"Going to Seed" orginal chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

The thrust of measurable success eating a no oil low fat whole foods diet is decidedly outward. We constantly chronicle our dramatic weight loss, our training schedules, hikes, trips, first marathons, returns to work.

In my case I’ve showered you with what I call my “Little Victories Over MS” and ”Plant Based Lifestyle Epiphanies.” More mundane than entering a first iron man marathon, they still ring true to me of success I had not counted on—no matter how ordinary or slow the victory came into being. The more I can take care of the ordinary things in my life on my own and with relative ease, the more victorious I feel. On that scale, being able to get in and out of the bath tub easily without the support bars that it was necessary to install at the old blue house nearly 20 years ago, is hardly “small,” especially as I approach the age at which most people have to start thinking about whether they need them or not.

But sometimes, though, the victory lies in the power to say no to something that, viewed from the outside, would seem like a great achievement, a pinnacle of success, even without a health challenge. A couple of years ago I listened to Lani Muelrath interview Dr. McDougall. He said something about success that stayed with me, and that I’m going to interpret here. To paraphrase, he said something like “success is achieved when you can do the things you want to do. For me, that’s hang gliding. But for someone else, it may be something entirely different. It’s up to the individual person.”

I’ve been eating this way long enough that those of you who read my blog regularly know I have seen a string of remarkable victories. And they were all things I really wanted to do, like hike back to a spot I hadn’t seen in 20 years with my son and daughter-in-law, or lift a toaster oven, then a 3 gallon water jug into its dispenser myself.

But sometimes success means having the strength to pass an opportunity up. To say thank you but no thank you. To trust when something others want me to do might in actual fact be a case of me biting off more than I can chew.

This isn’t an easy aspect of success to master, but it’s an essential component of true long term healthy success living with a serious diagnosis. To date, there are many many people living good lives following eating plans for MS recommended by Dr. Swank, DR. Jelinek, and Dr. McDougall. But none of them have ever guaranteed there is a moment of total cure, when vigilance to dietary choices and careful ecology of stress and activity level can be ignored. And all of them caution that the most dramatic improvements are seen in those who start early and stay the course. Those of us who start later will see slower or less dramatic improvement, or merely a halt to getting worse. But the underlying damage already done is either thought impossible to correct or extremely slow to heal.

What I feel has happened in my case is that this way of eating has so lowered my inflammatory response that my symptoms, most of which cannot be touched by conventional medication, soften to the point of being mere irritants or seem to disappear altogether. Despite following a straight and narrow (and Dr. Swank’s admonition to take at least an hour nap each day), stress and overdoing can make a symptom or weakness flare, though now with rest and proper pacing and sticking to my diet, things clear up in record time.

That’s why it was very tempting when the City of Moscow Arts Commission announced they were creating a position of Poet Laureate of Moscow and seeking applicants. It was very hard to brush off the immediate cluster of e-mails I got from friends sending me the application, enthusiastic that I should apply.

I’m on the Moscow Arts Commission e-mail list, so I had already skimmed the notice. My first reaction was that would be way too much for me. The position is for 3 years. It involves creating outreach programs, meetings, workshops, and probably the more the better. I am okay with the occasional meeting and the occasional public speaking. And by that I do mean occasional. Once every few months, with little or no preparatory stage that involves meeting with others. I still do not have the strength in my vocal cords to talk all day long, like I once did when I was a university writing instructor and writing counselor. And 3 years is an unimaginably long time to commit to for a person like me who needs to take things one day at a time in terms of energy and stamina.

On the tempting side, it was easy to see that my previous experience writing and then having my chapbook If A Sparrow published, made me and my work as a poet relevant as someone who wrote about Moscow. I literally walked around town as those poems came to me, and that’s why If A Sparrow has interested many people here who might not ordinarily buy a book of poems. But alas, the application process also required a video of the poet reading her work. Before my chapbook came out in October 2013, I had done no public readings since the winter of 1996 when my first book The Ring Around Saturn came out. At that time, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on iphones and even the internet was yet to come. I missed the 17 years in which all that exploded. But one filmmaker friend was so eager that I apply that she wrote me she would come over and tape me reading in my living room.

I thought about this for a while. In fact I began a long reflective retrospection on my past and my present as a poet. And I discovered some wonderful and surprising—or perhaps not so surprising—things about myself.

I knew I had two recent radio pieces in which I read my poetry, and I wondered if they would count. One was a half hour interview on our local radio station KRFP, and the other was a short snippet of me reading my first poem at BookPeople, which a friend who worked for another radio station had surreptitiously taped so that she could do a little radio blurb on it. But then I remembered that before I moved last summer, I had taken some VHS tapes to be converted into DVD format. There was not much: a series of videos Mike helped make the year we built the masonry stove, and a couple of videos I remembered only vaguely about appearing on a local morning television show in Lewiston to tell about the distinguished visiting writer visit of my former poetry mentor Brenda Hillman, and also my own reading.

I had not played these DVDs when they were done; I had only had time to pick them up and pack them. So I got them out and put them in the computer. There I was: 19 years ago, sitting in a chair in the television studio talking pleasantly and articulately about Brenda Hillman’s poetry. And then there I was, trying to answer questions about my own work, which evidently didn’t come quite as easily. The interviewer asked me why I wrote poetry. My answer was that “it’s my response to being alive.”

What struck me the most about this answer is that just two years ago, and 17 years before I said it in that television interview that I had forgotten all about, the radio interviewer asked me the same question. And I gave her exaxctly the same answer.

I also noticed the thoughtful pauses in each interview, and how hard it is for me to articulate what poetry is and does for me or why I write it at all. I think that might be because in writing poetry I am translating what I see and hear with my senses into language in a way that’s less immediate than when I draw or paint or even hum a tune or make a noise.

But alas, I was not asked to read a sample poem in that interview, so still no evidence of my history as a “professional” poet. And then I remembered that just 3 months or so before If A Sparrow came out, I went to the city council meeting where the pocket park I had worked with others so long and hard to get was either being voted in or voted out. There was a period of public comment before the votes were cast, and when it came my turn, I went up to the podium with Romeo, said a few words supporting what my   allies had already said, and then I read a sonnet I had written in honor of the little creek being daylighted as part of the project. And those meetings are all televised and recorded. So that was on tape somewhere. And I couldn’t have dreamed a more relevant public context up.


It took me while to find it, and then an even longer while to figure out how to get it to play on my Mac, but finally, I saw myself as I was that summer, reading the sonnet “Seeing Hog Creek.” My hair is silver now, and my ability to project my voice was a little weaker, but I still had the same quiet yet powerful manner. If application materials were all I needed to engage in the application process, then I was all set.

Seeing Hog Creek photo of sonnet by Maria Theresa Maggi

But there were also these corollary considerations. Besides my initial gut feeling that this would be way too much for me (which I conveniently ignored whenever I felt like it), I noticed that those who were most enthusiastic about me applying were friends I hadn’t known for years, but who found my writing and my example (after improvement) “inspiring.” Among close friends who had known me upwards of 20 years, I noticed a cloud of worry darken their features before responding. Each would choose their words carefully, so as not to dampen my spirit, or make me feel I would not make a good poet laureate. Each respects and admires my ability as a poety. But they were, to a woman, privy to what I had been through, and each knew what it takes me to stay on top of things now. And so I noted these clouds gathering, and waited some more.

Another most important thing I noticed was that my daydreams about being poet laureate did not include any of the activities described as required on the application form. The daydreams were far more fanciful and simple: handing people lines from my favorite poems while walking on the street downtown, and even sillier things like getting to write my former teacher poet Charles Wright, who is currently the Poet Laureate of the United States and tell him that I am the poet laureate of Moscow, Idaho. That one made me laugh out loud every time I thought of it.

But I realized that in effect, I had already crowned myself a kind of poet laureate of Moscow, back when I walked around with Romeo and wrote about all the things I saw and felt. Some of those things were ephemeral, and some have since disappeared in the chaos of urban renewal, and I’m glad I recorded my version of them. But what is most important is that I have already done this, and there’s a lovely record of it in the form of my chapbook, and I did it on my own terms and at my own pace, as my gift to living in Moscow.

In the end, I was able to be my grown-up self and see that my daydreams about it did not match the reality of what would be required, and that what would be required might not be at all the best commitment of my time and energy for 3 years out, especially now that I want to be free to paint and draw, and not necessarily have to write a poem on demand for a public occasion. My creativity works best within its own quiet margins and time table, when I can call the shots about when to rest and when to tire myself out with complete and utter engagement in it.

In the meantime, I’ll cheer whoever is chosen on. I’ll watch and see what the position becomes. Maybe I’ll take stock in another 3 years. Maybe it will become my version of Dr. McDougall’s hang gliding. But I don’t think so. Nevertheless, my retrospective reflection process was powerful and healing. And I learned this too: saying “no” is not necessarily the end. Sometimes it helps me keep walking my road in my own time, trusting I’ll find my way. And for me, that’s what the real healing is all about.

Maria (moonwatcher)



tiny tofu carob pie 2

tiny tofy pineapple pie

I believe in the potency of all that is small. For this reason, I love Spring: small shoots of green, small bright buds of  hyacinth, windflower, forsythia, small baby animals–and the small green promises of strawberries. And today, two small wrens (I think) who, unafraid, hopped along the split rail fence at my driveway for a better look at me as I opened the trash can, before they fluttered up into my neighbors apple tree studded with tiny white buds-about-to-open.

The power of small is how I came to make this tiny tofu pie. For most of my life right up through my mid-fifities, tofu and I have been very good friends. It was just a few years ago during an especially challenging part of peri-menopause, that I started to get the feeling it may have turned on me, contributing to disconcerting and exhausting tendency toward night sweats. So even though I’ve never tested intolerant or allergic to any soy foods like tofu, edamame or miso,  I decided to take a sabbatical from eating them to see if it would help ease my transition through menopause. When I started writing this blog I was in the midst of that sabbatical, and so all my recipes have been soy free.

But now that there’s no more “peri” preceding my menopausal status, things are quite different. The MS has always made my ability to regulate my body temperature difficult, and with eating low fat whole plant foods that has seen dramatic improvement. But sometimes, for instance, after the fever I had with the flu, finding the right zone can be a challenge and my body will go through days of nearly constant–though, thank goodness, extremely mild–hot flashes, as it tries to reset the balance.

A firm believer in letting my food be my medicine, I decided to perform one of my “science experiments” to see if, once again, tofu and I might be allies. Since I’d read from several sources that up to 3 servings of minimally processed soy foods can be beneficial for post-menopausal women, I wanted to see if I could find a portion size that would calm the flashing down. A single slice just under the 1/3 of an ounce that is designated as a serving on the package of the Wildwood Sprouted Tofu I bought (after lymph testing it in the store) did the trick like magic. So does 1/3 cup of shelled edamame beans.

It’s easy to crumble up this much tofu and toss it into a stir fry, and sometimes I do that, without the worry that I’ve cooked a whole pound of tofu and  now have to eat it all. But sometimes, as you know, I like a little dessert treat. I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog about satisfying that pleasure, without sugar, oil, or even flour. And this is one of those times I hit the minimalist jackpot again.

Some of you may have your own compelling reasons not to eat soy, and so for you I provide a couple of soy free filling alternatives to this rustic little pie. It’s inspired by my late Aunt Ann Melchiorre’s ricotta pie, which she once made for Easter dinner. A traditional pie crust was filled with a custard made from ricotta, sugar, eggs. and citrus–studded with chocolate chips. It had a somewhat chunky rather than smooth texture–rustic–and absolutely divine–sort of like a peasant cheesecake.

This version has no pastry, no sugar, no eggs and no chocolate. But the tofu and the carob and citrus peel do a wonderful job of replicating the texture of her filling. It can be made in the microwave or baked in the conventional oven. And it’s easy as, well, pie–but much much healthier.

It’s not likely I’ll be posting recipes using a whole pound of tofu. A little bit goes a long way for me. If you’d like a little bit, too, then give one of these versions a try.  You don’t have to be menopausal to make your life just a little bit sweeter– and without any sugar at all.


Happy Easter Everyone!

Maria (moonwatcher)


Elegy for the Blackberry Bramble

March 24, 2015

One summer morning a few months before I began writing this blog in the fall of 2012, I went out to water my garden on Asbury Street. When I came to the vegetables across from my berry patch, I looked up to see the August sun hitting this dew-speckled spider web in such a way […]

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Vegan Versions: Lime Ginger Parsnip Particles

March 20, 2015

I was in my fifties before I tried my first parsnip. They just weren’t a vegetable I grew up with, most likely because my Dad didn’t like them. But when I finally got around to it, the best case scenario presented itself. One of my favorite local growers, Elizabeth Taylor, was cutting them up and […]

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Of Whales and Old Women: It’s No Fluke (and Confetti Coleslaw)

March 11, 2015

My meals have become so simple that I hardly think of them as something worthy of blogging about. Mostly I live on combinations of the four plant-based food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans–tossed with a little seasoning, sauce or dressing– into a bowl. The longer I do this, the less I feel like developing […]

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Seeds of a Sea Change

February 28, 2015

A while back someone on McDougall Friends started a thread asking how long or how many times others had been exposed to information about a plant-based diet before taking the plunge. Lots of people had a simple answer such as “after I saw Forks Over Knives.” Another remarked that it happened both all at once […]

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Luscious Oat Bars with Orange, Kale and Carob Fudge Topping

February 19, 2015

Years ago when I read Dr. Barnard’s book Foods That Fight Pain I remember learning that food intolerances can change. That seems to be very true in my case. When I first started eating this way 7 years ago I couldn’t eat garlic or ginger. Now I eat them every day. Several winters ago, as […]

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It Takes a Vegan Online Village: Two Simple Meals Plus Salad and Dessert

February 12, 2015

  January was a tough month around here. As you may recall from my post Before The World Changed, we had a terrible shooting tragedy here in Moscow, followed up by me getting a splendid case of the flu. Both murder and fever wipe a sense of continuity clean. It was hard to know where […]

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Stitches in Time

February 7, 2015

The year of my diagnosis, I began learning to quilt. A friend and colleague made beautiful quilts, all by hand. Besides being a fantastic writer about life in the west, I knew she loved to sit in the evenings, listening to classical music and sipping bourbon, as she stitched one lovely stitch at a time. […]

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Quick Chew Your Smoothie Salad

January 29, 2015

My English teacher during my sophomore year in high school once told me in exasperation that I was an “agitator.” Perhaps she is right. But it wasn’t until I was in grad school that a close friend of mine described my style of “agitating” to a tee. Her description went like this: “Maria, it’s as […]

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