Monday, December 21, 2009

They Come With The Rain.

What, you ask, comes with the rain? Blossoms, thunderclouds, slick roads and pavements? Yes to all those things, but all of them have some redeeming feature: blossoms are wonderful to look at and smell while thunderclouds are marvelous to look at and they bring rain. OK so I can't think of a redeeming feature of slick roads and pavements.

What I'm talking about walks on six legs and is unbelievably persistent. You guessed it--Ants.

When my youngest son, Glenn, was six or so he used to get rid of ants in a very creative way. His line of ants used to come up the drain in the bathroom he shared with his brother. He would run for a plain ordinary kitchen knife you use to round out a place setting at the table; then he would tap it near the drain hole and voila back down the drain they'd go never to be seen again. I think somehow they associated that tapping with a Giant right out of a storybook. I'd try that approach but the drain in the kitchen leads to the garbage disposal and as much as I'd like to turn them into mulch they'd find a way to get around the blades or they'd die and come back to haunt me.

These pesky invaders are unbelievably persistent, to the point that I now find them everywhere: I'm sitting in an overstuffed chair in a room down from the kitchen where ants traditionally make their inroads and suddenly one of the pesky creatures will appear crawling on me. I feel like I'm in the middle of the movie The Birds only with insects the terrifying spector.

One of the major problems has been I can't locate a trail (just found one crawling on my laptop). If you can't locate a trail you can't get rid of them. They used to come in through a window
in our kitchen, down the wall below it ; then parade across the floor toward the refrigerator with a stop at the kitchen counter. My husband said he thought they came in a window over the kitchen sink and I dutifully sprayed around it but they came in anyway--but not from around the window, of course.

Speaking of the refrigerator. Never did we have these things inside the refrigerator. Now we have a fancy new model, a side by side with the freezer on one side and the refrigerator on the other with a little place where you can load up a glass with water and ice on the freezer door. I mean this is an expensive machine--gorgeous--the latest in technology but can it keep out ants? No. I spray the doors with ant spray and the next morning find a pile of dead ants at the bottom of the freezer door. They are pretty dumb creatures after all. They go for the freezing temperatures and ignore a much more nifty source of goodies next door.The old refrigerator, while a lot less nifty never let in an ant.

I have now taken to religiously cleaning up the area around the sink before we head up the stairs for the night, as well as spray areas where I've found them (with a spray safe for food, children and pets no less) and they still come in.

OK Reader--wherever you are--Help!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Have I got a story to tell you!"

You may think I'm overally fond of Halloween or these kids but I have such a wonderful story about this particular picture I just had to post it again.

After snapping the picture and seeing it on my camera I said to my husband, Jerry, how wonderful it would be to be able to give the picture to these kids as it came out so well. Not by any
God given talent, you understand. I just literally did the old point and click routine.

The next weekend Jerry came back from getting us our coffee and muffin fix and said "Have I got a story to tell you!"

He had gone into our favorite cafe,
Belforno, which we've been going to for years. They have marvelous coffee and the muffins--well they are beyond compare. A very nice gentleman has been waiting on us there all these years. I thought he owned it he was there so much but it turns out he simply works there.

I suspect he is from Mexico; I often hear him talking Spanish with the other customers. I've tried my lame Spanish on him occasionally and he always smiles and talks to me back in Spanish. Since he is careful to use only the simplest of words, I can sometimes answer back in Spanish which of course makes my day!

Jerry walked in and got into line at the counter. The gentleman started waiting on him and then he started talking to him about Halloween. At first Jerry didn't understand but then the man asked whether he could have a copy of the picture and the light began to dawn.

The man had come to our door with those kids. Whose they are I don't know, but I'm assuming at least some of them are his and the rest are most certainly relatives or neighbors. I saw him with a mask covering his face, leaning on a cane, pretending to be infirm. Of course I ignored him totally and went for those adorable kids! He told Jerry he was so shocked seeing a customer of the cafe at the door he almost fell down the steps.

Well, I'm going to get a copy for every one of those kids and one for him and he will distribute them. In the meantime, I gave him the address of this blog so he could at least see the picture before he actually had one in hand.

Vive La Story!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Happened To Halloween?

My family gathered for Halloween, except for my daughter-in-law, Wendy, and new Grandbaby, Nicholas, who were sick. Our son, Jeff, took a train from Palo Alto, which is down the peninsula from San Francisco; then caught our local commuter train which brought him all the way into Berkeley where he was picked up by my husband, Jerry. Our other son, Glenn, came on the freeway with our Grandson, Theo, a trip of some 40 minutes. This was going to be a big Halloween; the first one that Theo would remember so we were gathering.

We had every expectation that we would have a big turnout. Our neighbors see us on the street or heading up our steps these days and they corner us and ask if they can see our garden. Here was a chance to see it without having to grab one of us when we started up the steps. Our lights were on and that means we were well lit.

No one came, except for this adorable bunch of kids--and one other bunch about the same age--and that was hours later. No one was on the sidewalks, none of the house were lit that you would expect to see lit, even a house across the street from us who had gone to the trouble of putting out a really adorable Halloween exhibit was dark. I thought of Halloween nights in Minnesota when I was a kid--the smell of burning leaves, the crisp Fall air, groups of kids darting across dark streets. Halloween was a big deal way back when.

Glenn took Theo over to another neighborhood earlier to be with the other Grandma and the two of them went from door to door. They came back in plenty of time to see the festivities. We waited and waited. Nothing.

My husband had gone down to our neighborhood shopping street to pick up some things which were needed for dinner. He said the merchants had all opened their doors and were handing out treats. This explained part of the mystery. It seemed very strange that they would do that, actually. I have always thought of Halloween as a neighborhood thing and merchants were opening up their doors to hand out treats? It also turned out that families were having Halloween parties in their homes. The final thing suggested as an explanation was that Halloween this year fell on a Saturday when people would naturally have time to throw a party. If it had fallen on a weeknight we might have had a totally different story. I'm wondering if we're not afraid of Halloween now. Too many scary things have happened so we keep our kids close to us. Parties are fine, going to neighborhood merchants are fine, but going door to door is Verboten.

When these kids showed up I was so excited I grabbed my camera. Halloween at last!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Untended Children Will Be Given a Double Espresso And A Free Puppy.

Untended children can be cute but oh my. I thought this restaurant's bar had a funny solution.
Who would want to have their child given a double
espresso and at the very same time--a puppy? Chaos would reign.

One of our group, next year, will join the number of us with children. We're so happy for you, Jen! I'm at the top of the heap having two sons over forty, but it is not always a good place to be because of the regrets. It is awesome being close to young women now bringing up their children. I wish I had done some things differently: first and foremost I wish I had fed my children in a more healthy way. Hot dogs and hamburgers and pizza are easy choices but not healthy ones. Would I change either of my sons, despite the sometimes harrowing things being a parent has brought? No and I doubt most parents would. It's like that ancient Greek story about being offered the chance to change your own set of problems for somebody else's. Most of us wouldn't change our lives, if given the choice.

Here you see my son, Glenn, pretending he's an astronaut. He took his three and a half year old son, Theo, (who now insists he's four) to the Discovery Museum in
Sauselito. My husband, Jerry, joined them and took this wonderful picture. He is a wonderful, imp like creature, my son. This picture picks up that imp like quality wonderfully. He has a way with children. Before he had his own, he and his wife, Wendy, were with some friends and their children on a day of driving to one spot or another. Glenn was in the front seat of the car (not driving, which turned out to be providential). A little girl in the back asked him what the little dark spot on the back of the neck was. (I'm sure he must have a mole back there although that's not a insight gained through observation). He said it was his "On and Off Button." That of course precipitated a whole series of pushing the On and Off Button which in turn precipitated a whole number of whole body collapses by Glenn and a whole series of howls from the children seated in the back.

I would hate to have had anyone give Glenn a double
espresso and a free puppy at any age, but at age four? That was the age he went tearing through our house, grinning that imp like grin, totally naked, in plain view of a host of our friends. One of my friends still remembers that exhibition with a bit of shock. I thought it was hilarious. He hasn't lost that wonderful, imp like quality and I hope he never does.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Strange and Inexplicable Event Posts--Whenever!

My husband, Jerry, and I have been taking a trip down the Sierras starting in Tahoe, finally ending up in LA. As we were leaving Tahoe we couldn't get over the fall colors. I had left my camera at home but since I had my iPhone with me I started snapping pictures madly with it's amazing built in camera. Given we were driving at 60 miles an hour or so, all I could do was point out the passenger side window or through the windshield and snap the picture. Later, when perusing them at leisure on the iPhone, I came across this strange picture. I'm adding it to my Strange and Inexplicable Event Posts because of the strangeness and beauty of it and because it was totally a mystery. Once I put it on the computer and blew it up I solved the mystery.

It will become clear very soon that I took a picture out the passenger window of the side view mirror. What do you see?

Monday, October 5, 2009

How Much Detail?

I have been told that I don't put in enough detail into my stories. I have come to think that this is mostly true. I have been working on writing the last chapters for my middle grade/ Young Adult novel RUN!! and have run through them quickly, as is my typical approach. When I've gone back through them I've been dissatisfied with what I've read. I've finally come to understand that there isn't enough detail in the story to engage my attention.

Recently I had a critique on RUN!! that mentioned I had too much detail in the manuscript and that the detail slowed down a very important part of my manuscript--the first page. I went back and unhappily cut out the offending paragraph, only leaving what was absolutely necessary which I often found was in the story further on anyway. I'm now writing with more detail and enjoying it and it is difficult cutting it out. I am pulled more into the story as the writer and that, in turn, makes any further writing I do more true to the story. What my wonderful 4Corners writing friend pointed out was all too true, however, so I cut!

I used to write short stories and in those I found myself easily weaving in the necessary detail. Then I turned to writing for children. Writing for children is--contrary to a lot of people's beliefs--a lot more difficult than anyone could imagine. You can put in too much detail, as I just pointed out. You can leave out necessary detail to give the breath of life to a character. You have to think of your audience.

If you write for children, which child do you write for: the four year old, the eight year old, the twelve year old or the teen and how does that determine how much detail you bring into your story?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Strange and Inexplicable Event Posts--Whenever!

Monday Sep 21, 3:25 pm ET

Forest, Miss. Officers had to use a stun gun and handcuffs to capture an emu running loose on Interstate 20 in central Mississippi on Sunday. Police Officer Keley Culpepper told WLBT-TV in Jackson that motorists had been calling 911 since Friday to report sightings of two Emus on I-20 and nearby U.S. Highway 80.

Authorities had been unable to find the animals until Sunday, when one was spotted near the I-20 ramp. The big bird was dodging traffic. Culpepper and deputies were able to surround the animal but had to sue the Taser and handcuffs to finally get it off the road.

After being captured, the animal was taken to the ScottCounty Forest Coliseum.

This post is to introduce what I hope will be a regular event on this blog--Strange and Inexplicable Events!

When will they post--whenever! How else could they be strange and inexplicable?

The Emu is native to Australia, and stands six feet six inches tall. They run at the economical speed of 31 miles per hour. There are a lot of them in Australia--but how was one found on a freeway in Mississippi?

Strange and inexplicable!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Jeff's Desperate Odyssey

I was hunting through my photographs and came across this strange one I took up at Tahoe, sometime last year. It was obviously sometime during the winter and I have to think it was as recent as this last winter, because of the pitcher you see in the lower left of the picture which I bought at a thrift store quite recently.

Somehow, my son Jeff was caught peering out of that snowbank. He probably was behind me in the kitchen as I took the picture and his image somehow ended up as you see it. The picture of the penguin above it is one of a set of drawings he did a few years ago which I loved so much I put it on a recent Christmas Card. The penguin is Jeff, it has his sad eyes.

We just celebrated his birthday last weekend and finding this photograph seems appropriate. Coincidentally I also have been reading an excerpt from a book called "The Water Giver" by Joan Ryan. The author talks about having difficulties with her son from an early age and making up all kinds of excuses as to what she felt were her failings in her dealings with him. Then, today, during the last excerpt we learn he suffered a serious head injury falling of his skateboard. I know I'm going to have to buy this book after reading this excerpt. It is that powerful.

At one point, when she's trying to talk to him through a drug-induced coma, she realizes--perhaps for the first time--how much she loves him. That statement had personal resonance with me, for we had a moment, Jeff and I, when life changed and would never go back to how it had been before when I, too, discovered how much I loved him.

My husband and I knew Jeff had some mental health issues but they were manageable. He was a very gifted tennis coach and had a very loyal clientele. Then, one December, perhaps at the end of 1998, he began to gain weight and act strangely--not wanting to answer his phone being the most disturbing. This went on until March of 1999. One day in March I went over and cornered him in his apartment. What I saw and heard disturbed me terribly. He was talking about a young woman he fancied himself loving who was beyond his reach, totally. He told me she had told him to wait patiently and she would come to him. I asked him how long he had been waiting. He said "Forever."

All of this said very coherently but with no ability to look me in the eye, his eyes, instead, ranging far and wide. He also seemed unusually excited. I remember getting home somehow, sitting at our kitchen table and screaming desperately "I need help!"

I called a therapist he had been seeing and told him what I had seen. He said "Don't worry. He's probably fine. I'll see him on Thursday."

The next morning he was gone, driving away in his car. Thus began Jeff's odyssey, the horrors of which I only learned later. I only knew he was gone when I got a call from a mental health facility in Southern California. Jerry and I flew down and brought him back. I remember we went out to dinner that night with his brother, Glenn, and Glenn's girl friend, Wendy. Again, he acted very strangely, frightening us all.

A friend of mine who worked in a mental health facility told me to not leave him alone, whatever we did. The only problem was, someone in Jeff's condition will lie very convincingly. The next morning as I was going upstairs he told me he was heading to the kitchen for some cereal and again he was gone.

It's amazing how someone with a serious mental illness can fool everybody, when they feel they need to. Jeff is extremely bright and personable. He walked to a car rental agency in downtown Berkeley and convinced them to rent him a car. How were we to keep track of him, know where he was going? It seemed impossible to do so, so I called on my niece, who is a medium. Never for a moment did I think she could really help but we were desperate, so we called Sandy, who gets privileged information from an Indian Deity named Babaji, who has been dead thousands of years. Sandy has been known to find dead bodies. She has an amazing talent but a talent I find so strange only desperation would have forced me to call on her.

We thought Jeff was headed for Palm Springs as the particular fantasy he was immersed in--a young South American woman tennis player--was playing there at that particular moment. Sandy said he wasn't headed for Palm Springs, he was headed for Southern California. She also told us that we could keep within a day's reach of him by following his movements via credit card. No details would be there, but the city or town and the nature of the merchant would be, the next day the details would be there. We had given Jeff an American Express Card and given that his card was off our account we were able to track his movements with the help of the son of the friend who had worked in that mental health facility. He worked for American Express in an upper level capacity. We soon found out he had been staying in a motel in Santa Barbara the night before.

Jerry and I got on a plane to Santa Barbara, praying desperately that we would get to Jeff in time, asking through the Stewardess to let us deplane first. We missed him by just hours. Again, he had fooled the authorities. Someone at the motel had thought he was acting strangely and had called the police, to no avail.

I have always thought Jerry was the strong one, but I soon found we needed each other and sometimes I had to be the strong one. Jerry wanted to wait at the motel, thinking Jeff might come back. He had left wet clothes in the shower so it made sense. I insisted we head south, toward Los Angeles, where Sandy had told us to look for him.

The woman who fielded calls in Jerry's office for everyone--a true jack of all trades--became Jeff's savior. As Jerry drove, I took calls from Verna as she talked to a American Express agent over the phone. We found out Jeff had just checked into the Disneyland Hotel. Now, that choice seems terribly poignant to me. Jeff was living a nightmare and he desperately needed to escape so Disneyland became the obvious choice.

We were now right on his trail. He had been acting very strangely from the moment he had checked into the hotel. When someone is obviously in as much trouble as Jeff, hotel managers put an agent on them; the agent then follows them around. We got to the hotel and met with the individuals in charge of him. When they asked if Jeff's trouble had been diagnosed, we told them what the doctors at the first mental health facility had told us: Schizophrenia.

We followed them to Jeff's hotel room. They knocked on the door and Jeff soon answered, seeming at that point quite normal. They asked Jeff if he would like to go home with us. He said yes.

We were exhausted and wanted to stay the night with him but the hotel refused. We got Jeff in a cab and drove to the airport. Jerry ran ahead trying to hold the last plane for San Francisco for us. I followed with Jeff. The progress was slow as every few feet he wanted to be hugged.

Jerry, frantic, had managed to convince them to hold the plane. A few hours later we were in San Francisco. We managed, with an amazing amount of difficulty, to get Jeff into a hospital in Berkeley. Again he was convincing everyone he was perfectly OK. Jerry managed to get a doctor to hold him for the 72 hours allowed by law.

Jeff's odyssey was truly horrendous. The first trip south he had driven nearly all the way to Santa Barbara in his car but at some point the car lost its clutch. He was stopped along the major north south freeway to Los Angeles. Two policemen pulled over to help him and he ran from them across the freeway. They finally managed to catch him in the center divide, where they pepper sprayed him and then got him to the mental health facility.

The second trip south he somehow managed to get all the way to Santa Barbara in the rental car but by now he was so disoriented and frightened he sat in an all night cafe and cried. Again, police were called. He ran from them, through a creek; then fell down an embankment and sprained his ankle. He convinced the policeman to let him go, again convincing him that he was OK.

From Santa Barbara he bought an airline ticket to Los Angeles and then it was a simple cab ride to the Disneyland Hotel where we eventually caught up with him.

It is now ten years later. Jeff lives in a half-way house after a suicide attempt, in one of their apartments. He is doing very much better but I am tired--tired of it all, tired of feeling so sad for my son. I thought perhaps writing all this would help and it has. I want so desperately to care for him without pain.

He is fortunate in that he is a very talented man. He is a gifted artist and photographer and an amazing writer. During the first year after his initial diagnosis he wrote a complete novel and began another and nearly finished it. This novel is my favorite: he calls it "Soul In An Empty Landscape." I wish he could finish it. It is his story.

It is very unusual for a Schizophrenic to complete a novel in a year. During that year he exhibited traits much closer to Bi-Polar Disorder. I thought at one point that would be a better diagnosis. I've since changed my mind as friends of ours with two Bi-Polar sons have had agonies with one of their sons far surpassing ours with Jeff.

How does Jeff feel about his illness? He now accepts it, which is paramount to eventually being able to live a productive life. His therapist at his halfway house asked him once how he felt about being Schizophrenic. He said "I'm angry about what my life has become."

In a few weeks he will begin a course in Philosophy at Stanford University--in a Continuing Education Program. My sister, Carol, who is an artist, has been very supportive and loving toward him, encouraging him with his art and for the last two years he attended an art class in Palo Alto and he is going to take a photography course next semester. Before that, in the halfway house, he drew the marvelous animal you see at the top of this post.

You have to have hope for and love someone who so desperately needs it, but it is hard. It was during those long moments in that airplane terminal in Los Angeles when he reached out for those multitudes of hugs that I realized how much I loved him.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'll Have to Ask You To Not Go Near The Baby's Head, Theo

Here you have our daughter-in-law, Wendy, and our grandson, Theo, at a Mexican restaurant we all found ourselves enjoying together recently. My husband, Jerry, took the picture with his iPhone. I'm going to assign him all future photographic jobs when the family gathers. I think it is an absolutely wonderful photograph.

Theo had just eaten a full paper container of jam; the remains of the jam are still on his face. The comment, which is repeated as the title of this blog piece, I heard over the phone a day or so later during a conversation I was having with Wendy. I envisioned truly horrible things happening to the baby's head and Wendy was so calm about it!

Well, things are often very different from what you imagine. It turns out when Theo goes near the baby's head he does it like this: first he hugs him and then he gives him a kiss. Maybe Wendy was afraid Theo would give the baby a cold or worse yet, the flu? A flu bug is again running rampant at Wild Horse and Glenn is the sufferer.

Wendy doesn't know what caused her comment but I think Theo was trying to kiss the baby. I'm just glad it wasn't close to what happened to me when our oldest was eighteen months old and Glenn a newborn. I was holding Glenn in the front seat and our oldest, Jeff, got miffed and hit me over the head with a whiffle bat. I may have the name of the bat slightly wrong; it's what a child uses to hit a light weight ball called a whiffle. It didn't hurt; I was just startled. Oh, the travails of being a parent!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Feat of Derring-Do

I took it upon myself the other day to turn a rather ordinary day into an extraordinary one, but not by intention. The damn thing just grew.

We were up at Tahoe. I had left my husband preparing to walk our dog, Plato, along the Truckee River while I shopped for dinner. My husband is used to giving orders. I don't think there's any other way he knows how to communicate. Oh, that's not really the case, it only seems that way sometimes.

The particular order given to me was "I want you back here in thirty minutes." I told him I couldn't promise such a thing and he would just have to sit on a nearby log if it turned out I was late. He just ignored the comment totally and walked off with Plato. He's not good at small talk.

I don't like to disappoint and he's really a nice guy so I decided to give it my all. But things kept getting in the way. It was nearly impossible to get out on Route 89, and I needed to get on Route 89 in order to shop for dinner. At last I fearfully worked myself into the traffic. Then the traffic eased by some miracle and I soon found myself driving down the main street and into the parking lot in front of Safeway.

I parked in the very outside lane, the best place to burn a little rubber on the way out. I then walked into Safeway pushing a shopping cart. I immediately worked myself toward the back where the meat section was. I love meat sections. You always know where they are. I was planning on buying a nice rib eye steak or two to serve for dinner.

That went rather uneventfully, but after I picked up the steaks, I attempted to push my cart toward the produce section, only to be stopped by a veritable sea of shopping carts. I have never seen as many shopping carts in one place. I finally worked myself through them, turned down into the produce section and immediately found myself unable to find what I wanted, what with all the endless varieties of lettuce and cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. I finally picked up what I thought I needed and headed back toward the meat section because of course I had forgotten to shop for tea or crackers or some such thing and those strange appendages to a shopping experience are always next to the meat section.

More shopping carts but somehow not as many, now people clogging the aisles, some of them bigger than me so, being a total coward, I went back to the produce section, with the intention of making my way around to the front of the store so I could enter the aisle where the crackers, or whatever, were stashed.

Of course I had to go by the check-out stands and, if you've ever been in a Safeway, this is where shopping cart mania really starts. This wasn't a sea of shopping carts, this was an ocean of shopping carts.

I finally got the crackers, finished my shopping and headed back toward the ocean of shopping carts. A miracle occurred! I found a checkout stand with hardly anybody in it!

I had long since given up any hope of actually getting back in thirty minutes. I had given up hope so dramatically I hadn't even looked at the clock. Now, by some miracle, there seemed to be a chance--just a chance--to get back in time.

Everything worked smashingly. I headed for the door happily, a young guy pushing the cart for me. I was so organized I even had my own shopping cart person.

We started down the aisle toward my car when what did I see but a semi-truck backing down the aisle toward the garage where Safeway's goods were unloaded. I had, in my stupidity, chosen the lane where Safeway's trucks delivered their goods! The truck was humongous!

I found this amazingly funny. I had been faced with an unending series of things to thwart my mission, seas and oceans of shopping carts and people that insisted on blocking aisles and then, just as I thought I had a prayer of being on time, a semi-truck!

The gargantuan semi backed down the aisle toward the garage; got the rear end of the truck to the point where it was almost touching the roof of the garage; then apparently not being in quite the right position, pulled up and backed down again. And so it went. Finally he backed the truck into the garage with about an eighth of an inch to spare. A real feat, let me tell you.

Believe it or not I was on time and my husband was late.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Paradise Invaded

I spent parts of the last two weeks at my daughter-in-law's and son's home in Green Valley helping with the new baby. This bookshelf is full of strangeness like that face peering out at the upper left corner which actually belongs to a mask owned by Wendy's late father. The bookshelf is very Dickens, which makes total sense as the bookshelf belongs to my son Glenn. Glenn teaches English Literature and is a fan of anything suggestive of Dickens. It seemed very proper to introduce this post with this picture as this story is strange. Maybe not Dickens' strange, but J Conan Doyle strange, Speckled Band strange. Don't you feel like Sherlock Holmes could be standing next to that bookshelf, pipe in hand, peering out, ready to confront some dastardly villain?

Last weekend Diane, the other Nana, spent four days or so with Wendy and Glenn to help while my husband and I went to Tahoe. While they were there, Paradise was invaded.

Just outside the front door to the house Wendy planted a rock garden and filled it with herbs. A wonderful green frog I bought at my thrift store stands on a lily pad regarding the space with interest. That poor rock garden has had multiple problems--our dog Plato pooped on the Parsley and Wendy and Glenn's cats pooped there as well. Wendy has been wringing her hands about that rock garden which took hours of her time to plant. In the center there is a little round bench and small table. It's a lovely spot.

Wendy and Diane were coming back from a walk on the property; Wendy had the baby in a sling; Theo was in day care. They came up on the side of the rock garden toward a set of steps that led to a side gate to a deck when they heard a loud rattle. Diane, being a good mother, pushed Wendy up the steps. "Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!"

Then they noticed Pip, Wendy's and Glenn's big cat named after a Dickens' character, becoming very interested in whatever let out that rattle. Wendy frantically ran inside and grabbed some kibble. Luckily, Pip likes to eat and with a little persuasion he was lured inside.

Glenn came home. He investigated and informed them there was a four foot Rattle Snake caught in some netting in the Rock Garden--it was the biggest Rattler he had ever seen. Coincidentally the netting was over the Parsley. The Parsley has suffered more than it's share of mayhem.

Usually Glenn would have killed it. He had helped Wendy's father, Clyde, any number of times doing just that. But this creature was caught in that netting and ever more dangerous because of that.

They called Animal Control, who came out promptly. Animal Control does not kill Rattle Snakes; Rattle Snakes kill rodents so they're useful. They carefully snipped away the netting from around the snake, put it in something--what I don't know--and relocated it thirty yards away.

Thirty yards away! Wild Horse is a big property--15 acres or more. They could have released it farther away than that!

This was the second Rattle Snake in that Rock Garden since February. Apparently they stop there on the way to the creek that runs through the property. That's two too many Rattle Snakes but at least they rattle and tell you they're there!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


True friendship are rare, and even rarer, perhaps, in a time of Facebook and Twitter.  It used to be, with correspondence between two people, that true friendship could grow out of nothing.

What do Twitter and Facebook do in terms of friendship?  You make quick circuits into a person's life.  That can be fascinating but does it further friendship?  

The amazing thing about Facebook and Twitter is you can connect with people you haven't heard from in years and then the correspondence with that friend can begin once again.  Not in a standard way, with a pen, but with an email.

With an email you can truly begin a correspondence.  I began to think about this about a week ago because I made a new friend recently with one of my blogs.  His name is Jim.  He was exploring the Sierra's in the early 1930's so he probably is in his nineties.  He is an amazing correspondent--witty, with thoughts about the world that wouldn't occur to anyone but someone who's been around more than ninety years.

I haven't heard from him in about five days and I'm worried about him.  He told me recently that he felt lost without one of my emails to read--like something was missing, now I feel lost without one of his to read.  He went to Reno to say goodbye to a cousin who was dying.  I imagine he's busy talking with old friends and family members, but still I worry.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I've been thinking about endings lately. My middle grade novel RUN!!! will have a surprise at its close. The surprise has to be believable and right in the guts of it--the guts being the story.

A good ending has to pull together all the elements in the story in a satisfying way and end it, if not with a twist, with a punch. It has to be believable. It has to be told in the tone of the story and it has to extend the reader beyond the story--into the future.

Here are a couple of endings which fit those criteria. "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd about a teenage girl from the south fleeing the abusive T. Ray, looking for a mother in the desperate days just before blacks were given the vote.

"This is the autumn of wonders, yet every day, every single day, I go back to that burned afternoon in August when T. Ray left. I go back to that one moment when I stood in the driveway with small rocks and clumps of dirt around my feet and looked back at the porch. And there they were. All these mothers. I have more mothers than any girl off the street. They are the moons shining over me."

"The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro about a butler in a proper English household trying to shed a lifetime of rigidity which has denied him happiness. One of the symbols of this rigidity is his inability to "banter."

"It occurs to me, furthermore, that bantering is hardly an unreasonable duty for an employer to expect a professional to perform. I have of course already devoted much time to developing my bantering skills, but it is possible I have never previously approached the task with quite the commitment I might have done. Perhaps, then, when I return to Darlington Hall tomorrow--Mr. Farraday himself will not be back for a further week--I will begin practicing with renewed effort. I should hope, then, by the time of my employer's return, I shall be in a position to pleasantly surprise him."

Finally, "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte about the doomed love affair between Heathcliff and his beloved Cathy narrated by Heathcliff's tenant, Lockwood.

"My walk home was lengthened by a diversion in the direction of the kirk. When beneath its walls, I perceived decay had made progress, even in seven months--many a windows showed black gaps deprived of glass; and slates jutted off, here and there, beyond the right line of the roof, to be gradually worked off in coming autumn storms.

"I sought, and soon discovered, the three head-stones on the slope next the moor --the middle on grey, and half buried in the heath--Edgar Linton's only harmonized by the turf and moss, creeping up its foot--Heathliff's still bare.

"I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

What are your favorite endings and what makes them good and right?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


OK, guys, this is where it is these days: Glenn, exhausted, Theo on his chest, asleep in a chair. You can get a peak at our new patio out that window. New grandson could be born at any time and Glenn, like a good husband and Daddy, is taking our little dynamo places to try to wear him out and give Wendy a chance to rest.

I know--an overdose of cute. I just wish the picture was better!

We are pretty much finished with the landscaping but, sob, no picture does it justice! At least not yet. I'm still trying but all I'm able to come up with so far is a picture of a fortress and that won't do at all.

Glenn is now back to teaching in the community college. When new grandson, Nicholas, makes his appearance I'll be staying with them at Wild Horse and then I'll be the one asleep in a chair with Theo asleep on top of me!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I have found myself very emotional today as a friend of mine is dying. In doing something very mundane, I came across this poem, which has entered into my soul and given me comfort. May it do the same for others of you who are grieving.

The Blue Rim of Memory by Denise Levertov

The way sorrow enters the bone
is with stabs and hoverings.
From a torn page
a cabriolet
approaches over the crest of a hill,
first the nodding, straining head of the horse
then the blind lamps, peering;

the ladies within the insect eagerly
look from side to side awaiting the vista—
and quick as a knife
are vanished. Who were they? Where is the hill?
Or from stoked fires of nevermore
a warmth constant as breathing hovers out
to surround you, a cloud of mist
becomes rain, becomes cloak, then skin.

The way sorrow enters the bone
is the way fish sink through dense lakes
raising smoke from the depth
and flashing sideways in bevelled
It's the way the snow
drains the light from day but then,
covering boundaries of road and sidewalk,
widens wondering streets
and stains the sky yellow
to glow at midnight.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I get so caught up in my story I think I tend to forget my characters. I recently had one of my 4Corners buddies tell me my chapters were like short stories. They didn't tend to move the story forward which is an absolute no no to a writer.

I have had this criticism before, in fact it's the most frequent criticism I get. I've never really understood the criticism before but I think I finally do. My 4Corners buddy talked about something having to happen in each chapter to move the characters along to their final destination and some hint of the final destination has to be there. Even now I'm a little fuzzy as to how I manage that.

OK. Hypothesis. Let's say your final destination is a whole series of events that end with one of your characters getting arrested. This is my story RUN. There will be a trial. In the 1920's teenage runaways were routinely put into jail and younger siblings returned home. My characters have run from an abusive household and being returned home is not a good option.

The adults who have befriended them, Cecil and the Nuns and the old men from the hotel come to their rescue and spirit Kate and Pearl out of the courthouse. The brother, Ben, sees their plight in a newspaper and has come to the courthouse as well and he is also spirited away, with his friend Abel. There will be a surprise ending and I don't want to give that away but the upshot of that ending will be that Ben will join the girls on their next adventure. He will no longer be in Penn Station. Abel may join them; I'm not sure of that as yet.

How do I move my characters toward that series of events? Perhaps I have the girls see a mysterious stranger in the neighborhood of the hotel. Perhaps they worry about the nephew who remembered some runaways whose father would pay a mint to get them back and, when last seen, was running for the library to look them up.

I think both of these options would work to move the story forward. I think it would make sense for Pearl and Kate to worry about being found and what would happen if they were. The children's father is a lawyer and Kate has seen him in court and undoubtedly knows what would be in store for them if she and Pearl were found.

The key to this is my rendering of character. If I don't get a good hold on my characters the story takes over. I think that's what's happened here. I need to grab hold of my characters and not let go.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Why is it we find the unfamiliar so hard to digest? I didn't think about this too much, frankly, until Kerri, in a recent blog posting, brought up the amazing poem "The Love Life of j alfred prufrock.

I love T. S. Elliot's poetry and I love the aforementioned poem. To death. I mean, I really like it! But did I buy a book of his poetry? No. I don't think I loved that wonderful poem that much, when I first read it.

Why? That's what bothers me.

Which brings me to the poet August Kleinzahler. Can I move beyond the strangeness of his poetry and truly love it? It's not Robert Frost you're reading here. This is hard, city-bred boy speaking. But his poetry lives and breathes.

He recently won the National Book Critic's Circle Award. I find his poetry difficult, but when I read it (and I'll have to read it many times, I'm sure to truly get it) I have the feeling--just beginning, you understand--of being transported and isn't that what reading a good piece of writing is all about--being transported?

The Tartar Swept

The Tartar swept across the plain

In their furs and silk panties

Snub-nosed monkey men with cinders for eyes

Attached to their ponies like centaurs

Forcing the snowy passes of the Carpathians

Streaming from defiles like columns of ants

Arraying their host in a vasty wheel

White, gray, black and chestnut steeds

10,000 each to a quadrant

Turning, turning at the Jenuye's command

This terrible pinwheel

Gathering speed like a Bulgar dance

Faster and faster

Until it explodes, columns of horsemen

Peeling away in all the four directions

Hard across the puszta

Dust from their hooves darkening the sky

They fall upon village and town

Like raptors, like tigers, like wolves on the fold

Mauling the sza-szas

And leaving them senseless in puddles of goaty drool

Smashing balalaikas

Ripping the ears off hussars and pissing in the wounds

They for whom the back of a horse

Is their only country

For whom a roof and four walls is like unto a grave

And a city, ptuh, a city

A pullulating sore that exists to be scourged

Stinky dumb nomads with blood still caked

On shield and cuirass

And the yellow loess from the dunes of the Takla Makan

And the Corridor of Kansu

Between their toes and caught in their scalps

Like storm clouds in the distance

Fast approaching

With news of the steppes, the lagoons and Bitter Lakes

Edicts, torchings, infestation

The smoke of chronicles

Finding their way by the upper reaches

Of the Selinga and the Irtysh

To Issyk-Kul, the Aral, and then the Caspian

Vanquishing the Bashkirs and Alans

By their speed outstripping rumor

Tireless mounts, short-legged and strong

From whose backs arrows are expertly dispatched

As fast as they can be pulled from the quiver

Samarkand, Bukhara, Harat, Nishapur

More violent in every destruction

This race of men which had never before been seen

With their roving fierceness

Scarcely known to ancient documents

From beyond the edge of Scythia

From beyond the frozen ocean

Pouring out of the Caucasus

Surpassing every extreme of ferocity

From the Don to the Dniester

The Black Sea to the Pripet Marshes

Laying waste the Ostrogoth villages

Taking with them every last cookie

Then dicking the help

These wanton boys of nature

Who shot forward like a bolt from on high

Routing with great slaughter

All that they could come to grips with

In their wild career

Their beautiful shifting formations

Thousands advancing at the wave of a scarf

Then doubling back or making a turn

With their diabolical sallies and feints

Remorseless and in poor humor

So they arrived at the gates of Christendom

From The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, by August Kleinzahler
Copyright © 2003

Saturday, May 23, 2009


I was thinking just now how much I enjoy writing my middle grade novel RUN!! It wasn't too long ago I was stuck in the middle of it, why I don't know, but I now feel I'm three quarters done, which is huge for me. This is a first draft but I've done a lot of editing as I've written it, so perhaps there won't be a lot more to do, at least that's what I'm hoping.

I have a family of two girls and a boy fleeing an abusive home in 1924 and ending up in New York City. The boy, Ben, gets left behind in Penn Central and hooks up with a boy named Abel who knows everything you need to know about getting along in Penn Central. The girls, Kate and Pearl, are settled in a wonderful home with a woman named Esther but are threatened with exposure when her nephew arrives and find themselves on the run again. They settle in a old men's hotel so
decrepit Pearl, the younger, nearly faints at the prospect of staying there.

At this point some nasty rats come into the picture for the girls; for Ben and Abel, the problem is fleas. The girls prove to be the means for salvation for the old men in the hotel. Ben and Abel find getting rid of the fleas is more difficult, involving ultimately a run-in with some nasty older boys and a
perilous run for safety into the night minus their clothes.

What gets Kate and Pearl and Ben together once again is some mysterious gifts which arrive in Penn Station earmarked for Abel. Ben's and Abel's mysterious benefactor will bring everybody together at the end and Ben will have to make a difficult decision: whether to stay with Abel in Penn Station, or rejoin his sisters on the run.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I have talked about one of our important family members before but I thought tonight I'd start with a important family member of mine from years ago. His name was Kettle River Captain--Cappy for short. He was a member of my family when I was growing up and many stories are told about him.

Cappy was a Golden Retriever. My father brought him home as a puppy with the idea that he would use him as a hunting dog, this being the midwest. Cappy hated the water, strangely enough for a retriever, and refused to cooperate. He went into the water only once. He retrieved a stick from the middle of the Mississippi River for my brother. Cappy was really David's dog and Cappy braved Old Man River at the end of his life for him. David had three more Golden Retrievers during his life in honor of Cappy: Moose, Annie, and Cody, but dogs, like anything else of great importance, are irreplaceable. Those dogs were amazing too--each a wonderful character--all worthy of a separate post, but none, of course, like Cappy.

I have a favorite story about Cappy. Cappy had a nemesis--a cat named Buttons who lived across the street from us. Buttons knew just what to do to get Cappy's ire. Our livingroom had floor to ceiling windows. Buttons would sit just outside the window and nonchalantly peer in at Cappy. Cappy would see her and come tearing across the livingroom, forgetting totally there was glass in between him and the pesky cat. He never learned. Buttons got him every time.

My brother talked about when he was grade school Cappy would walk to school with him and when he came out to walk home again who would be there but Cappy. Cappy had his own internal clock.

It nearly killed my brother when Cappy died. I found some images of golden retrievers, having no way to find an image of Cappy to share. I found this wonderful image of a retriever on Photobucket. Much to my delight, he really looks and feels like Cappy. I am a fan of Photobucket for life.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Tonight I have been watching Blade Runner, the story set in a futuristic society in 2019. Much as I enjoy the story my memory fastens on the last moments of a Replicant. Replicants are indistinguishable from humans except they have no memories--until they are four years old. It is the job of Blade Runners to kill rogue Replicants. I love Harrison Ford in the role of the Blade Runner but it is Rutger Hauer who gets my attention in the role of the Replicant Roy Batty.

A Replicant denied feelings until the moment he dies defies understanding. This is what you see as Roy Batty dies: the birth of feelings. It is unbearably poignant.

I couldn't help but reflect on the future as I watched Blade Runner. In the film cars have taken to the skies. My husband was in Osaka, Japan some years ago and talks about freeways six stories in the air which seems to me to be very much the same thing. Would we be able to get in a car to shop if that car was going six stories in the air? Yet in San Francisco we ride trains that travel under San Francisco Bay and think nothing of it.

What do you think the future will be like?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I am planning on a particular move in my novel RUN!! which I feel I need to think through. It involves my mother.

I have mixed feelings about my mother. I adored her for a lot of my life and then the feeling went. For no good reason. Life wasn't easy for me or my siblings but then life wasn't easy for her. She did the best she could.

Now I find myself thinking about her, wondering how life can be so unfair. She was mentally ill at a time when very few people understood it. People generally thought she was just someone with a bad temper. She could make you laugh, and that was a gift. She should have had help a lot sooner than she got it.

When she was a little girl, she wanted to be an actress. Her stories could make you laugh until your sides hurt. She would have been an amazing actress if she had had the chance.

The picture shows her with my father. I've always loved this picture as the couch seems to be literally groaning under their combined weights.

Only time will tell what happens with her in RUN!! Somehow I feel like I should be able to improve on real life somehow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I have this feeling if I start writing I will bring out some great epic piece today. If I start writing, something will click.

Ah, Friendship. That's what I will deal out here today in an epic way, complete with pictures, although arranging pictures is new to me and the results, I'm afraid, show it.

First, I have to explain something. I had a weird childhood, in that I feel there were two parts to it, the before the age of eight part and after the age of eight part. I was a scorcher before the age of 8. I mean I just did it--whatever needed doing I did it with aplomb! I belonged to a group of young ruffians; we all got together every night and played on our street. We only came in from the street when our mothers called. I have a great memory of a seven-year-old and the games we played.

When I turned eight we moved; something settled down deep in my childish bones and I retreated, in a big way. Something in my family went haywire, school left a lot to be desired so I got suspicious, and didn't let anyone in. I've always wanted to go back to my seven-year-old self.

The problem with a dichotomy settling in like that is it hovers over you well into adulthood. I've been particularly suspicious of friendship because I had so little of it growing up. Thank God I've changed, finally. When I make friends now, I really value them.

The day before yesterday a friend took me out to lunch: her name is Barbara. We go back a long ways. For the first time I got more detail on her growing up years, although the hurts didn't come into it, as I've described mine, and there were almost certainly hurts. Just the fascinating stuff, like growing up in New York City before moving to Pennsylvania to a chicken farm, of all things. How could I have known Barb all these years and not known she lived on a chicken farm!

That weird dichotomy still hovers, you see.

Barbara, or Barb, as I call her, is among a group of friends I've had for a lot of years now. Anne, Laura, and Judy are the others in this group of friends. Anne and I are making faces at each other in the pictures, I'm the one on the right with the purple sweater.
Laura and Judy look on tolerantly. We've gone through a lot of things together and I've probably been the only one who hasn't reached out as much as I would have liked. These friends are the ones who reached out when I lost my brother. We go out together to celebrate birthdays every year. May there be many more birthday celebrations!

Max goes back just as many years. In the picture you see we were in one of our wonderful adventure spots: maybe Morocco? We have shared wonderful times together. Max is always there for me. This year was one of the first years we haven't had one of our adventures, like being thrown out of Slovakia or getting lost in the Egyptian Exhibit at the Louvre. Next year, Max!

Jen is my newest friend. You see her here with her husband Soeren and my husband Jerry. Jen's is a friendship I can't even begin to describe: like sending innumerable emails, How Are You Doing? What's Up? And meaning it. And wanting to know. Like thinking through how to help with a writing problem that was causing real knock down, drag out depression and coming forth with the one thing that helped.

Jen and I met in an online writing group, soon found it not to our liking and together left to form our own. From there she signed me up (without my knowledge! Thank you, Jen!) with another writing group that was forming so now I have all these other friends whose pictures I don't have on me and available but then, friends, you know who you are: the wonderful HW, HtH, Erin, Brit, Kerri--The Four Corners Online Writing Group!

Here's to all my friends: Barb, Anne, Laura, Judy, Max, Jen, HW, HtH, Erin, Brit, Kerri. I wish we were all together. I'd lift a glass of wine in your honor!

With special thanks to Jen. May Possum Summer find a publisher and soon!

Monday, May 4, 2009


I got back from Wild Horse yesterday. I loved being there. Glenn fixed pancakes and bacon. Bliss.

I took some pictures, one of which I'm using on this post. I found it impossible to catch the feeling of being in a treehouse. I ended up not taking my camera but depending on my iPhone after all. Still, I think I got some pretty good pictures.

One of the things I noticed is how much I was sleeping. I slept into 9:30 the first morning and 10:00 the next. I never do that at home so that in itself was different. Even at that I found myself groggy and fighting going back to bed a lot of the day.

I puzzled about that and then I think I finally got it. It was the quiet. The house has no forced air furnace. They have no dishwasher. Mostly you hear the birds.

If you live in the city like I do you never are free of noise. Right now I hear the whistle of a train. The forced air furnace is going because it's cold here today. Clocks tick. We have wood floors and they creak when they're walked on. A lot of us no longer read the newspaper. We turn on the TV and get our news from that. We live in the midst of noise.

I love all that noise, really; it's what I'm used to. Some people can't stand going to a really large city like New York because of the noise. There it really goes into overtime. Still, it's nice to have the quiet once in awhile.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Today I head for Wild Horse, the idyllic place in the country that is the new home of Wendy and Glenn and Theo. It's on 23 acres, which is tremendously exciting to me--the old city girl. Well, a lot of it is hills but no matter.

It was probably built in the fifties. Jerry says it needs at least $100,000 worth of work but that it has a beautiful footprint. Floor to ceiling windows in the livingroom and diningroom bring in the outside; you feel like you're in a treehouse.

I'm not sure they have anything but dial-up at Wild Horse, so reading will be the preferred occupation. I hope to begin planning the blog for the Turnabout Shop. Other than that, I hope to continue working on RUN and reading some pages for a writing buddy.

How do you plan a blog for a thrift store? I don't plan on posting more than once a week so I need to be sure I've got it organized to take advantage of that. I laid awake some last night and found myself thinking about using labels, which I don't use at all on my personal blog but that somehow seem critical for Turnabout. The question is, what labels?

I'm going to run through a few possibilities: Antiques and Special Doodads; Jewelry; Books; Designer Clothes; Back Room Catch-All. FLASH!!! for truly special items that have just come into the shop and must be posted immediately. I will have to reinstate my camera. I discovered this morning that my iPhone was being difficult about emailing photos to my email address, so the camera has to come with me and it has to work.

One of my writing buddies, Kerri, has a puzzle every Friday on her blog. I like the idea of having a specific direction for the blog on specific days but if I'm only posting once a week? How do I deal with that? Maybe I post on successive days: the first post on Monday, second a week later on Tuesday, third a week later on Wednesday etc. That way maybe I assign a label to a specific day: Mondays I do Antiques and Doodads; Tuesdays Jewelry; Wednesdays Books; Thursdays Designer Clothes; Fridays Back Room Catch-All.

I have a problem going to Wild Horse which I'm still puzzling with. Plato is a big dog; he weighs all of 70 pounds. I am now hobbling around and cannot walk him. Sunday shouldn't be a problem as Glenn will be there but tomorrow he's going to a conference so it's up to me. Wendy is seven months pregnant; it's out of the question for her to walk him. I'm sure I'll figure it out; it's just that letting this nutty dog out on 23 acres where a mountain lion was sighted within ten feet of the house last winter... No, I don't think we can let the old Plato roam.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I have been lax in my blogging lately and find I miss it. Everything has settled in, although David still creeps in around the edges. Yesterday a new front window was installed. As a result, the foreman on the job, whose name is John, was going in and out frequently. At one point he called out to me: "Marcia...." The rest is lost to me because of what happened next, which was strange. I thought instead of John's voice I heard David calling out to me, David saying "Marcia....". David had a very identifiable voice, not a particularly welcoming voice and I thought I'd never hear it again. I thought to myself at that moment how I wasn't even sure I remembered exactly how he sounded. I am sure I was somehow transmitting my memory of his voice to that moment but still it was strange.

Nothing else strange happened. The rest of the day went the way of most days. I fixed dinner. Jerry and I watched a movie, which turned out to be wonderful--a movie based on a play by Neil Simon called "The Sunshine Boys." It featured Woody Allen and Peter Falk as a couple of crotchety old men. Woody was not Woody in the film. Woody was a crotchety old man. Jerry really enjoyed it and I enjoyed hearing him laugh--at times, almost uncontrollably. It was typical Neil Simon material and totally wonderful.

This weekend I get to spend with my grandson. Oh, and yes, with his Mommy and Daddy. Jerry is flying to Chicago for a reunion with his fraternity. I thought about going but decided sitting for five hours on an airplane was not going to be fun. Instead I get to spend a wonderful two days at Wild Horse.

Lately I've felt like I was being put out to pasture by Theo. Monday I took care of him, which I do frequently on Monday's. I sat down with him on the couch and set him up with Thomas The Train. He then proceeded to make it clear by impatiently pointing at a chair across from the couch that he wanted me to sit there. This had happened the previous Monday as well. I'm not easily hurt so I just grinned to myself at the weirdness of the request and moved. The same thing happened to Jerry when he walked in. Somehow Jerry and I have become unfamiliar to Theo which makes Theo uncomfortable. I don't know what will happen this weekend because I will almost certainly find myself taking care of him once again. I can't be sent to the usual chair as that will be unavailable.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Kerri, whose blog "Siabra" is so worth visiting, had a suggestion today. She said to pick up the book nearest you, open it to page 73 and quote the third line in our blogs. I did that and found this: "...and would have dinner at one or another of our houses..." The book is Joan Didion's The Year Of Magical Thinking. I wasn't going to quote it at all as it hardly seemed worthwhile, but go to what I mention in the next paragraph and then realized Kerri probably had a very specific reason for the request.

I remembered a poem Didion quoted in the book which had been compiled by her husband right after his younger brother's suicide. I decided it was far more important for me to quote this poem as I wanted it always near me to ponder upon.

I quote it below. It is on page 32 and is by Gerard Manley Hopkins, who is now counted among the leading Victorian poets.

O the mind, the mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who n'er hung there.
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come.

My mind quakes at these words but somehow they give me comfort.

Monday, April 27, 2009


My husband, Jerry, is famous in our neighborhood at Tahoe, except people don't necessarily connect him with the incident. We'll be at one of the special events during the year and someone will say to me, "What about that guy who confronted the bear that came into his kitchen?" My husband is one those "I will take care of anything" kind of guys.

It was August. We were up at Tahoe to celebrate one of our son's birthdays. At 2:30 AM our dog, Plato, started to bark. Even though Plato is part Akita and an Akita doesn't bark except for very good reasons, I was mostly irritated. After all, having a dog bark at 2:30 in the morning is not fun.

Jerry got up to investigate, opened the door to the living room and walking around the corner into the kitchen found a full grown black bear staring him in the face. All I heard was "Oh my God!"

I would have closed the door and let the bear do his thing but Jerry stood up tall and made threatening noises, which is what you're supposed to do when confronted with a black bear.
The bear then proceeded to get up on its hind legs, walk over and confront Jerry. The books do not tell you a black bear will do this. They're supposed to be so frightened of you they run away. This bear was not frightened.

A moment later Jerry is backing into the bedroom, I look up and see a huge black bear silhouetted in the doorway. A full grown black bear standing on its hind legs can be all of eight feet tall. This bear was big.

I got up and ran screaming around the end of the bed, stopping just behind Jerry. Something about protecting my mate. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would have done anything other than cower under the covers. There still must be a lot of instinct going in us.

At that the bear turned and ran. The sound of two voices yelling must have done the trick although Jerry kids me by saying it was the sight of my body that did it. Given we were in bed and men and women in bed don't always have a lot of clothes on, in fact may happily shed them--well, you get the picture. Jerry's body isn't much better.

We followed the bear into the kitchen, picking up pans as we went and beating the hell out of them. The bear leaped through the new opening he made in the door to the kitchen and was gone. It had popped open a pane of glass in the door to get in.

The whole time our son, Glenn, had been standing just outside, trying desperately to figure out what to do. You're not supposed to block the exit of a black bear and that was the only way he could have entered the house and helped Jerry at all. He ran in, looked at Jerry and yelled, "Dad, your back!"

The bear had left a little damage in his wake. When Jerry saw me standing behind him he turned around and told me to stay back. The bear then grabbed him by the shoulder as if to say "Hey, I like you. Don't go away!" The bear did not claw Jerry, still it left a nasty imprint on his back. Jerry had no idea he was wounded. "I can fix that," I said nonchalantly and led Jerry into our bathroom and proceeded to try washing off the damage with a washcloth. We were both a little out of it, to say the least.

A trip to the emergency room and ten stitches later we were home again, only to find ourselves giving a report to a fish and game warden at four or five in the morning. The report never made it into the newspapers. We at Tahoe are very protective of our bears. I'm sure everyone thought every redneck within a hundred miles would be after that bear.

The Bear Lady (as we named her) from the local bear protection organization came the next day and set up what is called "A Bear Begone." It's a trap baited with something tasty that, when triggered, sends pepper spray into the eyes of the bear. The bear came back the next night and was scared away by the Bear Lady. It never came back.

It's now bear sighting time again. Would we want to confront a full grown black bear again? You guessed it. Never in our wildest dreams.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I'm dealing with two kinds of healing. I've found out recently that staying on top of medications--when you took them, what you took in terms of dosage--is critical. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I now have a little box set up for a week of medications so that should help. I'm pretty much staying on top of exercising and find doing them helps not only by keeping me limber and exercising the knee but it also helps me mentally.

I had been thinking I had been doing well with dealing with my brother's death. In fact, I thought I had really started healing. And then... And then...

Last week my sister casually mentioned she had talked to our sister-in-law and that she had been out at the lake place. Three of the sons had been there and the daughter too with assorted spouses and children--a full house. One son had not been able to come but was going to come later. I said, "Oh, that's wonderful for Ruthie, but I'm not surprised. Those kids are so supportive."

Then my sister said, "Oh, and they scattered David's ashes over the point on the lake he loved so much."

Well, that did it. I was immediately a blubbering fool and had to tell her I'd call her back. I'm a writer, so at the same time that I'm crying, as I am now just thinking of those words, why do those words have such an impact? I was back where I was at the beginning, maybe not quite so bad, but bad. I know there are different stages in grief and one of them is acceptance. Can it be that I hadn't quite accepted David's death and hearing they scattered his ashes left no room for doubt anymore?

How could I think, even after hearing about the manner of his death, that he would call one day, and say "Marcia, it was a huge mistake. I'm fine. I'm not dead."

I think, somehow, in my subconscious, I must have been thinking that. There is a book, by Joan Didion, called "The Year of Magical Thinking." It speaks very eloquently of just this kind of thinking. He died right in front of her and yet she thought that if the obituary didn't appear in the paper somehow he wouldn't be dead and that this kind of thinking went on for a year. I have that book somewhere. I have to read it.

I find myself not able to write right now. Maybe it's the grief that's spilling out inside of me that won't let creative juices flow. Instead doubts have begun creeping in: I've lost the touch; I'm no longer a writer. The negative has crept in and is spilling it's nastiness everywhere.

When some other piece about David's death would fall into place--usually from a phone call with my sister-in-law--I would find it took about a week for it to settle in. I hope this too will find it's way in and give me peace.

It's been a week, and yet this morning a bit of reading brought something about David back to me, and with it--tears began to flow again. It was a totally charming little piece written by a man about a story his Grandfather had told him. They had been walking through a zoo and had come across a miniature house and the little boy was totally confused to hear it called a "Whale House" by his grandfather. When asked how something so big could go in something so little his grandfather added to the confusion by talking about aquifers and other strange things. It was only later he realized his grandfather had called it a "Well House" and that accounted for the confusion.

It was only when I realized that it was the zoo in La Crosse, Wisconsin the boy and his grandfather had gone to and that the zoo was right next to my parent's grave site and that it was David who had finally taken me there after I had studiously avoided it forever. I had found it oddly comforting to see their gravestones together at this lovely spot where deer fed and glimpses of zoo animals could be seen through a fence. My parents could not have found a quieter, more tranquil spot to have their eternal rest which was wonderful, because their life together had been anything but quiet or peaceful. I had no doubt my parents had died but still I never felt up to looking at those gravestones until David took me there.

Now I will never been able to go to a gravestone to mourn David. The wind has his ashes.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I'm now sitting, looking out over our new backyard, which took final shape while I was in the hospital having knee surgery. My husband loves sitting out there in the late afternoon with his scotch and I am now going to be joining him more often as my knee is beginning to cooperate and act more like a normal knee.

Our architect used his own backyard as inspiration in planning ours. Both have a circular pattern with plantings massed around it or in corners and a yard in the center. Plato has his own special penned in space in a corner. That, to save the new grass and tender plants. Ours has a wonderful set of stepping stones around the outside to hopefully train Plato to get to his pen without disturbing the grass or the new plants. Jerry has gotten lazier and lazier and now just points Plato toward the pen. "Go Plato!" Too bad Plato can't lock the pen himself.

In a later post I'll fill in a list of what we've got planted in our backyard. I will say about eighty percent of it is new. We have a glorious pepper tree in the center of the yard which the rest of the yard bows to in reverence. It could be as old as the yard--probably is--which would make it seventy four years old. A lot of things have conspired against that tree over the years. We had a neighbor who used to pray for its demise as it blocked their view of the San Francisco Bay.

Another prize tree, a Red Tip Photinia, sits all the way to the left hand corner of the yard. It initially was planted, along with four others, to become a hedge. Its brothers are gone and this one remains, filling out the corner, tall and robust. It grows by sending out new red leaves. It now has amazing bunches of white blossoms growing in wild profusion. I think I love this tree most and it has to do with the very wildness of it's ways. The rest of the yard is very ordered and controlled at this point in it's life.

As a pean, a peacemaker to me our architect, Bryan, planted three Japanese Maples, one of which you see in the photograph. They are full leaved trees, a good fifteen feet tall already, and they are beautiful. Two sit in back corners, one straight back. They help, but of course no full grown tree of forty years can every be replaced by mere spindlings. I fought for and lost a forty year old Japanese Maple in our front yard. It had to go--I knew that. It was a volunteer and was encroaching on a retaining wall, but oh did it hurt to see it go!

I did not manage to replace the other tree I lost. Along the side of the house we used to have an California Live Oak, another volunteer. California Live Oaks are protected trees, native to California. It was hidden for years by the jungle that was our front yard so when it emerged from behind all the strangeness it was a little strange itself with a tall, scrawny trunk at the base from which emerged the rest of the tree. It was the upper part of the tree you focused on: it looked like it should have looked, with a crown of branches lifting heavenward that birds visited.

Bryan wanted that tree gone. It was ugly, it interfered with his plans plus it was planted too close to a retaining wall. He periodically brought up removing the tree but I always refused, asking him instead to plan around it. Then there came the day when he found the tree had some black oozing stuff coming out of it, called conveniently enough Black Ooze Disease, or something of the sort. I envision him chortling and rubbing his hands in glee. He was finally going to get rid of that tree.

He told me the tree was sick and needed to come out. I said I wanted another opinion. Any arborist would do. He said he would go to the city as the city would be the final arbiter anyway.

I came home the next day to find a confab going between my husband; Bryan; John, who was in charge of the job; and Steve, the head construction person. The architect had gone to the city to inquire about removing the tree. Not only couldn't the tree be removed, there couldn't be any construction to within eight feet of the tree. They had begun framing in the steps that would ultimately lead to our front door. They were within a foot of the tree. They were talking about how they were going to have to lift the steps over a bridge of sorts to clear the roots of the tree. That might satisfy the city. I was not a popular person, let me tell you. I sighed and told them to take out the tree. We would just have to hope we wouldn't be fined.

I figure the city killed that tree. The city would have denied us access to our own house. As of this date we have not been fined.

The rest of the plantings have had to wait for the house to be painted. The house has been painted; yesterday the new gutters went up. Now we wait for the rest of the yard to take shape. One day we'll sit on the front patio and look at the view of the city which has emerged from behind our jungle. All that will be missing is that beautiful Live Oak.