Archives for the month of: November, 2012

I believe I mentioned in a post at the beginning of November that I would take as my November themes solvency, National Novel Writing Month and gratitude. Shortly after that I began to experience a hurricane of self-doubt and wrote a post about my inability to work on The Kale Chronicles without the weekly infusion of a box of organically grown produce.

Several kind readers responded with comments telling me that they enjoyed my writing and would be glad to read it anytime, telling me not to worry about providing recipes, advising me to let the blog morph into whatever it would. I am more grateful than I can say for the kindness and support of my readers and thought I might compose a brief status report.

1) Solvency. I have continued my weekday morning busking at the Berkeley BART station, playing and singing two hours for tips. Thanksgiving Week was good to me — I sold three CDs that week and my daily earnings rose above $10.00 per day (when I started busking in mid-October I sometimes earned less than $5.00). I have had two weeks of double digit earnings and believed I had crossed a threshold when I ran into competition at the station this morning and earned only $3.50. C’est la vie. I have managed to cut my debt down to $249.06 and will keep chipping away at it until it is gone.

2) NaNoWriMo. Despite the Thanksgiving holiday and time off for recurrent back pain I did manage to complete the 50,000 words of writing required during National Novel Writing Month. I am well-trained in the art of sitting down and putting words on paper and my experience served me well. For your pleasure or idle curiosity I include the first day’s work on the memoir below. The memoir, which deals with my life with cerebral palsy and my struggles with money, love and work, is called “Broken.” The third section, which begins below, is called “Whole.”

Whole: Green Hat Incident

Wearing a green gown is unlucky in ballads: bad things happen to women in green dresses. They get raped (“Tam Lin”) even if they fall in love with the rapist later. Women put on a green dress to signify that they have been forsaken. Just before the Earl of Aboyne’s lady falls into a year of woe and dies she dons a green gown with red silk trimming to greet her returning lord.

One day in Ballad Group (in 2011) I happened to notice that Elaine was singing a song about a woman who wanted to get married who had sent her petticoats to be dyed green when she sent her shoes to be mended. When she finished the song, I wondered aloud why she would be dying her petticoats green and commented to the others that wearing green in ballads was generally a bad thing. After some discussion, Johnny Harper, who sits next to me at Ballad Group, reached over and tweaked the lime green hat that I was wearing.

I turned to him and said, “Green petticoats, not green hats.”

The session went on: when we get together to sing ballads we sit around a table full of potluck food. We eat and chat for a bit and then we go around the table widdershins (counterclockwise) for each person to sing a song. We sing for three or four hours and then pull out our calendars to schedule the next meeting.

Most of the ballad-singers are women. We had Malcolm for awhile before he moved back to England. Bill comes regularly and Ed Silberman sometimes drops by toward the end of a meeting. The group has been running for more than ten years and Johnny is, in fact, a Johnny-come-lately, brought a year or so ago by Marlene, who has been with us just a few years herself. The core of Ballads has been me, Elaine, Mary O’Brien, Sadie Damascus and Toni Gross, all “women of a certain age.” I started the ballad-singing session over ten years ago so that we would have a place to sing the traditional ballads that make other people yawn, cringe, head for the bathroom or remark unfavorably on our choice of repertory.

Ballad group is not where you would go to flirt with the boys. I once brought a date to Ballad Group — I thought he was a date, anyway — because I wanted to share something precious with him. I had sung him “Barbara Allen” at my house one day. He had listened through the whole thing and enjoyed it and I had invited him to Ballad Group to hear us sing. He came. Then we went out to eat afterwards. Some months later he told me he was “trying to be friends with me.”

When I got home, I turned the incident with Johnny over in my mind.

“He flirted with me,” I thought. “He’s never done that before. Maybe he likes me.” I wanted to call up the other members of the ballad group and see if they had noticed anything, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I did the next best thing: I checked him out on Facebook — I became friends with him (sent him a friend request) and read his profile: he was single and interested in women. Good.

The incident — after all, he had touched me — left a spark. I lay in bed that night unable to get to sleep, touching myself while I played it over in my mind. I think I sent him an email called “Good Behavior,” praising him for bringing his acoustic guitar to Ballad Group that afternoon (he often brings a red Telecaster and a small amp, going electric at the Ballad Group the first day he showed up). He claims that he can play certain things better on the Telecaster because he can bend the strings more easily. That may be true, but I love it when he plays his Martin, so I sent him a note about it. I thought the subject line, “Good Behavior” was mildly flirtatious — I was trying to respond in kind.

Johnny never replied to the email. He continued to come to Ballads and he continued to sit next to me, but he never made another move. It’s true that every now and then we would say something to each other: once I pointed out to him that Sadie required a lot of space: she had come in, commandeered two chairs — one for her and one for her junk (projects) — and things were spilling off her lap onto the floor below. He looked and laughed, but he never flirted with me again. I told myself that he was just a flirty guy and it had been a thing of the moment, signifying nothing, but I recalled the spark I felt when he touched me and felt it wake me up, preoccupy me through a long night. I wrote about it the next day and then nothing happened.

Several months later, in May, I was preparing to make a trip to France to study with Natalie Goldberg there. While trying on clothes to take to Paris I decided I did not want to be a fat lady in France and instituted a routine of long, daily uphill walks to take off some weight and firm up in the five weeks before my departure. Exercise, while not my favorite thing, has a way of opening up things in my life because it forces me to pay attention to my body.

Meditation retreats are great opening experiences, too, because you take several days to be with your own thoughts and feelings whatever they are. You minimize distractions — you don’t talk or watch T.V. or check Facebook or make phone calls. At Natalie’s retreats you are allowed to read and write, but you are not supposed to be reading mysteries to take you out of your life but “literature” to study writing and teach you things you did not know.

Travel also opens you, unless it shuts you down. You are seeing new sights, eating new foods, encountering new customs, hearing new language and trying to speak it. You have no home to go to when traveling, although you may have a home base, a hotel room or a backpack that you take with you everywhere.

I spent a week with Natalie in Villefavard, France and then I spent a week in Paris, five days with other people from the retreat and two nights on my own. Although I had roommates, I spent a lot of time wandering the streets alone, taking long walks. Once I found a good bakery I went out for breakfast early every morning alone and sketched at my table while I waited for my croissant and hot chocolate to arrive. In the afternoons I would walk about the city. On my best day I walked along the quays all the way down to Shakespeare and Company and spent hours in the upper room sketching and writing. I may have gone from there to the Cafe de Deux Magot where I sketched again and ate a salad, following a Natalie itinerary of places to see. I had dessert at Cafe de Flor next door, a concoction of coffee ice cream and whipped cream.

In Villefavard I swam everyday in the small lake. One evening I went for a long walk along a lane. My time in Paris became an extended retreat, a way to be with myself, isolated by language: when I was out I would speak in my halting French. When I was in, there was often no one to talk to: I was alone in my shoe box room at the Hotel Bastille Baudelaire or sketching on my bed at Hotel du Quai Voltaire while my roommates toured or slept.

I had been home just a day or two when I had the thought that maybe Johnny would like to get together to play music. Musicians usually like to do this. I had repertory he had never heard, including original songs: at Ballads we are constrained by the rules, which require us to sing traditional ballads, or at least traditional songs with no known author. Once a year we can bust out our Bob Dylan songs, our Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, our hits by Linda Ronstadt and The Rolling Stones: when I founded the Ballad Group I decided we could have the month of April as a safety valve, a pressure release, that we would have a free-for-all every April where we could sing anything we chose of any origin. I had hoped that allowing us one meeting to let our hair down would help us stick to the straight and narrow the rest of the year.

But this was July — April was far away. The thought to ask Johnny to get together had come up in my daily morning writing and I followed that thought by sending him an email.

3) Gratitude. I have fallen down a bit on this, having been experiencing several flavors of fear this month in its stead. Nevertheless, I am grateful that I have been able to explore all of my feelings in writing, grateful for my kind and patient readers and grateful for the presence in my life of Mr. Johnny Harper.

I still can’t say when I will be back with regular posts or paintings. My back is still troubling me but, as wise people say, “This, too, shall pass.”

— Sharyn

Painting Notes: Still no painting — apparently, the emperor found something else to wear at the back of his closet.


Dear Readers,

Apparently, I can’t write The Kale Chronicles right now: I can’t finish a painting. I cook very little and whatever I’ve cooked I’ve blogged about before. I cook oatmeal with milk in the morning for breakfast before I take the bus to downtown Berkeley to sing in the BART station. I eat leftovers for lunch. Mom has been cooking more and more since my brother Bryan moved in with us in July.

Bryan eats only fish, chicken and poultry in the animal kingdom. We recently bought a cheap supermarket turkey. Bryan prefers white meat so I took the dark meat and made turkey-apple stew, which I usually make post-Thanksgiving. What else have I made recently? Only gingerbread, adapted from Mollie Katzen’s recipe in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. When Mom said twice in five minutes that she thought butter was wasted in gingerbread I substituted coconut oil to please her and I used buttermilk because our yogurt had turned funny colors. We ate all of the gingerbread.

What am I doing? I am cranking out words for NaNoWriMo 2012, often at 5:30 in the morning. I leave the house at 7:15 every weekday to sing in the Berkeley BART station, playing for tips. I get home before 11 AM. Sometimes I write then if I have slept late. Then there is that lunch, whatever is around — leftover turkey enchiladas, leftover turkey-vegetable soup, leftover pasta.

Yesterday afternoon I reorganized my bookshelves after Bryan installed a new double shelf for me: it took three hours to shift all of the books around twice. Yesterday evening I went back down to Berkeley to sing a song with my friend Carol to celebrate the victory of common sense over Measure S. a ballot measure that made it illegal to sit on the sidewalks of Berkeley. Then I returned books to the library, practiced a song I’m trying to learn to play for a few minutes and fell into bed with a book, nodding off to Anne Lamott’s always-entertaining prose.

Last week I worked a sixteen-hour day on Election Day, which rewarded me by hurting my back, leaving me unable to sit, paint or lie down: all I could do was walk or stand for a few days, take hot baths to loosen my back muscles long enough for me to get to sleep. That is past now, but I am woefully behind on my reading, writing and painting.

I am wondering if the blog has come to the end of its useful life. I will not make a decision about it this week. I am always worried that I will run out of recipes because, in reality, I cook the same things over and over and, right now, I am cooking from a limited palette of what is around the house and what Mom brings in from Canned Foods Grocery Outlet and Smart and Final. This is what happens to people who cannot afford to buy fresh, seasonal food. I never thought I would be in that category and I don’t expect to spend the rest of my life in it.

We have some produce: we bought five limes yesterday and I scavenged a pomegranate from the Election Day goodies. The tree in the front yard produces Meyer lemons and we have a bowl of our own apples sitting on the counter. I have been more than six weeks without my beloved farm box and I miss it but can’t pony up the twenty dollars a week it would take to receive organic produce again. As the weeks pass I think, “Maybe next month.” “Maybe in January.”

I am sure that many of you know what it means to fall behind financially. I track every penny of spending and income. I don’t buy much — bus and BART tickets, the occasional coffee when I need to meet someone in a public place. Soon I will need a pair of shoes.

But I met with someone today who may help me find writing students and I sang at the Farmers’ Market this weekend and my back is better so I will table big decisions for a bit and keep on keeping on in some fashion until I have clarity on what to do next.

Painting Notes: Meet “The Emperor’s New Painting” (There’s nothing there).

Photo shows whole pecan rolls.

Hot homemade pecan rolls. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick, who ate the missing one.

Two of my lovely readers, Smidge and Granny, asked me separately what the theme for November would be on The Kale Chronicles. I said I wouldn’t know until Sunday. Here it is Sunday evening and I have had a little time to think about themes for November. My first theme for November is returning to solvency. To that end I sold some more books. To that end I studied the buskers at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market yesterday, watching to see who was making money and who was not: the guy playing quietly to himself and not looking at passers-by had two or three dollar bills in his hat; the guy who sat in a chair playing the blues with his face to the crowds had a guitar case full of dollar bills. Who do you suppose I plan to emulate when I make my debut next Saturday afternoon? In the spirit of solvency I will be continuing to work with what we’ve got around here: today’s recipe incorporates some of the lovely pecans Lisa Knighton just shipped out here.

My second theme for November is NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. As a NaNoRebel I eschew the novel form altogether and have started another 50,000 word installment of my memoir, covering the history of Johnny and Sharyn, my pitiful finances and my various attempts to make money. I may post an excerpt of it here sometime in November to honor what I am doing (I spent the afternoon at a write-in at the Berkeley Public Library, scarfing leftover Hallowe’en candy and black tea, participating in “word wars” with my fountain pen — trying to write more words than dextrous young-ens typing on laptops — and feeling a little like John Henry meeting the steam drill…). At the end of the day I dropped my pen nib into my bottle of black ink by mistake and was grateful for my garage rag and bottle of water with which I scrubbed it clean, wiped the table and began to remove ink from my hands before going home to knead the roll dough that I had left rising in the fridge.

Which brings me to the third theme for November, always and forever a month of gratitude with Thanksgiving the third week in to remind us Yanks about sharing food with others, helping people and other things that got the Native Americans run out of their territory. My friend Vicki has started a month of gratitude posts on Facebook and it makes me happy to go to her page once a day and think about what I am grateful for: today it was the computer I type on and the apple pie that Mom made last night, specifically the slice of it I had for breakfast this morning with my decaf coffee.

When I was in the kitchen this morning mixing up sweet roll dough I realized that I had not had my hands in soft dough for a long time: roll dough is the lightest of yeast doughs — I can knead a full batch by hand without resorting to the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook. I used to make bread every week. I don’t know what happened to that habit — I just fell out of it somehow, between the demands of sourdough starter and the activities of daily living. I enjoyed having my hands in the fragrant dough, stirring with a wooden spoon, working in six cups of flour, greasing the bowl with a little butter before heating a tea towel and setting the dough to rise.

My pecan roll (and cinnamon roll and orange roll and spice roll) recipe comes from our trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. I make a full recipe of Sweet Roll Dough, using mostly butter, amending it to include a cup of whole wheat flour for health’s sake, scalding the milk because my Grandmother Carroll always scalded the milk. Before I leave to write at the library I divide the just rising dough in half. I give half to my mother to shape into clover leaf rolls and tell her to transfer my half to the refrigerator for a slow rise when she punches her dough down.

For the pecan filling I look at The Cheese Board Collective Works: they make delicious pecan rolls except for the mornings when some misguided person throws Sultanas or golden raisins in them and I have to pick them out. Repeat after me, “Raisins do not belong in pecan rolls, which are all about pecans, brown sugar and butter.” I take inspiration from their recipe, but not proportions: there is no way I am going to include a stick and a half of butter in twenty rolls. Theirs are good. Mine will not induce a heart attack. Pecans have healthy fat for you; butter not so much. If I use half a cup of butter it will be a lot.

To make your own pecan rolls, procure at least a cup of pecan pieces. Make sure you have milk, sugar, eggs, white and whole wheat flour, butter, yeast and brown sugar and cinnamon in the house. Then proceed with the recipe below.

Pecan Rolls

Proof 4 and 1/2 teaspoons yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. (If your yeast is sluggish, add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of flour)

Scald 1 cup milk.

Add to milk one stick of soft butter (1/2 cup) and 1/2 cup sugar. If you use salted butter you will not need to add any salt. Otherwise, add a pinch.

Pour milk mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Beat 2 eggs in the cup that you used to measure the milk. Temper the eggs with the warm liquid and add them to the  mixing bowl.

Add 1 cup whole wheat flour, plus 2 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour.

Check temperature with fingers. When mixture is no more than warm add reserved yeast.

Continue to add flour by the cupful until you have a soft but firm consistency. I used six cups total flour today, beginning with the cup of whole wheat and eventually adding five cups of unbleached flour, but sometimes the recipe takes as much as seven cups altogether. You know how bread is.

Cover roll dough with warm damp dish towel and go away for awhile. When dough has doubled in size, punch it down. If you do not have time to wait through the next rise, put the covered dough in the refrigerator and pull it out this evening or tomorrow morning. Let it warm and then roll it out on a floured board into a large rectangle. Roll it thin, but not so thin that it will break, perhaps 1/2 inch or a little thicker.

Let dough rest while you melt 1 stick of butter and stir in 3/4 cup brown sugar, plus 1/4 tsp cinnamon.

Spread one third of this mixture in the bottom of a baking pan (I used a 13″ x 9″ Pyrex pan), leaving a clear border at the edges with no goo.

Spread the rest of the butter and sugar mixture on the dough. Sprinkle on the pecans evenly and roll the dough up like a jelly roll, starting from the short side of the rectangle. Slice one-inch rounds from the log with a sharp, serrated knife and place each roll atop the goo in the pan. Let rise for fifteen minutes while you preheat your oven to 350.

Bake 25 minutes or until sufficiently brown. Then invert carefully onto another plate so that the goo runs down over the rolls. Enjoy, perhaps with a glass of milk.

Painting Note. No painting. I started one but I prefer not to paint after dark. When I finish it I’ll pop it into the post later in the week. Meanwhile I have NaNoWords to type.