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Dear Readers,

Since I last wrote I have embarked on serious work on my memoir. I am five chapters in what I call a first or second draft, depending on my mood. The memoir originated in a habit of writing that I have had for most of my life, aided by over twenty years of writing and meditation retreats with Natalie Goldberg, and vomited on the page in three years of NaNoWriMo from 2009-2011. I had written a lot, over 150,000 words, plus countless stints of writing in notebooks and I did not what to do with what I had, so I let it sit. And sit. And sit.

Then, shortly after I wrote my last blog post in January 2021, Saundra Goldman invited me to a free webinar on writing. One of her questions caused me to weep, sweat, lose sleep. She said, “Tell me about experiences when you went out on your own and what you dreamed of.” The question haunted me, bringing every failure in my life into focus. She was offering a four-session class in February. And, before I even started it I knew it was time to write the memoir, time to dig into what my life had been and the root causes of much heartache and self-doubt.

Before Saundra’s class started I set a strong structure in place to help me make it through the emotional ups and downs of writing. I already had a writing group that I met with once a week. To that I added twenty minutes of sitting meditation each morning and a ten-minute check-in write that Saundra recommended: “Where I Am.” Right after breakfast I returned to my room to sit and write.

When I took Saundra’s class I connected with one of the other students. I liked her energy. I liked her project. I reached out to her on Facebook and joined a dyad of writers who wrote with each other twice a week for an hour and read to each other for an hour on Fridays with limited feedback. I was nervous about giving and receiving feedback because I had been working in a tradition for over twenty years where you don’t comment on each other’s work at all. At the same time, I was excited because I was engaged with the memoir again. Writing is lonely work and being able to ask questions about how my work was landing with listeners felt helpful.

I registered for one of Natalie’s online writing classes to keep me going after Saundra’s class ended and signed up for a writing retreat in July in Wisconsin, even though the pandemic still raged through the United States — I figured if it was impossible Natalie would cancel the retreat. I started meeting with a writing group twice a week rather than once, knowing that every time I attended I would be writing. If I could I would work my memoir into the writing topic; if not writing would keep me limber for memoir writing.

With my structure in place, I wrote. I had written a draft of my first chapter in 2019 for a manuscript review. I took out the draft, reread it, read the comments Natalie had made, thought about them and began to craft a new shape for the chapter. I took out some parts I loved, hoping to use them later, and tried to make the story clearer. When I thought I was done with the chapter I asked a few writing friends to read it and comment. I asked one of them, my most clear-eyed and enthusiastic reader, what he thought the story needed next and he said the reader needed a break from the intensity of chapter one.

I considered what I could start with in chapter two and ultimately decided to go back to the day I was born, before I was born, where the main character was my mother.

All through the writing process I spend time rereading parts of notebooks and journals, making time lines for the section I am working on, drawing diagrams to represent potential structures of the book. I work intuitively, letting writing do writing. Sometimes I don’t know for days or weeks what is happening next in a chapter or in the memoir as a whole, but I keep writing anyway, even if I’m writing “I don’t know what else needs to go in chapter five.”

I also keep asking for what I need. One day I was writing in writing group about wanting more feedback from people who did writing practice. When I read the piece aloud, one of the listening writers said to me “We have a group like that that meets on Wednesday evenings.”

I agreed to attend one meeting to see how it went before making a commitment: my entire writing life I have stayed away from “critique groups” and competitive situations. At that first meeting we got a fun writing topic, a piece of a Nick Drake song. No one was slashing and burning the writing we heard. I joined up and added the Wednesday Evening group to my writing, support and feedback structure.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because if you want to work on a sustained writing project such as a book you will need a good structure. My pal Saundra will tell you to study books for their structure — she’s good at that. But the structure I mean is a writing and emotional support structure because writing a sustained work is hard work. The part that no one tells you about writing a book is that you will unearth things about yourself and your past as you write and it will not all be pretty and some of it will not feel very good.

So, first things first: if you want to write a book, do whatever supports your sanity. For me this is sitting meditation. Then make some writing structures: if you like writing groups or classes, join some and show up for every meeting. If you want or need feedback, find a trusted friend or two who is willing to read your work periodically. Ask people for what you need and see if it doesn’t appear.

And then what? Keep going. Keep going when you write junk. Keep going when you are confused. Keep going when you don’t know where you are going. Let writing do writing.

Dear Readers,

You probably think I have dropped off the face of the earth if you think of me at all — it’s been a long time since I have written here. The last you heard I had pinkeye and had just released “The Border Song” on the WOS podcast and was writing my memoir. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us all that life transforms itself in unexpected ways: shortly after I wrote my previous post in October 2019 I gathered up my cat, Fiona, and made an emergency move back to Kensington. Fiona and I took up residence in a former storage room and I spent the next four months packing and unpacking boxes, cramming my belongings into closets and rooms that already held the possessions of three other adults.

On the first day of 2020 Fiona disappeared. I spent a month looking for her and found no trace. A coyote had come into our yard for the first time and must have snatched my beloved cat.

At the end of February 2020 I went off to Taos, New Mexico for a retreat with Natalie Goldberg and numerous old friends. I made plans to meet a friend in D.C. that summer to travel to West Virginia to see a small town, attend a music festival and possibly look at houses. I returned to Kensington, visited Johnny, who was in the hospital, and returned to my former yard to dig up the blueberry, Robert the raspberry, and my fig tree. I trundled them home in a grocery cart and planted them in pots on the deck below my small room.

Then I returned to work, busking in downtown Berkeley for a week. That Sunday I went downtown to pay my phone bill and return a library book and everywhere I went people were coughing: on the bus, in the AT&T store, outside the library. We were starting to hear about the coronavirus, but no one knew much.

I got sick the next day and was sick for a good two months. Longer, until the end of May with fatigue, an extremely sore throat, swollen glands. And a week after I first got sick California went into lockdown.

I’ve been home ever since: musicians can’t play in public safely, especially those of us who sing. Bus travel is not recommended, so I spend most of my time around the house like many of you do now. I’ve adapted to singing on Facebook, doing monthly live-streams and occasional special projects. It is not the same as singing for an audience that you can see and hear, even an audience of commuters, because the commuters buy coffee, smile, wave, ask directions, sing along occasionally, make requests and comments, put money or snacks in your guitar case; when you live-stream you look at a tiny light on your computer. People can see and hear you, but you can’t see or hear them. I saw a photo of one guy who had lined up dolls and stuffed animals in rows on his desk so that he had someone to sing to.

Robert the raspberry adapted the best to his new environment. I had cut him back before I dug him up and in the spring he grew new canes and bore green leaves, flowers and fruit. The blueberry survived and looks healthy — it leafed and flowered but the birds got whatever fruit it produced. I tried netting both berry plants, but the leaves did not react well to the net, so the plants have to take their chances with the wildlife.

The fig tree had just started to produce its 2020 figs when I dug it up and transplanted it — not ideal, I know, but the best I could do, the best chance I could give it for life. It had been a healthy, happy tree in San Leandro in amended soil, growing near other plants, including the persimmon tree. After I transplanted it into a large ceramic pot it lost its fruit and then its leaves. This is called transplant shock: the tree is alive, but shocked into dormancy. I don’t know if it is grieving or sulking, or if it is just lonely. The only thing I can do is give it water and mulch and hope it decides to bloom and bear again someday. It does have the company of an English holly tree, but, because they are not in the ground together, the holly may not be able to whisper words of encouragement. Like me, the fig put its 2020 plans on hold and will see what 2021 brings.

Dear Readers,

Unfortunately I have pinkeye and can barely see to type, but I wanted to let you know that my song, “The Border Song” is featured in the Women of Substance podcast today. If you see this after today, you can still hear it by looking for show #996.

Here are some links. Please listen if you get a chance. Thanks, Sharyn

WOSPodcast:
iTune: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/women-of-subst…
Website: http://www.wosradio.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/wosradio
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wosradio

Those of you who know me well will think I have a lot of gall discussing the subject of maturity. I know. But I am here to tell you about the state of my Conadria fig tree. I planted it in 2018.

After I placed it in its planting hole I gave it some compost tea. Since then I have been giving it gray water (about four or five gallons a week), and clearing weeds from around its base. It takes what it wants from the rain and sun and soil.

Conadria Fig, August 2019.

Last year it bore five delicious green figs. But look at it now! There are at least twenty-five figs this year, a five-fold increase. My new favorite sandwich is to pick a ripe fig, cut it open, put it on a piece of sourdough bread cut side down and then top it with a slice of ham and a piece of cheese. Yum. Perfect lunch food during hot weather.

I am not a person with an abundance of patience, or a person who gives the plants in the yard minute, exacting care. I love them and care for them, but they have to do well on their own to survive out there. It’s true that I ran out to prune the persimmon tree this winter when the wind was threatening to break several branches. It was the first tree I planted in our bare yard because we needed both wind breaks and shade. The persimmon has yet to fruit, although it is now taller than I am — I’m sure I’ll be doing a dance when I see its first Fuyu persimmon.

I did not plant anything this spring, busy with IRS paperwork, waiting for the rain to end, digging holes in my yard for soil testing. My lax gardening style allows plants to go to seed and reproduce themselves. This does not produce the “house and garden” look, as at any season things are growing leggy and going to seed, but it does produce a lot of free food. I can count on chard, kale and lettuce to reproduce themselves and I can have free tomatoes as long as I let them grow where they want — mostly through the squares of the patio. I also have volunteer butternut squash and a few Thai basil plants that like a spot by the north fence and come up there each year.

August tomatoes.

We are in full tomato season now. Yesterday I picked two full baskets. This morning I picked another basket three-quarters full. Then I sorted all of the tomatoes with splits and wrinkles and sun-scald, cut them in half and filled trays for the dehydrator. We will eat them in the winter and spring when there are no good tomatoes to be had.

I have many excuses for not gardening more than I do. At the moment they include practicing music a couple of hours a day and working to turn my voluminous memoir writing practices into a real book. I still cook, but I tend to cook the same things over and over and I have given you most of my go-to recipes already. I am, however, grateful and joyful when the yard produces food that we can eat.

I apologize to all readers for the ugly ads that show up in my blog posts. I have nothing to do with soliciting them, or selecting them. I would remove them all if I could. I had not seen one until I looked at my most recent post this morning. Ugh. Do your best to ignore them, please. And thank you for reading.

 

 

Young Fuyu persimmon

I took a big step this month toward extending the food I grow. Yesterday I planted my first tree, a Fuyu persimmon. This sounds simple, but it was months of work, from learning about trees and deciding what to put in first to breaking up a concrete slab with a sledge hammer and hauling the concrete out of the planting hole. I bought the tree with a Christmas gift certificate and redeemed another certificate to transport the tree.

I relied on the advice of many gardening books, especially Grow a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph.  I selected the Fuyu because it is a hardy tree, generally free from diseases, because its foliage turns color in the fall, because I enjoy eating Fuyu persimmons and because we desperately needed a shade tree (our yard had no trees or shrubs) and the summers are hot. It was the best tree I could come up with to provide fruit, foliage and shade.

Between me and my desired tree, lay many obstacles, including the stump of a large pepper tree, years of drought and a 50″ x 29″ slab of reinforced concrete. I tried undermining the slab by digging the dirt out from under it, hoping it would break and fall. Then Johnny, who rarely spends time in the yard, decided to discuss my plans with our kind landlord. Richard brought a ten-pound long-handled sledge and set to work. And when he went away he left the hammer leaning against the fence and I took up where he left off, bashing away. One of the more satisfying moments I had was watching the slab crack into three pieces.

Wheelbarrow and sample concrete.

After hauling chunks of concrete across the yard I began to dig the planting hole. About a foot and a half down I found another chunk of concrete. This is life in my hard-luck yard. My landlord had taken his sledge home and I had only a borrowed one-pound sledge, which felt like a child’s toy after the larger hammer. Naturally, I found the concrete as it was getting dark the evening before I planned to pick up my tree.

I wondered if I should delay getting the tree, but I had been working on this for six months and my gut said, “Get it.” I wanted to take advantage of the recent rain. I did not know if I could get the concrete out of the planting hole, but the nursery said I had up to forty-eight hours to plant the tree after I brought it home.

I might be out there digging and swearing instead of writing a blog post now, except my brother’s girlfriend Jayzie dug that concrete out of the hole. It was a small round chunk, eight inches thick. My friends Barbara and Dan call these concrete obstructions “Basic Concretians.”

Jayzie and I dug and filled and Bryan drew us a level and held the tree straight.

After they left, I moved more concrete and rocks, leveled the dirt in the pit, and flipped back all of the pavers I had removed for easier excavation. Then I went in and had a long soaking bath and a hot meal.

Pruned Rose #1

This morning I was at it again. When I went to get my tree yesterday I took a class in rose care and pruning. The cold January day gave me the perfect opportunity to practice on the Sterling Silver rose in the front yard, a tangled mess that had not been properly pruned in years. Our instructor said that roses were forgiving so I took courage and pruned wayward branches, cut away rose hips, clipped yellow leaves. When I could get to the bottom of the plant I took off suckers, cleared away debris, removed the intruding branches of the nearby hedge. I hope the rose will appreciate some air and light.

I appreciate all of the help I got to begin my backyard orchard, including Natalie Goldberg’s teachings about great determination. Do I want more trees? Oh yeah. Shrubs, too. Berries, Meyer lemons, Kadota figs, grapes. I could use a few days off from encounters with Basic Concretians, but my birthday is coming up next month and Berkeley Horticultural throws its remaining stock on 30% off sale on March 2nd.

 

 

Summer of 2015 was all about tomatoes for me: the forty-some volunteer tomato plants sprang from seeds of fallen tomatoes I planted last spring. They grew, blossomed, played host to myriad aphids and, in spite of that, produced more tomatoes than I have ever had to work with, mostly cherry tomatoes and a drying variety called Principe Borghese. All July and August I picked them, washed them, dried them, put up vats of pasta sauce in the freezer. I made experimental tomato sugar plums. I considered making tomato caramel. We ate them in Greek salad and BLTs. I developed two versions of a pasta using pan-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh corn with either andouille or chicken chorizo (The Mexican version is my favorite).

The only thing I didn’t do is can them — we don’t have a dishwasher and I don’t have a canning kettle or a living grandmother to show me all of the old-fashioned tricks for canning in a simple kitchen.

The summer ended with a week-long heat wave. I watered the plants on the first day and then they were on their own because it was too hot to venture into our unshaded yard.

Last weekend I cut the abundant dry weeds from the side yard, probably twelve or sixteen grocery bags of them. Some of them were taller than I was. That felt like a fall chore. Then, yesterday, I sang at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley. It was a fall market all of a sudden. There were strawberries, but not enough for everyone who wanted to take them home. There were a few peaches left, but more pears. And there were apples everywhere — I bought fifteen pounds of mixed varieties for ten dollars and cut down a cardboard box so that I could shove them in my refrigerator to join the bowl of Gravensteins I bought for pies a few weeks ago (It has been too hot to turn on the oven). I do not know the names of all of the apples I got, or the flavors and textures: lunch today may be a hunk of bread, pieces of cheese and slices of different apples. My new favorite, identified by the farmer who sold me the mix, is a Royal Empire, a mid-season apple: they taste exotic, spicy, and have plenty of juice and crunch.

The tomatoes are still producing fruit and blossoms. I begin to think of drying more of them, running the dehydrator at night. I also begin to think of soup, perhaps a corn chowder with the last of the sweet corn, or a butternut squash soup from last year’s squash — I still have a few in the garage. Perhaps I will cook them all and store the puree in the freezer for easy fall and winter soups. I freeze the seeds and skins, too, for stock.

I am not assured of cool weather. The weather is the wild card in California. Four years of drought. Record heat. There are clouds in the sky this morning, which means it will not get as hot as it otherwise could, but it has been a crap shoot whether to turn on the oven for months — as soon as I make pie crust, it turns too hot to bake. Make iced tea and we will have a cool day and I will get out the tea pot and drink hot tea instead. I have taken to watching the news on TV just to hear what they are saying about the weather.

It is dark later in the mornings: soon I will begin my walk to BART in the dark. It is dark when I get up now and the light fades early. I don’t remember dark mornings coming in early September, but I guess they do every year.

I do remember the food transitions. Right now I have lemons, peaches, Armenian cucumbers and red bell peppers, plus all of those apples.  I did not cook last week, living on milkshakes, smoothies, the occasional Greek salad and canned re-fried beans. Yes, I stock those for emergencies, hot weather and days when I am too tired to make my own from dried pintos. I think I should make some roasted strawberries for Johnny for the winter if I see strawberries next week.

When I was writing this post last, it was becoming fall 2015. Now it is spring 2016 and volunteer tomatoes are up in the yard, along with lots and lots of chard and kale that re-seeded themselves (I don’t mind at all — they compete with the weeds). I have three butternut squash plants — I threw a rotting squash from 2014 into a heavily mulched area and, voila, new squash plants.

We are eating fresh strawberries again and lots of fresh salads, which helps us both in our efforts to lose pounds we accumulated over 2015. I am baking sourdough bread once more. My latest quest is to eat “clean food” — i.e. food not touched by the industrial food system. For now we have given up white sugar and most white flour. We use maple syrup and dried fruit in our oats. We eat polenta. I use commercial whole wheat and rye flours in bread, with just a little bread flour, but I am on the track of a freshly-milled whole wheat flour. Although I miss cheese and pasta, I do buy some organic milk and yogurt from a dairy farmer. We eat a lot of legumes, too, and wild-caught shrimp and fish.

Eating less sugar was the big surprise. My skin improved. My gums improved. I still daydream about good desserts, but fresh fruit tastes really good when it is ripe, local and seasonal, whether it is strawberries or blood oranges. Dried fruit offers other options. Sometimes I will have yogurt with fruit and honey. Right now I am enjoying the freshness of a lot of things we eat: today my lunch was a salad of watercress, lettuce, cilantro, roasted beets, raw carrots, walnuts, feta and blood oranges in a balsamic vinaigrette.

I have had a left knee injury since December 2015, which is slowing me down and keeping me from things I like to do, but I found this draft post and thought I would send it out to all my patient readers to say that I am alive, still feeding us and growing things, still playing music, not painting much or writing much, watching the seasons turn through the plants in the yard and the food on our plates.

Last time I posted here I was admiring the volunteer forest of tomatoes that had sprung up in the backyard. I even sat out there one day and tried to capture what it felt like to sit in the tomato forest. I treated it as a forest, too, left the understory on the ground. I did clip out non-bearing branches quite often, and the plants produced new shoots as soon as I could clip them off. I tended the chard, giving what water I could save from boiling pasta and washing vegetables. I watched the kale flower — I don’t care much about this kale, a gray-green variety that a friend gave me, so I was not overly concerned.

I should have been concerned. I did notice when I went out to dole out water to the chard that the kale was alive, shimmering with pests, but I didn’t care if the pests took down the kale plant. My chard was healthy and kept making new chard plants. One section of tomatoes had beautiful crowns of blossoms three feet above the ground. I began to think we might eat our first ripe tomato by the last day of May. We did. We cut it in half and had a little ceremony for the first fruits of the summer.

Later, after a rare rain and some cloudy days I noticed white specks in the tallest section of tomatoes. I thought it was mildew brought on by the damp. I hoped for sunny weather to dry it out and was not concerned.

I should have been concerned. The white specks turned out to be aphids and I am now battling to save what I can of the tomato plants. I prune them savagely, losing unripe tomatoes and blossoms with every cut of my shears. I save bath water, impregnate it with organic lemongrass soap and blast away for hours at the besieged plants. I toss the prunings into an old pot with waste water, submerging them to kill aphids and eggs. I pluck every yellow or brown or decayed leaf from the ground, clearing the understory of aphid hiding places. I was out there many hours Monday and yesterday afternoon. And then I had to take a break. I was exhausting myself and the aphids were continuing to spread and reproduce.

I looked up various remedies. I knew lady bugs ate aphids. I found out that it takes 1500 lady bugs to clean the aphids off one plant, that they usually fly away within forty-eight hours and you usually need two batches just to be sure. Lady bugs were out, unless I could buy them by the truckload.

Hard sprays of water from a hose are supposed to blast aphids off the plants. We are in a major drought here and only water with waste water. We do not have a gray water system. Using a hose is out. It’s up to me and my clippers and spray bottle. Sigh.

But then today I woke up to steady rain! Rain! Not only would it strengthen and nourish the plants and soil, but aphids hate it. After a late breakfast I found myself out in the garden with my clips and sprayer, dressed in a shift and a pair of old sandals, enjoying the rain on my skin. I worked for nearly three hours, worked until my back could take no more. I came into the house, thinking I would have lunch. Instead, I drank two quarts of water and headed back into the rain to treat more branches.

I worked again until I could work no more. I hung my soaked shift in the bathroom and put on a robe. I had a belated snack of leftover cornbread, a few tomatoes and two cups of tea. I had promised Johnny an early dinner, so I could not linger out in the garden.

Now the rain has stopped, but the battle will continue.

My mistake was in not seeing that everything is connected. The aphids that were destroying the kale would move to the tomatoes, or the conditions that were producing a banner crop of aphids that feed on kale could produce tomato-eating aphids, too. My second mistake was not investigating the first white specks more thoroughly, not turning leaves over to look. By the time I realized what was there, the infestation was in full swing.

My yard gave me the tomato plants, more than I would have ever planted on my own. I envisioned a bigger crop than I have ever had. with tomatoes for drying. for pasta sauce, for eating raw, tomatoes for my friends and family. So far, I have delivered half a basket of green tomatoes to my friend Elaine and we have half a basket of ripe cherry tomatoes on our kitchen table. There are many green tomatoes still on the vine and many months left in tomato season. There are only so many hours a day to devote to aphid warfare, however, and I don’t know what I will save.

I think of my friend Celi, a full-time farmer. She has lost animals and bees and, undoubtedly, plants as well. She is growing her own food. I am trying to grow some of mine, tomatoes and chard. I’m still using last year’s butternut squash from this very garden. I admire anyone who grows organic food successfully. I read about plants aphids hate and think perhaps I will plant mint everywhere (I have one small pot of it). Maybe I can learn to propagate mint plants from stem cuttings.

Just two weeks ago I was admiring the indefatigable tomato plants, producing shoot after shoot. I was thinking that they were teaching me how to continue in all circumstances. I could just as well admire the indefatigable aphids, who only want to live and reproduce, but I’d rather have tomatoes than aphids.

Hello. It is the last day of March and I have moved again: on March 21 I moved out of my mother’s house and back to San Leandro. I am still unpacking things and rearranging them — I can’t remember where everything went last time around, although I remembered the locations of all of the pieces of furniture. As I settle into the house and take up routines of cleaning and cooking I find myself thinking a lot.

These are the kinds of things I think. “I want to make some bread. I don’t have any whole wheat flour. I have oats and cornmeal and molasses and white flour. I can make anadama bread. If I make double amounts of the cornmeal mush we can have cornmeal pancakes for breakfast tomorrow. If the oven is on to bake bread, I should roast a butternut squash from the cache that I grew last year. We can have that tonight with baked beans and fresh bread.” Then I bake bread and roast squash, saving the squash innards in the freezer for some future batch of butternut squash soup. Using the oven to prepare more than one dish at a time is something I learned from my mother in her kitchen.

I think about the garden. Because I am going on a short trip to New Mexico in late April I do not want to start seedlings or plant anything new outside until I get back. The garden, however, had plans of its own. Forty tomato plants have started themselves from the smushed remains of last year’s tomatoes, tomatoes that fell off the huge Sun Gold vine. Many of them decided to grow between the tiles of the only paved area in the yard, although some have reasserted themselves in the soil by the fence where I planted them last year. The largest of the patio tomatoes is now in flower. We will have to wait to see what we get because Sun Gold tomatoes are hybrid tomatoes. I had also planted Amish paste tomatoes and Principe Borghese. It remains to be seen if any of them have come up in the tomato forest. The chard asserted itself as well and formed two healthy clumps in a boggy area near the shed. So far my gardening activities have been limited to weeding, cutting down dandelions and thistles and teasing out oxalis from the stems of the chard. I cut chard everyday to eat, adding it to pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta or scrambling it into eggs with scallions. I think, eating from the garden, that I would like to plant some lettuce soon, maybe some radishes for variety, and then I remember that I am going away in less than a month and it would be better not to plant anything until I can be here to tend the garden.

I think about what I need and what I don’t need. At certain points in unpacking I declare “I don’t need any more stuff.” Then I realize I haven’t seen my set of biscuit cutters (“Maybe they are in the cookie-cutter tins by the kitchen bookshelf”) or my dough cutter. Because two of my bookshelves sit in the kitchen as a makeshift pantry and china cabinet respectively I have to edit the books that I display on the bedroom shelves. Last time around I consigned the short story collections to the shed. This time I have them out, but I am thinking they will be boxed up once again so that I have room for music books and volumes of poetry. Another strategy is to place books I have bought but have not yet read on a high shelf and to ask Johnny, who is tall, to get them down as I need them. Tomorrow, my “day off” I will face the book-sorting issue: last time I rearranged the books three times before I was satisfied.

When I spill water on the floor I am full of desire for a new, more effective mop and a large batch of cotton rags. When I think of making soup I covet an immersion blender, or, at least, a working regular blender. When I bake bread in conjoined loaf pans I remember the nice set of bread pans I saw at a thrift store in Berkeley and wonder if they are rust-proof and if they are still there. I make mental lists of groceries: whole wheat flour, lemons, sour cream, cinnamon sticks. Whenever I put something away in some inconvenient place I think, “Is there a better place for that in the kitchen?” (or the bedroom, or the bathroom).

As per the last time I moved I cannot find my camera battery on the evening that I write this blog post. If I find it soon I will perhaps add some pictures of the tomato forest.

Anadama Bread

In a saucepan combine:

1 and 1/2 cups water

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup cornmeal

Stir constantly until cornmeal thickens and bubbles. Pour into mixing bowl.

In a glass measuring cup, measure 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of corn oil or soft shortening. Add to cornmeal mixture.

In that same greasy measuring cup, pour 1/3 cup molasses. Add molasses to cornmeal.

DO NOT WASH THAT CUP YET. Into that molasses-smeared cup, put 1/4 cup water. Pop it in the microwave for a few seconds until lukewarm and add 4 and 1/2 tsp yeast. Stir with a fork until the yeast dissolves.

In another bowl measure 4 cups sifted flour.

Either go away and leave cornmeal mixture to cool to lukewarm and then add dissolved yeast OR start adding flour to the cornmeal mixture, which will help cool it. When the mixture is lukewarm add the rest of the flour and the dissolved yeast and begin to knead the dough. You may have to add more flour to overcome the stickiness of the molasses. I like to turn the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a lightly-floured  wooden surface.

When the bread is smooth and no longer sticky, add 1 Tbsp butter or oil or shortening to the mixing bowl and place the dough in it again. Cover with a dampened and warmed linen or cotton towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled (over an hour). Punch down. Let rise again (about half an hour).

Grease a bread pan or pans and shape dough. This recipe makes a good-sized round loaf or four small loaves. Preheat oven to 375 Bake for forty to forty-five minutes until nicely browned. Remove loaves from pans and let cool before slicing.

Sharyn Dimmick with Guitar.

Sharyn Dimmick with Guitar.

January 2015 got off to a slow start. I got sick around the twentieth of December and could not recover. I spent a lot of time in bed, sleeping and sipping fluids. After three weeks I got around to seeing a doctor and received a short course of antibiotics. Just as those began to take effect I had a minor incident with a guitar stand and was ordered to another five days of bed rest. Heavens! My sweetheart supplied me with a copy of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen to read while I elevated my bruised but not broken right foot. He also made me cups of tea, heated up food for me and took me to the movies to see “Selma.” Pretty good deal, I say (and no, he is not available and does not make house calls).

After the guitar stand incident and before the bed rest Johnny and I managed to make my first video, a recording of my song “Clueless,” to enter in N.P.R.’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest. You can watch it here. And, of course, I’ll be happy to sell you a copy of the “Clueless” CD or my earlier recording “Paris.” The “Clueless” CD is particularly nice for Valentine’s Day gifts because it consists of three love songs, one about the exultant, swooning feeling of falling in love, one about doubts and fears and family history, and one about the mishaps and misunderstandings inherent in courtship.

Short and sweet this month. I am clearing away the detritus from my San Leandro garden and anticipating what to plant in February or March. Enjoy the video. And thanks for reading.

Clueless  CD  CoverPlease excuse the hyperbole — I am practicing supporting my music with better marketing efforts. As I mentioned in the November post I took part in Maia Duerr’s course “Fall in Love with Your Work” this fall for the second time. The signal realization for me this time around was that I had wanted to become a performing singer and songwriter at age eleven and that I still wanted to do that. Maia gives students in this class an opportunity to sell work on the Liberated Life Project Marketplace website, which inspired me to create, “Clueless,” a new EP (reduced length CD) of three original love songs I had written in 2012. “Ingenue” describes the experience of falling in love despite “a lifetime of love gone wrong.” “The Werewolf” talks about “the alcohol werewolf blowing my safe house down,” worrying out loud about potential problems in a desired relationship and “Clueless” details mishaps of courtship where both participants trade off being “clueless” by not understanding one another, not picking up hints, etc. That one, like “Ingenue” has a happy ending — it is always a positive, enlarging event to fall in love because it opens the heart.

This new E.P. marks the first time I have released a recording of all original material. I might as well be known as Sharyn Don’t-Call-Me-a-Singer/Songwriter Dimmick because I am always saying that. As a songwriter, I value my own material and I sing it myself, which technically makes me partly a singer/songwriter, but, as a singer, I like to sing all kinds of songs, from traditional Scottish and American ballads, to hymns and Christmas carols, to 19th century classics like Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” to iconic songs like Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” to lesser-known contemporary gems like Shelley Posen’s “No More Fish, No Fishermen,” a lament for the decline of the Newfoundland fisheries. Because I wanted to present some new music this year and because the songs on the “Clueless” album hang together well I decided to release them as a solo acoustic project, an album with no overdubs or guest musicians.

Photo of cover of Paris CD by Sharyn Dimmick.

My previous recording, “Paris” covers a wider scope of my musical interests. The inspiration for that recording was the title cut, also called “Paris.” When someone I thought might be more than a friend took off for Paris without me and did not send me so much as a postcard from the trip a song was born as I mulled over every visit I had made to the City of Light, from a hitchhiking trip when I was twenty to a visit to a lover’s family in the 1990s. When I wrote the song I knew I wanted people to hear it, including my zen and writing teacher, Natalie Goldberg — I figured if I put it on a CD she would have to listen to it.* The recording features two other original songs, “The Wallflower Waltz” and “Morning Shanty,” which I had recorded previously on a cassette recording called “I Am Your Winter Lover” in 1998. I filled out the CD with songs I had known and loved since childhood: “Barbara Allen,” “Bringing in the Sheaves, ” “Big Yellow Taxi” “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I sandwiched “The Battle Hymn” between Richard Thompson’s “We Sing Hallelujah” and Leonard Cohen’s wonderful anthem “Hallelujah,” recording the three songs as “The Hallelujah Trilogy,” backed by a group of singers I called “The Hallelujah Chorus.” I also employed musicians to add fiddle, banjo, second guitar, concertina and harmony vocals to some songs, and dubbed in my own harmony parts on others.

I am pleased to announce that Bay Area readers (or those traveling through town) will have an opportunity to meet me and to hear my music in a live performance at the December 12 Open Mic at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1606 Bonita St.. I will be the featured performer for December and will sing a 20 minute set. If you are in town, please come to hear me. You might even be able to take home a copy of the “Clueless” EP.  I will also be singing the Scottish ballad “The Bonnie Banks of Fordie” on the radio this week on “Traditional Ballads with Sadie, streamed at www.kggv.blogspot.com or live at 95.1 FM on Thursdays 7:00 to 8:00 PM Pacific Time.

Be sure to check out other offerings from the Liberated Life Project Marketplace. Here Jill S. talks about her lovely note cards of architectural details and dahlias.

* After the “Paris” CD was released, Natalie confessed to me that she only listened to the tracks she liked best and skipped the rest. I extracted a promise that she would listen to the entire CD. She did and then wrote me a lovely review on CD Baby. Later she featured the lyrics to “The Wallflower Waltz” and stories about me in her book, “The True Secret of Writing.” She has continued to be a staunch supporter of my music and a good friend.