she even convinced the nurses on the night shift to bring her a cup out of their break room.

Next came my brother-it-law's parents. They had woken-up extra early and driven in that darkness that comes before dawn in order to make it in time. And then they settled in for the wait. No pit-stop at Starbucks necessary, they wanted to be present for their grand-daughter's birth. Yet around 9 pm, when we were sequestered in the waiting room while my niece was almost ready to make her first appearance, even they needed some caffeine to push through. Unfortunately, after scouring the hospital for an open coffee shop or even a coffee machine, they had to settle for a Coke.

Then, a week after my niece's birth, my mother's family flew up from Miami.  Their relationship with coffee is more casual. A cup is simply a necessity to start each day. And it's a nice way to extend every meal as you sit with a cup and continue the conversation. During their visit, we even broke out the expresso machine, because you simply cannot find any cafe cubano in this town.

Everyone who has come to welcome my little niece to the world has had their own relationship with my favorite beverage. My pet phrase certainly rings true, it is indeed the liquid of life.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In Memory

"In Flanders Fields"
Written in by John McCrae (1915)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

After witnessing the carnage of WWI John McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields." McCrae, a Canadian, was a medical officer in the Boer War and World War I. (Poem & history are from HERE.)

My summertime memories of Memorial Day weekends are filled with barbecues and paper flowers, with the seriousness of what we were truly “celebrating” etched into my memory. As a military brat, moving from base to base, I was surrounded by the symbols of our country. Often there would be an air show marking the event, with the ThunderBirds soaring above us. I would play with the red paper poppies, twirling them on their little stems of green wire, and tucking them into my hair.

I grew up under the influence of a patriotic family. The men in my father’s side of the family all served in the military: my grandfather served in the Army and was a veteran of World War II, my oldest uncle served in the Navy and was a veteran of Vietnam, the next uncle is still serving in the Army Reserves, and my father has retired from the Air Force.

My grandfather’s birthday was on Memorial Day. And he was serious about what the holiday stood for. With M*A*S*H often playing in the background, he would tell my sister and I some of the tales of what he lived through on the Pacific Front. Unfortunately his war stories are lost in the fog of memory, and I’ll never be able to ask him to repeat them to me. The emotions of those stories: the silliness of young men with pornographic tattoos (yes, he had a couple of lovely ladies on his forearms), the ominous fear of each fight, the strangeness of the enemy, the bravery of his fallen companions…these are graven into my memory.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Light a Candle

Lighting a candle is an act that has significance across the globe and to multiple cultures. We light candles in prayer or meditation. We light them in memory of someone who has passed.  Ceremoniously, candles are lit to emphasize the significance of an event--most notably the Unity Candles used in many weddings. Candlelight is used to enhance an atmosphere: to relax you or create romance. And of course there is the simplest reason to light a bring light and ward off darkness.

I'm feeling a lot lighter. I've had a great day. The pressures in my life are either gone, or I've become better able to manage them. It's not all "too much" at the moment. I have found that place that I need to be in before I can be creative: I've come unstuck. So I'm lighting a candle today, in hope. I hope my fragile moments of happiness and peace become more frequent. I hope that the people in my life stay healthy and safe.  The "fires of creativity" are tangible to me right now...and I'm sharing them with you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pushing Away the Grey

There are days when all I feel are the negative things. I'm angry, frustrated, resentful. Rage simmers below the surface and all I can do is clench my jaw and hold it in. A grey haze surrounds me and I feel isolated. I become strictly task-oriented, doing one thing at a time just to get through the day.

This is a cycle for me. I can sometimes pull myself out with the satisfaction of completing a checklist. Most of the time, however, I need someone else to do it for me--to help me put things in perspective and to make me feel like I am worthy. Humans are social creatures, we need people in our lives who help us feel connected. 

And then there are the random things I see that help me come back to normal. An unexpected glimpse of flowers among the rocks of a retention pond, for example. A small touch of beauty in an unexpected place. It brings a smile and breaks my tunnel vision, allowing me to see the good things--the beautiful things--hidden among the mundane.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


    Black then white are all I see in my infancy.
    Red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
    Lets me see.
    As below, so above and beyond, I imagine
    Drawn beyond the lines of reason.
    Push the envelope. Watch it bend.

    Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
    Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
    Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines.

    Black then white are all I see in my infancy.
    Red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
    Lets me see there is so much more and
    Beckons me to look thru to these infinite possibilities.
    As below, so above and beyond, I imagine
    Drawn outside the lines of reason.
    Push the envelope. Watch it bend.

    Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
    Withering my intuition leaving opportunities behind.
    Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
    Reaching out to embrace the random.
    Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.

    I embrace my desire to
    I embrace my desire to
    Feel the rhythm, to feel connected enough to step aside and weep like a widow
    To feel inspired to fathom the power, to witness the beauty,
    To bathe in the fountain,
    To swing on the spiral
    To swing on the spiral
    To swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human.

    With my feet upon the ground I move myself between the sounds and open wide to suck it in.
    I feel it move across my skin.
    I'm reaching up and reaching out. I'm reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me.
    What ever will bewilder me.
    And following our will and wind we may just go where no one's been.
    We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been.
    Spiral out. Keep going.
    Spiral out. Keep going.
    Spiral out. Keep going.
    Spiral out. Keep going.
    Spiral out. Keep going.
    ~Lyrics from

A good friend said that this song reminded him of me. It does speak to me. A lot of songs do. In this case, his bringing the song back to my attention has inspired me, breaking the two month silence of my creativity. One thing after another built up to steal my energy, but now I'm feeling more myself again. Thank you George.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Feeling Fragile

A sharp pain has decided that the small of my back is the perfect place for it to settle. A constant throb, it spikes anytime I bend. My mother's "Momentum" only helps for a little while. My heating pad is my best friend. And, while Chris offered to massage it out for me, it's apparently not THAT kind of pain. (Ow!)

Time is slipping away from me. I seem to have forgotten how to manage it. Oh, not at work. There, everything is smooth as can be--something I was worried about having just come back from vacation. No, it's as if everything else in my life is moving in slow motion. 

I can't concentrate on my homework. Maybe its the medium: to save money I bought an e-book version of the novel I'm supposed to be reading. Then again, it could just be that the adventure novels of the 1800's are simply not capturing my imagination and I have to force myself to read for class. I'm not letting myself read for pleasure until my classwork is done, but that's not making me go any faster.

It's taking forever to wind down to bed. I'm not falling into sleep. Hours pass after I lay myself down where I just lay in the dark. Waiting. Then I fight my alarm in the morning because I'm not well-rested.  Yes, I really do argue with it, bargaining for just one snooze more.

And finally, while I'm wrestling with all of the above, I'm simply not feeling creative. Yes, I realize that most of the time the hardest part is showing up and parking your butt down until something happens. But what are you supposed to do when nothing happens until just before the alarm goes off? Obviously, I stop at that point. My little alarm clock separates my creative space from the real world I live in, and I can't afford to slack off in the real world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...cupcakes can be much better than lemonade.

I have a very pregnant younger sister with varied and assorted cravings. The other day it was lemonade and cupcakes. Several days of hinting led to an outright request.  Bear in mind that this was during what has been the coldest week of the season so far and I typically think of that particular combo as being very summery, but it's generally a good idea to get an expectant mother what she craves. Besides--I was heading to the store anyway.

Later, as I was beating the eggs, oil, and water by hand into the packaged cake mix, I actually started to enjoy myself. There's something very relaxing in that repetitive motion of the fork whipping through the batter. The bright yellow color of the yolks and mix were surprisingly cheerful after the grey and cloudy gloom of the road outside. I felt like a kid again as I scooped batter into cupcake tins, dripping messy globs on the table. I even let myself indulge in licking the spoon once everything was in the oven.

Once the cupcakes cooled, I got to play with the lemony frosting, stirring it quickly before generously spooning it on. I even dug out some sparkly sugar and sliced up a lemon to make just a few of my cupcakes look extra-special.  I had fun! And then I was rewarded with a citrusy-delicious desert. Yum. And I'm pretty sure my sister liked them too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Taste of Miami

Traveling to my grandmother's house in Miami is forever tied to the taste of flaky cuban bread and pastries from the bakery around the corner.  I remember sitting in Abuelita's kitchen staring into the pristine white box and debating which piece I wanted, the savory pastellitos de carne or the sticky-sweet guava. I would perch in the booth of her 50's-style diner table and trace the outlines of orange and yellow boomerangs printed on the top of her overcrowded table. I struggled not to get crumbs on her piles of newspapers and magazines, her bulk boxes of cookies and crackers, or her repurposed coffee tins filled with odds and ends.

From second grade through fifth grade we lived close to Miami and I could look forward to fresh pastries every week or so.  Once I actually got to spend an entire week with just my abuelita and my uncle and we walked to the bakery together so I could pick out my own box from the tiny room's glass-covered display. 

Then we moved.  Oh, when she visited, my abuelita did try to bring a box of treats with her on the plane, but cuban baking doesn't travel well. Instead of crisp and flakey, the bread and pastries were soft and flat.  The taste was the same, but the texture just wasn't.

It was over three years later that we managed a trip to Miami and everything was just as wonderful as I remembered.  But over the years those trips have become very infrequent. The one consolation is that anytime anyone in my family makes the trip, they bring home an assorted box of pastries and a loaf of bread and for a brief time I have that taste of Miami.  

This past December my mom went to Miami to celebrate my abuelita's birthday. She went without us because, as adults, my sister and I do have jobs and responsibilities of our own.  Sadly, there were no pastries to be had on that trip for my mother.  Abuelita can't walk as much as she used to. The one-stop convenience shopping that all of us are used to at a giant super-store is simply more practical for her now.  She and my mother did plan a trip to the little bakery down the street, but time ran away from them. They never made it before my mom had to head back to the airport, back to her daughters and work and normal life. When I picked my mom up from the airport, I was just glad she made it back safely. 

A part of me was disappointed that I couldn't have that taste of Miami this year.  Eventually, I searched the web for a recipe that I might be able make. I'm no cook! Oh I cheated big time: prepackaged puff pastry dough and prepared guava paste are my new best friends.  But there is no cheat for the savory meat filling, for that I had to bite the bullet and just make it from scratch.  (For the curious, I chose this recipe by "Three Guys from Miami") And it worked!  Why did we never do this while I was growing up?  OK, so the taste isn't quite the same and I overstuffed the guava pastries, but it was so close. And I did it myself!

I'm wondering now if I have the guts to attempt to bake a loaf of bread.

Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban