Wisdom Around Us

Wisdom Around Us

Writing is Magic

What inspires us to write, to compose, to sculpt, to design?  I’d love to believe in the fantastical possibility that creative fairies visit us in the middle of a good night’s sleep and leave us with sparks of creativity that can eventually become one of our works of art.
 
In my own creative process, I love the sparks that come almost fully formed—a poem or short story—that I can clumsily write in the darkness of my room under the faint light of a small lamp. The magic happens as words flow like water in a clear, sparkling stream and I can usually go back to sleep, content.  Although subsequent reviews of the written work will bring changes and improvements, in these instances the writing seems almost effortless.
 
Then there are the creative sparks that are faint and not fully formed and which will haunt me for days, like the burden of a task I’ve intentionally left undone.  Through my daily routine, I am constantly aware of that spark that came uninvited and that I have left unattended.  The magic in these instances happens when I take the time to explore it, then to develop it, and eventually to savor a finished written project.
 
Less magical but part of all writers’ lives, is the writing project that comes to me with structure and deadlines. In these cases, the challenge is to meet imposed parameters and rules from outside forces with creativity.  This type of writing seems to require the most work, but in the end is equally satisfying when the words express exactly what needed to be said.
 
So why is writing magic for me always, regardless of the source of inspiration or amount of work?  It is because whether from a fairy’s spark or year long research, it is deeply moving and exhilarating to create that written product that will touch a far away reader’s heart, mind or soul in meaningful and positive ways.
 
     Yes, writing is magic.

Out of the Mouths of Babes… December 2020

As we come to the close of a most difficult year for the world, 2020 has again highlighted the need for loving care of each other past our differences, whether they be rooted in cul-ture, religion, politics, social standing, or race.

The latter is the most painful in my opinion for our country, and my hope is that the new year brings greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty of diversity.

I love telling friends the story of the day when my youngest daughter, Melissa, came home very confused about a conversation her kindergarten teacher had with the class regarding color.

Now, here I’ll digress for a moment to say that my two very artistically inclined daughters showed a talent for the visual arts early on, a talent that they did not get from me, but which filled my heart and our home with their wonderful art work. With their one hundred and twenty coloring pencil set, my girls didn’t choose the blue pencil but rather aqua blue or peacock blue as they drew.

Still on my credenza in a small frame is a post-it notecard with a drawing and poem from Melissa when she was seven years old:

Mom
(red heart) The red means love
(orange heart) The peace
(green heart) The fun
(yellow heart) Sunny days
(blue heart) Taking care of me
(lilac heart) The care
Love, Melissa

So not surprising, then, that my daughter seemed confused that her kindergarten teacher focused on white and black when there were so many colors to be seen.  She couldn’t repeat any details from the talk except that the teacher kept making a point about being black or white and Melissa couldn’t understand why this was an issue.

Since we had not received any note from the teacher or the school that in her kindergarten class they would be discussing race, I remember bracing myself for one of those moments as a parent when one needs to provide a thoughtful and intelligent answer to guide a young, developing mind.

However, before I could get my thoughts together in a cohesive response, Melissa’s next comment changed everything.

 “Mom, I don’t know why Miss *** is talking about black and white.  Aren’t we beige?”

And with that, I knew we were raising our daughters as nonjudgmental beings and, at least for the moment, she needed no more explanation.

“Yes, we’re beige.”

She was satisfied as was I.

Only a child can make such a simple and meaningful observation when the color of another’s skin makes no difference in how we see that person.  For my girls, skin color was, and is, no more or less important than seeing the color of someone’s eyes or the texture of their hair.

 

Gossamer Wings

Photo by Ilianna Kwaske, Ph.D.

I feel bathed in light and wonder when I look at this picture of Henry standing in sunshine.

It is difficult to determine if my youngest grandson is lighting up the room through every pore of his body, from his feet through the tips of his hair, or if he is reflecting the sunshine streaming in through a corner of the room. It doesn’t matter. Somehow my daughter, Ilianna, captured the goodness and light that was Henry at five years old in his gossamer wings when he believed that he could become a fairy and do all the magical things that fairies do, and it fills my heart with joy.

When do we stop believing that anything is possible? It is precious little time we have to feel bountiful in who we are, what we can do, and what can surprise us around the next corner. Regardless of our age, our soul wants to live where endless possibilities hide in every discarded cardboard box and dandelion wish.

It is inevitable that a child cross over to that other side of life which is rooted in what we consider real and doable. However, is it inevitable as well that we lose that childlike joy of being?

In my life, I have been fortunate to have met adults who have maintained gossamer wings. Sure, they hide their wings while they go about every day tasks and making a living, but with people they trust not to judge them as simpletons, the wings spread and the child in them breathes new life and excitement, intoxicating those around them.

These are the people who seem to have a perpetual soft smile on their face, as if their lips were not designed to ever pull down in a frown. They belly laugh and sometimes snort at what others might see as silly. They embrace the grayest of days knowing that a blue sky is just behind the threatening clouds. They linger in the moment with family and friends. They find fun in simple things.

I have a wall of photographs of inspiring mentors, both people in my life and people I’ve learned about over the years. Among these pictures are ones of Albert Einstein playfully sticking out his tongue, Salvador Dalí curling his handlebar mustache, and Nanammal aka Yoga Grandma doing asanas in her pink sari at ninety-nine years of age.

To live with gossamer wings and dandelion wishes…that is my desire.

 

 

My Grandmother’s White Rice

(My grandmother, Mima Otra, lived just shy of her 109th birthday, and in August I celebrate her last days with us
by sharing with my readers a short story I wrote many years ago.)

There is nothing more delicious than my grandmother’s white rice.

I watch her as she moves slowly around her kitchen, getting ready to once more teach her oldest granddaughter her recipe.

I anticipate her every move. This ritual has occurred at least half a dozen times before, and I still vividly remember when, as a young newlywed, I asked her for this cooking lesson.

Back then, my grandmother’s agility belied her sixty plus years. Her thin, small body darted here and there, first taking the pot for the rice from a shelf over the sink, then grabbing the sack of rice from another spot. And I remember her cooking instructions.

“Dear, there’s nothing special to making this rice. The important thing is to use the long grain type, and to rinse it very well. Afterwards, you add water, a little salt and olive oil, you wait until the water is all absorbed, and that’s it.”

“It can’t be that easy.” I defended myself. “I have followed those steps and my rice doesn’t taste like yours. I’m going to watch your every move.”

“That’s fine. But remember, I don’t measure anything. I just add as I go along.” “And how do you know how much water to add?”
“Well, I always add three fingers’ worth.”
“What does that come to?”

“Come over here.” I obeyed.

“See? The rice is rinsed, and you add water until it is covered with three fingers over the top of the rice.” She showed me her technique. “That’s it.”

“It seems easy.”

“Yes, it is. Now we add a little salt...” She filled the palm of her hand with an enormous amount of the condiment. “A little olive oil...stir everything... and cook at medium heat.”

“That’s all?”
“It’s very easy, dear heart.”
“I don’t understand. That’s how I prepare it, although with less salt, but my rice

doesn’t taste like yours.”
“Well, I don’t know why not. But leave that alone. Come and sit with me. Tell me what’s going on with you while we wait.”
And talk we did. So many stories I have shared with my grandmother over the years waiting for her white rice to cook. Stories of myself as a college student, a world traveler, a newlywed, a professional, a mother; stories of weddings, divorces, and deaths, of joys and disappointments.

And always my stories captured her complete attention, her pure grandmother’s love, her comments guiding me and teaching me, without my realizing it.

Who knows what we talked about during that first lesson in making her special recipe, but it’s not important.

“Oh, look, the rice is cooked,” she said eventually, energetically getting up and standing at the stove. “Now we just add a bit of lard.”

Lard?

“This gives it the special taste,” she said as she lowered the largest can of Crisco that I had ever seen. “Yes, a little lard makes it taste good.” And with that, my grandmother took a ladle full of the congealed fat and spread it over the rice.

I felt a chill through my body. So this was the secret ingredient. I had never seen anyone use so much white lard, and at that moment, concerned not with health issues but a svelte figure, I saw the Crisco melt and imagined my hips widen.

“It is ready.” She filled two small bowls. “Now the taste test!”

We stood together next to her kitchen counter; the white rice melted in my mouth. How delicious!

And what a proud smile on my grandmother’s face.

Today, more than thirty years have passed since that first lesson, and I watch her head bent low, straining to better see the pot she has under the spigot in the kitchen sink.

“Remember to rinse it until the water runs very, very clear.”

I nod, stifling the impulse to say that many vitamins have also been washed away. This is my grandmother’s recipe.

“You don’t cook a lot though, do you?” she asks as she places the pot inside the electric rice cooker, an upgrade in her kitchen in the last three decades.

“No, but when I do make it, I want it to taste like yours, and it never does.”

From her lips words do not challenge me like others might: But, college professor that you are, you still haven’t learned this recipe after so many years? She enjoys my company and I hers.

We sit to wait for the rice to cook.
“Tell me what’s new with you, Mima Otra. What’s going on with you these days?” “Oh, granddaughter...” begins a long conversation of a thousand and one worries, a thousand and one joys, a thousand and one memories.
Now it is I who encourage and support, I who celebrate everything she talks about in her life of ninety-three years. I want to fill myself with her.
Soon, I remind her that the timer on the rice cooker has gone off. With difficulty she gets up and I hand her the cane purchased in the last few months.
“My God,” she scolds me with a smile. “I don’t need this to take three steps.”

“With the problem you are having with your ankle, it’s a good idea to get used to using it.”

To please me, she takes the cane. I know it will sit in a corner when I leave.
“And now a little lard...”
I sigh, praying that I have inherited my grandmother’s good cholesterol genes. “This makes it tasty.”
“How delicious, Mima Otra.”
“I still make pretty good rice, don’t you think?” she smiles lovingly.
“The best in the world.”
And between laughter and conversation, in her small kitchen bathed in the light of morning, I ask God to bless me with more opportunities to take a cooking lesson for white rice, another day, another time, with my grandmother.

Arroz Blanco con Manteca

(Mi abuela, Mima Otra, vivió hasta casi 109 años de edad,
y en este mes de agosto celebro sus últimos días con nosotros compartiendo con mis lectores un cuento que escribí hace muchos años.)

No hay nada más rico que el arroz blanco de mi abuela.

La miro en su lento va y ven por su cocina, repitiendo una vez más el rito de enseñarle a su nieta mayor el secreto de su receta.

Anticipo todos sus pasos - este momento ha ocurrido antes por lo menos media docena de veces. Y recuerdo muchos años atrás cuando recién casada pedí esta lección por primera vez.

En aquel entonces, la ligereza de mi abuela desmentía sus más de 60 años. Su delgado y pequeño cuerpo se movía sin cesar, primero tomando la olla para el arroz de un estante elevado encima del fregadero, después cogiendo el saco de arroz de grano largo de otro lugar. Y recuerdo sus instrucciones.

“Mi nieta, no tiene ciencia hacer este arroz. Lo importante es que sea de grano largo. Y lavarlo buy bien. Después le agregas agua, un poco de sal y aceite, y ya. Esperas a que se seque.”

“¡No puede ser tan fácil!” me defendí yo. “He seguido esos pasos y mi arroz no sabe como el tuyo. Voy a observar todo lo que haces.”

“Ah, pues bien. Pero recuerda que yo no mido nada. Echo por ojo.” “¿Y cómo sabes cuánta agua ponerle?”
“Pues yo siempre le pongo tres dedos de agua.”
“¿Qué viene siendo eso?”

“Ven acá.” Obedecí.

‘Ves. Ya tienes el arroz limpio. Echas agua hasta que se cubra con tres dedos” dijo juntando los tres dedos de la mano y midiendo el costado interior de la olla, “y ya.”

“Me parece fácil.”

“Sí lo es. Ahora le agregamos un poco de sal...” Llenó la palma de la mano con una cantidad de sal que yo consideré enorme. “Un chorrito de aceite español, y lo dejas a fuego mediano.”

“¿Es todo?”
“Sí. Es muy fácil, mi nieta.”
“Yo no comprendo. Yo lo preparo así. Bueno, con menos sal, pero mi arroz no sabe como el tuyo.”

“Pues yo no sé por qué no. Bueno, deja eso. Ven y siéntate conmigo. Cuéntame de ti mientras se cocina.”

¡Y cuántos cuentos compartí con mi abuela, esperando a que se secara el arroz! Cuentos de estudiante universitaria, de gitana del mundo, de profesional, de recién casada, de madre; cuentos de bodas, divorcios y muertes, de desencantos y felicidades.

Y siempre mis historias escuchadas con su total atención, con su amor puro de abuela, guiando e instruyendo con sus comentarios, sin yo darme cuenta.

Sabe Dios cuál fue la conversación durante aquella primera lección en hacer su arroz blanco. No es importante.

“Ah, mira. Ya se secó,” dijo al rato, levantándose enérgicamente. “Ahora le agregamos un poquito de manteca.”

¡Manteca!

“Esto le da saborcito,” decía mientras bajaba la más enorme lata de manteca Crisco que jamás yo había visto.

“Sí. Un poquito de manteca da sabor.” Y con eso mi abuela tomó un cucharón sopero repleto de manteca y lo agregó al arroz blanco.

Sentí un escalofrío por todo el cuerpo. Así que éste era el ingrediente secreto. Nunca había visto usar tanta manteca. Y consciente no de razones de salud sino de una figura esbelta, vi derretirse el Crisco e imaginé engordar mis caderas.

“Ya está” sonrió.
Llenó dos pequeños platos soperos.
“A probar.” Paradas junto al mostrador de la cocina, el arroz blanco con manteca se derritió en mi boca. ¡Qué delicia! Y qué sonrisa de orgullo de mi abuela.

Hoy, han pasado más de treinta años desde aquella primera lección en cómo preparar su arroz blanco, y ahora la veo agachar la cabeza para mejor ver la olla bajo la pila de agua fresca.

“Siempre recuerda de lavarlo hasta que el agua salga clarita, clarita.” Asiento con una sonrisa, rechazando el impulso de decir que se han escurrido muchos nutrimentos también. Esta es la receta de mi abuela.

“Pero ¿por qué tanto interés? Tú no cocinas mucho ¿verdad?” Pone la olla dentro del recipiente eléctrico, una modernización en su cocina en las últimas tres décadas.

“No. Pero cuando haga arroz, quiero que sea como el tuyo, y nunca lo es.”

De sus labios no brota la pregunta que otros harían: Profesora que eres ¿cómo no has aprendido después de tantas otras veces? Disfruta de mi compañía y yo de la suya. Nos sentamos a esperar a que se seque.

“Cuéntame de ti, Mima Otra. ¿Qué hay de nuevo e interesante por aquí?”

“Ay, mi nieta...” comienza una larga conversación de mil y una preocupaciones, mil y una alegrías, mil y un recuerdos.

Soy yo la que alienta y apoya ahora, la que halaga su vida de noventa y tres años. Me quiero llenar de ella.

Al rato le recuerdo que sonó el timbre de la olla y el arroz ya está seco, y con dificultad se levanta de la silla de la cocina. Le alcanzo el bastón comprado en los últimos meses.

“Ave María,” me regaña con una sonrisa. “No lo necesito para dar tres pasos.”

“Con tu problema en el tobillo, es bueno que te acostumbres a usarlo.” Me complace y toma el bastón. Sé que será desdeñado cuando me vaya. “Y ahora un poquito de manteca...”
Suspiro, rezando que yo tenga los genes anticolesterol de mi abuela. “Esto le da saborcito.”

Le alcanzo dos pequeños platos soperos para hacer nuestra prueba. Esta vez nos sentamos a la mesa para probar lo que ya sabemos no tiene comparación alguna.

“¡Qué rico, Mima Otra!”
“Sí que todavía puedo hacer buen arroz ¿verdad?” me sonríe dulcemente.
“El mejor del mundo.”
Y entre risas y conversaciones, en su pequeña cocina bañada en la claridad de la mañana, le pido a Dios que me dé más oportunidades de aprender a hacer arroz blanco con manteca otra vez, otro día, con mi abuela.