Friday, September 5, 2014

Jumping Ship

It was easy to be seduced by a starry night.  The old girls felt so alive there was a chance they might never sleep again.  At least that’s what happened to two friends afloat in the Sea of Cortez.
              The shipmates were waiting for the dolphins to dance across the surface of the water and they are waiting along the multiple decks of the yacht.  It was after midnight.  Because the sea shines at midnight, you can see the ripples across the surface, the waves roiling around the ripples, and wet, slick, dark bodies slicing through the waves, they couldn’t tell the size of the animals at night, all you could see was patches of slick, sleek bodies in the water  for  the gals standing on the third deck.
            Most of the people aboard were American tourists who were visiting the southern reaches of the Baja Peninsula in the search for big adventure—on the lookout for whales and dolphins. Gail and Sherry were standing on the second deck, dressed in Cabo chic—cotton tees, shorts, and flip flops, watching the light trails in the dark water.
            It had been a glorious day.  The travelers saw dozens of dolphins earlier, gamboling in the waves, savoring the sun, knowing that they were putting on a show. The women dreamt of touching the dolphins, and then touching them again, and then again.  Again. Then they dreamt of the animals touching them back, nuzzling, and communicating with those sweet, squeaky, dolphin sounds.   Who knew that animals, especially wet ones, were so lovely, so sweet?  Both women had fallen utterly in love with those animals.  They could hardly breathe with excitement and would be dreaming about this for rest of their lives, then perhaps for some time after that. Gail told the story as many times as people listened.  Sherry will wear a little solid gold dolphin on a thin gold chain the rest of her life.
             It was late, after midnight.  The glistening sea mesmerized; the girls could not look away, even when it was dark out, even if they didn’t know what was really there.
            “Think we should?” Gail asked.
            “Oh, yeah.”  Sherry breathed.
            Over the railing they leapt, grabbing hands, so they wouldn't lose each other in the water, and then dropped feet first into the diamond-embedded sea.  The women paddled close to the dark shapes in the water where the fish bodies slid past them in the spangled waves.
            But something was not right.  Dozens of animals were in the water with them; but they weren’t the right . . . shape?  These were too big, way too big.
              Their little trip off the deep end sat off every alarm on the boat.  Immense searchlights traced patterns across the surface of the sea.  They revealed every fluid ounce, every surface inch of seawater.  The sailors were startled out of ten year's hard living, scared to the point of breathlessness, yelled in Mexican Spanish at the top of their lungs, telling Sherry and Gail to swim back towards the ship.  Those boys gave deeper meaning to their words, they were insistent, loud, and urgent.
Turns out, the animals were not those friendly little dolphins; they were way too big and there were too many.
They were sharks.
Sherry and Gail leapt into a sea full of sharks.
Great big ones.
These massive sharks were harmless, otherwise. . .  They were whale sharks, who inhaled plankton—they don’t actually bite or chew, anything.  The big guys were remarkably well fed in the Sea of Cortez; in no way were they interested in a late night snack.   At any rate, they weren’t the great whites, or the black demons, or a magalodon (a mythological shark from the era of dinosaurs), although the whale sharks were big, scary, and mysterious, enough at any rate.
The sharks inhaled the women’s scent molecules in through their gills, but they didn't turn around, didn't slow down, and didn’t swirl around them, perhaps determining an attack.  Sherry and Gail were not screaming in peril nor are they flailing in the sea, they were calm and . . . beguiled.  There was danger none-the-less, the girls could be caught by the edge of the tail or a flipper, and flung into the next eternity. 
Just so, the nuzzling dream evaporated.  And their quick dip in the Sea of Cortez turned out to be that—quick.
The captain called their names from the front of the boat, wondering if he needed to leap into the water, worried that he needs to beat off dozens huge sharks with his bare hands to save these two beautiful American ladies.  The crew lowered a lifeboat.  But the sharks were unengaged and he was relieved. Our sweet girls were lifted up in the lifeboat.  The captain was shouting orders, right, left, and center, loud and fast. 
Back on deck, the two women were wrapped in fluffy white towels and the captain marched up to them and screamed, “What were you thinking?”
They didn't have an answer and were chagrinned to have created such a fuss.  Whenever they tell the story now, they  are chagrinned, still.
Not the first time our girls have jumped feet first into a pool of sharks.
They are women who get the right things right so much of the time. But this experience will keep them grounded in the sweet, deep heart of humility for the rest of their natural lives.
But more than that, their worst mistake melted into their best story.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Moms Do

“Aw, Mom,” A.J. wailed.

A.J. and his Mom, Juanita, were discussing a trip that A.J. had fixed in his mind. An ardently opinionated kid, A.J. had middle-of-the-back hair, a booming voice, the physique of a 30-year-old, all of it directed by I.Q. points in the 160 range, and a fifteen-year-old body. The kid was a handful.

The trip involved the purchase of an aging van, enough to hold six or seven other fifteen-year-old-boys, all of them wanting to travel unsupervised around the Pacific Northwest. At the least, those boys were dreaming of beer and girls.

Of course, Mom would, according to A.J., pick up the costs, van and all, because, you know, fifteen-year-old boys don't have jobs.

“I've been thinking about the trip,” Juanita said. “I think it could be a great experience. You'll learn a lot.” She paused for effect. “But I'd want to go too. I get carsick and throw up fairly often, so I'd need to ride shotgun. But I can give you directions and advice, quite a bit actually.”

Aw, Mom.

A week or so later, Juanita mentioned the trip again. “I was talking to Barb about your trip, and she wants to go. I know she looks like a literary fuddy-duddy, but she's fun sometimes, well, maybe not most of the time. She's just the least bit incontinent, so we'll have to stop every twenty minutes, maybe every fifteen minutes, give her a poop and pee stop. Or as close to that as we can get. She's not afraid of going potty in the bushes, so that won't be a problem.”

“Uh. ” A.J. didn't finish the sentence.

Later in the month, Juanita continued the conversation, “A.J., your grandmom wants to come too. She's spry-for a 93-year-old, don’t you think? The thing is, she can only ride for an hour at a pop, maybe a little less. So we could go that far in the morning and then again in the afternoon. You'd have to go slow over the mountain passes, and along the rivers, like 15-miles-an hour slow, because she cries if you drive any faster. We'd need to stay in nicer places, you know how fussy she can get, and those can be pricey, so talk to the guys about that. Plus she goes to bed at 6:30, so we'd have to be quiet so she can rest. She doesn't snore all that loud.”

Another pause, one A.J. was braced for.

“OK, she’s thunderous.”


Juanita was not the first mother to use sneakery, perhaps trickery to corral a willful son.

Nor the last.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


It takes a number of exposures to a star's performance, usually, before you begin to track who they are and what they do.  We remember Robin Williams from his first explosion on screen.  He was wild, he was wacky, he was a singularity.  And he held our attention from the first second, to the last. I saw him on Happy Days, and knew we were on a ride.

He started off a favorite. a squirrelly little guy with boundless energy, pin pointing our faults, our stars, our hopes, our dreams, the places where we needed some work: where hubris took over, where money bought us access to the thing we should NOT be having, where love stopped short.  We loved him. Instantly, Insanely. Incredibly.   It was a love that stuck.

His movies were wonderful, although the directors corralled him too closely, and one was dark, too dark.  Now that I think about it, that one probably mirrored his inner self.  I'm so sorry about that.

Loved that as he aged he became a triathlete, a place for all that energy.  Loved that he loved kids, that he was a dad.  Loved that he performed for the troops, didn't take himself so seriously, loved that he gave so much money away.  Loved that he turned out to be a good man, a gentle man, a man packing around a good heart.  In. Spite. Of. It. All.

Yeah, loved that.

Watched him dazzle Dave Letterman and Jay Leno, who had no words, who did have the good sense to just shut up and let him go.  And go, he did.

So here are my lessons in his passing:   That serious mental illness can co-exist with extraordinary talent, wild genius and a good heart.  It takes all of a man to harness that energy and make it work, at least most of the time.  

My guess is this:  that his depression, black as it was, became unbearable, unmanagable, irretrievable.  He lost sight of his own goodness and his own power.  I've been sad.  We all have been sad. Sad that his life was lost too early.  Sad that he had to suffer endlessly and to pretend that he was not.  

I asked God if he caught him on the fly.  He said He did and took him home, wrapped him in a blanket of love, acceptance, and sweet peace.  Made hot cocoa and an apple pie for him, hugged him hard until the pain melted away.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Telling A Story

A few years ago,  I was at a  party standing next to a novelist and a television journalist.  Both were well known in our area.  "G," I said, "I just figured this out; you lie for a living."  He had a sly smile, creeping through a well trimmed beard.  "Me too!"  The journalist said.  And we all went away happy.

So, I'm joining their camp.  But I might be doing them one better.

I'm writing fiction, the bad kind.  A lot of people think that literary fiction is the epitome of the writing craft and some people write really great literary fiction, two of them are friends, Steven Mayfield and Judith McConnell Steele. Bless them.  They are right.

The rest of us just want to write genial books that tell a great story.  We don't mind car chases and sex scenes.  In my case, my heros are 60-plus women, and although sex is still part of their lives, we won't be playing that out on anybody's camera of the mind.  We won't snicker if somebody       Harry & Oliver, respositories of my grandfathers'          
encloses a recipe or we lapse into purple             spirits.  Regal story tellers, both of them.
prose in a  given instant.  If there's an inside
joke somewhere, well, we'll see where it leads.
We welcome adventure, risk,
the good/bad conflict, true love, puppies.

You get the drift.

                               The little guy with the nose?  My anti-procrastination device.  
                                                       Got him at an Art Fair in Santa Cruz.  Works.

I'm well into my first book.  A few years ago I was reading a science book, a beloved one, and there was an artifact that struck such a chord, all the chimes went off,  About the same time, a cousin had done a generational chart going back to the 1700s, maybe a little further.  And two women had these regal names, well, one of them was regal, the other was trouble.  Those names stuck with me, and low and behold, I had an idea for a novel.

So, I am making that come into being.  It is such big fun.  Little jokes come at me faster than I can write them down.  Characters show up, unaccounted for.  The last one: A seven-foot-tall Masaai, wearing a steel grey suit and a flame red shirt and tie, hand made in Germany.  Plot twists come early in the morning.  My title:  Valley of Wicked Surprise

I've written for years,  More essays and non-fictions stories than I can count.  I had to work ever so hard at all of them.  I'm smart enough, but trust me, in my local writing groups there are people who beat me hands down, all of them in fact.  This kind of writing comes easy,  I might be made for it.

Wish me luck.

   Plot points.  You want to be able to move them around for while.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Getting A Little Older

I’m looking for the wise way, the third way, although mere cleverness is often enough. Now I’m learning by Braille, feeling my way through. I am coming into my kitty, napping, and knitting years with a tenderized heart. My edges have softened; I've lost boundary or two. Not everything that shows up or slows down is expected or intended.

I've left my hurry behind.

I've forgotten half of what I knew; now I'm not at all sure it was the right half. Body parts slide south at an alarming rate. The bright, shinny penny is just that—a penny. I'm more likely to be grumpy and less likely to be quiet about it. Things have to be simpler or I don't care.

Or I don’t get it.

What really matters to me—really matters. I'm still interested in politics. That requires some yelling at the television. I think my last blast was somewhere in the vicinity of “you slimy bastard.” Or “you egregious fruitcake.” Maybe there was a “You poopy-faced, doo-doo head.” That too. I don't know if the politicos are emotionally defective or if they are plainly nuts. Or I am.

I sort it out, but it doesn't stay sorted.

I'd always thought our last decades would be easier.

But I was wrong and how. I make things complicated; I interfere a little bit, I wing it instead of working on it. My needs are entirely different than the ones I had planned on. I stand mute with surprise, waiting for the chaos and the confusion to clear—and they don’t—always or entirely. I have my aging body and my usual mind, but I’m taking them places that require deep tissue adjustment.

It's a little bit past midnight. This would be terrifying, except that it is also
remarkably, resoundingly sweet. Go figure. 

There are no maps to safety.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Confessions of a Dismal Dieter

If God or your Mama didn't make it, leave it alone.

Controlling your weight is a good thing.  Losing a few pounds now and then is a joy. Getting back into your skinny jeans? True love.  But dieting, our national pastime, is big trouble.  Our hearts aren't the only thing that are heavy.

Here's why we worry about food  and diets.  In many instances, the research is incomplete or non-existent. We don't know what happens to us when we are on those untested regimes. You can trust programs like Weight Watchers, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, or Dr. Oz. But some diets are dangerous, difficult, or of dubious result.

So I've dieted, off and on, for 44 years, dieted my weight up to 210 pounds.  So you can see that I was dismal at it.  Since I've stopped dieting, I've lost about half of the weight I needed to lose. It took me two-and-a-half years.   I'm lighter than I've been in 20 years.  Go figure.

The goal was to learn how to eat in a reasonable, sustainable way that enhances health and life over a long period of time.

But here is the part I had to learn: we're hard-wired with spiritual, social, and familial needs and expectations that, sometimes, are satisfied only with food. Really good food.  Which is why it is so hard to lose weight. Most diets don't come close to addressing those ramifications, and our diets fail us when those needs aren't met.

It turns out that dieting is one way to be cruel to ourselves.  Starving ourselves is acceptable in our society—still mean, though.   

Just wanted the Brothers and Sisters to know.  

So, not everything out there is safe or sane: 

1.  Beware of faux foods. Sometimes the food industry produces foods that are chemical stand-ins for the real thing; fake foods. Often they are created and sold on the cheap.  Way cheap.  Those are awful.  They have a metallic or a citrus tang; or they might taste like cardboard.  They might be cardboard. Yogurt cups under 100 calories might not be yogurt at all. Orange drinks that aren't made from oranges; blueberry bits that are not blueberries; chicken nuggets without chicken. 
If you eat faux foods, you are not getting the nutritional profile you want and need. They can be calorie-laden or calorie-free, but they are questionable. We don't know what they might be doing to us. Eat real food. “Food is an important part of a balanced diet,” says Fran Lebowitz.  

2. Beware of foods that strip out all the calories.  A calorie won't hurt you.  It's the basic measurement of energy in food; we all require them, lots of them, actually. It's better to focus on getting the foods you need for high performance and then move or exercise more. 
Here's the nasty little secret: you gain back all the weight you lost, and a little more besides, if you lose weight on too few calories. When the body wants to eat, it wants to eat, especially after a period of starvation. There is little you can do about that. You think that you can, but you can't.  You will eat and eat all the wrong foods in the wrong amounts at the wrong times.  That's not as fun as you might think. 
What we need is a healthy, safe and sane approach. Michael Pollan believes, “High-quality food is better for your health.” Even if there are some calories attached to that. 

3. Beware of diets that leave out whole food groups.  If you leave out the sugar, you also leave out chocolate-more's the pity.  If you leave out all the carbs, entirely, you might not sleep—ever.  Or think.   Then there are the headaches. Moreover, your brain, which functions on carbohydrates, isn't being fed. You not only feel foggy, forgetful, and a little stupid, you are foggy, forgetful, and a little stupid. If you leave out meat, you leave out B vitamins, water-soluble vitamins that help with cell metabolism. You can see how that might be trouble. Food allergies are real, and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease have their antecedents in food.  And then there are moral questions asked by vegetarians. 
But here is the clincher, if you leave out a food group you have to find foods that replace the nourishment that you require. Some of those replacement “health” foods are dubious, both in taste and in nutritional content.  Turkey bacon?  Some people like it; I do not.  Calvin Trillin was not a fan of that strategy. “Health food makes me sick,” he said.
If you are worried about gluten, make sure you really do have an unhealthy reaction to it. Otherwise, you'll never get to eat a wonderful piece of bread again-food that has such deep, rich spiritual and cultural attachments.  Eat a gluten free diet for a couple of weeks, if you are worried, and see how you feel.  It might not make much of a difference. Only a few recent studies indicate gluten sensitivity might exist, but many physicians don't yet accept that it's real, and, further, there's no accepted medical test for it.  Of course, celiac disease is real and serious, and you need your doctor's help with that.

4. Beware of punitive attitudes toward sugar.  There are people who shouldn't have much sugar. True enough.  But white carbs are the terrorists of the moment. (It was cholesterol in the 1980s and that was a fizzle.)  And honestly, too much sugar impairs your health.  If you get up in the morning, drizzle a cup of syrup over your pancakes, have a sweet roll mid-morning, drink a high octane Coke at lunch, a candy bar for late afternoon break, and then a big dessert after dinner; you are over-doing the sugar, which might qualify as an addiction. 
But if you limit your sugar consumption to Christmas or Valentine's, for instance, maybe sprinkle in a couple birthdays, and then you have a gloriously festive treat on those days, chances are you won't be over-doing it.  You are putting a serious perimeter around the sugar, yet you are honoring and relishing the great cooks and the wondrous foods that make up our celebrations.   That makes enormous sense. 
Our matriarchs, and sometime patriarchs, bake desserts that are splendid, purely splendid; handmade treats that use ingredients we adore-that we recognize, that we know their histories and their neighborhoods. Butter.  (No longer the bad guy in the food world.)
No-sugar advocates lump the stuff you get at a cut-rate bakery in with your mama's apple pie or an exquisite piece of wedding cake.  Not the same; and not fair.  One feeds you; and one does not. Save your sweet calories for those truly magnificent gifts. Watch the portion size. “Never eat more than you can lift,” Miss Piggy advises. You'll be all right.

5. Beware of your hungers.  Our hungers are mysterious.  Oh, we're clear about cherries and mom's pot roast, but sometimes we're hungry late at night and we don't know what we are hungry for.  We're pretty sure, however, that it isn't in our fridge.  And it might not be. 
We have genuine hungers. We know what to do about that. ”Unlike curing cancer or heart disease, we already know how to beat hunger: food,” mused Mario Batali
But we also might be hungry for community, family, faith, friendship and romance, which all count here; we might be hungry for achievement that really matters to us; or we might be worried, distracted, aroused, or angry. We tend to soothe those feelings with high-caloric treats, setting us up for a weight gain and the problems that go with that.  
“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the Psalms sing. That helps with every hunger more than you can imagine. We get shaky and needy, particularly if we haven't connected with God for a while. We all have adamant needs for the Numinous, for the Holy One, for Love.
We can figure out what we're hungry for, sometimes, by journaling, prayer, or by talking to good friends; but those issues might be trickier or deeper, hidden in the folds of some very bad business-perhaps addictions or abuse, bad bum luck, or wretched attitudes. Then we'll need a counselor to help with understanding, a pastor to help with forgiveness, and a dietician to help us sort it out, so that it stays sorted. 

Here's the Best I Can Do:  I eat high quality breakfasts and lunches with lots of veggies and fruits, whole grains, some protein. Snacks are usually yogurt or nut bars.  Then I enjoy a delicious, familiar, family dinner, with a serving of potato, rice, corn, or pasta, coming from within my own tradition.  That lovely food feeds all kinds of hungers. This is where foods begins to sooth and sustain people in healthy ways. Of course, fresh is best.  Of course, eating lightly is one of the ways we can very quickly and very dramatically feel better in a lot of instances.

An example, Hispanic families without grandma's tortillas are lost indeed. A family from the South requires grits, sometimes with collard greens and ham hocks.  My grandparents were Anabaptists, Church of the Brethren, cousins of the Amish or Mennonites. So, I require mashed potatoes, farm food of the most rustic sort. I try not to over-do the portions, or eat eleven of them. 
I cut the fats down; instead of a quarter cup of bacon drippings or butter in a recipe, I'll use a tablespoon.  The food still tastes wonderful, with the same yummy-nummy goodness, but it is lighter. I leave the fats in cakes and cookies, but I share them with as many people as I can find.  Turns out to be the same dynamic: I wind up eating not-so-very-much. 

Three years ago, I quit dieting.  And began these healthy practices, which included walks every day. I've lost 40 pounds.

What we really want to be is vital and strong, enjoy a reasonable weight, have a healthy relationship with food.  Trainer/coach, Reid Merrill, calls that his happy spot.  We want food that sustains the day, which comforts us, invigorates us, and delights us. We want to go for a walk. We want a home where people gather together and share wonderful food. Julia Child wrote, “Life itself is the proper binge.” 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kids and Cameras

So, I have an expensive camera, a gift of a good friend, who wanted a newer, smaller, smarter one.  I got the older, bigger, dumber variety.  Although now it's closing in on fifteen years old.  So I missed the precious,  precocious, all too delicate stages.

Last summer, on a fluke, on the way out the door to Vacation Bible School, I picked it up, thinking I could get some great photos of the kids for their parents.  Did that.   But here's what happened:  one of the kids, Cole,  asked me if he could shoot a few pictures.  I said sure, told him how to wait for a few seconds for the camera to focus, and off he went.   That started it.  All of the kids wanted a crack at the camera.  

The first thing that was clear to me was this:  the kids knew WAY more about how to use the camera, they were careful with it, they got great photos. always wore the strap about their neck, which supported the camera.  They took  really fun photos.  Probably because nobody posed for a dang-gone one of them.  So they were natural and graceful, beautiful.  

So I did it again this year, and last Saturday night night, there was another little guy, Mordecai, who was a little bit bored.  Handed him the camera.  He took over 250 photos, in about 20 minutes.

Very fun.  So, this is a photo of Mr. M.  I took it.  I told him to make a funny face.  He's such a sweet kid, this was as adventurous as he got.  That little look takes the heart.

This experience with kids and camera taught me a lot;  about the natural perfection of life, about spontaneous loveliness, about the great good of images, about letting the kids lead you.  Not every lesson is harsh, or takes a long time to learn,  or you have to do it the hard way.  Some things you learn for the purest pleasure of the thing. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Weird Animals

So, here was my mantra:  two little boys, six little girls, three older girls, another adult.  I said it every fifteen minutes,  for three hours a day, over four days.  My job?  Don't lose anybody. 

I was a team leader along with a dozen other adults. Every team had about 12-13 people. Last year we had about five kids, which is entirely manageable for one adult. I couldn't do it with twelve kids, so it was a good thing Lea was helping me. We had a special-needs sweet little girl and her nanny came with her—so two adults. Our other two older kids were more like leaders, huge amount of help with the little kids. We came through it fine. But I was one busy leader.  (Suzie W,  I do not know how you do it.  You have my total regard.)

Little kids have a lot of needs.  One of our little boys was terrified to the point of silence, the first part of the week.  First of the week, he needed to sit beside me the whole time.  It just wasn't safe anyplace else.  He needed massive assurance, mainly that we weren't going to leave him someplace or put him at risk of being bullied.  Somewhere in there, he figured out he could sit on my lap and so he did, for a couple of days.  By the end of the week, he was able to make friends and play with the other kids.  

Then our other little guy just needed love and attention and somebody to talk to, somebody to love.

The kids needed help with their snacks, with their crafts. They couldn't go get a drink of water or go to the bathroom without me, that was due to the fact that we have homeless people in our building sometimes. We didn't know everybody.

It was easy for a child to wander off.  That happened with another group.  The original leader snapped to the fact that one of our boys wasn't where he was supposed to be.  Twenty minutes of pure panic and a big search later.  They found him—with another group.  He just found someplace safe and stayed put.  

So, these photos.  I brought my old Pentax in with me on automatic settings and turned the camera over to the kids.  They took all these photos.  Good, huh?

So, weird animals. That was our theme, and here's how it worked out. Everybody is a little weird in their own special way. Everybody needs love and acceptance, some fun, some music, a snack, and an adult to watch over them, somebody that thinks the kids are God's prize. The kids were utterly at home with that message.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Pets.  Our little loves.

I have a ragdoll, which is a kind of Siamese cat.  Huge kitties, they are, with three-point seal marks and the bluest eyes.  Obi is a shy guy.  A little cranky.

I got him at the Humane Society over five years now.  He is a pure blood and  his previous family couldn't keep him, they were moving.  When he first saw me, he crawled into my lap and hid his sweet face in the crook of my arm, more or less begging me to take him home with me.  After a week for some health issues, I did.

When I got him home, he did the perimeter search cats do, then he leapt into my lap, snuggled in as tight as he could get and sighed deeply, went to sleep for about an hour  Ragdolls do that.   You can tell when Obi is deeply content.  The sigh is the signal.

He was a kitty who didn't know kisses or long held hugs.  I think his previous family liked him well enough, but they sorta thought he was a cat.   He didn't expect that he might be family here.  He is.

He snuggles in every night, then slips off to sleep on the end of the bed.  He won't eat unless  I'm sitting beside his bowl.  This morning he crawled on board and purred up a storm.  Last week, he was not happy that I was away from home so much, so he climbed into my lap and stretched out his claws.  If I moved, I got the treatment.  It was enough that I stayed home and held him the whole time.

The little buggers have their ways.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

So, Walking

The purest pleasures are the simple ones.

A bite of dark chocolate.  The sweet kisses of children.  Long, sauntering walks.

About six weeks ago, I started walking seriously.  Two-to-four mile walks, two or three times a week.I was tuckered out, lots of times, given that it was tough to walk across big parking lots.  I could tell you that it was a new commitment to exercise and health.  But really I was having trouble with my car.

I live in a pretty little city, there are a lot of things I can get to via my feets.  At first, I was the teeniest bit resentful and more than a little tired, but as my fitness levels increased, which they do in a hurry when you walk that far that often, it increasingly became a pleasure. I think I can sustain this level of activity for a long time.

What have I seen out on my walks?  Five deer, down from the foothills, not two blocks away from our little wilderness.  Tons of flowers I couldn't name.  The turn of spring  into summer.   Storm clouds brewing on the horizons.  Now there's energy for you.  The renewing of parts of my neighborhood.  I live in one of the oldest, one still without sidewalks in places.  It's fun to see those older homes get a spiffy new look.  I think I am too.  Lots of puppies and kitties, who come by for pats.

How do animals know instinctively who will love them and who will not?  Some other kind of brain is at work.  It's a good one.

I'm getting rid of clothes.  The ones that are sliding off my shoulders and sagging around my butt.  That's fun.

I must be prepping for a new kind of life.  One with better health and new projects and responsibilities.

Fine with me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Big Change in Plans

So, I have this church family.

We're all just a little odd, remarkably OK with me.  That just tells me that we're authentic people, true to the selves God gave us, true to the realities of our lives.  Lots of laughter, good food, big fun.  All of it together.  Tim calls it "food, fellowship, and fun."  It's taken us lots of places we'd never get on our own, one of those is the Ironman Half Marathon. 

Which is what we were up to this weekend.  Our buddy Rick moved to our pretty little city almost nine years ago.  It was in the middle of the recession and jobs in his area of expertise, main frame computers,  were virtually non-existent.  There was one left, in Idaho, and he grabbed it right up.  

But he was bored out of his mind, having left his family in the Portland/Vancouver area.  Already a runner, he decided to try for Marathons and Half-marathons.  We were just getting to be friends at that point and we showed up for his first Boise Half-marathon.  That one was tough, but it was the first of many.

A few years ago, he got to go back home, but he always had a fondness for the Boise event.  So he and his wife Suzie came to town.  We were getting together for lots of race activities and backyard picnics.  

My cousin Julie and I went to the first party.  Here's what you have to know about Julie.  She can be a stubborn soul,  and there are only four people who can easily coax her past her stubbornness and her shyness into a party mood.  My brother, and these three guys, are the only ones who can readily get her to new places and to try new things.  They have been so good to her over the years and been at the core of lots of fun events, among them a hug every single weekend in church.  They dote over her, make things possible for her, include her in every invitation.  She loves them as I do, and she goes.

Mainly, we all played with baby, Bear, Tim and Julie's new little one.

Rick was looking forward to seven hours of active, competitive action.  We held our breath.

So the race.  Rick had a good swim, and was fifteen miles into the bike ride. The rules stipulate that the cyclists have to be a ways apart, maybe four feet, from each other.  But there was this one rider who was not following the rules.  She hit Rick's rear wheel, which pitched him over the handle bars.  He broke his shoulder and fractured his hip in two places.  She did not stop, did not acknowledge her part in the accident.  She did not help.  

Here's where I'm fuzzy on the details.  I don't know if the first aid people scooped him up and got him into an ambulance to St. Al's.  Rick had his phone, called Suzie.  Or if Tim, Suzie, and the other Julie picked him up and got him help.  None-the-less, he did wind up at Al's, and they did all the appropriate tests and got him patched up enough to get him home to Vancouver, where another orthopedic doc will follow his care.  Tim and Julie, Cheryl and Larry all did yeoman duty in taking care of Rick and Suzie both, with uncommon kindness and purpose, and with all the love there is.  Pastor Duane, also a runner, said some sweet prayers for his safe recovery, too.

Yesterday, they made it home.  

He'll be OK, at some point, will be itching to get back into his training soon enough, wants to come back for a few days in July.   We'll be watching over him pretty darn close and playing our hearts out with Baby Bear.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Last Two Weeks, Big Emotions, Big Assignments

I asked Jan at Conari Press if she was still interested in seeing another book from me.  She was, so it was a big day to send it all off to her.  There are so many emotions engendered when you send a book off:  some level of uncertainty; some level of confidence.  Then the big question, always a good one in my case, Will other people see the worth and work that I've put forth and lived?  We'll see.  It's good to be this far along.  We wait.

Turns out, I can't live without a book going.  I took four days off,  we're talking restless hee-bee jee-bees here,  started another.  This one is about a pistol-packing mama and a librarian.  Good, huh? 

A couple of projects that take the heart:  After the first of the year, we joined some small groups at church; our job was to create projects that served our larger community and complete them.  So we did.  Some of our groups hosted a Bingo night at the VA, complete with prizes.  Another group visited Chrysalis, more about who they are in a minute, and provided Sunday night dinners for them.  My group worked with two other groups.  We've been involved with building Habitat houses for a couple of years and a family, Mom and Dad and four kids, from the Congo were shortly to move into theirs, one we helped with.  We thought about providing a kitchen shower for the family.  One of the other groups was mostly men and they wanted to provide tools.  Then a family was moving from one home to another and donated several pieces of living room furniture.  We gathered up all of that,  And last Saturday, we took four trucks loads of goods out to them.  Things like rakes and hammers, pancake pans and soup kettles, a living room couch.  Wonderful morning.  We will have saved them about a thousand bucks and took a step toward moving their house to a home.  Put six white chairs on their front porch.  Instant community.  Wanna do that again.

Now Chrysalis.  That's a group of homes in our community that provide help and assistance to women newly out of prison,  most often women with substance abuse issues.  There is no tougher road.  Their treatment program based on Christian values and teaching, which incorporates absolute truth-telling, discipline and direction,  learning who you are in God, getting a grip, besides the  psychological and social learning and support, and the science of addiction and what it requires to set yourself free.  There are lots of women who do not make it; the consequences are dire.  One gal burned out her liver before the age of 30.   But there are a few sterling gals who do, and they are making their way into our congregation.  They make up two rows in our more raucous services.  They have been embraced at our church and we are getting to know them.  Viv wanted to know what I wanted to do.   I thought about it for a weekend and decided I could come and do a home-cooked meal, teach some basic cooking skills, empower those gals so that they could learn how to provide healthy food for themselves.  I have a theory for everything, which is the way my writer's mind works and here's this one:  if you had an addictive process going on in our life, and you were hungry, lonely, lost, that would be bad juju and you would be more likely to be out finding the things that weren't good for you.  Men who would use you sexually.  Drugs and alcohol.  Breaking the law.  Finding money from those sources.  Tough.   
But if you had some power over your own life, could provide food and the other things you needed in this life through your own efforts, you might stand a better chance.  I could teach them about good food and how to make it.  My friend, Jeanette, wants to help too.  She's one of the best cooks I know; she's an ardent vegetarian and her food is a salute to great health.    Viv and I were thinking that more women might want to help.  Let me know.  I'm going to do it quarterly, I'm thinking, so there's lots of room for help.  Think about it: a whole cadre of mamas at the ready.  Men too, I'm hoping.

And last, Rick and Suzie are in town.  He's running this weekend in a big race, about seven hours of biking, swimming, and running.  There are some friends who are beyond fit, but Rick might be the bes and he's in his early 60s.  Impressive, impressive, impressive.  We had dinner with them last night in Tim and Julie's back yard along with my cousin Julie, Cheryl and Larry, and baby Bear, the new puppy.   Way fun.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Night Outside with Pears

One of my writing groups gathered together Thursday night outside at Ellie and Roger's house, for a whole bunch of reasons—to see their new fireplace, to relish their backyard—one with swallows, fresh mint, poppies, to write a little bit, and to catch up on our lives.

We are women in our 60s, 70s, and, soon, 80s.  We're still as active as ever.  We've been together for over 30 years.  We've found our various passions and those have been expressed in books, stories, essays, poetry.  So many publishing credits over that  length of time, still more to come.

That self-expression gene is buried deep within us.  We are ever so kind now, brilliant on some days and in some ways, genuine as salt.  Lots of us are grandmoms, some of us are widows, some of us are caregivers.  We always have a pen in hand and a tablet in our pocket.

In our last meeting, we decided that the magnificent dinners we used to prepare and share, were no longer necessary, except for special occasions—defined as when everybody wants one.  However, nobody has to do that anymore.  It seems to be fine, and freed up some marvelous cooks from those robust expectations.   We can do nothing at all, if we chose; we can do those massive celebrations, if we want; or we could settle for a simple, luscious dessert.  Maybe some cookies.   Or a ripe pear.

We celebrated Judy's essay, that won a major literary prize,  in my part of the state, along with some money.  We've never written for money, (well,  I have, but it wasn't this luscious kind of writing) but I  admit, it's plenty welcome, ever so sweet when it comes.  Judy's story, which I had heard parts of a while ago, is so clear and clean now.  It reads like sparkling water over old stones.   It's about a long hike in a high mountain dessert in Australia, one that leads to a startling find, one that never happens any more.

If there is a thing about writing at our age that completely wonderful, it's this:  we've gotten to be simpler, quicker-to-the-point writers.  That saves us a whole big bunch of literary gyrations, travels down rabbit holes, back tracks, and miswhacks.  You have no idea what a big blessing that is.

We're better.

We wrote a little while about things that are incomplete or unfinished, that might not ever be.  I got this line:  Love stutters to a stop, parks until Tuesday, when the storm blows over.

So, Ellie's dessert:  a baked pear, so simple and so spectacular.  Some of my favorite cooking.

Baked Pears

Buy 4-6 pears, (one for each person you are serving) round,  big-bellied fruits, red pears this,  4-5 days before the party. Let them ripen in a south-facing window.  How do you tell when a pear is ripe?  When the peeling comes free without difficulty and the juice runs down your fingers.

On the day you want to serve these jewels, peel the pears just before you stick them in the  oven. Put them in a baking dish.  Mash together butter, honey, an honest vanilla,  lemon juice, a pinch of salt, cinnamon.  . . or cardamom and ginger. . .  Dab that over the fruits.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Put each pear in a bowl and top with the juice/sauce that forms at the bottom of the pan, and top with Greek honey yogurt.  Your favorite kind.  

This would not be the moment to worry about calories.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


I didn't get to be a Mom.  I needed to make that decision in my 20s; my Dad had muscular dystrophy, as well as a beloved aunt.  The medical tests, done by the MD Society, indicated that I was a carrier.
I would only have an MD child if I married somebody with that genetic glitch.  But it had happened in my family. It's an awful, difficult disease, and I watched my Dad struggle with it his whole life.  He'd been gorgeous, young, vital, beyond strong, generous of heart, great of skill, and the disease took all of that from him.  His only complaint?  He wished "those old docs would find something for his bad back."  Me too.  But the disease would die out in my family, for generations to come, if I had no children.  I don't understand the biology- genetics very well, but it turns out the disease is passed through fathers to daughters.  The sons catch a break on this one.  It was not a difficult decision, and I haven't looked back.

My own Mom, kind and loving beyond measure, died when I was seventeen and my brother was thirteen.  So you can see that I might approach Mother's Day with some amount of ruefulness.


There is great mystery surrounding the art of mothering.  It's at the center of my religion's story, the mysterious Mary.  It turns young, self-centered women into the tender, loving, engaging mothers of young children, and it does it with the strength of a biological imperative.   It fosters the need for  learning and education, for medical care and medical science, for religion, it runs an economy, and sculpts a history.  The politics are profound.  Everything matters as young women take on the daunting task of raising a baby, herding elementary kids, holding their breaths as the kids plough into adolescence full force.

It goes by in a whoosh, in a breath.

The kids in my family, my niece and nephew, were and are kids who are entirely doted upon, adored, needed, applauded.  My sister-in-law Maggie is a wonderful mom, my brother a singular Dad, exactly the man you want raising those two rambunctious kids.  I got to be an auntie, and that goes on.  Mackenzie is trying for her first job, in a state that is 49th in the economic recovery, and she's an artist to boot.  I'm hoping that what we send her props her up, gives her courage, helps her find her footing and a life worth having.  Scottie is studying automotive engineering, builds itty-bitty sports cars, so he's gold.  We're still doting.  That never gets old.

There are little kids whom I adore.  The lovely Lily and Lea are two kids who will put us through our paces.   Issie and Aubs, two fiesty little girls, still want me to play with them in the backyard. And then there's Charlie, who went on a mission trip to Mexico to help build a house with this family, and is learning how to play the piano.  He's really good with both  pianos and hammers.  Their moms and their grandmoms are some of our favorite people.  We love them and support them as best we know how.

I think you do get to have a choice on whether you are parenting material, or  not. Not everybody is, for all kinds of reasons.   But you do get to love the kids that are given to you to love.

That'd be the great, good thing.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Habitat House

We have wonderful events all throughout the year, but this one might be the most fun.  It happened this morning, when 450 of my closest friends got together to build a couple of houses—in three hours—for our local Habitat for Humanity folks.

To be fair, we framed them.  With our partners, the local Habitat folks and Crossroads, a national organization that. .  organizes these big builds.  It can be done; we did it.

We were divided into teams.  I admit I fell in love with my team.  They were such willing, effective, and sweet-hearted workers.  The first to form, the last to  leave.  We had two little kids, a sterling teenager, guys who could work up a storm, our fearless leader, and... wait for it. . me.  I did have a real job, in my 66th year.  I picked up nails, took pictures, watched over the whole production and marveled at what people were doing, elected chief cheerleader, I was, and  I pounded in 16 nails, up from 4 last year.   Here is what I could do that was helpful:  I got the nails started, which requires a bit of patience and tender direction.  Then the big guns came in and gave the nails a few whacks:  Done.   I have friends and family that will fail to believe this.  This photo is proof.

Our little kids, along with every other little kid, and there were a hundred or so, were exceedingly useful and productive workers.  Here's how:  when the nails were in a tough spot or at an impossible angle in a place too small for an adult person to get into or close to, they were able to do it.  And to do it right smart. We love and doted, yes, we did.  We had one group that was all teenagers, and they were completely effective and successful.

So, here's what happens.  Our little teams, 6-8 people: some people who actually know what they were doing; some kids, some parents (usually attached), the resident old lady or old guy.  Everybody had something real to do.  We would frame sections of walls, windows, both interior and exterior frame.  Then we nailed plywood to lots of those; then brought all those back and unbacked frame together to form a house.  So it's impressive to see it come together so fast.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What It Feels Like To Finish A Book

I've been slow to get my blog done, because I gave myself a pretty stringent deadline.

Book-finishes are so scary, I just twitch.

But so few people actually get to do this, to feel this feeling, I thought I'd try to explain what writing a book means, what it takes to get through the rough stuff, and finally to mold this mass/mess of words into something that resembles a finished work, a book.

I get a little whacked out writing books.  It's like that for every writer.  But it can get really weird for those who try to keep up with family, work, church, community.  I never did buy the starving artist premise or that we should suffer for our art.  Sometimes we do, but it's not the point.  We all try for riveting stories or a thought that might be original.  When I decided, more than a decade ago now, to try to enter the market place, I read a book whose author suggested that writers need to be about more than just showing off.  Your success would depend upon your usefulness, your ability to create beauty, and your authenticity.
That seemed a tall order.

When I left my job almost 3 years ago, I was all right with retirement for about three months. You do get really tired in the last stages of your fully-employed  life.  But it didn't take long to recognize that the money wasn't good, that I needed something to think about, that I was really confused about what that might be.  I'd published a book, with Conari press, they were interested in another.  But life, Holy Mackerel, life.  There were some walloping distractions,  My friends Rita and Judith, who've published books in the last year will testify to exactly how long it takes sometimes and how big those distractions can be. (Twenty-two years for Rita; a little less for Judy.)   I won't belabor what the distractions were, but jeesh!

I had three sort-of finished essays, but they really had no bearing or relationship to each other. They were built around events that had an extraordinary effect on my life. I didn't have a theme or a thesis (you're supposed to start out with those—failed at that). I was pretty clear about who the audience was, but there was a universe of options on what those folks might want to read.  A big, fat mess, that's what I had.

I was going through training to become a lay-minister at my church and Pastor Duane asked me if I had any concerns that he could pray about.  I told  him I had a lot of confusion and distraction about my writing projects, was basically lost, at sea. I'd been in that stuck place for 8 or 10 years, so you can see how it was a problem. Really,  I could have used a little bit of guidance there.  Within a week, I had it sorted.  Something somebody said to me at a workshop rang a bell and there it was.  The connecting theme of the book, the reason's for it's being, that made sense of the three essays.  It was the thing that made the project useful, that made it beautiful, that made it authentic.

So the middles.  I wrote 2 or 3 hours a day, 4 days a week, as the stories laid themselves out at my feet, as other books and the quotes reaffirmed what I was thinking about and why it was important.  Of course, I made a whole big bunch of mistakes.  Of course, other people have other ideas and experience.  Of course, a thousand times, of course.  A friend, Tim, wanted me to write more about men this time round.  Okay.

About a month ago, I realized I'd reached the dawdling stage of things.  I was close to the finish, there's wasn't much left, but I was stuck.  I decided to unstick myself and work really hard to finish—three weeks. That's what I gave myself.  I'm finishing up this week end.  What's left? A few paragraphs.  I also have some amount of editing and writing the book proposal, which I've already been working on.  Another week, maybe two on those things.

So, what am I feeling?  I'm having an out-of-body experience.  There is such joy, mingled with fear about a thousand things, none of which will stop me or slow me down, at this point.  Yet it's so tenuous, so tender.  My brother asked me if I would feel really grand about what I had done.  Yes, but it's tempered by the fact that a writer has to stay humble in the face of the next work.  Cockiness is the kiss of death.  I'm blessed by a dazzling light, realized, flashes of pride, and whatever it is about art or literature that takes the knees.  I'm there.

The little drawing is, of course, from Charles Schultz, our beloved Snoopy, whose lessons about writing proved to be truer than true.  Thanks.