Process, Procedure, Product, and Practice OR Fail Before You Bail

I’m in the midst of a baking day.  Steve’s Aunt asked me to bake two different kinds of cookies to mail to her nephew out of state.  I was happy to participate in producing a care package.  I like caring, even if I don’t know the person.  The first recipe was written out on an index card with rather sketchy instructions.  For instance, nowhere did it suggest how long to cook them!  These are rolled and filled cookies.  I’ve never attempted anything like that before in my life, nor have I witnessed anyone else’s attempt, nor had I seen a representation of the final product.   But for some reason, I decided to plow ahead and do my best using my intuition.  Only after they were out of the oven did I look around online for images.  I wasn’t too far off, I guess, but I know I’d make some changes next time.   “But what have you learned, Dorothy?”

Edible, I suppose

I’ve learned that this kind of thing teaches me a lot about myself.  There was one point in the procedure when my brain did actually shoot off an almost audible “F*** this!” and I felt like quitting.   I have a perfectionist streak in me that easily loses patience.  I suppose that things should go smoothly if I’m doing them right.  When things stop going smoothly, I’m in danger of failing, and this is where the perfectionist wants to bail.  I often go to this conclusion even before I’ve begun a job.  I see this tendency dangling from various branches  in my family tree.  But I figure that if I continue to live this way, I am going to eliminate a lot of experiences prematurely and end up not doing much with the time I have left.   So I might as well just roll up my sleeves and dive in.

I think we live in a culture of “professionalism” and “experts” that contributes to this kind of self-elimination.  How often are we told that we can’t do something because we’re not qualified, we don’t have the skills, we don’t have the right background, or we don’t have the resources and we simply give up on the idea?  Only a charlatan would continue to try to do something he hasn’t been trained for!  But how do you get experience?  By trying something you’ve never done!  We get caught in the Catch-22 all the time, beginning as children, probably now more than ever.  If you haven’t had the 2-yr-old class on foreign languages, you’re not going to get into the right pre-school, and if you don’t get into the right pre-school…(usw)…you won’t get into Harvard!  Gone are the days when a self-taught person could go from a log cabin to the White House.   Now we think we’re not qualified to make improvements in our lives, in our communities, in our government, in our international relations, and we can’t solve global problems.   Well, maybe we actually can but we’ve eliminated the possibility prematurely because the feeling that things aren’t going smoothly is tempting us to bail before we fail.   If you’re going to bail, why not fail first so that you have an experience to learn from?  Or why not fail frequently and refuse to bail?

My kids are in their 20s now.  I hope they have the courage to fail many times.  I hope they don’t bail before they try something that interests them.  I hope I still have some of that left in my future as well.


Maple Sugar!

Never let me get dogmatic about anything.  (That word again….one of Steve’s most over-used!)  I had resisted the excitement around the Wehr Nature Center surrounding the upcoming Maple Sugar festival because I just don’t care for the taste of maple.  I had a bad experience as a candihapped kid.  My parents were strict about candy.  We didn’t have it just lying around in big, glass jars on the kitchen counter like my best friend did.  We weren’t allowed to eat our fill out of pillow cases at Halloween like my best friend did.  We weren’t allowed to chew bubble gum like my best friend did.  So where did I hang out?  At my best friend’s house mooching as much candy as I could.  And then, a miracle occurred.  My parents brought home Maple Sugar Candy from a trip, or maybe it was a gift or a find at a specialty shop.   Somehow, these little leaf-shaped, brown, sparkly candies were available IN OUR HOUSE, and I went berserk.  I probably yanked one without permission and gobbled it up to destroy the evidence in a matter of seconds.  My wise friends at the Nature Center told me this morning that the only way to consume maple sugar is in tiny, slow doses.   Maybe that’s where I went wrong.  My overdose at a young age left a very bad taste in my mouth about the whole maple business.  I’ve avoided it for years on pancakes, French toast, spice cake frosting, bacon, you name it.  Somewhere along the line, the real maple sugar and the imitation corn syrupy stuff that’s advertised as “maple syrup” got blurred together in my memory.  It was all bad.  Well, today, I got to go back to the source and re-learn everything I knew about the taste of maple.

Giving blood

This is a new tap in a sugar maple.  The spout is called a spile.  You can see a previous tap above it to the left that has healed over.  Some of the kids think these look like bellybuttons.   The sap drips out and gets collected in a bag.  I tasted a drop of sap that I captured on the back of my hand.  It was just like water with a very slight sweetness.

A stand of sugar maples is called a “sugar bush”.   Tapping trees have at least an inch of sapwood under the bark.  They are the more mature trees, ones about 45 inches in circumference.   You can get sap from any tree, but not every sap will make a syrup that will taste good on pancakes.  Pine sap can be made into turpentine.  Birch sap can be made into root beer.  Oak sap can be made into tannins for tanning leather.  Maple sap has a sugar content of about 2.5%.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.  Remove even more water, and you have maple sugar.   It’s very sweet, but it doesn’t make me sick in tiny amounts.  You know what does make me sick?  Imitation maple syrup.  That’s really the stuff I loathe.  We do a taste test with the kids.  They get a drop from bottle A and one from bottle B to see if they can tell the difference.  Bottle A leaves a trailing thread of stickiness wherever it goes.  It looks like a hot glue gun.  It tastes super sweet and leaves a tinny bitterness in your mouth.  Yuck!  It’s imitation maple flavoring, MAYBE a smidgeon of real maple syrup, and mostly corn syrup.   Real maple syrup is not as harsh; it’s sweet, but with a lower viscosity.

I looked at these bright, vulnerable blue bags hanging in plain sight in the woods and asked, “Don’t you get animals coming after this sweet stuff?”  Oh, yes.  Weasels.  Gnats.  Snow fleas.  Raccoons.  Squirrels.  They get wise to what we’re doing out here eventually.  So they tell us to replace any bags that have holes, and we strain the sap before we start cooking it.  I haven’t seen that part yet, the cooking.  They save that for the big festival in late March.

So now I have a better understanding and appreciation of maple syrup and maple sugar.  I do not hate the taste of it; I do hate imitations of it.  I still prefer honey on my pancakes, though.   I can’t wait to see and taste the Wehr Nature Center’s version of that, too!

What are you doing the rest of your life?

Steve and I had a long ramble along the Ice Age Trail yesterday in the golden, muddy afternoon.  We got talking about decision making, finances, the next step of our lives.  These are tough talks for us.  They require concentration, attention, soul-searching, vulnerability, risk…and we love it. Really, we do.  Getting past drifting and down to brass tacks really feels good in a relationship.  It feels real, genuine.  This is not a dreamy romance.  This is a shared life.  Along the way, I took some photographs, and now looking at them, I like the way they illustrate the terrain of our conversation.

Are you bound to habits, a lifestyle, a way of thinking that is keeping you together in some way, but may not be allowing you to grow and change?

What do you see when you look out to the horizon?  Where are you “pointing your canoe”?  How will you use your energy to get there?

Are you keeping open to the flow of all different variables?  Are you aware of the constancy of change?  Are you able to employ your intuition and avoid getting hemmed in by dogma?  Are you remembering the elemental things, the things that are most important to you?  Do you want to move forward or stay where you are right now?  Are you willing to wear away at obstacles to get to a new place?

While we were standing at the spring, and I was trying to figure out how to change the settings on my camera to get the rocks into sharp focus and the water into that soft, fuzzy blur I see in other peoples’ photos, I realized that we were deep into an important conversation, and I had better put the camera away!  So I did.  We kept talking.  By the time we were driving home in the car, I was compiling a list of words to remind myself of the things we agreed were important to us in living our lives.  Helping, challenging, rehabilitating, keeping open a place for something to grow, nurturing, teaching…and outdoors.  When I got home, I decided to see what would happen if I put a combination of those words into the search engine.  I came up with something that really sparked my interest.  An ecovillage in northeastern Missouri called Dancing Rabbit.  So I’m investigating.  Stay tuned! (or as Stuart would say, “Watch this space.”)

Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon

*update from yesterday’s post*  She Speaks commented:

“I found an online petition from the site “Democrats 2012″ titled “Where are the women?”  This petition reads:

‘At a House Oversight Committee hearing, House Republicans convened a panel on denying access to birth control coverage with five men and no women. As Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney asked, “Where are the women?”  Join Leader Pelosi in our call to Speaker Boehner, Eric Cantor, Chairman Issa and all House Republicans to demand that women be allowed at the table when discussing women’s health issues. Help us gather 250,000 signatures.’

Here is the link to sign the petition:

I’ve signed. Please help share this information and encourage everyone you know to sign.”

I’ve signed as well.  Please forward to any US citizens you think would like to add their names. *thank you*


Okay, on to All About Me.

So, Steve wakes up this morning singing “Tiny Bubbles” (yes, we do this to each other, sharing whatever our brains mumble out first thing upon waking)  …Don Ho…Hawaii…and I go back to being 10 years old, which was my age when I actually traveled to Hawaii.  My 10-year old self got excited about many things in Hawaii.  I thrilled at the choice of coconut or pineapple syrup on my pancakes because I hate maple syrup.  I spent a good 30 minutes at a picnic stop trying to open a coconut by stomping on it with my sneakers.  I had a camera of my own and could take my own pictures, a Brownie Starmite which yielded snapshots that the drugstore processed with a “bonus snap” of about half the size of the original included on the print and separated by a perforated line.  I eagerly tried to pronounce any Hawaiian word just for the fun of letting the syllables bubble out one after another like waves on the beach.  “King Kamehameha”  “Queen Liliuokalani” “Mele Kalikimaka” “hukilau” “elepani”.  I felt daring and adventurous sliding down a lava tube into a lagoon while my mother hyperventilated on the banks.  And I got to go swimming every day!  One other memory that will always stand out about my trip to Hawaii:  I was often mistaken for a boy.

I had a growing out shag haircut in the spring of 1973.  My mother had made me get my shoulder-length blonde hair cut VERY short for our trip “Out West” the summer before.   She was probably thinking of the convenience and the hot weather.  She also insisted that we wear bathing caps whenever we went swimming.  I got the idea that the prime consideration in hairstyles was not attractiveness, and at the time, I didn’t care.  Much.  I do remember the excruciating moment when I debuted the pixie cut at school for the first time.  I was at before-school choir practice on the verge of tears because I felt so self-conscious.  I was wearing a dress with a Peter Pan collar, my vulnerable neck exposed.  I felt whispers behind me.  Then the girl behind me leaned forward to say something, and I imagined she was about to make a comment on my haircut.  I froze, trembling, with blurry eyes.  Turns out she just wanted to ask what page we were on, but the contact ripped me wide open, and I began to cry.  After that, I got used to it and so did others.  Folks in Colorado couldn’t tell if I were a boy or a girl as I scrambled up rocky mountains with my cousin, Christopher, and it didn’t matter to me.  In Hawaii, my hair was a bit longer, but since it was the 70s, boys were also wearing their hair longer.   My family went to a luau one night.  Each of us was greeted by a hostess with an armful of flowers.  My father got a coconut palm hat placed on his head.  My mother and my three older sisters received a beautiful lei of fragrant orchids.  I couldn’t wait to receive my own exquisite necklace.  But what’s this?  Hey!  Why did you give me just a stupid, green headband!  I’m a GIRL, dammit!  Same thing happened on a boat trip a few days later.  The guide/entertainer picked me out as a model to receive something he was fashioning behind me out of palm leaves.  He probably picked me to keep me from getting bored, to amuse my sisters, or just because I was cute and charismatic…in a unisex kind of way.  He placed a headband with a palm “feather” sticking up in the back on my head.  My sisters howled.

So, before puberty, I didn’t care about being a girl very much.  I played with the boy two doors down every day.  When I was alone, I crossed the street into the forest preserve and played in the bushes.  I enjoyed being physical, roller-skating and jump-roping especially, and I enjoyed “helping” my father at the workbench in the basement.  I was not a complete tom-boy, nor was I a girlie-girl.  I was just me, and I was fine.  Then I hit high school at 14 in a brand new state, California.  My mother decided we all should have a lesson on wearing make-up, so we had a Mary Kay consultant visit the house.  I began putting on make-up and styling my hair every day before school.  I also began flirting and listening to “funky” music.  I began to find my groove.

Jim & Me gettin' our groove on for a 60s themed birthday party

As an adult, I think it would be a revelation to have a conversation with two people from my past especially.  One would be the boy I played with every day in grade school, the other would be my first high school boyfriend of more than 2 months.  Both of these boys are now homosexual adults, I’ve since learned.  I would love to ask them what growing up felt like for them, what our relationship taught them about themselves, but sadly, we lost touch long ago.

Finding my groove in high school led me to two of my greatest expressions of freedom and physicality: dance and jazz.  I love to dance.  I have taken dance lessons, and I find that I am way too much “in my head” when I’m trying to learn steps and choreography.  What I really love is just to free-style to anything with a back beat.  Blues, tango, rumba, pop school dances, jazz.  I auditioned and got into our high school jazz choir and loved the freedom of improvisation and the soulful feel of the slower pieces we did.  From high school, I went on to get a degree in Vocal Performance at a women’s college.  I didn’t do any jazz or dancing in those years.  I was trying to be more *ahem*, serious about music.

Steve has a very serious music collection, but on Friday, he picked up something from Goodwill’s CD collection with me in mind.  It’s “The Fabric of Life” by The Nylons.  They’re usually about 4-part a capella vocal jazz, but this CD has percussion and instrumentals as well.  He put it on at breakfast, and I had to get out of my chair and dance!  It felt great!!  My heart rate climbing, my hips swiveling, my shoulders shimmying, my waist stretching and slimming and twisting…I felt alive, physical, ME!  Maybe I’m getting closer to understanding how to live in my own skin after all.

I think many women have a long journey to being themselves.  It’s easier when you’re 10, I think.  It gets pretty complicated through puberty and socialization.  Maybe now as I get closer to hitting 50, I can grow into my own groove, be funky and fine and all me.   I wish I knew more of my gay friends’ journeys as well.  I want to be compassionate to every human and their story of growth.


Yesterday’s post was on Resistance, and the title was inspired by my “I don’t want!” mood.  Today, I am seething a bit about some things, and I’m wondering how to employ non-resistance.  Actually, it’s more like non-violent resistance.  How do I look at something that I feel is unjust and respond in a way that does not blame, shame or reject but does state emphatically my position and reasons and allows me to live out my values?

I don’t know how to re-blog something, so I will give you a link to a post I’ve been following and commenting on that deals with the birth control mandate in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

I’m also going to include today’s post from my fellow blogger in the UK.  She has decided to respond to suffering and injustice by sponsoring a girl in Kenya.

I feel that justice matters, that women’s health matters, that population control matters, that compassion matters, and that the internet should be used as a tool to discuss what matters (and that doesn’t include celebrity hook-ups, IMO!).

Not to imply that I don’t also spend time on things that don’t really matter.  Like this afternoon’s Chicago Bulls game.  Which is one reason I’m rather late in posting this.

I also feel that loving the universe matters, and I want to live out that value every day.


Earlier this week, we sold a book called I Want That!: How We All Became Shoppers by Thomas Hine.  The blurb about it reads:

“Shopping has a lot in common with sex,” Thomas Hine observes near the beginning of this wide-ranging exploration of the history and psychology of one of the most commonplace and important activities of modern life. “Just about everybody does it. Some people brag about how well they do it. Some keep it a secret. Most people worry, at least a little, about whether they do it right. And both provide ample opportunities to make foolish choices.”

Choosing and using objects is a primal human activity, and I Want That! is nothing less than a portrait of humanity as the species that shops. ”

Me?  I hate shopping.  My first reaction is always, “I don’t want that.”   I have been thinking about getting a place in a more rural area of Wisconsin.  Lying in the bathtub this morning, I was struck by a realization.  Even if I pay cash for the real estate (from the sale of my former home), I still would have to pay property tax every year.  I don’t want that.

I don’t want to be indebted; I don’t want to be obligated.  I don’t want to be coerced or pressured into a relationship with any thing.  I am beginning to feel a mounting sense of resistance.  I’ve resisted getting a full time job for more than a year.  I’ve resisted being a consumer, especially of clothing and beauty products.  I’ve resisted Facebook.  I’ve resisted television and movies.  What is that about for me?

I am still struggling to be my own person, I guess.  I am struggling to focus on the things that I do want in a manner that I like.  I’m not ambitious.  I am an observer, an appreciator, but not much of a go-getter.  I resist marketing, for sure, but I don’t mind discovery.   Maybe part of that is simple laziness.  Maybe part of that is wanting the freedom to choose my relationships and responsibilities.

When I first read that comment about shopping having a lot in common with sex, I didn’t get it.  I hate shopping.  I love sex.  I suppose my consistency is in insisting on having the freedom to be very particular about my engagement with both.

And now, for the photo portion of my blog.  Choosing images and focusing where I want to, observing and appreciating has led me to these shots.  If you discover you like them, great.  I will not try to convince you to, though.  (Do I sound testy?  Okay, so be it.)

A fungus among us

The pod people have hatched


I’ve always believed that I have a great capacity for fascination…until a few days ago when I began to read Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.  She has it in spades, and has always had it, in a way that makes me feel distracted and dull by comparison.  Here’s an excerpt from that memoir:

“Our parents and grandparents, and all their friends, seemed insensible to their own prominent defect, their limp, coarse skin.

“We children had, for instance, proper hands; our fluid, pliant fingers joined their skin.  Adults had misshapen, knuckly hands loose in their skin like bones in bags; it was a wonder they could open jars.  There were loose in their skins all over, except at the wrists and ankles, like rabbits.

“We were whole, we were pleasing to ourselves.  Our crystalline eyes shone from firm, smooth sockets; we spoke in pure, piping voices through dark, tidy lips.  Adults were coming apart, but they neither noticed nor minded.  My revulsion was rude, so I hid it.  Besides, we could never rise to the absolute figural splendor they alone could on occasion achieve.  Our beauty was a mere absence of decrepitude; their beauty, when they had it, was not passive but earned; it was grandeur; it was a party to power, and to artifice, even, and to knowledge.  Our beauty was, in the long run, merely elfin.  We could not, finally, discount the fact that in some sense they owned us, and they owned the world.

“Mother let me play with one of her hands.  She laid it flat on a living-room end table beside her chair.  I picked up a transverse pinch of skin over the knuckle of her index finger and let it drop.  The pinch didn’t snap back; it lay dead across her knuckle in a yellowish ridge.  I poked it; it slid over intact.  I left it there as an experiment and shifted to another finger.  Mother was reading Time magazine.

“Carefully, lifting it by the tip, I raised her middle finger an inch and released it.  It snapped back to the tabletop.  Her insides, at least, were alive.  I tried all the fingers.  They all worked.  Some I could lift higher that others.

“That’s getting boring.”  “Sorry, Mama.”

“I refashioned the ridge on her index-finger knuckle; I made the ridge as long as I could, using both my hands.  Moving quickly, I made parallel ridges on her other fingers — a real mountain chain, the Alleghenies; Indians crept along just below the ridgetops, eyeing the frozen lakes below them through the trees.”

What rare child in this century, surrounded by electronic stimulators of all descriptions, would spend a half an hour fascinated by her mother’s hand, I wonder?  I had the chance to meet 56 kindergarteners at the Wehr Nature Center this morning.   This is what we brought out to fascinate them:


Now that’s an ancient face I could stare at for hours!  Meet Boxy, the ornate box turtle.  Her species is found primarily in southwestern Wisconsin, where there are sandy prairies and is currently endangered and protected.  She came to the nature center about 25 years ago; she may be about 10 years older than that.  How do I know to call Boxy ‘she’?  Brown eyes.  Male box turtles have red eyes.  Also, Boxy laid some eggs a few years after she came to the center (not that she had been with a male while she was there).  Occasionally, Boxy has her beak trimmed.  It can get overgrown because she’s not in the wild digging and wearing it down.  I wonder if the vet has ‘styled’ her expression…she looks sad to me.  She was quite chipper this morning, though.  It’s noticeably warm for this time of year.  She and the other reptiles were moving rapidly and eagerly in their cages.  We put Boxy down in the middle of the circle of children, and she set out at a brisk pace to examine the perimeter, craning her neck up at the faces around her.  She is a bit of a celebrity, as she meets about 10,000 kids every year.  She may live to be as many as 70 years old.  I wonder if the Nature Center will still be around or if she’ll live out her last days somewhere else.

Boxy has her own beauty, her own fascinating skin.  ” The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood….Standing on the bare ground, –my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes.  I become a transparent eye-ball.  I am nothing.  I see all.  The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God…I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty.”  (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

What uncontained and immortal beauty will you discover to love today?