Thanksgiving secret ingredients

Should I be learning the recipe for your mom’s Gravy?
He shrugs. I don’t like it as much as the Gravy my grandma made. But she probably filled it with all sorts of things you can’t get anymore.
I smile. Like arsenic.
Chris smiles.
And lead. Delicious lead.
Oh for the good old days.

Security and Shame

This Sunday I visited a holiday fair that specialized in charities that needed help for the holidays: thanksgiving and Christmas.

My daughter said, “Hold these.” She tore off to the bathroom and I tried to get out of the way.

“Would you like a chair?” a woman asked.

“No, I’m good.” I could only see the back of her display from where I sat. “What are you here for?”

“This is to help people with clothing and shelter in emergencies.”

“Wouldn’t any time you needed shelter or clothing be an emergency?”

“Sometimes a woman might go to the hospital early and not have an infant car seat or a place to take the baby home. We help with that.”

I was silent a moment.

“You know, ” I said to the woman. “There have been a number of times in my life when I’ve been pretty close to the edge.”

I was remembering when I was first married to my first husband. I had no margin at all. I had quit my job as cook for a daycare, so I could go to college full time. I missed that job as cook because when I had it I could take extra food home with me.

It was a YMCA daycare, and most of the food I cooked with came from a food bank. I never knew what food they’d have, so meal planning was tough. There was always some kind of leftovers I got to take home, so my $7.50-an-hour paycheck didn’t have to pay for food at least.

I hadn’t quit my job cold turkey. I had found part time work. Three part-time jobs, as a matter of fact. Their hours still left me time to take classes. But I had to buy my own food.

It was after Christmas, and we’d still had some things left over from the cook job in our cupboards. Good thing, because we had run out of paycheck and with a couple days to go until the next one.

We had flour, salt, and a few bags of leftover stuffing mix. And food coloring.

The stuffing mix tasted okay. Then we had nothing but flour and salt. We made homemade noodles.

With blue food coloring. We pretended they were some kind of space alien food.

I looked at the woman next to me, “I have learned a few things since those times, and I have thought that the world had changed and become easier to survive in. But I’m not sure if the world has changed so much as I have.”

She said, “It’s probably that you have changed.”

When I think about those times, and how long they lasted and how they should never have happened in the first place, I feel shame and I remember all the ways that I was a victim of….. what?



It doesn’t even matter what, now that I think about it. Sometimes things happen in this adventure of life.

I know what they mean when they talk about food insecurity. And I could give tips on all the ways that I survived being poor and cast out. I could be proud of how I climbed my way out.

I am.

And I can see how, if you’re working hard in your 8th month of pregnancy and counting paychecks until the one that lets you afford the car seat you have to have

and then you’re stopped cold because baby came early and there aren’t going to be any paychecks for a while

you could use a little help.

I’m pretty grateful that things worked out for me. I’m thankful for my car, and my house and my job.

I’m thankful for my savings account and my coat and my boots.

It’s a good time to share some of what I’ve got with others.

Stories True and Fiction

My first grader has learned about fiction. Somehow her teacher introduced the idea and it stuck. Some stories are imaginary and NOT TRUE. Some are true.

It had a bigger impact than I would have thought.

I was reading to her from a chapter book, the story of Dr. Dolittle. We were well into a conversation between the doctor and his animals, and she interrupted to declare: “This is not true. This story is fiction.”

What could I say?  “Do you want to stop reading it?

“This is not true.”

“You are right. But let’s see what happens next.”

Some stories are fiction. Some are true. Then there are the stories that are neither and both.

I’ve been listening to some lectures about King Arthur. Some historical sources have stories that are somewhat inconclusive. This proffessor says that everyone asks her: “Is the story of King Arthur true?”

She likes to quote Churchill “Even better and more besides!”

That’s what stories are. True stories, Fiction and all of it. The Adventures of each and everyone.

Veronica and I were playing at writing stories this week. I asked her to tell me a story, and I would write it for her. We wrote one, and it was great fun. I asked her to tell me another.

“Come on! Tell me The Adventures of Veronica.”

As excited as she’d been, she squirmed. “Mommy…”


“Well…You know this whole life I’ve been alive? Those are the adventures of Veronica.”

No kidding.

Just like that.Her life…Our life…those are the adventures. Truth is the best story, even better than fiction. What we do, in all the ways and means that we do it, that’s the best story. And it’s all true.

Even better and more besides.


The Unhappy King

Once upon a time, there lived a king. His land was prosperous. He had a lovely castle and plenty of money. The people of his land were just people, no better of worse than other people. Some of his neighboring kings envied him.

However, this king was unhappy. Things were not the way he wished they would be. He hates all the expectations placed upon a king.

The unhappy king tried to do his kingly duties. After all, he used to like being king. At first it was interesting and challenging, and the councilors appreciated him.

Then these same councilors reminded him of his kingly duties, the ones he wasn’t doing so well or the ones he should do better.

He didn’t like that. He knew they were mostly right, and a little ridiculous.

Then it seemed they were mostly ridiculous and only a very little bit right.

He tried to be a kind and benevolent leader for his people, and he still was.


Sometimes though, he had to let out his frustration.

He was unhappy.

His councilors started to be careful around him. They tried to keep his people away from his except in emergencies. Now the unhappy King only saw his people when they were in crisis. He grew even more unhappy.

The unhappy King stalked his chambers alone, unable to stop feeling miserable and frustrated. He walked from one end to the next, his thoughts filled with his favorite unfairnesses and travesties.

Turning again to the other side of the room, he spied a little calico cat cleaning her face.

“Great! What is a cat doing in my chambers? Can’t the castle keepers even keep my chambers free of pests?”

The cat looked up at him. “Aren’t you the king?”

“Of course I’m the king! Why else would I be stuck here in these rooms?”

The cat licked her white paw. “I thought kings were powerful.”

“Lot you know!” the king replied. “There is nothing but rules and obligations to being a king. And none of them even make sense. This whole thing is ridiculous. Every day I think I should just run away and leave them to their rules.”

“Why don’t you?”

“If I did, then this kingdom would collapse into revolution and chaos. That’s what the councilors say. But I don’t matter at all. These rules and responsibilities could all be done by anybody. I don’t matter at all.” The king sighed. “But I wouldn’t want the people to suffer. So I stay. For now…” and his eyes glowered.

The calico flicked her tail. “Aren’t you the king?”

“I don’t think that word means what you think it means. You think king means you have power and can make decisions and get stuff to happen. It doesn’t. It means sitting down and listening to other people tell you how to behave and which hand to use to scratch your nose. It’s ridiculous.”

The cat rubbed her nose with her paw. “What would they do to you if you used the wrong hand to scratch your nose? Would they run you out of town? You said that was what you wanted.”

The king turned on his heel. “It’s more complicated than that. You don’t understand.”

“Cats always understand more than humans know. Your councilors are doing their job and counseling you. It’s your job to be king and not listen to them every time, but to see what needs to be done and make it happen.”

The king slowly turned to look at the cat. “I have to listen to the councilors. That’s what they are there for! To keep me in line.”

“Do you like the line?”

“I’m sick to death of the line.”

“Who does like the line?”

“Nobody, so why are we keeping it? It’s ridiculous.”

“Aren’t you the king?”

“Stop saying that! I have to do it this way to keep those poor helpless people from descending into chaos and hurting each other.”

“A king would find a way to stop the ridiculousness and still keep the peace. That’s why people have kings.”

The king stared at the cat.

The cat stared back. “This is a nice castle. You should learn to live in it.”

The unhappy king looked down at his feet. He felt small. He had not been living like a king. He’d been waiting for someone to show him how to be great.

The calico told him he had to make it himself. He swallowed, ready to thank the little cat.

But when he looked up she was gone. It was only himself.

He began to pace his room again. This time he was thinking of what he could start with. “Just one thing…If I could start to make it better. That could make all the difference.”

Feed the Animals

My friend is taking a tap dance class. I am envious.

She is a performer. A fantastic one. She acts and sings and writes and composes, and shimmers with all those fascinating talents all of the time.

She’s also a mommy. A fantastic one. Her youngest is not yet two.

“I had forgotten how great it feels to stand in front of a mirror wall and dance!” she told me.

“I’m so glad you can do that! It’s so hard to have to leave it behind while you mommy.”

It reminds me of the old story.

How the grandfather tells the little boy:

There are two wolves inside your heart. One is strong and brave and kind. The other is mean and vicious and ready to hurt you any way he can. Which one will win?

Tell me, Grandfather. Which wolf will win?

The one you feed.

I think there are way more than two wolves howling for food in my heart. Yes, there is the wolf who is kind. And the one who wants to tear everyone’s head off.

Then the wolf who reads voraciously. There is a very hungry wolf who needs to write, and another who needs to travel.

I have a very silly wolf who pops up a lot. And a wolf who works way to hard.

All those howling needs and passions that demand from me. What one is hungriest today? Which one am I listening to?

Maybe they take turns. Maybe one or another of them get out of hand.

Inside of my heart, there are a lot of animals to feed. Some of them are still waiting to be discovered. I have to listen to hear which one needs to be fed next.

I’m wondering if I need to feed the tap-dancing wolf. That one has something to show me.

Look what I have

It was great to see Jessica, Christy and Greg and celebrate the day of the dead this Sunday. As we were getting ready to board the gold line, I was having trouble figuring out how to make my card work and I was filled with dread.
Let me explain. The day before a private investigator working on behalf of the guy who assaulted me in July had come TO MY HOUSE. I did not like to think that people connected to my assailant (who is still in jail) would know where I live. I sent him packing, and I still felt exposed.
Also, it is very hard for me to tear myself away from my family. I LONG to have time for myself and yet there is always this heavy feeling that I should always be with my husband and daughter when I am not working. In my mind, I allowed myself to HAVE this time with friends on sunday on the condition that I not stay out too late. 
See how I’m cinderella and the wicked stepmother to myself all at once?
So I didnt’ like the idea of beign out too late, but I thought, hey I can just leave on my own if it gets too late. And as I was loading up my fare for the metro, I pictured leaving my friends early, coming back alone on the gold line and going home like a responsible mother.
Coming back alone.
What could go wrong?
my fears resounded off the memory of what DID go wrong that one time when I was assaulted and started clanging my alarm bells.
I stepped back. “I don’t think I should go.” People give all kinds of advice on how to be safe. and traveling alone at night on public transportation through not-great neighborhoods is a common piece of advice.
I found it off, and I went. I told Christy I was a little nervous because of what had happened the day before. And how I didn’t feel great about having to come back alone.
She said “Maybe that won’t happen.”
I hadn’t even asked for someone to come back with me. I didn’t let people know in the moment that I needed a little extra help right then.
I didn’t let myself HAVE friends who would be inconvenienced for me. Somehow, in my mind, I was asking for almost too much to be there at all. That taking an after noon off from family was a huge deal, and I was stretching just to do that.
In the past I have had friends who would not extend themselves for me in anyway. That’s not the case now.
It was surprising to see all this in myself. Isn’t it funny? LIke, if I can just keep my skirt smooth and my makeup flawless I will not have bad things happen. I will never be assaulted or be rejected by friends.
But if I never show that I’m in trouble or in need, i”ll never get to see what beautiful people my friends are.