A Few Stories About Ham

The other day, I was preparing meal number four from the ham I had bought at Trader Joe’s. I bought it in a moment of impetuousness; brought on by the euphoria I feel when I shop at Trader Joe’s.

Every couple weeks, I swing by The Boys’ house promptly at 10:00 am (I always shop at TJ’s with The Boys) and we drive the forty minutes to Trader Joe’s. We pile out of the car, shove our copious amounts of bags under our individual carts, and enter. We check out the flowers first and exclaim over this and that unusual one, then we turn our attention to the fruit aisle. As I shop up and down the aisles–always crowded, but usually friendly–S will skip up to me holding out some item, perhaps it’s a can of crabmeat. He places it at my eye level two inches away. “You must get this,” he says. “What do I do with it?” I ask. And then he proceeds to rattle off an exquisite recipe that involves grapefruit and pomegranate, while the other shoppers edge closer to hear. I put the can of crab into my cart.

So when I saw the five-pound ham, I thought, “why not?”

That first night, Richie and I had baked ham with roasted fingerling potatoes and English peas. The second night we had ham casserole. Quiche with ham for the third dinner. Pasta with ham and peas was fourth. By now I was sick of thinking up things to do with ham, so I cut up the rest and put it in the freezer.

Back when I lived on my farm, we would raise a couple of pigs and butcher them each fall. We put the hams in a big garbage pail of brining solution, then after a few weeks, they’d go into the freezer. Each one weighed twenty to thirty pounds. If I decided I wanted ham for dinner, I’d bring a kitchen chair outside, haul the ham out of the freezer, arrange it on the chair, go get the wood saw, and saw off a hunk. Sometimes the ham would roll off the chair and onto the ground, whereupon I would heave it back up and keep sawing. The ham never seemed to get smaller.

“Eternity,” Abraham Lincoln once perceptively observed, “is two people and a ham.”

Crazy Genes

I’ve come to concur with my late friend, Peter Matthiessen’s dying observation about people (and he didn’t even live to see the current election) “We are a crazed species, destroying our habitat,” he said. And we must be crazy, to do the things we do. But here’s an interesting tidbit–our craziness could be genetic.

Recently, I watched a PBS show on Neanderthals. The Neanderthal species (whose DNA we all have, except for a tiny sliver of population in sub-Saharan Africa) were a peaceable, home-loving type, who kept to the turf they found most comfortable, eschewing adventurous exploration. Another concurrent species–Homo sapiens–weren’t such homebodies. In fact, they were wacky. They would set off to sea on some lashed-together log raft, with no land in sight, just to see if there was anything out there. That’s strange, destructive behavior for a species. But sometimes they got lucky, and there was something out there. The raft would lurch up on a foreign shore, and if it were a pleasant climate, generally someone else would be already living there and that someone may have been a Neanderthal. Birds and bees and DNA later…

As we all know, Homo sapiens survived and flourished in the new lands they had stumbled onto by being crazy and so the crazy gene was, like Darwin’s finches, replicated.

We haven’t got any habitat left, but we still have the crazy gene, and perhaps that’s what’s preventing (some of) us from being able to process the end game of our destructive behavior.

When Al Gore started talking about climate change forty or so years ago, I remember thinking, what are we even arguing about? It’s not like we hold any of the aces in this game. There’s nowhere else to live. There is no Planet B. But we’re still arguing.


Disabling Enabling

I’m mining these words out of me in dark chunks, jagged as coal. They’re not soft or easy or even clear. They’re just rough chunks, and I’m hoping that by mining, I’ll be emptied of this toxic seam, and fill the space with light; loving, living light.

Maybe it’s because we relocated and lived in the woods for seven years. But now that I’m back, I see clearly the vast energy my family puts into keeping the alcoholic/addict family members somewhat functioning, for the appearance of normal. My choice became accept or betray. Do I live to be true to myself, or accept the family script that includes decades of enabling? I chose my truth. Doing so has left me feeling punched down and alone.

When I don’t know what action to take, I pretend I’m 83-years-old and I’m looking back at this period. This is what I saw. An open square. And inside it is a dot. And that dot is me. And that square delineates my boundaries. Inside I’m safe. It’s where I create, where I write, where I paint. The square feels free. So that’s what my 83-year-old self is telling my 60-year-old self. Make that space. Live in that space. So I am.

A Grave Error

The other evening, about cocktail hour, I sat on the chaise in the backyard of our house near the village, looking at the tree swallows wheeling and chittering high up in the sky. It reminded me of when I lived in the woods not too long ago, and I was comforted to see these birds here, too. What else have I seen, I asked myself? Ospreys and egrets, since the river is so close. Catbirds, wrens, bluebirds, cardinals, house finches. And bald eagles. I have heard thrushes on those soft mornings they love so much. Plenty, to feel like I’m still surrounded by nature.

Living here has advantages to living in the woods. There’s the Tour de Crumb Cake, for instance. This is when I ride my bike down the river road until I get to Not Ken’s Coffeehouse, where I buy two crumb cakes and one coffee (one of the crumb cakes is for Richie, of course.) I arrange them all in the bag on my D.E.B. bike (intelligently designed and made by Kris Henry for just such a purpose) and pedal until I get to an entrance nearly obscured by large hedges, where I turn and coast past the gravestones to a bench overlooking the water. Here I sit and eat my crumb cake and drink whatever coffee hasn’t spilled out, and I am soothed.

One day, I was disheartened and annoyed to see a small group of people at the overlook near the bench where I always sat. Grumpily, I biked to a different bench and munched the crumb cake, but it was not the same. Other people had discovered the peace and beauty of this place, and now it would be ruined forever; it would be a destination. I cast baleful glances at the group as I munched, until small details pierced through my irritation.

It was a funeral. I felt sheepish–and relieved.

And so the cemetery remains a safe destination for rest and peace, and not just for me.

Well Regulated Militia?

The population of the United States is three hundred twenty seven million.

The membership of the NRA is five million. That’s peanuts.

One sixty-fifth of the population of the United States–five million out of three hundred twenty seven million–is controlling the legislation around guns.

The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

What part of “well regulated militia” includes lone teenage boys with assault weapons murdering children in schools?

If the NRA can’t control its “well regulated militia,” then the majority has to.

For the sake of our children–our future.

Greetings of the Season

I am starting on my blog again, posting monthly, and I’m going to do it without reconnecting with Facebook or Twitter. I’ll post them on both my WordPress blog site  and my website and the inestimable Richie will put them on his vast social media empire, too. But please, if you like reading my posts, go ahead and press that little “follow” button in order to be notified of my new posts. I really appreciate it and as I do your interest and your support.

So this month’s post falls under the heading of buy my beautiful notecards why don’t you? It is, after all, the season for sending out little cards. Sure, I don’t have theme-specific ones, but you can use your imaginations. I’ve got pears and aren’t there partridges in pear trees for one holiday? I’ve sheep, lots of sheep, and that says to me Thanksgiving, hands-down.

The little landscapy ones can be used for all sorts of themes. I just can’t think of which, exactly, at this moment, but I’m sure you can.

And of course there’s the pigs and the horses. Now that I think of it, the pigs, although I think they are lovely, might be a tad insensitive for, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah. Okay, ixnay on the pigs for the holidays. But the horses would work. You know, “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go, the horse knows the way…” etc. And that Robert Frost poem about stopping in the snowy woods and the pony does that little shake of the harness thing.

So go here and check them out. And thanks.

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The Buddy Capers

Buddy went to his first cyclocross race of the season in Rochester, in that lovely Olmstead designed park. Buddy is fond of children, the smaller the better, although I suspect he likes the babies in strollers primarily for the stuffed toys wedged in the stroller with them. He is gentle, though, as he roots out the toys and tugs them from their dark corners. Some babies think this is funny and gurgle with delight as they see their stuffed alligators or teddy bears making their way in Buddy’s careful mouth to the light of day; others become upset as they see their toys changing hands. They are probably future Republicans.


Buddy had satisfying exchanges with three sets of children that weekend. The first was a tiny infant being carried by its mother in a front-harness baby holder. I had Buddy in his own backpack, on my back. In case you haven’t seen it, Buddy sits in the pack with his head and one leg visible, looking like, as someone observed, “a cabby with his arm hanging out.” When the infant saw Buddy on my back, his neutral expression creased into a slow, serene, appreciative smile. Really, it was just like having a Buddhist monk smile at us.

The second was a group of three siblings. They asked, (as most children do these days) if they could pet Buddy, who had trotted right up to them. He nestled himself into the center of the three as they crowded around, gently patting and exclaiming about how soft he was.

“I like how his mouth does this,” said the littlest boy and made a small moue.

“I wish we could have a dog. We might get one,” said the middle child, a small boy, with an Arab name.

“We won’t get one,” said his older sister, who had early adolescent pimples and braces but who seemed full of joy. She hadn’t said it to be mean, I could tell. There are disappointments in life, she seemed to know already, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. I really liked those kids.

The third encounter was a little four-or-five-year-old who marched up, and asked to pet Buddy.

“Sure,” I said. “He likes people who are little.”

As soon as I said that, I knew it was wrong and the child set me straight at once.

“I’m not little,” he said without rancor.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”

Facts restored, he proceeded to pet Buddy. “What’s his name?”

“Buddy,” I said. He paused, his face wrinkled in puzzlement. “What’s his nickname?”

I cracked up. Because, really, he had a point.

“Little potato,” I said, and now the boy cracked up.

An hour or so later, Buddy and I were near the finish line and I heard a shrill, piping voice behind us, getting louder, “His nickname is little potato.”

I looked around. The not-little kid was ushering a group of friends over to us.

“His nickname is little potato,” he informed them again, bending down to pet Buddy proprietarily.


What I Did Today

Not a fan of the inauguration. Not a fan of whining, either. So here’s what I’ve done, to both help and help feel empowered.

I donated to three organizations that will most likely be negatively impacted by the incoming administration:

The Southern Poverty Law Center https://www.splcenter.org/ for justice for minorities, the National Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/ for the environment, and Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/ for women’s rights.

Kindness is important.


Writing With Style



Last night I read through that little gem, The Elements of Style. Updated, its core nonetheless remains as sound as a ninety-year-old yogi.

In today’s children and young adult books, there is a fixation on “voice.” “Voice” is what is most often referenced when agents are asked what they look for when reading a manuscript. “A fresh voice” they say, whatever that means. Based on the books I review, “a fresh voice” is often on par with the flat, loud volume of commercials or the exaggerated drama of reality shows. It exhausts the reader with its neediness.

Here, by calming contrast, is Strunk and White’s advice in the chapter titled “An Approach to Style.” 

Place yourself in the background. Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.

If the writing is solid and good, the mood and temper of the writer will eventually be revealed and not at the expense of the work. Therefore, the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none—that is, place yourself in the background.

A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward.

Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.



I’ve taken myself off Facebook and twitter, not that hardly anyone would notice. Except of course, me, which was the point.

I have shut the door to the party. Once, when I was a teenager, my mother and I were driving into Hartford and we passed by the huge brick Aetna building, I said to her: “I would like to live there so that I could have a party in this part—“ I indicated the vast right-hand wing, “but my room would be here—“ I indicated the equally vast left hand-wing “so I could be alone.” Naturally, she looked at me oddly. But what I was trying to say was that I love people and I love doing things to make them happy, but I find them overwhelming.

So that’s that. Despite FB telling me that so-and-so really misses hearing from me (doubt it) I’m sticking to my decision. Fact is, I don’t miss the party. I do wonder slightly if I am like the ostrich, but then again, I do my bit in my own way, so I feel okay about that.

Interestingly, E.B. White felt the same way about the effect of television: “When I was a child,” he wrote in One Man’s Meat, his book of essays published in 1938, “people simply looked about them and were moderately happy. Nowadays they peer across the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”