Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In A Stew

It's a coolish, cloudy day here in the NW. I'm jumping one ahead of Mother Nature and am cooking up some beef stew. It would be better if the weather was about 10 degrees cooler, but I'm tired of variations on hot weather food - sandwiches, salads, and oh-hell-let's-just-have-cereal-I'm-too-hot-to-give-a-shit. We've even had ice cream for dinner in pursuit of eating anything not hot. And ice cream for dinner is great until you wake up the next morning, starving, and with your self-respect having taken refuge in some far away protective custody.

So, this evening it's stew - real food, real cooking. As I was assembling and cooking various ingredients, I played one of my favorite words in my head - my stew-cooking mantra, if you will. That word is gallimaufry.

gallimaufry: (gal-uh-maw-free) -noun
1. a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley
2. a ragout or stew
[Fr] A combination of galer - to amuse oneself, and mafrer - to gorge oneself.

Now, I don't know if you've ever had any real, curl your toes stew. I promise, it doesn't come out of a can or a microwave box. I'm talking about the kind of stew your grandma's grandma made. I'm talking about the kind where the cook has taken the time to dredge some sinewy, tough meat in flour, salt and pepper, and slowly browned it, leaving bits of luscious, meat-flavored flour in the bottom of the pan, only to be lifted and infused by the addition of chopped onion, garlic and celery, a hearty splash of good wine and water. The stew then simmers on very low heat for a good couple of hours, graced by a floating bouquet garni of fresh rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. The sinew renders down, and the meat becomes as tender as a first kiss. But, it's not ready yet. It requires the addition of carrots and potatoes and another good 45 minutes of slow cooking.

It's served up to you in a big bowl with some good crusty bread. The fragrant steam caresses your olfactory senses like a lover's perfume. You dip a spoon in - and it's a big table spoon, because a little spoon would never do - trying to get a bit of meat, carrot and potato all at once. Lift to the mouth, and then, and then, oh... and then. It's like coming home. Your tongue and mouth are hit by the feel of it. Your palate explodes with overwhelming sensation. You can taste each distinct flavor, that piquant hint of wine, the deep dark meat and broth, the savory onion and garlic and spices, the sweet carrot and earthy potato - all of it coming together in one huge sigh-inducing melange of wonderful.

Heady stuff, that.

It's got me thinking about friendships. And how like a stew are my various friendships - each friendship as unique and different as the individuals themselves, yet each adding a necessary flavor to the overall deliciousness. I know at least one friend who is going to read this and message me something like, "Oh, so you think I'm just a lumpy old potato, huh?" And we'll laugh about that. However, we both know that the truth is, she's one of the rich, meaty bits. (She's going to give me hell about that too.)

Yesterday I had a conversation with another of those "meaty bits" friends. He asked me what's been rising to the surface in my life lately, what salient point of where and who I am right now has broken through. I had a hard time answering - he's good at tripping me up like that, the bastard. Now that I've had 24 hours to think about it, I'd have to say it's love. So much else has been stripped away, or maybe rendered down like the sinewy bits of meat. What remains is what I was born with: love. In particular, love of friends. There are friends, some unaware, some still close, some long gone, who have made such a tremendous difference in my life. They have, by turns, amused me, frustrated me, saddened me, humored me, inspired me, challenged me, and loved me just as I love them.

We are that gallimaufry - the hodgepodge, the jumble, the (perhaps to others, if not to each other) confused medley. Each of us are different, each of us brings our own flavor and contribution to something blow-your-hair-back beautiful. Not a day goes by that I don't crave that friendship. I hunger for it, just as I hunger for that stew burbling away on the stove.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


My habit most mornings, as I'm letting the first cup of coffee work its magic and turn me into something resembling a human being, is to turn on The Weather Channel. I do this in the Summer in hopes of some freak cold front invading and magically turning the temperature to 60 degrees. I do it in the Winter in hopes of seeing snow in the forecast - hence, knowing when to do the Gimme Snow Crazy Ass Dance. The rest of the time, I tune in just to see that regular old 50-60 degree, damp NW weather on board. Because that's the stuff I like. Watching that forecast is like tuning in to a news station (if only it could be thus), that offers nothing but good news.

The past few mornings that I've tuned in, as The Weather Channel breaks to go to local weather, a little slogan has appeared on the screen. "It doesn't end with the storm." That's been sticking with me; tapping on windows; sitting in the corner and clearing its throat when things get quiet. It doesn't end with the storm.

And it doesn't.

I think of that campy movie, Twister - mostly ridiculous, but worth the price of admission just to see the cow fly by. Twister ended just after the storm. The two main characters came out of the pile of rubble with a couple of scrapes and bruises. The sun was shining. They kissed. The implication was that the storm had passed and everything was glorious. And it probably was, until it wasn't again. Maybe that kiss was the one that said, "This is it. We've found the long sought after Us." Or maybe it was a holy-fucking-cranberries-we're-still-alive kiss. Maybe they went on loving each other for years. Maybe they decided the kiss was kind of the big moment and it was best left at that. Maybe one of them got hit by a truck and died an hour later. Maybe they lived together long into their eighties and that moment was simply a snapshot in a box packed with hundreds of other snapshots.

It doesn't end with the storm.

My mother used to coin one of my most loathed phrases. "This, too, shall pass." Meaning, the bad time you're having won't last. Well, duh. But even knowing that doesn't help at all in the moment. Hearing it helps even less. And, you notice? Nobody ever says that when good things are happening. "Hey! Congratulations on winning the lottery. You know, this, too, shall pass." Nobody says that on an average Tuesday as you're eating a bowl of chicken noodle soup for lunch and mindlessly flipping through a catalog. "You know, this tiny moment of ordinary? This, too, shall pass." So, do the world a favor and don't say it when someone is going through a tough time. Because it's bullshit and it doesn't help and we all know that all the moments pass. M'kay?

I digress. Where were we? Ah.

It doesn't end with the storm.

Life is a series of storms and good weather, and seasons, and stuff dying, and other stuff coming to life, and dark and light, and things being ripped apart and things being rebuilt, and average ordinary days of bringing a light jacket "just in case". It has always been so.

It's hopeful to think that it doesn't end with the storm. In fact, it's a sign of the ever resilient human spirit. Even if we also know that it doesn't end with the perfect 75 degree, sunny day either. The truth is, it ends wherever and whenever the fuck it feels like ending. It's up to us to prepare and adjust accordingly. Don't wear a raincoat to a pool party; don't bring golf clubs to a lightning storm; take extra care with cows when you see funnel clouds.

It doesn't end with the storm. Sure. Notice that nobody ever said it would end without the storm.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Believe Me When I Tell You

The other day, as someone was (uninvited) spouting her version of God at me, I stopped her, saying, "Hold on a minute. You're assuming that I not only share your vision of who or what God is, but that I believe at all. While I enjoy some Judeo-Christian traditions, I do not believe in the Judeo-Christian version of God."

Her response was snide, and one I've experienced often - the eye rolling scoff followed by, "Well, then what do you believe?"

My response is one that I've honed over the years. "Why is it so important for you to know what I believe? What I believe is very personal to me and has no impact on what you believe."

Right on cue, she became defensive. "Well. Like. What if I wanted to pray for you or something?"

"Then pray for me."

"Yeah, but you don't believe it. So why even bother?"

"But you do. Isn't that what's important? As it so  happens, I think any positive energy is a good thing, and prayer is positive energy."

"No, it's talking to God."

"Um. Talking to God isn't positive energy?"

Out came The Incredulous Look. "How can you say that when you don't even believe in...aggh!"

But this isn't a post about spirituality, or we'd all be here for the next five years. I like typing, but not that much.

Here's what I believe:

I believe we all have the right to believe whatever we want to believe, so long as it isn't causing harm to anyone else. This isn't an American right (our forefathers mostly just wanted the King off their backs - they never thought in terms of Buddhism, or Islam, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster), it's a human right. We also have the right to keep those beliefs to ourselves, if we so choose, discretion being the better part of valor and all that. That's why we won't be discussing my version of God - which is really just a big universal conglomerate of stuff that feels right to me. I don't even like using that name because it confuses the shit out of people who think only their version of God exists.

I believe that beliefs have the capacity to change and evolve as we change and evolve. They don't have to be the static stuff that was crammed down our throats just in case we'd reach the age of reason without having a proper brain to figure it out for ourselves. When I was 8 years old, I had a huge stuffed doggy that brought me comfort: at 54 years old, artwork brings me comfort. Things change. Why cannot beliefs be one of those things?

Why do I celebrate Christmas? I celebrate because although I can't believe in the virgin birth of a savior king, I can believe that the spirit of Santa Claus lives in some people. I believe in peace and goodwill.

I believe that patriotism is not about chanting the name of your country and boasting about how great it is. I believe that patriotism is in how you conduct yourself. Every day. It's in the respect you show others and the kindnesses you do. It's in the way you support your fellow countrymen, even if all that means is that you brought an elderly neighbor a fresh batch of muffins. That's patriotism. That's saying, "Let's do this together. We've got this." A great country isn't about sports superiority, or actors, or food, or music or, egads, religious beliefs... it's about its people, people who are willing to stand up and be authentic.

So, be authentic. I believe that every person has a right to be exactly who they need to be and to surround themselves with whatever makes that person. Get a full-body tattoo, pierce your hoo-hoo, dance to music only you hear, eat the hotdogs, sip the kale smoothie, color your hair or don't color your hair, wear a tiara or a baseball cap, be fat, be fit, be glamorous, be plain, dig rock-n-roll or rap or classical or jazz, drink coffee or tea, wine or beer, sing, oh please do sing.... You get the idea. Make your life your life. I believe we get to do that. No, wait. I believe it is our responsibility and an imperative that we do that. The happier you are, the better off the world around you will be.

I believe that we have absolutely no right to judge any other person. I also believe that all of us do judge others all the time. It's in our nature - we constantly compare stuff and we have a mental bar to which we hold our fellow humans. Like it or not. So, stop saying, "I'm not judging." Because you are. Just be aware of it and counter it. Quietly. Within yourself.

Under the auspices of judging others comes shaming. I believe this is one of the single worst things we can do to another human. If you're fortunate enough to never have been on the receiving end of shaming, trust me on this one. It sucks and it hurts and it sticks. Long after the "fuck them, what do they fucking know" attitude kicks in, it's still there, like a cancer. Oh, and shaming rarely ever comes out as, "Shame on you." Most of the time it's as subtle as a look, but it's spoken in all kinds of passive-agressive ways. It's the overheard whisper of, "Oh my god... did you see how short her skirt is?" It's the parent saying, "Do you really need that second scoop of potatoes?" It's the coach saying, "Stop acting like a girl. Man up." It's even the friend saying, "There you go again with your big words." Shaming runs a whole range of flavors and sizes, but it's wrong every time.

When you start a sentence with, "I'm sorry, but..." I believe you've misunderstood the meaning of "I'm sorry." You can't quantify an apology. And you can't put conditions on love. The most difficult people to love are those who have the most to teach us about ourselves. Yeah, it's not fun. In those instances, I'd rather be getting a root canal while cleaning a toilet, but not everyone on this earth is here to give us warm fuzzies and blow hot air up our skirts. Doesn't mean they're any less deserving of our love. You don't have to respect them. You don't have to hang with them, watch a movie and have pizza. But you've got to love them. I believe that. I believe that, but I suffer from no illusion that it's easy.

I believe that time does not heal all wounds. Some stuff just hurts forfuckingever and all you can do is try to distance yourself from it a little bit. That doesn't mean you don't confront the hurt; it just means that "getting over it" isn't always an option. Living around it, and maybe even in spite of it, is.

I believe we are here to love and to be loved. And until someone proves our reason for existence otherwise, that is what I will continue to believe. I believe we're here to do good things for the humans in our lives, be it those we love and hold dearest or those we barely know. Yes, cook your beloved his or her favorite dinner, but while you're out shopping for it, smile at the cashier, ask how her day is, and maybe slip her a gift card for a latté. Do little kindnesses until they become a habit.

I believe we should live as though we're constantly writing our own eulogies. What's going to be said of us when we're gone? I know what I'd want to hear, and I try to live my life in a way that will make that happen. Do I fail? Sure. All the time. I'm just one of your fellow humans, you know - full of love and my own brand of bullshit. I'm reminded here of the old paradigm: All I can do is all I can do.

And I will. I believe that.