Once Upon A Time

Life has been taking me back to remember my time as a young graduate student and then writing adjunct instructor in the English Department at the University of California, Irvine. During that time, the composition program was growing in leaps and bounds. When I started, it was all run by graduate students farther along into the PhD program, and within a few years the department saw fit to hire a professor with a doctorate in composition to oversee the program, along with 3 other doctorates to direct each of the lower division writing courses. I found myself landing a job as assistant to one of these directors, and so I worked closely with the new director of the entire writing program. He was a large teddy-bear shaped man, who somehow never seemed to have all of his shirt tucked in, his shoes tightly tied, or his pants at a particularly fashionable hitch. He had a way of throwing out remarks that caught people off guard. Yet if you could field the curve balls, there was a lot to learn about student centered teaching from this guy.

At that time, the University of California system was tracked to admit the top 12% of high school graduates, plus those deemed worthy of “special action”–usually students of color who needed a little extra support in writing to make the university level grade. One of my jobs under the new director, before becoming an assistant, was to develop a curriculum for a writing workshop that helped these students through their writing classes. My doing this work was one of the most rewarding experiences in my teaching career. Several  years back I was lucky enough to have a poem I wrote about that time published in a literary journal called Pilgrimage. You can read that poem in my post “In The Garden: Thinning.”

By the time I became an assistant course director, I was used to students–and the grad students who I was charged to observe during their first quarter of teaching–come to me with “stories” about why they shouldn’t have gotten a D, why they needed to add a class or drop one, or why it was absolutely imperative they get a Tuesday-Thursday teaching schedule (not knowing that everyone else in the department also wanted that so they could write over the weekend as well). It was easy to get at least inwardly exasperated with what seemed like complaints and excuses until this new writing director taught me another more interesting–and compassionate–way to approach them.

If a student came into his office needing to make an appeal of one kind or another, he would shove his large gerth back into the squeaky office chair, pushing it up against a chaotic pile of  papers and books about to fall off his desk, cross one leg so that the ankle rested on the knee of the other leg, hitch up his thick square glasses (which had inevitably slipped down to the end of his nose), and say, “Okay. Tell me your story.”

The way he saw it, every student had a story, and it was important to listen and engage in that story in order to best help them succeed. The “story” would shed light not only on the dos and don’ts of sound administration, but on what makes a student tick. The rules were there as guidelines, not rigid standards to divide and subdivide those trying to learn into quantitative bins. After he heard the tale of one or another undergrad, he might say, “Well, okay, that was a good story. We’ll see what we can do (about whatever needed to be done). Then he’d lift his large teddy bear self out of the chair, and saunter, hunched over, down the hall, pulling a cigarette from the pack in his unkept shirt pocket so he could go have a smoke outside the building.

Despite his chronic lack of finesse, this man endeared himself to me because he was especially observant about how us creative writing types actually made really good teachers, because we weren’t afraid to try something different, or step away from what wasn’t working.  We cared about our students, he said, because we knew, he said, because we also wrote.

If he had been sitting in my classroom, he would have loved how I told the students that reading and writing are a form of thinking: they are all part of the same process. Listening too. Just different notes in the same chord. He taught me how to appreciate there’s rarely a greater gift you can give someone than pulling up a chair and being truly willing to listen to what they have to say.

So it is my humble honor and pleasure to share with you that I have been asked to “tell my story” on KVMR Radio in Nevada City, California on August 24th. I’ll be on my reader Peggy Bean’s show “SOS Radio” at noonish, where we will chat about how a plant based diet has been the basis for transforming my life with MS and fibromyalgia into the slow  miracle you read about here. If you’d like to join us live, you can listen online at www.kvmr.org. The show will be archived immediately afterwards, and will be available for your listening pleasure for 6 weeks. So if you miss the actual program time, you can hear what Peggy and I chatted about.

Although she tackles serious topics, like an interview with Dr. Openlander about the impact of animal agriculture and fishing on global depletion (which you can find by scrolling down to June 22 on the KVMR archive page), Peggy’s got an awesome theme song for her show that makes me laugh with delight every time I’ve heard it. You can listen to and watch it being performed right here on her blog page, if you like to hear music to get you in a vegan mood.  I dare you not to smile while you listen.

If you’re sitting at your computer or online on your smart phone around noon on August 24, I hope you’ll join us as I tell Peggy some of my slow miracle story. It’s the first time I will talk about the things I’ve written on the blog to a public audience. I thank you all for your support of my written words, and hope you’ll listen in and cheer me on with the spoken ones!

Maria (moonwatcher)




Watched Pot charcoal and chalk pastel sketch by MTMIt was a hot and muggy day in northeast Portland. There was no way I could prepare our sweet potatoes the way I thought I like them best–roasted or baked in the oven. But Romeo and I needed some sweet potatoes, so I fell back on my blogger friend Cathy Fisher’s simple tried and true method–boiling. Many a night on Straight Up Food’s facebook page, she posts colorful nutritiously delicious but simple to prepare dinner featuring starchy boiled spuds or sweet potatoes. I always like to go over and “like” what Cathy has on her plate.

I don’t know why, but I always consider boiling a last resort. Perhaps it’s because I came of age at the same time the vegetable steamer did, and so got brainwashed about that being the most nutritious choice. Since Cathy and I are e-mail pals, I wrote and confessed my avoidance of boiling and asked her why she chose it so often.

Because it’s easy, she said. Bingo. Everything in one pot and no time spent cleaning the vegetable steamer afterward.

On this hot muggy day, I wasn’t feeling that well, either, and when I started to drain the potatoes, something told me to save the “broth” and drink it, even though it wasn’t wintertime. Man oh man was it surprisingly tasty. That’s because I used Cathy’s tip of seasoning the cooking water–in this case with garlic and cumin. The good stuff from the sweet potatoes and spices was just what my tired self needed for a pick me up.

This past week I have had to get some rather unpleasant dental work done, leaving me sore and not up to chomping on the summer salads like this  Easy Cabbage, Orange and Cilantro Chopped Salad I love so much.  And I was tired from the treatments. So I turned again to the simple boil. I threw some assorted spuds my daughter-in-law grew in water seasoned with garlic, fennel and thyme, and at the last minute or two, I added some chopped chard and basil from my container garden. I drained the veggies and mashed them in the bowl I was going to eat them in, simply using a fork and adding a little extra garlic. Then I topped them with a red pepper humus I made for the week of dentist appointments.

I have to say I was astonished at how good it was! And also how thoroughly nourished I felt, how easy digestion went. I thought of e-mailing Cathy to tease her that she was turning me into a part-time “boiler” (she is, and it’s perfect for the lazy cook in me who still wants to eat well), but then I remembered that this month is her Kickstarter Campaign for her cookbook Straight Up Food, so I decided to surprise her with this shout-out to her book project. Cathy has worked for years on this book, carefully testing recipes, working with a book designer, and making sure she can do it the way she wants to. The many classes she has taught at the McDougall Center and True North also have contributed to her knowledge of how to help people have fun eating well. Her blog is an excellent resource and even contains a section called My Meals showing people what she actually eats and how easy it is to cook without a recipe, including what she calls “big pile of food.” Now her cookbook takes that to the next level with easy to follow recipes made from whole foods in the form of delicious family favorites that are familiar and simple to prepare, (and made without added oil, salt or sugar, if that is important to you). So please, if you would value a resource like this, go on over to her site. listen to her describe the project, see the book design which is both gorgeous and practical, and order a book.

As you may recall, in an early post on this blog called Reading my way to Straight Up Food, I ended a long  recipe reading learning curve with discovering Cathy’s blog. There I learned what a masterful recipe developer she is. Luckily for me, we started e-mailing each other and grew a friendship that I treasure. I can promise you delight and surprise and really good eating, far beyond throwing spuds in a pot. On the kickstarter site you’ll see beautiful photos of carrot cake cupcakes, guacamole, and one of my favorites, quinoa cornbread, and much more. And all this accomplished with clear instructions to ensure ease in the kitchen. Thank you, Cathy. It has been a pleasure to support you on the sidelines as you brought this project to fruition. Can’t wait to get my copy. I hope, dear readers, you’ll join me in supporting this fabulous whole food plant-based project. And by the way, Cathy didn’t ask me to write this post.  She is going to find out about it the same way you are. It’s just what I felt like doing to support a very worthy project.

Maria (moonwatcher)






It Takes a Vegan Village: A Compendium of Quick Vegan Ice Creams

July 24, 2016

If you’re as old as I am, you might have the memory of hanging out on a front porch on a sweltering summer day waiting for the ice cream truck to round the corner. The desultory arguments about how to spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” would melt in a milisecond as we all hit the pavement at top […]

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Easy Red Cabbage, Orange and Cilantro Chopped Salad

July 12, 2016

Back when I was a smart-ass teenager, I triumphantly told my mother one day that parents most often spoke in 3 word imperative sentences: clean your room, watch your mouth, don’t be late, ask your father, set the table, do your homework, and so on. She was a good sport, and she thought that was […]

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Cauliflower Popcorn

June 22, 2016

When I was growing up, my Dad didn’t do a lot of cooking. And when he did cook, he tended to burn things. I can remember a few rather mournful weekends sitting at the kitchen booth in the house I grew up in on Fernandez Drive, while my mother was away on a Catholic retreat, […]

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It’s A Snap (And Enchanted Places)

June 9, 2016

Some of you may remember that in my post Absent Minded Gardener I posted a photo of a planter with a home made “ladder” of sticks and twine protected from slugs by copper tape and pennies where I planted some sugar snap pea seeds and waited. I’m happy to share (although pea production has slowed […]

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Aqua Fava Carob Pieces (Vegan, Gluten and Oil Free)

May 17, 2016

Though I’ve gotten a lot less fussy (or maybe lazy) in my cooking habits, from time to time I still can’t resist my proclivity for vegan adaptations of things I know I should never eat in their original form. This experiment is that a couple times over, since most of you can eat a few […]

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Lost and Found

May 9, 2016

When I was moving from the blue house on Asbury Street, there was a lot of downsizing and consolidating going on. You may recall how in the post The Right Stuff I looked back on my time at the house ensconced on my bed behind the old hardwood hospital table I had decided to sell at […]

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No Place Like Home

April 13, 2016

From the time I was a little girl, the plants and trees growing around my house have always been a part of what makes my house feel like home. In my childhood, it was my father’s pomegranate tree outside my bedroom window, and the specially grafted fruit tree in our backyard, lovingly created by Mr. […]

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Absent Minded Gardener

March 24, 2016

All the attendant adjustments to the complete change in environment my move to Portland entails have activated what I call “52 pick up.” It means that every orientation point my nervous system has habitually relied on is getting rearranged and so all orientation points are almost literally “up in the air.” This makes for a […]

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