Blog


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: 

************************************************************* 

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.

************************************************************* 

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.

************************************************************* 

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.

Grandma’s Cup and Saucer


            For a recent class, I was required to read an essay by Liz Rohan on the use of material rhetoric to create and store our memories. During the reading, I had a flash of recognition and understanding for an activity that I have been doing since my grandmother passed away. My happiest memories coming out of a difficult childhood were the summers spent at my grandparent’s house in the deep Ozarks of Arkansas. A hillbilly farmer’s wife, my grandmother was large, loud, rough and hardy. Yet there was an activity she did on a nightly basis that decried her appearance. After dinner was over, my grandmother would take out a delicate cup and saucer from her good dishes, pour coffee into the cup, add two lumps of sugar and a dollop of fresh cream from her cows. Carefully balancing the small saucer in one large calloused hand, she would take hold of the little cup handle with the hefty fingers of her other hand, pour some of the coffee into the saucer, set the cup down on the kitchen table, and sip from the saucer. Watching my grandmother daintily sip her coffee this way, rather than the usual mug she used in the morning, was a puzzling mystery until I was old enough to join. She explained this was how the hoity-toity church ladies would drink their coffee to show their refined manners. Later I realized that my grandmother, though resigned to her lot in life, truly wished for and wanted to be something different. It was from my grandmother that I learned to love coffee and I drank it exactly the way she did. Until the day she died.

            I realized that I, like Janette (the woman in the essay), was building a piece of mnemonic material to enhance my memories. Not in the form of a quilt, but in the form of a collection that started the day I was forbidden to travel to my grandmother’s funeral. After her death, I was sent a small dish that she kept her hairpins in, her cookie cutters, and the rolling pin that my grandfather made. The first time I made cookies with the cutters and the rolling pin, it was as though I was watching my grandmother in her kitchen. As explained by Rohan using any of these pieces had the ability to transport me back to the geographical location of my grandparent’s farm (372). I made the decision to locate the rest of the kitchen items that I watched her use. Since 1986, I have scoured antique shops looking for and purchasing the same kitchen utensils from her kitchen. These pieces of memory are now housed in a special cabinet in my own kitchen. What I also find when I use them or look at them is a sense of nostalgia for those happy times from my childhood. Using items that I have collected from that era with new recipes is an example of remediation. “The new and old mediums reinforce and interact with each other” (376). Not only am I remembering the time when my grandmother taught me to use the rolling pin, I am making new memories with my significant other as I teach him to roll out a piecrust or with my sons, as we cut out cookies using my grandmother’s recipe and her cookie cutters.

            There has been one piece of artifact that I have not been able to locate. That is the duplicate to the cup and saucer my grandmother used. In my searching, the idea has always been to locate the dishes; however, I have always known that somehow I would be content with the cup and saucer. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s in her later years, eventually dying from the disease. While living in a nursing home she continued to drink her coffee the same way with the same cup and saucer. Rohan explains the use of physical objects for the recollection process states, “Memory had to be housed outside the mind – elsewhere, in things” (370). Not only did her continual use of the cup and saucer connect her with pieces of herself she was losing to the disease, but for me to locate the cup and saucer would keep the memory of my grandmother alive. Not only with the tangible item she used, but also by duplicating her nightly ritual of pouring the coffee from the cup into the saucer, setting the cup on the table, and sipping from the saucer, I would be creating a type of memorial. Complete with two lumps of sugar and a dollop of fresh cream.

__________________________________________________________________

Works Cited

Rohan, Liz. “I Remember Mamma: Material Rhetoric, Mnemonic Activity, and One Woman’s Turn-of-the-twentieth-century Quilt”. Rhetoric Review 23.4 (2004): 368–387. Web...

Thanksgiving ~ Truly

      I remember a past Thanksgiving spent sitting in the seat of the airplane, winging my way out to the East Coast. This wasn’t the plan I had for my Thanksgiving Day. I was to be at my mother’s, lounging in my pajamas, and watching old movies with her while enjoying the delicious aromas reminiscent of childhood. But there I was alone with my thoughts, after driving in the wee hours of the morning to catch a flight that was hurriedly booked late the night before. Providence had smiled on these circumstances allowing such a late reservation the good fortune of being inexpensive.

     The call came late morning the day before, while in the midst of a busy workday. It was one of those calls that can cause a mother’s heart to plummet, a call that set my life in a holding pattern. The baby, due in two weeks, his first son, was in distress. I must confess the initial tears that sprang to my eyes were neither out of love nor concern for my unborn grandson, his mother or my son. They were purely selfish. The previous 4-years had been filled to the brim and breaking point with stress. I had come through a marital break down that led to a nasty divorce, and had just finished closing on my new home the day before. A closing, I might add, that had red-tape nightmare written all over it. No, the tears were not from concern of my family, but concern of my own self. Could I really handle any more strain or would I simply implode upon myself. Taking a deep breath, I attempt to gather my racing thoughts and let out the breath, which I was unaware, was being held. 

            My co-worker and friend, who’d been there for each of the earlier stress filled events, simply put her arm around my shoulder in comfort and said “It’s OK, it will be all right. You CAN do this! It’s OK to be selfish for a moment.” Concern for the baby as details emerged changed tears from selfish ones to those born out of love of a grandmother and mother. Calls made back and forth still left no resolution by the time I left work…I was hopeful that everything would resolve itself and my well laid plans, for a relaxing Thanksgiving, then an evening with my boy friend and upcoming visit from out of town guests would not be way laid in the domino fall of an emergency trip. The fateful call came on the way home; my son needed me to be there. What mother could refuse when their child, no matter how old, needed their strength? Pushing my mental exhaustion aside, my mind started reeling and making plans for everything that I needed to accomplish before a 5:00 am departure the next morning.

            Being a person who makes lists and plans to great detail and checks them off as each is completed, a last minute trip like this had my practical brain scrambling. My M.O. was to plan a trip months I advance, not hours. Could I really get everything ready to go AND manage to get some much needed sleep? Years of travel with lists loaded firmly in my memory, my mind shifted into a mechanical mode, all the while waiting for any news. Everything completed as needed, ticket purchased ~ check, pack ~ check, cats taken care of ~ check, last minute work items ~ check, last minute calls to out-of-town guests ~ check. Calls to my own mother, who has a wisdom that I rely on assured me, that my place was with my son and his family. With everything completed and worry abounding; a nightcap needed to quiet my jumbled mind and relax my tenseness. So, in the spirit of the season, hot eggnog with a little (OK, maybe a lot) Captain Morgan and a hot bath…into the arms of lovely sleep.

            I remember while flying somewhere over the U.S., towards the East coast, my mind began to calm as I looked forward to spending the time with my son and his family. Baby would be fine and beautiful and of course greatly loved. I thought about this holiday called Thanksgiving and pondered, Thanksgiving, what does it truly mean? The answer the day before would have been automatic ~ dinner with family and the standard answers to “What are you thankful for.” Yes, there would have been be dinner with family, not with whom I had planned, but with my son and a daughter-in-law I have not yet met, and in just a few short days later, a new baby; a first son and grandson. What was I thankful for ~ so many things. I was thankful for my parents, who have stood by me the past tumultuous years. I was thankful that I had been gifted the love of a most amazing man. I was thankful for my two sons who share the same weird humor that I have and who can share most anything with. I was thankful for the deep friendships I have. I thanked God for my life, in all its messiness, unplanned events, and yes, even its stress. For these are the badges of life. 

            Thanksgiving ~ Truly to me is being thankful for who you have, what you have and where you are in life.    

Blessing or a Curse - A Very Short Story

Mary, upon gaining a divorce and losing her home, was looking forward to a nice quiet, peaceful, little apartment in which to live in. Her parent’s, wanting to purchase her grandmother’s home, convinced Mary to purchase their home so that they would be free to make the acquisition. Many of Mary’s friends congratulated her on the purchase of an equitable home, to which she said, “Is it a blessing or a curse? Only time will tell.” 

Eight months later in her quiet and peaceful home, Mary found herself struggling with a mortgage. In order to assist with bills Mary let her friend Tina move in. Again, many of her friends congratulated her on finding someone to help. Mary simply said, “Is it a blessing or a curse? Only time will tell.”  After five months of costly damage wrought by Tina’s two dogs (which Tina did not reimburse) her peace and quiet was destroyed. Mary requested that her friend move out. Mary found herself alone in the peaceful house again. As before, her friends came, this time to commiserate. Mary simply said, “Is it a blessing or a curse? Only time will tell.” 

A few months later Mary allowed her son to move in as well as two nieces while they were attending a local college. The house became crowded, noisy and wrought with conflict, but each person paid a certain amount for rent. Mary’s friends congratulated her on the added rent and assistance with mowing and shoveling snow. Mary simply said, “Is it a blessing or a curse? Only time will tell.” 

Two years later, the nieces graduated college and returned to their hometown, while the son stayed to finish his own degree, leaving Mary with a large monthly utility bill, yet a quiet peaceful house. As before, her friends came, some to commiserate, while others to congratulate. Mary simply said, “Is it a blessing or a curse? Only time will tell.” 

© Avie Layne 2012