Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend Journal

When we think of Thanksgivings of the past, our memories can often blur into visual "bytes" of rising before sun-up, basting turkeys, cooking down cranberries into a sauce, hanging harvest decorations, watching a wave of people rush into and then out of the house, washing and drying dishes in a bright, steamy kitchen, and laughing with others, like yourself, festively dressed in fashionable high heels, but also in slightly worn-torn aprons. But what does Thanksgiving really mean to those partaking in the meal with you?

There's a special window of time during Thanksgiving when you can find out. You know that time in between the Thanksgiving meal itself and dessert, when you need to digest the first part of your meal before you can even think about cutting into the pumpkin pie? Instead of rushing off to watch the football game or get a jump on loading the dishwasher, grab your journal and instruct everyone at the table to "set a spell" to talk about the things that they are most thankful for this year. Write them down in your journal.

Or, ask everyone if they can recall their most memorable Thanksgiving (outside of this year's!) and why. You may find out some interesting anecdotes about your relatives that can help you appreciate them even more. You might even hear stories from the old-timers about those who have passed on whom you may have never met. The practical joke Great-Uncle Joe pulled 50 years ago could sound remarkably like something you, your son or your niece might pull today. More than looks often run in the family.

Sometimes Thanksgiving is the only time the whole family really gets together, and it's a day that often goes by far too swiftly. If you record some of what people say and do during Thanksgiving, you can savor the day longer and your relationships more deeply.Forget videocams. They put people on the defensive and no one feels comfortable enough to say anything substantial in front of them. Plus, hardly anyone ever looks at them again once the camera is put away. On the other hand, people open up when you sit down at a relaxed table and chew the fat (and the Turkey bones), as you just happen to jot down a few notes in your journal all the while!


Monday, October 27, 2008

Why journal your dreams?

In the Robert Moss book, The Three 'Only' Things: Tapping the Powers of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination, he cites "The Nine Powers of Dreaming:" 1. We solve problems in our dreams. 2. Dreams coach us for future challenges and opportunities. 3. Dreams hold up a magic mirror to our actions and behavior. 4. Dreams show us what we need to do to stay well. 5. Dreams are a secret laboratory. 6. Dreams are a creative studio. 7. Dreams help us mend our divided selves. 8. Dreaming is a key to better relationships. 9. Dreams recall us to our larger purpose.

And when we journal dreams on a consistent basis, perhaps for a two or three-week trial period, we may see a pattern develop that can help give us greater insight into that "other" side of ourselves.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Writing the Seen and the Unseen

Deena Metzger, in her book "Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner World" suggested, "When you think you have nothing to say, when your life feels dull and tedious, try writing: Things I didn't see today." The things we can't see are often the most important. A Turkish poet who spent a number of years as a political prisoner, Nazim Hikmet, wrote a poem entitled "Things I Didn't Know I Loved," while looking out a Prague-to-Berlin train window.

...night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain...
I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors...
I didn't know I loved clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts...
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks...

As a journal writer, you don't need to write a poem, but simply write your own "things I didn't see today" or "Things I Didn't Know I Loved." ◦

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Rescript Your Life Journal Writing Workshop

Saying there is only one way write a journal is like saying there is only one kind of food to enjoy. Recharge, rescript and change the way you approach both personal issues and creative explorations through a variety of journaling techniques. Attend "Rescript Your Life," a one-day, hands-on journal writing workshop taking place on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University of Illinois at Chicago Writers Series, 1333 S. Halsted Street in Chicago.

It will be led by yours truly. As you experience different methods one-by-one in this hands-on journal writing workshop, you'll pinpoint your burning issues and learn how journaling can help achieve your goals. Contact the series at 312-355-0423 for more info and fee.


Friday, August 29, 2008

True Person of No Rank & Journaling

Zen philosophy describes a "true person of no rank." I put my faith in Christianity, but I hold much admiration for Zen points of view of the world and of creativity. Deep inside each of us is a "true person of no rank," and we can approach our journal writing as such. Those of high rank and with many credentials need to remember that, as blessed as they are, they put on pants (or pantyhose) one leg at a time like the rest of us. Such a person is, deep down, a "true person of no rank." On the other hand, a person who has little schooling and a humble track record may feel unqualified to write anything worthwhile. But who isn't more qualified to expound on life than a "true person," and especially a "true person of no rank." By ignoring our rank or pecking order and focusing on our true personhood, we can look more closely at the world, pay attention to its beautiful detail and bring our observant meditations to life on our journal pages. ◦

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Noshing around Montreal

My husband Carlos and I took a road trip through Vermont and Canada, making our own breakfasts of natural cereals, rice milk, plain yogurt and fruit from the convenience of a cooler and food bag full of non-perishables. Goji berries, cherry pie Larabars, low-sodium chips, and more fruit took the edge off hunger as the day wore on.

But sometimes, ya just gotta eat. We visited a few places in Montreal that might fly under the food critics radar, but offered us delicious, healthy and satisfying meals. At Jardin Nelson, an indoor/outdoor and inner courtyard charmer in Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal, I started off with a midday glass of Prosecco, followed by a cup of really homemade chicken and vegetable soup, a creamy tomato bruchetta and a shrimp and avocado salad, all lightly and evenly seasoned and extremely well made. Carlos enjoyed salmon on a bed of angel hair noodles, with chives, and red and green pepper. The seating was picturesque, the breeze light, and the whole experience, so Vieux Montreal.

Downtown, turn to Le Commensal, a vegetarian buffet on the second floor of McGill and St. Catherine. It was warmly recommended to us by a former Montreal artist, Genevieve, whom we met during our visit to the Vermont Studio Center. A variety of tasty hot and cold vegetarian dishes and desserts are available by the pound. Fill up your plate and weigh-in at the cashier. Microbrews also available. Nice views fom the high perch and great food, especially for those like us, who long for hard-to-find vegetarian specialities when traveling. View a Commensal You Tube.

At the Novotel Montreal Aeroport, stop into Trio, an ultra chic minimal moderne place to relax to music piped in directly from France, and with a tray of luscious, nouvelle cuisine appetizers. I enjoyed brie with strawberries and mangoes, mushroom tarte, and escargot with tomato sauce on small toasts. Another night I had a trio of chicken skewers, along with small shrimp and scallops dishes. The soups are also fabulous. Carlos seemed to live on air at times, or at least arugula salads. The Novotel is a great hotel to stay, by the way.

For dessert, stop in again in Old Montreal and have one of its homemade sorbets at Les Glaceurs along the side street of Notre Dame Cathedral at rue 453 St. Sulpice. The pamplemousee, trichamp and framboise sorbets are all fresh fruit tasting, not too sweet and really delicious. Even my dessert-shunning husband couldn't resist.

Do you have a favorite Montreal dine-out place, and why is it so good? ◦

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Microbrews from Vermont and New York State

My husband Carlos and I have a running beer tasting debate. When it comes to microbrew beer, he prefers the india pale ale and I prefer the hefeweizen wit or white Belgian style beer.

On a recent road trip through New York State and Vermont, we had the chance to sample several of the local microbrews along the way. The first wasn't the best -- Otter Creek Ale from Middlebury, Vermont, which was somewhat skunky, not extremely fresh and gaining a 6 on our 10-point scale. While visiting the New England Culinary Institute in Essex, Vermont, I ordered a fine hefeweizen beer on tap, Harpoon's UFO or Unfiltered Offering from the Harpoon Brewery, located in Windsor, Vermont. My server smiled approvingly when I ordered it, and it was a wonderful summery, smooth beer. It is best on tap, though after later trying it in the bottled version, found it was still good. Carlos gives it an 8, but I award it a 9. Though not a huge white beer fan, he preferred Wolaver's certified organic wit bier, also made by Otter Creek Brewing, which is far superior to its Otter Creek Ale. Do the microbrews get their water from Moss Glen Falls?

Southern Tier, an India Pale Ale brewed close to the southern New York State highway that bears the same name rated a 9 from Carlos. But I just plain turned up my nose at it after one bottle. He felt this ale was fresh and non-skunky unlike the Otter Creek.

One of the trip's disappointments was missing the tour of the Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. We'd logged too many miles to drive back the next morning after breezing past it on Route 86. They make the Beligian style Witte beer, among others. We pulled into our hotel in Schoharie late that night and saw an inviting display in the lobby for Ommegang's fine line-up of beers. But they didn't sell it! It was only a 3D showcase for the brewery.
Along the way, Carlos tried Rock Art Ridge Runner wine ale from Vermont. We had seen lots of empties lying around after a late-night artists' campfire at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. After sampling the sole bottle he bought, he gave an enthusiastic 10 to the brew.

There was one last, but not least, beer that we waited to open after our return home to Chicago. Circus Boy, The Hefeweizen! is brewed by the Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont. According to the label it is "unfiltered and unfettered" and according to Carlos and me, we finally found a beer we could completely agree upon. I loved the full-bodied, unfiltered taste, and he liked the slight bitter edge that the Harpoon's UFO did not have. We both give this one a 10. But then, the beer at trail's end is always a welcome comfort and marks a time of special celebration. Cheers!

P.S. Mickey Dolenz, the original Circus Boy, you'd been upstaged after all these decades. You were a hard act to follow, but you did one up yourself by becoming a Monkee.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Writers visit to the Vermont Studio Center

I had heard much about the Vermont Studio Center from fellow writers. When my husband and I were up in Burlington, Vermont, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit the small town of Johnson in the Green Mountains and see what the Vermont Studio Center was all about.

Weeks before, I contacted one of the administrators, Kate Westcott, to find out if we were welcome stop by and take a look around. She offered to give us a quicky visit, as July residents were leaving and August ones would be soon to arrive. But once we walked into the main office to meet her, she graciously gave us the grand tour of more than an hour of the lovely grounds and various buildings scattered around the local river and converted grain mill.

I had imagined that the colony was set out in the countryside, but The Vermont Studio Center is actually a series of existing buildings spread in close proximity throughout the town of Johnson that the organization bought up, restored or converted, and turned into artist and writer studios, sleeping quarters, dining areas and lounges. Its lecture hall was a building on the main street scheduled for teardown until the colony saved it.

The photo in the upper left-hand corner is of the Maverick Writing Studios, where resident writers spend their days writing in separate, private spaces. This building, in contrast to other vintage and restores structures was built from the ground up in recent years. Artists have long been part of the colony, but writers have only been accepted within the last decade or so.

The atmosphere at the place was also more social and close-knit than I had surmised. Most of the emphasis on the Vermont Studio Center is on younger visual artists, attracting residents from all over the world. It also seems to be a place where like-minded artistic guys and gals meet, fall in love and come back to marry on the grounds. Kate Westcott also serves as a licensed justice of the peace, and have wed many couples who were lovestruck there. While we were visiting, we noted a very attractive couple who had previously met at the studios getting ready for their wedding. Twenty and thirty-something visual artists, take note.

As for my husband and me, writers long married and yearning for the right environment to get our next books finished, I think we'd most likely prefer a quieter place where we might find more focus and fewer distractions. It is surely a wonderful place for visual artists to network, have a chance to exhibit their work during various onsite shows, and get valuable inspiration from one another. View a Vermont Studio Center You Tube. ◦

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Homemade Corn Tortillas at New England Culinary Institute

It's a dream come true. After so many years of marriage to a Mexican, I finally learned how to make corn tortillas from scratch. Not from my mother-in-law, but from the splendid guidance of the New England Culinary Institute while on vacation in Vermont. During this hands-on workshop, I joined four others to create two different summer salsas, tomato (red) and tomatillo (salsa verde) using vegetables we roasted in the broiler before whipping together in the food processor. One of the tricks was to roast the garlic cloves right in their skins and peel afterward, as well as keep the seeds in the jalapenos. (Note: I made the recipe a few days later with a girlfriend, and nearly seered our tongues on the mixture. Next time, I'll definitely omit the seeds).

An added suprise, and so far from my home in Chicago -- was to meet Chef Courtney Contos, who led the workshop and made it a memorable experience for all. She serves as the Director of Culinary Activities for people like me, who only take one or two classes at the institute. This Greek and Irish lass turns out to be part of a restauranteur family that goes way back in Chicago -- who ran the famous Chez Paul, as well as subsequent establishments by the names of the Flying Frenchman, Maison del Lago and the Royal George Theatre Cafe. Chef Courtney was balanced, knowledgable, friendly and helpful, letting us participants get our hands into everything and guiding us with the most proficient and deeply solid aire. You know she knows, but she let us find out for ourselves. What a gal!

What are corn tortillas? Nothing but corn masa, which is a ground corn flour and lime mixture, and water. The trick to making the perfect tortillas lies in just how much water, and of course, in the actual making. Golf ball size pieces of masa go into a cast iron tortillas press, but not before a ziplock baggie is cut on three sides to serve as a helpful sleeve to prevent sticking. What a revelation! Press the ball softly between the sleeve and the press, open, but don't flip, just turn the sleeve 45 degrees and repeat a couple of times. Peel off the raw tortilla carefully, and toss all at once into a heated cast iron pan. No oil necessary. Let bubble a little, check the corners, turn over and flatten with an egg spatula. No time at all on the other side, then slip into a folded towel to keep warm as your delicious stack rises. We ate every last one of them -- then and there! So good. And the salsas were to die for. I can't tell you the recipes. You have to go there and create them yourself. I highly recommend this workshop that takes place at the Inn at Essex in Essex Junction, Vermont, near Burlington. They also have week-long boot camps on various topics, such as natural foods. ◦

Thursday, June 26, 2008

100 Memories Travel Journal

Hilary Liftin from Los Angeles described an interesting travel journaling tradition between her and her husband in the April 2005 issue of Real Simple magazine in an article called "Write It Down -- It's not a list. It's a lifeline." Whenever jetting back from a vacation together, Lifton and her husband pass a paper back and forth between themselves to log 100 memories from the holiday they just experienced.

In order to complete their list before touchdown back home, they have to dig up some obscure images, such as Entry number 12 from a Mojave Desert escapade: "By the pool at 29 Palms Inn, Chris briefly looked like a skinny Elvis." or Entry number 48 from another vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine: "We flew a kite until it fell in the water and a wave snapped it in two."

Liftin finds that making these entries is "a way for us to preserve the random, funny, sweet little moments of our trips that would otherwise be forgotten."Newlywed Liftin also said, "We love the tradition of our memory lists so much that if and when we have kids, we'll undoubtedly force them to participate. I can hear it now, 'Aw, Mom! Do we have to do the memory list?'

In this age of digital cameras, it's nice to put more effort into remembering than the click of a button."Note from me: However, these snippet memories can make the perfect companions scribbled next to photographs from the trip when a scrapbook or photo album is later assembled.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Journal writing experience at Carnegie Library

This past weekend, I drove out to DeKalb, Ill., corn country and visited a pristine little town cut right out of Americana called Sycamore. The 12,000-population town also serves as the county seat. In the town square on Main and State Streets lie the neoclassic DeKalb County courthouse, an imposing post office and one of the most beautiful libraries in which I've ever facilitated a writing workshop.
The Sycamore Public Library was one of the original Carnegie libraries built through funding by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. First built in 1905, the Sycamore Public Library received an extensive addition and renovation in 1997. The new section is fashioned with a hip, modern interior, yet the exterior has kept the integrity of the original design. It makes a stunning statement in architecture and color to any passerby. The library director also suggested I take a drive down Somonauk Street on my way out of town, which is lined with huge well-maintained Victorian mansions of every color and facade. Worth the visit!
I also had the pleasure of visiting another Carnegie Library in Eureka Springs, Ark., in the last couple of years, which I intend on returning to this fall. It is not as large by any means as Sycamore Library, but just as charming.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mushroom poem on food reporter blog

I had the good fortune to attend a panel and meet ABC7 Chicago food reporter Steve Dolinsky, the "Hungry Hound." I was able to share a few of my food poems with him and he posted the poem "Mushroom Has Landed" on his food blog.

The poem was first inspired by a lecture at the Chicago Green Fest and book "Mycelium Running" by Paul Stamets, the utter guru of the modern uses for mushrooms, including mushrooms' powers to eat up and eliminate toxic waste.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Let Wabi-Sabi Happen in Your Journal

Wabi-sabi, the quintessential Japanese aesthetic, can be applied to journaling and is, in fact, an integral part of true journaling, whether we realize it or not. Wabi-sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest, humble and unconventional.

Published writing is usually rewritten, edited and polished writing, set in symmetrical fonts and printed in uniform order and quality. Journaling, most often, is composed of our raw thoughts or emotions, scribbled down in an unsteady hand on a commuter train or a dimly-lit kitchen. Perhaps the pages are occasionally smudged with ink or stained by drops of coffee. Entries may be heartfelt and passionate, but can simultaneously be random, incomplete, unconventional and bold, without need to please an audience.

In the long run, the journaling process may add up to a complete picture or an epiphany of revelation, but tracing any single journal's pages, one-by -one, can render a modest journey, the humbleness of following a foggy path with no promise of reaching a clearing.Most distilled, the Wabi-Sabi of journaling embraces a sense of faith -- in yourself, in life, and in the promise of a future.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Catch journal writing interview on YouTube

A brush with destiny and the Infinity Foundation got me a small spotlight this spring on YouTube. The gal has entered the 21st century, but will journal writing be able to free me from its fetters?

O.K., so only seven people have checked out the spot so far, and most of them are friends and relatives. It is a four-part video interview that gives the viewer a peek at what my journal writing workshops are about.

But don't stop at the video. Go get the real thing and get away from the urban crush by weekending up at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in Mineral Point, Wis. June 28-29 for poetry and journal writing workshops, or The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay, Wis. on July 19 for the journal writing workshop. ◦

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dialogue with Persons

Ira Progoff, the father of modern journaling, cited six main types of dialogues in his groundbreaking volume, "Intensive Journal Workshop," published in 1966. Dialogue with Persons is one of these six main types.

By a dialogue, I mean choosing a dialogue partner and writing back and forth between yourself and your "partner." In a Dialogue with Persons, your dialogue could be with a person of the past, present or future, a person living, passed on or not yet born. And you don't need to know the person to have a dialogue. This is not channeling or any other hocus-pocus, but a way for you to cut through preconceived notions to what you may discover is the deeper truth about a person, persons and especially about yourself. Think of it as a letter that can't be delivered, but somehow it is, and somehow you get a letter in return.

For example, you might choose to dialogue with a person you really admire, who may possibly serve as a role model for you, and perhaps you have never had the opportunity to meet. You may initially feel that you can never measure up to the talent or accomplishment of this person. But through your dialogue, you may discover that your partner tells you how hard he or she had to work, how long of a wait and how high of a climb it took to leave an impression. Perhaps it really did. Perhaps it really didn't. But this dialogue may at best give you insight into what you feel you must do yourself to progress to the next level of your life and your personhood! ◦

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Keep a Da Vinci Notebook

In today's world, with nearly unlimited access to information and our culture's tendency to multitask, we might consider ourselves a Renaissance society. We aren't interested in just one or two things, but many. The original Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, kept a journal or notebook with him at all times in which he jotted down ideas, impressions, and observations, as well as recording:
• jokes
• fables
• observations and thoughts of scholars he admired
• personal financial records
• letters
• reflections on domestic problems
• philosophical musings and predictions
• plans for inventions
• treatises on anatomy, botany, geology, flight, water, and painting

Our busy lives and job responsibilities drive us into
––hard conclusions
––measurable results
On the other hand, the exploratory, free-flowing, unfinished, non-judgmental practice of keeping a da Vincian notebook fosters freedom of thought and expansion of perspective. ◦

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Dialogue with Creative Work

I have a day job, but I don't necessarily want to dialogue with it. I may argue with it a good portion of the eight hours I punch in, but I have other avocations that make more appealing partners. One is musical theater writing. Besides actual dialoging with a composer/collaborator, which is the most satisfying, my journal serves as an ideal stage to work out the answers to what drives the piece in the first place.

Some of the questions I pose consist of "What does the main character want?" and "What is the musical about?" When I ask what it's about, I don't mean the plot. The plot is what happens, scene by scene. Instead, I mean what deeper meaning is the piece trying to bring out? If it's about belonging, does the character discover that he or she can belong or that it may be impossible to really belong. If it's about connection, what might a character do to continually reinforce disconnection before finding a path to connecting with other people.

If working on a play or musical, you might have a journaled dialogue with your character asking directly what he or she wants, believes, avoids or regrets. You may not only find out your answer, but also find ways to smooth any bumpy parts of the script your characters trip on or redirect their steps when they wander away from where they and your piece are ultimately headed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Write a Letter That Can't Be Delivered

In my journal writing workshops, I guide participants in writing "Letters That Can't Be Delivered." A letter might be written to a close friend or relative who recently passed away, to a favorite neighborhood tree, to an ongoing illness or even to a bout of blocked creativity. We can't expect an answer. Or can we? Every good conversation isn't a one-way experience. The best part of the dialogue is, indeed, the answer that comes back. And of course, the answer doesn't really come from the loved one, or the tree, or the illness, but from deep inside ourselves. And what we have to reveal to ourselves is often surprising. ◦