terribly content

These haiku were inspired by the Haiku Horizons word prompt “content”.

TERRIBLY CONTENT (wikimedia commons)terribly content
watching the spider package
her larder contents

* * *

children are content
in perpetual motion
classroom walls of doom

* * *

open can, remove contents
high-speed collisions

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all borrowers

Cérès_BnF_Français_599_fol._8By four-twenty this morning, I’d already paid homage to the Goddess, Cérès. I’d lit the candle on my altar, poured an infusion of roasted chicory into a miniature cup and left a nibble of cooked brown rice in a small dish. But, most holy of all, I’d kneaded bread dough and left it to begin its transformation into new life. Making bread is sacred.

Anyone who’s made bread by hand knows that dough becomes alive. I mix together ground wheat kernels and water. Both of these ingredients appear to be dead. But, from this appearance of death, I bring a breathing growing creature into existence.

Those who consume machine-made damp facsimiles of bread from plastic packages miss the essential lessons that come from the real thing. Bread imposters cannot remind the soul that life and death are not two separate states of being. There is no room to slip in even the thinnest and sharpest knife and dissect the two apart. Life and death are all of one.

Under the proper conditions, wheat and water can be combined to develop a new life that breathes and grows. Although I often use a pinch of dry yeast to nudge the process along, this is not necessary. It’s possible to capture the spark of life from the aether which will set the transformation in motion.

This morning, while I incorporated ground wheat into two cups of mineral water drawn from wells near town, I considered the sun and rain, miracles and generosity.

The sun’s energy pours down from a generous sky. Light is miraculously captured and transformed by green chlorophyll to become the body of plants. The water in our red blood and in the sap of plants fell free from the sky. One must be blind to the sunlight and insensate to moisture to miss the truth of essential generosity. One must be separated from the earth by layers of pavement and illusions to miss the continuous open-armed bounty of the Mother of Green.

God the creator is not a potter who makes men from dry dust as told by books written by men. She’s a baker of bread who mixes wheat with water and then allows it to ferment and to become something different. Her bread is further transformed by the physical body to become the bones and sinews, hands and fingers of the baker.

BUFFALO MEAT IN CANS (wikimedia commons)When bread people lose their relationship with bread, they lose more than food. When rice people lose their relationship with rice, they lose more than food. When the buffalo people lost their relationship with the buffalo, they lost everything.

Miracles happen. Manna falls freely from the sky as sun and rain which is captured and changed through the power of the Green One. Without the miraculous photosynthetic transformation of water and sunlight by plants, none alive today could exist. We human animals are possible only through this ongoing miracle of transformation of non-living into living. This miracle given any other name would still smell as sweet.

Tissot_The_Gathering_of_the_Manna_(color) (wikimedia commons)God the creator of people is not a potter. She’s a farmer who tends the Green One upon whom all animal life depends. We are the sheep who graze in her verdant pastures.

It’s not possible to own the rain. Sunlight cannot be bought and sold. It’s not possible to own anything which existed before the first human thought was thought.

We are all borrowers. Everything we are and have was given freely to us by a generous earth and eternal sunlight.

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Thanks for reading.


all one bucket

FILLING WATER BUCKETS (wikimedia commons)I opened my water bill this morning. Even though our water usage remains in the first tier “conservation” zone, the monthly cost of our water is still higher than it was in Oregon. The wet western edge of Oregon has more rainfall than even this damper western edge of California.

My water bill doesn’t list the price per unit at each successive usage tier unless we use more. But, if we bumped our usage up into the second, third or fourth use/price tier, the cost of our home water supply could really take a bite out of our budget. This is a very real financial “stick” that helps motivate home water conservation efforts.

The water usage/price allowance tiers are the same no matter how many people live in a “single family home”. My bill tells me that the tiers have been calculated based upon the “typical” home occupancy of “two”. So there are four of us being held to the water use standards of two.

Usage tier pricing that doesn’t take into account the number of occupants per water meter penalizes the poorest who must live the most tightly packed into housing. There are a lot of backyard shed and garage housing units. For water usage purposes, all share one water meter and count the same as the “typical” occupancy of two.

Since there are four of us rather than two, we’re doing well to stay within the lowest use/price “conservation” tier. According to their whole unit (100 cubic feet each) estimating meter, we use 15.5 gallons of water per person per day. The “average” person in our local water district uses around 72 gallons a day while the average American uses 176 gallons of water per day.

But the average African FAMILY uses only five gallons each day. Next to that number, my family’s water consumption sounds extravagant. There must be ways to reduce our use of water further.

EMPTYING A BUCKET OF WATER (wikimedia commons)But none of our local water use figures take into account the use of water by agribusiness in California. Our home water use figures don’t take into account the amount of thirsty juicy food crops that are being exported to the rest of the nation and to the world.

We’re in the midst of a severe and long-lasting drought. It shows no sign of letting up. This is not simply a local inconvenience. Our drought and our water conservation efforts effect our entire nation and the world. The food supply of many people depends upon the water conservation efforts of Californians. So does much of the economic power of the state.

Last night I met another neighbor on our street. Since they both work outside the home, I haven’t yet had the chance to introduce myself. It was Sunday evening. He was in the yard scraping his grill to cook their evening meat. I stopped to say “howdy”. He must have noticed me noticing the not-brown of his front yard.

“We just redid that grass two years ago,” my neighbor said. “And now the drought. So I can’t water it. Except I do water it.”

He collects used clothes-washing machine water in a bucket and hand carries it to his shaggy oval of green to keep it alive. It’s about the size of an area rug.

“Even a low-water washing machine uses a lot of water,” he explained. “I was surprised to see how much goes down the drain.”

I told him that we wash our dishes by hand and then carry dishpans of water to our trees and shrubs to keep them alive.

People have become acutely self-conscious about watering their plants during our drought. Many people have given up growing home vegetable gardens because the water is too expensive. They still eat vegetables. And so the growing of their food still uses water. They’ve shifted the water consumption for vegetable production to agribusiness. And, in the process, they’ve become more reliant on lower-quality factory-grown food that carries a larger footprint of fossil fuel. And I suspect there’s been a net loss of water in the process.

The agribusiness irrigation systems that transformed the formerly arid California landscape into food for the larder and cash in the stock exchange are sloppy with water. Irrigation water comes from rivers that depend on melting mountain snow. It runs through a network of open gravity-fed canals and ditches. People who produce yard vegetables are more likely to use drip irrigation systems, more likely to hand-carry gray water and are more likely to use mechanization-inconvenient but moisture conserving mulches.

Home gardens actually may be a water conservation tool. And home gardens decrease reliance on agribusiness. The green behemoth stumbles when rivers run dry. Prices increase to ensure continued profits.

Eighty-percent of the water in the great state of California goes to the vast for-profit agribusiness farms that produce the food that feeds the rest of our nation. Well over ninety percent of all the fruits and vegetables, nuts and wine consumed in the United states are produced in California. California is also the fifth largest producer of world food and agricultural products.

FILLING WATER BUCKET IN JAPAN (wikimedia commons)In a world made small by the transportation revolution of the past hundred years, this means that whether or not I wash my clothes, flush my toilet, grow a garden or take a bath has an effect on what a family in Manhattan or Shanghai can eat for dinner.

My water choices effect everyone. The rest of America and much of the world drinks from California’s bucket at their dinner table.

It’s all one bucket.

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Thanks for reading. And thanks for conserving water.




wind in the door

COFFEE SHOP (wikimedia commons)Yesterday morning was a walking and poetry-writing morning. I walked to the coffee shop at 6:30. Then I sat on a bench and sipped and wrote  outside near the grocery store. On the way home, I stopped to scribble poems on the back of an envelope. What a wonderful way to wake up.

After breakfast, Robert and I took a long walk to a specialty grocery store to pick up a quart of goat’s milk, four bars of dark chocolate and a can of coconut milk.

The sun was bright, the sky high and the breeze cool. Palm fronds jittered and treetops swayed. On the walk home, I felt the doors of possibility open wide. The energy made my heart tap dance. 

“Can you feel it?” I asked Robert. “I just felt the doors of possibility open. This is the right time to ask the universe for what you want.”

THE DOOR OPENS (wikimedia commons)To me, this opening feels like a refreshing and energizing breeze through an open door. Except the open door is in my chest in the area of the heart chakra. It almost tingles and it almost feels like falling in love with an ocean. But not quite.

After we got home, we left again to walk to the produce market. There, we bought a loaf of sourdough bread, fresh local sweet corn, ripe bananas, a celery the size of a shrub, a sack of carrots and two yellow onions.

While walking home with our bag of food, I felt like I was back in France. There were parts about living in France that I loved and miss. There are parts about California that I love. It feels French to walk to the markets and use table linens. But I feel Californian when I hula hoop in the street and laugh out loud in public. I drive a miniscule French-ish car but bathe in a roomy American shower with a drain that really drains. It’s possible to have some of the best of both worlds.

We eat almost as well here as in France. But we eat different things. For lunch we ate hot buttered corn-on-the-cob, home-fermented kim chi, leftover vegetable soup and fresh-steamed brown rice. Plus we crunched burnt-edged toast spread with drippy American peanut butter.

After our Franco-American siesta, Robert and I drove to Scotts Valley to buy hula hoop (irrigation tubing) connectors. 

While we were in Scotts Valley, we stopped at a thrift store to work on my sheet collection. It’s easier to locate and discern high quality sheets in thrift stores than in a retail store. Cheap fabric can hide under chemical coatings inside plastic packages. Even high-thread-count linens can be poorly sewn from textiles that shred and pill.

A thrift store sheet has been used and washed. And I can flap it all around to look it over. I can tell how the fibers have been behaving. It’s taken time and I’ve picked through a lot of sheets but I have two sets of dense cotton percale sheets for each bed now.

Yesterday at the thrift store, instead of heading for the sheet racks, I walked straight to the kitchenware aisles. As I walked, I assumed I was being pulled there by habit. But when I arrived, I found a 7 quart French-made enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. It was deep cherry red and had not a single chip. And it only cost sixteen bucks.

I felt like the cook pot of my dreams had been spun from non-being into being just for me and just at that moment. I picked her up right away. I couldn’t imagine who would ever want to give her up. But there she was. And she’s mine now.

While in France, I’d enjoyed cooking soups, sauces, dried beans and stews in heavy enameled cast-iron pots. But I’m too frugal to lay out the bucks necessary to buy a new one here.

Three months ago I bought (and returned) this pot’s skanky cousin. When that rough replica arrived new-in-its-box from the American cast iron cookware manufacturer, its inside surface was covered with deep pits, its red enamel was chipped and the flimsy carton was printed with “Made in China”. After that disappointment, I decided to wait and let the Dutch oven of my dreams find me.

And she did. She flew on the wings of dreams in through the open door of possibility.

When we moved into this house last month, I had to collect everything we needed for a new starter home life. I’m grateful to the generosity of the universe for supplying our needs. I’ve shopped a lot of free piles, garage sales and thrifts. We were loaned many things. I picked up a complete set of pots and pans at a church rummage sale of four dollars. They weren’t perfect but they did the job. And I didn’t figure the non-stick coating would kill us in the short term.

MY NEW-OLD RED FRENCH DUTCH OVEN (pic by Alice Keys (c) 2014)But those “starter” pots and pans are in the attic now. This red French-made Dutch oven is the final jewel in the crown of my collection of second-hand but perfect-for-me cooking tools.

I simmered French green lentils for dinner in my new-old red French pot. 

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Thanks for reading.


nuts and chocolate

CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH LEMON WRITING (pic and cake  by Alice Keys (c) 2011)morning bird chip chips
squirrel nuts rattle
dawn liquid the bowl

while lemon writing
her chocolate cake
smallest steel funnel

carefully spelled out
words exactly right
but wrote the wrong name

it’s not her birthday
some other party
wasn’t invited

no one told me that
she was allergic
nuts and chocolate

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Thanks for reading.


a good place to start

320px-COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Portret_van_drie_kinderen_TMnr_60025976This week I earned my first dollar from hula hooping. I wasn’t even trying. George and I were walking home together carrying our big striped hoops after the Wednesday evening concert at the beach. We passed two white-haired couples out for their evening walk together. One man asked if we’d been part of the entertainment.

“Oh no,” I said. “We hoop for fun.”

“Let’s see what you can do,” he joked.

So George and I popped on our hoops and flipped through a few basic tricks.

They clapped and laughed.

“Look,” the man said. “There’s more.”

He pointed below us on the street.

“That’s the rest of my family,” I said. “The family that hoops together stays together.”

The group of evening walkers was a block away before I saw the two dollars in George’s hand.

“He told me that one dollar was for each of us.”

“Family hula-hoop busking,” I said.

George and I laughed. He gave me my dollar.

We’re always brain-storming ideas for fun family businesses that we can do together. It would be nice to have more money coming in.

George has been walking a neighbor’s dog. I’ve sold a few of my books. We get rent from our old house. Robert has a enough pension to pay for health insurance. I cook beans and rice and soup at home to keep the food overhead down. We skip television. This saves us a bundle.

So long as we stick together, things work out.

Strong long-lasting relationships are one of the most important things for human health and happiness. I’ve often wondered how this came to be. I’ve also puzzled about how family and community relationships have come to be broken and inadequate. I’ve also wondered what could be done.

Sometimes when I want to understand people better, I imagine myself back in time and speculate about the world of human pre-history.

Before fire or weapons, human relationships were relied upon as the primary tools for survival. People banded together for safety. Tight interpersonal bonds inside long-term groups were a requirement for survival and successful reproduction. Families lived together.

Ordinary folks could only travel as far as they could walk in a day. When people migrated, they migrated in groups. Communities were stable.

Back then, being cast out was a death sentence. While it’s natural to enjoy some time alone, a completely isolated individual is not a sturdy survival unit. Loners, outsiders and individualists were not thought of as cool or sexy. They were dead. People who needed people and were good at satisfying these relationship needs survived to reproduce.

We are their children.

Our modern industrialized society occupies only a tiny speck in the long history of people. Although industrialization has allowed us to change our environment rapidly and dramatically, industrialization hasn’t been around long enough to alter our in-born biologic needs for human relationships.

People still need people. One can go crazy or die from loneliness. Single men have a much higher rate of both suicide and early death than married men. Solitary confinement is a cruel torture known to cause madness. The need for long term relationships was and still is built into our physiology and psychology.

It’s possible to use an understanding of natural and necessary bonding between humans to disassemble a society and reconstruct it in frightening and powerful new ways. And it’s been done. Much cultural devastation have come to us via the thoughtful manipulation of populations based on the psychology of relationships.

Since people need people to be happy and healthy, any process which breaks apart interpersonal relationships causes sickness and unhappiness. Relationships form with people you’re close to and spend time with. This is the truth behind office relationships and on-the-job romances. When you spend more time with your co-worker than your spouse, your co-worker will seem more personable to you. It’s natural to fall for the boy next door. He’s right there all the time.

Since human relationships grow from proximity over time, anything that takes children or parents away from their family for many hours of many days of many years cannot help but divide and destroy family relationships. Frequent relocations for jobs assignments and schools chop people into unhappy individual units or fragile couple-sized fragments and kill essential community relationships.

But after the death of ordinary relationships, the need for human relationships still remains. And this need is like a vacuum waiting to be filled. Groups of people who’ve had their relationships removed and been reduced to isolated individuals are vulnerable to being manipulated through the use of pseudo-relationships.

640px-buch_-_pimpf_im_dienst_-_umschlag_und_rc3bcckseiteThese pseudo-relationships come through marketing agendas, gangs, cults, corporate organizations, schools and the military. This list is not inclusive. Welcome to the Chinese cultural revolution, Jonestown, Hitler’s Youth and the western military-industrial complex.

Pseudo-relationships in the form of electronic puppets tie up human relationship potential without nourishing or sustaining happiness or health. One can fall in pseudo-love with a pseudo-girl who sings to you from your electronic device. Since e-puppets and their pretend lives are so much larger, brighter and louder than ordinary people, a real person next to you in the room cannot compete.

We are old souls using ancient operating systems with old needs but we live in a brave new world.

There are specific ways to fight against ubiquitous mind control tactics and recover health and happiness. Turn off the pseudo-relationship feeds in your life to protect yourself from purveyors of false friends. Work to build and maintain strong family and community relationships with real people to fill the real relationship need.

HUG (wikimeida commons)The family that plays, eats, works, reads, walks and makes music together stays together. The family that lives together stays together. A family requires a lot of doing, being and staying together to stay together.

Human health and happiness requires long-term up-close-and-personal caring relationships with warm-blooded people. If you want to be healthier and happier, come together, be together and stay together. The best investment you can make for health and happiness is in long-term relationships. Family is a good place to start.

The family that hoops together stays together.

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Thanks for reading.


loneliness and the brightness of being

A HORES AND BUGGY WOMAN IN A BIG CAR WORLD (wikimedia commons)I’m a horse and buggy woman in a town crowded full of roaring big trucks. At night, the dream world takes me to unknowable places. But awakening strands me on the shore of this world of walls again. Each night, I wade up to my ankles in the water of enlightenment. But my skin is dry before the morning is done.

I’m a wandering gypsy without a tambourine, a hollow stem without roots and bones without even a covering of skin for a tent. My crumbling drum makes less sound than I thought.

When did this lonesome road home, become my home?

* * *

I love this place. I love this house. I love my family and friends. I treasure the freedom I have to channel the creative spirit in the quiet morning while the night’s moisture still lingers between my toes. I’m on my knees in gratitude to the powers of kindness and random chance that allowed us to settle here.

Each morning I open the blinds and let the sunlight wander in through the windows to say hello. A secret dagger of joy pierces the center of my heart. This moment fills with abandon. Sunlight chases the darkness away and silent laughter smells of roses.

I’m okay now. My family is too. I appreciate this very much. But there’s nothing like the memory of darkness to give flavor and shape to the brightness of being.

Over the past few years, I haven’t had to pay big monthly fees to download scary images, words and sounds directly into my head. Life is plenty scary enough. Life in America was difficult and frightening enough to send me packing with my family to the other side of the world. But life on the other side of the world was difficult too.

FRENCH AMBULANCE (wiimedia commons)The endless twisted and heartless bureaucracy made me head-banging crazy. I struggled every day to survive in another language. The perpetual gray and dampness penetrated my bones and seeped into my head. I carried a painful and deadly illness everywhere I went but had no idea of how to get medical care short of calling an ambulance.

But the thing that got to me the most during our failed attempt to  immigrate to France was the crushing pain of loneliness.

All my life I’ve felt something that I’d always called loneliness. Even in the best of times, life has an essential and undeniable loneliness about it. When surrounded by loving friends and family, I still travel this lonesome highway alone. I live alone inside my own skin and flesh until even this temporary muscle-driven carriage abandons me. There is the ache of goodbye hidden inside every greeting. The fact of death resides inside every living thing.

I am, therefore I’m alone. I’m lonely, therefore I am.

In my past life, before my recent failed immigration attempt, I suffered more from the essential loneliness of being than I do now. Although I still carry the same in-born human loneliness, I suffer much less from it now.

There’s a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the pinch, the stab, the ache, the ouch. Suffering is the meaning I give to my pain. It’s possible to suffer a great deal from a small pain and it’s possible to tolerate great pain for a higher good.

When pain cannot be remedied or relieved, one must address suffering. Suffering is often more adjustable than pain. Suffering can change (for the better or worse) with changes in perspective. There’s nothing like shining a bright light to show where the important shadows really lay.

For most of my life, I’ve suffered from a heart pain that I’d called loneliness. But I don’t anymore. Some of this relief has come because I’ve filled my life with more warm relationships and reduced the pain. But most of my reduced suffering is from a change in my perspective on the pain.

Before my failed immigration attempt, I used to rate my loneliness on a scale of one to ten. There was no zero on the scale because there was always some loneliness. Ordinary life hovered around five.

While I was away in France, I discovered 300 on my scale.

The thing that I’d been calling loneliness for my entire life wasn’t even on the same planet as true loneliness. I’d been whining about splinters when there existed a loneliness with axes that chopped out living hearts and ground bones to make its bread. It’s this inescapable glacier of loneliness that sent me back to give the United States another try. This also keeps me from going out there and trying again.

In France, so long as I had money to spend and behaved as a passing tourist, there were some who would tolerate me as a paying customer. But to others, I was a foreign invader stealing precious resources, I was too stupid to learn their language well and I ought to go back where I came from. It didn’t matter who or what I was back home. My continued presence made some people uncomfortable. I was inconvenient at best.

I could live with this.

But, much of the time, I was invisible, inaudible and ignored. There’s something about not being seen or heard that hurts worse than being unfairly scorned.  Most of the time, living as an immigrant, no one cared if I lived or died. Bureaucrats and bankers scraped me off as fast as they could. The pompiers in orange wetsuits who waded on their house-to-house search during the flood skipped past our house and went on to the next.

Two weeks after the flood, volunteers from a Catholic aid society walked door to door. They stopped by to ask if we needed anything. They held my eyes while they listened to my broken and accented French and then gave me a signed document saying that I was an official victim of the flood. After their visit, I couldn’t stop crying. I treasure the paper they gave me.

SUNRISE (wikimedia commons)But I’d already decided to return to the United States. I couldn’t bear the unending crush of loneliness. It had broken my heart. I could find no way of mending it there.

Now, when I think of people who’ve been immigrants, I’m in awe of the personal strength of character and courage that allowed them to make it. I’m stunned with new respect for my immigrant grandparents. I say hello to our country’s immigrants and hold their eyes with mine.

And now, when I experience that familiar sharp stab of ordinary loneliness, I call it the joy of existence and the brightness of being.

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Thanks for reading.