Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 335: the world of modern medicine.

I'm sitting in the ENT department of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF). Ron and I recently joined this medical group and chose a doctor who is part of the Family Medicine practice. One of the features of being a patient here is that your communications are established online. As I sit here waiting for Ron to have a routine appointment (nothing really wrong just a checkup) I checked my IPhone App and found a message from the Gastroenterologist who did some tests on me last week. How cool is this? Receiving reassuring heath news through a private web site transmitted to an app . . . Well this feels like the future. The painting I post with this writing is original art which is hanging on the wall here. Everywhere you go here there is lovely, comforting art. What a wonderful world.

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Location:El Camino Real,San Jose,United States

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Day 334: Filoli Artist Day

 A few times a year the lovely Filoli Gardens and estate are open to artist and photographers.  This Sunday was such a day. The gardens were overflowing with families and artists enjoying the chance to paint and photograph the lovely grounds.  We are just at the beginning of daffodil season.  I sat and looked at an amazing moss covered elm.  My rendering doesn't really capture it's unique beauty.  It was a joy to sit in the gardens and paint.  Aren't the Hyacinths lovely?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day 333: Stanford wins Pac10 title

Saturday's decisive victory over U of Oregon (99-60) clinched Stanford's seat as the 2011 PAC10 champions in women's basketball. Defeating all nine other teams twice in the regular season made them the uncontested winner. What a joy it has been being part of the cheering crowd. Next is the rather silly PAC10 tournament in LA in mid March. Then the NCAA regionals. March Madness indeed. Kudos to our talented players and coach Tara Vanderveer.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day 332: Bye bye, Jysenia

Early this morning we said goodbye to our beloved niece, Jysenia.  If you read this blog you have seen some of the images of her visit this week.  On Tuesday Ron took her to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where she communed with the seals, jellies and seahorses.  On Wednesday we had a glorious day in San Francisco (clear, mild weather!) compliments of the City Segway Tours.  We saw the city wharf and Marina as if we were floating on air.  If you haven't tried a Segway you haven't lived.  I'm something of a sissy but was won over by the end of our three hour adventure gliding around the most beautiful city on earth.  We had a look at the crookedest street in town, Lombard hill and then had dinner at Zero Zero Pizza.  They specialize in "build your own Sunday."  Many calories here. We went to the top of Twin Peaks for a few photos of the panorama of the city.  Then we visited the Vaernet family.  On Thursday we visited Spanishtown outside of Half Moon Bay to see the rusty dinosaurs, and then on to the Stanford women's basketball game.  Jysenia saw Stanford whip Oregon State by a forty point margin.  What a team.  Jysenia is herself a soccer player of note.  She is the goalie for her Hamburg, NY Jr. High School team.  It was a whirlwind visit, but lots of fun.  Here are a few more photos of our sightseeing adventures.  We just learned that her second leg of the flight home has been changed to a later flight.  She gets to stay at JFK for three hours before moving on.  Safe journey, our dear Jysenia. Our cat Bodhi is missing you already.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day 331: Jysenia's busy day

Yesterday was our amazing San Francisco day. We rode Segways all around the Fisherman's Wharf. Today it rained a bit and we came over to Stanford to see the Stanford women play Oregon State. Here is Jysenia with dinosaurs and Buddhas. Tomorrow she flies home to Buffalo. We will miss her. It has been a marvelous trip.  She sports her new black Stanford jacket and soccer ball.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 330: Jysenia at the Monterey Aquarium

Jysenia and the jellies at the Aquarium!  Cool, eh?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 329: Jysenia arrives

I love being an aunt.  Late last night my favorite niece, Jysenia Dunlavey, arrived from  Hamburg, NY.  She is twelve years old (very shortly) and this was her first solo flight. Jysenia is a brilliant soccer player.  Hooray, Jysenia.  Our hope is to show her a proper San Francisco welcome and treat her to some of the delights of living in the Bay Area.  Lets hope the weather holds kindly so that we can do some of it outdoors.  Welcome to California, Jysenia.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 328: Some thoughts on intimacy

John O'Donohue, the great Celtic poet and philosopher is in my top ten authors list.  His book Anam Cara is a book to savor and reread.  I opened the book today in search of inspiration and stumbled on this quote: 
         "In a world where the computer replaces human encounter and psychology replaces religion, it is no wonder that there is an obsession with relationship.  Unfortunately, however, "relationship" has become an empty center around which our lonely hunger forages for warmth and belonging.  Much of the public language of intimacy is hollow, and its incessant repetition only betrays the complete absence of intimacy. Real intimacy is a sacred experience.  It never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye of a neon culture.  Real intimacy is of the soul, and the soul is reserved." 
p. 17 Anam Cara

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day 327: A weekend of victories in the Southland

So what does a loving couple do to celebrate 22 happy years of marriage? We fly to LaLaLand to attend two basketball games. We are nearing the end of the PAC 10 regular season and our final two away games were in southern CA. The Friday evening game against USC in the Galen center was a nailbiter. We only led by two points at the half. Then there was the awful moment when our highest scorer Nneka Ogwumike crumpled to the ground coming down on her ankle. She lay without moving for what seemed forever. Then trainers helped her limp off to sit out the rest of the game. Our hopes for a national championship title held in her fragile hands. But we won that game by a slimmer margin than anyone would have predicted. Two days later our team had to face #9 in the nation UCLA Bruins. I must say we were afraid our time was up. Nneka was in street clothes but walking around wearing a special orthotic shoe. Toni Kokenis stepped up and played an inspired game. We breathed deeply as big Red won pulling ahead to outscore UCLA 67-53. This was the best anniversary present we could have had. As I write we are in LAX awaiting our flight home. Jeanette Pohlen gives an interview after the game. She is our rock.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day 326: the Japanese book cover

As I was waiting at SFO for our flight to LAX I received an email from the Japanese translator of my book IMPROV WISDOM. She kindly sent me a copy of the mockup of the cover design for the book which will go to press next week and go on sale in early March in Japan. I think the Japanese subtitle is something like Stanford Improviser. It is a thrill to see this as a reality. I wish to thank all of my Japanese literary family who helped bring the book into being. Tomoko Nozu, translator, Issei Mizuno, editor, and Hiroyuki Fukuda and Dr Takashi Takao who collaborated on a forward to introduce the book to the Japanese people. My gratitude is overflowing for all of their generous help and effort. May this edition provide helpful advice for those who read it. Arigato gozaimasu.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Day 325: A Visit to La La Land

Our beloved Cardinal women are playing the two Pac10 Los Angeles teams this weekend.  On Friday night they face USC at the Galen Center and on Sunday noon they play second seeded UCLA at home.  Both of these games will be the most challenging of the Pac10 season since the beginning of January.  Today, Friday, February 18 is our 22nd anniversary.  So Ron and I decided that the best possible anniversary present we could give each other was a trip to see these games live.  We'll stay in a nice hotel on the beach in Redondo Beach.  It is hard to express just how happy I have been being married to Ron Madson.  He is my perfect friend, helpmeet and partner in life.  A good marriage is among life's greatest blessings.  Here is a favorite photo of me and my sweetheart.  Happy anniversary!  And, go lady Cardinals.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 324: the fish symbol

Books have a life of their own. When Improv Wisdom:Don't Prepare, Just Show Up was published by Random House in 2005 I had a dream. The dream was that the book would live for a long time and find it's way into the hand of people all over the world. And this dream is coming true, little by little, book by book. Three years ago the book was sold to publishers in Germany and Korea. Last year a Japanese publisher bought the rights. I've been working for over a year with the translator to help bridge the cultural divide. A publisher in Taiwan bought it last fall and the Chinese language version is underway. Just today I heard from a friend and blogger Giorgio Paparelle that he had interest from a businessman in seeing an Italian translation. Perhaps these rights will be sold soon. And there is a friend of a friend hawking it in Mexico now. What kindness. Books move through the world because people speak about them. If you know a good book, tell someone. Or better yet buy a copy and give it to a friend. I want to thank everyone who has been helping my book grow in popularity. Word of mouth rules.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 323: Farewell to Friday Night Lights

Five years ago I began watching a weekly tv drama called Friday Night Nights.  It is set in Dillon, Texas in our time.  The story revolves around the lives of a high school football coach, his wife who was a school counselor (and later a principal), his family and the individuals on the football team.  The extended family includes other parents, girlfriends, siblings and school personal.

I fell in love with this show from the beginning. The acting is realistic.  The stories are true to life, and the morality is something greatly to be admired.  Real men and women struggle with change, conflict, growth, dreams, sexuality, religion and the basics of life in a rural small town where the Friday night high school football game is the most important thing going.  The characters became friends and family, and I watched every episode for the five years . . . some of them many times.  While it never garnered a large media audience it developed loyal fans and began to win coveted TV prizes for excellence.   Direct TV had a special deal which allowed it to show the final year during their fall lineup.  So, I got to see the series finale last week.

I can't remember when I have had more emotion watching a drama.  The writers very kindly gave their public what they wanted: resolution to many of the issues and outstanding questions.  Couples got together.  The coach made a stunning decision to follow his wife's career and the promise of a new football world in the town of Dillon was given shape.  I shall always be grateful to the writers and actors of this show for giving so much of themselves.  I highly recommend borrowing the DVD of the first season and following it through for the duration.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 322: Plein Aire painting

I'm part of a Wed morning Plein Aire painting group. We show up rain or shine to set up our easels and sketch and paint the landscape. This photo shows me in Ireland at a beautiful estate, the Bantry House in Cork. The umbrella and rain gear help. Tomorrow we are scheduled to paint at a fruit stand along highway 92. But the weather promises heavy rain. As romantic as this photo is I must say that painting in the rain is quite a challenge. I'm actually holding the umbrella under my arm. If it does rain on Wed I think I'll paint next to our gas fireplace and forgo the romance.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 321: Herbed Corn Bread

I love the smell of bread baking.  But I'm hopeless at doing the proper kneading and rising, etc.  Over 10 years ago a friend gave me a breadmaker.  It turns out that I LOVE using it.  I make bread once a week and enjoy the smell of it filling the house with wholeness.  On Facebook yesterday I mentioned I was baking.  So here goes the recipe:

Herbed Corn Bread

(a rising bread)

½ cup + 2 Tablespoons WATER
1 cup milk (can use evaporated, too)
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup coarse cornmeal
2 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
 1 ½ teaspoon celery seeds
1 ½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon marjoram
½ teaspoon dried ginger

Throw it all in a breadmaker.
Enjoy!  (or do what you do to
Make ordinary bread in the oven)

This is NOT cornbread, but rather
Like a whole wheat herbed bread that

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day: 320: Childhood memories of food

Carry me back to old Virginny . . the smells of Smithfield Ham
There was one food that will eternally signal my childhood.  It represented both our place in Virginia society and our taste as a family.  The food of my childhood was the smoky, briny, heavenly flavor and texture of Smithfield Ham. “Smithfield,” while a brand name, came to identify the whole category of aged, cured Virginia hams that are part of this story.   Nothing like the bland picnic hams or the “Honey-baked spiral cut hams” of today, this fragrant, intense meat is worthy of reverence.  The early settlers undoubtedly are greatly to be thanked for their ingenuity in dealing with the problems of keeping meat viable without refrigeration.  This legacy didn’t mean very much to me as a 10 year old in Richmond, but the smell and taste of this extravagant meat will always remind me of my family life.  I owe those settler women a big debt of thanks, as well as those who still cure these hams today.

            Every Christmas and Thanksgiving occasioned the great acquisition.  The ham was a big deal.  We’d buy an 11-14 lb. ham, wrapped in a brown cotton wrapper.  I remember my Granny remarking how expensive it was.  I have a vague memory of her becoming irate when the price per pound went over $1.5O.  So, I guess this whole ham leg cost $16 to $20 in the 1950’s.   Today, this same ham (which is still available by mail order) runs around $7 or $8 a lb.  A good sized one of these can easily cost $100+ with shipping.  These hams had been cured for up to 12 years, I believe, according to the advertising.
            The big deal began when Granny would unwrap the raw ham and prepare it for cooking.  First it had to be soaked overnight . . . or for days, or forever, it seemed to me.  I could never understand why you paid a fortune for a salty ham, but then needed to soak it to reduce the salt content, but, well. . .  my Granny did know the best way to do this.  Everyone said so.  After the interminable soaking, the ham was dried and then prepared for baking.  The naked ham would be covered in something very sweet, I’m pretty sure it was brown sugar and melted butter, since it created a crunchy crust of a sort.  Oh, but first, the fatty skin of the ham was “scored” in a cross hatch pattern.  Then the brown sugar was plastered on, followed by inserting a fragrant clove into the intersection of each cross hatch.  I’d often get the job of pushing in the cloves . . . rather like putting push pins on a bulletin board.  Then, rings of pineapple and shiny maraschino cherries were added for color and drama.
            Then, the ham baked in the oven for what seemed a very long time.  The smell of this exotic, salty pork cooking, encased by the sweetness of the brown sugar crust is possibly the happiest sense memory of all time for me.  FINALLY it came out of the oven and, of course, needed to sit for a while for all the juices to distribute properly.  Ah, and then at last we’d cut into this divine dish.

 The carving needed to be precise.  “Cut it thin, thin, very thin . . . paper thin, if you can,” my Granny Ryan would intone.  As the flavor was truly intense a little went a long, long way. The ham had to be cut in just the right direction, starting at the small end, and on a slight angle.  As the carving progressed the slices got wider in girth, but if it was done correctly the slices were very thin.
 We ate this precious meat in several ways, typically.  It was served as warmed ham biscuits.  The biscuits were sometimes store bought:  shiny Parker house rolls, made with an egg batter and ever so slightly sweet.  These were slathered with fresh, sweet butter and warmed slightly with the thin sliced ham stuffed inside.   Or sometimes Granny would make baking soda biscuits from scratch to pocket them.  My favorite was the Smithfield Ham sandwich: white bread, mayonnaise and thin slices of this wonderful, wonderful delicacy.  Occasionally we’d add some crunchy, iceberg lettuce, but there was always a debate about what was really the perfect way to eat this ham.
            It was a brilliant breakfast food, too.  When slices of this were slightly fried they became even more intense and were a dramatic pairing with creamy, scrambled eggs.  When we got down to the bone of it, we’d scrape the tiny bits and chop them up finely to be added to scrambled eggs or to a scalloped potato recipe.

             When we came to the end of the ham there were often numerous odd shaped pieces, some with that luscious fatty, sugary crust.  This was the time that Granny got out her meat grinder and screwed it to the Formica kitchen table for ballast.  All the twiddly bits were mashed into the grinder and Granny would churn away . . . making a large bowl of minced ham.  This mixed with mayonnaise and sometimes a little chopped pickle was the last evidence that the holiday was coming to an end. 

            You can still order these hams.  The internet has made it easy to track down the genuine article. ( I think I’ll send off for a 14 pound raw Smithfield Ham.  Now, my only problem is:  where on earth can I find a manual meat grinder these days?

Patricia Ryan Madson

This article was written in 2002 as an assignment for a class titled:  "Food and Memory".  I was studying food writing.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day 319: Naikan at SenKobo and Konnyaku

 This essay was written in 2002 for a class on "Food and Memory"
                       I had come to Japan with a single purpose:  to recode an understanding of my past with my adult conscious mind, using the vehicle of a little known Japanese meditation practice called Naikan.  Naikan, which is known by only a tiny number of Westerners, is an experience that invites the participant to reflect privately upon his entire life and recover lost or forgotten information. It is ultimately about becoming more realistic.  It has an unusual bias, however.  I knew I needed to do this process and had sought out the one place on earth where a foreigner could come to do Naikan.  While there are a number of centers where it is conducted in Japanese, there was but a single place on earth at that time to undergo this experience as an English speaker.  The setting for this was a rustic Zen temple plopped out in the middle of endless rice fields, Senkobo.  Both a fully functioning Zen Temple and a Naikan retreat center, Senkobo was unique.  It was July in 1987 and I was a single, 45 year old Drama teacher, arriving in rural Japan.  
 An aging taxi, driven by a pleasant fellow wearing white cotton gloves, brought me and my suitcase from the Kuwana train station to the courtyard of an old wooden structure.  Mrs. Usami, the Temple Abbot’s sweet faced wife, greeted me and motioned me inside.  I handed her a medium sized bunch of ordinary bananas and a box of inexpensive chocolates, which I had purchased at the train station as a last minute, not especially thoughtful “house gift.”  She received it as if it was a treasure, with a huge smile and a sincere protestation about “how wonderful it was,” placing it on the altar next to the large Buddha statue.   I was sorry already for not having put more thought into my gift.  
After a formal cup of tea and an introduction to the “rules of the house,” (Don’t speak to any other meditators, and don’t move around . . . except to go to the toilet) I was led to my cubicle to begin this 15 hour a day reflection practice.  Naikan is by many accounts a polarity from formal Zen meditation.  In zazen (the typical Zen form) one is focused entirely on this very moment . . . this breath now . . . this immediate momentary experience.  One attempts to avoid daydreaming or letting the mind drift into particular thoughts.  (Although anyone who has ever meditated knows that this is exactly what the mind most likes to do . . . think of the past or future.)  In contrast, with Naikan meditation the Naikansha (one who does Naikan) is asked to focus completely on some specific past time period (for example, “grade school years”) and on a particular person. One searches the data banks of memory for answers to three questions:
            What did I receive from . . .  X during this timeframe?
            What did I give to . . . . X during this period?
            (And, a surprising question to us in the West . . .)
            What troubles and bothers did I cause to  . . .X during this timeframe?
The “X” in this equation is normally a person; the first assignment is reflection on your mother, then your father, and later, other close associates (spouse, children, best friends, mentors, teachers, etc.)   The purpose of this exercise is to take a new look at your relationships.  These three questions suggest a vantage point which is not self serving and that can provide the seeker with a more realistic and encompassing view of the past.              It’s common for traditional Western therapeutic approaches  to look at what was wrong with the parent/child relationship, often examining in some detail those moments when our parents “let us down” or failed to live up to our hopes or needs.  In contrast, the Naikan investigation invites us to examine in specific detail the many ways we were being cared for and served, even when we weren’t noticing it at the time.  We bring our adult value system into play as we search for examples of the care we received and the trouble we caused. 
            So, on a sticky summer day, thousands of miles from home, I found myself sitting on the floor of a basically empty cubicle, with nothing more than a thin, flat cushion for comfort.  My mind began to examine the question of what I had received from my mother from birth to three years of age.   When it dawned on me that my mother had had a Caesarian section to give me birth (a fact I’d always known, but had not really considered previously) I was flooded with a profound gratitude and wonder. She carried a scar throughout her like just to give me life.   More amazing discoveries were to come as the days passed. 
            My reflections were collected every several hours when a “guide” would come to hear my memories.  Kneeling facing one another I recited some of the stories and shards of memory from the recent stroll into the details of my childhood.  This “reporting out,” called the mensetsu, was the time when I was called on to share these reflections with another person.  Guides who listen are simply others who have gone through this process themselves and, as such, are empathetic hearers.  Reporting ones memories brought a “waking up” feeling to the process of deep reflection which was itself sometimes dreamlike.
            Our daily schedule started at 4:30AM.  I was allowed a thirty minute walk outside the monastery to exercise in the dawn light.  The morning hours were cool, albeit muggy.  It was good to stretch my legs and observe the Japanese countryside—rice fields in all directions, a few ordinary wooden, country homes, the occasional barking dog, and telephone or electric lines in parallel with the country roads.
            After my walk I was expected to go to my cubicle to begin Naikan reflection on my last assignment.   Breakfast commenced when a bell rang and we were instructed to form a line. This varied from as early as 7:15 to 9:00AM.  When everyone was present in line the Head Zen Monk marched us off to the dining room through the wooden corridors.  We sat seiza style (with knees folded under us) at a low table that was about twenty feet long.  I think there were about 18 of us who were practicing: several elderly women, some sullen Japanese youth, a couple of middle aged men, a few women in their thirties, one other American, (a retired surgeon) and me.   I had heard that several of us were juvenile delinquents sent from the local prefecture. People had begun their practice at different times, so each of us was on a unique schedule with respect to the reflection pattern itself.  But we came together for meals three times a day, in silence, of course.              The only sounds at the meals were those of the “meal chant,” which we recited in unison in Japanese followed by the rattle of chop sticks on bowls along with various slurping noises.  Someone had kindly printed out the chant in phonetic English syllables.  So, I intoned along with my cohorts, although I really didn’t know what I was saying.  A translation of the chant was available, but it was OK with me to simply mumble along.  The main thing was to get to the food.  Sitting, doing Naikan meditation really made me hungry. 
            Mealtimes at Senkobo happened, presumably when the cook was ready, since there was no set time for our meals.  The bell rang for each meal at a slightly different time every day. Often just when I had given up entirely, and predicted that there would be no meal at all, would the bell finally ring.   Aside from assuaging my hunger mealtime was the single diversion in our daily lives.
            Breakfast was typical of country Japanese fare:  miso soup, a bowl of white rice, a bit of leftover vegetable or tofu, and the ubiquitous daikan pickle, which is used for two purposes: to wipe the last grain of rice from one’s bowl, and then to clear the palate.  Lunch was a “fast food” event.  We were served a small sized hot-dog shaped bun of white bread (wrapped in a cellophane wrapper, which made a lot of noise being opened). This bun, I swear, had pink whipped cream inside.  This “sandwich” was served with cartons of thick, whole milk.  I felt like a grade school student at “snack time;” however, all the Japanese woofed down this odd offering as if it was the most normal thing imaginable.  An ordinary hot dog bun with pink whipped cream inside.   Think about it.
            The entire meal took about seven minutes.  This time began with the ringing of the bell, followed by the line-up, the seating at the table, the distribution of the food, the meal chant, the eating of the food, the cleaning of our individual bowls with the pickle, the passing forward of our cleaned bowls and serving plates to the Monk at the head of the table, the closing meal chant, and the march back to our cubicles.  Seven minutes.  No kidding.  Seven minutes.  This fact may fly in the face of any notion you may have that Zen is about “savoring the moment” and taking your time to pay attention to the here and now.  Not so at Senkobo, a Zen Temple in Japan’s Mie prefecture.
            This brings me at last to the special food I’d like to describe, Konnyaku.  Anyone who has sampled Japanese food, beyond the most well known dishes served in America, realizes that Japan has more weird food textures than any other nationality.  It is staggering to take in the myriad ways that the Japanese have made “things gelatinous.” It is truly an art form.  They love jellied things, including savory jellied things.  Just imagine salty jello and you begin to get on this page. 

            On my second night there dinner at Senkobo included what I later learned was a common vegetarian main course: Konnyaku.  This version of the food itself had a triangular log shape about 4 and a half inches long.  On first sight these “special nutritious” globules looked exactly like brown rubber door-stoppers.  They were colored a speckled brown and grayish hue and they had something of a sheen.  Three of these were placed in the individual meal bowl at my place.  As I looked around it didn’t seem to me that everyone else had been given three of these.  Perhaps, as a foreign guest, and a bigger one at that, I was honored by being given more on my plate.  Fair enough.  So, “itadakimasu,” (chow down! . . . or more accurately, “I am about to receive this.”)
            Grabbing my chop sticks I speared one of these little brown puppies and took a bite.  Or rather, attempted to take a bite.  Now, think rubber door-stopper.  The texture of this food is indescribable.  But I’ll try. It is thick, coarse and rubbery.  As I chomped down on a piece of it and chewed and chewed and chewed, it simply didn’t dissolve.  The taste itself wasn’t too bad.  It had a vague “brown” taste, with something of the flavor of taro root.  But it was the almighty texture of it that stopped me.  I just couldn’t seem to swallow very much of it.  It seemed that an hour must have passed as I sat there trying, trying to swallow the huge glob of hard gelatin. It couldn’t be that long, of course, but my sense perception was all out of joint. Looking around the long table everyone else was finished with their hands folded in their laps, waiting for me to complete the meal so that we could all pass forward our empty bowls.  It became clear to me that my bowl would quite simply NEVER be empty.  There was no way I could finish even one of these, much less three.  Sweat poured from my temples, I concentrated on chewing.  There must be a way to swallow these. I was in distress; I was in extremis.  No one could leave the table until I was finished.  And, it was unthinkable to throw away unused food such as this . . . untouched, two of the pieces were.  More long moments passed as I tried in vain to swallow bites of the piece I had started.  No one looked at me, but I felt their stares.
            At last, the Head Zen Monk, who had appeared to be either half asleep or meditating at the head of the table, stood up, rushed into the kitchen, brought back an empty serving bowl, scooped up the two untouched Konnyaku logs, placing them in the neutral bowl, and whisked it away.  Everyone now seeing that my dinner bowl was at last empty began the thunderous ritual of passing the bowls up to the head of the table.  The empty bowls were now stacked, the clapper sounded, the meal chant dully recited and off we went back to our cubicle to reflect on the troubles we’d caused others and all that we’d been receiving.
            I was grateful to the little Zen monk for saving face for me and salvaging the food.   What was that thing that wouldn’t go down my throat?  It seems this food is the remarkable Konnyaku.  I quote here from the official web site.  “An ingredient in Konnyaku is Glucomannan  Konnyaku (Amorphophaiius Konjac, K. Koch.) produced from tubers of Konnyaku root, has been consumed as a part of important Japanese dishes for over 2,000 years.”  According to the web site touting its virtues, another key thing about Konnyaku is that it is “totally mad cow disease FREE.”   I learned also that “Konnyaku is ideal for weight reduction since Konnyaku forms jelly like material and expands about 30-50 times in the digestive system and gives the feeling that the stomach is full. The Konnyaku cleans the digestive tract of toxins.”.   I think that what was happening as I tried to eat my healthy portion of rubber door stopper is that my piece was expanding 30-50 times in my mouth.
            Finally I learned that “Konnyaku is one of the most effective items for defending yourself from fatness.”   NOW they tell me.  And I was indeed totally Mad Cow Disease Free after a whole week in the monastery.  That’s truth in advertising.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 318: 15 Quarts of Sauce

 [Dear classmates, I just want you all to know that I am SO sorry to be missing our final class.  As I write this I’m in Virginia celebrating my father’s 85th birthday.  While in a grocery store here I found a sale on whole Virginia Smithfield hams.  I bought a 15 lb one and will be smuggling it home in my suitcase!   Thanks to each of you for your kind support of my writing during this class.  It has been a real pleasure to meet each of you and to savor your lives through your food memories.  Please keep me on your lists and if there is ever a reunion of our Food/Writing group I’ll be there.  With appreciation,
p.s. My assignment #4 was written on my flight east.]

Fifteen Quarts of Sauce
By Patricia Ryan Madson

             The University of North Carolina was well known as a “party school” in 1965.  Being invited down for a weekend date from Westhampton College, where I was a sophomore, was the nearest to heaven a girl could get.  My date was a tall Sig Ep (Sigma Phi Epsilon member) and on Friday night of this October weekend a gang of us showed up at Al’s apartment off campus in Chapel Hill.  Beer, boiler makers, vodka and orange juice, 7 and 7 and scotch whiskey were in abundance.           
            I’d volunteered to make dinner for the rowdy, horny brothers of the frat, and with a scotch and soda in hand I commenced to make a robust spaghetti sauce.  I chopped a dozen onions (tearfully), ten green peppers, a bunch of celery and added all this to ten pounds of ground beef.  A humongous pot of grayish meat and translucent veggies began to stew.  Next came the long line of cans of tomatoy things: whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste.  Fifteen cans in all.  My fingers ached from the tiny, insufficient can opener which was the only implement available in this bachelor pad. 
            Things were smelling good.  Now for the spices.  I surveyed the narrow kitchen shelves and dark cupboards. Garlic salt—excellent!  A half cup of that would be good.  Some oregano—a fistful—pepper, salt, and mother’s secret—a heaping tablespoon of sugar.   Stir well.  It was smelling divine, and there was a LOT of it.  I’d guess there was fifteen quarts of meat sauce on the simmer.   Bright eyed frat boys, seduced by the smell, wandered in to steal a spoonful.
            As I nursed my third mixed drink I was feeling on top of the world proudly stirring the huge kettle of Italian sauce.  I tasted it, and it was pretty good; however, it lacked something—a distinctive taste.  What could I add to make it memorable?  Rummaging through the cupboards a last time I came upon a slightly rusting yellow tin of something: curry powder.  How interesting.  I’d never used it before. Upon examination it appeared to have a promising exotic taste.  “That will do it,” I thought. So I dumped the curry powder into the steaming red mix.  I didn’t measure it, but figured since it was a considerable volume of sauce I would need it all.  I’m guessing now that there was nearly a cup of it.
            What happened next is likely known already by any readers who understand the most basic mystery of curry   .  First, the aroma of the steaming mix began a dramatic change from its friendly, Italian smell of garlic and tomato, to something indescribable.  The smell was complex, strong and exotic.  “Wow, perhaps I have truly created a masterpiece,” I thought.   And then I tasted it.  The very first impression on my tongue was more strange than unpleasant.  It was clearly not spaghetti sauce as I’d known it anymore.  The curry had entirely wiped out all recognition of previous seasonings.  There was no taste of onion or tomato or oregano—only this powerful new curry taste and the residue of the texture of the meat sauce.  Moments later the curry’s mystery kicked in and a fiery weirdness overcame my palate.  My eyes began to water, my nostrils gorged, my tongue burned and tingled with the foreign and overwhelming taste.
            Water! I rushed to the sink for water.  It had only a momentary ameliorating effect.  The burning sensation, now approaching numbness continued unabated.  I stirred the huge kettle of sauce, hoping against hope that I’d just gotten a “bad spoonful” somehow.  The aroma intensified.  Oh, no.  I tried adding things to change the taste or dilute it: sugar, salt, some lemon.  Absolutely nothing made the slightest effect on the triumphant curry assault.  Curry wasn’t a spice, it was a nuclear weapon. 
            Frat brothers, drawn by the new smell, wandered into the kitchen.  Praying that it was “only me,” and that my taste buds were somehow shot I watched hopefully as several of the guys grabbed a spoon to taste the brew.  Each of them, to a man, had a similar reaction. His face screwed up into a grimace, eyes began to water, an expression of disgust and then an epithet such as:  “Phew, . . .  what IS that?, or other reactions that aren’t printable here.”
            The Sig Eps drank well that night.  The hard part was getting rid of the fifteen quarts of inedible sauce.  I truly can’t remember how we disposed of it.  I know we didn’t eat any of it.    I felt so bad about the loss of all that food, not to mention my reputation as a cook.  I think we ordered a half dozen pizzas at about 11:00 PM when we were all really starving.
 It was over thirty years before I would try anything with the word curry in its title.   If there is a “David” (of the David and Goliath story) of spices, then clearly curry powder is such a one.  It is not a suitable flavoring for spaghetti sauce.  Take my word.

Patricia Ryan Madson

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day 317: The Tyranny of Choice

“Just coffee” or The Tyranny of Choice
Assignment #3
Patricia Ryan Madson  written in 2002
            Who hasn’t longed for “simpler times,” or wished for an added two hours of personal time each day?  No one these days complains of time on their hands or a dearth of choice when it comes to food, but I don’t believe we have considered the costly connection.  As a child of the 50’s in America I grew up with choice as my birthright.  The cost of this privilege wasn’t on my mind, however.  Sundays following our hour and a half at the Christian Science Church my family sometimes stopped at our local Howard Johnson’s for a double dip of their “Twenty-one Flavors.”  I believe Howard Johnston’s rainbow of flavors predates the Baskin Robbins craze. The sight of the peach and turquoise logo at Howard Johnson’s inevitably brought up a mixture of delight and panic in me.
            By age ten I had already learned the deep angst of standing in front of the ice cream counter, facing the employee in a starched uniform and crisp cap, trying to decide which flavor to choose.  It seemed possible to me at the time (and it still does) to make a wrong choice.  Shall I go with my known favorite, coffee ice cream, or should I venture into wild territory, throwing my whole cone into the butter brickle or peppermint chocolate chip camp?   No matter how delicious the cone I was eating I always carried the thought that I might have chosen something even better, if only I had known what.                        The village of Ubud on Bali didn’t have an ice cream parlor, but it did have Murni’s restaurant, hangout for ex-patriots, hip tourists, and fast-talking guides always eager to sell you something.  Everyone went to Murni’s for a decent cheeseburger as well as the skinny on what was happening culturally and socially on the island.  Either Murni or her Australian husband could tell you where the Katak dances were being held late at night or if the Shadow Puppet Show was going to take place.  You could also find out when the next Teeth Filing Ceremony or funeral celebration was going to be held.  These were events not to be missed.
            As a newcomer to Ubud I needed to know where to find provisions. For the three months I was to be living there studying Balinese dancing I had rented a two story, thatched hut set beside a terraced rice field, just over the bridge from Murni’s restaurant.  While I had no kitchen in my little hut, each day began when Pak Adur’s daughters’ set a large enamel hot-pot thermos filled with boiling water on my patio.  My morning routine began by making coffee using the steaming water.  While I’d brought a small jar of instant coffee with me, soon it became evident that I’d need to learn where to go to buy coffee in the village.   Murni suggested that the local market would have what I wanted.
            The local market was a pretty simple affair.  There were fewer than a dozen vendors, each sitting on the ground with a pile of something for sale.  It didn’t take long to find the vendor selling coffee.  The plump,middle aged Balinese women wearing a batik sarong and rubber flip-flop sandals smiled at me as I approached her stall.  “Coffee . . .?” she inquired.  “How much . . .?” was her only question.   As I looked down at her stock I noticed that she had only one thing:  ground coffee, a three foot diameter pile of coffee.  Just coffee. The only thing I needed to decide was how much I wanted.  Shall I buy 10 grams or 100 grams or a kilo?  Just coffee. Not even two kinds: there was just coffee.  I bought a half kilo and she measured it into a thin paper sack.  I happily carried it home wrapped in a cotton bandana. With the hot water from my morning thermos it made a wonderful drink, just coffee.  Delicious.
            My year of meandering and living in third world environs, India, Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia came to a close in June of 1983.  My transition back into Western culture included two weeks in Honolulu just before I came home.  Still living on the cheap I found a summer dormitory room at the U. of Hawaii.  Here, too, I needed to find provisions.  The dorm had a small kitchen, and I set out to find some coffee to brew at home to avoid the inflated cost at restaurants.  I was directed to the suburban shopping center nearby and it’s modern grocery emporium.  It’s not clear in my memory if it was a Safeway, but it was a large store. 
            However, I will always remember standing in the aisle designated “Coffee.”  I looked left and right, behind me and in front of me.  Everywhere there was coffee. There was ground coffee, instant coffee, packaged coffee with flavoring.  There was decaf coffee and regular coffee.  There was French Roast, Columbian, Viennese, Hazelnut, Vanilla, Chocolate flavored, Kenyan, Macadamia Nut, Hawaiian grown, South American grown, Mexican grown.  There were pound bags and five pound cans and eight ounce jars of instant Espresso.  Each type or brand came in many sizes. And every type of coffee was offered by multiple manufacturers: Folgers, Maxwell House, Sanborn’s, et al.  There were fancy packages of processed mixes with names like “Mocha Latte Café Delight,”  “Café Fusion Vanilla” and “Americano Latte.”   The choices seemed unrelenting.
            The memory of standing with my nose pressed against the ice cream parlor glass display case came back to me.  So many choices.  Standing in this Hawaiian supermarket I was gripped with the sense that this time I would make the wrong choice.  Nothing could taste as good as my morning cup of Joe on Bali.   How easy it had been there.  Coffee.  Just coffee.  “How much?” the only choice. 
            Our American obsession with variety and choice may be robbing us not only of our time, but of our sanity.  When I consider the time I spend reading a menu in most restaurants while worrying that I’ll not choose well.   His lamb chops really did look better when they arrived than did my glazed salmon. Compound this issue every time we stock the larder. Choosing daily items at a large grocery store expands this problem geometrically.  Besides coffee—milk, bread, cereal, cooking oil, sugar, pasta, yogurt, canned soup, salad dressing, pickles, fabric softener, bathroom tissue, shampoo—even aspirin—each have a staggering array of varieties.  My head hurts thinking about it.  Do we really need 127 types of breakfast cereal?  And have you stood trying to choose a paint color lately? 
            I believe our “great economy” has gone mad over variety.  The only possible reason for the coffee aisle’s cornucopia is the all American dollar.  We’d all do just fine with fewer choices.  It takes a lot of discipline to walk past all the impulse items, the newest—latest innovative new brands, the “special two for one sales” and head directly toward your pound of simple coffee.  Is there a solution?  Yes, but it will rock our capitalist world.  Don’t buy all the new brands and the new flavors and all the new products that are dangled in our faces morning till night.  Make your shopping list and stick to it.  Then you’ll see just how much free time you can have to really enjoy a cup of coffee and savor the taste.  Just coffee.  Mmmmmmmm, delicious.   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 316: Did you lose a cat?

Perhaps you are like me: drowning in email.  My Apple Computer email program, which saves everything no matter what, tells me that it currently has 10,512 emails lurking somewhere.  This is since I moved my world into the Macintosh realm.  That was about 16 months ago.  Well.  I have many near and distant friends and relatives who thrive on sending joke photos and silly things to everyone on their list.  I mean, why not?  It's so easy.  Most of these produce a gag reaction.  Occasionally I get one that really does strike me as funny.  Here is today's gem from a neighbor.  I have no idea of its origin or would give credit to the clever soul who snapped this.  It does make you wonder just what the story is, doesn't it? ;-)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 315: Maya Stein's poetry

I am struck today by the depth of this poem by Maya Stein.  As I grow older I begin to feel mortality and the onset of  the inevitable "disassembly"that she speaks of here.  Follow her poetry.  It sings. 

how we unravel and gleam *

In her grief, my mother never looked so beautiful.
Strands of hair had uncoiled against her sweater.
Her voice did not armor itself against breaking. The pull
of an unnamable sea was carrying her down and she let her
body accept the current. It is an astonishing act to witness
the woman who moved mountains to bring you and your siblings
into the world surrender to her own brokenness.
Something shatters inside, whatever conviction you’ve been carrying
that admonishes you each time you fall apart. No more. Disassembly
is unavoidable as love, and just as hard and magnificent and necessary.

* I stole this line from Jill Malone’s wonderful book, Red Audrey and the Roping

Check out my new blog, "This Every Moment," at
As always, visit for new poems and photos.
For a backlog of 10-line Tuesday poems, visit

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day 314: The daily ritual

When I started this blog nearly a year ago my purpose was to record everyday miracles.  This short video clip is an example of the wonders in my daily life.  Shortly after we make the family bed together Ron has three things that he does nearly every morning.  First he cleans the cat box.  Second he puts down dry food for the cat and third he meets our Himalayan, Bodhi in the dressing room.  There Bodhi patiently waits for his three minutes of grooming.  I love watching this ritual.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Day 313: Just Show Up

This seems like such an uncomplicated idea.  Just show up.  In the big picture placement is everything.  Motivation means nothing at all.  We each have a statistically higher chance of achieving our dreams if we move our bodies where we need to be.  This short clip makes the point.

Here is the link to a youtube video I made titled "Just Show Up"

Or Google my name and "Just Show Up" and you'll find it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 312: Friendship and clippings

One of my oldest and dearest friends, Don Streibig lives in Ohio. Here is a recent photo of him with his daugher-in-law and grandson.  We  hung out as friends, and shared our love of the theater during the years I taught at Denison University (1969-1976).  When I moved to California we kept up our friendship by correspondence and an occasional phone call or visit.  Don has a mind that would make a memory researcher spin with appreciation.  He remembers the details of past events with remarkable accuracy.  He always remembers my birthday and sends a card.  And over the years he has been the faithful friend who sends "clippings" (often from the New York Times) about events that might be of interest.  For example he remembers students of mine from the 1970s and will send a clipping of a review of this person's work.  Just a few days ago I got an email with a link to a NYT's review of a play on Broadway starring one of my former Stanford students, Andre Braugher.   What struck me is how new technology is making it easier to be a friend.  No trees are used to make this connection and share this information.  Don doesn't even need a stamp to mail it off.  He just pushes the "send" button and voila, the clipping appears in my inbox.  What a world.  Thank you, Don.  Keep those cyber-clippings coming.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 311: Say Yes

The first rule of improvisation is to say YES to whatever comes your way.  In this video clip I talk about what that means.  There is much in this approach that is parallel to the advice given in the Tao Te Ching, the great book of Chinese wisdom first penned by Lao Tsu.  In the classic translation by Gia-Fu Feng with photographs by Jane English, which was edited by Toinette Lippe in 1972 there is a summary on the back cover:  "The philosophy of Lao Tsu is simple: Accept what is in front of you without wanting the situation to be other than it is. Study the natural order of things and work with it rather than against it, for to try to change what is only sets up resistance."
Yes sets us in motion.  Yes is the harbinger of creativity. Let go of outcomes and focus on building upon what is actually happening.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 310: What is Improvisation?

Improvisation can be understood as a WAY of doing something.  As a methodology it need not imply comedy or a haphazard approach.  Rather, improvisation is a mind/body strategy for doing anything.  It involves attention and a willingness to act while not having all the facts.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

DAY 309: All Humans are Improvisers

All Humans Are Improvisers from A Way of Life a documentary film by Ace Wonderstar. 

In 2009 I did a series of interviews with a bright young woman named Ace Wonderstar.  Her life's project was making a documentary film on the life and teaching of Scott Kelman, a theater dance/improv teacher who had inspired her.  On the road to understanding the phenomena of improvisation she came across my work, Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up, Bell Tower, 2005.   I spent a day answering questions and discoursing on improvisation.  These comments were folded into the larger video about Kelman's life and work.  I recommend her fine film.  This tiny clip sets improv in a larger context.  I plan to post other clips from this film as I reflect on what improvisation means and how it serves us.