Sunday, December 9, 2012

pass the sugar, please

During my early twenties, I fell in like with a cute mechanic who had the energy of a tornado and was one of the happiest fellows I've ever known. He worked for a car dealership and specialized in that make of car, which made him a highly prized employee. At his slightly dilapidated house, he had a detached garage where he earned extra money working on people's cars. Rolando could also cook! I made the decision to move in with him when my own digs became unlivable due to the fact that my roommate was insane and was bringing home all sorts of trashy men who wandered aimlessly at all hours of the night. I would wake up and find a complete stranger staring down at me.

We were nowhere near the moving in stage of a relationship (and probably never would have been, given our very different backgrounds) but Rolando was not okay with leaving me in danger. He insisted that I get out of there and cheerfully helped me pack and move my belongings. Rolando had a heart the size of Texas, so he was welcoming and sweet.

Larry was one of his closest friends and was even more blue collar than Rolando. He and his wife, Faye, lived in a trailer park. We socialized with them on a regular basis. About once a week, we went to their home for dinner or they came to ours. Larry was a traditional blue collar man, had not finished high school and had very firm ideas about a woman's role in marriage and in the world. He was respectful to me, but I often felt like he wanted to haul off and belt me one for my sassy mouth. .

Faye was also a high school drop-out. She was extremely meek, rarely spoke if Larry was in the room and smiled only after giving a quick glance in Larry's direction to gauge whether it was appropriate. My heart ached for her. I was sure that he beat her, although I had no evidence of that. In one of the very rare moments when she and I were alone, she confided in me that they had been married five years and she had survived four miscarriages. I asked her what the doctors had said about it and she just looked nervous and shook her head. I didn't push. She had other medical issues too, which made her frail. When I found out that she was younger than me, I was shocked. She looked about fifteen years older!

One day, when Rolando and I were discussing having them over for dinner, I accidentally referred to them as "Fairy & Lay". We giggled and Rolando admonished me not to say that in front of Larry. But of course I talked about it when we were all together - and referred to them by the new moniker. I laughed about it as the silly mistake that it was. But Larry was not amused. His face got beet red and he screamed at me, "STOP SAYING THAT!" Everyone got very quiet. Rolando said, "Hey, now," in his sweet voice. Then Larry went outside. Faye sat at the table, frozen. "I'm sorry," I whispered, "Rolando told me not to say anything and I didn't listen." Rolando got up and went outside too.

We were finished with dinner, so I started clearing the table and Faye got up to help me. As we stood in the lopsided kitchen washing dishes, Faye said, "When he was little, the other boys teased him because he liked to draw. They called him a girl." I suddenly understood why "Fairy & Lay" might be horribly offensive, rather than just a slip of  the tongue. I also had a sudden acute awareness that my outspoken nature, while being a natural outcome of being raised by well-educated, liberal adults who encouraged debate, might be painful to someone who had been bullied as a child. What I had thought of as light banter probably sounded like barbed attacks to Larry. He was not equipped to handle a quick-witted debate and I had been abusive to engage with him that way.

That denouement was a hard one for me. In my mind, HE had been the abusive one and Faye was the probable victim. Now I had to confront the realization that I was, in fact, the abuser. Ouch. I dried my hands on a towel and went outside. Larry and Rolando were sitting on lawn chairs, beer cans in hand, watching the sun set over the meadow behind Rolando's house. I walked over to them. They both looked at me. "I'm sorry I upset you, Larry. I was being silly and I should have just shut up." He said, "Yeah, you should have." I waited, but realized I wasn't going to get anything else. That was just his way.

I would like to say that this incident marked the end of my tendency to engage in debates with a razor sharp edge to my words. Alas, I am still that woman. I manage to keep my mouth shut more than I open it, but anyone who knows me knows I have not kicked the habit completely. On my better days, I can awaken a spirit of loving kindness to guide my words and maintain civility. When I manage it, I am always hopeful that the more bitter me has been put away forever.

Rolando used to say to me, "pass the sugar, please," when I was being a little sharp-tongued. It was his way of gently telling me to change course. And it always worked. Sometimes I say it to myself when I feel myself getting worked up over something. I'm not as good at it as Rolando was, but I'm a fairly good imitation.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

amahl and the night visitors

As a child, I was required to sit and listen to the Metropolitan Opera (sponsored by Texaco) on the radio every Saturday afternoon. Mother would allow us to read, play quiet games, draw or even lie still with our eyes closed, but we had to be in the living room for the whole opera. Mother did her best to make it exciting. Before the opera began, she would explain the story to us, sing a little of the music for key scenes so we would recognize what was happening when we heard it. She would also tell us a little about the composer and the musicians scheduled to perform that day.

I complained bitterly, of course. No other form of torture was quite as exquisite as the opera torture. I would whine and beg in my most theatrical voice and drag myself into the room on zombie legs, rolling my eyes and sighing heavily. Mother ignored my mini-operatic antics, determined to infuse us with some culture.

Years later, Mother would confess to me that she had originally dreamed of becoming an opera singer when she was a young girl. Her voice was a choir voice, not an opera voice, so she lived her dream vicariously through Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Marilyn Horne and Jessye Norman.

My first exposure to Amahl and the Night Visitors was during this time, although I have no clear memory of listening to it on the radio. Mother had a record of the opera and we listened to it during the Christmas season every year that I can remember. And now I listen to it every year, because I have come to love the story so much. Amahl and I are old friends!

Here is a synopsis of the story:

Amahl, a disabled boy who can walk only with a crutch, has a problem with telling tall tales and, occasionally, lying. He is sitting outside playing his shepherd's pipe when his mother calls for him (Amahl! Amahl!). After much persuasion, he enters the house but his mother does not believe him when he tells her there is an amazing star "as big as a window" outside over their roof (O Mother You Should Go Outside; Stop Bothering Me!).

Later that night, Amahl's mother weeps, praying that Amahl not become a beggar (Don't Cry Mother Dear). After bedtime (From Far Away We Come), there is a knock at the door and the mother tells Amahl to go see who it is (Amahl ... Yes Mother!). He is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings (the Magi). They tell the mother and Amahl they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child and they would like to rest at their house, to which the mother agrees (Good Evening!; Come In!). The mother goes to fetch firewood, and Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings.

King Balthazar answers Amahl's questions about his life as a king and asks what Amahl does. Amahl responds that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep. Now, he and his mother will have to go begging. Amahl then talks with King Kaspar, who is childlike, eccentric, and a bit deaf. Kaspar shows Amahl his box of magic stones, beads, and licorice, and offers Amahl some of the candy (Are You A Real King?; This is My Box). The mother returns (Amahl, I Told You Not To Be A Nuisance!). Amahl is told to go fetch the neighbors (All These Beautiful Things; Have You Seen a Child?) so the kings may be fed and entertained properly (Shepherds! Shepherds!; Emily! Emily; Olives and Quinces; Dance of the Shepherds).

After the neighbors have left and the kings are resting, the mother attempts to steal for her son some of the kings' gold that was meant for the Christ child (All That Gold). She is thwarted by the kings' page. When Amahl wakes to find the page grabbing his mother, he attacks him. Seeing Amahl's weak defense of his mother and understanding the motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold as the Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the kings to take back the gold. She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give the Child except his crutch. When he offers it to the kings, his leg is miraculously healed. With permission from his mother, he leaves with the kings to see the child and give his crutch in thanks for being healed.

The scene in which Amahl leaves with the kings (to go see the baby Jesus) is particularly poignant. It didn't stand out for me when I was a child. But now that I have a son of my own, I feel Amahl's departure in my very soul.

Mother: "Don't forget to wear your hat!"
"I shall always wear my hat."
together: "So, my darling goodbye! I shall miss you very much."
"Wash your ears."
"Yes, I promise."
"Don't tell lies."
"No, I promise."
together: "I shall miss you very much."
"Feed my bird."
"Yes, I promise."
"Watch the cat."
"Yes I promise."
together: "I shall miss you very much."

I cry every time I hear this part. I know the pain of the mother, letting her child go. And I know the pain of saying good-bye to your mother. But then I imagine Amahl traveling to Bethlehem to visit the Christ child. I picture him standing in the stable, just behind the three kings, waiting for his turn to approach the baby. I imagine his eyes widening as he looks at Jesus for the first time, recognizing the awesome gift sent by God.

Every Christmas season, I look for Amahl in every nativity scene on display. He isn't always there. Sometimes there are no shepherds. Sometimes the shepherds are all grown men. But when I see a young shepherd boy, I always think, there you are, Amahl, my old friend! Am I not blessed to have such a friend?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

furry reading

My cat is CEO of a fur production company, my ceiling fan is the distribution center and I am funding the entire operation. It is safe to say that the only thing in the house that is enhanced by the addition of cat hair is the cat. But still he soldiers on, eating his kibble and growing more orange and white hairs, then shedding them so the fan can do its work. I hate to admit it, but he’s stuck with this same job for almost thirteen years. The longest I’ve ever done the same job is six years, so I suppose I should show some respect.

This morning I resolved to read a book. I haven’t been reading books lately. Instead I’ve been playing Bingo on Facebook and watching television shows and movies that I recorded on my DVR. I am now so accustomed to fast-forwarding through commercials that it is agony to watch anything in real time. If I find myself watching something in real time, my index finger hovers over the fast forward key, itching to move things along. I’ll even hit the pause button when I get to the commercials and go do some task. This sometimes backfires on me if I am flipping back and forth between two shows and I forget I paused one, flip over to the other show, then flip back to find that I missed an entire section of the original show. I want to beat myself in the head with the remote control when that happens, but I can usually restrain myself.

Until a few years ago, I had over 1500 books in my house. I read every day and sometimes well into the night if it was a particularly good read. I enjoyed literature the best, but I could also go for the occasional mystery or suspense or even certain non-fiction.  I’ve often been deeply affected by a book, thinking brand new thoughts or feeling things I hadn’t realized I was feeling, or feeling stupid that I hadn’t known something or noticed something. There are a handful of books that have been life-changing.

But a few years ago, I found myself being transferred by my company for the fifth time in six years. I could not face packing all of those books again. Plus, I would be downsizing from a 3500 square foot house in Memphis to a 950 square foot loft apartment in Philadelphia. Something had to give! So I weeded through all of those books and got rid of all but about 150. I know that sounds horrifying to anyone who loves books! But I was careful to pass my books on to true book lovers.

So, why did I stop reading? I was working incredibly long hours and was exhausted when I got home. Facebook was easier and required less energy and thinking. Computer games allowed me to escape. Television was even better because it required no energy AND it allowed escape. There were lapses in my full stop. After I watched the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO, I immediately bought all of the books and read straight through them all. Fantasy isn’t my preferred genre, but I admit that I loved them. I did the same thing with The Hunger Games trilogy after I heard people talking about the books. Again, SF is not my preferred genre, but they were good, though not nearly as good as the Game of Thrones series.

So anyway, a switch was flipped in my brain this morning and I walked over to the bookshelves to peruse what is left of my collection. I settled on Growing Up in the South, An Anthology of Modern Southern Literature, edited and introduced by Suzanne W. Jones. The first piece is a selection from the autobiography of Harry Crews entitled A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. As I read it, I can feel my brain stretching just a bit. It is out of practice, since it has mostly been focused on Bingo games, television remote controls and a level 71 Undead Hunter named Amathyst. (Yes, the misspelling was intentional.) And I have even taken a break to write this.

Since it is late morning, the sun is shining in the window next to my chair. I can see individual cat hairs occasionally floating through a ray of sunshine. It makes me smile. That production factory may have been in operation for almost thirteen years, but I've been reading for over FIFTY years! Maybe I'm not as much of a flibbertigibbet as I originally thought!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

bamboo memories

Hand in hand up the spiral staircase,
to where you would stroke my white-blonde hair
and tell me how sweet I was
and how much you wished
you could have a little girl like me.

Then to explain where and how you found me
to my distracted, bickering parents who,
caught up in their own melodrama, 
just sighed in relief to have me back home.
Did they thank you, rorikon?

And all these years later, 
your features are missing from my memory,
along with the painful details of just what you did.
But I remember you.
Oh, I remember you.

In each romantic assumption I made,
and in each failure to protect myself,
your hand continued to touch me
and your reassuring smile corroded my soul.

My skin must have been transparent
because others saw you there in my bones
and snatched me up as their victim,
adding detail to the branding you carved.

With every longing to find THE ONE
who would love me so absolutely,
your vile intentions continued
to burn me and keep me alone.

Late in life now, I still imagine you, rorikon.
But with other unfortunate angels to follow,
I’m sure you’ve forgotten me long since.
But I remember you.
Oh, I remember you.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

the louvered door

Comparing notes with other writers is always a source of inspiration. Lately, we've been sharing our earliest recollection of writing and our first self-identification as "writer". I'd never really given the topic any thought, but I laughed when I realized that there WAS an actual beginning for me. And it's all thanks to my Mom.

My Mom was distracted, to put it mildly, when I reached my pre-teen years. She was newly divorced and was, no doubt, reeling from huge changes in her life. We had been a family of six, but in the course of a 12 month period, my oldest brother went off to college, my father moved out of the house and the next fall my oldest sister left for college as well. Then, Mom relocated me (age 9), my sister (age 10) and herself from Massachusetts to Georgia.

And there we were - all trying to recover from the shock of the multiple changes in our lives. My sister's reaction was mostly internal. But I managed to find a group of hoodlums to hang out with and at around the age of 12 began a multi-year effort to put myself in the most dangerous possible positions. This included associating with members of the Hell's Angels, going to late night parties after I was supposedly in bed, hitch-hiking all across the country and some experimentation with drugs. Today, I consider it a miracle that I made it through that portion of my life without having been raped or murdered.

But this post is not about those years. (Maybe later.)

Just prior to starting the 10th grade, Mom relocated us again, this time to rural North Carolina. And once again, I had to find a new group of friends. Although I had put my most dangerous behavior behind me at this point, I still hung out with "hippies". I played guitar and sang in a local rock band, I still smoked pot and I was still fearless, which at 15 should read DUMB. And, like most teenage girls, I kept a diary, in which I recorded my most secret thoughts, which included excruciating details of the moods and dialogue of whatever boy I was admiring at the moment. I kept that diary in a box, under some shirts, in the bottom drawer of my dresser.

I frequently played hookey from high school, sometimes to hang out with friends, sometimes just to hang out by myself at home. To say that I did not fit in at my rural high school was putting it mildly.  At that point I was pretty worldly, having seen and done far more than your average 15 year old. Add to that the ingrained racial segregation at the high school and it made for some unpleasant social experiences. I truly did not want to be there on any day.

One day, I stayed home from school and was sitting in my room playing guitar and singing. I heard a car in the driveway, hopped up to peek out the window and was shocked to see my Mom walking up the sidewalk towards the front door. I panicked and quickly made a decision to hide in my bedroom closet. I got the folding, louvered doors shut just in time. I was squatting in the most uncomfortable position you can imagine. I could just see out through the louvers. To my absolute horror, Mom walked straight to my room, opened the bottom drawer of my dresser, pushed the clothes back, opened the box and removed my diary.

She sat on my bed, flipped through some pages and began to read. It occurred to me that the turning of the pages was to pass the parts that she had already read. She had done this many times, I realized. I sat in furious silence as she read my most private thoughts. My brain whirled. What had I written? What was she now reading? I honestly could not remember.

Eventually, Mom closed the diary, returned it to the box, rearranged the clothes on top of the box and closed the dresser drawer. And, as quickly as she had arrived, she left, her heels briskly clip-clopping back down the walkway to her car. I painfully removed myself from that closet and snatched my diary out of its hiding place to read the whole thing from beginning to end. As I read certain passages, I felt psychic pain at the thought that Mom had read what I had written. I actually gasped and groaned  as I read.

For days after this event, I wrote nothing in that diary - not one word. On Sunday, as fate would have it, the Dear Abby column featured a young girl asking Abby whether it was right for her mother to read her diary, as she had caught her doing. Abby responded that parents should respect the privacy of their children and that her mother was very wrong to violate her privacy by reading her diary. I actually read the whole thing aloud to Mom at breakfast, then looked straight into her eyes and said, "I'm so glad that I have a mother who would NEVER do that to me." Mom did not even blink. That made me even madder!

So I began my campaign of revenge. Into that diary, I began to spin the wildest of tales. I wrote of possibly joining the carnival after meeting "Tim", a carny. I wrote of an opportunity to move to California to study with a swami. I detailed entire conversations that never took place. I described events that had never happened, usually involving jumping off of bridges or balancing on things that could lead to death if I fell. I wrote about shooting guns and learning to fight with a knife. I wrote about males that I had met who clearly wanted to do things to me and with me. These descriptions I would leave open, with a "should I?" ending.

This was the beginning of my creative writing. I wrote for the sole purpose of freaking my Mom out. I remember sitting and thinking, trying to come up with something suitably outrageous. And I would design my words for maximum shock value. It gave me great pleasure to come up with something really good. I would grin and laugh as I scribbled away. And that is the writing process, in a nutshell - trying to think of something really creative and writing it for reader response. The excitement of reading something you've written - and knowing you got it right - is really why we do what we do.

I have no idea if she ever read a word of it. Maybe I showed my hand with the Dear Abby column and she never did it again. Or, maybe she was smart enough to add the two things together and figure out that I was embellishing. Who knows? But it got me writing, which I have continued to do my entire life.

Interestingly enough, my views on the right to privacy changed when my own son started middle school and began to rebel. I told him flat out that it was MY house and that he could expect ZERO privacy. I told him I would be searching his room regularly, that I would read every word that I found and that I would confiscate anything and everything I found in the house that I decided he should not have. I have absolutely no qualms about this approach and highly recommend it as a parenting technique. After all, you need to know whether your child has plans to run off to California with a swami. This will allow you time to register him for band camp in order to circumvent his plans. A trumpet is an excellent diversion from California swamis and other potential distractions for teenagers. You can trust me on this.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

the politics of hate

When I try to describe what my parents and extended family taught me about how to live my life, I think I can cover it in just a few sentences:

1. Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
2. Reach out your hand to help people in need.
3. Think for yourself. Be wary of people who try to control your thoughts and behavior.
4. Be a credit to your family.
5. Always be aware that other people's experience is different than your own. Don't assume that people will (or should) be just like you.

My parents were Methodist missionaries in Japan. I was born at Duke University hospital while the family was home on furlough. We then returned to Japan and I spent the earliest part of my life immersed in Japanese culture. I'm sure this shaped who I am today, but I can't always articulate how it is so.

Prior to their service in Japan, my parents were early members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Mother still talks about riding in the Jim Crow train cars so she could travel with her African American colleagues. Clearly, the example and teachings of my parents shaped who I am today.

The main message that resonated through my early life was one of LOVE for your fellow man.

I've spent the last two or three years AMAZED at the vitriol that is constantly spewed in the direction of President Barack Obama. I've collected some of the most insane rantings that I came across. Here are a few examples:

"Obama is an affirmative action mistake who has no clue what role government should play for wealth to be created. He has no American values. None. He will go down historically as the worst president in the history of the United States"

"I don't know what you read...There is a list of all the money this creep gave to the muslims...I guess you don't know he wants you to die. He can lie his ass off to the infidel and thats what he thinks about all Christians. All the money that help put him where he is was muslim money. No the liberal press want report it it. I will pray that he never wins again and if you would go and find the truth or new the truth you would be praying too. Thats all I am going to say about it......He has charmed the people like the serpent he is. God said that the true Isreal would turn there face from God..He knew you would. He will smite you just as he said."

I've seen pictures of Michelle Obama as a monster from outer space. I've seen Obama's famous campaign poster redrawn to show him with a noose around his neck. I've read that he is a Muslim, that he is planning to turn our country over to foreign Islamic leaders, that he isn't an American, that he is the devil incarnate, that he got into Harvard because he is a minority, that his school records would show that he didn't really earn his law degree, etc.

There is only one reason why a political party would welcome hateful, nasty, ignorant and racist people into the fold. They know they need them in order to win.

If the rest of us allow that to happen - if we let the party that welcomes the WORST of us with open arms win this election, then we need to prepare ourselves for an ever expanding spiral of horror as more and more people voice their most violent and nasty thoughts. When this is not just tolerated, but encouraged, there can be no doubt that the leadership of that group needs to be shut down and driven out of the political process.

As a progressive Christian, I am appalled and offended by the Republican party's willingness to embrace hate. The only Republican I have ever heard rebuke this kind of thinking is when John McCain testified on the House floor in support of Huma Abedin, the long-time aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr. McCain never mentioned Michele Bachmann by name, but he made it clear that he believed that the kind of blind hatred that Ms. Bachmann was spewing needed to stop. This is EXACTLY what the leaders of the Republican party must do. They must root out and censure the most radical, divisive and hateful members of their parties.

AND - the Democrats must do the same when they hear any nasty, hate-filled rhetoric coming from their followers. 

Voters must step up and support those leaders who believe in equality, fairness and in helping their fellow citizens. It is our only hope for a better America.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Papa's Spiritual Journey

Today, I've been busy uploading the fourth volume of Papa's MyStory, entitled My Spiritual Journey.

It is a comfort to read that Papa has experienced some of the same struggles that I have. I feel closer to him, which I did not think was possible.

I am so blessed to have been born into my family and to know this man as my father!

Monday, May 28, 2012


Several years ago, I got the idea to crochet an afghan for myself. I asked my Mother to show me how. She showed me the basic stitches, but I didn't do a project right away. When winter rolled around, I decided to try something. I went to some store. I don't remember which. I bought some big, fat, purple chenille - a choice that screamed of my inexperience! The wrapper around the yarn had a pattern on the back for an afghan and I followed it - sort of. I ended up with a beautiful, cushy, warm, purple afghan that was (no surprise here) one foot shorter on one end than it was on the other.

In previous generations, I suppose girls learned to crochet from their mothers and grandmothers, who were then present in the room while the girls worked on their first project. Had that happened with me, I'm sure I would have received advice about counting stitches. Or more likely, I would have been advised to start with granny squares. (In retrospect, I think my Mother did tell me to try granny squares first. But by the time I got around to looking at yarn, I had forgotten that.)

I still have that purple afghan, by the way. It is still beautiful, cushy, warm & very purple. And now it has lots of ends sticking out, because I had no clue how to properly handle ends. It really is wonderfully funny.

I didn't make anything else for several years. Then, when I was getting ready to move from Pennsylvania back to Georgia, I decided to make a lap throw for my wonderful Daddy. Poor Daddy. He was my guinea pig for my first granny square project. The squares were fine (other than still not knowing how to properly handle the ends), but when it came to joining them I made several errors, the greatest of which was to use the same variegated yarn that I had used to make the squares. The end result wasn't ugly. But it wasn't wonderful either.

Daddy, of course, says that he loves it. He even wrote a haiku about it.

Dozing ‘neath my throw,
                  My heart filled with gratitude,
                                    I’m thinking of you.

Well, I suppose that does count for something! But when I heard my stepmother casually mention throwing it in the washing machine, I actually shuddered. I am so worried about it falling apart! That should tell you everything you need to know about my first effort at a granny square project.

My sister told me she really liked Daddy's throw. I asked her if she wanted me to make one for her. She said YES!!! This time, I actually went online and did a little research about granny squares. I found a different pattern than the one I used for Daddy's throw. About a third of the way through it, I discovered multiple videos on YouTube showing crochet techniques including - voila! - how to deal with the ends. A needle, you say? Brilliant!!!

Here is my sister's throw:

I did a better edging, which I also learned from a YouTube video:

She's only seen pictures of it. I'll take it to the family reunion in July. I really loved how this turned out! It is pretty and warm and I know that MOST of the ends are secure.

My Mother was with me while I was making this one and the next trip to JoAnn's found her picking out yarn for HER throw. I used the same pattern that I used for my sister's and learned another valuable lesson. NEVER do the same project twice in a row with no breaks. It was SO BORING! While my sister's project felt like a labor of love, my Mother's project just felt like labor. I honestly felt like I would never finish!!! But I did:

Here is a close-up, with a signature that I added:

Honestly, I don't like it as well as the one I did for my sister! I'm now working on my next three projects simultaneously. What I really need right now is to find some other people working with yarn. I absolutely believe that I would learn so much more if I was working side-by-side with people who are more expert at the craft of crochet.

Friday, May 11, 2012


My husband asked me
“Do you want to lug Gage, Hon?”
My son’s a bundle.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Two hours cooking for
Mom. Silence. That's her shorthand
for “I don’t like it”.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Instrumental for
all Republican planning:
how to instill fear

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


When I remembered,
it was the sparkly, opaque
earring I thought of.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


When she tilted open the door, she found chaos waiting for her in the dishwasher. Really, she thought, how difficult is it to load this appliance? It appeared that they had simply tossed things in as they used them, with no care for any logical arrangement. She sighed dramatically.

Working quickly, she rearranged plates in order of size from outside to in, and then re-stacked the bowls to ensure that the water could reach the inside of each one. In the created space that this rearrangement provided, she added the mixing bowls that had been stacked carelessly in the sink, next to some used Tupperware containers. She pulled out silverware that was handle up and replaced them handle down. She slid the bottom basket back in and turned her attention to the top basket.

Taffy came in the kitchen then, her little Dachshund toenails clicking on the tile floor. She gazed up at Marge with a happy, expectant look. Marge stepped into the pantry and extracted a small Milk Bone from the bin and bent over to place it in Taffy’s view. Taffy sniffed at it, then politely placed her mouth around it and sunk down to the floor to munch on it. Marge noticed Taffy’s water bowl had a little debris in it, so she took it back to the sink, rinsed it out, refilled it and returned in to the pantry floor. Taffy looked up as she crunched part of the treat. Her tail wagged in happiness. “Good girl”, Marge said.

She returned to her task. She relocated all of the coffee cups to the right side of the top basket, handles facing the same way in order to maximize the space. Then she did the same thing with the glassware on the left. Into the remaining space, she added the Tupperware containers and lids, arranging them so that one kept the next in against the rough pummeling they would receive from the water jets. (She hated opening the door at the end of the rinse cycle, only to find the containers open side up, filled with water.) When she was done, she added a cube of dishwasher detergent, snapped shut the compartment she had placed it in and shut the door. She punched the start button and smiled with satisfaction.  She pictured the kids opening the dishwasher and imagining that magic had created order where chaos had been. Or maybe they would know that she had created the masterpiece.

Back in the living room, she sat in her plush purple recliner and listened to the dishwasher. The rhythmic waves of water massaging the plates, bowls and silverware lulled her into an almost trance-like state. She loved the sound of the dishwasher, even the silences between cycles. One had to live a life without a dishwasher to truly appreciate the wonder of owning one. That was the trouble with those two. They had never had her experience. In her childhood, every meal was followed by the ritual of washing, rinsing, drying and putting away all of the things that had been used for the meal. She and her siblings took turns with the various tasks, guided by the chore chart on the wall of the kitchen. There were four children and four tasks, so they learned to work together to get the job done. Washing was the worst because it included the wiping down of the kitchen table, the counters, the stove and the cabinets around the cooking arena. She hated being assigned to washing. Still, there was always satisfaction in finishing. They would retreat to the living room and play board games or cards, fighting over imagined slights until Daddy intervened to restore order. After Daddy left, their brother was the one to restore order among the squabbling sisters. He was the oldest and naturally became the leader.

But sitting here now, listening to the dishwasher hum, she was thankful that it existed. She closed her eyes and breathed in and out deeply. She dozed off and dreamed of dancing plates, like Beauty and the Beast, except in place of “Be Our Guest”, she heard Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge”. She was, after all, an aging hippy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

virginia's new honor rape law

In places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, male-dominated society is the norm. Violence against women is acceptable. Women who try to demonstrate any control over their own lives are demonized. And in this area of the world, an "honor rape" is considered an acceptable means of punishing a family. One of the more well known cases of honor rape was that of Mukhtaran Bibi, a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped because her brother was accused of having illicit sex with an unmarried woman. The case is well-known because she successfully pressed charges against the men who raped her and some of the men went to prison. But that is a rare outcome in that part of the world. And in some cases, tribal councils have ordered a gang rape as a punishment.

This couldn't happen in the United States of America. No. But it is going to be happening very soon. Because the men of Virginia have banded together and passed a law that requires that every woman who wants to have an abortion must undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound, whether she wants one or not and whether her doctor wants her to or not. Because the vast majority of abortions are performed in the early part of the first trimester, the only viable ultrasound is transvaginal ultrasound.

What the heck is that? Well, I can describe it in detail because I have had one. In 1991, I had an ectopic pregnancy. My doctor ordered a transvaginal ultrasound to verify that there was a fertilized egg in my fallopian tube. No amount of conversation could have prepared me for this event.

This is the device that was used. When the technician took it out and began explaining it to me, I nearly died of embarrassment. She was very professional and didn't bat an eye as she rolled a condom onto the wand. I had to lie on my back while she put the wand into me. It was not pleasant. It was uncomfortable.It was embarrassing.

This is what the wand looks like inside a woman. As you can see, it isn't a small item. The wand must penetrate all the way to the back wall of the vagina in order to capture an image.It also has to stay in place and be moved around in order to achieve good images. There is a lot of pressure and discomfort. And it takes a while. In my situation, this WAS medically necessary, so I bore the discomfort and embarrassment. I then had surgery to remove the ectopic pregnancy and mourned the loss of a baby that I had very much wanted.

Now you're probably wondering why the men of Virginia passed a law that requires doctors to do this to women when it is medically unnecessary. They claim that they want women to make an informed decision prior to having an abortion. They want women to have "more information". They imagine that looking at an ultrasound picture of the fetus will cause some women to change their minds. There has been no call for this from the medical community, no hint from anyone knowledgeable that women seeking abortions are lacking information that they need to make an informed decision. So we know that this is not really the reason.

Just to get the true flavor of their thinking, note this: When presented with information about how the majority of these medically unnecessary ultrasounds would be performed, one legislator responded that women had already made the decision to be penetrated when they got pregnant, so he had no problem with it. (In other words, once you allow your vagina to be penetrated by a man, it's open season on your lady parts.)

What does this have to do with honor rape? Well, let's see. We have religious fanatics who do not want women to have freedom over their own bodies. These religious fanatics are so determined to control women that they have legislated a vaginal penetration of them in order to shame and punish them. That, by definition, is an honor rape.

Tribal Council in Pakistan = Virginia Legislature
Honor Rape = Forcible penetration of vaginas as a way of punishing women who are sexual

Congratulations, Virginia. You've done yourself proud. You are now the Taliban. You must be so proud.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Obama 2012

The presidential election is just around the corner and I'm thinking about how I can make a difference this year. In 2007 and 2008, I contributed a lot of money to the Obama campaign. Early in the process, when friends and family were supporting Hilary Clinton and telling me that Obama couldn't win, I was the only voice echoing his campaign slogan of Yes, We Can! I can't contribute as much money this time around, but I can at least talk about why I will be voting for him again:

1. President Obama took a bold position when he chose to offer loans to Chrysler and GM. And it worked. Both companies have repaid the borrowed funds and both companies are profitable again. There were many, many critics of the president's decision. And the situation wasn't - and isn't perfect. The companies shouldn't have needed the loans! Ford, for instance, didn't need to borrow any money because their leaders did a better job of forecasting and planning. And there were costs associated with tracking the loans that the government will never recoup. But we will also never know what the long-term consequences might have been if he hadn't made this decision!

2. President Obama's social policies are more likely to reduce unwanted pregnancies and will, therefore, reduce the number of abortions performed in the USA. The Republican candidates are all very vocal in their anti-abortion stance. But they also promote public policies that are guaranteed to increase the number of abortions (legal or illegal) performed in the USA. Decreasing access to birth control and teaching abstinence only sex education are two ways that we can assure an increase in abortions. More importantly, I truly believe that, with the possible exception of Santorum, the Republican candidates take these stances for the sole reason of getting votes. Let me be clear - I am 100% pro-choice and never want to see the day that women lose any measure of their reproductive freedom. But I would love to see the day when we don't need abortion - legal or illegal. The answer to that is through access to birth control and sex education that includes access to all information available.

3.  President Obama ended the Bush-era restrictions on stem cell research. "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," Obama said. "In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering ... But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research – and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly." (The Guardian 3/9/09)

4. President Obama ended the decades long American military policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) that was in effect from December 21, 1993 to September 20, 2011. This was a courageous decision and one that he knew would get backlash. But when the vast majority of the military leaders said it was time to make a change, President Obama listened and acted. Interestingly enough, Gingrich and Santorum have both publicly called for DADT to be reinstated. I guess that tells the military leadership how much these candidates plan to listen to the experts if they ever hold the Commander In Chief title.

5. President Obama has lately shown that he favors small-scale, but effective military maneuvers to handle big problems. Under his leadership, we've seen al-Qaeda decimated and Osama bin Laden removed from the planet. Republican leadership likes war a little too much for my taste. As much as they like to say that they "support the troops", they sure throw them into the front lines a little too casually. What they really like is to ensure that money flows in the direction of the war machine - all the companies (like Halliburton) who profit from our country being at war. We are now out of Iraq and are increasing spending on the things that military families need - housing allowances, tuition assistance for military & their families, family support programs and military pay. If we put a Republican in office, how long before we are invading Iran?

6. President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010 after it was passed by Congress. (This is the actual name of the legislation that critics love to call "Obamacare".) There can be no argument that it is bad to ensure that all American citizens have access to affordable healthcare. Nobody is bold enough to argue that only people with money should be able to get healthcare. So the main argument against PPACA has boiled down to a claim that it is unconstitutional. Not so fast, says Charles Fried, who was solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. Dr. Fried, a conservative Republican, indicates that there is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about the law and he says that he hears no arguments against the law from the vast majority of constitutional law experts at the Federalist Society (an organization of conservatives & libertarians who study constitutional law). So why all of the hullabaloo? It's just another divisive issue that politicians are using to garner voter support.

7. Character and personal beliefs matter. Although our founding fathers wisely ensured, through our Constitution, that there would never be a requirement that our presidential candidates be of any particular religious faith, I think we can all agree that character and personal beliefs matter to us as voters. (Well, this is certainly true for the people I know & respect.) President Obama is a family man and a Christian who lives a Christ-centered life. He is a good man. He clearly believes that women are equal to men. I've seen him angry on only a few occasions. One that stands out to me was his reaction when the crowd (gathered to hear Republican candidates) booed an openly gay member of the military and none of those candidates rose to the military guy's defense. “You want to be commander in chief,” the president said, “you can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.” President Obama is true to his own principles and stands firm, even in the face of criticism.

8. Each of the Republican candidates frighten me - for different reasons.
  • Gingrich is a complete slimeball who would say or do anything to regain the power he had in the 1980's. He has an axe to grind against Democrats AND Republicans. At the end of his congressional reign, everybody was happy to see him go. He is a power-hungry megalomaniac who will do damage to our country if he ever makes it back to Washington, D.C.
  • Santorum is an evangelical who sees no harm in changing the laws of the land to ensure that all Americans are forced to live according to his version of the Christian faith. If you are an evangelical, that's fine. I have many relatives who would describe themselves as evangelicals. But surely you don't approve of any one religious group controlling the lives of everyone else? Taliban, anyone? Sharia law, anyone? Does nobody get the irony of this???
  • Romney is a moderate who is now trying very hard to "conservatize" himself.  He has taken an anti-abortion stance. He supports abstinence eduction. (See # 3, above.) He has flip-flopped on gun control, at first signing laws that banned certain weapons and instituting waiting periods, but later joining the NRA just prior to declaring his candidacy for president. He has also flip-flopped on the issue of economic policy. In fact, he flips and flops so much that he should scare anybody. I don't think he knows what he is in favor of until he figures out what is popular that day! But the clincher for why he scares me is that he has told one too many lies. He once told an audience that he saw his father marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This was later debunked. He was pandering to African-American voters.
9. When I think of WHAT COULD BE, I know I will vote to re-elect President Obama. Joan Ruaiz, over at said it best in her article entitled "We All Have a Choice in 2012". In it, she outlines that which could be if we elect a Republican president again. I suggest that you read that article before you make any decision about what you'll do in November.

That's just nine of my fifty reasons, but you get the idea, I think. My hope is that you will actually give thought to what you want for our country. Don't just repeat crap that you've heard on whatever channel you're listening to. Listen to the opposing arguments too. Really think about what you think is best for our country. Me? I'll be campaigning for - and voting for - President Obama.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

what i’ve learned (so far) while not working

In late November 2011, I resigned from my full-time position as president of a small career college in Pennsylvania. I made the decision to do this because I wanted to be back in the Atlanta area to be closer to family. It has taken longer to get relocated than I had anticipated, however, so I’ve had a lot of time on my hands.

I’ve watched a lot of television: 
  •  There are at least 18 different pills you can order direct from the manufacturer (but can’t buy in any store) that will allow you to lose a lot of weight without making any changes to your diet or exercise routine. Many of them have “miracles” attached to them. Clearly they work because each advertisement is accompanied by photos of women (and a few men) back when they were fat and right now, wearing their skinny clothes. Typically, they looked sad and pale and wore tan colored clothing when they were fat. But now that they are miraculously skinny, they smile a lot and wear primary colors. Although I am a few pounds heavier than I should be, I can’t see spending money on these pills, even though it is exciting to think that I could lose weight while sitting on my ass in my recliner eating bacon, lasagna and ice cream.
  •  Medicare is not enough. I know this because supplemental insurance is offered by multiple companies. The spokespeople sound very urgent and the seniors who tell their stories are very compelling. I will not be eligible for Medicare for quite some time, but I am glad that I have this advance warning about the inadequacy of Medicare.
  • There are some amazing kitchen gadgets out there. Usually, you can get two, even if you only pay for one. Interestingly enough, many of these gadgets have “miracles” attached to them too. I’m not sure how often I have managed a miracle while standing in my kitchen preparing dinner, so maybe one of these gadgets would help. But again, since I currently have no income, I can’t justify spending the money on a gadget, no matter how many miracles it can perform.
  •  If I fall down, I will regret that I am not wearing a button around my neck with which to summon an emergency response team. It’s always interesting to me how young and handsome emergency response team members are when they are portrayed on television, both in commercials and on television dramas. Clearly, if this were true, I would buy that button right now and begin summoning teams of good-looking, muscular men right away. But I know this is just a ruse. I’ve seen emergency response teams in real life. They look just like … well … me. 
  • That actress from Glee, Jane Lynch, is in a lot of television commercials. I deduce from this that she is a very intelligent woman. She knows her time in the spotlight is probably limited and she is putting money in the bank any which way she can while she has the opportunity. I like her, but I really hate her commercials. She is entirely too perky for daytime television.
  •  It is possible to watch three or more television programs simultaneously. When I grew weary of commercials for diet pills, Medicare supplemental insurance, kitchen gadgets and whatever Jane Lynch was selling, I started changing the channel as soon as the commercial came on. I found that I could find at least one other good program to watch until the program on the original channel came back on. The only problem was that sometimes the commercials overlapped and I found myself watching a third show and maybe even a fourth. Unfortunately, I found that when I got up to four, I sometimes forgot what the first show was. I remember getting caught up in Dog The Bounty Hunter, 48 Hours and A Baby Story and completely forgetting that I was watching House Hunters International. I never did see which house in the Dominican Republic that couple selected. I would have gone with the one with multiple views of the ocean and the open floor plan.
Other than television, I have also spent a good deal of time on my computer.
  • Minesweeper is still fun. I had forgotten all about this game! (8, 46 and 184. I know that isn’t great. It’s been a while!)
  •  The people who play World of Warcraft during the day are very different from the people I have been used to playing with on the weekends. In general, WoW players fall into several categories. There are pre-adolescent boys who play extremely fast, wiping out monsters and enemies left and right while I’m still trying to figure out what the objective is. (These boys also get carried away with the anonymity of WoW and say and do some spectacularly stupid things, then can’t back down to save their lives. I’ve witnessed some brutal verbal take-downs when they get into an altercation with an adult who has no empathic understanding or memory of what it’s like to be a 12 year old male.) There are adult male computer geeks who play WoW every minute they are not doing essential things like earning a living. These are the two groups I have been used to playing the game with on weekends. But the people I play with during the day are different. There are a lot more female players during the day. And there are older people playing. Although they are still primarily men, the testosterone levels are a lot lower. This can be a good thing when you are trying to all get along in a group. But it also means there are fewer kamikaze players who generally lead groups and get everyone through difficult times. So – fewer fights, but more situations where everyone gets wiped out.
  • Facebook is actually a wormhole.
  • is a really neat tool for finding interesting stuff. Sure, you have to click through some crap, but you will eventually be rewarded with something that will make your eyes grow wide. It will be something that you would never have seen no matter how many more decades you occupied space on this planet. And you will be glad that you kept clicking.
  •  Spotify has taught me that I have missed out on some really spectacular music because I was listening to my Ipod. Three songs in particular (so far) that I have found that are just amazing – Creep by Radiohead, Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams and Wake Up Alone by Amy Winehouse. (Younger people reading this are shaking their heads because these songs are already “old”.) I’m just amazed that I allowed myself to miss good music. I am a musician, for Pete’s sake. (I wonder who the heck Pete is?) I realize that I’ve allowed myself to gradually fade away from my musician days. So one of my resolutions for living in Atlanta is to find some people to make music with and to go listen to live music.
A few other random things:
  • The United States Postal Service employee who services my building gets very angry if I let a week’s worth of mail pile up in that little box downstairs. I know this because he happened to be in the lobby when I went down to get it one time. He delivered a stern lecture about how critically important it is to notify the post office when one is going to be out of town. When he was done, I briefly considered making up a story about a very sick neighbor for whom I was collecting mail, but decided that he really just needed a hug more than he needed an undeserved guilt trip. I didn’t give him the hug, though. He was carrying a huge ring of keys and I wasn’t sure exactly how on edge he was. I did not want to meet my demise in the lobby of this building.
  •  My cat sleeps a lot.
  • My apartment still needs cleaning almost as much today as it did six weeks ago. I always used work as an excuse for not having the energy to clean. I was too tired to clean, I told myself. Clearly, my face should be next to the word SLOTH in the dictionary. (I started to use ABLUTAPHOBIA there, but it includes a fear of bathing, which I do not have. And I can’t really claim to be afraid of cleaning.) I have done some cleaning, certainly more than I did over the last year. But there is still much to be done. But at least my toilet is white again. I need to step it up so I’m not stuck doing everything at the last minute after the movers come.
  • Time passes very slowly when you don’t do anything. I worked for the same company for just over nine years and it feels like it was three years. I’ve been out of work for six weeks and it feels like six months. It’s amazing. The European countries that have 3-6 weeks of vacation really know what they are doing. My body is more relaxed today than it has been in decades. I believe that the American work ethic is sick and it’s making Americans sick. I have no idea what the solution is. But I can clearly see the problem now. I was blind to it while I was working my butt off.
  •  I haven’t read nearly as much as I anticipated I would. I am surrounded by books that I have not read. But I haven’t finished a single book in the six weeks I have not been working. I’ve done more writing, however. I’ve also composed some music.
  •  I’ve rediscovered my cookbooks. I really, really love to cook. One of the things I am most looking forward to in Atlanta is hosting dinner parties for family and friends. Atlanta friends, hold me to this!!!
Well, that’s it for now. I’ve got to get back to the television. They’re having a Law & Order marathon on A&E and I don’t want to miss it. Have a great day! Or, if you’re still working, have a great ten minutes!

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Sixteen wants love
Sixteen has been absorbing stories
about love
about being complete
about looking cute & sexy
about making music
Sixteen first meets you

Nineteen has dreams
Nineteen has been absorbing experiences
about love
about betrayal
about success
about learning
Nineteen falls in love with you

Twenty-one runs away
Twenty-one has no clue what she is doing
about life
about a future
about decision-making
about what to do with all this EMOTION
Twenty-one thinks about you from afar

Twenty-seven is married & pregnant
Twenty-seven is full of excitement
about the world
about the tiny life inside
about the husband who soothes and comforts
about helping those in need
Twenty-seven isn't even thinking about you

Thirty-two means a new divorce
Thirty-two means recovery
from painful reality
from a broken heart
from the need to control everything
from the expectation that love could fix anything
Thirty-two is answering the phone to hear your voice for the first time in 11 years

Forty-five's heart dances with excitement
Forty-five believes that FINALLY out of chaos will come deliverance
from part-time love
from never being sure of where a heart stands
from on again, off again, on again, off again bullshit
from being on the outside looking in
Forty-five is wrong, but doesn't know it yet and embraces you upon your arrival

Fifty is leaving
Fifty is determined to make a life
with joy
with financial security
with outward focus and inward strength
with warmth
Fifty is walking away from you, with one eye glancing over a shoulder

Fifty-three rests
Fifty-three takes stock and creates a new path
of freedom
of giving
of listening to God's voice
of metamorphosis
Fifty-three feels your hand trying to grasp the back of my shirt