Sunday, December 19, 2010


Because I am a serious reader of books on an eclectic range of subjects, it would ordinarily be difficult to select a single “Best Of” for an entire year; I would have to hedge the question by naming a group of candidates by subject matter or some other qualification. For the year just now passing from view, no such purview is required. The book which stands out among all others is LIFE IS A VERB and the author is Patti Digh.
Ms. Digh (pronounced DYE) is well known in the business world as a behavioral consultant, lecturing and advising international corporations and institutions on personnel practices, but this book arises from an altogether private and personal set of motivations. In 2003, her stepfather was diagnosed with terminal and untreatable cancer. Patti, together with her mother, decided to stay at his side during the difficult period between diagnosis and death, a span of time which turned out to be 37 days.
The experience of “helping a loved one die” left the author with the question: If I had only 37 days to live, how would I spend each one of those days? The resulting book, LIFE IS A VERB carries the subtitle 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally. A subject which might have become trite and saccharine in the hands of a less skilled and insightful story-teller became for me a profound journey in introspection, and an invitation to revisit – and even revise – some of my own strategies for living meaningfully.
The format of the beautifully crafted and creatively illustrated book divides the 37 “lessons” into nine sections or chapters, all devised to undergird a set of principles worth turning into practices. Like all good story-tellers, the author makes use of a simple but highly personal experience to introduce each of the concepts she encapsulates, with each chapter ending with some “homework” for the reader; a challenge for implementing a real-life application. Virtually every page contains highlighted quotes to artfully illuminate and give weight to the concepts being discussed. For instance, in her chapter on the importance of placing value on small things (titled “Don’t Sell Your Red Books”), Digh quotes Albert Einstein who said “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything which counts can be counted”.
One of my favorite Digh chapters summarizes the importance of taking the time to appreciate the gifts life gives us, at the end of which she leaves us with one of her challenges based in a food metaphor:
“Eat your bread pudding slowly, savor it, swim awhile in that pomegranate sauce, reach out for a raisin island, and rest. Eat well, eat slowly, appreciate the artistry of your food, make your life’s meal last a long time; give up Pop-Tarts and be sure to thank the real chefs.”
This is a book you will wish to “own”, not borrow from a handy library or well-intentioned friend. I say this for two reasons: First, if you follow the author’s advice, you will find yourself writing notes to yourself in the margins, and doing a lot of underlining with felt markers for future reference, and because of the ringing of internal “bells” the paragraphs will set off in your mind. Secondly, it is a book you will read more than once.
I started my adventure with LIFE IS A VERB seated on the front porch of a friend’s cottage in coastal Oregon. It was raining lightly, and the breeze set off the tinkling of a set of small discreetly-tuned wind chimes nearby. I was all alone, with the misty grayness of the day, and my heart and mind were in one of those rare moments of perfect harmony. Beginning then, and for the rest of the 37 days after returning home, I “lived my way” through its enchanting chapters for the first time. Since then, I have allowed the book to flip open to a random page now and then, discovering that there is often a new and hidden meaning the second or third time around.
And then there are the 120 hand-drawn and highly-creative illustrations, each contributed by a reader of the author’s blog site; each bringing humor, insight and even a bit of whimsy to the mix, and all of it tied together by editors and publishers who shared Ms. Digh’s passion for perfection of presentation.
A final and personal reflection: More and more I find myself observing the little things that make each day special, while taking the time to say WOW!

Whether overhead or at our feet, we inhabit a world full of beauty, wonder and excitement. The color and symmetry of a Golden Garden Spider leaves me with little more to say on the subject other than WOW!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


(Here is a Christmas treat worth indulging. I first heard of it living
in Vermont and working in Quebec, and then Donna Cooper made one for us
years ago.

I made my first one last week with Shirley's incomparable crust. It
lasted us for three days.

The veal is expensive if you can even find it. Next time I may try
substituting ground turkey white meat.)



1 lb. ground veal (or extra lean beef) 1 cup bread crumbs
½ lb. ground pork 1 can beef broth
½ lb. ground pork sausage ¼ cup chopped parsley
1 med. Onion, finely minced 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced 1 tsp. salt
1 cup stewed tomatoes, chopped ¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup finely minced celery ¼ tsp ground mace
¼ tsp. ground pepper 2 bay whole bay leaves
Touch of cayenne powder (optional)
1 cup bread crumbs
1 can beef broth
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground mace
2 bay whole bay leaves

Pastry crust for double crust, nine-inch pie

Saute the onion and garlic in a Tbs. oil in bottom of Dutch oven to soften. Add the ground meat and cook until the pinkness is gone, adding the tomatoes, celery, bay leaves, parsley and carrots and some of the broth. Allow to simmer together for about twenty minutes, adding more of the unused broth as needed. Mix in the seasonings and remove from heat to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, set the oven on 375 degrees, while rolling out crust for a two-crust nine inch pie.
Mix enough bread crumbs into the cooked filling to make it workable; line the pie dish with bottom crust, fill with the mixture, apply top crust, pinch edges closed and slit top for ventilation. Bake for 50-55 minutes, covering edges with strips of foil for last 15 minutes if necessary.

Serve with a sweet relish or chutney on the side.


The tradition of gift-giving runs long and deep in our history and reaches across almost every social and economic border. As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, the Holiday Season – despite its commercialism – reminds us of the generous giving and gracious receiving which is so much a part of family and community life. It’s a good time to include in that shopping list a few items which will help those we love and care for to be even more secure and self-reliant. An emergency radio receiver, a vacuum food saver, a bread mixer, a pressure canner, or even a few cartons of canning jars and other home preserving accessories, all become doubly-meaningful gifts this year. Thoughtful “stocking-stuffers” like flashlights, batteries, a Ball home preserving guide, or even a clutch of favorite recipes, will go a long way to encourage the provident life style which will last far beyond the giving season.


In far northern Alaska there is a small village on the Bering Sea with the ancient name of Shaktoolik. At one time that word meant simply “sandbar”, or “stretched-out place”. Over time, and for reasons which a look at geography will explain, it took on an altogether different meaning. To today’s native people of the far north it describes . . . “the feeling you have when you have been going toward a place for so long that it seems that you will never get there”. The richness and subtlety of the Eskimo language struck me with a familiar ring as I came across that piece of linguistic trivia while researching a totally unrelated subject years ago. It reminded me of a gentle stream near a Connecticut farm where, as a ten-year-old, I spent many happy summer hours grappling for slippery trout with bare hands in the heat of the day. The brook was known to locals as “Noromeoknowhosunkatankshunk” (in American phonetics anyway), an old Abenaki Indian word which meant “water from the faraway hills which shines brightly in the sun as it travels over many rocks”.
I don’t know just when it was that I began to harbor a deep love for language – in particular the language of my ancestry and the land of my inheritance; what some scholars would refer to as “my native tongue”. In some strange way it was while studying high school French that I began to appreciate the intricacies of English, and to relish the unending nuances of meanings possible with a language which invited and welcomed new, invented and borrowed words without hesitation and with no holds barred.
While the roots of English go back to “Indo-European” origins, the influence of a diverse mix of “visitors” to that island realm, as well as an intrinsic Celtic connection, played a role in shaping the dialects and speech of its inhabitants. During nearly 400 years of Roman occupation and rule, Latin left a significant impact with here and there a reverence for ancient Greece evident in root words. The most important contribution to an evolving national tongue came with the Norman conquest of England beginning in 1066 AD, and a major shift in the pronunciation of vowel sounds over the following century or two.
Thanks to that Norman influence, 30% of the words we routinely use today have French roots. Add to that the ongoing invasions by Vikings, Goths and other Germanic peoples including the Angles and Saxons, who saw the British Isles as a steppingstone to the expansion of trade and the growth of empire, and you begin to glimpse a woven fabric with a warp of disparate linguistic strands.
The Normans brought with them a profound respect for the practice of law, and so we got terms like accuse, assault, jury, judge, embezzle, felony, adultery, fraud, liberty, curfew and parliament. William the Lion Hearted and his merry band of conquerors also contributed an interest in animals and the hunt, and they shared words such as bacon, beef, veal, pork, mutton, salmon, butcher and venison. In fact that word – venison - did not refer only to the meat of deer, but any wild game. Venerey meant to hunt.
In medieval England, it became essential among the upper class to follow a rigorous orthodoxy in speaking of animals in the plural. To do otherwise called attention to one’s lack of social graces when dining in company. For instance, one did not refer to a “flight” of crows, (no, no, no), but to a murder of crows. Similarly, you must say a kindle of kittens, a cast of hawks, a rafter of turkeys, a leap of leopards, a skulk of foxes, a peep of chickens, a business of ferrets, a husk of hares a charm of finches and a pitying of turtle doves. Just this morning, I witnessed a dissimulation of blackbirds going by, and listened to a paddling of ducks on the pond, (if they had been in flight it would have been a sord of mallards). My very favorite, for its musical sonority is an exaltation of larks. These and dozens of other animal terms once codified in Old English Primers of Speech, are made immortal by Dame Juliana’s “The Book of St, Albans”, and enumerated with great good humor by James Lipton, in his beautifully-illustrated “The Exaltation of Larks, or The Venereal Game”.
At the risk of being labeled as sesquipedalian, I delight in the exquisite suitability of borrowed words such as sangfroid when describing a friend whose imperturbability leaves me in awe, or doppelganger when observing a stranger in Wal-Mart whose likeness reminds me of an acquaintance who I know lives 3000 miles away. When author Jeffrey Archer characterized a barmaid of generous proportions in a short story as being steatopygous, I had a picture in my mind which no combination of many words could have painted so accurately, or with such lexicological kindness. To have done otherwise would surely have been to indulge in an exercise in Schadenfreude.
What a gift that our native tongue overflows with an eclectic euphony and a delectable diversity which reflect 600 years of open borders in a world of wonderful words!
To quote from Proverbs 25:11 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”

The American Bison was quickly assigned the term “Buffalo” by settlers, who might not have known they were borrowing a Portuguese/Spanish word for large animals – including antelope. Other words of the same ancestry included alligator, bronco, barbecue, tornado and mosquito to name just a few. (This rampant bull was photographed while enjoying a few minutes of fugacious freedom in the author’s back yard.) Photo by Al