Where I write

Where I write

November 24, 2015

The Golden Purse

     So I was at the dentist this week getting my teeth cleaned. I set my purse on the counter and climbed into the reclining chair.
    "That's quite a purse you got there," said my dentist.
    "Oh," I said with a small laugh. "It's gaudy." Then I proceeded to tell him about the purse until he started lecturing me about  flossing and brushing my tongue. I like my dentist, but I wish he wouldn't hold a mirror up to my face and make me stick out my tongue. Have you ever looked at your tongue? Trust me. Start brushing.
   After I provided some details about my purse my dentist, who really is a nice guy, he said, "That's great. You have a story to tell."

     I told him, as I have told other people, that I bought the gold purse in an antique shop in a small town north of Phoenix called Prescott. I splurged and paid $15. The purse, made in California,  is in excellent shape which is credit to the United States. In other words, it wasn't made in China and sold at Walmart. It was like brand new. Those jewels sparkling in the desert sun are sewed on tight. The purse has a musty smell, as if was kept hidden  in a woman's closet for years waiting for just the right moment to use. Then the woman died, and the kids sold it at an estate sale before it landed at the antique shop. Or maybe not. No matter. It's mine now. In all it's jeweled glory. 


     Still, I haven't told my dentist, or anyone else, the entire story. People have lives to lead and don't have all day to chat about purses. A shame. 

     When I was in high school, I saw what I thought was the most beautiful glittering  purse in a mall shop window. It was a life-changing purse, gold and sparkling. I could have worn it with this shirt and it would have matched.  It was boxed shaped, with a long gold link chain strap. I have never seen a purse like it anywhere again. Ever. One of a kind.  It was near my 16th birthday, and I begged my mother to buy it for me as a gift. It was more than she could afford. We went to the mall again, and there it was, still in the store window. More begging and she relented. That birthday I got my gold purse. I never used it. 

 I never took it to high school and walked down the halls with it proudly on my shoulder. Instead, it sat in my closet. I would take it out now and then and admire its dazzling perfection.  It was so bright. It reminded me of the sun. It was too much. I was afraid to take it to high school because, well, it was gaudy. In those days everyone was wearing fringe, suede and bell bottom jeans. I was afraid to be different. My mother never asked me why I didn't use the purse. A few years later, after she died, I moved far away from home, and the purse stayed behind in the closet. It was sold at a yard sale when my dad died. My golden purse that I never once filled with makeup, loose coins, a mirror or a photo of my mom, gone forever. Until I found my jeweled gaudy purse this year.

  Flash forward to 2015. I was standing in a line waiting to order food at a Panera Bread. I noticed two teenage girls giggling and whispering a short distance way. They were looking my direction.  I surveyed my attire. I wore black shoes, black pants and a black coat with minimal flourishes, just a little bling. I was perplexed. I wondered why in the world the teenagers were laughing at me. Then I knew. It was my purse dangling from my arm. They were giggling at my golden jeweled purse. For one second I was 16 again. I wanted to shrivel up and run out the door. This second passed. I smiled. Thankfully I remembered who I was. I was so glad those girls made fun of me. Truly. For I knew then that these whispering teenagers could say nothing behind closed hands that would hurt my feelings enough to keep me from using my purse. The entire restaurant could laugh at me. I was holding on tight to my gaudy self. I had my lesson. When the student is ready, the purse will appear.

    I wish I could go back in time and have my first golden purse again, but that ain't gonna happen. Four years of high school is enough punishment for anyone. Besides, I don't think any teacher should have to endure me in algebra again. 

    Instead I will keep my golden purse in my heart, and on my shoulder. I will worry less about conforming, especially with my writing career where I can be insecure and where I often try too hard to be accepted. 

  I think to best serve the world it's important to let our golden light shine. Even if people laugh. Keep shining.  

November 4, 2015

Sangria, French Onion Soup and Rhubarb Pie....

     I was 19 years old and working at my first waitress job  at a restaurant in my hometown in Illinois called Ground Round. By the name you can tell it wasn't vegan. I worked for a  manager who was a pervert. (Not too put too fine a point on it.) He liked to show porno movies after hours to teenage girls. The Ground Round was known for the peanut shells on the floor. This was in the 1970s before everyone was freaked out about peanut allergies and apparently there wasn't any sexual harassment laws,either. Heaping bowls of peanuts were served to each table and the shells just tossed to the floor. Besides providing further sex education where Conant High School left off, and coming home with peanuts caked to my shoes, I learned  to love Sangria. 
    Growing up in a middle class neighborhood of mostly white people, I found Sangria to be a most exotic drink. It conjured images of blue skies and white sand, women in red dancing with castanets and men with thin moustaches and tight pants. (Or maybe I got that last image from the prono movies.) Anyway I loved drinking the Sangria at The Ground Round (no matter I was under age) and to this day enjoy a cold glass of this delicious elixir.  An added bonus is the fruit which helps me meet my daily requirements. 

    My mother served a lot of meat and potatoes. That's what mothers did in middle class America in the 1960s.  To this day I can't eat mashed potatoes due to the fact I ate them 365 days a year as a kid. I never ate fried shrimp  until I was 20 years old and living in Denver which tells you about my culinary expertise. Shrimp? Fried? Amazing.

   One of the restaurants I worked in Colorado, called Toby Jugs,  served french onion soup. It was hot and gooey and rich.  I used to eat bowls and bowls of the soup. For free. I grew up on Campbell's Tomato Soup. I didn't know French Onion soup existed. 

    Toby Jugs also had a oyster bar that I thought was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen in my life. It helped me become a vegetarian, all that watching people slurp those mucus membrane looking things. I don't care if it is supposedly an aphrodisiac. Those slimy oysters would never get me in the mood.  However,  memories of the French Onion soup still make me swoon. The soup was one of the reasons I was disappointed when the owner, yet another creepy guy,  didn't pay his taxes and the restaurant got shut down one day, an eviction noticed slapped to the front door. Which really bummed out my friend Debbie Kraft, who was also working there, as her favorite pair of shoes got locked in the restaurant, too. She never did see those shoes again, and I never had another bowl of Toby Jug's French Onion Soup. Pity. 
    For a few weeks I had a job at an Italian restaurant in downtown Denver. I don't remember the food, but I do remember the smell. I liked working there just for the smell. It wafted outside the restaurant,  and the minute I would walk through the doors it would envelop me. The smell transported me to  Rome. Surrounded by the scent of rich sauces and fragrant bread I felt warm and  safe, if that makes sense. The smell of the restaurant was like eating the best meal of my life without the calories.  I keep hoping I will smell that scent again. Guess I'll just have to go to Europe!
   For a year I was a waitress at Marie Callenders. I fell in love with rhubarb pie there. Not strawberry rhubarb, but the tangy sweet  rhubarb as a solo act. Just writing about the pie now makes me want a slice.  However, I did not fall in love with working at Marie Callender's or the relentlessly intense managers. I was working five nights, going to college during the day, and I took off one day during Spring Break. 

The manager, an angry little man, scolded me. "This job must be the most important thing in your life," he said. Not the right thing to tell a 26-year-old college student, especially because serving pie to old ladies didn't seem to have a lot of promise for a bright future.  I quit a few weeks later and started working at an Elks Lodge which may not have been the wisest career choice, but at least no more old ladies ordering pie. Now I might be considered an old lady who orders pie. 

Where I work now I'm known for not eating the food. My dietary preferences have changed through the years and now I prefer tofu and whole grains. Besides, cheese and pie and alcohol can pile on the pounds. 

Still, if I was told to pick the foods for my last meal on earth I would ask that I could eat at that heavenly smelling Italian restaurant. I would drink tall glasses of icy sangria and eat bowls of French Onion Soup and thick slabs of rhubarb pie. I would die a happy woman. I might even request one of those old porno films from The Ground Round to be shown. Just for laughs. But no oysters allowed. 

October 22, 2015


   Last week I found a wicker basket, donned my pink sweater, slipped into a pair of sturdy boots and skipped into the Cascade mountains of Oregon searching for mushrooms. Along the ancient forest trail, I saw black squirrels, deer and more varieties of mushrooms than I ever knew existed. Fat ones, yellow ones, big ones and small, all in one tiny corner of the vast forest. 

    Deep in the woods I met a big bad wolf who....nope that's not the story. I didn't wear a red cape and meet a wolf  though that would have made for a good story, too. Actually I have met a few wolves in my day who tried to gobble me up, but that's a story for another time. And sometimes being gobbled ain't so bad.

   However, in the forest I did meet a lot of mushroom people. You've never met a mushroom person? I met many at the Oregon retreat center where the focus for a few days was on...you guessed it...those things that sprout out of the ground and can be eaten. Well, some mushrooms can be tossed into a salad or stirred into a quiche, but some of these little numbers can kill you, too. 

   Mushrooms are just the fruit of the plant. Under the ground is a  huge network of roots that connect the mushrooms. It's like a mushroom interstate beneath our feet. Miles and miles of mushroom highway with now and then a mushroom popping out of the ground to say, Here I am!

The mushroom people aren't obsessed with mushrooms because they taste good. Food is not utmost in their minds. They are obsessed with mushrooms because...well they just really really like them. A lot. For them joy is spelled with M. 
    The smiling man in the jaunty olive-colored cap, Daniel Winkler, has a travel agency devoted solely to mushroom hunting. What a way to make a living, eh?  It's called Mushroaming. He spends a lot of time around the world foraging. I listened to him lecture about mushrooms in the Colombian cloud forest. He ignored the fact he could be kidnapped by rebels, as long as he found a rare mushroom. Gotta respect that devotion. Noah Siegel, the burly man on my right, has devoted his life to fungus. He just finished a seven year stint traveling the coast of California to write a book on that region's mushrooms. Seven years. I would have been distracted after one week, at tops, and suggested we put down our wicker baskets and go to happy hour and maybe find a thrift store for some bargain hunting instead.   
Noah's girlfriend, that young pretty girl on the left, has the patience to document mushrooms. She's an expert with using various mushrooms to dye silk. That scarf we are holding was dyed with mushrooms.  Alissa says mycopigments are her obsession. Mycopigments is a big word for stuff dyed using  mushrooms. Below is an example of work she did at retreat.

When I saw a mushroom I use to think ..oh its just a mushroom. A mushroom is a mushroom. It was as if I would meet a person and think they were like all the other people in the world. I know better than that now. Here's just a sample of all the mushrooms found in a ten mile radius of the festival.
The mushrooms were collected in the morning and then placed the cardboard containers for identification. The experts all know these complicated and scientific names that I can't pronounce. After a day or two,  my friend and I were becoming a bit weary of mushrooms. When people weren't picking mushrooms, or listening to lectures about mushrooms, or looking at them beneath a microscope, they were sitting in the dining hall talking about the Kardashians. Got you. Actually the mushroom people do not seem to even exist on the same planet as the Kardashians. Which isn't such a bad thing.

My friend and I didn't feel as if we really were mushroom people, even if we were at the mushroom event. I know. That doesn't make sense. I don't always make sense but that's okay. Anyway, on the last day they cooked up the mushrooms. Sauteed and mixed with risotto and  vegetables, the scent of mushrooms wafted across the forest.
I didn't eat one. Not one mushroom. I blame this on Michael Beug, an expert in toxic and hallucinogenic mushrooms. In his younger years, he likely took a couple trips himself without a plane ticket if you know what I mean. I'm just guessing. 
Michael  knows his mushrooms and can tell you so much about them that your head begins to feel like one big mushroom. He can identify the toxic ones can shut down your liver and kidneys and make you want to jump out of a moving car.  Michael told  about how the wrong ones can kill you. Scarier than any ghost story.  What if just one bad mushroom got in the bunch and thrown into the stew? My friend and I didn't take any chances. I regret that now. As far as I know, no one died after the mushroom feast. They all were there for breakfast the next morning. If they did, they would have died happy though, doing what they love.
This lady, who I'm ashamed to say I didn't get her name, spent the entire conference just sitting by  mushroom table and taking photos of mushrooms. That's all she wanted to do. Photograph mushrooms. She didn't get bored. We all have something that turns us on. And there's something to be said when it's a fungus that grows on the forest floor.  
I had plenty of time to think while I was in Oregon, staying as we were in these small cabins with no Internet or cell phone connection or even a radio or television. (I wasn't even suppose to use my blow dryer but I did. A girl doesn't want to look like a mushroom for pete's sake!)

 Surrounded by the quiet and the mushroom people, I thought about obsession. 

Years ago I took a writing class titled in Obsession in Writing. The teacher said to give my main characters an obsession, something that drives the character's behavior. An obsession can define a character and make him or her act in specific ways such as these mushroom people loving to tramp through the damp woods forging for tiny objects. Our obsessions make us special. No matter if it is knitting, or skydiving, mushroom foraging or writing. Make yourself happy.

I wanted to figure out what my obsession might be as I travel this road of life. Well, I love to go to lunch or happy hour with friends and laugh and talk and shop at the thrift store and play Scrabble. And laugh some more.  Maybe I could write about that. I wouldn't mind researching that book for seven years at all. I've already put in a few decades.