Cofrin Park

Cofrin Park
Cofrin Nature Park

Friday, February 14, 2020


SHELLEY FRASER MICKLE (wearing the hat)
PHOTO by Rob Weitzel
Award-wining writer and former NPR commentator, Shelley Fraser Mickle, is hosting a Humor Writing Workshop at the Library for free, down the street from me, after lunch, once a week. All my stock excuses of why I cannot attend an event have been removed by the administrator.

Thrilled to meet a mentor, nevertheless, I showed up unprepared for the work part of the workshop. She assigned homework—
To get our creative funny-bone juices flowing, Shelley gave six topic suggestions for us to write about and share with the class:
1)     Any experience you’ve had in the past week.
2)     Teach something.
3)     Most embarrassing moment.
4)     Why I’m sure I’m going to hell.
5)     An interview taking an unexpected turn. (Shelley’s favorite.)
6)     Why I’m an unhappy individual.

I completed my homework and handed it in the next session. My essay made Shelley laugh! Hooray! Here’s my masterpiece:
At first, I chose “most embarrassing moment,” to write about. However, that would involve blood and other motley excretions. Perhaps inappropriate in mixed company, unless that company comprised only gynecologists and gastroenterologists. Therefore, I chose an experience I’ve had in the past week: this class, which is also a tad embarrassing.

I entered the library meeting room, a gray-haired-women, embodying a lost grade-schooler on the first day of class. I recognized the librarian, Sammy, who was setting up chairs and tables, seminar style. There were four tables and eight chairs.

“Oh, we need tables? I thought there would only be chairs. Doesn’t seem to be adequate seating,” I said.

Sammy said, “Well, it is a writing class, so I’m setting up for note-taking. I’ll bring out more seating as needed.”

“Note taking? I didn’t consider taking notes. I thought it was a speech. I’ll just listen.” I hope this doesn’t mean she’ll assign homework. Can she do that?

Sammy eyed me over the rim of her glasses.

I changed the subject. “Sammy? May I have a chair off to the side? I can’t sit for long periods. I’d like to be able to stand at some point.”

Sammy dutifully complied and placed a chair in the back corner. Was I the disruptive pupil? I half expected Sammy to pop a pointed dunce cap on my head. What kind of a writer comes to a writing class without paper and pen? Sammy must think I’m an idiot.

I side-winded from the room in search of note paper. At least I carried a pen. The librarian offered me scratch paper and pointed to a small notepad.

“May I take the pad?” I asked.

“Just tear off a couple of sheets.”

“Of course.” I tore off three sheets. “May I bring a book from the shelves to the meeting room?”


I scurried to the bookshelves for an over-sized book to use as a lap-desk in my corner chair in the meeting room, with perfectly good tables. Why do I have to be different? After handling several large, heavy books about comics, I chose a book on maps. Perfect. A neutral-subject book I can skim as I await class.

I return to the room. Sammy has added tables—the first four now occupied by people with pens and notebooks. Serious people, who have done this before. Just like my spin class at the gym, I don’t measure up. Furthermore, I can’t recall the last time I’d attended a seminar—2004? Well at least I have three sheets of note paper. Hope I don’t need more…And I’m back in grade school, nudging my classmate: Hey, Becky, can I borrow a piece of paper?

The trouble with my note-taking is that after the class, I file the notes in a folder and rarely read them again. Ten years later, there they are—the little guilt-tripper slips of paper. Later on, in the class, my note-taking ineptitude fears were confirmed when a woman offered a comment, deftly referring to her notes. How the hell did I ever make it through college?

By the end of class, I’d used all three sheets of paper. And instead of filing my notes, I typed them on my new computer, and penned a first draft of my assignment, just like my sister, the straight-A student, used to do. I didn’t want to be the boy in Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, who waited until the last minute to do his homework, freaked out, and shedding frustrated tears. No. For once in my lackadaisical student career, I wanted an “A.” MY birds shall sing to the tune of Tina Fey and Paula Poundstone.

However, as I reread what I wrote, I heard Shelley Fraser Mickle’s voice say she’d like us to, “read-it-to-the-class.” But that’s public speaking! A queasiness arose in my gut—and my birds were now chirping the Murder scene tune from Hitchcock’s Psycho—Jhree—Jhree—Jhree—Jhree!

My final diagnosis: This class assignment has infected me with the avian flu.


Shelley Fraser Mickle has penned a new book, BORROWING LIFE: How Scientists, Surgeons and a War Hero Made the First Successful Organ Transplant a Reality. She has a knack for transforming serious non-fiction subjects into heartwarming stories. For example, when I read about her polio experience in her memoir, THE POLIO HOLE, I found myself rechecking the book’s binding to make sure it wasn’t mislabeled, because it was an enthralling read--better than fiction.

Here's a link to her amazing new book: BORROWING LIFE

Sunday, November 10, 2019

And Now for Some Original Poetry (You're Welcome)

Crazy flew the coop again this month
She’s well-armed with shenanigans
And me, with my pea-shooter—there’s no containing her

Controlling her is out of the question…
For years, I’ve allowed her to come and go as she pleases, almost feeling sorry for her
She’s visited countless others
But they shun her, so she sticks with me
I’m her only friend

She’s in an awful rage this time
Someone must’ve drugged her…her eyes are wild, unfocused
I’m helpless and lonely—without her? Is that true?
I don’t know. I can’t think, because today she’s driving me crazy
For a moment, I turn my back on Crazy and she greedily devours
First me, my mother, my dear sister, my beloved, my friends
Although we run and hide from Crazy, she finds us—she’s everywhere, like the Holy Ghost
I try and be nice to her
But nice doesn’t cut it with Crazy
She just throws her head back
Like a bucking stallion
And laughs in my face

When she laughs in my face
I get perturbed, even angry at her
It’s my cue to enter stage left and
Catch her off guard, which is exceedingly hard
Her being so gargantuan and sneaky
And she gets meaner, if she whiffs my stalking her

I must lure her, beguile her
Give her what she thinks she wants
I could never harm her—
She doesn’t want to hurt me
She just can’t help herself
Like the man and the viper—it’s her nature to bite and poison

It takes all my courage and strength
All my paltry human powers
To cajole Crazy—
I offer her treats, like I would a wounded stray dog
She snatches the treats
And retreats to a corner
Noshing on my goodies. Grunting in contentment…
I casually entice her
she’s a stray cat now
Leary of me; yet, insatiable, accepting favors from my hand…

I prepare a soft warm bunk
In the security of a cubby
To which she is drawn
Crazy cocks her head at me

“It’s alright, Crazy. You’re safe here. I’ll keep watch while you rest.”

Crazy circles me
But doesn’t bite this time
She crouches on the bunk, burrowing beneath its covers

“Sleep well, Crazy.”

Phew. That was exhausting
Crazy wears me out
A tough round this time
She almost got the better of me
But I still have a few tricks she doesn’t know about
I shut the door on Crazy
She’s softly snoring
Crazy can sleep forever—like Rip Van Winkle

I release a sigh—back to business
So long, Crazy
I may miss your drama
You’re an admirable foe—
But I’ve got vital work to do                                —Ann Marie Struck—11/06/2019

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fresh Fig Barbecue and Dipping Sauce Recipe

Fresh fig season is nearly here. I may have eaten a fresh fig before, but don't recall, so gave them anther try last season. Turned out I loved the fresh fig--much better than fig newtons. In my fig-fanatic enthusiasm, I got too many figs. I needed to find other uses besides popping them in my mouth, or slicing them in salads.  How about blending those fresh figs into a barbecue and dipping sauce?


About 12 fresh organic figs
1 to 3 fresh organic chili peppers
1/2 large onion
4 garlic cloves
1/2 inch ginger
oil for sauteing (I used coconut and EVOO)
1 rib celery
2 or 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
3 to 4 Tablespoons fermented black beans (fermented soy beans available at most Asian markets)
1/2 to 1 cup dry red wine like Cabernet
2 to 3 Tablespoons organic balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon chipolte powder
1/4 teaspoon coriander or ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cumin


Saute veggies in about a tablespoon or two of oil until translucent.
Blend veggies with the rest of the ingredients, to desired texture.

Meat or chicken Marinade
Dipping sauce
BBQ sauce

Monday, February 29, 2016

BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR, by Elizabeth Gilbert: Book Review (Audio Version)

Why should we even bother about creating anything or living a life imbued with creativity? Who has time for creativity when we need to make a living? Elizabeth Gilbert advocates that as human beings, we desperately need to express ourselves through creativity—and many times that creative expression has no other purpose than to please the senses and be enjoyed, or not, on its own merits, like art. Even better if you can use the creation for shelter or eat it. We are consumers, after all.

Creativity belongs to all great disciplines, including art: science, medicine, math, teaching and philosophy, to name a few. Furthermore, without the urgency to create something, we’d all be naked and sucking our thumbs in a bramble patch.

We tend to think of art first, however, when thinking of living a creative life. What is art? Who knows? I’d need a few hundred pages to figure that one out, probably. Instead, I’ll simply say that art is anything we say it is, almost. I’d qualify that by saying that art must be relevant to the nature of the relationship between the one making the art and the one viewing it. (I just made that up, but it sounded good.)

Does some art offend? Yes. Does some art make you feel great joy, love, and heartache? Surely. But art must come through the spirit of the maker; otherwise, it’s just junk. I’d liken it to what makes yoga, yoga. And as all first-class yogis have learned—it’s the intention which makes yoga, yoga; instead of simply a bunch of weird poses and atypical breathing.

The intention of union with the mind, body and breathe turns odd stretching into yoga. The intention of union with the universe and human inventiveness turns by-product into Big Magic. Satisfying the intention of creation conceives art, music, science, philosophy, and life, for that matter. No wonder Gilbert calls it magic.   

Enough preaching and on to an appraisal of BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear:

 “I’m writing a book to help people;” a budding author announced to Elizabeth Gilbert.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s reply: “Please. Don’t. Please don’t write a book to help me.”

Well said, Ms. Gilbert! Gilbert acknowledges that she has written a book categorized as self-help. She defends such an appalling gesture by telling us that she wrote it for herself. She likes the subject of creative living and wanted to write about it—if the end product helps motivate others to pursue creative living with an artistic bent, then so be it!  And that is what makes Big Magic happen—you create something for the simple pleasure of creating; and if you’re lucky, you experience big magic flowing through you.

Gilbert reads her book very well. She begins with a question: “What is Creativity?” Answer: Creativity is the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” Inspiration, however, tends to play hide-and-seek, so best not to depend upon it to show up on command.

Creative inspiration is a treasure hunt that the universe has arranged for its amusement, muses Gilbert. We all have hidden treasures, and the universe wants us to uncover them and bring them to light. The hunt is living creatively, and that requires courage. The results of that hunt are another of what Gilbert calls “Big Magic.”

Gilbert asks the reader wanting to live creatively: “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” (And if not, why not? What else have you got going on?) However, Gilbert acknowledges that courage entails facing fears. We have all met these fears before; but Gilbert trots them out for another performance and then walks us through those fears while demonstrating ways to side-track them. She uses her own creative life and lifestyle to illustrate how it can be done.

Here’s an example of her laundry list of fears that face those on the quest for creative living:
Fear you’re no good
No market for your creative works, so why bother
Ideas stolen
Won’t change the world
It’s been done before
I’m undisciplined have no training, experience, intellect
Family won’t like it
What will people say?
Don’t want to discover my demons
and you’re FAT!

Do your art anyway, damn the torpedoes.

Gilbert says make your art, put it out there and move on to the next project! Forget perfection (you know it does not exist anyway.)

Gilbert maligns the ubiquitous “passion” argument for pursuing your work. She reproaches the “follow your passion and riches are yours” imperative of the self-help and money-making genres. To rely on passion to fuel your creativity cramps the inspiration-god’s hands. Also, maintaining intense passion requires too damn much energy.

Instead of “passion,” Gilbert espouses passion’s sister: curiosity. When passion or inspiration wanes, ask yourself “What am I interested in, even just a little bit?” Then follow all clues that those answers provide. That is how Gilbert got the idea for her novel The Signature of all Things, which she considers her best work.

After a period of drifting, Gilbert asked herself what, if anything was she interested in? She had just moved to a small town and felt like putting a garden in her back yard. Gardening? Her gardening interest led to her latest novel about botanical adventurers and took her around the world and through history. I read The Signature of all Things and found it a fascinating read, despite myself. I learned what detailed research means to the structure and nuance of novel writing. 

Passion may be creativity's soul, but curiosity is creativity's energetic soulmate.

Gilbert must have paid extra for the expanded version of the Thesaurus, as she seems excessively fond of adjectives, lists and metaphors. For example, she often uses at least three adjectives to make a point; which I found a bit draining, raining, exhausting and redundant. On the other hand, I like driving a good point home—I have a short attention span and need repetition. I also like words.

Gilbert cringes when an aspiring creative creature tells her they plan to quit their day job to write their novel, or screenplay, or symphony, etc. Gilbert kept her day job until she hit it big with her fourth book, Eat Pray Love. She literally made a pact with her writing: that she would do the work of writing and not expect it to support her. And that she loved it enough to do it for life.

A creative life does not mean that you must make a career out of it. Very few can live off their art in a consistent fashion, so do not expect to, or your creativity, and your art, will suffer and so will you. She also reminds us that some of the greatest novels were written in only one hour a day, over a period of years. Go for it, but pay the bills!

Gilbert notes that maintaining a day job to support yourself, and that means also supporting you art, is an honorable way to live. Providing yourself financial support frees up your creative spirits because you have relieved them of the demands and stress of obligatory money-making. Gilbert held many odd jobs to support her art including bartender and working in Montana as a cowgirl.That's courage.

Gilbert’s sentiments on that score reminds me of the Zen quote,
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

I put in my hour of creative writing today. I’m off to chop some wood and carry some water.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

OPERATION KENYA: "DAYS FOR GIRLS" Betters the World, One Girl at a Time

Girls in Kenya receiving their feminine hygiene kits. Photo courtesy of

The wild and wonderful Maria Rattray asked me to help her with her Kenya, Africa project. Maria, acting as an ambassador for the Days For Girls organization, recently spent a few weeks in a small Kenyan village teaching and working with the village girls. The trip objective: to promote healthy living and education in a place where girls continue to have a high incidence of dying during childbirth—mere children themselves.

Keeping the village girls in school elevates the whole community, and that is a paramount goal of the Days For Girls organization. The main way to maintain school attendance for the girls is to deal with an issue that forces girls to quit school: the beginning of their menses. In an effort to continue going to school, the girls try using leaves or corn-husks to absorb the blood. Some girls even utilize rocks in an attempt to block the blood flow.(Can you imagine your 8th grade daughter jamming rocks up her vagina?) The girls' futile methods result in their leaving school by age 13 or 14 to sit at home on a piece of cardboard until the messy business of being an adolescent girl subsides. Or worse, they end up pregnant and leave school to tend to their baby.

Maria, who manages a Friday afternoon enrichment program for disenfranchised kids, in addition to her day job as ruler of aquatic therapy at the gym, requested we send a message of love and hope to the girls in Kenya. She asked us to share snippets of what life is like in America; include a bio with photos and relate a personal triumph over an obstacle.  She recruited her “Friday Kids” to write messages as well. I told her that my life was hardly a good example, but she wanted my input, so I obliged. How often does one get asked to help change the world, anyway?

I gave a brief bio, and included photos of me growing up American girl style: Midwest spoiled; yet lacking the self-esteem gene—a personal obstacle I used as an example for Maria’s project.

What message of hope did I send to those girls in Kenya who rank below the chicken in their society? I wanted to tell them what to do; but that would be condescending, perhaps misunderstood and no doubt unappreciated. I know little about the people of Kenya, other than a few Public television shows and the occasional news report. I just want us to adopt them all and move them to the United States.

Instead, I offered a message of Silent Hope:
Dear girls of Kenya, consider quietly practicing self-respect; because I think whatever one does in life, especially girls and women, evolves from self-respect and self-love. It’s still a man’s world. Boys are granted self-respect; and men naturally embrace it. Girls seem to have to chase it down—and it always seems to outrun us just when we need it most. Even as women, we battle for that badge of self-respect and the right to realize it.

How can a girl in a Kenyan village, practice self-respect?  Learn to love your body and your mind. Treat these gifts with kindness, reverence and gratitude. Understand that while your body houses your spirit, it comes with a solid mind intact. Use it well. Consider that you originated from the spiritual plane, and you will return to that realm when you have lived your life according to your destiny. Meanwhile, you have a spiritual responsibility to care for your spirit’s temple—you.

But you don’t have to utter a word about your practice. Outwardly you may look the same, and do the same chores. However, inwardly you are becoming confident in who you are and how you want to be in this world.

Follow the example set by the author of Man's Search for Meaning. Victor Frankl.  Frankl endured his internment in Nazi concentration camps by giving his external suffering, as a prisoner, an empowering meaning for his future and the future of his progeny. Frankl used the power of his mind to live through horrible conditions—engulfed in death and destruction. He silently practiced self-respect and self-love. Use his story to fashion your own fresh narrative.

Young girls of Kenya
your everyday life is a journey in spirit
Your daily actions
provoke meaning and power
Your power is choice

The meaning you choose to give
to what happens in your life
determines your character
and guides how you will feel

You have special gifts to share with the world
Even if that world is less than a square mile
The whole world anticipates you
We need your uniqueness
You are the world’s special gift

We honor you 
We champion your endeavors 
of education
and bettering your life
in any way you can
Because in bettering your life
you better the universe
Thank you!