Look for the Miriams: Everyday Magic, Day 956

The oneg (reception) afterwards with the delicious food Sue prepared

A few hours after the Tree of Life shooting, we clung to each other — singing, praying, crying — at the Beth Israel Center in Madison, WI. Family members, old and new friends, and synagogue goers — most of them elders, just like the people murdered in Pittsburgh while praying, gathered for a Miriam’s Well reading preceded by a Havdalah service, a 10-minute Saturday evening ritual to close the Sabbath and welcome the new week. But with the pain we carried from the worst anti-semitic attack in U.S. history, the braided Havdalah candle, the only light in the dark sanctuary, took on new, and unfortunately for us (a people targeted throughout history for annihilation) old meaning.

Later that night, my friend Mary Ellen, who was among us, wrote me, “I keep thinking about the Mr. Rogers quote about what can we do when bad things happen to feel better. He said ‘Look for the helpers”’ He might have meant the first responders, but I think it’s for all healers and folks who create. Maybe he should have said ‘Look for the Miriams.'” Given that the shooting happened in Fred Rogers’ neighborhood, this is all the more appropriate.

Miriam — storied in the Torah and ample midrash (interpretations in prose, poetry, and other arts) — leads us singing and dancing in the desert of our times no matter where we wander and for how long. She also carries a stone she can turn into a well to allow the refugee Jews to water their animals and grow food, which in turn, provides sustenance and survival. How this works, as Naomi in my novel tells Miriam, isn’t clear, “But healing is always a mystery, isn’t it?”

I see Miriam as one who feeds her people’s bodies and souls; all around me, I see many Miriams. Our long-time friend Sue not only hosted us and prepared a beautiful spread of desserts from the novel (rugalah, lemon bars, carrot cake and more), but as regularly as most people breathe,  she serves her community, from making food for mourners, to bravely heading off to Shabbat services just minutes after she heard of the shooting. Marty, our administrative director at our local Jewish synagogue, brings great presence, calm, and love to wherever task she does and room she enters. My sister-in-law Karen spends several weekends each month taking care of our mother-in-law, baking her favorite pie with her, making stews and inviting us to come eat too. Kelley sings for people across the country, lending her voice and being to many benefits, embodying one of the songs we co-wrote, “You Gotta Be the Vessel.” My daughter Natalie, who fiercely supports people under attack, whether because they’re of color, trans, or suffering from mental illness, posted this on Facebook after the attacks: “My heart aches with you. But even through my grief, I am HERE for you. May this horrific event unify us as a community and make us stronger!” I could go on for not just inches of text, but yards and even miles about all the Miriams in plain sight.

Sue and me

Our communities themselves can also enact Miriam or Mary or  Lakshmi or other symbol of Tikkun Olam — rebuilding the broken world — through coming together in vigil, action, witnessing, and change-making. Moving forward as a people, a nation, a world requires all of us to find our innate Miriams from whatever our traditions: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, spiritual, religious, or communal. WWJD is one light to follow, and there are many more beings of light, mythic and/or historic, long gone or right here among us.

People have an amazing capacity to come together in song, prayer, and tears, but also, afterwards, in keeping on keeping on. Within minutes of the Havdalah service ending, I started reading from Miriam’s Well, and we began laughing. The heightened moment and this audience’s visceral understanding of Miriam as well as the New York City subway system, the 1965 blackout, and other nuances of history, amplified everyone’s responses. Life calls on us to come together, make something greater than the sum of our seemingly separate selves, and together make our way toward the light: peace, justice, respect, homecoming. Healing may be mysterious, but it rarely happens by accident.

Look for the Miriams, whoever she is to or within you, and make of your life your own braided candle to light and hold high.

Special thanks to Elissa Pollack for arranging this event and to Beth Copelovitch for leading the Havdalah services

Moses, Meet Miriam: Everyday Magic, Day 936

As I was leaving the house for our trip to Bentonville, Arkansas — a weekend of r & r, and excuse to visit the amazing Crystal Bridges museum — I ran back inside to grab a copy of Miriam’s Well, my new novel, because I sensed I needed to give it to someone. Who I would find out later.

We stopped at Crystal Bridges Friday night about 7:30 p.m., figuring it was closed but wanting to scope out the place. It was open until 9 p.m., and it turns out, that is the perfect time to visit one of the greatest art museums in the world. Hardly anyone is there, and the staff are very happy, after a long day, to chat about the art they love. After striking up a good many satisfying conversations in the older-art galleries, we headed downstairs to find a wide hall painted with climbing leaves every which way. Ken, being a plant man, needed to study them to figure out what kind of leaves (lilac, he believes), but among the leaves, we met a wonderful man who works there.

“What is happening here?” we asked him.

“Magic,” he answered, telling us the painting wasn’t finished, and laughing easily with us about the thousands of leaves someone carefully worked days making so vivid.

Within minutes, he escorted us to the next room, which contained a small room within a room where Georgia O’Keefe’s moon flower shone like a beckoning God to us (actually, it’s “Jimson Weed/White Flower #1“), Beholding that painting and so many others, we talked through the nuances and beauties (particularly one of a trash man in which the decaying vegetables are sensual wonders) with this man.

At what I thought was the end of our time together, I noticed his name tag said “Moses,” and said, “You know, I just finished a book about the Exodus, but in our time, and as Moses, you should meet Miriam.”

Found Moses here on Day Two

“You are a writer?,” he exclaimed, cialis generic 20 mg then had me quickly pull out my iphone and look up his website because he was a writer too. Maybe it was the exuberance of the the O’Keefe, but in short order we were jumping up and down and hugging, and I was promising to bring him the copy of Miriam’s Well tomorrow. He told us some of his story — coming to this country from Liberia, getting his to-be wife out of the country just before the Liberian civil war, working for the Wal-Mart corporation for many years, teaching, writing, raising a family, and of course we compared notes on the the follies of having 20-something children.

“Let us take our picture together!” we exclaimed, which had to be in front of a work of art, but which one? The O’Keefe of course!

The next day, we returned with the book, but finding Moses again took some wandering. The people who work the galleries never where they’ll be assigned to until they arrive, so we retraced our steps, even visiting the O’Keefe again, and eventually found Moses among the modern abstract art. He was talking with some young men, but upon seeing us, screamed and laughed, and within moments, we were hugging again.

A few hours later, after Ken walked me hard on many outside trails, we had to cross through the museum to get to the parking lot. Each step was a tender adventure for my feet after 5-6 hours of walking, yet when we had to choose which direction to go, I got mixed up and sent us on the long-cut back. It led us right to Moses again, who had started the book on his lunch break.

As we said goodbye again, I looked at this beautiful face and remembered how last night he told me, “My life has been a series of miracles.”

“Mine, too,” I told him. May it be such a life for us all.

Finding Miriam in a Semi in an Alley on a Rainy Day: Everyday Magic, Day 934

Our long gravel drive was puddled and muddy, so there was no way the huge semi carrying my new book, Miriam’s Well: A Modern Day Exodus, could slip-slide to our house without asking for trouble, plus there’s the matter of the power lines it would rip through in the journey. So between ordering bierocks at Free State Brewery with Daniel and going home, we decided to meet the driver in an alley behind a local grocery store.

From there, it was a matter of a whole lot of weight lifting: 200 books x 575 pages each + the weight of boxes and packing materials makes for strong arms, and thank heavens, I had Daniel’s along with mine helping load 20 boxes into the back of the peanut-butter-colored CRV, then unload them onto the kitchen table, then unearth all the books, flatten all the boxes, and behold the great amount of Miriams. Then we noticed the table legs were starting to wobble, and given the weight of the Exodus, who could blame it? When the cat insisted on inspecting and climbing the piles, although she’s only 5 pounds, we started to worry. I’ve seen small kittens knock over big wood dressers before by how much force they exert from their back legs when they jump. We had to quickly haul vast armfuls of books to the shelves where I keep my inventory.

Now it’s time to pack and ship these babies. But first this moment: an overcast next morning, the branches in the distance only moving slightly in pale wind, the promise of spring on the wing, and just in time for Passover, a holiday celebrating the weight of freedom and lightness of liberation, my novel, 14 years in the making, ready to start its journey out into the world.

If you would like your signed copy of the book, mailed or, if you’re in Lawrence, delivered to you, please click here to go directly to Paypal, or email me. More on the novel here. If you already bought a book, expect it within a week. You can also see more at my wonderful publisher, Ice Cube Press.

Recipes From (and For) the Journey: Everyday Magic, Day 930

Okay, a confession: I wander through my days with great anticipation for the next meal. Even if it’s just a hot cup of strong tea and bowl of brown rice cereal, envisioning what I get to eat next is a great motivator for getting out of bed in the morning and getting off the computer in the evening. I just love food and always have, and eating is  surely one of the most fun things a person can do sitting down.

No surprise that food looms large in all my memoirs and novels, whether it’s the hunt for the best fried chicken in Kansas (in the memoir, Poem on the Range), or a vivid description of the magical rotating dessert case in a New Jersey diner (in

Meg Heriford and the Ladybird Diner always offer a dose of sunshine (and pie)

About a month before the manuscript was to mosey on over to my publisher, I couldn’t sleep at night because the idea of including recipes kept waking me up. Luckily, Steve Semken, owner of Ice Cube Press, said yes, and then so did some marvelous food geniuses in our community: Nancy O’Connor, educator director of our long-standing food co-op, The Merc, and author of The Rolling Prairie Cookbook; Jayni and Frank Carey, who have gathered and created many quintessential Midwestern recipes, particularly in The New Kansas Cookbook; Janet Majure, not only my weight-lifting coach, but a cookbook author with an eye for good dishes; and Lauren Pacheco, Kris Hermanson, and owner of the Ladybird Diner, Meg Heriford, who happens to make some of the greatest pie in the cosmos.

Close to 40 pages of recipes later, the cooking and baking in Miriam’s 40-plus-year journey through America becomes recipes for some of our journeys too. Here’s a sneak preview of two recipes, each named for a character in the book: Batty is Miriam’s mother, originally named Matilda, nicknamed Matty, and then called Batty for reasons you’ll see in the novel.  The Acadian Dream Inn is a resort on — where else? — Mount Desert Island of Maine where Miriam and her sister-in-law Cindy commandeered the kitchen to the delight of guests.

Please consider getting all the recipes and the whole novel through my Indiegogo campaign to help fund my national tour for the book — you can get advance copies of the book (and at a discount) here (other cool perks abound) until the campaign finishes on March 9.

My grandmother beholds the turkey, but she also beholded a whole lot of stuffed cabbage in her life

Batty’s Stuffed Cabbage

Batty learned this recipe from her parental grandmother, who died before Miriam was born. It was a dish the whole family, especially Miriam, loved, so Batty made it often. The smell of this baking filled the kitchen with such warmth and comfort that Batty was drawn to keep making on a regular basis long after she moved to the Southwest, and she even brought it to various potlucks, where others fell in love with the dish.

1 large green cabbage

1 lb ground beef

1 cup uncooked rice

1 large onion chopped into large slices

2 large cans stewed whole tomatoes

1 cup water

1/8 cup lemon juice

1/8 cup honey 

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but highly recommended!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Boil or steam cabbage until soft enough to roll. While the cabbage is boiling, combine the rice and beef, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Lay out cabbage leaves, and roll in the meat/rice mixture, placing the meat at one end, rolling, then tucking in the sides. Place seam side down in casserole dish. For the sauce, brown chopped onions in pot until softened, add in stewed tomatoes and water, and mix well. Coat the bottom of a casserole pan with sauce mixture, place the cabbage rolls in, seam side down, and add in the rest of the sauce and water. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake for approximately three-four hours until done to your desire  Add in lemon juice and honey and  raisins in last half hour of cooking. Note: this dish can also be prepared in a crockpot.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe by Lauren Pacheco, based on a recipe from Caryn and Lauren’s grandmother, Molly Prusak.

The Acadian Dream Inn’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Miriam and Cindy together created this recipe one year at the inn when they had too much zucchini. It turns out that the zucchini made for an especially rich, even sinful-tasting, cake that everyone loved so much that they kept it on the menu until the inn went under. Both Miriam and Cindy continue to make this on a regular basis just because.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups unsifted, all-purpose flour

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups zucchini, finely shredded

1 (10-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips, divided

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the butter, oil, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dark cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and blend until well combined. Stir the shredded zucchini, and half of the dark chocolate chips (5 ounces) into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 13” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire baking rack and, while still hot, sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Let them melt and spread evenly over the cake. Variation: dark chocolate frosting can be substituted for the chocolate chip topping.

12 to 16 servings

Recipe by Linda Wilson, from Jayni and Frank Carey’s The New Kansas Cookbook

More recipes and the whole enchilada of the novel, Miriam’s Well, available through the campaign here, and you can see early reviews here.