Grocery List #17

Winter’s setting in and I found
crumpled
in my old coat pocket
grapes
cheese
table crackers
sparkling cider
dixie cups
chico sticks

in your awful hand,
and I wonder
if you still have things like these,
this detritus from relation-shipwreck’s past
washed upon the shores of your new life,
and why I haven’t yet found the strength
to let these things lie buried
at sea.

Recipe Stash: Baked Beef Penne

I was generally unmotivated today and needed to go to the store but instead spent hours mulling over my writing and failing to resist the pitfalls of social media. As a result, I ended up making dinner from items I already had on hand at home. Despite not having a clear idea of what exactly I was making in the beginning, it actually turned out pretty good! It’s basically my take on spaghetti. I present to you, Baked Beef Penne.

What You Will Need:

  • 1 lb. ground beef (I prefer the 80/20 variety)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained (14.5 oz.)
  • 1 can tomato sauce (24 oz.)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt (I like to use Kosher salt)
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-1 ½ cups penne pasta
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or more to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

What You Need to Do

  1. First brown your ground beef in a large saucepan with your onions and garlic until the meet is not longer pink and the veggies are tender. I like to cook the beef a little first and then add the veggies and continue cooking the two together until the beef is no longer pink. Drain and return to saucepan.
  2. Add your tomato sauce, drained tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper into the saucepan with the beef and vegetables. Heat to just below boiling.
  3. Turn down the heat and simmer covered for at least an hour. (I simmered mine for two.) Stir occasionally.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Boil penne pasta according to the box directions. Drain, and set aside. I highly recommend making sure you don’t overcook the pasta, as it will cook again in the oven.
  6. Use medium sized baking pan/dish (I recommend glass), grease with non-stick cooking spray or oil.
  7. Add meat sauce and pasta into the pan in alternating layers. (The bottom and top layers should be meat sauce).
  8. Add mozzarella to the top layer of meat sauce and bake at 350 until the cheese is melted or to desire doneness.

It turned out pretty delicious and full of flavor. A simple, great weekday meal with plenty of leftovers. (Even the picky four year old ate it.)

Happy cooking!

—M

Autumn

Waiting for you, who sent my heart into frenzied bloom,
Boy
with clumsy hands—you had no green thumb—
Uproot this parched flesh,
make it full again.

Book Stash: Book Recs

Since chronic illness has yet again to rear its ugly head, I have been spending a good deal of my time indoors, mainly shuffling from house to hospital and back again. As a result, I’ve been doing a lot more reading lately. Here are a few things I’ve picked up lately that I recommend.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

As a brown girl growing up in two different worlds (north and south), and fancies herself an occasional poet, this book was very dear to me. It is a quick read as it is written at a child’s level and consists of short free verse poems, but it left a lasting impression. I think it is the kind of book that grows with you.

Treasury of Khalil Gibran

My mother bought this for me at a yard sale merely because it was old book and whenever I attend yard sales I frequently look for books and antiques. This book was published in the late 60s and beyond a little yellowing and wear and tear near the corners it is in good condition. I regret not having read any of Gibran’s work previously. This volume contains some of the most breathtaking poetry I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

In the Country by Mia Alvar

A collection of short stories detailing the lives of Filipinos from Manila to Bahrain and beyond, from cultural struggles to dealing with life in diaspora, each story sheds light on not only the Filipino culture but also reveals universal truths about ourselves and the human condition.

Happy reading!

–M

The Sound of Rain

“Hush up now. And get away from that window,” Mama snapped at me in a whisper.

The sky was thick with soundless humidity. Clouds were beginning to gather, dully treading their way across the horizon, pregnant with rain. It was nearly palpable, the rain, I could practically feel the moisture hanging in the air, feel the electricity tingling through my fingertips and the hair standing up on the back of my neck in warning. I slowly backed away from the window.

Mama hadn’t inherited much from her mother, except superstition and her stern jaw. She turned off all the lights and was busy lighting candles all around the room while I sat on the bare bed with Old Faithful. Normally Mama would complain about the hound being on the bed, but she was too occupied to care as she made sure the windows were locked and the curtains drawn. Plus, the dog hadn’t been well in months, so lately she just let him be. Old Faithful whimpered a little in pain. The rain always seemed to agitate him, old wounds swelled and festered. I patted him gently on the head and he looked up at me with his unseeing eyes.

Mama laid the linens she’d stripped from our bed on the floor in the furthest corner of the room, away from the window. That was where we would spend most of the night, huddled up still in the corner, never daring to speak above a whisper lest we attract the attention of the storm and be struck. It was likely we would be, Mama had said, since we lived in a tin can and all. Our cable antenna in fact had been struck a number of times. We lived in an old metal little trailer near the edge of wilderness on a patch of fertile farmland that no longer exists. You can barely see it now from the road since the forest has grown up all around it for years unchecked.

“Come over here,” Mama instructed and patted the quilts around her.

I had always loved nights like these. Most days and nights I spent away from my mother. Since Daddy left, my mother worked a number of odd jobs. During the day she worked at a factory in the next town, sewing buttons on trousers. Nights she worked at a nursing home as one of the attendants. I hardly saw her. She would come home at some wee hour in the morning and sleep for all of four hours before venturing off to work again. Most of my days were spent with my grandparents, who I very much disliked. My grandmother, Mamie, was strange, stubborn and unkind. Her husband, Paw Paw, was often absent, drunk, and belligerent.

So I relished in nights like these. Nights when I could curl up in my mother’s bosom and bury my face in her thick dark hair and feel her warmth and breath as she told me stories about our ancestors. Stories about Indian chiefs and princesses, about heroes and war and triumph and sacrifice. Stories that I was really too young to understand but loved to hear. I liked the idea that our ancestors had been noble Indians and not dirt poor farmers who hardly farmed and lived off of insufficient disability checks the way my grandparents did.

Mama’s face looked much less harsh in the glow of candlelight. Mamie always harped on about how plain she was compared to her sister Ernestine, but I thought she was beautiful. I’d only inherited very little of her looks though, just her pronounced ears and full lips, features that she’d gotten from her father. However most of Mama’s looks came from Mamie, though Mamie was reluctant to admit it.

The storm didn’t last long. I could hear the house stirring to life again; Mamie clanking dishes in the kitchen and Paw Paw’s heavy footsteps as he walked around the house, blowing out each of the candles. Old Faithful was still shivering at my side. I caressed the slick hair of his head and whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry, it’s all over now.”

Mamie and Mama busied themselves making supper in the kitchen while Paw Paw watched from the living room in his big chair. No one was allowed to sit in Paw Paw’s big chair but Paw Paw, not even in his absence. Old Faithful blindly limped his way over to him and curled right under his feet.

“Etta!” he called.

“Sir?” I answered.

“Get me a cold one.”

“Yes sir.”

I got a beer from the fridge, handed it to him and stood for a moment awaiting further instruction. He examined me through bloodshot eyes. “You want some?” he motioned to his beer.

“No thank you, sir.” I hated beer, the smell of it made my nose crinkle.

“Sit down and keep me company then,” he said.

I plopped down on the floor beside him next to Old Faithful. Neither of us spoke. Paw Paw petted Old Faithful and drank his beer. After he finished he told me to fetch him another and another, until his yellow eyes took on their normal glaze.

“That’s a good boy, Ol’ Faith,” he said to Old Faithful every now and again. “That’s a good boy.”

Old Faithful was the only dog Paw Paw took the time to name and the only creature, Mamie said, that he ever ‘treated with any kind of decency.’ From time to time stray dogs would make their way over to our little corner of the world in search of food and shelter. They would stay for a couple weeks or months at the most, eating leftover scraps and sleeping on our porch. But no matter how long these dogs stayed it was only a matter of time before they would be hit by the passing traffic on the highway in front of our house. It proved to be inescapable, the call of freedom from the other side of the road. One by one the dogs had gone off to answer it, and one by one they were each struck down.

But Old Faithful had stayed and followed Paw Paw around like he was being lead on a leash. Paw Paw not only named him, but took him in the car with him on errands, and made him a pallet to sleep on in the corner of the living room, and picked the ticks off of him when he’d been wandering around in the woods.

Supper came. Like most suppers we ate in silence. Old Faithful laid out on the floor beside the table, too old and tired to beg. He seldom had much of an appetite nowadays. Paw Paw took his entire ham-hock and set it on the floor for him. Normally when Paw Paw gave him scraps it was some leftover cornmeal mush and a maybe a bit of salt pork if he was feeling particularly generous. But this time he gave him the whole ham-hock and a little helping of pinto beans and cornbread, which Old Faithful ate in its entirety before laying out luxuriously and licking his jowls.

“That’s a good boy,” Paw Paw said again, patting him. “That’s a good boy.”

After supper Mamie went to bed and I stayed to help Mama clean up the kitchen. We then had something rare⎯dessert. Mama had gone to the store and bought Oreos, the actual brand, not the knock off kind that didn’t nearly taste as good. She even let Old Faithful have one.

I could hear Paw Paw rummaging around in the next room, hear the opening and closing of drawers. I noticed Mama looking a bit nervous about something. She kept fretting about her hair and brushing imaginary crumbs off her apron. Then Paw Paw emerged from his room, and went to the door, unlatched the porch screen and said, “Come here, Ol’ Faith.”

Rising, with much effort, Old Faithful rose and did as he was told. I petted him one more time before he went out the door.

I was still at the table eating cookies when I heard the sound like a clap of thunder, only the storm was long over.

“What was that?” I squealed.

“Nothing,” Mama answered, not looking at me. “It’s time to get ready for bed.”

“But what was that?”

“Didn’t I give you something to do? Go on, get now and quit asking me questions.”

A few hours later I heard the porch screen open and crept out of bed to investigate. I could see Paw Paw’s silhouette in the moonlight streaming from the window. He was glistening in sweat and covered with earth. He just stood there for a while. I could hear his heavy labored breath from where I stood in the hall. I hid behind the corner when he went to the fridge. He grabbed another beer and sat down once again in his big chair. He turned on the television, that had all of three working channels, and sat there staring at it. I don’t think he was watching the TV as much as it was watching him. He just sat there in his drunken haze, enveloped in the television’s eerie blue light.

No one ever spoke of the fact that Old Faithful didn’t come home that night or any of the nights after. Like most things in Mamie’s house, it was never spoken of, in the belief that somehow the truth could be avoided by not speaking it aloud.

Even now, in my mother’s house, these things are rarely spoken of. Of course, my mother is much less superstitious now, although she’ll still turn off all the lights and light candles when a storm rolls by. As for me, I’ll take my usual place by the window and watch the rain; the rain that taps its little rhythms on my windowpanes, the rain that keeps everything green and lush, the rain that makes old wounds swell and fester.

Book Stash: “Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend” A Review

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks (or Matthew Green as he is published in the UK), follows the story of Budo, the imaginary friend of Max Delaney, an eight-year-old boy who is on the spectrum. As far as imaginary friends go, Budo is ancient. At five years old he is the oldest imaginary friend he knows. Imaginary friends are created for a number of reasons, in times of great stress, near death experiences, and to cope with the changes of early childhood. Most imaginary friends don’t survive kindergarten. As children become more socialized, they tend to stop needing their imaginary friends and as a result stop believing in them. When this happens, imaginary friends disappear.

While imaginary friends can only be seen and heard by the people who imagined them and not the general public, they can also interact with other imaginary friends. Through Budo we are introduced to a colorful cast of imaginary characters including a fairy, a mobile paper doll, and a talking spoon. With the help of those characters among others, Budo must act to save his friend Max from Mrs. Patterson, Max’s parapsychologist and teacher gone rogue. But in doing so Budo must also put himself in danger of disappearing forever.

Memoirs was thoroughly engaging. It was funny and endearing while still maintaining a poignant edge. It manages to balance its lightness with equal gravity by exploring the fascinating realm of imaginary creations, what it means to live, and the price of growing up.

3.5/4

Book Stash: “Still Life With Woodpecker” a Review

I’d never heard of Tom Robbins and his books aren’t ones I normally see gracing the shelves of my local bookstore (not unless they are haunting the inventory at a second hand shop). So naturally, I was largely unacquainted with his work. I first encountered Still Life With Woodpecker at work. One of our regular customers is downsizing their home library and graciously decided to bestow his books upon us. As a result, our backroom is littered with books. Two giant storage totes, boxes, and bags. There are books under and behind chairs, on the desk, on top of the fridge, crawling out from the shelves. Clearly, I always have an abundance of things to read at work. Though, the space to read them is becoming increasingly less abundant.

When I picked up Still Life and read the back cover I thought it sounded a bit odd. (Upon a cursory Google search the author apparently did acid in the ‘60s, which makes a lot of sense.) Indeed, Robbins’ book seems the kind that would take on a cult following—a small, but dedicated group who swear by his literary talent and glean literary merit from what the more critical might consider cheap thrills and trash literature. In fact, a critic once said of Robbins, “[he] writes like Dolly Parton looks,” which I don’t imagine to be a compliment. (No offense to Mrs. Parton.)

At its core Still Life is a love story between an outlaw nicknamed the Woodpecker, who has a penchant for blowing things up with dynamite, and Leigh-Cheri, a princess of indefinite European origin who is exiled with her family to Seattle in a blackberry plagued mansion. (At the end of the novel the mansion is entirely engulfed in blackberries.)

Leigh-Cheri meets the Woodpecker (Bernard Mickey Wrangle) on a trip to the Geo-Therapy Care Fest in Hawaii, a conference that is set to tackle the problems of sexism, racism, and environmentalism, among other things (and is said to have Ralph Nader in attendance). By accident, fate, or too many shots of tequila, the Woodpecker who means to bomb the Care Fest, bombs a UFO conference held in the same hotel. It is due to this mistake (and the Woodpecker’s crime being spotted by none other than the princess’ servant, who later develops a cocaine habit and becomes queen, try to keep up) that Leigh-Cheri and Bernard cross paths. The princess resolves to turn him into the authorities, but falls in love instead. But their love-at-first-sight romance is thwarted, when in trying to court the princess, Bernard, in a moment of neglect, accidentally sits on and kills the Queen’s beloved Chihuahua, and is arrested.

Two and a half years pass before Leigh-Cheri and Bernard meet again. For months in mourning Leigh-Cheri locks herself up in her attic and tries to recreate the feel of her lover’s jail cell. This sequestering receives public notice and creates a fad, which Bernard in a letter to Leigh-Cheri denounces. Heartbroken, Leigh-Cheri vows to put the Woodpecker out of her mind and reemerges from her attic and agrees to marry an Arab suitor (A’ben Fizel) upon completion of a pyramid. (The power of pyramids being a mystery she is intent on solving due to months spent contemplating a box of Camel cigarettes.)

The night before her wedding Leigh-Cheri gets news of Bernard’s death. Her jealous husband-to-be had him killed. In despair she goes to the heart of the pyramid she had erected for some kind of solace and there she finds Bernard waiting, quite alive. Upon seeing their reunion embrace A’ben locks the door to the pyramid with the intention of letting the pair starve to death. He makes up a story that extremists kidnapped the princess and paints the pyramid black as a monument to his beloved. Leigh-Cheri and Bernard survive a little over a month on champagne and wedding cake before Leigh-Cheri blows the door off the room with the dynamite Bernard always seems to have on his person. The lovers survive the explosion but both end up deaf. The novel ends with the two of them living their lives out in domestic bliss in the mansion overgrown by blackberries.

Robbins’ book was at times entertaining but I will admit there were several instances that I did start to lose interest. He meanders a bit (there is a running bit about a typewriter independent to the story) and sometimes his insights into the dilemma of romanticism and activism, individualism and society border on preachy and pedantic. At times he is very clever, but other times he seems to be trying to be overly clever and the writing loses its charm.

But there are quite a few gems in Robbins’ story, a few instances when the writing verges on brilliant before retreating back into the absurd. His narrative is colorful, his use of language playful, and the metaphors he uses are nothing if not inventive, and always strange. He refers to a particular part of the Leigh-Cheri’s anatomy as a “peachfish” and also occasionally “peachclam.” (I should note I had a very uncomfortable conversation with my mother about the accuracy of these terms.) He also details one of the most unappetizing, if not entirely accurate sex scenes I’ve ever read. “Slurp and slobber, smack and excess water.”

Even with its glaring flaws, Still Life With Woodpecker does manage to be charming in spite of itself. While sometimes tedious, it can be fun, if you’re along for the ride.

2.5/4

–M

I hadn’t intended on writing a post today, but here I am.

I tend to schedule out my days and weeks accordingly, but today did not go as planned. It was a bad day. I should have known it was coming this morning but I neglected the signs—my sudden flashes of anger and being more irritable than usual.

I managed to make it through my (thankfully) short workday before falling apart, sobs wracking my entire body, sitting alone in a dark closet. (I like to feel contained when I feel out of control like this). In hindsight, it all sounds so melodramatic. I have a mood disorder that occasionally likes to rear its ugly head. Today was one of the more minor episodes, but nonetheless it was a pretty discouraging and unproductive day. I lost an entire day of writing and my kitchen is a mess.

For now, I’m floating along in that strange feeling of calm that settles in after a good cry. It’s days like this that I try to remember to be kind and patient to myself. There will be other days to write. I can wash the dishes in the morning. Tomorrow guarantees nothing but there is a realm of possibilities in store.

I suppose there isn’t much of a point to this post. And it certainly isn’t the most eloquent thing I’ve ever written. But if anything, I hope it serves as a reminder to be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, and that it’s okay sometimes to take a sick day when you need it most.

Take care,

–M

The Matter of Us

What is the matter of us

but a smattering

of sweet nothings,

exchanged as love notes

tucked between pillows

to open again at morning’s hellos

sent spilling

into our windows

like a fine white wine.

What are we made of

if not infinities,

the hourglass bind of dust and bone,

the impossible time between dusk and dawn.