Nuthin’ Doin’

“What are you doing today?” Curtis asked as I drove him to work.

 “What are you doing tomorrow?” He asked again last night.

“What do you have going on this week?” He asked as I dropped him off at the airport.

 

“Nothing.” I replied. “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I have absolutely not one single thing planned.”

 

 

He gave me a surprised look. Curtis never has nothing to do, nothing planned.

Most people don’t. Or rather, DO…all the time.

Even when we aren’t “doing” anything, we are doing something: Listening to music, Texting, Checking email, Facebook, Instagram, Playing Candy/Trivia Crush, Scrabble with Friends, etc. etc. Usually something electronic.

ACG School in Jakarta 

ACG School in Jakarta 

When I visit schools, I’ll chat with the kids about my writering life. Inevitably someone will ask:

“Where do your ideas come from?”

 I often respond by opening it up to the class and asking them:

“Where can we get ideas?”

Eventually the flood of suggestions peters out . . . Because ideas do that.

Life, the everyday business of living, can be tiring. Trying to live creatively can be even more so. The myriad of How-to, Discovery, Recovery books and articles focused on ways to revive our creative spirits, suggest this tiredness, miasma, block, burnout, lack of creativity . . . . is because we are creatively exhausted. (And perhaps otherwise, too.)

Stock Photo: Stressed man with smoking head More www.dreamstime.com

Stock Photo: Stressed man with smoking head More

www.dreamstime.com

Whether from lack of use, or because we’ve used up all we had, our creative tanks have run dry and need refilling.

. . . and not a drop to think.

. . . and not a drop to think.

Many, including Julia Cameron’s oft sited 12-Step Recovery guide, The Artist’s Way, recommend taking oneself on weekly Artist’s Dates as a way of “refilling our creative wells.”

Filling our wells—if we follow this sage advice—is easy. The question then is: How do we empty it? 

How do we tap into those creative wells so those wonderful ideas can flow? 

When working with school kids, at that point where the ideaphoria slows, I’ll ask:

“Does your teacher ever give an assignment and not one single idea pops into your head? Does that ever happen to you?”

A sea of nodding heads is always the answer I get.

At that point I’ll give them my sure fire Well-Draining Idea-Generator:  

Empty your head and do nothing.

Try it.

I dare you.

I double dog dare you.

Make a “Do Nothing” Date . . .  and Don’t!  

Don’t take your phone. Don’t plug in. Don’t bring a friend. Don’t set an agenda.

Before long, the spigot will open Whoosh! and ideas will begin to flow. Could be they already were flowing, but we just couldn't hear to catch them.* Either way, that  plenty o’ nuttin’ starts to sound like something. 

To borrow from Dr. Suess: Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!

Nuthin’ Doin’ Playlist:

*What's the worst that can happen? You'll have spent an idyll hour or two. (Ever ponder the connection between idyll, idle and ideal?) 

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Find a Penny: Pick It Up? Or???

Who knew it was a cultural thing? I'm just back in Port of Spain from some time in Manhattan which might be why I'm noticing things I hadn't before...or had and forgotten. Such as pennies on the ground. I'd never noticed so many pennies on the ground before.

Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck

You don't see many coins on the ground in Manhattan. If you do, they are usually in front of a street person who's stacking them, counting them, or otherwise keeping close watch on them while hoping they'll multiply.

One of "Harts Band" Carnival Costumes

One of "Harts Band" Carnival Costumes

It's pre-Carnival in Trinidad, which means:

Steel Pan Bands are practicing in every pan yard, roadsides and on the Savannah,  boisterously & loudly.

Everywhere, every night--parks, stadiums, parishes, neighborhoods--are fetes.

Folks who don't like parties, Soka music blaring from thumping speakers, being "on de road" playing Carnival, are packing up.

And gyms are crowded cause everyone's on a post holiday tone-up in preparation for squeezing into their carnival costumes.

If this were your Carnival Costume, wouldn't you be hitting the gym?

If this were your Carnival Costume, wouldn't you be hitting the gym?

Saturday night, Curtis and I attended the Victoria Garden Fete. Upon hearing "Fete" and "Victoria Garden" together, you might imagine this:

Trinidad's "Victoria Garden" Fete is like this by daylight.

That's our friend Jann in the center. (This is actually a Moka Fete. I couldn't access our Victoria Garden pics. But the scene is much the same.)

That's our friend Jann in the center. (This is actually a Moka Fete. I couldn't access our Victoria Garden pics. But the scene is much the same.)

After nightfall, once the band's warmed up, it's like this:

Back to the pennies: It was closing in on nightfall when I spotted a crumbled wad of money on the ground near one of the drinks tents. Not pennies, bills. TT dollars are colorful: pink, purple, blue. Unlike US greenbacks, they couldn't be camouflaged by the lawn. The fete, while crowded, was not that crowded... No way could I have been the only person to spot the wad. Yet no one else stooped to pick them up. Why?

Expecting I might be on Candid Camera, that the wad of bills must be attached to an invisible string everyone else knew about, that as soon as I reached for it the wad would be jerked away, but too frugal to ignore found money, I scooped it up. Then looked around, expecting someone to have seen me. Or to be looking around for their lost bankroll. To say something...

 I unfolded the bills. They looked real enough. Not play money or coupons. Then quickly, without counting it, I handed it to a gal working in the drinks tent. "Someone dropped this," I explained. 

She was clearly taken aback. Thinking she was thinking I was looney for giving away money, I shrugged it off and hurried off to catch up with Curtis and our friends.

Of course, hawk-eye Curtis, had seen the entire exchanged. So, I explained to him and our friends, how I'd found it. The woman we were with looked horrified.

"Oh, NO!" She said. "NEVER pick up money."

Trini superstition, it turns out, has it that lost money carries the bad luck "mojo" of whomever lost it. Thus, by picking money up off the ground, one could also pick up the bad mojo it carried.

Find a penny pick it up; forever after your day will suck.

Was it true? Do superstitions cross borders? Or do we carry them with us? Is it you believe your way and I believe mine? Or is it more "When in Rome-ish"?

Getting to the point: Does picking up a found penny--or dollars--bring good luck? Or were the rest of my days going to suck?

In hindsight, if I had it to do over again, I'm still not sure what I would have done. What about you?

What of the fate of the woman working in the drinks tent? By giving her the crumpled wad of cash had I, albeit unwittingly, cursed her with bad luck mojo, too?

My friend laughed. "She didn't pick it up. You did!"

Ahhh so that's how it works. Culture counts.

Find a Penny Playlist:

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Fill 'er Up! What Poppy Taught Me...

Back in the 70’s during gas rationing, my grandfather and I would idle in the gas station line together on “Even Days" so we could fuel up our cars.

For those of you post-rationing folks, cars with license plates ending in odd numbers could fill up on “Odd Days,” Mon-Wed-Fri, those of us with even-numbered plates could fill up on Tues-Thurs-Sat.

If either of our tanks fuel levels had dropped below half-a-tank, Poppy insisted on it. Spending this time with my grandfather would have been enough, but, as an added bonus, he’d pay to fill up my tank, too. (A much needed and appreciated college student “gift”.) Poppy got a kick out of it, too. As he neared the front of the line, Poppy would get into his car without a backward glance at me. After filling up with the allowed amount of gas: 10 or 12 gals, sometimes only 5, Poppy'd pay, telling the attendant “Put that cute blonde’s gas on my tab, too,” and drive off.

Poppy’s rule about refueling often and never letting your tank get below the half-full mark has stuck with me. Whether true, or an old car talk myth, Pops said all the yuck settled to the bottom of the tank. So, if I allowed my tank to get low, along with fuel, all the sediment and unwanted gunk will be sucked into the engine. 

In that way, writers, artists, anyone who creates, are like cars. Our creative "wells" can run dry, too.  Tales of creatives "refueling" are many and varied, some legendary: Hemingway & Steinbeck went adventuring; Parker and Fitzgerald shook and stirred. Others, try perhaps less entertaining, but more healthful routes such as Julia Cameron's The Artist’s Way. This 12-Step Guide to Creative Recovery, suggests weekly artist dates as a way of topping up our creativity. 

To outsiders, and worse, to ourselves, “Filling the Well” and “Resisting,” as Steven Pressfield in War of Art calls procrastination, avoidance, and other obstacles that keep us from creating, can seem to be one and the same.  Therefore, guilt or that darned clock—tick tick tick-Time’s-a-wasting-Slacker—can stop us from taking time to recharge our creative spirits.

Eventually, just as my 79 MG Midget sputtered and died on the way back from Lake Tahoe the one Sunday night I didn’t heed Poppy’s warning to never let my gas tank fall below half, our joie de create can sputter out.

Heed the difference between “Filling the Well” and “Resisting”.

While I absolutely do not believe our creativity can ever truly dry up. I know energy for, and interest in, doing the hard work it takes to rejuvenate, re hydrate, revitalize a shriveled creativity spirit can dwindle. Why risk it? Much smarter, and definitely more fun, to follow Poppy’s lead and refuel regularly.

Since February is the Heart month, with International Book Giving Day smack dab in the middle on Valentine’s Day, I’m devoting my February posts to “Loving Up” and "Filling Up" our creative wells. 

dog-bookday.jpg

 

Bonus: If you buy a Children's Book to Give, let me know and I'll join you by donating a book in your honor.

Post in Comments or Here!

Meet my new grandson, Dylan!

Meet my new grandson, Dylan!

 

 

Until then, I’ll be playing Mimi. My favorite newish way to refuel.

 

Time For A Top Up!

Big Cuz Ben showing me how!

Big Cuz Ben showing me how!

 

 

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TO DO; MUST DO; HAVE TO; WANT TO....WHAT'S IT TO YOU?

New Year=New Resolutions=New To-Do List.

Resolutions: We all have them, we all make them. Some of us resolve not to make new New Year's Resolutions. (I did this once. . . ) And then, because setting an action plan is imperative if we seriously expect to accomplish whatever it is we resolve, we make a "To-Do List." And for a few days or weeks, we may even manage to tick off some of those items on that list of To-Dos. Then our resolve fades, or our list is buried under more pressing issues, and we fail....again.

2015 was no exception. We rang out the old year. Toasted the new. And I made one resolution.

Now, three weeks into 2015, I'm happy to say it's a resolution I have, easily, happily, guilt-free-ly kept so far. That alone is worth cheering: WHOOOOOOOO! 

So, it's with joy, pride and the expectation that I will remain resolute, I am sharing my 2015 New Year's Resolution. I Kelly Bennett resolved to:

Say “Phooey!” to Must-Do
”Why?” to Have-To
”How will I?” to Want-To!

Yes, this means I am still creating To-Do lists. However, after I do, I prioritize each item on the list:

Must-Do: Often these are imposed by others and/or come with a heavy dose of guilt which often elevates them to the top of the pile resulting in them being dealt with, done, crossed off first, when our energy is highest. 

Instead, say "Phooey!" Who says I Must-Do this? Then ask yourself, "Why?" Why is now? Why should first, be the time to do IT? If you can't come up with a good reason, then either don't do IT, or, as in the case of "Write thank you notes" "Order new sheets" "Call your mother," move IT down on the To-Do List to a low energy, low creativity time, nothing better I can be doing then, anyway, time. Ie, Write Thank you notes while watching TV and Call mom when you are waiting in line at the movie, or walking the treadmill.

Have-To: The difference between Have-To and Must-Do, is that not doing Have-To items will result in consequences you want to avoid. For example: "File insurance," "Fill out expense report,"do laundry". 

Instead, ask "Why?" What will happen if I don't do IT? If the consequences of doing IT will not hit your where it counts: in the wallet or the heart, then IT is not a Have-To. IT either belongs in one of the other categories, or, IT doesn't belong on your list! 

If IT is a Have-To List, then decide exactly when you will do IT. Allot IT a specific amount of time. Have-To items have to be done. We want what doing IT brings us so we should give IT due respect. Slot IT into your schedule. Follow your schedule. But do not think about IT until the allotted time.

Want-to: Ask, do I really want IT?  If the answer is yes, then it needs to be high on your To-Do list. Put it at the top of your list--in BOLD AND ALL CAPS! 

For every Want-To, ask: How Can I? Once you know what you want. What you really, really want. What will make your IT happen. The next step is to create an action plan for how to do what you want. Position these items--the steps it will take for you to be able to do-get-achieve WHAT YOU WANT!--in high energy times on your calendar. Above the HAVE-TOs, squeezing out the MUST-DOs. Then get to IT! 

Bennett.JPG

Now it's your turn--But only if you WANT-TO, too!??

Pull out your To-Do list. Examine each item and put it in the proper category. Is it a:

  • Have-To?
  • Must-Do?
  • Want-To?

Three weeks into this new year, and I'm happy to say I've been doing what I really WANT-TO.

What I WANT-TO do is have time with my family. Babying my daughter and brand-new grandboy, Dylan, And loving up my bigger grandboy, Bennett. Dang, is this fun!

TO-DO: WHAT'S IT TO YOU? Playlist:

 

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The Buddy System

Dylan Thomas Cummings, 17 hours old

Dylan Thomas Cummings, 17 hours old

It's been a busy holiday season. And, as of one week ago today, we have a new little buddy in our family! Dylan Thomas Cummings, arrived Jan 6, 2015. 

Dylan (who wasn't named Dylan then as his parents, Lexi and Ryan, had to meet their new babe to name him) had been scheduled to arrive more than a week earlier, Dec. 22nd, by cesarean. So, instead of celebrating the holidays in Westhampton Beach, as originally planned, we all--when I say all, I mean our immediate family: me, Curtis, Lexi, Ryan, Max, Michelle, Bennett along with Curtis's brother Paul, sis-in-law Valarie and Nephew Will, along with Ryan's family--changed plans. We all met up in the city to celebrate together as we waited for the new baby. Even after Dylan fooled us all by flipping around and pointing down, we all stayed in the city so we could be close by. Sure it was cramped and crowded, but no one wanted to leave. We all wanted to be together. To support Lexi and Ryan, to be on hand, to lend a hand. Sure, Lexi and Ryan would have been fine on their own, they would have managed. But "fine" and "managed" isn't our way. We are all about The Buddy System

While we waited for Mr. Dylan to make his appearance, we had another little buddy to entertain us... Bennett, Dylan's cousin.

At 16 months, Bennett did an excellent job of keeping  us entertained. In turn,we buddied up to entertain him. 

Bennett taught Bapak Curtis to read!

Bennett taught Bapak Curtis to read!

Bennett is mighty handy with the Iphone

When, finally--9 days past his due date--Dylan's doctors and parents it was a time to give him a little boost and induce labor, we all went to the hospital to wait for his arrival. 

No one wanted to wait alone, or to think of anyone else waiting alone, or to be left out. We like having a buddy.

Even though there wasn't a thing we could do, we sat outside, waiting, watching our clocks... 

Even though there wasn't a thing we could do, we sat outside, waiting, watching our clocks... 

Now, a week after Dylan's birth, I'm staying close to Ryan and Lexi to help them get used to being parents, to lend a hand, support, to share the load. Not that they need it. They'll all do just fine without me.  But isn't it easier not having to go it alone???

Misery—and JOY—love company!

Along with celebrating this brand new life, we celebrate a brand new year. The holiday decorations are packed away. Dylan's home. The Party's over, it's time to get back to it. And, for many of us, along with the new years comes resolve to do new things, find new resolves, or renew commitment to established routines. Which isn't always so easy....

A note from motivational writer & speaker Kate Northrup in her Jan. 12th post, "Why it's Sometimes Great to Follow" reminded me why The Buddy System is so effective: 

When it comes to the things in life we may have a little resistance around (like exercise and money, for example), we can tend to fall off track if we don’t have a guide...

...Ask anyone what they struggle with the most regarding anything, and chances are pretty good they’ll tell you that they tend to fall of the wagon.

Sometimes It Feels Good to Follow

When I think about the times I did NOT fall of the wagon in my life, it was when I was following some sort of a program. As much as I’m a leader and have learned a lot of things, it feels great when someone else who has some degree of mastery tells me what to do in an area where I struggle.

While I would never recommend blind adherence, following a program allows us to:

1. Relax, knowing that someone else is giving us support in this one area.
2. Stay accountable.
3. Reduce the number of decisions we make on a daily basis and therefore save our limited decision-making energy for things that either only we can decide or things that are really high leverage decisions in our life.

— Kate Northrup
Dylan's Got his Game Hat on!

Dylan's Got his Game Hat on!

So come on,  2015 is 2 weeks gone; let's get into the game!

Grab a buddy and commit to doing it together. 

If you don't have a buddy handy to partner with, sign up for a class. 

Sign up! Show up! Commit to a NO EXCUSES policy.

Let's get on with the Next Together!

The Buddy System Playlist:

Steve Got the Jobs Done

Steve Jobs’ Apple/Mac/IPod/Pad/Phone legacy has Paul Bunyaned to such epic proportions it feels as though his name should be All Caps: STEVE JOBS, but he was just the black turtleneck Apple guy, to me. That changed the other day when I picked up an old copy of Newsweek and he was the cover story: “American Genius . . . How He Changed Our World.”

We subscribe to Newsweek. Curtis reads every issue, in order, no matter how long it takes, or how old the issue may be. Which wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were a monthly, but 4 or 5 issues a month stacks up, literally…

No long ago, I noticed him reading an issue featuring Mitt's bid for president and asked him why he reads old news. He noted that knowing the after makes reading the before interesting. He said it’s was especially fascinating to note how perceptions shift & develop. I said, “pass me that issue” and used it as a coaster.

Curtis loves the magazine; I decorate with it. Make that loves the “e-zine” and “decorated” past tense.

The stacks are dwindling. After 79 years in print Newsweek went digital Jan 1, 2013. The last magazine was printed that December, the issue I picked up was Sept 5th, 2011. Translation: we only have about a side-table sized stack left to read. (FYI: Newsweek's back in print, but Curtis prefers the e-zine now.)

Call me fickle, but now that I’m losing them, I’ve started reading and enjoying our back issues (I always did enjoy history more than current events). Likewise with Steve Jobs. Now that he’s dead, I wanted to know why he's such a big deal.

The lead article, “Exit the King” by Alan Deutschman (Sept 5, 2011 Newsweek) gave the blah-blah on this “misfit, raised by adoptive parents,” likening Jobs upbringing to “Harry Potter” and “a wizard among muggles.” By the time I reached the end, I believed it! Jobs was a wiz. A “think outside the box” master. Whose greatest innovation, according to Deutschman, wasn’t Apple, Mac or the IPhone crowds camped out to buy, it was ITunes—not the music, the payments—technically “micropayments”! The technology that enabled “more than 200 million consumers to entrust him with their credit-card information” so they could make tiny purchases at the click of a button was Jobs’ Houdini, his grandest trick. Now you see it, now you don’t —99 cents, 49 cents, $1.99… What a Wiz!

If ever oh ever a wiz Jobs was, an accompanying article, The 10 Commandments of Steve by Leander Kahney, pulled back the curtain to reveal the mechanics behind Jobs’ mastery.

Turns out it wasn’t wizardry or witchcraft, magic or luck. Jobs had a gimmick.

It's a focused 10 item list of what Kahney called his “Commandments.” (I don't know if the list is Jobs, or whether Kahney, or someone else created it.) Regardless, while studying those 10 Commandments, it struck me that Jobs wasn’t so different from any of us. He had a dream, a vision, a goal, as do I, and as do you. The difference is, Jobs achieved his. . .

So what if . . . what if, instead of doing whatever we have or haven’t been doing that has or hasn’t helped us achieve our goals, what if we appropriate the So-successful-he-deserves-All Caps STEVE JOBS 10 Commandments? Steve got the Jobs done!

If we use the same voodoo and do do what he did, we can, too!

Below are The 10 Commandments of Steve with a reminder snippet from the article. With these as guides, I have created a complimentary 10 Commandment List for myself. As you'll read, mine are geared toward improving my writing. These Commandments could similarly be adapted and applied to whatever is your passion: family, work, art. . . You name it, then get after it!

10 Commandments to Getting IT Done:

1.       JobsGo for Perfect: “Jobs sweats the details...”
 

Mine: Do my best work. Revise, Proofread, Revise again. Details do matter: spelling, punctuation, names, dates, etc.

2.       JobsTap the Experts: “Jobs hired architect I.M. Pei to design the NeXt logo…”
 

Mine: Don’t try to DYI what you're not good at or don't enjoy; call on others to help, ask advice, hire experts

3.       JobsBe Ruthless: “Jobs is as proud of the products he has killed as of the ones he will release.”
 

Mine: Apply that critical eye to all efforts. Compared mine to what’s out there. If I can't be objective have others critique it.

4.       Jobs: Shun Focus Groups: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”—acts as a “one-man focus group.”
 

Mine: Own my own opinion! Trust myself! Don’t wait for others to validate an idea, follow my vision.

5.       Jobs: Never Stop Studying: “When designing early brochures for Apple, Jobs poured over Sony’s.” Inspiration for the 1st Mac case came from studying German & Italian car bodies.
 

Mine: Study! Read new publications, Schedule "Bookstore Day", take classes, attend workshops and conferences.

6.       Jobs: Simplify: Jobs philosophy is “constant simplification.” He ordered IPod designers to lose all the buttons, including on/off.
 

Mine: Keep it simple, stupid: Cut word, revise, and don’t get too clever!

7.       Jobs: Keep Your Secrets: At Apple, nobody talks. “The secrecy allowed Jobs to generate frenzied interest for his surprise product demonstrations.”
 

Mine: Do not show/share/discuss a project until I have a solid draft.

8.       Jobs: Keep Teams Small: The original Mac team was 100 people. If one was hired, someone else left. “Jobs was convinced he could remember the first names of only 100 people.”
 

Mine: Build a small team of trusted supporters. Don’t spread myself too thin. Say no.

9.       Jobs: Use More Carrot than Stick: Jobs “charisma [was] his most powerful motivator. “Enthusiasm was the primary reason the Mac team worked 90-hour weeks for 3 years.”
 

Mine: Be positive, show enthusiasm!  If I’m not excited by something, no one else will be either.

10.   Jobs: Prototype to the Extreme: Apple “architects and designers spent a year building a prototype store in a secret warehouse” . . .  Jobs scraped it and started over.

Mine: Create picture book dummies. Print work out & Read Aloud.

What better way to begin a new year than with a new plan. Now Let's follow Steve's lead and get those jobs done! Happy Creating!

Steve Got the Jobs Done Playlist:

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LIKE A JAR OF CHUTNEY

Forest Gump's Momma was only sort of correct when she said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

With a box of chocolates you know, whichever you bite into, it’s bound to be sweet. And if it happens to be a box of Whitman’s or See’s Chocolate (my favorite…hint hint) you know exactly what you’ll get because a full description of each piece is included.

Being older than Forest’s Momma could ever have been, had she actually been, and have clocked more miles, I’d like to amend that. I say:

Life is like a jar of chutney, sour vinegar, bitter zest, sugar, salt and seeds and spices blended together. With age the flavors meld & mellow, ripen, like memories.

Usually, I stuff my holiday turkey with a sort of Waldorf salad—apples, oranges, onions, celery, paprika, salt, butter, sage—and slow cook the bird breast down. The turkey comes out juicy and slightly citrus, and the drippings make an especially tasty dark golden gravy. The cooked fruit, however, goes to waste. This year, I decided to try something different. Instead of stuffing the turkey with Waldorf, I stuffed it with the makings of cranberry-apple chutney. In my mind, it was sooooo tasty!

FYI: Cranberries don’t grow in Trinidad, they are imported. And this year, it seems, only a few bags made it. A flurry of text messages went around as frantic cooks in the American Woman’s Association searched Port of Spain for them. One AWA neighbor, Becky, posted that she had a bag of cranberries, thus initiating a bidding war. She ended up selling her bag for TT100 (US$ 16.00). Her teenage son said he’s bringing back a suitcase full of cranberries to sell next fall. The winning bid was not mine (I didn’t even try.)

Canned whole cranberries were available, so I made due by cutting the sugar from my chutney recipe and using the canned. The Turkey Cranberry Chutney looked and tasted great, but… The drippings were too sweet for gravy, so we added more salt, pepper, brandy, but it still wasn’t right. As much as it’s about the chutney, it’s about the gravy.  So maybe life’s like gravy, too. A balancing act.

Going into the holiday season,  we’ve had so much bitter and salty already. On this second night of Hanukkah, with less than a week until Christmas we welcome—and are so ready to add—Spicy & Sweet! A new baby, family & friend time, and maybe some chocolates!

Here’s wishing us all Spicy & Sweet!

Cranberry-Apple Chutney

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 green apple peeled, cored & chopped
  • 1 sweet apple peeled, cored & chopped
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Orange cut off the remaining peel, seed & chop flesh
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup white or apple vinegar
  • Salt
  • Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Whole mustard seed: yellow, black, white or a mix
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Nuts: chopped pecans, walnuts, pinenuts

Put all the ingredients into a heavy brassier or wide-bottomed pot, stir, heat to boiling, then reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 2 or 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve warm or cold. Mellows with time.

 

Jar of Chutney Playlist:

Happy Holidays!

Mashed Potatoes

I've been thinking "Thanksgiving" all wrong. I’d been thinking “Stuffed Turkey, Stuffed People, Macy’s Day Parade, Football, Pumpkin and Pecan Pie” Thanksgiving. Which makes for—especially as we are in Trinidad, where “American Thanksgiving” is just another Thursday—lonely, lots-of-work-for-only-2-people-so-why-bother thoughts. Sigh . . .

Want to learn the Truth about Thanksgiving? 

Want to learn the Truth about Thanksgiving? 

The original “American” Thanksgiving Day may have been a Pilgrims and Indians Thank you for teaching us and helping us survive feast but it’s since morphed into a Feast and Football holiday.

We change and grow; holidays do—can—too.  It’s natural. That wasn't the problem, I was.

I was preparing for a Thanksgiving feast just as I had for the last 45 years or so—actually walking down the grocery store aisles, tossing items into my cart and crossing them off my list—without any of the enthusiasm of Thanksgiving past, when it dawned on me that things that traditions that change, can change back. It may well have been the potatoes . . .  

I decided to go back to the root of Thanksgiving: Thanks. Giving. Starting now, going forward—whether cooking or not—I am setting aside this day to give thanks. (And wow, do I have soooo much to be grateful for.) To christen my new-old Thanks giving tradition, I’m sharing a schmaltzy-poignant perfect song from my must watch every year holiday move. You’ll have to wait for it. Because first, I need to share a story about a family and how a family—our Tulsa Village—was made.

Back in the before time, due to circumstances and choices, I found myself far from family, friends, the ocean and all things familiar, in the smack dab middle of the United States—Tulsa, Oklahoma—with 2 small children, few friends and too many jobs.


Far far away in the center of the continent...

Max was 3; Lexi was 1; I was 26. Back then, I wasn’t the “fancy free, successful picture book author” I was a sometimes cook-waitron-bartender-bookkeeper of a restaurant my husband and I owned called “The New Harvest.”  

And, as it happened (I won’t going into how it happened, now, as that’s a story for other times and a Lifetime movie), a man-boy named John (about 23), at his mother’s urging, answered a “Chef Wanted” ad we’d placed. In short—for it was a quick decision—John sign on as the chef and, along with his younger sister, Rhonda, moved from their hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma.

The red line heading southeast from the pin falls off the page just before Muskogee . . . 


Although Muskogee, about an hour southeast of Tulsa, isn’t as far away as California, it may well have been. For the first time, John and Rhonda were away from their family and friends, just as I was away from mine. For whatever reason—maybe because making friend with a chatty toddler and a chubby 1-year-old elbow deep in a jar of baby food plums was easy, and said tots were adorable—John took a shine to Max and Lexi at an all-employee spruce-up the restaurant day. What’s more, Rhonda, not yet 21, so she couldn’t work in or frequent the restaurant bar, could babysit—and did those nights I had to work. Thus, as strangers in this strange new land do, we banded together.  Before long, John & Rhonda were more like Unk and Auntie, Brother and Sister—family.

Fast forward to when—I don’t know how or why, exactly—John took Max and Lexi home to Muskogee—for the weekend! Imagine yourself as John and Rhonda’s parents, Don & Bonnie: your 23 year-old son drives up with 2 strange tots in tow??? What must the Briscoes, a traditional two parent, small town family have thought of us? Of me as a mother? Sending her babies off to Muskogee for the weekend?  This is pre-cell phones, pre-email, pre-instant info anything. . . (Calling DHS!)...

Whatever Bonnie & Don thought, it’s what they did that matters. On that weekend, and many that came after, they loved those babies up. Bonnie and Granny fed them; “Those babies love to eat! And that Lexi sure loves her mashed potatoes,” Bonnie said—still says—whenever we talk about those visits. Don, and brother Ron, when he was home, played and watched sports with Max, “That Max sure could talk!” Don says of those weekends. It wasn’t babysitting. It was more. The Briscoe family drew a circle and pulled Max and Lexi (Me and Steven by extension), Chelsie and her mom, Barbara—who came with the restaurant and stayed—in like, well, kin: Family.

Bonnie & Don Briscoe

Bonnie & Don Briscoe

And now, 30 years later, spouses, children, grands . . .  It’s easy to understand how we “kids” in Tulsa became friends. The part others don’t understand is the Muskogee glue. How Bonnie & Don, who knew us only by extension, who had all the family and friends right there in Muskogee they could ever need or want, made room for more. Why bother?

Just looking at Bonnie, anyone could get how she'd pull us all in. She's 100% mama, soft and sweet as marshmallow. Don, however is the "EF Hutton" type: when he speaks, you listen. As patriarch of the family, he could have told John and Rhonda not to bring Max and Lexi to Muskogee anymore. "He could have said "too much of a liability" "What if something happens" "Why the heck should we be fussing over those kids? They aren't ours, aren't blood.  Why didn't he?

Maybe because Don knew lonely and homeless and what it feels like not to have family. An orphan and only son, sent to live with a grandmother, who died, then shipped to California to relatives, teen Don, in search of a home, returned to Oklahoma. He met Bonnie, wooed and won her. Together they made their own family. Anywhere they were became “Home." A home filled with love, room for a more, and plenty of mashed potatoes. 
 

Now, today, this Thanksgiving, Don and Bonnie, John, Rhonda, Ron and Sherry, and their 4 grand babies are together in their retirement home on Fort Gibson. 

Don isn't well. He has cancer. Hospice volunteers are helping. Our Tulsa Village, while scattered, is with them, too, via text, via email, in spirit. Even as a teen, Don knew what we—with him and Bonnie as our models—learned: There is always room and food and love enough for a few more. 

Mashed Potato Playlist:

 Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) from “White Christmas,” written by Irving Berlin, sung by Bing Crosby

Happy Thanksgiving!