life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Virtual Scrapbooking

I'm having way too much fun making Treasuries on Etsy and Favorite Looks at ShopStyle. Basically it's like cutting out pictures from magazines and pinning them to your wall, or working simple puzzles. I use this sort of mindless creativity to discover what appeals to me visually and to get my mind off of things I can't do anything about. Hey, it's satisfying, it's pretty, and way more fun than Minesweeper.

My Latest Collages:
The Wisdom of Ratty and Moley


in the cool, cool of evening
Butter London, Banana Republic, Lagos, philosophy
silk and pearls and quicksand roses... satin softness on your skin

Collage is an ages-old art form that my sister & I recently have become interested in. Creative websites, blogs and newsletters we've been enjoying that really get your imagination off to a great start include Everyday Beautiful, Country Living, kaboodle, and Cloth Paper Scissors. The whole point of this is to get our creative juices rolling along a path that will not only be personally satisfying, but hopefully productive. We'd like to know what people are interested in and doing in order to mesh the things we'll eventually produce with them. Playing with color, design, and assembly in a virtual palette folds into the little projects I've been designing at home. By experimenting on the web, I get a feel for what I like without getting sticky with the glue gun or having to sweep up paper cuttings when I'm done. Of course, that will all come - but I really feel like I'm moving more quickly toward the type of creative outlet I'll be most productive doing, without a lot of fits and starts, feeling my way in the dark at home.

The wonderful motivational writer Sarah ban Breathnach must be created with initially guiding me toward collage as a way to prime the pump and mine the depths of my creative thought processes. Her method of finding one's authentic inner voice by way of daily work with the "Illustrated Discovery Journal" is a very valuable technique not only for a personal creative outlet, but for focusing self-knowledge and understanding personal motivations and interests. I appreciate her whole-hearted abandon and since I don't want to make too much of a mess while merrily tossing ideas around, I've combined the physical form of journaling with virtual brainstorming, and have been very happy with the results.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Comfort Food

Chardin, Grace Before a Meal
Looks like more rain is heading this way; the view outside is dank and drippy.  True to form I want to head to the kitchen to put something together that tastes good, is easy to prepare, and brings a satisfied warmth to the bellies in my house.

Here are a few of our favorites.

Bubble & Squeak
`Now, cheer up, Toad,' she said, coaxingly, on entering, `and sit up and dry your eyes and be a sensible animal. And do try and eat a bit of dinner. See, I've brought you some of mine, hot from the oven!'    

It was bubble-and-squeak, between two plates, and its fragrance filled the narrow cell. ..and Toad, between his sobs, sniffed and reflected, and gradually began to think new and inspiring thoughts: of chivalry, and poetry, and deeds still to be done; of broad meadows, and cattle browsing in them, raked by sun and wind; of kitchen-gardens, and straight herb-borders, and warm snap-dragon beset by bees; and of the comforting clink of dishes set down on the table at Toad Hall...   

Bubble and Squeak has a somewhat negligible reputation amongst foodies, which must be due to the fact that traditionally it was made up of leftover mashed potatoes and old cabbage boiled down in a pot to muculent ignominy.  We've made our version of delectably seasoned Virginia pork sausage, fresh cabbage, and new potatoes.  Quite the rainy day fare!

Take half a head of fresh green cabbage, wash thoroughly, and slice into 1/2" thick sections, chopping these in half again, and set aside in a bowl into which you've poured about 1 c. ice-cold water.  Wash and cube about 4 medium russet potatoes, leaving skins on, into pieces 3/4" - 1" in diameter.  Brown 1 lb. local sausage (Valleydale, Weinberg's, Neese's are all good choices, depending upon where you live) in a large skillet until down, lift out and let drain; pour off most of the sausage grease from pan, leaving crisp drippings.  Place the cubed potatoes in the skillet with 1 tbsp. unsalted butter and 1/4 c. water, cover and cook over medium low heat 15 minutes.  Add sausage and cabbage, layering over potatoes, cover again and steam about 10 more minutes just until cabbage is lightly done.  With spatula, lift and turn over the mixture to blend, cover tightly and remove from heat and let sit about 10 more minutes.  Serve with piping hot biscuits and butter or cornbread.  So good.

Shrimp & Grits
Nathalie Dupree, Charleston chef and former SC Senatorial candidate, has written an entire cookbook on this delectable concoctionBeing from Virginia, I'd never heard of it until I moved to South Carolina.  After my first bite I honestly wondered how I'd actually lived up to that point.  Never fails to lift my spirits, no matter how bummed I may be or how difficult the day has been.  Pure heaven defined in a china bowl.  Serve with green salad and hot tea.

Cook grits according to package directions using milk instead of water for a creamy consistency (Generally, measure 1-1/4 c. grits to about 4 c. milk, heat slowly on medium-low heat, add 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tsp. salt, stirring often until mixture is thoroughly cooked and thickened but not lumpy.  Keep covered.  Takes about 20-25 minutes). 
While grits are cooking, brown 3 - 4 slices fresh bacon on both sides, remove, drain, crumble, set aside, reserving pan drippings.  Add a bit of olive oil if necessary to make about 1/3 c. total in pan.  Wash, peel, de-vein about 1-1/4 lb. fresh medium-sized shrimp and remove tails.  Place shrimp in pan on medium heat, turning quickly but gently with spatula as the shrimp heat thoroughly, and as they are finishing, replace crumbled bacon in pan and lower heat.  Add a splash of white wine or apple juice, 1 tbsp fresh chives, 1 clove fresh minced garlic, fresh ground black pepper, dash tabasco or other flavorful hot pepper sauce to taste.  Cover and remove from heat, let this mixture sit for about 3-5 minutes so that the flavors continue to meld.  Serve up grits in large round cream soup dish with shrimp mixture ladled over the top.  Serves 4-5 admirably.

Bean & Bacon Soup

A childhood favorite.  Great with a grilled cheese sandwich and a nice dill pickle or two.  Using freshly dried herbs gives this a monumental flavor that will bring them back for second helpings every time.

1 lb. pkg. Navy or Great Northern Beans, washed & drained
1/2 lb. smoky sliced bacon strips, cooked according to package
2-3 medium carrots, peeled & chopped
1 small white or yellow onion, minced and cooked in bacon drippings until clear, drain and set aside
1 8 oz. can tomato paste
6-8 c. water
2 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp snipped rosemary
dash turmeric, ground black pepper, salt to taste

Cook beans according to package directions in large soup pot or dutch oven until tender.  Add cooked bacon, crumbled, along with about 2 tbsp pan drippings from bacon, and mix thoroughly to distribute.  Add carrots, cooked onion, tomato paste, water to desired consistency, and seasonings.  Cover and cook thoroughly on medium-low heat for about an hour.  Serves 10-12.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Absurdity and Forgiveness

About this time yesterday I was in the middle of making a pretty big mistake in full view of the whole world - which is easy to do on the internet.  My counselor told me this morning that in the last 5 years she has noticed how often it happens that words that once would have been exchanged between two people in a relatively private setting - a bar, perhaps, or a hallway in passing, even in the privacy of one's own home - now end up posted on Facebook.  "It's so quick, to write your reaction, and we do it without thinking.  Then we have to live with the results." 

Another way what appears to bring us closer, in an instant can zoom us far, far away.

Here's the obvious thing that I had to (re)learn publicly:


Even in the rare case that you may actually be right (I wasn't) - it still is the wrong thing to do.  Airing it publicly, even semi-publicly on friends-only posts, still includes people that really didn't want to see that.  We don't go on the internet to be unwitting witness to ugly words about people we care about.  If I had kept my thoughts to a few private emails, even, instead of a couple of very-succinctly-worded Zzzzzlams! - well, I wouldn't have had to eat crow for dinner last night.  And had to get up and look at the leftovers again this morning.  And cringe all over again at the memory of hurting someone I care deeply about, and try to believe that "I made a mistake, everyone makes mistakes, it's not worth beating yourself up over it..."

I am not an existentialist, but they did get one thing right.  Even deleting the whole post and anything afterwards that stemmed from it isn't going to make it go away.  Once it's on the internet, it's history.  Literally.  It's out there.  Damage done.  Now we live with it.

It's worse than just saying ugly words in the privacy of your own home.  It's like buying billboard space and painting it across the highways.  Everyone can see it, and be witness, judge, and jury to your idiotic moment.

So now I'm reading and re-reading a quote from a small framed picture that my mother gave to my father a long time ago, and trying to apply those wise words of Emerson to the absurdity of this particular situation.  Because even though I've apologized profusely and received forgiveness for yesterday's blunders, it is difficult to believe that it won't contribute further to an already tenuous and difficult communication problem that I've been having with the individual who graciously forgave me.  While I was writing words of fire, he was actually being a saint and helping people in need.  He was applying the rule, "Do unto others..."  He was being the better person, doing good in the world.

None of us is perfect, we all are human.  And normally I believe and live by these words:  Everyone is doing his best he can at the time. It is a reminder to have patience, and do not judge.  Why I forgot and felt justified in slamming home some long-ago, worn-out, used-up resentment that should have been thrown out with the trash years ago, is not an excuse.  I shouldn't have done it, and I am so, so sorry.

I don't yet forgive myself; I knew better and under normal circumstances would never have done it - except when I've been having a bad day, like I was yesterday.  I was sick in bed, and the plumbing in the house had developed a problem overnight and I was having to wait for that to be taken care of.  Being ill and unable to take care of what needed doing left me feeling vulnerable and on edge.  So I did what other people do when they're sick:  I got on the internet, hoping for something distracting to take my mind off of it.

You know where this is going.  Without going into detail, the first few words I read on my news page jumped at me completely out of context.  I mis-read, assumed I knew what was going on, and further mis-applied them, and felt totally justified in responding with what at the time seemed a high amount of calm and deliberate action.  Inside I was seething over a jumble of things, partially to do with the situation at hand but mostly chafing at feeling helpless and unable to do anything but wait and see when the person in question would next communicate (he'd been rather too busy lately to talk much).  I didn't want to wait; I wanted attention.

I hate the attention that resulted from that screw-up.  I hate that even if I'd been right, that people saw what I wrote.  That wasn't necessary.  Most of all, I hate that the person to whom it was delivered was bewildered and probably hurt, although he was too much of a gentleman to show it.  In the past this sort of thing would have happened behind closed doors and been completely ironed out between the two of us, but since he wasn't and hasn't been around and I was denied that opportunity, I let it out in front of co-workers, friends, and family.  How inappropriate.  How childish.  How mean and rotten and gross.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in, forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, you shall begin it well and serenely...” --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Deep breath.  Read, and repeat.

Here's another thing:  it doesn't hurt to read and see what advice the Universe sends out first thing in the morning.  This is what it was for me today:
And immediately my mind responded, "Hier j'ai heurté la réalité. Aujourd'hui j'ai réalisé que la réalité était tous dans mon esprit."  Yesterday I crashed head on into reality.  Today I realized that reality was all in my head.

I had to share this with my counselor on the phone this morning (she's so awesome she called me when I was too sick to make the appointment!), and I tried to explain it using an analogy so she could understand how to help me, and why I was so upset.  

See, there was this movie, starring George Peppard and Ursula Andress, with James Mason.  Epic pilot movie - The Blue Max.  In it Peppard plays a military pilot - say that three times fast without tripping over your tongue if you can!  Andress plays his lover, Mason plays a superior officer.  Andress's character reveals to Mason's that the pilot has cheated on something, I forget what, in order to win the country's highest honor and to be named The Blue Max, because she was piqued over his jilting her.  She is spoiled, and manipulative, and she thinks he will just have to lose this award and she will have vengeance.  But it's worse than that.  As a result of this news the superior officer decides to let him die, rather than to let it come out that the Pilot must be stripped of this honor, and therefore embarrass the whole country.  He sends Peppard's character out to test a new plane, that he knows is unsafe, and with tears pouring down her cheeks she has to listen to the engine stall, and the resulting whine and screams as the plane crashes into the earth.  "And all because of your stupid little anger!" Mason yells at her.   

I hear those words at times like these.  Sometimes anger really is pretty stupid.  Sometimes we see ourselves entirely too easily in the weaknesses of others.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

I have a constant struggle between knowing what is real and knowing what really isn't.  This has bitten me in the past, and it's going to continue to bite me as long as I react out of past hurts, without waiting to be certain of having all of the facts.  So this will be part of my homework, along with not beating myself up over things I can't change, even if they're my fault.  As my counselor said, "No one died from it.  You learned something, and it is getting better."

She reminded me about H.A.L.T. - We shouldn't give in to Action when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.  I was at least 2 of those yesterday, and possibly 3.  No matter how it looks, it's just not a good idea.

Yeah, I know.

I also have to put this completely in God's hands, because until I learn these lessons, my own are not to be trusted.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Book Review: Trapped in the Mirror, by Elan Golomb, PhD

Trapped in the MirrorTrapped in the Mirror by Elan Golomb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent treatise on the influence of narcissistic individuals in those for whom abuse and negativity feels more like normal behavior than dysfunction. The author is a well-educated clinical psychologist who herself is the child of two narcissistic parents.

Adeptly weaving her experiences with those of her friends, patients, and other individuals, she helps us to recognize the thought patterns and unintentional, automatic reactions to challenges that everyone faces, but with which adult children can struggle against depression, bulimia, fear, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis. The writer's style dips in and out of clinical assessment, stream-of-consciousness, and rational analysis, proving over and over again that there are many ways to deal confidently and successfully with people who try to control our thoughts and emotions, and because it presents this multi-faceted picture, is not only helpful, but interesting and engaging to read.

I recommend this highly for anyone dealing with unfortunate life patterns triggered by inability to recognize the influence of narcissistic individuals at work, at home, or in relationships.

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