Look What I Made

Do you remember coming home from school as a child having drawn a pretty picture that you wanted to show your Mom or Dad? Let’s say you got a good grade on a test that was very difficult or brought home that much-improved report card?  Do you remember having a smile on your face that you couldn’t wipe off?  It was having a sense of excitement to share this accomplishment with your people at home and hopefully receive further accolades from them.

“Look what I made!”

“Look what I did!”

I had a similar feeling this week.  No, not a pretty picture, not a much-improved report card, but close.  I was on my way home from the gun range where I was taking my second private instruction in shooting pistols and I had several paper targets with beautifully (in my mind) clustered bullet holes.  I excitedly wanted to show them to people.

I was just as excited at the end of this second lesson as I was after the first.  I had worried that I might not be.  On the way there, I remember thinking, what if the novelty wears off?  What if it isn’t fun anymore? It was a lot of fun the first week – repeatedly firing the 22mm revolver and the same size semi-automatic pistol.  Fun?  Yes, Fun! And doubts aside, it did continue to be fun this second week as well.

I suppose when I say, “It’s fun,” it may sound a bit juvenile for a woman my age.  It’s empowering.  It’s confidence building. It’s interesting.  It’s exciting. It’s fun.  If it weren’t fun the other “It’s” wouldn’t really matter.  I don’t need something outside of me to be empowered or to build confidence.  I am fairly self-entertaining most times.  But this is just fun.  And I am good at it.  Eighty percent, by the way, better than most beginners, my instructor said at one point.  Then later after he gave me his larger caliber sidearm to shoot, he shifted it to 90%, in spite of the fact that the larger caliber gun was a bit daunting for me.

I can’t explain it, really.  I couldn’t hit a target in college with an arrow during archery for my physical education requirement. I have trouble hitting the pins in Wii bowling – or real bowling for that matter.  I often walk into walls and doors.  For some reason, when I hold up a gun in my hands at the ends of my outstretched arms and I close my left eye, the sites just line up and bullet flies directly into that square in the middle of the target.  During my first instruction, the young man asked me towards the end to hit the center of the target at the top.  Did he think hitting it in the middle was a fluke?  Was he testing me? I raised my sites a little higher and hit it where he had requested.

I heard him behind me exclaim, “Wow!”

I had never picked up a gun before taking the Massachusetts Basic Fire Arms Safety Course two months earlier.  This is the course that you need to take in order to begin the lengthy process of applying for a License to Carry Certification in Massachusetts. I had never touched a gun before.  I wanted to know, in very controlled circumstances, with professionals on hand, how I might react to holding a gun and even shooting a gun.  Initially it was not about the license so much as this experience.  The first time I took the class at a police department in a town near me a couple of guns were passed around the room as we watched a very quick PowerPoint presentation and took a test as a group.  Needless to say, we all passed and were handed our certificates on the way out just two hours after beginning.

I don’t think I was the only one in the class surprised by the lack of hands-on experience included in the course.  Most people were relieved to be dismissed so quickly so that they could get on with their weekend.  I felt like my big “Why” for being there was completely unaddressed.  This was all I needed to apply for a license and purchase a weapon that can kill?  I was surprised, but it was true.  This was all that was required prior to the application process.  I did not feel I knew enough about myself in this situation to apply for a license based solely on this class.

A friend directed me to the Fire Arms School where I am currently taking instruction.  I retook the same class there.  It was quite a bit more involved.  There was a sense of the gravity established immediately as the instructor spoke to those of us embarking on the path to gun ownership.  Midway through the course we learned how to load each a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol.  That was considerably more “real” to me than passing an unloaded gun around the room.  Everyone, except those who had experience, had some shakiness to their hands as we took great pains to keep the barrels pointed away from us.

At the end of four hours, we were ushered in small groups to the indoor range where we put on safety goggles and headsets to protect our eyes and hearing.  It was oddly important to me to be one of the first.  I did not want anyone to see when I completely missed the target or worse yet, freaked out by the explosive sound of a bullet leaving the barrel, started to cry.  To my surprise, neither of those things happened.  The last slide on the presentation was an image of the sites you would see on a gun and how to aim so it was fresh in my mind.  In case I forget, this is also the logo of the school and it is prominently displayed on the chest of every instructor.

I stepped into the private cubicle with one of the assistant instructors.  There were two guns waiting on the counter and a target out in front of me.  We had six shots with each gun. I picked up the revolver first.  I copied the stance I remembered from the class earlier and took aim.

It is surprising how much squeeze you need to put on the trigger (unless you cock it manually first, then it is nothing, I learned much later on).  Pop! I saw that first one hit the paper target within the square in the middle.  Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

Most of the shots that followed were clustered around the first in the upper right corner of the square with a couple straying outside the square. Wow! I thought.  Wow!  I handed the revolver to the instructor supervising me.  Then I started to wonder if someone else had hit my target and I actually might have missed?  Was that possible?  I picked up the semi-automatic.  My hand was shaking, but I felt oddly calm.  I apologized repeatedly for shaking.

“Don’t worry about it. It happens to everyone,” he said.

Five shots again clustered just near the others, with one stray off to the side.  I knew from somewhere in my reading or television watching that clustering was good.  I was oblivious to the couple not in the center.

“Good job!”  The instructor said and pointed towards the door.  They had nearly forty people to get through this part of the class.  “Now, go wash your hands, cold water, remember.”   I nodded.  Cold water washes off the gun powder on your hands.  Hot water might open up the pores and lead could get into your system.  I left through the double doors and entered the hallway carrying my paper trophy.  I took off my glasses and headset and hung them back on the rack.

Another set of students was waiting in the hall for their turn.

“How did you do?” One asked.  I held up the paper target.

“Wow! Killer!”  someone said.  I smiled and headed for the restrooms.

Back in the classroom where even more were waiting, there were more complimentary sounds and another “Killer!”

I gathered up my things and carrying that first paper target as carefully as possible made my way to the car.  Like a picture I had colored as a six-year-old, I did not want it to get creased or damaged in any way before I could share it.  I photographed it after I got home, a drive filled with alternating doubt and excitement.  Had I really hit the target every time?  Had I really clustered those shots myself?  I shared the image on social media and the responses were similar to those from the class members.

“Killa Kim.”

Each hour of private instruction that followed that initial course ends the same.  I carefully take the targets with me proud of the accomplishment.  It’s exciting to learn something new and to discover new talents.

Close But Not That Close

One of my cousins died last week. One of the 36 at my generational level on my mother’s side – which, I can tell you, spreads so far across the ancestry.com page that it is impossible to print.  My mother was one of 7 children–not counting my grandfather’s son from his first marriage.  He wasn’t divorced, but was widowed by the flu epidemic of 1919.  That son was called a cousin my entire life, but was really my mother’s half-brother and my uncle.  That first showed me that families have some flexibility in their bonds.  I have no recollection of ever having met him as he lived in upstate NY and we were in Ohio, two states which were further apart in the mid 1900’s than they are today.

Of my mother’s other six siblings only one had moved fairly far away to live, in Atlanta. The rest of us remained clustered in Northeast Ohio.  Considering the six families were all within an hour’s drive of one another we generally only saw each other at special occasions:  First Communions, wedding showers, which were for the ladies only at that time, the subsequent weddings and baby showers, also ladies only.  There were many years during which this was constant getting together, but as we grew older it became less and less often.  We were close but not that close.

I can only assume that even though we were geographically near one another’s families, there were other things that needed to be done that kept us apart except on those special occasions.  Work, school, home – obligations.  I recall more often getting together with the daughters of one of my father’s friends, who we referred to as cousins; and, of course, the kids in the neighborhood.  Even within my own household, we were close but not that close.  It seemed everyone was busy with their own stuff.  I grew up with characters in storybooks as my closest friends.

My father worked 40 plus hours a week at a factory.  When he came home at night, we had supper on the table as he walked through the door. Then he would read the paper or a book, watch the news and go to bed.  We all had roles, chores, expectations of behavior.  My father would take my mother grocery shopping on Saturday mornings at the Acme in our small town, for a long time with all five of us in tow.  We were all too young to be left home alone.  And believe me, we never made a peep at the store, never begged for snacks while we were there or strayed more than to the end of the aisle in which she was shopping.  We knew better.

Growing up we learned of people’s deaths, usually someone much older, by reading the obits in the local paper every morning first thing or from a phone call.  It was as though there was an informal phone tree. Someone called two people and they each called two people and they each called two people and so on and so forth until the entire day the wires over the area were buzzing with the news and plans for casseroles and which funeral home would it be at – the one on the lake or that other one.

When word of my cousin’s death came via Facebook, where I am connected to only a small handful of the 36, I hesitated for a moment to comment on his sisters’ profiles.  I didn’t feel close enough to make a comment, but it was the expected thing to do, wasn’t it?  Should I send a private message instead?  I consider us friends, but not close friends.  I finally decided to leave the comment that “friends, not close friends” leave.  You know the one, “So sorry for your loss!” with the exclamation point for extra sympathetic emphasis.   It was just a couple down from my younger brother’s similar comment.  That was only the tiniest bit comforting in terms of my choice.

Any other time of the year the few blood relations on my social media page are treated the same as other acquaintances.  I like what I like, ignore what I don’t and snooze them for a while during elections.  A death puts me in the awkward position of questioning blood vs. chosen family, a debate I have had many times over the years.  My chosen family – a very small group of close friends that I have made as an adult, people who actually have taken the time to truly get to know me, people who I know I can go to when in need, they are my family.  How strong should the blood bond be considered if it is just that tiny fluid strand and nothing more?  If there is no substance to support it, it is not “thicker than water” at all.  It is simply an anemic reference.

Yes, I care.  I have compassion.  I feel for my cousin’s family – his children and their children of whom I have no direct experience.  I feel for his sisters and brothers, who, I assume, will miss him. It isn’t the devastating feeling that I had after my mother died.  Or, the flip side, relief when my father died.  His life and death really taught me that a blood bond does not automatically come with honor or trust.  I am somewhere in between for people with whom I have that acquaintance relationship.  It is a loss and I do feel that loss.

I believe that you grow up with the family into which you were born or adopted.  It’s like an incubator.  Some incubators provide more nourishment and protection than others. Some provide more opportunities than others.  Some have more warmth than others and develop the deeper friendship/family bond.  Often you escape from that incubator to create your own space, your own nourishment, your own opportunities with your own family who will likely view you in the same manner that you have viewed those who came before you.  Close but not that close.

I don’t feel I learned to attach as a child and I do not have an answer to the question why. Attachment bonds are one of those things that psychologist and psychiatrists will continue to mull over for centuries.  What can ensure that a child will develop a deep, lasting attachment to its family?  What can ensure that life experiences will maintain the blood connections over time and space? We were together every minute as children, in a very small house and I am only truly connected to my mother and one of four brothers.  How do modern families of today constantly on the road to extra-curricular activities create a knowing, loving bond in their own home let alone with extended relatives?  What can keep us together beyond the algorithms of a social media account?

“So sorry for your loss.” I had commented after some thought.

“Your loss, too.”  Came the comment back from my cousin.  Was it? I wondered, my hand frozen over my mouse, the cursor blinking, demanding a reply.  Was it my loss, too?

In that a human being is no longer on this earth, yes, it is everyone’s loss.  A deeper personal loss for me, no.  I did not attach to my immediate family when I was young and did not attach to my many cousins.  I am not feeling an attachment suddenly as an adult. That is not to say that one could not have been created or could not be created now.  Anything is possible but we would have to come together as people and make the effort to get to know each other, then, if we became family, I would feel that loss more deeply.



It’s All About the Gravy

I was watching the semi-finals of a children’s cooking competition show this morning, when a small ten-year-old boy began to make gravy for his roast pheasant.  I realize that the fact that a ten-year-old can roast a pheasant is the real story, but for me the story is always about the gravy.

I saw him pour the drippings directly into the pan and “Oh No,” escaped my lips, “He can’t…” I whispered.

An older boy nearby stepped over and asked him, “Are you starting with a roux?”

“Yes, a roux, say YES,” I willed him as he up-ended a bag of flour straight into the pan of drippings and the older boy backed slowly away.

“NOOOOOOOO!!” I howled alone in my living room causing the cats to both exit to somewhere quieter.  Even they knew this was considered a high crime against the culinary arts to create gravy in this manner.

Growing up my mom made gravy every Sunday to go with our Roast Beef and mashed potatoes.  That was Sunday Dinner, a large chunk of meat, a potato dish and a veggie dish. Sometimes the vegetable was green beans and sometimes carrots.  I always felt cooked carrots were only edible with gravy – most food is.  And if I didn’t want to eat them, I could bury them in the mashed potatoes.

As a child of six my part in the gravy making was a small one.  Being eye level with the stove created a safety issue so I was given what tasks I could do that kept me busy and out of trouble.  It was my job to shake a baby food jar of flour and water.  This was the thickening agent my mother would use–a thoroughly shaken (not stirred) flour and water mixture.

The meat would be removed from the pan and set aside to rest.  Amid the drippings of fat and broth, bits of cooked onion, my mother would add water and stir to remove any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan.  As she deglazed the pan, and I don’t know that she ever even knew this term for what she was doing to flavor our gravy, I shook the baby food jar.  I would shake and shake as I danced around the kitchen.

“Is it enough?” I would ask stopping several times to have her check it before she would finally say, “Yes, now.”  The lid would come off and it would be stirred into the simmering base.  The color would shift from a dark brown to a light tan as the flour-water was fully incorporated and began to heat.

“It’s bubbling!  It’s bubbling!” I would announce indicating that I felt it was nearly done.  My mother would stop stirring it with a fork and turn the heat off.  I would hunt for a ladle in the drawer of utensils while she got a medium sized bowl out of the cupboard.  The gravy boat was for holidays.  On everyday Sundays, a bowl was good enough for the gravy.  

Only then, once the gravy hit the table, was everyone called in to eat. Inevitably, my father would recall the first Sunday dinner my mother made just after they were married in the late 1950’s. Friends were invited and there was an uncomfortable pause prior to eating.

“Which one is the gravy?” my Uncle Tom had asked.  Apparently, it was far from obvious that it was a liquid.  Oh dear!  No worries, she continued to make Sunday dinners and over the years the gravy improved greatly.

I don’t know what my mother’s method of gravy making was called, but when I was in college, I learned to start gravy from a roux: equal parts butter and flour.  I learned to melt a stick of butter (that’s universally a half cup) and then add to it a half cup of flour.  This would be blended together with a fork until a thick paste was created.  It was a beautiful dark caramel colored paste.  Slowly, very slowly broth would be poured into the pan and stirred quickly with a whisk.  The whisk made a scraping sound against the bottom of the pan like a whisper.  “Stir, stir, stir,” it said.

When my roux-based gravy was complete, it had a silky finish and coated a spoon perfectly (the doneness test).  It was not chunky or lumpy and never so solid that it required verbal confirmation to differentiate it from the meat dish.  After making it once at home, I became the official family gravy maker and we never saw the baby food jar again.

When I moved out on my own, my first solo Thanksgiving dinner included my roux and the silky result.  I was impressed that somehow, I had managed to get each dish to complete at the same time.  That my mother could do that always amazed me.

I have never been one to entertain and now, being gluten free, my old friend the flour roux was no longer an option.   Being single at the holidays leads to inevitable invitations from well-meaning people to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with them.  Sometimes you get to help with the cooking, sometimes you don’t.

I used to offer to make the gravy but I don’t anymore.  One woman saw me using an entire stick of butter and seemed to feel that I was attempting to kill her family with fat. I was unaware how afraid of wonderful things like butter and bacon she was.  It’s really very sad.

What was her preferred method of making gravy?  With the giant turkey resting on a platter in the middle of the kitchen island among dishes of cranberry jelly and sweet potatoes and stuffing, she opens a cupboard and pulls out a bag of flour.  She up-ends it into the pan of drippings and starts to stir the dry powder directly in.

I nearly fainted the first time I saw this.  Now my stomach just flip-flops a little as I thank God that I am gluten free and won’t have to eat it.  Yes, it clumps. Yes, it lumps.  After it bubbles and thickens, but never enough to coat a spoon because that would mean patiently waiting for the flavors to develop and the broth to reduce, she pours the watery liquid through a strainer to captures all the lumps whether flavorful or flour.  Into the gravy boat it goes, where it stays until long after the meal is over.  That is one thing that is remarkably different from my home growing up.  We never had leftover gravy.

The gravy the little boy served to the judges on Top Chef Junior had been allowed to thicken, perhaps a little too much.  The camera zoomed in on it being poured from the spout of the gravy boat and it wouldn’t.  It wouldn’t pour.  It was coaxed out onto the plates and the judges very kindly told him what a nice flavor it had.  He went home that episode.  He was a lovely, kind, sweet little boy and one day he will learn that all gravy should start as a roux.

Others will never learn.


#cooking #gravy

Blogus Postus – Look at the Photo

God creates things.  Man labels them.  Man labels them and classifies them and organizes them.  I think it gives man comfort in controlling some aspect of his surroundings.  I’ve never been much of a fan of labeling, though I am an ace sorter and organizer.  I think labeling leads to most of the issues we have between humans.  I can see how it helps us make sense of the physical world around us – all the pieces parts, animals, plants, movements, sounds, physics – all that.  When the labels seek to separate, that’s when problems arise.

When I was little my older brother would catch butterflies and bugs for his collection.  He would pose them on a straight pin piercing their stiff little bodies and carefully mount a label containing their common and Latin names underneath.  I recall him telling me once that I was a very frivolous person, not having the same interests as he in more intellectual pursuits.  I read fiction, I liked comedies – what a waste of time!  To him.

I have attracted a recent follower on Instagram who feels an intense need to go through my nature photos and identify not only their common name but their Latin name, origin, family (those are the wrong labels, I am sure).  I admire that he has all this information in his head.  My mind simply does not retain it.  It is far too cluttered.  But what about the photo?  Did he like the photo?

He is nice about it.  He adds the comment with all the proper information. I took the photo for a reason.  I used that angle and that light and that subject for a reason.

I can’t even remember the name of my favorite TV shows or bands.  “You know the show with Sheldon.”  It makes me laugh.  “You know that band that sang that song about potato chips.”  I can’t even remember the song name but I love the rhythms.  I probably only remembered the potato chips because I was hungry.  I can usually remember the lyrics if the song is playing.  (That isn’t very impressive though, is it?) It isn’t that those things are not important to me. I just can’t lay my mind on the information in my brain to recall it at the moment it is needed.  I can remember it later, sometimes.  Faulty wiring, I blame on a medication I was given over twenty years ago.

I said to the doctor, “I am missing words.  Easy words like…you know…a pet, four legs, barks.  What is the word for that?”

The doctor said it was stress, not to worry about it.  Then a week later took me off the medication saying that it was contraindicated that I remain on it this long.  I think I could have drawn upon the words for a response to that.

I now find myself feeling guilty that I do not know exactly what type, among the million or so, mushrooms I took a picture of yesterday.  I hesitate before I share it because I sense that this follower would like it to be named.

If I waited until I identified officially from the many handbooks I do have for mushrooms, wildflowers, birds, etc., I would never get a photo posted.  I learned early on that it is almost worse to incorrectly identify on platforms like Instagram or Facebook.  There is always someone out there lurking in the dark shadows of the network that is waiting to correct you.  It’s what they need to do.  And they do it with a sick sort of enjoyment as though it were a contest that they won.  You know them.  The grammar ones have been round to your place, haven’t they?

What if when I stop at the woods today, there are more I do not know the name of? (Grammar Police just ignore that preposition, it’s also something I do.)  Do I stop taking pictures?  Probably not, it’s what I need to do, much like it is what this fellow needs to do to name everything. I suppose these are our roles.  I take the photo.  He identifies the photo.  If he is incorrect, someone else corrects the label.

Look at photo, though – that angle, the depth of field – you love that fuzzy background, don’t deny it.

Look at the photo.  Label it, but tell me how it makes you feel.




Blame the Sixties

I am often glad the my mother died when she did.  I remember just two months after she died, was September 11, 2001.  I couldn’t locate one of my brothers who I knew was either in New York City or Washington D.C. on a rare vacation.  Phone lines were so jammed they all went down and it was difficult to communicate with anyone the first day or so. Everyone walked around in a stunned silence.  I was glad in the months following that my mother never had to experience all of that.

I am glad she isn’t experiencing what we are now.  There are a lot of things I thought would have changed since I was growing up in the late sixties and early seventies.  I thought we would be “further along” in our progress in a lot of areas.  I suspect we could be but there are mechanisms in the way keeping us from it – money, power – those things often prevent illnesses from having cures, lives from being lived, freedoms from being enjoyed.

I know people who exhaust themselves running about on social media railing at injustices and the horrible state of our country and the world.  Mom would have shaken her head at them.  She would know how little change they are going to bring about by ranting and raving and only looking at the negative. She would only have to glance around in her own community to know what to do and how to help – quietly, locally, personally.

There are so many things that the shouty people obsessed with newsbytes fail to notice.  Things that are going on right in front of them, the things they really could make a difference at if they reached out and touched the living in their communities instead of only believing in the ones on their screens.

I am not a shouty type (I am like my mom in that way) – it takes a lot to get me to that point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written my rants to the newspapers way back when that was what you did.  I still have a couple of the clippings. My mom did not agree with my point of view at the time, but she accepted that I had it and was proud of me for speaking my mind.  I’ve changed a lot. I don’t speak my mind as much as I used to.

I absolutely believe, perhaps naively, that if you keep an eye on the negative, but promote positive alternatives, positive solutions, positive events, that the love and kindness inherent in the positive will grow and the negative will shrink away.  There is far too much over-sharing and over clicking on the negative in the world today.  It deepens wounds.  It infects and it corrupts and it fails to really provide a forum for the good that is out there if one is willing to look for it, stand by it, lift it up and shout about it instead.

Good can heal.  Bad can heal, but it heals in a twisted, stunted manner.  Good can heal and continue to spread and grow.  Over time my world has become very small for many reasons.  Perhaps that limiting feeling has actually been a plus for me.  I notice the world closest to me in minute detail.  I feel the sounds, taste the colors, listen to the sensations….It’s the physical world closest to us in which we can affect change. (I wanted the verb there to be “effect” change, it feels more powerful, but the grammar gods say no….)

I think overexposing yourself to the negatives eats away at your soul (or your character if you don’t think souls are a real thing).  Look at anyone who has had to live with an overly negative person.  It feeds on them.  It hurts them every second they are exposed and they grow into a life where they share the same negativity.  We learn from those closest to us.  I think obsessing over the negative is eating away at the core of people and when they share the negative it is as though they are sharing a nasty disease with their closest friends.  Why would you want to make your friends sick?

The worst thing you can do for an enemy is validate them by constantly thinking about them and worrying about them and saying their names.  Stop speaking to the negative, the evil – speak about the good, shout about the wonderful, only voice peace, love and kindness.  It’s okay, I heard you groan just there.  I heard how kum-ba-yah it sounded myself.  (Blame the Sixties – I read a lot of Flower Power propaganda and listened to a lot of pop music.)  But it is true.  You attract what you put out there.  The more negative you put out there, even if you are only sharing “news” with others, is going to come back at you.  Don’t you deserve better?  You do, you deserve better.

Sure, when I do this, when I walk around trying to get people to smile, I get knocked down once in a while, like last week when I tried to connect with the clerk at the ticket counter at the movies.  I walked away and could not participate in her hate, her anger, her negative speech.  It hurt my feelings quite a bit that I extended a smile and words of kindness and they were essentially spat upon and ripped to shreds in seconds right before my eyes.  But it is her loss.  I won’t accept her negativity.  It’s catchy and best for me if I am not near it. I will move on to the next person and try again.  One person at a time.  We can make a difference one person at a time, because of the ripple effect.

What if people tried, just for one day, to ignore all the bad news and be with those closest to them connecting over the laundry or walk in the park?

What if people tried, just for one day, to experience their community instead of their politics?

What if people tried, just for one day, to share  their spirituality instead of their religion?

What if people tried, just for one day, to connect their souls and not notice skin color?

Everyone has an identity  and that includes their politics, their religion and their race.  Those things are important.  But as we move about the planet, couldn’t our identity be less about the labels and more about what’s on the inside and our mutual hopes for a brighter day?  We really only have today.  Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.


Excerpt from “Every Kinda People” written by Andy Fraser, sung by Robert Palmer  (I really miss him).

“It takes every kinda people
To make what life’s about, yeah
It takes every kinda people
To make the world go ’round

You know that love’s the only goal
That could bring a peace to any soul
Hey and every man’s the same
He wants the sunshine in his name

It takes every kinda people
To make what life’s about, yeah
It takes every kinda people
To make the world go ’round”     (from https://goo.gl/eACQHY )


Maybe listen to it here: