If I May Be So Bold …

2016 has nearly wrapped up, and there’s something I need to say. I haven’t posted as much this year as I had wanted because life and, particularly in this year, death have gotten in the way.  I went to far too many funerals this year.  One is too many, and I went to several more than that.  Those and a terrifying night in a distant Emergency Room have left me with one message for this end of 2016:

Life can turn on a dime. And it will.  A split second, a hair’s breadth.  Very literally, in the time it takes you to look up, everything in your life, anyone you care about, could go away.  Forever.  And you’ll be left gasping, trying to figure out how you’re going to go forward, how you can continue to exist in this new reality you’ve been shoved into.

Don’t make it harder for yourself when that time comes.   Take a few minutes right now and consider each of your relationships with your friends and your family.  Are they the best they can be under whatever circumstances now exist?

I’m not talking about forgiving those who’ve been evil to you or have done you harm. I’m not talking about letting others treat you badly.  I’m talking about reflecting on whether you have the best reasonably possible relationship at this specific moment with the people you care about so that, if they were suddenly gone, you won’t be left living with an “if only”.  I’m talking about giving yourself the ability, when the time comes, to grieve without guilt.

If there’s a valid reason for the problem, make peace with yourself and let it be. If it’s bad because you’re stubborn and you’re waiting for someone else to be the better person, suck it up and fix it.  Unless you’re actually a six year old, don’t act like one.  Don’t wait for tomorrow to make things better.  One of these days won’t have a tomorrow.

And don’t just do it right now. Do it always, continually.  Keep it ever in mind that this moment, this very one, might be your last with someone.  Then act accordingly.

Please. This is my wish for everyone right now.


Another Bit of Flash Fiction

Social media, the repository of truths.

“Please.  I hardly know her.  We just work together.”

She wanted so much to believe him.

Buried, untagged, on Facebook:  “Hey, you’re too pretty.  Let’s hang.”

“Everyone stayed for drinks after shift but,” shrug, “she’s not my type.”

Her Instagram, photo of a beachy sunset:  “Awesome evening, awesome guy.”

“Now you’re just being crazy.”

Text while he’s in the shower, lit on his screen for the world to see:  “Hey sexy.  Can’t wait to meet up!”

“Babe, I’d never lie to you.”

She wipes a tear; she takes back his key.  “You already did.”

A Bit of Flash Fiction

This is darker and more twisted than I usually write, but I like it.  Limit 100 words with prompts that don’t really make a difference here.

Terrence, I’d heard his mommy call him before she sat down with her coffee and her phone.

So simple. Like ordering from a catalog.

Fishing line’s best for binding hands and feet. Fifty pound test won’t break and wriggling cuts easily through a child’s skin. He’s still soon enough.

Treated him same as I had my own, but he was no more special than the others. Too soon his bright blue eyes went dark. That night I pitched his sack over the railing and watched it sink in the current.

I have faith. I’ll find the one.

On Rites of Passage and Funerals

I’ve been thinking recently about funerals. The context isn’t important, so I’ll not get into that here, but I’ve been considering the importance of funerals as a ceremony, as a means of closure, as a farewell, as the ultimate rite of passage.

There really aren’t that many mainstream rites of passage left in American culture. The only thing we really always come together for now are births, weddings and death.  Various religions and immigrant cultures have other ceremonies, but those are exclusive in the sense that you have to belong to those particular groups to participate.  But for straight-up, average Americans, there’s not much else left.

As a side note, maybe that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing such a big deal made of grammar school, or even preschool, graduations, as if it’s some achievement that your kid managed to get out of the 8th grade.  When my daughter graduated from middle school, some of the kids had limousines rented for them, for goodness sake, with girls in prom-type dresses.  Really?  You don’t expect them to do this again in four years?

But I digress. Births and weddings and death, those are the big three anymore.  That’s when we come together, families, friends and even acquaintances to mark the importance of the occasion.  There are parties, there are gifts, there are flowers and well-wishes.  Even for funerals; we just call them by different names.

Before I really get to my point, it occurs to me here that this train of thought also informs, for me, the issue of gay marriage, which is currently in a state of flux all over the country and really the world. If a wedding, and all of the attendant hoopla that goes with one, is one of our fundamental rites of passage as a culture, what does it say about us if we deny, or try to deny, that rite (note the spelling) to such a large number of us.  They celebrate with us, but we refuse to celebrate with them.  We refuse to allow them to celebrate at all.   If a couple chooses to forego the process, get married at the courthouse or elope, or have a “civil union”, that’s their choice, but shouldn’t gay brides and grooms, in whatever combination, have the same array of choices as those that are straight?  I’m not talking about forcing churches to act against their beliefs, but it’s not like every couple that gets married in this country is a practicing member of any particular religion.  In fact, the last several weddings I went to were nowhere near a church for couples that probably didn’t know what the inside of one looked like.  No one required them to hit any particular benchmarks to use the words wedding and marriage.  No one even thinks about it.

But back to funerals. With births and weddings, the focus, the benefit if you will, is on the parents as an extension of the child or on the couple.   To welcome them in their new form to the world, to our society, to our culture.  That they have been made anew and that deserves celebration.  But if you miss a baby shower or a wedding reception, presumably there are others there to fill the space. You are there to celebrate someone else, for someone else, so a community of support is important, but specific involvement less so.  Funerals are different.

Funerals are most definitely not for the deceased.  The most that could be said is that they are there in spirit only, and even that’s a question of faith.  No, funerals are for those who are left.  And that’s more than just the immediate family, although they certainly deserve that support.  A funeral is more, though; it’s an opportunity for a community to come together to grieve together.  For family, friends, acquaintances and associates to be there for each other.  To remember the one who’s passed away, to help others to remember.  To share stories and memories that others may not know and in that way spread those memories around, to be remembered now by the community at large, so that everyone goes away not just with closure but with a bit more of that person in their heart.  So they can be remembered.

I believe it’s a fundamental desire of every single person in this world to be remembered, to believe they made a difference, no matter how slight, in the world at large, and funerals help with that. I remember every single funeral I’ve ever been to.  At each one I’ve learned something about the person who died that I didn’t know before, sometimes quite a bit, even for people I thought I’d known well.  And I can tell you about each of them, as I’m sure can the others who were there with me.  In us, that person is remembered, in us they make that difference.  Perhaps they inspire us, perhaps it’s a cautionary tale, but it’s important.  It matters.

I believe there are cultures where the body of a dead person would be eaten in the belief that they would then become part of the others in the family or community and thus survive. Modern funerals are the symbolic, knowledge-based equivalent of that.

And what if there is no funeral? What if there is no one to mourn, or not enough money to pay for it?  What then?  I think then we all lose, the person who has died in their lack of remembrance, in the lack of honor accorded to them, but also us, those of us who are denied the opportunity to share that remembrance, to give that honor.

We have few rites of passage left in our culture, but of the ones we have left, I believe that funerals are the most important, not in what they do for the deceased, but in what they do for us.

Tiny Wineries Everywhere!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend the weekend winetasting in Lodi, California. What’s that you say, you’ve never heard of Lodi?  Of course you have.  It was the title of a song by Credence Clearwater Revival back in the last 1960’s.  Okay, maybe you don’t remember that far back, but you could look it up.

For the uninitiated, Lodi is a small town in the northern central valley of California, generally known for agriculture and specifically known for wine.  Really.  Robert Mondavi, who helped make Napa wine specifically, and California wine in general, world famous, grew up in Lodi.  He started in the wine business there before moving on to Napa, and for decades it’s been the center of large-scale, mass-produced California wines.  Sort of like Napa’s rougher, blue-collar cousin.

But the cousin’s moving up in the world. Instead of just massive wineries putting out ba-zillions of cases of just-okay table wine, now small craft wineries are popping up like mushrooms putting out excellent, small lot wines made with grapes chosen because of how well they grow in that specific climate instead of how many gallons can be pushed through regardless of quality.

Yes, I have an opinion on the subject. Can you tell?

Actually, it’s a phenomenon that’s happening all over California, and I think all over the country. Maybe the world, which would be exceptionally cool, but I can’t speak to that.  Today I’m sticking to my own backyard, figuratively at least.

From where I’m currently sitting, which is northeast of Sacramento, there are wineries in literally every direction. Most of them are relatively tiny operations, where the winemaker is passionate about the wine and the chances of overwhelming financial success are seriously slim.

One lovely winery just east of here has its vineyard on a sloping hill behind the winemaker/owners’ house with a view all the way across the Sacramento Valley, and they’re doing some great things with Zinfandel and Barbara (among others). North of here is an actual monastery where the monks are supporting themselves by restarting a winery on land used to grow grapes since 1846, now specializing in unusual varietals.  In other directions, families that have been grape growers for generations are moving into the production side, often with spectacular results.

One of my favorite things about wine is that it’s constantly evolving. A bottle of wine reflects so much more than the grape it’s made from.  It reflects the soil, the location, how much sun and how much rain the grapes receive, and the winemaker’s every decision in the process.  The bottle you open today will taste different, subtly perhaps, than it will in six months or in a year.  To drink a bottle of wine is to capture a moment, one moment, in the wine’s life and in ours.

Is all the wine great?  Sadly, no.  But a lot of it is.  And that’s what makes it worth searching out. I’ve had people tell me any number of times, oh, I don’t like white wine, or I don’t like red, or even I don’t like wine at all.  I tell them you just haven’t looked far enough.  The ranges in flavor and body and character are so diverse for different grapes and styles that perhaps all you need is to try something new.  I thought I didn’t like sparkling wine when I thought it all tasted like what California puts out.  Turns out I like Italian prosecco and French champagne, and Spanish cava quite well, thank you very much.

So I’d encourage you, whoever and wherever you are, so long as your old enough and are not avoiding alcohol for medical or other reasons, to go out and find a new wine. At a local shop, at a winery, or wherever.  Something new, something different, and preferably from someplace small, where the wine is more passion than profit.   And then savor the moment.

How Making Chili is Like Writing

My (day job) office holds a chili cook-off every year on the Friday before Super Bowl. Those who want to can wear the jerseys of their favorite teams that day.  There’s a panel of anonymous tasters and then the entire office comes in and eats chili until we’re all about to burst.  It’s a fun sort of event.  The first year I won, which amazed me to no end, although my husband and I had put a lot of effort into the recipe.  In the years since, I’ve made a different chili every time, and I’ve placed or not, but I haven’t won again.  I’m hoping this will be my year.

In preparation, my husband and I have cooked up test batches of chili and then had friends over to taste and critique. The last one everyone loved, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for this year.   Still, while we were making the chili, leaning over the cast-iron pot to taste the sauce over and over again, and talking about what and how much to add to improve the flavor, it occurred to me that chili making (and cooking in general) is a lot like my writing, or anyone’s writing I suppose.

I’m not trying to make good chili. The first batch was good; most cookbooks have “good” chili recipes.  No, we’re going for great, for amazing, for perfect.  So, with each taste we asked ourselves, “what does this need?”  More salt?  More herb?  More depth?  Some sweetness?  We add just a bit of this or that, let it simmer for a while, then taste it again.  Rinse and repeat, until we can’t find a single thing to change, that this batch is as good as it is possibly going to get.

Then we’d invite others over to have some, and they’d make suggestions. Maybe a little bit more heat, maybe some spice, maybe something that was the secret ingredient in their mom’s chili that would improve ours.  And then we’d go make another batch.  Rinse and repeat on a larger scale.

Until it was perfect. Not good.  Not great.  Perfect.

That’s what I try for when I’m writing. I start out aiming for good.  It’s just too depressing to spend time writing something, then go back over it later and realize it’s nothing but crap.  But good is good enough the first time through.  It’s after that the work starts.  Editing, revising, checking each word to make sure it’s exactly the right one in the right place.  Tearing things out or putting them back, checking for nuance, for rhythm, for tone.  Until it too, hopefully, becomes perfect.

Of course perfection is never actually achieved. I’ve entered a different chili recipe every year I’ve worked at my job and won once.  I’ve liked my chili or other chilies better than the one that won several times.  If there was one perfect chili recipe that everyone agreed on, there would never be reason to ever make another, to try again.

In writing, as well, I don’t know that perfection is ever achieved. If there was one perfect book, what would we read next?  I know I’ve never personally achieved anything nearing perfection in my writing, but I keep at it, stirring, and tasting, and adding a bit of this and that.  And every time I do it, I get better, just like with cooking.  And that’s part of what makes it worth doing, to keep doing.  Not to achieve perfection, but to strive for it.

Up and Running

Well, I’m glad to say that with much less work than I expected, this site is up and running. I’d heard that WordPress was easy to work with, and that was no joke.  Suffice to say, I’m very happy with the results.

Now to content.  I plan to write about all sorts of things.  Food and beverage are things I love to search out and that I love to write about.  Expect posts about places I’ve been to eat and drink.  I also plan to talk about books and writing, and various thoughts I have about them.

I’m deliberately going to avoid partisan politics.  I have my positions; I’m sure everyone who might ever read this has theirs.  I’m not here to try to change your mind.  People who blog politics are fine, I just don’t want to be one of them.

I’d rather write about the body of a dead English king being found under a parking lot, a lost castle found underneath a modern prison.  How brave I think it was for my great grandparents on my dad’s side to forsake the worlds they knew in Scotland and Wales to come to a new country, this one, in a time that meant they’d probably never again see or talk to those they’d left behind.

There might also be some pictures.  Not so much of food in restaurants, because that’s just not my thing.  But I have to tell you that the pork crown roast we made for Christmas was a thing of beauty and definitely worth sharing.

Or it could be anything else.  At this point, who knows.  I’m looking forward to it.

One last note.  I’m blessed with both a great husband and an amazing daughter.  I might blog a bit about them, but right now I’m thinking not much.  I’m a big believer in the right to privacy, and I don’t plan to invade theirs without their permission.

And now, onward and upward.