Monday, July 31, 2006

Fennel with Red Ants, Joan Z. Rough © 2006

For those of you who read and liked my poem for last week's Poetry Thursday, here's the other side of the story.

Summer Vacation With Grandparents

At breakfast Dziadzio breaks
raw eggs into steaming coffee
swallows slowly
I gag imagine yolk and slimy
white sliding down my throat
Babcia peels and chops
chanting eat, eat
we sit and stare at bowls
brimming with overripe
bananas soggy corn flakes
in broken English she speaks
of the wolf that lives in the pump house
he feasts of children
who do not clean their plates

No friends comic books or bicycles
we spend endless days
out of doors gathering eggs
feeding chickens stealing grapes
from the arbor we crayon
in stacks of coloring books
they keep just for us

I count the days wishing
for home cry myself to sleep
in the bedroom under the eaves
where on the wall Christ
carries his cross through throngs
of jeering people I dream
of snarling wolves roosters pecking
my legs chickens running headless
through blood stained grass

My brothers cling to me
as if I am their mother


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cabin Fever

Lilies, Joan Z. Rough © 2006

Here in Virginia in July and August, I often experience cabin fever. I used to get it badly in the winter when I lived in northern Vermont, just 30 miles from the Canadian border. I can remember going out in March trying to chop away the layers of ice in the driveway ... being beyond joy when the first spring peepers started calling in the spring ... and always wishing the time away until the light was strong and bright and it began to warm up again.

Well here, it's only the months of July and August that cause me to go a bit wacky. Though the light is fantastic, the heat and humidity are horrific. I am an outdoor freak and find being cooped up in air conditioning to be extremely taxing. So even though I find myself to be a hermit during the cooler months, really enjoying my solitude, it's now that I'm going a bit stir-crazy, needing to be with people. So this week I'm planning lots of visits with friends I haven't seen in a while. I'll try to get my outdoor garden time in the early morning, before the sun gets too hot and maybe even go see a silly movie or two which I don't normally do. I saw Woody Allen's, Scoop, last night ... not his best but fun and it made me laugh. I needed that!!

I hate wishing the time away ... none of us knows how much we have left in our "time accounts" ... and I really like to live in the here and now. But part of me can't help thinking ahead to cooler days ... frost on the pumpkin and autumn leaves blowing across the fields. But until then all any of us can do is hunker down in the heat and enjoy a good book, a tall glass of iced tea and stay inside.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pozywic ... for Poetry Thursday

The makings for a summer meal

Food, glorious food! That is the prompt for this week's Poetry Thursday, and one that is not difficult for me to think about. I was brought up on Eastern European food ... my grandparents on my father's side came directly from Poland and brought with them a tradition of fabulous cooking and passionate eating. Their table was always overflowing with wonderful dishes which my grandmother, Babcia, prepared from scratch every Sunday. She prepared Babka, pierogies, kasha, stuffed cabbage and many more family favorites. We carry on the tradition every Christmas, making wonderful pierogies stuffed with sauerkraut or mushrooms. I even tried some with an Italian twist one year, filling them with a mixture of mashed potatoes, rosemary and gorgonzola cheese ... fabulous!! I'm not sure she would have approved.

If we didn't eat enough by her standards, Babcia would tell us to: "Eat! eat!," and threaten that the wolf that lived in the pump house across the street would come and get us if we didn't. She always thought I was too skinny and continually tried to fatten me up. At the time I wasn't terribly happy about the situation. But with time I've become a great cook and love to eat food from all over the world. I'm sure she is smiling down at me right now as she watches me scurry around the kitchen, my thickened waistline attesting to my repentance.

The following poem was written for her.


(pozhi-veech), is the Polish verb to nourish, feed, refresh.

Babcia rises early kneads dough
foaming with yeast set with amber jewels
scrubs spent trousers socks and sheets
feeds them between clenched wringer jaws

She holds a squawking hen
against the block the body flies
searching for its own lost head and then
hanging upside down from the apple tree
paints the grass below I pull fistfuls of feathers
watch with sickened awe her hand disappearing
pulling ribbons of yellowblue guts unsown seed

My brothers and I gather baskets of beans lettuce
she collects dried shirts socks
punches dough pressing pockets
for mashed potato farmer's cheese
sauerkraut with caraway stuffs slivers
of garlic beneath fat blanketing the roast

The chicken swims with carrots
onions parsley filling the kitchen
with Sunday smells I stand
on the table under the arbor
picking grapes then in the garden
where rhubarb hides me
fill on gooseberries and currents

This feast takes all day we gallop
in and out playing Lone Ranger and Tonto
waiting for Dziadzio to carve the roast
share crackled fat crusty rye dipped in pan juices


Monday, July 24, 2006


The Buddha Garden

The garden is just gorgeous right now ... just about at it's peak. Because of the extreme heat we can have here in Virginia, gardens usually peak around mid-summer, and then begin to fizzle and fry through late August when the days shorten and evenings begin to cool. In September fall bloomers are spectacular with Autumn Joy Sedums often leading the way.

My husband and I went to see, An Inconvenient Truth, on Saturday night. The week before I'd watched Tom Brokaw's special on global warming on the Discovery Channel. Both documentaries were excellent, if you discount the fact that the news is pretty bad. But the best one was Al Gore's film. Throughout the film there were audible gasps from audience members in response to the graphics showing where we are headed. At the end of the movie, you could hear a pin drop in the full theater and at the end of the credits which also listed numerous things that we can all be doing, there was loud applause. People left the theater quietly, presumably deep in thought about the fate of the little blue space ship we call Planet Earth ... our home.

My thoughts turned to Al Gore himself, and I started to feel that maybe it was a good thing that he had not become President. If he had, he wouldn't have begun his journey around the world, bringing to the attention of the global community, our dire situation. His attention would have been locked up in politics ... foreign policy ... homeland security. Not that those things aren't important. They most certainly are. But I believe that our destruction of the planet needs the full attention of a leader who can focus on that issue alone and bring it before every citizen and governmental official in the world.

I also believe that Gore would best serve the planet and its people by not running for President in the next election. He would best serve in the roll he is playing now, being the watch dog for this planet in jeopardy.

I wonder what this garden will look like five, ten, twenty years from now. What plants will be in bloom in July, 2030? What kind of a world will my grandchildren be experiencing? How can we possibly prepare them for the possibilities? Will New York City and Washington, DC be experiencing the beginnings of rising sea levels? Or will we have all pitched in to change the direction we were headed in, with people living more simply and sustainably? There certainly will be changes, but perhaps they will not be as dire as the predictions or maybe they will be. It all depends on each one of us waking up to do our parts.

There are days when these thoughts are like a pesky fly, buzzing around my head ... I swat at it and it goes away for a few minutes, but then it comes back, noisier and more annoying than ever. It makes me crazy and I start feeling low. After a while I get tired of feeling hopeless and helpless and I begin to realize that there are things that I can do.

The truth is we have the technology right now, at this minute, to change the direction in which we're headed. It takes standing up and being counted to do it. It means voting in every election, regardless of how hopeless we think it is. It means turning the thermostat down in winter and up in summer. It means being a little uncomfortable until we get the hang of it and we begin to breathe more easily. It means never taking things for granted ... it means changing the way we do things ... it means being more responsible and braver than we've ever been before. And we can do it!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

My Animal Kids

Liliput, Sam and Molly


Well Finally It's time to show off the whole family. The top picture was not posed. I simply walked into the bedroom one morning and there they were. They had been sleeping but all sat up at attention when I got the camera. Too bad Peppermint wasn't there. She was sleeping on her favorite window sill in the kitchen that looks out over the garden and bird feeder. She gets tired of watching birds from time to time and has a little nap until she is ready to watch again.

All of these "kids" are rescues. Sam came first several months after we lost our Charlie. We found him at a nearby SPCA where he'd been returned just the day before by a distraught man who said his youngest child was allergic to dogs and they couldn't keep him. Sam was sad for a while, especially because we didn't have kids, but is now used to a laid back household. He finds children a bit demanding these days and when we have them visiting, you'll often find him sleeping under the bed. He is about 4 years old and we think a mix of some sort of terrier and possibly Daschound. He is really a gentleman and everyone who meets him absolutely adores him.

When we'd had Sam for several months he indicated to me that I wasn't enough for him. I didn't play enough was the big complaint. He'd pile toys at my feet while I worked in my studio trying to get me to move or just toss something. One day I gave in and decided to take him for a walk. I went into my bedroom to change my shoes and found Hannah the cat (now deceased), was surrounded by toys where she slept in that very same chair that's in the photo above.

So I got the message loud and clear and started looking for a companion for Sam. We met Molly a day after she'd been rescued from horrible living conditions. She hadn't been groomed in a very long time, lived outdoors, chained to a cement block and was not being fed well. She hadn't been checked by a vet, but I swore on a stack of holy books that I'd do whatever was necessary for her and provide her with a great home. We all fell immediately in love with her. Sam was elated, my mom was beside herself ... and Bill who'd been away when I adopted her, melted when he walked in the door. Her first months with us were a horror, with treatments for heart worm, surgery on both rear legs to repair her knees and then finally spaying. Today she is a happy, healthy 5 year old and is definately the one who runs the show. She's probably a mix of Maltese and Shitzuh or some other small sassy bread.

Liliput and Peppermint came home with me from the CASPCA adoption center at PetSmart last January. I'd started volunteering up there once or twice a week, feeding the cats and cleaning their cages. We'd lost our beautiful Hannah in December just before Christmas and I was missing cat love. I thought I'd get my "kitty time" by becoming a volunteer and then we wouldn't have to bring another animal into the house. Well, everyone but me knew that wouldn't work, and about 3 weeks after I'd started volunteering, I came home with Liliput and a few days later, Peppermint. Lily was about 6 months at the time and only know she was a stray. Miss Pepper, had been part of a large colony of animals owned by an animal hoarder and she was about a year old when I brought her home. Both of them adore the dogs and it's pretty mutual unless they are getting more attention than Molly.

Just a few days ago, I got an email from an animal rescue friend who lives in the SW corner of this state, telling me of the plight of many pets in Lebanon, who were not allowed to be evacuated with their American or British owners. Some were set loose in the streets, others locked in homes when their owners left. I was quickly reminded of last year's Katrina fiasco along the gulf coast, where hundreds of animals were left behind by their owners ... because they were not permitted to bring them to evacuation centers. I'm quite dissapointed to find out that things haven't changed and I will write the President and my representatives in Congress to do something about changing this situation. If enough of us write, call or fax maybe they'll hear us. I encourage you to do what you can.

I don't know about you, or if you even have animals, but my pets are the light of my life and are members of my family, who will be mourned when they pass, as any human family member will be mourned. They deserve to be treated as family members and not be left behind in situations where they cannot be cared for.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Prayer Beads ... For Poetry Thursday

French Beaded Flowers, by Joan Z. Rough

I know! This wasn't the prompt for this week's Poetry Thursday! We were to turn our minds toward sex ... with one of our own poems or someone else's. Well, I started a poem but it is not anywhere near ready ... it's about mrs heartwell and she is being a bit touchy right now and won't let me put the finishing touches on it just yet.

Since my post yesterday concerned lilies, it seems fitting that I continue with that theme. This poem is also apropos of this particular time in history. I wrote this just after our invasion of Iraq. And I can show off the French Beaded Flowers I like to make as seen in the photos.

Prayer Beads

Hold the lily to the light

blushing petals shimmer
beads of pink
immaculate white
surround the heart
contain the fire

Holy Mary
Mother Of God
Forgive This Holy War

Pray For Our Fathers
Mothers And Children
Bring Peace To Earth
Once More

Hold the lily to the light
shimmer seeds of colored glass
caught on silver wire

Asian Lily, Joan Z. Rough, Copyright 2006

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Gospel of Matthew

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Warm But Happy!

It's not fit out there for man or beast ... very high humidity and scorching temperatures. I filled the bird baths this morning and they were quickly visited by squirrels and thirsty birds. The most popular watering hole is the big bowl I fill and put out on by the kitchen door for the cats, who just love this kind of weather. This is the view from that spot. The Black-eyed Susans are in full bloom now and tucked amonst them and the other flowering plants are basil, parsley and rosemary. I'm thinking that next year I may tuck in a tomato plant or two.

This view of the river, was taken just outside the door to my mother's apartment which is in our house. She is doing well after last week's scare ... her heart and blood vessels are clear and healthy, so we'll be looking into acid reflux as a cause for her symptoms which did resemble those of a heart attack.

My man is home after nearly two weeks away and I'm very happy to have him back again!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Heat Is On!

The heat is on. It will be in the upper 90's today ... the humidity is still tolerable, but it's pumping it's way up from the gulf and the rest of the week is supposed to be Hazy, Hot and Humid, with it feeling well over 100 degrees. But still, I'd rather be here than in the Middle East where the heat manifests from bombs and hatred. My heart is breaking for all of the people there, especially the children.

The only thing to do is to make a big batch of one of my very favorite summer comfort foods ... Gazpacho!! Tomatoes are just beginning to roll in at the Farmer's Market, so I brought some home yesterday just for this. I've also got a fresh red onion, zucchini, cukes, garlic, red and green peppers. And I'll not forget the olive, oil, red wine vinegar, lime and tomato juice at the end. So here goes ... no heating up the stove, just slicing, chopping, assembling and eating.

This is perfect with a piece of my whole wheat French bread, I make just for soups. It's also great cut horizontally for sandwiches ... anykind ... yesterday it was rare roast beef, sliced very thin, with onion and a tad of mayo and mustard. Ooh, La, La!!

Unfortunately I love to eat ... especially when I need a tad of comfort. Fortunately, unlike most comfort food, this particular dish is really good for you and won't add to my waistline ... unless I put too much butter on the bread!!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Keeping The Faith

Like this Tiger Swallowtail, I've felt a bit battered this week. It's been stormy and I don't mean the weather. There are always times when things just don't go the way we wish they would. So I try to keep focused on the good and positive aspects of what surrounds me. Regardless of what is going on in the rest of the world, the river is still flowing, the garden is near it's peak for the summer, turtles still bask in the sun on floating logs and I am in love with life.

There are people trying to make a difference in the world, not by dropping bombs, but by setting quiet, loving examples for the rest of us. They smile even if they don't feel like smiling, listen to those who need to be heard, when they have their own problems. I'm blessed to know a few of them and will continually try to walk in their shoes, though it's hard and the road is long.

Yarrow, Joan Z. Rough, Copyright 2006

I hope everyone has a quiet, peaceful, sun-filled weekend!!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Few Close Friends ... for Poetry Thursday

Hellenium, Joan Z. Rough, Copyright 2006

The prompt for this week's Poetry Thursday was to find or express humor in poetry. A while back, a character found her way to me through my muse, parked herself on my keyboard and wouldn't budge until I wrote about her. Her name is "mrs heartwell" and I can honestly say I don't know where she came from ... I suppose she might be me ... or a conglomeration of women I know. Whoever she is, I find her funny and vulnerable as she maneuvers her way through life. This is my favorite of the Mrs. Heartwell poems.

a few close friends

under a canopy of stars
mrs heartwell celebrates
her birthday with family
and a few close friends

old daddy pimpkin
brings champagne
shoots off fireworks
while his pitbull butch
cowers under a shrub

widow greeves brushing tears
from her eyes
brings the cake
crowned with fifty candles
candy roses
she's been using for years

she winks at mrs heartwell's son
twenty-two and shirtless
tight shorts exaggerating
every move
as he pumps up the keg

behind the hedge tiny tina
the sword swallower
exhibits tattoos for mr heartwell
who's anxious for a closer look
since he caught her stealing knives

iris who's away at school
sends an impersonator
knowing her mother would faint
if she opened her eyes


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Turning Heads

Yarrow, Joan Z. Rough, Copyright 2006

Beginner's Mind

Standing off
To one side
I watch
Each thought
The light

Each one
In slow motion
Each word
To the unseen

No matter how many times I sit on my cushion to meditate it seems I must start all over again to learn to allow my thoughts ... wishes, memories, fears ... pass before my eyes and dissapear into the void of unknowing. My mind wants to move, traveling over the road I walked down yesterday ... the path I'll venture down today.

Just now it was what I would write on this blog, while earlier it was wondering about my mom who spent last night in the hospital. Early yesterday, she had a run in with her recurring Atrial fibrulation ( don't know if I've spelled that right). She had chest pain, dizziness and difficulty breathing. So we did the 911 thing and had her transported to the ER, where upon arrival, she was virtually back to her usual spunky self. But they wanted to keep her overnight to keep an eye on her and to do a stress test this morning to make sure her heart is really okay.

The xray they took of her chest yesterday was clear, not showing the small mass of multiplying cells attacking her lungs ... after only two rounds of chemo. One of her truly wonderful Oncologists declared, "you're tough," and then was out the door, maybe going to the smoking area outside the hospital, where I caught him smoking his pipe yesterday!

Over the weekend, after my mother had her head shaved because her hair was coming out in huge tufts, I bought a book for her entitled, TURNING HEADS, Portraits of Grace, Inspiration, and Possibilities, edited by Jackson Hunsicker. It is a gorgeous book filled with photos and the stories of courageous women undergoing chemotherapy, who have walked out into the world without wearing wigs, to set an example for the rest of us on how ''to live until we die!"

On Monday, my mother went out the door to her usual exercise and stretch session with her favorite PT, without her wig. She found the world a different place, with people smiling, giving her more respect than she'd ever imagined.

She's gorgeous and now she knows it. Whatever causes her to draw her last breath, she will have spread her beauty and inspiration, helping all of us who may one day face the same fate.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Gardening by Heart

Daylily 21, Joan Z. Rough, Copyright 2006

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow
circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. The garden door is always open to the holy.

By May Sarton, Gardening by Heart

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Susan's Visit

Susan from Visual-Voice came to visit us for the weekend. She came without her camera ... can you believe it?? So I let her use my little novice camera and she made these wonderful photos for me. This is Sam and Susan wants to take him home with her but I won't allow it!!
NO!! NO!!

She is also teaching me to use Photo Shop Elements, and I have edited this one and the next one of Miss Pepper. Susan also took this one. Pepper says, "Why doesn't she want to take me home too??"

Never mind! She didn't even photograph Molly!! You should hear what Molly is thinking ... @#!*&^(())^^!

We are being pretty silly here, but hey, that's how it is!!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

White Shag Rug ... for Poetry Thursday

That's me on the bike and my best friend at the time, Judy, her white German Shepherd, Lady, and my precious Booby. She and I played paper dolls on the rug in the poem.

I'm not one who likes confessional poetry much, which was the prompt for this week's Poetry Thursday. I wrote this about 15 years ago and have written a few other since ... don't know if they helped or not with the issues. All I can tell you is that when one gets to a certain age one doesn't blame anything on anybody anymore. I do tend to blame myself from time to time ... I think everyone does. Life is what it is. I truly believe everyone tries to do their best with the tools they are given.

White Shag Rug

I played paper dolls
on the white shag rug
that smelled of dog
and counterfeit days

I played paper dolls
on the white shag rug
where mothers smiled
and fathers laughed
they dressed for dinner
in elegant clothes
all the colors matched

I played paper dolls
on the white shag rug
where perfect children
rode prancing ponies
never had to lie
about black and blue legs

I played paper dolls
on the white shag rug
where laughing fathers
never beat their perfect children
smiling mothers
never drank beer

I played paper dolls
on the white shag rug
that smelled
playing with dolls made of paper


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Getting Up Early!

This morning the alarm went off at 5:30 AM, as I needed to get my husband to the Amtrack station. He is off to the Big Apple for a theatre binge and then to upstate NY for Irish Music Camp. I used to get up this early all the time, but as I've aged, it's been getting more and more difficult especially in the winter when it's dark. But I'm really glad I did it this morning, not that I was glad to see Bill go off, but because I miss too many things going on down by the river.

Over the winter we would often watch three river otters playing on our dock just as the sun was rising. They are such wonderous creatures ... and the otter is my spirit animal. In May we found one had been hit by a car and killed nearby. I had heard that another had been killed earlier in the spring. I don't know how many live on the river, but this area is growing far too fast and we are quickly destroying habitat for a multitude of wild animals that live in our midst. My fear is that the river otters will be killed off by our growing need for more and more space for us humans.

Well, this morning when I rolled out of bed, there was a mother otter with her 3 babies right on the dock I am so excited and am vowing to get up early every morning so that I can watch their antics.

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of them. If they sense people around they quickly splash into the water and are gone. So instead I've uploaded some photos of my garden. Not that they could possibly take the place of a river otter photo, but they'll just have to do. Maybe one of these days I'll get a better camera with a good telephoto lens and I'll be able to share some otter photos with you.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Freedom, Independence, Equality

America is the fact, the symbol and the promise of a new beginning. And in human life, in our lives as they are, this possiblility is among the most sacred aspects of existence. All that is old and already formed can continue to live only if it allows within itself the conditions for a new beginning. Life itself is the mysterious, incomprehensible blending of the new and the old, of what already is and what is coming into being. The question of America is there: if America loses the meaning of its existence and if, in fact, America is now the dominant cultural influence in the world, then what will become of the world? The question of America leads all of us directly into the question of the purpose and destiny of human life itself in this era.

Our task, our place in the scheme of creation, is to become conscious instruments of action on earth under the aegis of divine law and love. But, in order to fulfill this role, we must work to trascend the sense of self-identity that society thrusts upon us and that prevents us from recognizing our own inner self and its power to serve the good. In this ancient teaching, freedom is understood not as the license to obey one's desires but as obedient submission to a deep inner law; independence is understood as the discovery of one's own authentic self, which--although it may seem paradoxical--is also a mirror of the common cosmic Selfhood; equality is understood as every human being's right to seek the truth and to be allowed to give his or her light to the common welfare.

From: The American Soul, Rediscovering The Wisdom Of The Founders, by Jacob Needleman


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Dragons Above The River

This morning as we were slowly waking up to a new day, we heard the dragons coming. They hiss and spew huge flames, scaring every dog and cat in the neighborhood, with their breathy approach. They really do sound like some huge monster coming to eat you up!

In reality these dragons were several of the area's flotilla of hot air balloons that drift through the early morning or evening skies ... often right over our house and the river. This morning there were three and brought on the usual chorus of barking dogs. Our two didn't bark, just got excited and watched with us as the people up in the sky waved to us.

I've often wanted to give it a try, and told a friend that one day I'd do it. But when she set a date to go up and invited me along, I chickened out. I'd just barely gotten over my fear of flying in a plane ... I wasn't quite ready to give this a try. After all, there are no wings or stearing mechanisms except for air currents and the wind. What happens if ..... well let's not go there now. I think you get the idea.

At any rate, I may be getting ready to do it! Several nights ago we watched,
The World's Fastest Indian, a film based on the adventures of New Zealander, Burt Munro, who at age 67 brought his ancient motorcycle (the Indian, with no parachute or safety gear) to the Utah Salt Flats, breaking many world speed records over the ensuing years.

It is a wonderfully, inspiring film and I figure if he could do that, what's the problem with my going up in a hot air balloon?!? I mean, after all, I'm too old to be afraid any more. I need to get on with this life before it's too late!

Don't think I'll do it today, though!! But I'll keep you posted!!

Photos by William H. Rough, copyright 2006