THE SNOW CAKE

LB’s NOTE: Some people really know how to live. Others know how to tell us about life. Leslie Coff is one of the rare ones who does both. Simultaneously, even:

by Leslie Coff

We had the house on the hill.

Years ago, when we lived in Atlanta, our house was that corner house — and because of that hill, when we would get our annual two inches of snow (that would of course melt the next day), it was to our house that all the neighborhood kids would come to sled.

We had sleds, you see. Having moved from The North – St. Louis — we were fully equipped for the annual twenty-four hours of ‘hard winter’.

My husband and I would wake early, seeing that the storm had come and quickly did an inventory of our kitchen: was there enough hot cocoa for at least two dozen? And what other goodies were to be had?

And if they were to be had — could I make them into something wonderful?

Over the years, at dawn, I would make brownies, cupcakes, using any and all ingredients that I could find, knowing there would be fun and fabulous children who arrive — and over time would be cold and hungry from sledding on our hill.

One year, in my pantry, I found flour, eggs, gummy bears, applesauce, orange juice, pudding, powdered sugar. Knowing what I know of kitchen chemistry (or not!) I combined it all, poured it into a roasting pan and — (tada!) — snow cake.

By ten in the morning the kids began to arrive. Sledding on our “northern” sleds, on their makeshift sleds, on their bottoms, laughing and shouting and calling, they were a sight to see.

We loved every minute.

After about an hour they began to pile into my house. At least a dozen pairs of socks now going round and round in my dryer, followed by at least a dozen pair of wet pants..

The legs associated with such pants were covered in our pajamas, our sweatpants….now sitting at the long kitchen table, sipping cocoa, eating snow cake.

Laughing.

It was, perhaps the best cake I had ever made. And accidentally. Our guests were beyond happy.

The cheeks and noses were red: theirs.

The eyes were shining: ours

The magic of the Atlanta snows lasted only one day — and some years they didn’t come at all.

But they were a window into a wonderful world: the world of children and their excitement, their fullness, their energy.

Since those years the kids have scattered, in fact, we scattered and moved to the Real North where snow lasts for months.

Last year, one of the young men died accidentally.

I flew back for the funeral. I found them all, all those little faces, red and shining…

Now in grace and grief.

They were the same little people whose snowy socks went around and around my dryer.

But older now.

Sobered by life — and loss.

But those years we shared of the magical snows were something to behold.
Memorialized by the memory of life — and a cake made from applesauce, gummy bears and pudding.


Leslie Coff writes and makes all manner of Snow Cakes, now in Madison, Wisconsin. This post first appeared on one of the most honest places on the interwebs – Leslie’s blog

Chaos, Kindness & The Flood of Garlic

LB’s NOTE: I don’t like to analyze other people’s writing. I read it – or watch it – and I feel it and that’s that. But when I read this poem I felt something new.

I felt like I was reading and watching our entire world. Volume after volume after episode after episode of human life, in just a shade over a thousand words.

What does it say to you?


by Leslie Coff

To write this, I wrote it five times — and then a sixth. It was still a mess.

I printed it out and with my green pen.

I scratched out everything.

Well, almost everything — so I could start again.

I haven’t been able to think straight – too much on my mind. I needed a little something.

Then I woke this morning thinking of garlic.

If you use a little garlic it is amazing. It adds that special something to everything you eat. It is almost magical the way it transforms a dish.

For some, garlic is their favorite thing. Like water, they can’t live without it. It gives our food – depth. It makes things interesting.

But too much – indigestible. It keeps vampires, friends and even lovers at a distance.

(although, I read once that it’s okay if you both have it….)

If you use too much garlic it masks the flavors of everything else. It tastes like chaos. Your senses became flooded – they are only aware of the garlic.

I haven’t been able to write because my brain is flooded. I have a lot of worries – like my father and his mother before him, I am a worrier.

There, I said it.

You will probably tell me that I am irrational —

— but it is my birthright.

I could make a list.

In no particular order…

my broken pipe

my patients.

the coming winter.

The Middle East

School shootings.

I have a bathtub in my doorway. Don’t ask.

I worry that my house will not be organized.

That my house will not be clean.

That I won’t have time and energy to do it all.

That I will forget my Italian

That I will forget Hebrew.

That I will forget what I just said.

That I will forget what I just said.

Er…that I will forget what I just said.

That I will use too much garlic.

But I worry that I am eating too much salt — too much sugar.

I worry about gluten.

I worry that I will say something to offend someone.

Yes, it seems that I am very self-involved. In fact, I worry that I am too self-involved.

But I do worry about hunger.

I worry about homelessness.

I worry that I am worrying too much.

Sometimes it is all – too much.

I used to be a super straight thinker. Now, it’s all a mess.

I am too much garlic. Chaos.

I need whiskey.

There was another time when everything became a bit too much.

God told Noah – build an ark. Something big is coming. A flood – a Mabul – is coming.

Mabul – chaos, confusion, cataclysm. Deluge.

Mess.

Way Back when God created the world, everything was in chaos.

When it was time to start to make a world, God made a list –

(God was awesome at creating — lists.)

one: separate order from chaos.

two: separate dark from light.

three: more garlic.

Now, Chaos is returning.

Winter is coming.

Back In the time of Noah, God gave blessings freely.

Blessings come down from heaven – in the same way that water is a blessing because it rains down from heaven.

Oh how the blessings flowed!: kosher dill pickles, pesto, hummus, moussaka, baba ganoush, chicken with 40 cloves of…garlic.)

The blessings gave life depth. Made life good.

But people took advantage. They became selfish. They gorged themselves.

They became violent – fighting over the pastrami.

And they didn’t even bother brushing their teeth.

God was horrified at their behavior.

You like my blessings? You like my garlic? You like depth?

Sure, I’ll give you depthGo ahead and drown in it.

When it began, it was too much, Flooding, chaos, confusion.

DELUGE.

The very same thing which had nourished us was now killing us.

Like the dish of an overambitious cook, everything was too much.

The world was drowning.

It was as though God took out a big green pen and scratched out everything — well, almost everything – to start again.

Chaos, Noah. There will be Chaos.

And before those fragrant cloves begin to fall from the sky,

Come into the ark. Bring the animals, bring your family.

Bring Tums.

Build me this ark, Noah, this teyva – this boat, this box.

It will be, God says, almost magical in the way it will transform you. It will protect you. I will protect you. I will give you a taste of Utopia.

I will give you whiskey.

You will see how a lamb will be safe from a lion…

Where there will be no predators.

Where even people will not prey on each other — for a corned beef sandwich –

Or even if only for the pickle.

When there is chaos, when there is deluge, when there is too much worry, when things fall apart, when it is all much too much and when you are drowning — it can house your souls and keep you safe.

When the world falls apart I will keep you safe.

I will keep you safe.

Chaos and flood are not just about marinara sauce.

It feels like chaos and flood when the waves of trouble in your life are rising – when you lose your job, your health, your safety and your home.

Grace, shelter, the ark are about saving us from the storm that will always come – no matter who you are and your place in life.

There is too much out there.

There is too much to taste.

Too much to stomach,

There is too much to feel.

Man, we are under water.

Our senses are flooded. Our hearts are flooded.

We have too much to think about.

Too much to do.

Too much to feel.

Too much worry.

I could make a list!

You know what I need?

I need an ark.

I need a place which can shield me from the chaos.

I need protection from confusion.

I need protection from myself.

I need a place where I can begin again.

I need a place where I can think straight.

I need a place where I can be with my family.

Where no one fights over the food.

Into every life a little rain will fall.

Most of the time a lot more than a little rain.

And sometimes a lot more than a little garlic.

Sometimes there will be heartburn.

Sometimes there will be fire.

There will always be illness & there will always be death.

But it is ok – not to be ok.

We will need shelter.

We will need alka-seltzer.

We will need an ark.

We may need the Divine….

We will need a little whiskey.

We may also need a green pen to scratch things out and start again.

We will need kindness.

And we will need each other.


This post first appeared on one of the most honest places on the interwebs – Leslie’s blog

I Am Not Afraid of Hell

LB’s NOTE: Writers and other artists often tend to think of themselves as alone in the way we think and feel about, well, everything.

We’re publishing this short poem by Leslie Coff to let you know that isn’t the case. Every creative person I’ve ever known has struggled with the same issues…and I kind of like Leslie’s solution.

In fact, as we say in the writers room, “Works for me!”


by Leslie Coff

If the worst thing we can be is to not be ourselves;
If our greatest sin is despair…

If Dante could describe two souls in Purgatory as doves — then he has not yet decided that they are guilty.

If beauty can move us to tears…
If we are, none of us, perfect —

and we all understand that none of us are…
Then we are, ultimately, all together.

And as for the fire and brimstone….I, for one, will be okay.

Because I have marshmallows.


Another visit from one of our favorite writer-thinker-feelers, Leslie Coff. This post first appeared on one of the most honest places on the interwebs – Leslie’s blog

The Worst Thing That Could Happen

Photo credit: homeadvisor.com

by Leslie Coff

When I was a little girl living near Chicago, I imagined that the worst thing that could happen would be if a tornado hit my school.

Several times during the school year our principal would get on the loudspeaker and announced “Operation Ajax” — which meant that we would line up at the door and proceed into the hallway where there were no windows…

…sitting against the walls with our heads between our knees — our arms protecting our necks against potential flying glass.

As it happened, my school was never actually hit by a tornado.

A few years ago our kids came home fro school telling us about their new drill: “Code Red”.   First, the school principal announces through the intercom “Code Red” — at which point all the students hide under their desks, turn off the lights and lock the classroom door.

You see, “Code Red” means that there is an intruder in the school:  an intruder brandishing a weapon.

Then a little while after that we learned about “Code Blue”.    “Code Blue” is handled pretty much a like a fire drill — all the students quickly and quietly line up and file carefully out of the building.

“Code Blue” is a bomb drill.

We are talking about suburban America, here.
But for many now, there is Red Alert — bombs falling from the sky.

There are things certainly worse than tornados.

There have been, over time,  many people who choose to give up life’s pleasures because they believe it will bring them closer to the Divine — closer to God.

In ancient times, when people took on the vows of the Nazirite, they left their hair uncut, they did not eat meat — or grapes.   They wore sackcloth, did not drink wine and vowed abstinence from other passions and pleasures.

For the Nazirites, as they yearned to be closer to God, perhaps they thought that the worse thing that would happen was that they would overindulge in life’s pleasures….pleasures, I would like to add here — that were given by God.

But interestingly, perhaps in their austerity they separated themselves from their communities — and also from God.

There are indeed scholars who believe that because these Nazirites denied themselves the pleasures given by the Divine:  taste of good food, the fragrance of flowers — that they themselves were sinners.

Even the philosopher Maimonides is known to have said “at the end of our lives, we shall be called to account for every permitted pleasure we failed to enjoy”.

Of course there is a limit to how many brownies we could (and should) eat — and a person can only drink so much wine without worrying everyone around them…but pleasures in life — our families and friends and children — are those which we cannot enjoy enough.

These days we have many reminders of how we need to cherish the taste of late-summer grapes a square of chocolate and the hand of a friend.

Code Red.  Code Blue.   Red Alert.

We don’t have to be Nazirites to appreciate the most basic gift of everyday life.   This year, this month and today — we are all counting our blessings more.

Although in my part of the world things are not quite as dangerous for us as the time of our parents and grandparents pogroms, for many people things are just as dangerous — and more.

Things are very uncertain.

We have become entitled in our expectation of safety.    We have been complacent.

Too much so.

We have forgotten the smell of danger.   Our ancestors, though, lived it and learned to survive through it.

We know in our bones what it is to be afraid and what it is to hope.   We know what an uncertain future feels like.     We, in our souls’ memory, remember what it feels like to pray for survival.

In Joann Rose Leonard’s book “The Soup Has Many Eyes”, the author recounts her family’s flight from the pogroms.   She describes what I am (and perhaps we all are) feeling:

“Braced, we tread across boundaries that separate us from those we love;  pull us far from the place we call home.”

”And too often, we do it in the dark, not knowing if we will arrive safely, not knowing if we will arrive at all; unable to predict how a flick of impulse in our brain…may shape the rest of our life and the lives of our children’s children…”

There will always be danger and darkness in our lives but there will also always be light.   They mix together.

The sweetest blessings in my life I now see better because of the darkness:

  • The moment immediately preceding the Sabbath candle lighting — the moment filled with the expectation of light.
  • The very brief moments in my life when the children were small — when the days seemed so long but the years sped by too, too fast.
  • The very, very brief moments when I have folded the laundry and deluded myself into thinking that ‘today there will be no lonely socks’.

I am so grateful, personally, to have been given one more day of safety.    I am appreciative that for one more hour my family is safe — before our world gets turned on its ear once again.

I am blessed with another chance.   One more chance.  One more day.

I am challenging you to enjoy your life.

And not only because, apparently , enjoying your life is a way to honor the Divine — apart from us and inside all of us.

We are grateful for the creation of a world where nothing is lacking — not a sun or a moon or land or water or beauty.   We are grateful for all of this to delight our human hearts.

For we need these things to stave off the darkness.

I am blessed with love, light, family, health, color and a warm coat.

Because the worst thing that could happen is that I could live in a place that has a long winter.

No.

The worst thing that could happen is that I would, we would, not see all our blessings and that we would not see them in each other.

As our ancestors helped each other through their pogroms, we pray that all those in danger be released from the darkness.

In this same dark we reach for each others’ outstretched hands — these hands which we will continue to hold until the light begins to rise again.

Until Code Red — or Code Anything….is over.

May we all see the light in the wine, in the morning, in each other’s eyes and souls — and have perspective.


Leslie Coff is a hell of a writer (and artist and chef), who just returned to the U.S. from a longish and fascinating sojourn in Italy., which we hope to help her share with you soon. This post first appeared on one of the most honest places on the interwebs – Leslie’s blog