Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Make a Memory

A few days ago I posted a poem titled Make a Memory and promised I would tell the story behind it. My sister-in-law, Tiz, asked me not to be too long about getting it up, especially after I told her that she and my brother, Mike are part of the story and Mike was a prime player in “the memory.”

Mike and Tiz live in Australia and last September, they visited us in Wisconsin for the very first time. I hadn’t seen my brother in far too many years and had never even met Tiz so this was a big occasion. A wonderful time was had by all but one incident stands out to me above all the others. It was a simple thing really but rich and very complex in meaning to me on several different levels.

We had gathered on the porch in the late afternoon just talking about this and that, enjoying each other’s company and my Gr-son Gabe was sort of lurking around the edges of the adults, listening to our conversation (I think we were discussing politics or something) and he had come up and leaned against me. I could see that he was trying to get closer but there was nowhere for him to sit so I invited him to sit on my lap.

Now Gabe had formed somewhat of a huge boy crush on my brother Mike and I had noticed he was trying to impress him so I wasn’t surprised when he informed me rather scornfully “I don’t sit on peoples’ laps anymore, Gramma.” To which I replied that I guessed he WAS getting a little too grown up for that but I sure wished I had known the last time he sat on my lap that it was going to be the last time. He asked me why and I said because I would have made a memory about it since I loved it so much when he sat on my lap when he was little.

At that point Mike chimed in with a comment about how important living in the present and being mindful of what is precious to you when you are with your loved ones is because you never know when the last time is going to be. We had a short discussion about that. That was probably the best–most meaningful–conversation Mike and I had that whole weekend. There was a whole lot that was left unspoken but was said nonetheless, in my opinion.

The conversation moved on and awhile later Gabe came up and nonchalantly sat on my lap. I didn’t say anything, just gave him a little hug but I knew what he was doing. After a few moments, he leaned in close and whispered in my ear “This is the last time, Gramma. Make a memory.” 

When they got home, Tiz sent me some pictures of their visit. One of them is the picture of Gabe and Daryn playing with some kangaroo boxer toys and there is Gabe, sitting on my lap. Occasionally I would look at that picture and think about sweet Gabe saying “This is the last time; make a memory” and think about writing a poem. Eventually that poem pretty much just wrote itself early one morning. I changed very little after the first draft. Mostly just line breaks and punctuation and one word.

So, Thanks Mike and Tiz.  You both helped make a special memory.

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn


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I’m excited because today I am meeting a Korean student from WESLI to see if we will be a fit as English conversation partners. Her Korean name is Jeong Sun (first and middle) but when she replied to my contact Email, me she told me her English name is Alice. She’s 27 years old.

I wonder if she chose an English name to make it easy for us Wisconsinites to talk to her or if she really prefers to use that name. If it is the former, I hope we can just drop it soon and use her Korean name because it is very pretty and I THINK I can pronounce it OK. I found the meaning of the name online. Jeong  means “virtuous and chaste.”  Sun means “goodness”

We’re meeting at the Fair Trade Coffee House on State Street which is a short walk from my house. I can’t remember the last time I went out for coffee so this will be a treat.

I’ve written up a list of questions I hope will be good conversation starters for this initial meeting. I’m curious about:

Why did she choose the English name Alice? Does it have any special significance for her?

Why did she come to the US and Wisconsin, in particular, to study English?

How long has she been here? When will she go back to Korea?

What does she like most and least about Madison?

Does she have brothers and sisters? Are they older or younger than she is?

Does she enjoy Korean Television Dramas and comedies? (This one is important because I am absolutely hooked on them and would like very much to find someone to watch them with me who understands the language and can explain the nuances that I think are there but don’t understand. They are subtitled so she doesn’t have to translate them for me. I just want her to explain the cultural things that are happening.)

My interest in Korean Dramas is what prompted me to contact WESLI and become a volunteer English conversation partner. I think they are wonderful morality tales and probably a reflection, albeit imperfect, of Korean culture just like American television is an imperfect reflection of American culture. On the other hand, the Korean television dramas are far better than anything I have seen lately on free American television. I don’t have cable so I may be missing some really good stuff on American TV but I doubt it if what is being talked about in the forums online is any indication.

So that’s my big event of the day. The week actually. Oh, and my daughter and son are both coming to see me this evening. We’re having a BLT salad and I am going to make them some of my spiced coffee. Sunday we’re having a family get together with everyone for my nephew, Greg’s birthday. He requested fried chicken and everyone in the family is super excited because we usually only fry chicken on the 4th of July because we’re all calorie and saturated fat conscious the rest of the year.

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God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.  ~James M. Barrie


This is the last time, whispered sweetly,
leaning in, close to my ear
so that only I would hear.
This is the last time, make a memory.
And so I did: wrapped
up in September’s sunshine, kept
safe, a treasure, this simple act,

an expression of love so strong
my heart longs
to hold you back
even as you walk away from me
towards tomorrows I will not see.



There is a story behind this poem—aren’t there always? I considered telling it in this post but I think I will let this poem stand alone for a few days before I write about what prompted the poem in order to let it become what it will for whoever takes the time to read it. I like to make some of my poems a bit ambiguous as to their subject and just try to capture the emotions that surround the situation. Do you think I have managed that with this one? Who do you think whispered this in my ear? What was “the last time?”  Why are they walking away?

The picture I used to illustrate this poem is one I took of the sun shining on the leaves in the courtyard of my building in September of 2008 when we had stellar fall colors. I titled it September’s Sunshine and thought it would be a good companion for this poem.  It even illustrates this weeks photo challenge “Through” since the sun is shining through the leaves.

Thanks for reading…

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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I really liked the play of light on the curtains and plant in contrast to the near silhouettes of the children playing together  in this picture.



Barbara Gavin-lewellyn


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To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
~e. e. Cummings

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore.
~Richard P Feynman

I’ve been trying to write an essay about my irritation with how the word atheism is defined and applied to non-believers such as myself by believers—mostly Xtian believers–and found myself becoming too “scholarly” and “preachy.” Most likely because this is an emotional issue for me. I tend to go into my head rather than write from the heart when my emotions are strong. It’s a protective coping mechanism and it works fine for what it was adopted to do but it sure leads to lousy, boring writing.

Soooo when I read the WordPress daily challenge for March 1 about constraint, I realized that that was a perfect explanation for what was going on with that essay and my dissatisfaction with it. I felt constrained to be nice and avoid offending the 80-90% of the populous who are theists—believers in at least one of the various gods and goddesses currently being worshiped.

 But why? Why worry about what kind of spin some theists want to impose on what I write? Well, being an atheist in America is definitely placing yourself squarely in the ranks of a very small minority. Coming out boldly as an atheist and proud of it opens you up for all kinds of disapproval and criticism. There are plenty of people willing to assure me that my fate is eternal damnation and torture. A lot of them enjoy thinking about the prospect. Many of them seem to take my disbelief as a personal insult.

 The theists that might be reading this blog include my extended family of origin some of whom I have recently reconnected with after many years of self-imposed exile. I’m not sure how they will react if they happen to read this post and since my FaceBook account and WordPress account are inter-connected, there’s a good chance they might.

 I grew up in a family steeped in evangelical fundamentalism, attending a church where the literal interpretation of the Bible was not only encouraged, it was demanded. They believe the Bible should be read as the literal truth. When it says Jonah lived in the belly of a fish for three days, they believe that Jonah really lived in the belly of a fish for three days. They don’t believe that would happen today but they believe their god made it happen back then and if it wanted to it could make something similar happen today.

 I have wandered far astray from that milieu and have very little in common with these relatives except blood ties, a shared history and memories that are more than 30 years old. Don’t get me wrong, that is really no one’s fault but my own. No one chased me out. I doubt they even knew I was going until I had been gone for so long it occurred to someone to wonder what was up. I chose this path deliberately and frankly, I’m not sorry I did. It saved my life and it had absolutely nothing to do with me “losing my faith” and becoming an atheist.But still, I know–well really assume–that my lack of faith in the god they believe in will probably shock them

I’m not looking for a fight with them but I’m afraid they will be offended by and possibly even hurt by some of what I want to say. Part of me wants to apologize to them in advance but then I get pissed about that because they feel perfectly free to post their prayer requests and Bible verses wherever they choose, secure in the knowledge that they won’t suffer the kinds of ire I am often subjected to for my lack of belief. There’s another form of those constraints again. My fear of having to defend myself and my beliefs in the face of criticism

Please don’t misunderstand, none of my relatives have explicitly made an issue out of anything I have said or done recently in regards to this issue and I’ve made it pretty clear on FaceBook that I am a born again atheist and recovering fundamentalist. In fact, only one of them has commented and she graciously gave me permission to exercise my freedom to have my own opinion which amused me to no end since she is my son’s age.

It’s amazing how quickly one can fall back into the dysfunctional patterns and habits you worked so hard to overcome. I haven’t even seen these relatives face to face and here I am, the parentified child wanting to take care of them and their feelings. Wanting to apologize for being me. And none of them have even asked for that or anything else for that matter. Sigh…

This post is supposed to be about using constraints to free yourself up to write. I’m flipping it on its head, declaring freedom from the constraints that keep me from writing freely and giving myself permission to have my own opinion and beliefs. Tomorrow I will exercise my freedom of expression and blog about what it means to be an atheist without worrying about what anyone else thinks or says or does. I will let them be responsible for their own reactions and not fall into the trap of feeling responsible for them. I will write from the heart and with passion because I AM passionate about this subject. I will write as if no one who will be reading what I write will disagree with me once I have made my case.


Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn 

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If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
George Bernard Shaw

Happy is said to be the family which can eat onions together. They are, for the time being, separate, from the world, and have a harmony of aspiration.
Charles Dudley Warner

Family. Can there be a more prickly source of joy and despair in our lives? Last night my children, Daryn and Kerryn, came to have dinner with me. We haven’t had a meal together just the three of us in years. There were a good many conversations that began “remember when…”

Daryn brought Kerryn his electronic key board (she wants to learn to play the piano and is planning to take piano lessons!) and while I got dinner on the table and took pictures of it, she began trying to play chopsticks. I was immediately transported back in time, wandering down memory lane. That was the one piece I taught them as youngsters and they loved the fact that we could all three play a part. Whenever we got near a piano back in the early years the three of us would play chopsticks.

Last night was special. My kids became kids again and I was the Mom. We were the family of origin once again.  The salient unit. Happy being together.

Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of THEM. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed having just the three of us together without spouses, grandchildren and extended family members present. We’ll have to remember to do it more often.

On the menu: “left over” Boef Bourguinon (I froze some of the beef and broth when I made it a couple of weeks ago and added fresh vegetables. Fairly quick and easy.) and Dairy Free “Buttermilk” Biscuits. It was a great meal for a night spitting rain and snow and the biscuits turned out really well.  So far I have had only one failure with my egg and dairy free adaptions of family recipes.  That’s amazing!

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.

That’s my nephew, Greg Gavin.  He is a poet.  A good poet.  Here is a link to his Blog and poetry:  The Viscous Somniloquy.  I speak as someone who has studied, written a lot of, published a few, and at one time wanted to teach writing poetry.  We have our own little  mutual admiration society going on.  It has been such a pleasure for me to discover a kindred soul in my extended family.

He and I have been having some interesting conversations about writing on Facebook’s Instant Message thingie.  A few nights ago we were discussing where our gift to string words together in pleasing and wondrous ways comes from and he asked if I thought the ability to write well was genetic.

I do.  Both of my kids are fairly good writers.  Particularly my son who actually writes in connection with his present and past jobs as an educator.  He wrote all the training manuals for the people he trained at his last job. My brother Michael writes very well.  I’ve been getting emails from him lately and I can “hear” him talking while I read.  He writes just like he talks.

But what I find most interesting is that my Dad, Bill Gavin, wanted to write when he was a young man and had, in fact, written at least one mystery/crime novel.  Greg was unaware of this.  Sadly, that doesn’t surprise me.  My father is a taboo subject back there at the family of origin’s homestead.

My mother told me years ago that there were some manuscripts in a trunk down in her basement.  For whatever reason, I never asked to see them.  I wish I had.  I worry that she cleaned out that trunk and destroyed those manuscripts out of a desire to erase all traces of my father from her life.  Not that I would really blame her but I really, really want to see those manuscripts.

I know my Dad was a good writer because of a very few letters I got from him over the years that I didn’t keep.  I wonder if he ever wrote poetry.  It would be interesting to find out if anyone else in hthe Sinner-Gavin family had aspirations to be a writer.  Especially a generation or two back.  Grandma Gavin, Iola Sinner Gavin, was the word person in Dad’s family.  She used to do the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday and loved to play scrabble.

It would be even more interesting to discover that the Hoyt-Fate family line had some aspiring writers in it.  I know they were avid letter writers.  My Gramma, Della Fate, encouraged me to have pen pals and even bought me stamps and stationary to encourage me to write letters to my cousin Linda who lived in Japan where her parents were missionaries.

But yeah I do think the ability to write has a genetic component.  Just like the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose,  your hairline, health issues, and even your personality quirks and a lot of other things are genetic.  The neurons in our brains are composed of DNA.  Where nature leaves off and nurture begins to produce that passion to write is a mystery.  Hey, we could have (and actually have, at least in my case) inherited worse things from our family.

Greg has inspired me to pick this blog back up and write.  He has even inspired me to write some poetry again.  I wish I was rich because I would love nothing more than to be his mentor and a patron who could send him off traveling the world and writing about his experiences.  He’s an intelligent, gifted, and talented young man and he’s an old soul with a wisdom beyond his years.

Today is National “Have a Brownie Day.”  I think I will make Greg some Brownies just because.  These are the brownies I used to make my kids every Friday night for a few years when they (and I) were young.  They had to help beat the eggs and sugar until they were just right.  This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking Cookbook by Irma Rombauer.  Thanks, Irma!  Four generations of women in my family have had one version or another of your cookbook in our kitchens.  It’s my go-to gift for Bridal showers and wedding gifts.

Brownies Cockaigne*

*Cockaigne? I’d forgotten that this recipe has that strange word in the title. I had to look it up.

 Quick definitions from WordNet (Cockaigne)noun:  (Middle Ages) an imaginary land of luxury and idleness.

Imagine that while you bake. 

Preheat your oven to 350*

Melt in a double boiler*:

½ cup butter

4 ozs of unsweetened baking chocolate**

Cool this mixture to room temperature. Irma says that if you don’t your brownies will be heavy and dry. I trust Irma. *Nowadays I would skip the double boiler and melt the butter and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl on low or even defrost for a couple of minutes. How did we ever manage without microwave ovens? Then stir it and nuke it on low again for a couple of minutes, more. Lather, rinse, repeat until the butter and chocolate can be stirred together. Be careful, chocolate scorches easily and that’s not nice. Trust me, you don’t want scorched chocolate in your brownies.

**If you don’t happen to have baking chocolate in the house you can substitute 3 TBS of cocoa or carob powder and one TBS of butter for each square or ounce of chocolate. Irma taught me that too. So total butter for this recipe using cocoa would be 1 cup. Melt all of the butter together on low in the microwave oven and gradually stir in 12 tablespoons (or ¾ cup) of cocoa or carob powder a couple of tablespoons at a time until there are no lumps. You might want to sift the cocoa or carob powder. Cool it to room temperature.

In a large bowl beat until light in color and fluffy:

4 room temperature eggs*

¼ tsp of salt

That room temperature note on the eggs is important.  Your eggs won’t get nice and fluffy and the sugar won’t dissolve unless your eggs are about 70*.  If you decide to make these Brownies on the spur of the moment, you can warm your eggs up by putting them in a bowl (with the shells intact please) and running hot tap  water over them for a minute or so and then letting them sit in it until the water is room temperature.  That will take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. I learned that from Hints from Heloise.  Heloise had a daily column in the newspaper for years.  She taught me how to be a better housewife. <grin>

Add gradually as you continue beating the eggs until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and creamy. This takes awhile. If you are doing it by hand you should invite a friend to share the work and the brownies, your arm is going to get tired! Preteen boys enjoy doing this for some reason:

2 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Quickly fold into the eggs the COOLED (I cannot stress this enough) chocolate and butter. Do this by hand. Before the mixture is uniform in color quickly fold in with as few strokes as possible.

1 cup of all-purpose flour

Before the flour is completeluy incorporated, add

1 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts*

*The nuts are optional. Bake in a greased (use some canned and pressurized oil aka cooking spray) 9” X 13” cake pan about 25 minutes for moist chewy brownies. If you prefer them more cake like then use a 9” X 9” cake pan.

Here’s the hardest part of the recipe:

Let the brownies cool to room temperature cool before you cut them.

We always put the pan on a cookie sheet and stuck them in the freezer to speed this process up because we were greedy piggies who needed our chocolate fix.  You can eat them straight from the oven but they won’t be pretty and they won’t taste as good. Anticipation adds a lot of flavor to almost anything.

Listen to Carly Simon while you’re waiting!

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