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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 do have to earn a living, so I’m conscious of probable reactions from readers, but the most important one is still the awareness that if I’m not enjoying a story, the reader won’t either.
Thomas Perry

It’s really interesting, always educational, and sometimes amusing to check your blog statistics and note what gets the most hits on a blog. Up until recently, the two posts that got the most traffic on this blog were The Goblins will get Ya’! and Up, Up and Away! Maple Sugar Farm.

Both of them generate some traffic every day, often times the only traffic if I haven’t been posting. The James Whitcomb Riley poem, Little Orphan Annie quoted  in The Goblins will Get Ya! really resonates with people in a certain age group—MY age group. Around Halloween the hits really surge. People have a lot of fond memories of being read that poem as youngsters and have left comments about their 91 year old Moms or Grammas. In one case, a reader even posted a link of his mother reciting the poem. I’m really touched that people have shared their memories and gratified to know that that post has brought such pleasure to so many.

As for the Up Up and Away! post, it gets so many hits because of this picture of this cute little kitten I posted. There are a lot of people who enjoy looking at pictures of cute kittens. I suspect that some of them are little girls and maybe even some little boys. I wonder if they read the story I wrote for my Grandson, Gabe, so long ago and if they do, do they enjoy it? I wish I could watch them reading it.

Recently in the post titled To Be or Knot to Be I told a joke about a string tying itself into a knot and included a line drawing of a knot in the post. It is astonishing how many people have looked at that silly picture! Today there were 79 people who visited this blog. 60 of them were looking at the knot. LOL! Who knew? I hope they also read the joke.

Lesson learned? If you want traffic to your blog, put pictures of common things people are interested in in your posts, people. Blog about famous poems and stories you remember being read to you in your youth or some other popular culture thing that you have fond memories of. Relate, relate, relate!

 

 

 

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One reason I don’t suffer Writer’s Block is that I don’t wait on the muse, I summon it at need.
Piers Anthony

I haven’t been meeting the post a day challenge very well. <hanging my head in shame> So…one of my excuses is that I’ve been having a hard time finding quality time to write which is ridiculous on the face of it. I don’t have a full time job because of a disability. My days are mostly my own to do with as I please. I volunteer at the Madison Senior Center every day but that takes up an hour to an hour and a half at most. Finding time is obviously not the problem.

Every day when I turn on my PC I open up my word processing program to a blank page or something that is already in the works with good intentions of filling it up with words but somehow my day just seems to get frittered away with this and that and everything else. At the end of the day there’s very little on that page and some days, most days, there is nothing at all. What’s up with that?

I know that I am capable of producing from 5-6 pages a day—not that I want to devote that much of my time to writing these days but I’ve done it before and have written two books. So what’s the problem here? Why can’t I write? Yesterday I paid attention to what I was doing with my day and reflected on the times when I was actively writing. I realized that I’m not making the writing a priority. I let myself get distracted by too many other things that claim my attention and help me dither away the day.

So I made a vow. Starting today I will not do anything but write (and the dishes for when I need some thinking time) for the first two hours of the day after I’ve made coffee, brushed my teeth, brushed the sleep snarls out of my hair and washed my face. Good intentions…

When I turned on the computer and open up my “homepage” on FireFox, four tabs popped up. The Wisconsin State Journal, my web based Email start page which is National and International news, WordPress Freshly Pressed, and FaceBook. All four of them are HUGE time sucks. This morning I glanced at the headlines on WSJ and right away I saw an article on State Medicaid Reform that I wanted to read; I have 9 new emails; there were three new alerts on FaceBook; and of course, WordPress has a whole new crop of interesting blogs just begging to be read. There is simply no end to the things that fill up my time on the internet. No wonder I “can’t find time” to write.

Old habits die hard. I caught myself clicking on the article about Medicaid that I really “need” to read in the WSJ but stopped, forced myself to open up the online dictionary and thesaurus I use as well as my personal blog on WordPress and to firmly close all four of the other tabs that will entice me away from the writing. It was painful. At this hour of the morning (4:30 am) my brain and my fingers are barely functioning and I’m too used to waking them up with fascinating but useless trivia along with copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes.

Well that WSJ article on Medicaid probably isn’t useless trivia. I use Medicaid. I want to stay informed about what the Republicans are up to when it comes to “reforming” (read dismantling) the social programs in this state but whatever… If I had allowed myself to read that article I would have been off on a chase of other articles pertaining to Wisconsin state politics, dithering away the day.  

And then there are the household chores. Not that it’s all that hard to entice me away from housework but I do make my bed and do the dishes and try to get to a few of the myriad of other chores that simply must be done for me to feel at home in my own apartment every day. I just took a short break to think and went out to the kitchen the dishes. On the way I noticed I had made the bed but hadn’t tucked my pillows into their shams and the laundry cart is sitting over there full of laundry that I intend to do this morning. The dog who is not as early a riser as I am (thank goodness) will need to be walked soon. The kitchen floor needs vacuuming and mopped. And by the way, when I was washing my face and brushing my teeth, I noticed that the bathroom sink is in desperate need of cleaning.

It’s all too easy to get pulled away to do those things when my brain has decided to go on strike and the writing comes hard. Staying on task has been a major problem for me lately as well. I am easily distracted by whatever crosses my path at the moment. Not so hard this morning because I am trying to stay aware of what lures me away from the writing but without that attention to the present I might have wandered away from the keyboard to fill a bucket with hot water and pine sol and not come back for an hour or so if at all.

But hey, here it is 5:20 am and I almost have two pages written about my tendency to procrastinate when it comes to writing and I’m left wondering: Is this just another form of procrastination?

 

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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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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