"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Holy Cow! Six Weeks of the HCG 500-Calorie Diet?

Winter brought its usual dilemma. The months dragged while I sat at the computer thinking about what I would cook for dinner. Normally I succumb to my “Oregon Five,” the five pounds I manage to gain while sunlight is absent and I’m sitting in a funk.

But this year I challenged myself to accomplish what I anticipated would be a grueling bootcamp, six-week stint of semi-starvation, an HCG diet with its 500 per day calorie requirement. A protein, three cups of veggies that one normally trims off for the chickens and a piece of fruit from a limited list. An eyedropper filled with hormones that come from pregnant women. Best not to dwell on that part. I had passed up the diet when two friends suggested it, but when Rob, my health food naturalist guru pressed the information into my hand, I finally took the bait. I needed a plan and this offered one. I bought the little bottle, took the fifteen pages of tips and headed home.

The diet demanded little of me in terms of choices beyond a protein, three cups of veggies and a fruit for each meal. Since I am at heart a skeptic and I want to hang on to all the muscle tone I still possess, and since our hens had started laying again, I cheated and had three eggs a week, which made everything easier. Three times each week I sautéed a mound of beet greens in a skillet, added a beaten egg and some green onions, bell pepper or whatever, and called it an omelet, even though the egg was scarcely detectable in all the greenery. But it met the criteria and took away the hunger, for which I was grateful.

I began to appreciate food in a new way. Each meal was a celebration.  I set the table with fresh flowers, a cloth napkin and my favorite dishes. I obsessed over each bite, making tiny cuts and chewing twenty times.
 Since most of hunger is actually dehydration, I drank quarts of herbal tea sweetened with Stevia. Afternoons I saved half of my orange to enjoy with my slim tea. In the evenings I saved my dinner apple, peeled and cut into thin slices for TV time.

I made it through my six weeks, and I lost weight. Not 30 pounds like the diet hinted that I might, but half that. My body incinerated fat cells 24 hours a day. My husband took great enjoyment in my progress, which was lovely.Hopefully I didn’t lose too many brain cells or muscle tone. In the early weeks I managed a respectable number of minutes on my exercise bike each day and managed to make it to the gym. In the later weeks I had the energy of a sloth.  I think I swam and tread-milled a few times, but maybe that was hallucination. In the last week I sat under a blanket and watched my dust bunnies dance.

 A word of warning—the plan suggested that one should cease all medications, with physician’s approval. Of course I skipped this step, anticipating that my doctor would try to talk me out of my course. I ceased taking my thyroid pill for two weeks before I came to my senses, but I got busted when my annual physical came around in the middle of the diet and my lab test revealed lower levels. When I confessed, my doctor said I had sabotaged my weight loss.

 The take-away lesson from all of this is a new relationship with food. Sugar isn’t worth it, and bread seems unnecessary. There are entire aisles in the market that I don’t have to walk down. I shop with a smirk of superiority when I see what other fatties are buying. One night I allowed myself two cups of plain popcorn and ate kernel by kernel like thin girls in movies when they are talking to a boy and don’t want to get yuck in their teeth. I eat my grapefruit, segment by segment, while voicing attributions about the sweetness of the fruit and my gratefulness for each bite. When I eat a boiled egg, I set it in an egg cup, crack the top and dip my spoon into the yoke, fully present to the miracle I am experiencing.

I used to scoff whenever a diet ad came on TV because I didn’t need advice about how to eat. It’s not like I gorge on potato chips and moon pies. But a 500-calorie diet made me rethink portion control. Early on, I dropped a handful of shrimp into a skillet to stream. Curious, I read the package and had to pluck seven back out when I realized my idea of a serving was roughly double the allowable portion. Now I read labels for everything and I am almost always over-portion.

I drink copious amounts of herbal tea to chase away the hunger beast, but I do love my teatime snack. Today I planned to eat something chocolate. When the hour arrived, I reached into a bag of dark chocolate chips and counted out exactly 16—the serving size on the package. I scattered them onto a white saucer and made them last all afternoon. 

In ten weeks I’m going back on the HCG program again. But that will be the last time. I agree that sudden weight loss isn’t a good thing. HCG Dangers It’s just that the diet works for me, and that’s a compelling argument. Until then you’ll find me sitting at the breakfast table, dipping toast spears into my coddled egg.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Be Kind, Rewind

On my nightstand is a stack of books that I have committed to read. Most I paid full price for—those are the ones at the bottom of the stack. The ARCS (advance reader copies) that other authors send, requesting a review, always go on the top. I don’t read a lot of famous authors. Most of my books I purchased at conferences or through my local bookstore, even Amazon, to help authors realize their dream. I’m not always interested in the topic or the writing level, but when spending 8 hours of my life seems worthwhile, it is karma revisited. My next book will be out soon and others will return the favor.

I try to be prompt, not one of those people who request an advance copy and then don’t read it. I’m sorry to say, those people unleash in me the pain of a maimed dog. On the other hand, the simple tap of the “share” button on Facebook for a book event or launch is an act of affirmation that cements relationships.

The process of grinding out a novel is tedious, lonely and beset with waves of doubt and self-loathing that flattens the writer’s tush and wears out office chairs. In case another simile is needed: the writing process is like swimming alone in a deep pool at night. We’re swimming blind. By the time the book finds a publisher, we need another body in the pool, a lifeline, a light illuminating the surface—anything helps.

That’s where the critique comes in. The first review is breathtaking. We read it and it’s as though we’re reading about someone else’s work, someone brilliant and deserving. But sure enough, the title is the one we submitted to a publisher two years earlier. Then the second review pops up and suddenly our readers have found us! Publishers pay attention. Bookbuyers and librarians google reviews to see how the stars line up. Five, four, three--things start to get gnarly at three. A one-star review makes authors crazy.   

What a reader says is important. When they say a book is suitable for YA as well as adults, this is good information. When they say the end surprised them, or they wanted to cry for the main character, this is very good. Reviewers don’t need to give an analysis of the use of simile and metaphor. Readers want to know if the book delivers. At least I do.

Be kind. Rewind. That's what we used to say, back in the day of VHS and track tapes. Today's advice should be, Be kind, Review. Writing a review can be addictive. Just go to your favorite book site on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Click on the line of stars. Find where it says, “Leave a Review” and start writing. Be as fair as possible. Click if you find someone else’s review helpful. Be part of the process. And don’t forget the “little author.” If a book already has 350 reviews, try leaving one for a newly-released book. You can start with mine. Maria Ines


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Diary of a Power Outage

Day One:

9:35 P.M. The power fails, plunging the house into darkness.

I rush to the window and look out to be sure that none of my neighbors have power. Not that I want them to suffer, but there’s safety in misery. They don’t, so I relax. I try to remember where I put the emergency box with the candles, butane lighter, flashlights and spare batteries. By the time I find it my husband has used his smart phone to find his flashlight and he’s tossing another log onto the fire. It blazes light into the living room.

I stand there, staring stupidly at the light switch as if it is all a mistake. Later, I shut off all the lights I can remember having turned on, and head for bed. After all, what else can one do without electricity? Rhetorical question. Google shows the most popular month for births is August, so probably lots of power outage babies—so technically I’ve answered my own question.  

Day Two:

I awaken to an incredibly quiet house. No blue lights, no blinking numbers, no alarms to tell me to wake up, to drink my coffee, to shut the refrigerator door. This stillness produces panic, frustration and an immediate desire to finish any of a dozen projects I’ve been putting off. I make a silent vow that if the power comes back on, I will: 1) Sort out my mother-in-law’s memorabilia trunks that have been sitting in a corner since her death several years ago. 2) Wash the windows inside and out, despite the snow. 3) Clean the garage.

But no deal. I pull on layers of clothing to compensate for the lack of heat and prepare for the worst.

I cobble together a breakfast that features dry cereal and milk. Steve places a bagel into the toaster oven and stares dumbly when it doesn’t work. I pull a mandarin orange from a bowl and let Steve have the lone boiled egg.  

We take a walk around the farm to see the snowfall, Back home we strategize and make a list. We assign bathrooms. I get the one closest to the heat. As the day progresses, I realize how many things I have to be grateful for. For starters, a power unit in our Dodge pickup that charges cell phones and Tablets while the truck is off. A hardline phone that never fails us. Drop-dead beautiful snowfall. A freezer full of venison and wild turkey. Milk in the refrigerator. A husband who gets going when the going gets tough.

After checking on our elderly neighbors, we make a quick run to town for supplies and a hot meal at Applebees, and arrive home with plenty of daylight left. We restock the woodpile outside the living room door. I melt snow and wash the dishes. This is starting to be fun.  

I find the emergency radio and enough D batteries that I am able to listen to PBS, always comforting, while I gather Christmas ornament tubs so that I can undecorate the tree after the sun goes down (a deliciously tactile experience, touching favorite ornaments and wrapping them.) By the time I light the Kerosene lamp, Steve has a small generator running to recharge the freezer, with an extension cord dedicated to a lamp. He plans to carry the generator across the snow to the pumphouse at midnight, to power the floodlight that keeps the pipes from freezing until he gets around to insulating them. Something tells me he’ll do that carpentry project soon. 

In the early evening the fire is crackling and the room is alive and cozy with unspoken thoughts. Steve sits beside me, reading while the generator outside purrs power to the lamp. Not really roughing it, but enough of a change to shake up the routine. Someone pinch me. I could do this for another day or two.     
After re-reading Christmas cards and taking the tree down, I make woodstove chocolate pudding. Yum. The ancient hard line phone rings. It’s my sister, who asks if I’m busy. Heck no. We have a long conversation in the semi-darkness and it seems like I am a better listener with no distractions. Later, bedtime comes with reluctance. The day has been delightful.

Day Three:

I open the door to a world blasted white with new snow. Filled with purpose, I shift into survival mode and scoop white stuff into tubs to replenish the tanks in the toilets. Life is good. We pile the refrigerator contents into an ice chest and burrow it in a snowbank. Later we discover that a critter has taken off with the bacon. We find the packaging discarded near the creek. If the culprit is our new four-month-old puppy, we should have the evidence soon enough.  

It’s strange how small details become noticeable in silence—like when you notice the middle child more when his big brothers aren’t around commanding all the attention. I rediscover my exercise bike and peddle five miles. I haul the Indian rugs outside and pound them, something I’ve meant to do for ages. We move the refrigerator and sweep behind it. Breakfast is an improvement: packets of gourmet instant coffee I’ve been meaning to use, GF pumpkin muffins, a Christmas gift, and eggs boiled on the wood stove. Lunch will be a picnic of cold cuts and chips in the living room while we watch the fire. After that it’s time for our afternoon trek down the lane to get the mail and newspaper.

After the walk I smile with anticipation. Soon it will be dark and we can do it all over again.

But wait—what is that commotion? Blue lights, beeping, flashing lights. I feel assaulted. Noise and confusion as the lights come on and the power grid resumes its grip on all that we hold dear. The TV reboots and some inane movie with guns blasting invades our peace. I shut it off. We decide to pile into the Jeep and take a drive to Galice, to see the snow pack along the Rogue River.

Now it’s night again. And I’m back on the computer and my husband is watching TV. All it would take is to shut it off again. But we don’t. You know we won’t. We’re modern.     

Monday, December 5, 2016

Joseph's Promise, A Christmas Story

The donkey’s small hoof clinked against a stone, sending a puff of dust over the man’s wooden sandals as he trudged the well-traveled ridge route to the small Jewish village of Bethlehem, his ancestral home. His thoughts wandered as far afield as his journey. He was not a wealthy man, even though his line claimed ancestry to the House of David—and through him, to another ancestor, Solomon—but his carpentry trade was adequate to support a growing family, thanks be to God.   
On the donkey’s back, a girl swayed from side-to-side, one hand clinging to the veil covering her dark hair. Her head sagged and she closed her eyes for a moment. Seventy miles, the journey, and so near the time of her delivery. The month-long journey had provided little time to rest, and few trees to shelter them from the full sun. When the donkey stumbled, the girl groaned, quickly biting her lip to check the sound. 
Her husband, Joseph, clenched the lead rope with a white-knuckle grip. He paused to brush a pebble from his sandal and straightened, scanning the trail for bandits or wild dogs. Satisfied that no danger threatened, he glanced at the setting sun and urged the donkey on. His ears caught the slight, almost inconsequential sound of his wife’s distress and his lips tightened in agony. “What is it, Little Mother?”
The girl offered a timid smile in response. “Husband, it is nothing. A tiny pain. God eases my burden.”
 Joseph growled his displeasure into the cowl of his cloak. “Wife, you should not be here. The Romans are cruel to demand this journey. I would have spared you this.” His husky voice barely concealed his displeasure, but he would not burden her with his fears. His thoughts returned to their predicament and he paled. “A tiny pain, you say?” He moved to stand beside her, concern in the lines that marked his face from years of desert living. Many years older than his young bride, he felt as insignificant as a grain of sand when he judged his worth against hers and the child she carried. The thought consumed him, night and day: Yahweh would never forgive him if anything happened on this difficult journey. That she suffered because of a Roman tyrant’s census to count Jewish heads filled him with despair. He lifted his hand to touch hers, but withdrew when he saw her eyes flutter closed. “Tell me what I should do,” he pleaded.
The girl, Mary, released her hold on the donkey to cradle his face between her hands. She buried her fingers in his thick, untrimmed beard, now tangled and filthy from dust and sweat, and Joseph felt the tension ease from his weary muscles. Her face held a look of gentle acceptance that made his fear seem inconsequential. It was impossible to fret when her quiet faith sustained them.
“You have done so much,” she murmured. “Yahweh is pleased with you, my husband.
Joseph returned to the trail, filled with resolve.
From behind, the jingling of bells and a shouted warning caused him to quickly tug his donkey to the side of the road. A caravan of camels trotted past, carrying strange-looking men in rich clothing. Their features marked them as foreigners, with their dark skin and almond-shaped eyes. Each was dressed distinctly, with turbans and long, flowing robes spun, it was said, by silk worms in the distant East. Even the camels were garbed in tassels and bells, with thick padded saddles trimmed in gold and magenta, colors that he had seen only in the Temple on the holiest of days. A supply caravan trailed behind, fifty camels led by servants in finely woven livery.  Joseph kept his eyes downcast as the soft grunts and dust clouds filled the air. Even Mary seemed entranced at the splendor.    
“Princes of the East,” he whispered. “I wonder what brings them to Judah?”
The mounted foreigners shared the trail without the pageantry and rudeness of other high officials that Joseph had encountered on this trip. More like scholars than soldiers, he observed.
Soon they were alone again. Many of the travelers had stopped to make camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem, five miles back, but Joseph hurried on. No matter that Mary tried to hide her pains, his mother-in-law, Anne, had told him what to expect and he knew that his wife’s time was near. As they had prepared to leave, Joachim, his father-in-law, pressed his hand with a deep, penetrating look of anguish for his daughter. He had wanted to share the secret the angel had brought, but a stern frown from his young wife reminded him of the angel’s warning of secrecy.  No one must know, not even Mary’s parents, the precious burden that their daughter carried.
“I should walk a bit and give the poor donkey a rest,” Mary offered.
“Keep your seat, Little Mother. His burden is nothing—like a single orange blossom. He doesn’t even know you are along.” Joseph’s gentle tone rang with humor.
“A single blossom? You have walked too long in the heat, my husband. I feel as laden as an orange tree ready for harvest.”
They shared gentle laughter. Mary took a tighter hold on the donkey’s stubby mane as the narrow trail opened onto a rocky field planted in olive groves. Ahead, scattered campfires twinkled in the distance.
Bethlehem,” Joseph murmured. Although the city of his birth, it had been many years since he had returned. In the clearness of the desert air the town seemed a stone’s throw away, but he had spent his life in the desert and he was not deceived. The hour would be late when they arrived, but he knew that Yahweh would provide a place for them. Still, a great stone would be rolled from his mind when he had Mary settled in a comfortable kahn; an inn provided for strangers would provide privacy and a midwife to attend the birth. He would sacrifice his cloak to the innkeeper as payment for his wife’s comfort, his beautiful cloak, its four blue tassels, one on each corner, stitched by his wife in preparation for this journey. This was what he had decided.
“I will find an inn,” he vowed, half to himself. His hand moved along the donkey’s neck and captured Mary’s small fingers. So young, he thought. So pure. So good. She had never once complained on this journey, even as she had accepted the shame and gossip that she suffered in Nazareth when her pregnancy became known. True, they had been engaged, considered as good as married in the Jewish way, but even he had doubted her. He shook his head to clear the torment, recalling the days and weeks of anguish he had spent wondering at Mary’s unexplained pregnancy when he had never laid with her. It was not until Yahweh sent the angel Gabriel to explain and to seek his          cooperation, that he was able to believe his Mary again.
When she returned from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, a journey of nearly a hundred miles, Mary, in her customary way, had seen his sorrow. There was nothing to forgive, she had insisted.
Although they had spoken of the matter, he had labored in his carpentry shop, trying with every pounding of his hammer to make sense of this matter. He spent long hours on his knees each night pleading to Yahweh for understanding while Mary slept alone in her small alcove. He prayed to be worthy to raise this unborn child who was his stepson, even though he was, himself, unworthy. He had descended from Solomon, who had sinned. Mary held the greater claim, descended from Nathan, who had not sinned. He prayed that he would be strong and worthy.       
As though she read his mind, Mary spoke. “A woman’s pain is like making a sacrifice at the Temple. It is my thanksgiving for the gift that Yahweh will bestow on us. I am glad to offer it—the pain.”
“Little Mother, it is obvious why Yahweh chose you from all time to carry His child.” As always, Joseph felt his knees weaken at the task he had been given. “He will provide a room for the birth,” he repeated.
The town had settled into sleep when the exhausted donkey limped down the cobblestone path. At the first inn, Joseph halted and knocked on a solid plank door. After several minutes a man appeared, his night garb illuminated by an olive-oil lamp in his hand.
“We have no room. Let a man sleep. Look about you. Do you think you’re the only travelers tonight with the need of a room?”
Joseph had pulled his cloak from his shoulders, in preparation for the exhange. Now he stood uncertainly, feeling the strain of disbelief that this could be happening. “But my wife. . . she is—”
The door slammed, rattling the lintel and the frame before Joseph could finish, and he turned back toward Mary, his eyes downcast in shame.
“Husband, you must not mind him.”
Joseph shook his head, feeling like a fool. He had never stayed at an inn before, had only heard tales from others of how to conduct himself. Of course the night was late and the inn keepers were sleeping. But surely Yahweh would provide a suitable place for His own son. Joseph must find it.
Turning to the next inn, he knocked again.
Down the small street he continued, knocking and being turned away from the khans where travelers overflowed into the crowded streets. No one wanted to hear about his pregnant wife. At the last inn, Joseph knocked louder than before. A shutter opened from above and a tired voice called down, “No room. Can’t you see the lamps are out? Go away.” Joseph stood, silent and troubled in the dark street. The innkeeper paused behind the half-closed shutter. He saw Mary and called, “Wait a moment.” Joseph heard the heavy bolt sliding in its holder and he knew that he had found a room. The innkeeper emerged and his eyes swept over Mary, who dozed atop the donkey. “Your wife is in late days.”
“Yes, we need a room. She will deliver soon. This is a special baby.” Joseph could say no more. His heart was thumping against his chest. Please, let it be here, he silently prayed. 
“I’m sorry. I have no room for even one small woman. If I did, I would give it to you. But there is a place. . . if you’re not particular. It’s warm and clean. And private.” The innkeeper glanced again at Mary.
“We’ll take it. Anything.” Joseph glanced about, hoping for a private home.
“There’s a small stable, a cave where I keep my animals. At the edge of town . . . over there.” The innkeeper pointed. “Use it with my blessing, and may Yahweh be with you.”
Mary woke to hear this last. “Yahweh is with us, always. It is good, husband. A stable. Let us go see.”
Joseph walked for several steps until he was out of the hearing of the innkeeper, who had already disappeared inside. He slung his cloak back over his shoulders, secretly glad for the warmth on this chilly night, but his ears still stung with the words of the innkeeper. “This is what Yahweh wants for his child? To be born in a stable? This child should be born in the richest house in the city. In the Temple, itself. We should go forth and present our situation to the people. Surely someone has been directed to give up their home for the birth of this God-child. A stable?” His voice was angry. There had been so little direction from the angel. No one had forewarned him of this journey, or his role in caring for the child. What was he to do? Surely Yahweh would be angered if he, Joseph of the House of David, could find nothing better than a stable among the lowest animals for His son. Tears of frustration gathered in his weary eyes. Not for Yahweh’s child, a stable. Never.
“Let us go and see. Do not worry, Husband.”
His heart filled with grief, Joseph silently led the donkey down the narrow street in the direction the innkeeper had pointed.
The stable was not hard to find. A group of men had camped nearby and their campfire lit the small enclosure burrowed into the limestone hill. Joseph halted, hopelessness stealing his speech.
“Shalom, pilgrim. Will you join us for a drink?” one of the rowdy men called, offering his chalice with a swagger.
Joseph shook his head and met the man’s gaze with a weary reply. “I think not. We must be on our way.”
The man glanced at Mary and scrambled to his feet. He stared for a long moment then half-turned toward where the others lay laughing and drinking on their cloaks and bed rolls.
“Come, let us leave our camp for these travelers. They have more need of it than we do.” Amid groans and complaints, he gathered their things and hurried his group away, their drunken sounds disappearing into the darkness.  
Joseph looked around. The cave was warm and sheltered from the night air and the animals lent a musky, not unwelcome aroma. Against his will, he decided to make camp. At least until he could locate a kinsman with a room to share. In their haste, the men had left a gourd filled with water, and the remains of a bird still sizzling on the fire spit. Silently, he helped Mary from the donkey and into the stable. Fresh forage was piled at one end, out of reach of an ass, and an ox quietly chewing its cud. To one side an empty feed crib lay overturned on the ground. Joseph straightened it and returned to unpack their bedding and supplies.
Mary drank water from the gourd. Wordlessly, they dined on the remains of the bird, the sheaves of unleavened bread that she kept wrapped in a linen cloth, and a few dates and figs they had purchased that day from a vendor near Jerusalem. Then Mary lay back to rest.
“Husband?” She murmured in a sleepy, sated voice.
“My spirit rejoices here. Do you feel it?”
“Yes, Little Mother, I feel it. Perhaps Yahweh wants us to rest here until someone offers their house. Some midwife, perhaps. We will wait here and see.” He turned to frown at the few lights that flickered in the darkened town while he chewed thoughtfully on a date.
Mary’s groan interrupted his silence. “Joseph. . . it is time.”
He struggled to his feet, looking frantically about for someone to assist in this most important birth. He was a clumsy carpenter, good with a hammer and adz, but not with his precious Mary’s birthing. In their village, the women assisted in the births. “I will go for help.”
Mary’s face was pale and exhausted, but filled with resolve. “Husband, there is no time. You will help me. Remember the angel Gabriel? All will go well, my husband. Yahweh chose you to be my midwife.”
Despite the chilliness of the night, sweat beaded his brow and dripped into his eyes. His hands trembled from fear. Thoughts tumbled over each other until, finally, he allowed himself to speak what was foremost on his mind. “You and I have not been together as man and wife. I have never seen you. . . in that way. You are a modest woman. A woman chosen by God. How am I to assist in such a . . . personal matter?”
“Husband . . . ask Yahweh to guide your hands. He will hear your prayers this night of all nights. He is with us in all ways.”
Mary’s quiet confidence seeped into his blood and he rushed to retrieve the rags she had packed for this hour, and the gourd of water waiting near the fire. He spread fresh straw for her bed and after that there was nothing for him to do but wait and pray.
Mary endured the pain of childbirth with peaceful acceptance while angels warmed the room with their fluttering wings.
Finally, trembling at the miracle he witnessed, Joseph gently placed a baby boy in her arms.   
The cave was lit with a glow more powerful than the mere oil lamp he carried. Joseph marveled at the aura of light that came from the Child, from its tiny naked body that Mary now worked to swaddle.
“Let me help you with that, Little Mother.” His huge, calloused hands seemed to have a will of their own as he quietly sponged the baby with warm oil then helped to wrap the swaddling cloth about the baby’s perfect limbs.
Mary watched her baby’s tiny arms thrashing as she secured the wrapping cloth. “My soul magnifies the Creator who has given me His son. Emmanuel. The angel said we were to name him Emmanuel. Oh, truly, Yahweh honors me with this precious gift.”
Mary’s weariness, her gladness lent softness to her face. Joseph, watching, felt great love for her. “Sleep now, Little Mother.” He smiled. “At last I can truly call you that.”
The hour was late when Joseph slipped outside to stir the fire, careful that no wild dogs hovered in the shadows. Inside, the ox softly lowed and moved against the side of the cave, its sweet animal scent mixing with that of the straw. Overhead, something drew his eyes up and he saw a star shining with blinding intensity against the blackness of the sky, until the star’s tail seemed to descend into the very cave itself—surely a sign from the Heavens that this was the most special of all nights.
In the distance, a caravan of camels advanced, illuminated by the star’s light. Behind them, lowly shepherds approached, struggling under the load of half-grown lambs they carried. Joseph stiffened and reached for the stout walking stick that accompanied him on this journey, for protection against wild animals and robbers. He retreated back inside the cave and stood protectively alongside his family while the caravan approached.
In the moments that he waited for the visitors, God’s presence filled the cave and he released his firm grip on his staff. Confidence swelled inside him, and humility. He prayed silently, a promise to serve in whatever humble manner was required of a carpenter poor in goods, but richer than the kings and wise men that were approaching.
Maybe the foreigners understood, for their servants carried ornate chests filled with gifts for the baby.  
Mary’s steadying voice assured him that she, too, felt the change. “It is good, husband. All of this.” She shifted her veil to cover her hair, careful that she was modest in all manner, but she spared no thought for her own vanity. “Who are they, Joseph?”    
Joseph shook his head. Important travelers, he thought. “Princes from the East. Magi,” he said aloud. 
He waited as they approached, and his greeting was firm and sure. “Shalom, my noble guests. You are welcome on this night of nights.” We have nothing to offer, he thought. And then he turned to where his guests were bowing to the child lying in the clean hay lining the feed crib. His eyes filled with tears and his hand gripped his staff while resolve filled his blood and the skies filled with the hosannas of the angels.
Tonight a king is born in a stable. He shook his head, dazed at the night’s events, for the ways of Yahweh were too wondrous to ponder. He was but a simple carpenter, a middle-aged man with little education. Why the Creator would choose the humble life that he, Joseph, could offer His son filled him with confusion. He gazed at his little family and his heart burst with love for mother and child.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Caldron and the Six Gallon Soup

In our house, turkey soup is the best part of the Thanksgiving dinner. We overbuy the turkey, planning a savory Sunday night soup supper. The scent of simmering broth, the laughter of playing board games and stories are part of the celebration.   

On Sunday night, the refrigerator was still stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers, including the picked-over, neglected carcass of a 22-24 pound turkey. That’s when my son pushed his mother-in-law and me into his kitchen with a request for us to make soup. 

He had a six-gallon pot of water simmering. Looking back, we should have just dumped out half the water. But we would have missed all the fun. Instead, Lisa and I looked at each other, both unwilling to make the first complaint about the newly-married couple we share.  

We pulled open the refrigerator and started opening vegetable bins. “Complexity,” I said. “That’s the key. Is there any sausage?” No pork products, it turned out, but she found an unopened packet of store-bought springs of savory, oregano—and a handful of other herbs that smelled like they belonged—so we chopped them into bits and tossed them into the witches’ cauldron. We found a jar of Trader Joe’s gluey chicken broth concentrate and added it. Emptied the vegetable bin of every carrot, celery and onion, including a potato that had somehow escaped the mashed potato pot. Chopped, they sank to the bottom of the tank like guppies. We gingerly shook seasonings until our wrists were sore, then we peeled off the lids and measured into our palms, filled with the élan of TV chefs.

We were giggling when we paused to taste it.  Watery, weak and vapid. Our reputations were on the line so we formed a plan to divide and conquer. We ladled enough to fill a 6-quart pot and concentrated on making soup in the smaller pot. The remaining gallons we would call broth.  

We emptied a package of chicken flavored rice into the pot. Found a jar of turkey salt and seasonings intended to season an outdoor turkey pot. Lisa added a handful while I gaped. She found a jar of garlic and I tossed it in, along with every seasoning we could find on the shelf. Tasted it again. Closer, but not soup yet.

In went the leftover turkey gravy, the Italian soup someone had carried home from a deli. By now the carcass we fished out of the broth had cooled and we started pulling turkey off the bones--scraps that didn't seem as plentiful when added to the pot. We opened closets, hunted through shelves and added to the pot with conspiratorial gleams. There was safety in our abandon; if it didn’t work out, we could blame the other. I recall a partial box of pasta, a pepper grinder whirring away, the last of the baked stuffing disappearing into the pot. A can of garbanzo beans for protein. Anything to thicken and flavor. And suddenly it was soup.

We summoned the newlyweds and they pronounced it “Perfect.” These are two kids who critique restaurant food on a regular basis. We glowed. 

We filled three quart jars with soup and filled a big crock pot for my daughter-in-law to take to work. I tossed the rest into the caldron. It was ready, too. But the fun was over. The dishes were piling up and everyone had disappeared. I filled five (5) gallon-size ziplock baggies, double-bagged for safety, and someone carried them to the freezer. The rest moistened dog food for four dogs that night.

My son was thrilled, and the look on his face was priceless. Best, the Mother-in-Laws forged a friendship that only comes with battle experience. SCORE!       

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Salinan Tribe of Maria Inés

The Salinan Tribe of California’s Central Coast was determined to have gone extinct by the Census of 1930. But descendants of the tribe survived and are now in the process of applying for tribal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hundreds of pounds of documentary information was shipped to Washington DC, arriving at a critical period of federal budget slashing. They are still awaiting Federal recognition.

The Salinan Tribe is recognized by the State of California. It is one of the tribes included in the writing at the bottom of a California State Park Commemorative Seal

Sociologists estimate that 3,000 Salinans inhabited land in the Salinas River Valley in 1770 when Junipero Serra and the first Catholic padres, Spanish military and immigrant families arrived by edict of the Bourbon king Charles III. Today the Salinan Tribal Council  has 371 certified baseroll members with 400 more waiting to be added after Federal recognition, with 80% still living in their traditional territory.

How can a tribe disappear? Genocide, killed off by the Catholic Church? Yes, the Catholic Church must claim partial responsibility. But the truth is more complicated. My novel, Maria Inés attempts to shed light in a way that will remain in the heart after the last page.   

The past stretches in surprising ways. It fills the present and it forms the future, changing the way that we interpret events of the past. In my research of early California, In the process of creating a new state, California legislators had to consider the lawlessness of disgruntled 49’ers who, having abandoned the hope of hitting a rich strike in the gold country, had spread out across California to steal, burn, loot and rape the native Indian population as well as the descendants of citizens who had lived in California for generations. In their deliberations, the lawmakers created laws that made it illegal to kill these citizens. But they did not include Indians in the early laws that prohibited killing of Spanish or Mexican residents of California. A law prohibiting the killing of Indians was not passed until 1948.

The political climate was poisonous to the native peoples. A belief in the God-given right of whites to claim the riches of California led to a blind eye on the part of Yanqui lawmakers and eventually an informal policy of eradication of the native people. Those who survived did so by passing as Mexicans, Chileans, even Hawaiians.

On a personal note

My husband’s uncle, John Roza, is the son of an Azorean dairy farmer who managed ranches in the ’20s and ’30s for Louis Sinsheimer, the mayor of San Luis Obispo. John was in his late 80s when he told me a story that underscores the attitudes that lingered far into the 20th century.

Many years earlier he had met an old man who claimed that when he was 12 and his brother was 10, they used to take their rifle out in the sagebrush in San Miguel and shoot running Indians for target practice. He didn’t remember how many they killed, maybe 5 or 6. He wasn’t proud of it. John was born in 1918; he thought the man had been born in the mid 1880s. Which meant that before the turn of the century, people were still shooting Indians for target practice.

A woman I met at Mission San Miguel remembers her mother and a neighbor sitting at the kitchen table, quietly discussing an Indian couple who had lived naked in the tules of the Salinas River, in 1901. 

My interest in the Salinans began when I moved into a small community, in 1959. One of my new classmates looked to be Indian. I was curious, so I asked. He claimed that he was Mexican, but his tone was nervous and I knew he was hiding something. It wasn’t until I began to understand the nuances, as an adult, that I understood that he had been told to hide his heritage. Coincidentally, it was during this time that I first heard the work “digger.” Members called themselves Mission Indians, but for years outsiders called them “Diggers.”

Salinans married Mexicans and whites, and assumed the identity of their spouse. They hid their Indian heritage to protect their families, at first from death, later from bias and taunting. It was small wonder they didn’t fill in the little box on the 1930 Census card marked, “Indian.”  

Now they are reclaiming their heritage. There are three groups of Salinan: San Antonio, San Miguel and Playano. The first two are associated with the Missions that were built on their tribal lands. The Playanos lived on the west side of the Santa Lucia Range, along the narrow shelf of the Pacific Ocean. Twice each year, on June 21 and December 21, they celebrate the Solstices at Le Sa Mo, Morro Rock, where they believe their ancestors swam to shore as fish, grew legs and walked onto the land.

Maria Inés, my historical western novel (Five Star Publishing, a division of Gale/Cengage Learning) follows a Salinan girl born at Mission San Miguel through the political intrigues and greed of the Spanish, Mexican and Yanqui conquests of California. She struggles for survival while she reclaims her family, her faith and her ancestral identity. Fans call it "a moving must-read for fans of the Old West and of Native American history." Read the first chapter at Maria Ines . 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

50 Rules to Live By

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. When choosing which path to take, pray for direction.
4. Be a daychanger. Make a difference everyday.
5. Learn to live on less than you earn.
6. You are not just your job.
7. Your job will not take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and 
parents will stay in touch.
8. Pay off your credit cards every month.
9. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
10. Grieve for others. Send a sympathy card or make a call.
11. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
12. Chocolate and pets aren’t everyone’s thing. And that’s OK.
13. Make up with the living so you’ll have no regrets.
14. Other people’s success doesn’t reflect your ability.
15. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
16. Cleansing breaths calm the mind.
17. Hoarding is fear behavior. Share your excess.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. Sixty is a great time to start your next great adventure.
20. Determination can accomplish anything. Be tenacious.
21. Splurge on yourself today. Burn the candles, use the nice pillow cases,
wear the fancy lingerie.
22. Over prepare, then relax and take life as it comes.
23. Be zany. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. Plan for the future, live in the moment, learn from the past.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five years, will this matter?"
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything. And tell them so.
29. Spend your life developing your talents.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. You will have “arrived” when you find your authentic self.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. Pay attention to the grace moments.
35. Growing old beats the alternative.
36. Your children get only one childhood.
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's,
we'd we’d grab ours back.
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
41. Recognize excellence every time you experience it.
42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
43. Nobody cares if you’re fast. Be thorough.
44.Cast your pebbles so they make a ripple in the pond.
45. Write something every day.
46.Television and internet aren’t real life.
47. Help someone on their journey.
48. Keep your living space clean and organized.
49. Allow time for meditation and prayer.
50. Everyone does the best they can.