Fall. Hallelujah. (Warning: this is a cliché-ridden seasonal meditation.) By Devon Miller-Duggan

Fall. Hallelujah.

Warning: this is a cliché-ridden seasonal meditation.

Here in The Other Tiny State Near the Big Water (We’re a bit bigger than Rhode Island, but we have fewer counties—by way of claiming what small distinction we can) it’s finally Fall. Delaware’s seriously pretty in the spring and the whole coming-out-of-dark-winter thing has serious enchantments, but for me, Fall’s the best time. It means that the long days of summer—which in Delaware means that walking outside is usually like diving naked into a swimming pool full of slugs—are gone for a while. Don’t get me wrong—I love the beach and any season that encourages me to throw myself into water (preferably chilly, salty water, but fresh can be lovely, too). But I do not do well with the thick, moist, slimy stuff that passes for air in the Mid-Atlantic summer. I blame Texas, actually: I was born in the middle of May (summer already) in central Texas and got heat rash pretty much along with my first breath, then didn’t thrive until my grandfather flew my mother and me back east to spend time at the beach (there’s the origin of the salt water thing…). Regardless, I do not thrive in the summer months. It’s pretty certain that I will not be retiring to Florida or anyplace else south of Delaware. Maine sounds good.

But it’s Fall. The roadside stands have great heaps and piles of pumpkins—one of my favorite sights on the planet, even though for years I’d have sworn I didn’t like the color orange. The nights are sharp and I can sleep under thicknesses of blanket. The students on my campus mostly put clothes on (the teeny-tiny shorts go away, at least), which means I mutter to myself less about what-did-your-mother-teach-you. Foods with cinnamon and nutmeg appear on menus everywhere. And the holidays loom (a mixed blessing—though this year I intend to skip the whole brine-my-own-turkey dance because one of the shopping clubs is offering a mail-order Turduckhen, so that’s one thing less to think about). But the best thing is that when I walk outside and take a deep breath, the crisp air feels like it’s singing on its way into my lungs, and that it’s pushing them open instead of trying to slime them closed.

Book Review: Old Friend from Far Away by Louise Allison

Louise Allison

Book Review: Old Friend from Far Away
In Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, the author suggests several exercises to get the creative juices flowing, to go deeper and question yourself, relentlessly. When I first saw that this text book was a collection of exercises, I groaned to myself. How I hated a specific exercise. I always thought these were trick questions with a right or wrong way to do the exercise. I usually would fall under the wrong category. In fact, I usually skip that part. But there was no escaping this assignment. I was here voluntarily after all. I was here to learn this craft of writing so that I could better tell my stories.
I’d have to face the agony of the task.
“Exactly how do you feel about apples?” the first exercise asks. I am to write with flowing dialogue everything I have ever known or thought regarding apples.
My professor, in an effort of encouragement said to the class, ”Just start writing. Write I hate apples and see what comes up.”
As I begin with the simplest of statements my mind begins to relax and unravel. The more I continue the babble or rather the stream of consciousness, the less involved my mind become, the less it sounds like babbling. It shifts somehow to a more sensible flow of thoughts that become more and more cohesive . I think the trick is to keep the mind out of the process as much as possible.
Suddenly I find myself engrossed in the writing. I believe this is the beginning of the creative process or “zone” that Ms. Goldberg is attempting to point in the direction of. Now, I am recalling all kinds of memories and associations revolving around apples!
Eureka! Maybe I have been wrong. Perhaps these exercises in process are not as harrowing after all. Maybe they are simply warms ups! Could it be this fear I have held on to all my life was just simply that? A thought, a product of my mind!
Maybe that bumper sticker that says “Never Believe What You Think?”  has something to it after all.

Playa by Miriam Sagan

Playa

I heard the waves
of that long gone
ancient sea

the lights of the airfield
blinked off in darkness
and across the way
the casino shone blue

I plugged in the string
of multicolored
Christmas lights
in the light

and slept until the crescent moon
rose with a crick
in its neck
over my bare feet

tangled in blankets
I swore this was the last time
I’d let you
leave me in a dream

dawn broke softly
over what was still
millions of empty acres
that weren’t all empty

stop the sound
of that distant
temple bell

Solitude in Wendover

SOLITUDE

All day and all night, 24/7, several times an hour, a huge truck rolls by my window. The road is in good repair, potholes recently patched, but otherwise deserted. The trucks are a huge cab/engine with two long open containers hooked together, somewhat like railway cars. The trucks make a groaning noise as they level out.
Outside the CLUI residence here in Wendover is a sign: CHINA 6547 miles (pointing east)and HOLE TO CHINA 120 miles (west).
This is the work of Lucy Raven. Raven’s video of the journey of copper, “China Town,” starts with the huge mine in Ruth, Nevada (SW of here). The open pit dwarfs even the big CATS–it all looks like a model from a distance. The mine is its own topography–evocative, swirled, devastating. A mesmerizing abstraction.
We follow the rough extraction to our very road here, then on to a railway, and to Vancouver. Then by ship to Nanjing, and to the processing in China. Some of it seems so low-key–guys with shovels, a man with a twig broom. There is the festive looking Copper Co. with red decorations, smelting furnaces, molten slabs, polished sheets, and then endless spools of copper wire.
The copper goes to Three Gorges Dam that lights up Bejing.
After a few nights alone here–sunset, dawn–vastness seems to keep me company. The airfield lights up to the south for the last plane bringing tourists to the casinos across the Nevada line. Then it goes dark. The crescent moon comes up very late. Sunrise is late too, as we’re at the absolute western edge of the time zone–an orange ball of fire. I look too long and get a retinal after image burning on every surface I look at for the next few minutes.
There isn’t much in the way of animal life–a butterfly, houseflies, a flock of blackbirds. Something eats my bacon sandwich put out in the trash. There are spiders, grasshoppers, and beetles out there.
The playa grows greasewood, pickleweed, salt grass–and prickly things that cling to my pants.
I practice my Zen koan, given to me by Joan Sutherland-roshi. Stop the sound of that distant temple bell. Sometimes I say it as–stop the sound of that ancient temple bell.
I seem to hear the waves of the sea that was once here, the tide. The desert is so large I might swell to fill it, but after a while I don’t feel like myself–I feel like the desert.
Maybe this is my Walden Pond after all.

***
None of these images is quite perfect–although all evocative. Best I could find from stock photos.

Susan Aylward reviews Flora’s Kitchen, Recipes from a New Mexico Family

Flora’s Kitchen, Recipes from a New Mexico Family

La Cocina de Flora, Recetas de una Familia de Nuevo Mexico

“Grandma Flora was indeed a gourmet cook and … her recipes are some of the best of the traditional style that is unique to New Mexico.”

Regina Romero is a manita who comes home to New Mexico and, with the help of her sister, recreates the recipes of her paternal grandmother, Flora Duran Romero, which were previously held only “in head and hand”. This memoir / cookbook is a portrait of a pioneer women who was a gourmet cook and healer, among many other things. Grandma Flora was an example of a manita grandmother who taught through example. Manitos, short for hermanito (little brother) were Spanish who settled in northern New Mexico, which made it “the northernmost and often isolated frontier of the Spanish empire in the New World”.

I enjoyed this book aesthetically, with it’s brightly colored rendering of Grandma Flora in the garden, holding a bounty of vegetables in her arms. The red border and back cover, reminiscent of red chile, and the terra cotta illustrations within make for a beautiful design. Throughout the book, there are family photos and community photos including the church in Albuquerque Old Town in 1881, and a view of Gallup. Don’t forget to pop into the Glossary as needed for clarity as these manito stories are intersperse Spanish and English.

Romero imbues each recipe with culture, family and memories. Each chapter opens with an old family photo and a charming title such as “Oraciones y Pan, Prayers and Bread”, and “Sopa Is Not A Soup, Manita Desserts”. Each recipe is laced with stories and cooking secrets. She makes subtle distinctions between Flora’s time and now, for example, noting that foods such as enchiladas, carne adovada, and soapapillas were mainly for special occasions. There are nuances for beans, cooking them according to the food they were served with. The recipes have been pleasantly modified to reduce fat, and include a few newer dishes such as nachos and fajitas. Although they aren’t Grandma’s recipes, the granddaughters felt that she would approve.

Flora’s domain, the kitchen, contained the coal stove which was also used also for heating the home. As the kitchen is the heart of the home, the grandmother is the keeper of that fire. She was devoutly religious, immaculately clean, industrious, and nonmaterialistic. I loved the story about when Regina and her sisters would get the treat of sleeping in Grandma’s bed. They were scrubbed, put on Tio’s cotton tee shirts, and climbed into bed. While falling asleep, and upon waking, they saw Flora at her altar, and wondered if she had stayed up all night praying.

Most of the recipes are the expected and desired: tortillas, chile, enchiladas, flan; but there are some surprises such as a local green called quiletes, also known as “Spanish spinach”. There is plenty lesser known to try, such as New Mexico quiche, Manito Cornbread, and Meatball Soup. The Cinnamon buns are already on my Christmas menu. I am also partial to trying the Arroz Dulce, as my favorite childhood dessert was my own paternal grandmother’s Rice Pudding.

I think the author has connected to her family and ancestors through recording these traditions and customs. I certainly felt the warmth and values they were brought up with; “Cuando uno es mas pobre, se le debe socorrer mas.” To one who needs the most, give the most.

Casey Frank on Frank Sinatra

“REVIEW”
By Casey Frank
I’ve always wanted to write a story based on it. I’ve always wanted to live the lyrics, to follow the long phrasing by following the long journey toward happiness. I’ve always wanted to taste that plum, to have the juices from it roll down my chin in drips of satisfaction. I’ve always wanted to fly away from misery and have the freedom to lift both feet off the ground and into the sky. I’ve always wanted to taste that sweet wine, pouring it down my throat like the medications I take, only that cup would actually cure me. I’ve always wanted to feel the romance of love, the arms wrapped around me: arms of someone who cared enough to consider me a person rather than a pair of tits and a pussy. I’ve always wanted to wait until a warm kiss. I’d wait in anticipation, in hesitation, in hope while I stare into his eyes and smile because I wouldn’t be able not to do so.
Frank Sinatra’s song “The Best Is Yet to Come” has been the influence for countless attempts to convert his words into my own. When I hear it, I think of the grey dust of the Great Depression swallowing the sunlight and contentment of two neighbors. When the sun shines, when they are realize the love between them, when the grey lifts, the best has come.
My main difficulty with this inspiration is that I’ve never felt like that. I’ve been in love (I think, but sometimes I doubt what it really was), but I’ve never written a story that involves romance. I give my characters full power—more power than I give myself in deciding their fate—, which means that they come alive and become my nemeses in the production of a story that I want to write but can’t because they tell me that they will never change or grow.
Inevitably, my characters are duplicates of myself. As hard as I try, I cannot get away from my insecurities, philosophies, and even my life. I attempted and then failed at meeting the challenge of National Novel Writing Month last November. I was so proud of my character and her complete absence of any comparison to me. I kept writing, never looking back. When I stopped trying to meet the word count, I did look back. I read what I wrote, fully expecting the accomplishment that I had just achieved. Well, all that rereading of my jumbled, freewritten words only made me discover a whole different and frightening aspect to my personality. I found myself hidden in a new situation that I had never considered.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I have only seen the disfigured personifications of myself. I ain’t seen nothing yet. The telescope that I need doesn’t exist past my vision in the mirror; instead, I have a microscope: I study through the lenses only specimens that come from my own dead skin cells, strands of hair, and tiny beliefs that fit on the slide. I dissect my personality with a scalpel just to learn that there is nothing there. “Still it’s a real good bet, the best is yet to come.”