Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
Beautiful Ellie Mae

Freddie, the French Bulldog

Freddie, the French Bulldog
Lazing on a sunny afternoon

The artist

The artist
Ollie Mac

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother

Meal time

Meal time
Tostadas

Acrylics and watercolors

Acrylics and watercolors
Cannabis and sunflowers

Love is a many-splendored thing

Love is a many-splendored thing
Denise and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby

Acrylics and watercolors

Acrylics and watercolors
Hollyhocks

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

My Super Power

Though I am no superhero, I do have one super power: I make people happy by cooking for them. I acquired this skill unknowingly by serving as Annie’s apprentice for forty years, give or take a year or two. Only we don’t call it apprenticing here in the kitchen: I was Annie’s sous chef.

I diced the shallots, garlic, and whatever else needed to be added while Annie selected the seasonings, but I watched which seasonings they were; I boiled the potatoes, added butter and milk and mashed them, while Annie made the gravy, but I watched how she added the flour and took the oingo-boingo whisk and stirred to prevent clumping; I peeled and removed the avocado seeds and diced onions for guacamole, while Annie added fresh tomatoes, spicy salsa and lemon juice, and I took mental snap shots.


I had no clue at any point in time that I possessed such a skill set, nor could I ever have foreseen a time when those skills would be pressed into service. And this is probably as good of a time as any to say I also could never have imagined trying to step into Annie’s shoes and cook for the farm staff either, but such has been my path.


A few seasons ago, I hurt-in no particular order-one of my toes, both of my shoulders, here a knee, there a knee, everywhere an ouchie, so I stopped to assess matters. Planting and maintaining 300 tomato plants and processing much of the harvest, left me a bit more tattered than cannabis could keep up with: My body was trying to send a message, but there was seemingly no one home to receive it.


So two calendar years ago at this very point in time, a paradigm shift occurred and I began cooking a main meal at lunch time, five days a week. The goal was-and continues to be-that I make use of what is grown or produced on-farm, one of the most rewarding goals ever scored.


This varies hugely from a tuppie of produce now-to one in September. What I find these days are the brassicas which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (on the vine), broccoli and romanesque. Cooking greens are in every week’s CSA packet, along with salad greens, scallions, baby turnips, leeks, shallots, radishes and garlic. In late summer I would see cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, salad greens, peppers of all sorts, and any other hot weather veggies that you would expect to find at the farmers’ market.


Additionally, I pull two HappyDayFarms-grown chickens from the freezer two weeks out of three, and for the longest time had access to ground turkey, again from sixteen turkeys raised last summer.


What continues to boggle my pea-brain is that Annie was only up to doing two of these meals per week, simply because it required so much prep. She made lists of what needed to be cooked, what needed to be purchased in town, what needed to be done and when it needed to be done by. I simply followed directions.


And I was going to cook five days a week? It was exactly what the doctor might have prescribed. Only eight weeks removed from Annie’s passing, I plunged into a world that required the same type of lists as the ones Annie produced, only I did them in my head. And then I reviewed them morning, noon and night, much the way a school teacher reviews in his mind exactly what it is fourth period social studies with the eighth grade looks like, on Tuesday. I kept my mind engaged in such a tight vise grip of planning that there was little room for anything else.


And then I decided to build a new deck and enclosed front porch at the same time.


But I am not here to prattle on about me; I want to discuss cooking. Whereas joy is more likely to be associated with the bedroom than cooking, I have found joy in the kitchen. And before you roll your eyes and scroll on, let me quickly add that I am retired so I have the time, inclination and ingredients to be able to cook for the farm crew.


I find joy in cooking because there is so much to be said for cooking as an art. I especially like it when I can devise new ways to do old things. Recently I decided to experiment with baking corn tortillas instead of cooking them in sizzling oil. This is not because of the six-inch long burn I incurred one day last summer, when the tortilla I was flipping, flopped. 


I inadvertently allowed the tortilla to belly-flop as it were, propelling a jet stream of oil to the back of my right wrist. There it plopped and flowed down my wrist and the back of my hand like lava to the base of my index finger. 


Setting aside joy for the moment, I pinched off a goodly amount of the aloe vera plant and thwarted some serious discomfort. I also managed to conceal the fact that this had occurred until it was healed. Then it was OK to bring it all up, if for no other reason than to try and determine if this were a senior-or a stoner-moment.


As a direct result of this mishap, I found myself determined to find a way to cook the tortillas that did not include sizzling oil. There were several recipes to choose from but the easiest just had me brushing on a minimal amount of olive oil to both sides of the tortillas and then baking them for about seven minutes on each side at 400 degrees. I can put four of them on a big cookie sheet and there is no spattering oil to dodge.


Take matters one step further and I was also baking taquitos instead of plopping them into sizzling oil. I start by flipping a corn tortilla onto the red-hot griddle for ten seconds per side, which softens it up. Next I brush olive oil only on the outer side of the corn tortilla and then fill it with seasoned, shredded chicken. 


I place the taquitos folded-side down and bake them for about twenty minutes at 425 degrees, checking a few times along the way. They come out crunchy like they are supposed to, only a lot healthier.


It has been two years now since I started cooking and I am on my third season. I have reduced the number of weekly meals from five to four, with one of them being a day of leftovers. Additionally, I also bake a double-batch of gluten-free, chocolate chip/raisin cookies, every four days or so for the HappyDayFarms farm stand.


At the rate these cookies fly out of the stand, I am inclined to call them superheroes, but like me, they aren't. They just make folks feel happy, 










Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Rookie

Graduates from the Class of 1970 cannot relive our high school days, without revisiting a time period that stood alone as a turning point in our culture: the late sixties.  With the winds of change swirling through the air, combined with the horror of an unwindable overseas conflict, our future was laced with question marks.

Within the hallowed halls of Bishop Amat, we may have been a bit more protected from these changes, but certain cultural norms flourished. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League Pennant in the fall of 1966 and faced the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. In those days I was still under the spell of Dodger Blue, a condition that existed until I relocated to the Bay Area, following my release from the Big Green Machine in 1974.


Having won the whole enchilada only one year earlier, in 1965, the prevailing logic was that the Dodgers would out-pitch Baltimore with their handy duo of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. What no one anticipated was that it would not matter how well the duo pitched if the Dodgers could not score any runs. 


Sandy and Don
LA became the first team ever to be shut out three consecutive games, scoring a grand total of two runs in the four-game sweep by the Orioles. Simultaneously, having been so vocal in my belief that the Dodgers would prevail, I had inadvertently set myself up for a record-setting fall. 

I was a rookie at this game called high school. I had attended St. Martha’s with the same crew of students from third through eighth grade, where we became almost like siblings. I got a rude awakening at Bishop Amat. I learned quickly that it was better to keep one’s pie hole shut, and have the other kids think you were a geek, than to open it and prove them correct. Only back then I would have been labeled a spaz. Methinks I overdid it by being a bit too cocky about the outcome of the series.


Even a seven-game, highly contested affair, would have gone far to protect me from ridicule. Instead, LA could not even muster one measly run in the final three games of the series, thus opening up the floor for comments from the peanut gallery. The final score in both Game 3 and Game 4 was 1-0, Baltimore.


"Hey, O’Neill! Your team can’t score any runs. Maybe it just can’t score at all." Ha, ha, ha.


"What happened, O’Neill? LA forget to eat its spinach?"


"Hey, O’Neill! Maybe Koufax and Drysdale better learn how to hit!"


"The Orioles swept the Dodgers? With what? Their tail feathers?"


Can you say, “Ba-dip, ba-dip?” Try it-nonstop-for say, a month.


As the dust was still swirling after the fall classic, chapter two of unclear-on-the-concept-Mark was just picking up steam. There was an initiative on the fall ballot to annex the area in which I lived and include it in the city of West Covina. 

It could not have made one iota of difference in my life one way or the other, but there were ramifications of this action that my parents did not care for. What these were remains murky, but it translated into my being-once again-far too vocal for my own good. Sigh.


Somehow my prattling on about the evils of being annexed by West Covina, transformed me and all those from that little neck of the woods, into being represented as The Little Rascals. We were portrayed as marching off to battle, complete with upside down buckets on our heads and go-carts. New to this game called sarcasm, I had no defense, except to once again point the finger inwards.


If only I could learn to follow the advice being so frequently sent my way, and shut up, I would be in much better shape for the shape I was in. You know? And I did. I learned to pretty much not say anything for the next three-and-a-half years because, truth be told, I still cared what people thought of me. 

I was a kid back then and I thought like a kid. I am 69 now and I can’t say categorically how I think, be it like a kid or like an old fart, but I can tell you this: The most valuable lesson I ever learned was to stop caring what others think about me-if they do at all. 


Bette Midler summed it all up quite nicely with her catchy phrase, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” Whereas some might object to the earthy language, I might counter with a casual-


[Editor’s Note: STOP! You’ve made your point…]



 


 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

No Milk Today

 Lean to the left! Lean to the right!

Stand up! Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!


That’s what we chanted from the stands, right? I will tell you that it is a lesson worth heeding, not only on the gridiron, but in life, overall. And to think I was under the impression that I could just put our high school reunion away so handily. 


Hold the phone, please; I am still processing. Were I able to easily and efficiently file this event away, in the circular file that is my cottage cheese brain, then I could not help but feel that something were wrong. There are still just too many memories swirling around, a whirligig of emotions.


Metaphorically, the brain is lined with a million hooks, upon which we hang these memories. Having stirred these memories recently, they are still jostling around up there, clamoring for my undivided attention. I can only assure you, I am a prisoner in chains to the combination of the memories themselves, being present in the same venue as the individuals who created them. I want to return to our freshman year and my old nemesis, Father Aidan. 

Because I have always felt that the grading system at Bishop Amat could be somewhat arbitrary, I was entranced by a story told to me by Ralph, who was in all of my classes freshman year, and who also had Father Aidan as a teacher. 


I was the kind of student who routinely earned grades for tests and assignments in math and science that were not passing, and yet I never got anything lower than the magical C- on a report card. 


This is not the kind of information that I was inclined to volunteer, when it came to explaining my poor showing to my parents. Any thought of giving me a ration of grief was tempered by the knowledge that my explanation for poor grades, was always tied into the thirty hours of work I put in, at Sunrize (sic) Market each week.


Have I mentioned that I only got to keep 25% of my earned income, the rest going into the family coffers? That did create a certain awkwardness with Mama, when it came to squawking about my poor grades. For me to work fewer hours, meant the household took it in the shorts. Oops! No Milk Today, as Herman’s Hermits sang to us back during our freshman year. 


I. Don’t. Think. So.


I was not about to complain to my parents about a grading system that cut me some slack, most likely because I did work hard and never gave the priests a ration. Essentially, to put it bluntly, I was rewarded for being a nice kid.


Not everyone fared as well as I did, as Ralph was to explain to me in an email that followed one of the posts I did last June, one that featured Father Aidan. Besides being impacted by the communique itself, I was struck by his message. He wrote,


“Aidan gave me a D on my Freshman English 1st semester report card…Dad was not happy and wanted an explanation from me…all I had was every returned assignment and test in a folder, which were all B’s & a few A’s and C’s. I couldn’t explain it to my Dad. Dad was a high school teacher also and figured something was up… so he took it upon himself to visit Aidan one late afternoon (cocktail hour had already started)…and had a lively discussion which resulted in my grade being changed to a B. Dad said…for me to keep all tests and assignments for the balance of the year.”


End of story?


Not quite. Ralph concluded by saying, “I had so much respect for my father after that incident-he stuck up for me and I was so proud of him. Of course Aidan gave me the stink eye for the rest of the year, but he never fucked with me again.”


I did not write this to crucify Father Aidan, as much as to emphasize how important it is to go after what is right. Ralph obviously felt that going to Father Aidan was pointless, but his father used his own experience as a teacher to demand an accounting.


Besides sticking up for his son, Ralph’s dad taught him to go after what was rightfully his. This is a lesson that we would all do well to emulate. The cosmos in its infinite wisdom often finds a way to reward integrity, and conversely, a way to acknowledge injustice. That would be the divine Ms Karma.


Ralph’s anecdote reminded me of my own grading injustice from San Jose State, my first semester working on a Masters in English. After completing a class invitingly entitled, “Methods and Materials of Literary Research.” (Er, pre-internet days), I was shocked to have received a B on my report card. 


I won’t bore you with the fine points, even if I could remember them, except to say that I worked hundreds of hours on this class. Partly because it was my first semester of Masters work, but also because I lived directly across the street from the San Jose State Library, I had thrown my body, heart and soul into this class. 


Specialist 4 O'Neill
(weekend pass)
And hey, sure, I was wearing my hair in “new location,” as George Carlin termed it, after getting out of the military, and I had a fine, brilliant red beard to go along with my relocated hair. I suppose it is remotely possible that I did not conform to the good professor’s idea, of what a graduate student attending the fine institution of high learning at which he taught, should look like. 


Nevertheless, though that B in M&MoLR knocked me for a loop, I shrugged my shoulders and let it go. Life in the Big Leagues, I said to myself. Coincidentally, I had just begun dating my late wife of forty years, Annie, and she immediately got in my face about just accepting what I thought was a mistake. 


“Go to his office and ask him about your grade,” Annie advised me. More to please Annie than because I thought it would do any good, I dutifully went to see this professor, who was also the head of the English Department.


I will never forget his demeanor, as he confidently whipped out that grade book with a flourish, and located my name. He trotted out his twelve-inch-ruler with polish, to place beneath the row of my grades and then just froze. The only movement was his forefinger, which kept flitting back and forth like my ancient Royal typewriter, being operated at full speed.


“Er, uh, ahem, I must say, I can’t explain this B on your report card. You have clearly earned an A.”


Why did I receive a B, when I clearly had earned an A? Why did Ralph earn a D from Father Aidan, when he deserved a B? I have no definitive answer to either question, which is why we must always be ready to question matters of injustice.


My red beard grows out white these days, but injustice is still injustice. Having an advocate for you is a huge first step, but if you don’t have one handy, be your own advocate. Fight for what is right and demand an accounting of others’ stewardship because if everyone did this, the need would disappear.

This was taken on the DMZ,
dividing North and South
Korea. Did I submit the 
wrong photo to the Reunion 
Committee?









 

















Thursday, October 21, 2021

Because We Could

I am still reeling from my adventure in SoCal, attending my fifty + one high school reunion, a stranger in a strange land. I couldn’t decide if I were on the set of Mission Impossible or Bewitched: Mission Impossible because so many people came from so many places to be together once again, fifty-one years after we walked across the stage in May of 1970, and Bewitched because, I mean, who were these people?

Mark, Jerry, Tom, John and Glen
Fifty-one May 31st’s have come up on the wall calendar since that certain one back in 1970, and here we were, gathering together again, if for no other reason than the fact that we could. I must tell you there were many who could not. Too many, but all the more reason for those still here to gather once again.


I found the evening to be most enjoyable, if somewhat surreal. Objectively, it all computed: We had sprung from Bishop Amat fifty-one years ago; we had regrouped last Saturday night for a meal, some memories and some fun. Subjectively, every one of us was packing a story-hell, a novel-within us, and that fact just transformed my little pea brain into a pinball machine. How and what do you share with others, if you have to encapsulate the past fifty-one years in a two-minute convo, especially with music blaring in the background?


My sister JT asked me if anyone surprised me and all I could think was that everyone did, in any one of a hundred ways. Each of us is a warrior-a survivor. Each of us had to set aside our own disbelief that we were now 69 years old, not to mention our insecurities about how we would appear to others, to show up last Saturday night. Show up they did!  


Jeff and I were classmates at St. Martha’s, our third through eighth grade years. We were bff’s our eighth grade year and spent a fair amount of time at each other’s homes. I am reasonably certain that Jeff was a main reason why I debated as freshman. As these things are apt to go, Jeff soared in high school, while I maintained a more pedantic approach, working after school my sophomore year onward. 


They aren't heavy-they're my
brothers and sisters.
Hearing how Jeff spent his life protecting and supporting people who wanted to alert the public to wrongdoing or environmental hazards, warmed the cockles of my heart. Not bad for a kid who was one of maybe three third graders in our class who voted for Richard Nixon in the 1960 election. Conversely, I think my own existence off the grid, five miles up a dirt road, might just have stirred a bit of envy in Jeff. 


I got to connect with Nancy, Barbara and Jackie, who worked with my sweetie, Denise-and several others-to bring the whole production together. I am friends on social media with Nancy and Jackie already, so this evening served as a means of attaching a [current] image to a cyber friendship. Jackie keeps me in stitches every day, and through social media I learned that Nancy’s husband Fred had recently celebrated working forty years at Disneyland. Fred told me that February is the magic month for him to retire.


From behind the scenes, I have been able to view firsthand, just how much time and effort are required to create an event of this magnitude. It boggles the mind how many details have to be handled, how many phone calls and texts, how many emails and how many meetings had to take place. Big ups to all who were involved!  


Denise and I sat at the same table as Kathy and her husband Jim, who came from Colorado. We had fun because Kathy and I are already friends on face/book. She gives me big ups for my cooking and canning efforts and I have assured her that if she and Jim ever make it to HappyDayFarms, I will cook them up a storm.


At one point I was approached by Diana who said I might like to know that Rudi had been moved by a piece of writing I had done. This was the one entitled Check Point in which I had acquired a valuable fashion tip from Rudi, without having to pay the price of becoming the laughingstock of the popular crowd back at Amat.


Diana asked if I might not like to pop over because she thought what Rudi had to say might bring a smile to my face. Indeed, Rudi told me he was touched to be remembered in such a moving way. As he was saying this, he had reached over and picked up a soft tissue bag with something inside and handed it to me, saying as I withdrew this plaid tie, “If you are going to wear check on check, you may as well wear a plaid tie to top it off.”


I thought I was going to have an apoplexy from laughing so hard.


As much as anything I was amazed at how many women came up to me to tell me they had been impacted by those dozen pieces of frippery I had posted from back in the day at Amat. The general theme was that it was pretty amazing to read what was going on over on the boys’ side of the school, because it was not much different from what went on on the girls’ side. I floated around that venue with my feet seemingly never touching the floor, I was that overwhelmed by their words of praise.


And, of course, we sat with John and Brenda, my lone unbroken connection with my tribe in SoCal, all of these years. From John and Brenda I learned of the passing of Steve Haskell and Doug Maloney, two of my posse-two unstoppable forces of my youth, now gone. John and Brenda had come up to visit on the farm, a few years back, and I had been proud to show them around. If memory serves me correctly, I put John to work.


It was also John who reached out a year ago September, when we faced mandatory evacuation from the mountain due to a wildfire. Specifically, he said to give him the word and he would be up on the next plane to help fight wildfires. One is not likely to forget that stuff.


I had known Glen was coming but seeing him for the first time in close to fifty years made my eyes blurry for a second there. He looked like a million dollars, and it took a nano-second to realize he was not wearing glasses. Most of these years he had been living in upper New York State, but had just moved this summer to Washington State. One of the five of us who had gone on the now infamous road trip after graduation, Glen was part of my posse too.


Of all the graduates I talked to on Saturday night, none seemed more tranquil and at peace with his life than Jesse. I remember Jesse as a quiet, funny guy who got along with everyone. He told me he had spent 38 yers working with babies born prematurely, holding two-pound babies with thighs the same thickness as one of his fingers. Just wow.


Irma had brought an eighth grade class picture from St. Martha’s and I thought that was genius. There were only four of us from St. Martha’s, but we at least had all the faces!


On Sunday morning at the brunch, I sat with Margie and her husband Tom, who like me, had moved out of SoCal and landed in the Sacramento area. Tom regaled me with tales of waging an unsuccessful campaign against the squirrels, and asked for advice. All I could do was to nod in sympathy at his plight; substitute gophers for squirrels and we could howl at the moon together, in two-part-harmony.


Sue, Joe, Mary, Ralph, Terry-all of you who took the time to say hey to me and rattle my cage for a minute-thank you! You are the reason I made the journey down to SoCal, and I could never have forgiven myself if I had stayed home. 


Two of us were in wheelchairs, a few of us looked the same as we did in 1970 and the rest were somewhere in between. There were also thirty last-minute cancellations from folks who wanted to be there but cited health concerns for the most part to explain their absence. There was no one to give them any grief. Each of us had to do what we felt worked best for all involved.  


We were punky kids back in 1970 and now we are old farts. In between we lived our lives, dreamed our dreams and stuck around long enough to tell tales about it all at our 51st reunion. We were together once again and I am a happier person for it. I think we all are. 


And any time you get a hankering for some homemade marinara and some down-home cooking or some fiery salsa, you just head up The 101 until you hit Bell Springs Road, and then you are only five miles up a dirt road from where I call home: HappyDayFarms.