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Beginning Under the Hot Kansas Sun

I’ve been asked many times about my writer’s story. In fact it came up as a class assignment so I decided to share it here.

My writer’s bio, not only for my personal blog but for any published writing, tells a quick version of how I came to consider myself as a writer. Growing up under the hot Kansas sun, Deanna Keller spent many hours sitting under the apricot tree with her nose either in a book or writing in her scruffy notebooks, carefully composing stereotypically bad teenage poetry with a number two pencil. Exploring writing as an adult, she found her voice blogging about her observations and musings surrounding life under the pen name, Avie Layne, which she has done for the past seven years. Additionally, she has been blogging for The Journey Seeker and has been a guest blogger for OMighty Crisis. Creative Writing classes at college opened her eyes to the idea of short stories for young adults and ignited new writing passion--many based on the stories of her parent’s poor childhood growing up in the Ozarks of Arkansas in the late 40s early 50s, while others have been based on her own crazy life. While these facts are true, when I think of earlier memories of writing, I think back to first grade and Mrs. Newsome, in connection to the physical act of writing due to her comments on my poor penmanship. To a little girl who was the size of a 4-year old, this woman towered over me, not only physically (I’m still certain to this day, that she was 6-feet tall), but in her cursive writing, which was as beautiful as calligraphy. Try as I might, I could just not get my little hands to make that pencil flow as fluidly as hers. I still remember that teacher's remarks and how they made me feel at the age of six. Over the years, I worked extra hard to not only improve my penmanship, but to match that calligraphy style feel—a feat I did master. Perhaps that drive for the physical perfection of writing is what led me to burning that first red spiral notebook filled with dreadfully written rhymes. Though the poetry was horrible, it did helped me process events of my childhood and early teens.

I was the only girl in a family of six, with a neglectful, alcoholic father. He wasn’t abusive; he simply chose to forget or care that he had four children. Neither of my parents went to college, let alone completed high school. I still am not only a first generation college graduate, but also a first generation high school graduate. The saving grace of my childhood was the summers spent at my grandparent’s farm, deep in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Picture mountains, dense forests, wild animals, poisonous snakes and spiders, chickens, cows, pigs, horses, gardens, and NO outhouse. Cold spring water right out of the mountain and water melon seed spitting contests with my three brothers. Yes, I carried a notebook and pencil with me—many times simply writing what I saw around me, details about the day, or the irritation I felt at being picked on by my brothers. While I don’t recall seeing my parents write, I do remember seeing my grandmother sit at her kitchen table many nights, after supper was cleared away with a naked solitary light bulb hanging over her head while she wrote letters. On lined notebook paper, her writing was nothing like my first grade teacher—more spidery in appearance. But her telling of the week’s events to whoever she was writing to, awakened vivid images in my mind. She didn’t use big words, for she didn’t know anything except what she read in her bible. But she made the drudgery of a farmer’s wife come alive in those letters. I was the recipient of some of those letters during the school year. I would read those letters and be immediately transported back to their farm—its smells, sights, and all of the feelings that made those summers special. Simply in how she described her days and what she saw through written words. Additionally, it was also the stories read to me by my aunt during those summers that opened my eyes to how effective writing could be, especially when read out loud—a lesson I carry to this day as I frequently read my own writing out loud as part of my revision process. During the times not spent at my grandparents, my nose was always buried in a book or frantically scribbling in one of my notebooks (more awful poetry), as a way to block out everything around me. I wrote secrets and buried thoughts—not sharing what I wrote with anyone. I later burned those notebooks as well, but the idea of writing as therapy stuck with me. In burning those notebooks, I felt that I burned not only the idea of writing poetry, but also some of the events as well.

There was a writing gap between my teenage years and late thirties because I don’t specifically remember writing much aside from the occasional letter as I was busy raising my sons. Yet as the marriage began to crumble, writing resurfaced as a way to help process being tied to an emotionally abusive and controlling man. Needing to escape and retain my sanity, I began to write prose in order to explore feelings. Thinking back, having to couch the words in order to conceal what I was truly thinking and feeling, honestly made me a better writer. I went back to notebooks and a number two pencil as there was something comforting about the physical act of writing—dealing with the turmoil by means of carefully written words. A strange, though probably natural, progression occurred and for several years I found myself writing songs—both lyrics and music as a way to cope. Though I stopped writing music after my divorce, I am certain at some point I will return to that form of writing.

After the divorce, I was finally able to attend college—something I was not allowed to do. No longer would I be able to write what I felt, but would have to write for a different audience—a teacher, whom I felt would be judge and jury to my writing. Initially there were papers and essays that felt like having teeth pulled. Though the grades were good, they were dry, uninteresting (to me), and painful to write. However, the turning point was in my college composition class. The assignment was to research and write about something in society that had changed over the last 10-years. I selected zombies, as I found the rise of zombies in literature, films, and television fascinating. My fiancé and I spent many hours watching, dissecting, and discussing zombie movies. The assignment made an impact on me as the writer, for I had fun writing, “Zombies: Down with the Sickness—What’s Behind the Zombie Craze?” I discovered how to take the written  snarky "voice" from my personal writing and combine it with my professional/academic writing. I suppose that Jocelyn was my favorite instructor helped in this process. Later I spent three years mentoring students in her literature and writing classes and served as her intern over one summer. We remain close friends to this day. Though it was not an A paper, she still uses it as a demo for her classes to show you can have fun with writing. For the writer in me, Jocelyn has been my most significant supporter as she has become one of my favorite writers and continues to push me to improve my writing through her constructive feedback.

In my current happy life, from time to time my writing may dip into therapeutic, but more so because I am happy, it is driven but I am inspired by what I see, hear, and feel going on around me. Though I’m not writing through events of childhood or an abusive marriage any longer, life itself is full of wonder that drives me to write. Lately, my electronic journal is filled with notes and observations of restoring a farm and building a chicken coop affectionally known as Cluck Tower. You would be surprised at just how comical it is to take a woman who never did construction and give her a teacher of a woman in her late 60s who has spent her life around it. Toss 22-chickens into the mix and some of my writings have been comical: "Things I have learned from the chicken coop. Today’s progress and lessons learned. Sometimes it takes three people to rehang a door and four to install a U-shaped piece of siding when it’s the very last piece to go in (a crowbar is a necessity). Pounding metal fence posts is best left to a strong man. Watch where you walk when chickens are running around—not only for their droppings, which is ALL OVER THE YARD, but for their nosiness and constantly under foot. Finally, I can build a frame for nesting boxes nearly by myself…with a little holding help."

In addition to the craziness of restoring a farm, I took a gap year between my undergrad in English and grad school—a year in which I had planned to work on a book book/memoir called, “For the Love of a Boy.” My gap year passed and due to issues with a grandchild, the book saw very little work other than the sketches in an electronic notebook. As I laid out sketches and ideas for this book, I came to the realization that the males in my life have driven many of my life’s decisions and directions—father, sons, lovers, husband, and a new grandson. It was in dealing with the neglect, abuse, and other issues that set me on the path of writing. In this gap year, I have often asked myself if I would have started writing otherwise. I honestly can’t say with any certainty that I would have.

Though I have blogged for years (out of necessity under the pen name Avie Layne), I remember the feeling the first time one of my pieces was legitimately published. After years of writing, I was encouraged to start submitting essays I had written for publication. I was surprised (I remember squealing) when my first piece was picked up by Feminine Collective. Being published showed me that, though I had been writing to process my life, others were not only going through similar things, but reading what I had written somehow helped them to cope. I was always under the impression that being published was a confirmation of success and proof that a person was a writer. But for me, I never needed publication to authenticate who I am— a writer.

Incidentally, I still love to physically write in a paper journal with a number two pencil.

Tea and Scones for Someone Special-ME

People who know me, know that I love to cook, especially baking, which I find very relaxing. I have friends who make special requests of the vast scores of old recipes I have collected over the years.  My sons knew this especially well while growing up. On Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting) they could find me in the kitchen turning out breads, muffins, cakes, pies, cookies, or bars. The warm smells of mom’s love would call them up from the basement where they might be watching a movie or playing video games with their dad. Now that they are grown with families of their own, they still look forward to some of mom’s treats. The eldest, when he was home for Christmas, requested Christmas cookies and anything else I would bake for him—of course he made many comments about going home “fatter.” That’s my job! One year for Mother’s Day not too many years ago, he sent me a book called, The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings by author Nathan Williams. Recipes he gathered world-wide from his own circle of friends.

It’s a cloudy Saturday afternoon in March and the man is gone for drill. My hankering for baking drew me to the book sitting on a side table in the kitchen. Flipping through the pages, my eye was caught by the Blueberry Scones recipe. I fell in love with the idea of Cream Tea on my trip last year to the United Kingdom. Knowing I had a small jar of clotted cream and a vast array of good jams and preserves, this recipe was exactly what I was looking for. Additionally, I keep a good supply of wild Wisconsin blueberries in the freezer.

 

Blueberry Scones (page 303)

2 C all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting

3 Tbs. sugar

1 Tbs. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

¼ C, plus 2 TBS> unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled

1 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Grated zest of one lemon

2 large eggs

1/3 C cream

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Raw or turbanado sugar for sprinkling 

·      Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400º

·      Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Using 2 knives, or blender on low, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles small peas. Stir in the blueberries and lemon zest.

·      Whisk the eggs in a liquid measuring cup until well beaten, then whisk in   the cream and vanilla.

·      Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture with a fork, mixing just until combined. The mixture should look shaggy.

·      Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour. Turn the dough out and knead it just until combines. Shape the dough into a 7-inch square. Cut the dough into four 3-inch squares, then cut diagonally into eight triangles.

·      Arrange the scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with the raw or turbanado sugar.

·      Makes 8 scones

·      Bake for 16-18 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for about 5-minutes. Serve warm.

One these were completed, I pulled out the small jar of clotted cream that I had been saving for a special occasion. I am a special occasion! I chose black cherry preserves to accompany my treat and made myself a cup of Irish Breakfast tea—sweetened with raw sugar and just a splash of milk. 

Today there is nothing more relaxing and satisfying than a good book while enjoying a cup of tea and a fabulous warm scone, smothered with clotted cream, and black cherry preserves. The book? Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Keueger 

Scones-up-close


Williams, Nathan, and Rebecca Parker Payne. The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for   Small Gatherings. Artisan, 2013.

Follow the Silly Leader - A Children’s Story

As a young child, Susan was adamant about putting on her own shoes. From the beginning she would place her left shoe on her right foot and her right shoe on her left foot. Her parents, loath to stifle her individuality and crush her spirit, would never correct her. They felt that once Susan got a bit older, that she would feel the pinch of shoes on the wrong feet. As time went on, Susan grew used to the feel and continued placing her left shoe on her right foot and her right shoe on her left foot. The day came for Susan to enter school and as she had always done, her new school shoes were put on the wrong feet and laced up. It is interesting to note, that though she had gotten use to the pinch, she still walked and ran slower than her playmates. Once Susan entered her classroom, her classmates questions to why her shoes were on the wrong feet, were met with, “That is the way I’ve always done it.” Now Susan was a pretty little girl with blonde curls and the delight to her other classmates. One by one, over the next few weeks, her classmates followed suit and began to place their left shoe on their right foot and their right shoe on their left foot. Soon rather than being the slowest at running, Susan’s speed became the norm as the idea spread to the other classes in her school. The PTA held a special session to talk about the phenomenon. After much debate, the decision was made to never correct their children so that their individuality would be nurtured.  An edict was sent throughout the city, detailing the benefits of individuality by gently persuading young children to place their left shoes on their right foot and their right shoes on their left foot, just like Susan.

The Men of the United Kingdom—A Woman’s Perspective

      As a graduation present to myself for my hard work on my undergraduate degree, I decided to accept the offer to be a student chaperone on a 12-day trip to Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and North Ireland. I flew over, along with twenty others, with expectations of what I would find. I’m certain that my expectations of the men of the United Kingdom came from watching movies. The warm voice and accent of Sean Connery, determination of Liam Neeson, and boyish charm of Tom Hiddleston filled me with hopeful anticipation that men like them might surround me. Hollywood has a way of skewing our expectations.

     I decided it would be fun and enlightening to interview men in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin by asking two simple (or so I thought) questions. “What does being a man mean to you?” and “Define masculinity.”  After all, I reasoned, men in America seemed to be pre-occupied with being “manly” and I was curious if this was happening elsewhere. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to conduct some research. Now if I could figure out how to make the trip tax deductible—I’d be set.

     The best place to interview was in the local pubs, as I wanted to talk to the common man—the everyday, run of the mill type of man. I wasn’t prepared for the quizzical looks I received. In trying to clarify and explain, more often than not, the answers I received were based on loyalty to country, “Being proud of living in this great country” or “Not being an internationalist.” I was surprised as I had anticipated different answers that what I got. It was interesting that one of the men mentioned, he hadn’t really thought about how proud he was to be a Scott, until he had left the country. In the first few days of a trip that had a timeline, I felt I was getting nowhere.

     The next afternoon, while sitting outdoors at a lovely pub in Edinburgh with my travel companions, I was encouraged to ask my questions to the four Scottish men sitting a few tables away. With the liquid courage of a pint (or two) of local brew on board, I decided to narrow my question down to something simple, tangible, and very relatable.  “What do real Scottish men drink?” The answers were hilarious – “Not whiskey—that’s for pussies,” and “Real men drink lager or Scotch.”  The chuckles that ensued opened the door to general conversation. Once we turned to the topic of being a man and masculinity, the answers became, “Who can drink the fastest,” and “How do your legs look in a kilt,” to how much they loved haggis.  Seriously, I did try that stuff and concluded that it was probably best after a few pints of something alcoholic—but I digress. It was this general conversation (spoken in an accent like Sean Connery—Hollywood was accurate on this one) with the four lovely Scotsmen that led me to abandon my typical line of questioning and simply observe the men during the remainder of the trip. 

      While in Scotland and Ireland, I could clearly see in facial structures, which men were of Scottish and Irish descent. Hair color aside, it was the heavy brow and foreheads with rugged, though simple features, that was a clear indicator, to me at least that I wasn’t in Kansas any longer. The words Neanderthal and Crow Magnum Man came to my mind, yet not in the insulting way we think of, for I could clearly see intelligence reflecting in their clear eyes and upon their brow.  The men of Wales were not significantly different from men I had encountered in the states—just not as many with weight issues. In London, a vastly globalized market with people from all over Europe, it was difficult to pinpoint just who were from England. Comically one of the traits I noticed, due in part to the reactions of my female traveling companions, was that the men in London smelled really quite nice. We’re not talking Axe here.  The men sporting what appeared to be top-notch suits caused my female companions to do a double take. Admittedly, perhaps, that was due in part to the area in which we live. One does not often encounter men dressed so splendidly aside from a wedding or funeral.

     What I discovered in my observations is, that while there was a fierce aggressive loyalty of country (no matter which country), there was also gentleness as apparent by the way women, children, the elderly, and even animals were treated. I noted a chivalry that I have not encountered since my last visit to the south. Yet, amidst this chivalry, there was still an apparent a love of the female form. This was evident in the way men would watch a lovely lass walk down the street. Even a woman of my age, received a few glances—or perhaps that was due to the crazy print leggings I was wearing. Mmm, I think I’ll take the looks as compliments. However, what was absent were the wolf whistles and comments frequently found back in America. Men apparently didn’t feel the need to draw attention to themselves in this way. They wanted to be free to admire beauty, yet do so in a respectful way. I remember watching a farmer and his wife walking down the street. His hand was placed in the small of her back—not pushing her along nor really guiding her. It appeared to be more of a protecting manner.  One of the classes I had just completed was Philosophies of Feminism and in that class, I learned about the great division between women who felt the opening of doors was a sign of chivalry while others found it a sign of benevolent sexism. After witnessing this, and being a receiver of this gesture, in both the United States and abroad, I would honestly have to say it’s in the attitude. I feel that men in the United Kingdom seemed to want to open doors out of a genuine respect, rather than a duty that was expected. Perhaps more research is needed, which would entail a trip to another country. 

     Since returning, I’ve thought about the differences in American men and men from the United Kingdom in correlation with masculinity and the need to question just what it is. I keep coming back to the responses surrounding loyalty to country. I wonder if the difference lies in the connection to the land. Men in the United Kingdom have a deeper connection due to thousands of years and generations—the United States, by comparison, is a relatively young country without the longevity of generations so the land connection isn’t as deep. What I found interesting was the connection that I felt with the land. I surmise it is due to my ancestral heritage as many of my ancestors came from Scotland and Ireland—traced as far as 1006.

     Perhaps one of the keys to reclaiming masculinity, for American men, is to get out of the offices and onto the land. Walk the earth—barefoot if you can. Build things with materials from the earth. Look at the stars. Take a dip naked in a cold lake. Hunt, with a bow, a gun or a camera. Fish. Share these activities with the next generation by taking your sons or if you don’t have one, join Big Brothers and take one of those boys.

And PLEASE, from women everywhere, ditch the AXE cologne. 

Cooking - An Alternative Therapy

         Writing has always been very therapeutic for me, however there are times when my mind and emotions are so jumbled that I cannot wrangle them enough to live on a page coherently. Cooking and/or baking becomes that activity which can cause the chaos in my mind and heart to ease—at least for a while. There is something about taking simple ingredients, that by themselves may not remarkable, and turning them into something spectacular and comforting. Take a couple pounds of beef, bacon, carrots, onions, good red wine, beef broth, and assorted spices, and with great care and detail, along with a little time, and you have Boeuf Bourgeon.  Exquisite! Into a bowl toss flour, leavening ingredients, spices, butter and fruit and you have a calming coffee cake or comforting batch of scones. Splendid! Perhaps that is the rub—the time and attention along with specific measurements. Shifting your mind off the current problems and hurts into something new. Writing focuses your energies on the issues that are at the forefront of your mind.  Cooking and baking take your mind off the issues, setting them to the back burner, and places before you the task of creation—something new of simple basics. Add in the components of friends and you have the perfect recipe for healing.  For me there is nothing better than cooking for others when life around me has become a train wreck—whether I’m the conductor or not. I love to give the gift of food—a gift from myself that my friend(s) may not take the time to make for himself or herself. My go-to is simple handmade pasta with fresh pesto made in front of the watcher while we share a glass (or two) of good wine. Perhaps it is in our pain that the giving of a gift—of ourselves—that becomes the marker of healing whatever current hurt we are experiencing. While we may be disappointed, hurt or let down by our children, friends, family, spouses, or lovers, there is something inherently beautiful about the specifics of a recipe. Grabbing a tried and true recipe will always yield the same results—that in itself is comforting. Add into the mix the giving of ourselves to others and whatever depressing issue is at hand, for a little while at least, it is set aside in the beauty of the moment.  

The Sound of Destruction

Imagine being shown the picture below and asked to write a short story about it. You have 2-hours. Oh and by the way…it’s a contest.


Taking up the challenge, I came up with the following story. To my surprise, I one first place. A gift card to Barnes and Noble. A fabulous place for a writer.

The Sound of Destruction           

            There was a strange smell in the air that overpowered the aroma from the wet fall leaves that lay on the ground decaying, the damp earth, and the distinct smell of autumn mushrooms. An unfamiliar sound of buzzing, chewing and grinding could be heard for most of the day. From time to time a loud crash could be heard—accompanied by a vibration that comes from an old soul dying. The gentle inhabitants of the woods kept as far away from the noise as they could, for they did not understand. Only the majestic stag comprehended what the sounds meant for he had encountered them before—and the knowledge filled him with sadness.

            As the sun was nearing the end of its daily journey across the sky, the sound stopped and the regular sounds of the forest returned, softened by the rising mist. The birds resumed their singing to the squirrels, who chattered to the frogs, who croaked to the doe, who cautiously approached the noble stag. Slowly rising beneath the songs of nature came another sound. It was a melody that was not made, nor heard before by any of the animals.

            One by one, the siren song pulled at their hearts—beckoning them to come out of where they were hidden and eased their fears. The wild boar came first followed by the rat. The doe and her timid fawn soon trailed. Finally the regal stag hovered at the edge of the small clearing. What they saw broke their hearts.

            The tree was old. Its arms had reached higher than any other. In the summer the leaves were the shade of emerald and the fall saw a deep orange that rivaled the sunset. All that remained now was a low base with roots extending deep within the warm earth. Those on the surface branched out as ripples on the water and gave shelter to the smaller woodland animals.

            Sitting on the stump, now a raw wound, was the source of the music. Out of an elegant moon colored shape resembling the trumpet flowers that grew in the summer fields, came the sound of splendor. Destruction filled their eyes— yet beauty filled their ears with wonder.    


Road Kill Stew

I have a fabulous friend whose family does a themed competitive potluck every year. The competition is for taste of the dish and for the associating story that goes along with it. It’s the participants of the potluck who cast their votes. For four years I’ve gone and presented dishes and stories for ginger, fairy tales, and childhood memories. Darn it if I can’t remember what the first year was. For the fifth incarnation of the competitive potluck, competitors were instructed to use television as the inspiration for their entries. With the husband and wife being an artist and an English and Lit teacher (read her blog at omightycrisis.com) the creativity in both the themes and instructions are a hoot:

“Interpretation of this challenge depends on the participant’s personal history and creativity. Maybe you want to recreate the assembly-line “chocolates caper” Lucy and Ethel had on I LOVE LUCY; maybe you have always wondered what Mulligatawny soup tastes since seeing Elaine order it from the Soup Nazi on SEINFELD. Your dish could invoke nostalgia by recreating the meal your family ate as they watched THE LOVE BOAT together. Or maybe you have perfected Julia Child’s scrambled eggs. Upon registration, you will write a short paragraph telling us how television inspired your dish.”

Now I consider myself a terrific cook as well as a decent writer, but I’ve never won or come close to winning. This year I decided it was time to pull out all stops and write using my authentic snarky voice. I came up with: 

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Road kill Stew –The Beverly Hillbilies

I loved watching The Beverly Hillbillies as a child and then later as an adult. There was even a time when I could sing along to the theme song. My favorite character was Granny (Daisy May) because she reminded me of my own hillbilly-like grandmother that I spent summers with in Arkansas. 

My favorite scene dealt with road kill. Granny tells Jethro to “Stop the car…they’s a fresh kill in the road…can’t just leave it there…road kill stew sounds mighty good right now.”

With this in mind during my recent camping trip to the Ozarks, on a winding mountain road, I found just the thing to share with ya’ll; a couple of squirrels, a possum, and a raccoon – all laying on the side of the road as though they were scampering home after a bit of moonshine and got taken out by a gap-tooth hillbilly driving a rusted old truck. Quick as a wink I was out (like Granny) with my shovel scooping them up and placing them in my cooler on ice. I decided to adapt my grandma’s recipe for Squirrel Stew (which calls for one squirrel per serving) in order to use all three types of meat. 

In case you’re wondering…I did confirm the critters weren’t too ripe and were relatively fresh before fixin em’ up fer you fine people – but just incase…rest assured that I put in a splash of moonshine as we know that’ll kill anything.

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Did I REALLY put squirrel, possum, and raccoon in the dish? No – I decided to use beef, pork and chicken and come up with a new recipe that honestly could be used with wild game. Was there really moonshine in there? Not moonshine, but Apple Pie Corn Liquor.

Roadkill Stew (not really)

This would be good with any wild game - or road kill if you happen to find it fresh. The apple pie corn liquor can be replaced with apple cider. The lard can be replaced with any type of animal fat. You can also replace the fresh green beans with two cans of green beans and their liquid. 

Ingredients

1.5 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1" pieces

1 pound chicken breast, cut in 1" pieces

1 pound pork loin steak, cut in 1" pieces

2 medium red potatoes, cubed

1 medium turnip, cubed

1 medium rutabega, cubed

6 medium carrot, cubed

1 medium onion, diced

5 stalks celery, diced

3 cups kale, torn

2 cups Green beans, fresh and chopped

1/2 cup apple pie corn liquer

1 teaspoon pepper

6 cube  beef bouillion

6-8 cups water

1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons lard

2 tablespoons butter

Instructions

1. In a large stockpot with a heavy bottom, melt the lard and the butter on medium high heat. Toss the beef, chicken and pork with the flour. Put into hot stockpot and brown. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the drippings and crusty buts as they add flavor. 

2. Add onion and celery; cook until tender.

3. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to simmer and cover. Cook until all vegetables are tender. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom for the crusty bits, until the veggies are tender. Then the heat can be set on the lowest setting (just below a simmer) for the remainder of the time.

4. This soup can sit on low for up to 6-hours as the flavors will develop over time.

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Oh – by the way…this year I DID win in the story catalog. The prize was a fantastic basket lined with a linen kitchen towel (colors that perfectly match our kitchen) filled with adult beverages, snacks, Great Harvest bread, s fanstatic red serrated knife (complete with case), and a skewer of funky shaped and colored marshmallows. I wonder what theme they will come up with next year?

A Journey Seeker

It’s just a small tin, however what floats out is large and evokes images of the beautiful scents of nature. Journey Seeker's beard balm, once applied to a beard takes on the essence of the man. Though my own man does not sport a beard, I wanted to see the response of a female who smelled it on her own man. Giving the tin to a friend of mine, he applied the beard balm – Campfire, to his beard and let it sit a few minutes. The look on his girlfriend’s face was priceless. She closed her eyes, nuzzled in, and almost purred. Not just at the first smell, but for the rest of the evening. I have since passed along samples to other female friends of mine, who have a man with a beard of their own. They too, nearly purr with the smell that invokes deep memories of what a man smelled like before the days of men’s cologne. "Love at first sniff."

The Journey Seeker started with the journey of one man – a voyage to settle the turmoil in his soul. From shore to shore the journey had taken months as the man started at one ocean and traveled to the other. Mid-way found him spending a few weeks at a house that belonged to a friend, working on a project. The project was stripping varnish off of a log cabin and applying a new coat. A job that required more brawn than thought – one that would allow for the quiet contemplation his soul sorely needed. As he opened the bucket, the incredible scent of pine tar came forth. It reminded him of the fresh wooded area around him. As he put his face closer to the bucket and closed his eyes, his mind was flooded with memories of other trips he had taken. The smell transported him back to excursions from his life of camping and canoe trips, walks in the woods, and time spent at the hunting shack surrounded by male family and friends. 

His journey started long before the expedition across the United States. As a young boy, he was always seeking his true self and rallying against those who would place him into a box. Later as an adolescent he pushed and pulled against the restraints that modern day society uses to conform men into something other than what they were created to be. This drive and fight is not restricted to just one young man – it is story of all males.

Rather than the strong protector and provider – our culture over the past few decades have demanded men become soft and complacent. A demand that goes against the very nature they were created to have. A man’s success has become measured by the amount of money he makes and the power he wields within the walls of buildings. Society has stripped away the ability for men to shape their masculinity and dominance through pushing past the confrontations of nature – harsh or mild.

So – how does a man reconnect with his true nature? By exploring and experiencing the very word itself – nature, a man can listen to the beat of his own heart and learn the rhythm of his own soul.  This reconnection with the very nature that we originated from serves to unleash the very potential of a man and his destiny.

In the end, masculinity is about courage. The courage to go outside your comfort zone and embrace something new - something that will push you past your own strength and endurance -something that will take you outside of your comfort zone.  Perhaps even to embrace a little fear in order to truly feel alive as you were created to be. However, each man must search his heart to know exactly what that something is.  

There is a reason why The Journey Seeker’s Motto is, "Pursue adventure, embrace boldness, and reclaim masculinity."

I am a Hat Rack

I have decided that sometimes I wear too-many-damn-hats! It wasn’t always this way. There was a time in my life where I possessed just enough that I could either juggle them quickly – or sometimes wear two at a time. I possessed the hats of trophy wife, mother, and nurse. Though I had children, life was simple then. However, over time, the hat of motherhood wasn’t needed as much. Additionally, one of those hats just didn’t seem to fit quite right. It was too constricting, restricting, controlling, and confining — plus I was required to wear it 24/7. So, after 23-years, I decided I’d had enough, and I held a small bonfire of hats and walked away. Ran actually.

I discovered that once I was rid of the “constricting and confining” hat of trophy wife, I could take on bigger, better, and even MORE hats!

With my day beginning from the time I walk out the door at 5:30 am (sometimes at 5:15 am) and going until 10:30 pm at night, many of these hats are in a continual rotating basis.

Monday through Friday typically looks like this, with some slight time variations depending on what classes I have:

5:45am–10:00 am – nurse hat

10:30 am-3:20 pm – student hat

3:45pm-6:45pm – nurse hat

7:15 – 10:30 – student, girlfriend, and Phi Theta Kappa advisor hats

The open times in between are spent driving to and from campus. When I have volunteering, work time shuffles as I can be flexible just as long as I get those 40-hours in. Most of my phone calls are made during drive time <gasp> yes I wear a headset! It really is the only time I have figured out where I can make phone calls to family or PTK members.

On weekends, while there is no time constraint, I’m girlfriend, student, PTK advisor, writer, and archer or hunter (depending on the time of the year). Happily, I don’t have to get up until 8:30 am on the weekends – yet I’m typically not in bed until 1:00 am.

Am I insane? Perhaps. Yet I believe if there is something that interests me then damn it – I’m going to buy that hat and see if I can wear it.

My current hats:

Girlfriend: this is the easiest, most carefree, and most fun hat that I wear – non-stop. Of course it is a younger hat, but one that I love wearing. It fits me very well and never goes out of style. At the age of 45, I found the love of my life: a man 13-years younger whom I had been good friends with for two years before my divorce. I was surprised as heck when he told me he wanted to date me. I can honestly say that I am no longer who I was because I have blossomed without the restriction I had been placed in during my marriage. It is this relationship (of more than 7-years) that has afforded me the freedom to pursue new hats. In this hat I have traveled to France, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This hat will eventually see me (with Shawn) living and teaching in Thailand six months out of the year.

Full-time Student: taking 14 credits at a time – in the classroom five days per week- with too many outside of class hours to think about. It would scare me if I did the calculations. Happily – this hat does not resemble a cone-shaped dunce hat. This could also be called my “planning and preparatory hat” as it is this hat that is needed for the dream of living in Thailand. Admittedly, it was difficult getting used to wearing the hat of student after being out of the classroom for 27 years. Starting with an Associate's Degree, now working on my Bachelor’s Degree, and then heading into Master’s in English is a time commitment but necessary for the life we envision for tomorrow.

Nurse: though I initially burned this one, I did get a new one in a slightly different model. I wear this hat 40-hours per week typically. However, sometimes I have to put the traditional nurse's hat back on for family and friends -- you know, when they have questions that they don’t want to bother their doctor with. After graduating from practical nursing in 1983, I spent the next 27 years as a pediatric nurse, an OB/GYN nurse, and a medical surgical nurse in a hospital. Now I use my nursing skills in Quality Review. This is a job (and hat) that is flexible enough that I can don my student hat over it.

Phi Theta Kappa Advisor (PTK): the honor society for 2-year colleges. This hat has undergone some style changes since I first put on a PTK hat in 2011. It initially started as a chapter officer and then regional officer and morphed into the eventual chapter advisor hat along with serving on a regional advisory board. Sometimes this involves giving workshops, just listening, or helping with scholarship applications. The transition in style has definitely been a learning process, and there are times when this hat gets a bit uncomfortable to wear.

Volunteer: while I was wearing the trophy wife hat, I was not allowed to volunteer because, after all, what would I get out of it? Since my divorce, I have found that I enjoy wearing the hat of volunteer. Wearing the hat of the fryer queen at the VFW burger nights (this hat looks more like the tall paper chef hats we see on TV) along with keeping their wireless internet up and running has been a great way to give back to those who have served.  Donating blood and working with elementary kids in a Rolling Readers classroom reader looks like a baseball cap with the words – “Just Ask Me & I’ll Do It” written on it. If I can fit it into my schedule, I will happily accept any volunteer hat that is offered.

Writer: this invisible hat allows me to blog under a pseudonym so I can be deep, snarky, give advice, or be serious; my “Avie Layne” hat is a fun one to wear. I’ve honestly tried this hat on from time to time since I was a teenager. Undeniably, as a teenager, what I wrote was truly horrible – but it was a learning process. During the later years of my marriage, I dabbled in writing, but it wasn’t a hat I could bring out very often.

Archer/Hunter: YES – this hat is camouflage (or bright orange) and is typically worn from August through January. A full camo ensemble accompanies the wearing of this particular hat. This is the newest hat in the bunch. I’ve never been athletic, but trying archery at a fellowship event showed me this was something I could do. I discovered, in this past year, that I’m actually quite good at it. Later, I decided it would be a fun hat to wear with my dad during deer hunting season. This year the hunting hat was in practice as I think my quarry knew that my hat was very new and stayed away. Next year, however – my hat will be quite broken in.

Future Hats: While I will always have the hat of girlfriend, there is the possibility of changing the style slightly to that of wife. Of course, this time it won’t be the trophy style – rather it will continue to be comfortable, carefree, and easy. While we are living in Thailand, my hat will be teacher of English language, lover and chef of Thai cuisine, all while keeping my writer’s hat close at hand. In the months each year that we will be back in the States, at the property we lovingly call “The Lake House,” I will don the hat of gardener and make a slight variation to the teacher hat while teaching community classes on cooking. This little tree of hats could happily sustain me for the rest of my life.


This is a snapshot of what a typical day looks like.

Not-and-April-Fool's-Joke
Writer-Hat
Girlfriend-and-School-Hat

Women and Their Fight

     I have been taking literature classes and reading about the struggle that women have had to gain simple independences. It’s sad that for many years we fought against the prejudices of men to gain the freedom to vote, possess property, find employment, and enjoy independence. Now we fight against each other in our pettiness and our insecurities. We scrabble to gain the imagined upper hand when we should be supporting each other in the fight we still have for equality.

     This war exists in the classroom, our workplace, within our social sphere, and sometimes within our own families. Have we, as women, fought so hard that we are unable to get out of the mindset of fighting? Do we imagine that if we don’t continue to hone these skills, that should the need arise to resume the fight for our independence— we will have lost the skill? Do we fight out of fear that someone will take our imagined deserved place?

     It has come to the feeling that we cannot share the successes we have for fear it would be tantamount to firing the first shot. Our allies are made up of cliques. Our shields are made of distrust. Our bows are made up of suspicion. Our arrows are made of gossiping. We wield guns of backstabbing and shoot bullets of whispers. Veiled threats are encroached behind vapid smiles.  

     I was thinking about this idea as I was assigned to write a poem in one of my classes. The instructions were to incorporate repetitions with a simple rhyming structure. If possible – aim toward an argument. I don’t claim to be a poet; a fact that I gave as a disclaimer when I was instructed to read it out loud in class.

 

As Women 

As women we fought for equal rights

Equal rights were our rallying cause

Now our time is spent fighting because

As women we were raised to give sleights

 
As women we should hand out praise

Praise should flow easily as the rain

Flowing easily it’s hard to contain

As women let us combat the clichés

 
As women can’t we value one another

Rather than compete with our gender

No more competition with each other

As women we ought to be tender


Our strength would be better served fighting inequality and injustices rather than each other.

© Avie Layne 2012