Category Archives: Assata

I am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness.

spend the morning watching rain beading on freshsprung march buds
daffodils are blossoming yellow and damp alongside covert crocuses
they seem more nuanced, as flowers,
when the sky is dim, and grey
more capable of the lesser human emotions

i am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness

there are asbestos-containing-materials in our new house
and its not shocking, i guess
but i am furious anyway.
Not that a house built in 1930 would have
asbestos ceilings
and asbestos glue under ugly flooring
but furious that anyone was ever fooled into thinking this was a good idea
that the newest laboratory innovation was really going to make life better
and now we’re left to clean it up

midway through the morning it occurs to me:
there’s nothing shocking here.
maybe in getting pissed about the mistakes of previous generations i am missing the point
Everybody wants it cheap, and easy.
Everyone wants to have their cake
and eat it too
my generation is just as willing to overlook the risks
Goodbye Asbestos, hello vinyl siding and polychlorinated biphenyls.
goodbye styrofoam,
hello nalgene bottles with bisphenol-A
goodbye oil hello nuclear power
goodbye coca-cola with cocaine
hello diet coke with aspartame

i am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness.

there is a wind gust and a raven swoops upward suddenly over the ravine
then turns its head into the invisible force
and strikes out northwest
i am looking forward to years of wandering my own yard
clipping branches from familiar trees
for ikebana
at all seasons

somedays i chide myself for writing much about Ordinary Life
when there are So Many Big Issues playing out in the World
big issues that i care about,
big issues where my voice is relevant to the discussion
and i have something to say
But then I have moments
in which i remember:

This is All there is.

This ordinary moment each of us is living:
right Now,
is all there is.
All those Big Issues are Here, Now.
in our breakfast cereal,
in the set of choices we have before us
Ecology, “Politics,” Gender Issues, Violence, Pollution, Economics, “History”
coffee, dogshit, bills paid, weather, food in the fridge, the water coming out of the tap, the inventory of the kitchen trash, the history my body carries as it walks around the house, the dust in the vents, the microchips in my cell phone, the corporate giants who own my organic feel good toothpaste.

i wander around the yard in a hoodie snapping pictures of spring flowers against the grey sky
the dog refuses to join me,
because of the rain
and stays inside on the couch
with pillows

i make soy hot chocolate on the stove top
put on an ani album from ten years ago
and start packing photo albums and journals
into discarded archival boxes

midway through the afternoon, i hitch my shirt up over my belly
and stare at it, waiting for him to move
I haven’t really been certain yet
if the flutterings are actually him
and not my blood pumping, or my stomach working,
or my ligaments stretching
suddenly,
the skin pops up alongside my bellybutton
and returns to level so quickly i’m not sure i really saw it
so i wait
and there he is again
and again
i watch, entranced, for forty-five minutes
as his limbs surface under my skin like the fins of whales

i am picking my battles
and looking out for basic goodness

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Filed under Americana, Assata, basic goodness, Change, fathoming, habitat, Ordinary, outside, Peace, photographs, poetry, Pregnancy, violence, watching it all go by

saturday night

saturday to everyone else is tuesday on my calendar. I worked a long lunch shift, and took tiny comfort from the fact that at least a couple of the waitresses wanted to be somewhere else as badly as I did. We are experts on each other’s fake smiles.

After my shift I buy toothpaste, because we are out. Walk home in a light rain, tired of being on my feet but grateful I’m walking for myself now, and not for someone’s side of ranch or glass of ice or fresh silverware. The Sound is blue-grey, the sky is blue-grey, and I’ve had the same headache for two days. Another random unexpected side effect of pregnancy. My body is producing whole pints of new blood, and all of it is taking a slow detour around my womb, made slower by my already low blood pressure. Which means, if I manage to trigger a headache, it’s aggravated every time I stand, sit, lean, or bend over. I record this as sort of an anthropological observation, but its true, I’m whining. The not-so-unpleasant side effect of the headache: I’ve begun to walk very deliberately. Gently, slowly, with intention, so as not to jar my skull or rush blood away from my head and to another part of my body. I notice more this way. More raindrops, more faces, more birdsongs.

Somewhere in Seattle, as I walk home, a family of elderly siblings is considering an offer Ryan and I made to buy their deceased mother’s house. Her name was Annie. She raised 6 children in the house and lived out her days there. It sits on a third of an acre in south Seattle, and is ringed with evergreens she planted in the 1930s. I promised her son Roger if we got the house I’d keep her birdfeeders full, something he’s been doing in her memory since the day she died. There’s a damn good chance we’ll get the house, and it won’t break us to pay the mortgage. All of this is surreal.

Walking down the alley to our house, I hold my breath to pass through the smell of the bag of cat litter one of our neighbors poured into the potholes. Our winter garden is still in the evening light, beaded with droplets of clear rainwater. The dog is giddy and overwrought when I unlock the door, and she runs in circles for a while, which seems to help.

When she’s calmed down, I profer her harness, and she walks willingly into it. We set out walking in the fading light. I leave her off leash for a while, and she bounds back and forth between smells, waiting at driveways and sidestreets on command. When we reach the busier street, she instinctively narrows the distance between us, walking in unleashed heel the rest of the way to the petstore. Inside, she greets the employees, all of whom she knows well. They lavish treats upon her in exchange for shakes and sloppy kisses. I buy her cheese hearts and peanut butter bones, and stock up on treats for a care package for my brother’s new dog, a German Shepherd rescue named Kodi.

Walking past the pizza joint on the corner, I find myself wanting pizza. We cross the street to the grocery store, where I pick out baby spinach leaves, two hothouse tomatoes, and a brick of vegan mozzarella. Also a peach and a plum, which arrived at my local grocery store courtesy of a long, fossil-fuel powered journey from Chile. I agonize over buying them for a while, then decide to get them anyway. I’m pregnant, for God’s sake. I’m allowed to do some things I wouldn’t ordinarily. This is what I tell myself in the produce aisle.

We walk home in the dark and the quickening rain. Assata takes her peanut butter bone into the livingroom, and I pour a packet of yeast into a silver mixing bowl. Feed it a cup of warm water and a tablespoon of good sugar, and sit down to wait while it “eats.” Five minutes later, add flour, then salt, then olive oil, then more flour. Easy peasy pizza crust. Knead it for a while, and let it “rest,” then roll it out on a cookie sheet. Listen to an Au Revoir Simone album, which Ryan procured for us last night. Its lovely, whimsical and sad and rambling and poignant all at once… perfect for making dough on a rainy January Saturday night.

Whisk olive oil together with dried thyme and good salt, and paint the crust with a pastry brush. scatter the fresh spinach leaves across, an inch and a half thick, then slice the tomatoes over the top. Grate on the entire brick of “follow your heart” brand mozarella, then slide the entire thing into the oven, listening for the muted clang of the cookie sheet on the hot baking rack, one of my favorite sounds.

Finish the plum, which is disappointing. A shallow imitation of what I’d really been craving, which is, to say, a plum-in-season that wasn’t picked three weeks and 8 thousand miles ago. The kitchen begins to fill with the smell of melting cheese and pizza crust and roasting tomatoes, and I start to think about baking cupcakes.

I’ve baked a lot this past week. Vegan dark chocolate oatmeal shortbread. A vegan poppyseed apple coffeecake. Then a batch of vegan peanut butter cookies. Dark chocolate vegan cupcakes seem like a logical progression. When Ryan gets home, I’m sifting cocoa powder and flour with a fork. We eat pizza and sit on the couch, looking out into the dark neighborhood and discussing the counteroffer the family made on the house. Its not bad, and we’re not sure if its good either, since we’ve never done this before. I am mostly caught up in being mad they want to take the washer and dryer, even though the cost of a new energy and water efficient set would be the tiniest fraction of what we’re talking about spending overall.

Chocolate cake smells fill the house. We rent a movie from the video store on the corner, and curl into each other to eat cupcakes and go gently braindead. Crawl into bed to fall asleep spooning each other spooning the dog, who is using a pillow. The smell of lavender suffuses the sheets. Years ago, when Ryan lived in Bellingham and I lived in Utah, I sewed him a lavender pillow to put over his eyes to help him sleep at night… now he uses a few drops of essential oil before he turns out the light, and his breathing settles out before I’ve even finished tossing and turning. His hand is tucked gently, but firmly, over my pregnant belly, and the newest Au Revoir Simone album is playing softly on the speakers. The dog falls asleep too, and I lay in the middle, hands tangled in both of their limbs, watching shadows from outside flicker on the closet doors. Thinking:

I will remember this moment when I am old.

RECIPES for those who want them:

lovely easy vegan pizza crust (from the Vegan Family Cookbook)

1 packet active dry yeast (one 1/4 oz package)
1 cup warm water
1 Tbs. sugar
whisk together and let sit for five minutes.

Add 1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup light olive oil
and another 1 1/2 cups flour.
knead for five minutes
let rest five minutes.

roll out on oiled baking surface, let rise for as long as you like (i usually get impatient after 5 minutes, but 30 is good).
sauce and top, bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes.

Dark chocolate vegan cupcakes

sift together dry ingredients:
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cup sugar

blend in:
3 Tbs. butter
2 egg substitutes (i use 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed whisked together with 6 tablespoons water)
dash vanilla
1 cup soymilk (or other milk substitute)

chop up a few squares of good dark chocolate and sprinkle the pieces over the cupcakes before putting them in the oven.

bake 15-17 minutes at 350.

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Filed under Assata, Food, Ordinary, Pregnancy, Vegan Recipes

April Kitchen

“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared or fast food, confronts a platter covered with inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any creature that ever lived… The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry.  Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”

Wendell Berry

8:04 on a Saturday evening, sitting at the kitchen desk drinking cheap red wine from a tiny rainbow San Francisco mug and breathing deep as the light fades from the sky, on our second day in a row without rain.  Dogwood trees are bursting out in pink blossoms all over the neighborhood, and when I walked home from my lunch shift, there was still fresh snow on the Olympics across the water.  Ryan puts a Miles Davis record on and sets to toasting, chopping, grinding and sauteeing an intoxicating combination of herbs and spices…  cardamon, ginger, onion, garlic, fenugreek, cloves, cumin, and coriander—all the fixins for Red Lentil Dahl from scratch.  The rice cooker is hissing softly on the counter.  Assata wakes up under the table and wanders sleepily out into the twilight of the freshly mowed backyard… I sip my wine and scribble maps of the garden in my journal, plotting my first spring planting tomorrow.  I’ve got a windowsill full of spinach, started from seed a month ago, and some little broccoli and butter lettuce starts Mom brought by last week, all of them eager to escape their tiny pots and set their roots into the soil.

The garden has been true to us all through the snow and frost and cold of winter 2008-2009… up until December we were still img_0094nibbling on tiny tomatoes that ripened in bowls on the windowsill.  In February we harvested the last of the brussel sprouts, which performed exquisitely after being boiled for 3 minutes, then sauteed in garlic and olive oil, after which we dipped them in veganaise and rolled our eyes in sheer joy.  the row of mixed kale has sprouted through every imaginable sort of Seattle winter weather, including our epic 2 plus weeks of snow.  We’ve been baking it in olive oil and sea salt at least once a week, as per Erin’s fabulous recipe. And I’ve just now harvested the last of the root veggies, in early April. img_0242

Sip my wine, glance outside.  Ryan is sitting on the top step with a towel on his shoulder, petting Assata.  The yard is dark now, but the porchlight is on, and shining on a bush covered with soft pink flowers.

A few hours ago, I sat in this same chair, counting tip money and writing checks to pay bills.  We talked about money, the status of our savings for the wedding and our trip to India this summer, worried about debt and student loans, rehashed the same old numbers over and over, discussed second jobs.   We were quiet for a while, and then decided to set out for the bare bones, beginning-o-month grocery shop at our Co-Op.  Surveyed the empty jars, grabbed our cloth bags, and set out for the bulk section of the West Seattle PCC.

We’ve both bought bulk for years, but its only in the past year or so that we’ve begun to develop our bulk shopping/cooking skills.  I used to buy too much of this, or that, just to see it sitting in a clear jar on my kitchen shelf.  Decorative bulk, invariably tossed out 9 months later.  Now we know exactly what we need.  Once we get to the bulk aisle, we spread out.

I headed for the big bins, to shovel out polenta (for delicious grits!), oats (for my morning oatmeal with soymilk and succanat–a delicious, less-refined sugar), red lentils, green lentils, and nutritional yeast (a delicious, killer source of B-12 for vegetarians/vegans, tastes a lot like cheese. we put it on EVERYTHING).  Ryan took charge in the spice section, pulling down the jars and shoveling herbs and spices into tiny plastic bags.  Bulk spice-buying is deeply satisfying.  I think it appeals to my montessori upbringing— the tiny silver scoop, the numbered jars, the careful packaging (and the other end of the process: emptying the tiny bags into our reused spice jars back home, giddy when i’ve bought just enough to fill them.  Excess gets rolled back into the bags and stored in a tiny cedar basket made by my mother).    I cruise the fruit aisle, and pick out cheap organic fruit… 4 nectarines, 3 pears, a grapfruit.  Ryan meets up with me, having gathered the ingredients for his dahl: tomatoes, cilantro, and naan bread for dipping.  We check out, and congratulate ourselves as each bulk item appears on the screen, cheaper than we expected every damn time.  1 pound grits— $ 1.59.   garlic powder—$1.51.  ground ginger, $1.72.   coriander—.33.

img_0220

Leaving the store, we are giddy.  We have enough spices and grains to last us thru the month, and then some, for 30 dollars less than I’d allocated out of today’s tips.  At home, Ryan starts the dahl, and exquisite scents mingle and blend and swirl thru the kitchen on the draft from the open back door.   I pile the grapefruit, tangerines, pears,  ginger root and garlic into the hanging basket by the window, empty the bulk things into jars… tiny grains whisper across one another and land atop one another sounding like a light rain.

Finish my wine. Ryan dishes up dahl and brown rice, and surprises me with a candlelit picnic table in the dark backyard. wrap in a sweater and put on boots, and sit across from him, savoring each delicious bite in the quiet April dark.

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Filed under Assata, Food, Garden, waitressing, wendell berry, winter garden

Sunny days and strange nights.

February dawned exquisitely in West Seattle. 3000 miles east in Puxatawney, PA, a gang of middle-aged white male business owners hauled a groundhog out of a stump and hoisted it into the air,

then announced we were going to have six more weeks of winter.
Meanwhile, temperatures in Seattle came floating steadily up out of the 30s. Thick grey fogbanks burned off by late morning, and the sun fell across our hilly neighborhood like a soft blanket. Honeysuckle started blooming alongside our house, attracting swarms of softly humming bees.

A local goat wandered off from home, and was taken into protective custody by the Seattle Police Department until its owner came to claim it.

The sun, the goat, the honeybees…. its all been a little surreal. Walking Assata down the hill to Lowman beach on Monday, I had to shed my hat, gloves, sweater, scarf, and hoodie, until I was following her across the driftwood and beachrocks bareheaded in shirtsleeves. She poked her way across the beach to visit some gulls, who all rose up into the air at once, backflapped a dozen yards, and settled back into the water. She stood ankle-deep in the small waves, watching the gulls with her head cocked. I saw a seal slipping through the waves, and a giant freighter slowly chugged past out in the shipping channel, with two giant cranes (the ones that look like massive, angular dinosaurs) bound for the port of Seattle around Alki point.

(Assata watching a less water-phobic dog-friend at Lowman Beach)

Walked home in the glowing sunshine. Noticed birdsong as we walked the sidewalk up the hill through the ravine. Got ready for my five-oclock waitressing shift.

Set out on my customary walk-to-the-junction, a gentle uphill mile trek to the business district of our neighboorhood. My mother, who grew up in Seattle, says our neighborhood reminds her of hers in the 1950s and 60s. Lots of small family-owned businesses, largely non-corporate, old signs, familiar faces. As I neared the restaurant I work at, I saw a news van parked nearby. Walking closer, a spotted a pile of flowers on a table in front of the bar next door to ours. One of my co-workers came out and stood next to me in front of the table.

“someone got shot out front last night, after you left work,” he told me. “He ran into the bar next door and collapsed, and he died in the hospital this morning.”

(images thanks to WS Blog).

“Look,” he said, gesturing behind him. “You can see the bullet holes in the wall.”

That night, the restaurant was quiet. My only real tip income was from a large table of journalists and staff who’d been laid off from a local news network that day, and had decided to rendevous one last time for beers before going their separate ways in search of work.

Every now and then, Seattle PD officers walked by out front, “foot patrolling” to make the neighborhood feel safer. A news crew camped out on the sidewalk and accosted passerby to see if they were grieving for the man who’d died.

Walking to yoga the next morning, breathing deep and glorying once again in the crisp sun-lit air, I trailed my fingers across the filled- in bullet holes in the wall of the restaurant next to mine, a wall I walk past 2 dozen times a week, walking to the vitamin store or the used clothing store or the yoga studio or the farmers market.

I thought about how strange it was, how quickly it had happened and how quickly all evidence of the event had been erased from the sidewalk. We expect children in far-away countries to die in ugly and senseless wars. We expect strangers and people we scarcely know to succumb to cancer and die in car wrecks. But we never expect that death will draw near to the people we love, or to us, or to our daily routines.

I didn’t know this young man. My heart goes out to his family. But I can’t help but think the event was lost on the rest of us: as a society, we fill the bullet holes with putty and paint them the same color as the rest of our lives.

I feel safe as ever in my neighborhood. I keep on glorying in the sunshine, taking my dog to the beach, walking to work and yoga, and saving tip money for our wedding. Reading the West Seattle blog, my heart ached at the sight of the young man’s picture, holding his niece. Sunny days and strange nights, as the economy teeters and the wars continue and the country waits for “Change.”

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Filed under Assata, goat, Groundhog Day, layoffs, Lowman Beach, violence, waitressing

Winter blooms

As we were gathering our things to head home the day after Thanksgiving, my mother handed us a small ceramic pot with a narrow green shoot.
Paperwhites, she said,
they’re lovely when they bloom.

She’s always started winter bulbs, as long as I can remember… sitting on the sunniest windowsill of the house, growing with incredible audacity in the warm room during the cold months. We brought it home, and set it on the kitchen windowsill.

Sure enough, it grew visibly, and daily
and this week it burst into bloom…
Daring to blossom in the coldest of Seattle weather,
since it doesn’t know any better,
having lived all its days indoors.

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Filed under Assata, Ordinary, winter garden

Dog-Child.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who told a dog to go “get Daddy” or “say hi to Grandma and Grandpa.”

It took about 3 minutes. We found her on a family farm in northern Oklahoma, precisely ten miles south of Kansas and five miles down a dirt road. The locusts were humming like power lines, and there was standing water in the fields from summer flash flooding. She was one of two Bernese Mountain Dog puppies left from a litter. They chased each other through the tall grass and quickly disappeared, only to be located under the barbeque, eagerly licking out the greasetrap. I despaired of ever choosing between them. Ryan didn’t hesitate. “Look at her eyes,” he said. “That’s our girl.”


(Assata and Ryan, ten miles south of Kansas)


We named her for Assata Shakur, a Black Panther and Civil Rights activist who was wrongfully accused of several crimes in the 1970s, and who escaped to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. (Assata: The Autobiography of Assata Shakur). Not sure what Ms. Shakur would think about having a dog named after her, but its given us plenty of opportunities to tell folks about a woman of extraordinary eloquence and dedication to the American people. Once we’ve corrected them. “No. not like Carne Asada. Assata, like the Black Panther.”

(post swim in the Sierra Nevadas, on the road trip home, July 2007)

The name means “She who struggles.” Our girl doesn’t, much.



(Washington state ferry headed into Seattle)

Mostly, we call her The Bean. It morphed out of Assata, honeybee. Which became Assata B, and then, somehow, Bean.
Yes, I am that dog-mom.
And Ryan is that dog-father.

(At Ghost Ranch, one of Georgia O’Keefe’s favorite places in northern New Mexico)

And, while they may never have thought of themselves as those kind of people either,
our friends and family are those dog-aunts, and dog-uncles, and dog-grandparents.

The Bean is mighty hard to resist.(in west seattle)

(rallying for elephant rights at the Woodland Park Zoo)

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