Sunday, December 29, 2013

why we still need feminism

When brilliant rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died this year, the New York Times disgraced itself by running the following obituary:
She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.
A fire storm of criticism followed, as people pointed out that no obituary of a male rocket scientist would have begun by outlining his prowess in ANY other area, nor would it have led with any comments about his wonderful parenting. But somehow, this brilliant scientist's accomplishments were pushed to paragraph two. The New York Times actually edited the online obituary in response to the criticism.

And yet after all the controversy, I still had to listen this morning as Charles Osgood announced on CBS Sunday Morning that Yvonne Brill "was a rocket scientist who managed to raise a family and invent a propulsion system to keep satellites in orbit - in her spare time." I hope, hope, hope that the writers were poking fun at the obituary writer rather than those who took offense. But just in case ...

I did a little research on the men who were also remembered in the segment. I'd like to outline a few of their amazing accomplishments here:

Astronaut Scott Carpenter managed to marry four times, divorce three times, father seven children and become the second American to orbit the Earth - in his spare time.

Manager Earl Weaver managed to stay married to his wife Marianna for 49 years, raise his children and coach the Baltimore Orioles - in his spare time.

Athlete Stan Muesil managed to stay married to his wife for almost 72 years, raise four children and play professional baseball - in his spare time.

Beautician Mr. Kenneth never married, he was a close, personal friend of Marilyn Monroe and styled hair - in his spare time.

Athlete Deacon Jones managed to marry twice, father a son, help raise a stepson and a grandchild, and played professional football - in his spare time.

May they all rest in peace!

Saturday, December 28, 2013


The nights have been getting pretty cold - almost to freezing, which is unusual for Phoenix. My summer weight coverlet wasn't enough, so I got up out of bed to dig out the quilt my sister made for me. Then that wasn't enough, so I added a bed-sized blanket that I crocheted last year. The result was a hodgepodge of color, but very warm!

My sound machine plays the sound of ocean waves, which is incongruous for sleeping in the middle of the desert, but I've tried every other sound available and I can't fall asleep to anything but ocean sounds. I've never lived by the ocean, so I can only guess that my brain is connecting it to the deep, wonderful sleep of my balcony stateroom on cruises I have enjoyed over the years.

So, let's talk about sleep. Do you know about the Japanese practise of inemuri? Inemuri means "sleeping while present". Japanese people (mostly men) sleep while at work. Bosses are impressed that the men are working so hard that they must take sleep breaks. Some even fake the sleep for the boss to see, thereby convincing him that they are sleep-deprived because they are working so hard. It is a sign of total commitment to the employer. They have to sleep sitting up in their work chair and only certain people can do it.

The Tiv people of Nigeria have no set sleep hours. Their villages are always active because the people simply lie down to sleep when they are tired. There is always someone awake.

How did some countries (or communities) get the custom of siesta? Most people will answer that it is the hotter countries or those who consume a heavy midday meal who end up with the siesta custom. I know I am jealous! I would love to take a nap after lunch every day. There may even be a human propensity for midday sleep.

Did you know that there used to be a custom for first and second sleep during the night? Before electric lights, people went to bed with the sun. They often had a first sleep, then woke up and did other things for an hour or so, then went back to sleep for a second sleep. There were even books published with suggestions for couples to make use of the break time. I wonder what the suggestions were?

I'm grateful I've never had to worry about sleepwalking. There are actually people who have been acquitted of murder by presenting a defense that they were sleepwalking when they committed the murder. Of course there are also people who have tried that defense and been convicted! But I imagine this would be a good reason to avoid trying to wake someone up when they are sleepwalking!

I once had a friend who suffered from a very mild case of narcolepsy. He would have trouble sleeping at night and he would fall asleep suddenly during the day. People with this disorder typically drop into REM sleep within 5 minutes. It takes the rest of us an hour. My friend worked in construction. His co-workers were always finding him in odd places, with his head drooping onto his chest. If they tapped his arm very gently, he would come out of the sleep state. He never called in sick and did good work, so his boss was very kind to him.

Sleep paralysis is another topic all together. It's thought that disrupted REM sleep, with the associated muscle paralysis might be responsible. This has actually happened to me more than once. It was terrifying. I woke up, but was completely unable to move. On one occasion, I felt the presence of something very evil in the room and felt myself being assaulted. It was horrible. Inexplicably, I watched a segment about sleep paralysis on the Today show within days of that most terrifying event. There are even some who suggest that people who are convinced they have been taken to an alien ship were actually experiencing sleep paralysis.

Lately, I've been trying meditation. I often fall asleep, but was recently reassured that continuing the practise of meditation was more important than any particular outcome. Keep doing it and your spirit will eventually sort itself out. Okay. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

christmas eve

And now I'm remembering a Christmas Eve at Grandmother McClarin's house in Norfolk, Virginia. My sister and I were young enough to be super excited and we were giggling in our room. We were supposed to be asleep but we were too wound up. We knew there would be presents in the morning. Santa was coming!!!

Our oldest brother and sister were also there, each on college break. I suppose they were helping Mother and Grandmother prepare our stockings and lay out our unwrapped presents in our special places. This would be one of the last Christmas vacations the four siblings would all be together under the same roof. My brother would graduate from college and go off to Hawaii for graduate school. My oldest sister would graduate and marry her soon-to-be-lawyer husband and move to Colorado. In fact, I would grow up, get married and have a child of my own before we would once again gather under the same roof at Christmas. In my family, college graduation apparently meant leaving and never coming home again.

But I didn't know that yet. For that night, I was secure in my family, giggling with my sister, happily anticipating what Santa would bring. Mother had to tell us to GO TO SLEEP several times before we stopped giggling and fell asleep.

Then, in the morning, I woke first. As soon as my eyes popped open, I woke up my sister. We ran into our Mother's room. She groaned. She finally gave us permission to go downstairs, but STOCKINGS ONLY - DO NOT OPEN ANY PRESENTS. We raced down the stairs. Grandmother heard us and came out of her room. Each of us had an assigned chair or sofa corner. We knew which was which because our stockings were there with our names sewn on in sequins. We each dumped the contents of our stocking out. Apples, oranges, tangerines, assorted unshelled nuts, one silver dollar, Hershey miniatures (to be traded around later, to get rid of the ones you didn't want and hopefully get more of what you did want), Hershey kisses, some socks and usually one small gift at the very top. Mother would appear, then our oldest sister with a sour expression on her face. I would usually race back upstairs to cajole our brother into coming down, which he did with some complaint.

Our brother sat next to the tree and handed the gifts out, one at a time. This was no free for all. It was very organized. For me, the youngest, it was almost unbearable, because I had to wait while five people each opened a gift before it was my turn again. My brother always made a big production about opening his gift when it was his turn, knowing that he was torturing me. It made me squeal, which made my oldest sister roll her eyes, which was probably his way of torturing her too.

There was always one game for the whole family. That year, the game was Mousetrap. Oh! It was so much fun!!! My Grandmother, Mother and oldest sister disappeared into the kitchen to put the Christmas meal together. But our brother helped us figure out the game and put the "trap" together. He eventually got bored and went off to do something else. That left my sister and me, playing with the game or messing with other stuff we had received.

And then the Christmas feast. Roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, rice and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, green & black olives and crescent rolls. Pumpkin pie and cookies for dessert. Leftovers for dinner. But this was before microwaves, so things had to be reheated on the stove or eaten cold. We had no clue that was a problem, so we happily did it!

I wonder - if I had known this would be the last Christmas we were together, would I have done anything differently? Probably not. I was too young to really understand it. But through the years, I have always experienced a bit of family envy when I heard about other multi-generational families all living near enough to get together for the holiday. I've always wondered why my siblings left and never came back. Maybe that happens in a lot of families and I only noticed the ones in which it didn't happen.

Each Christmas, my thoughts go out to those who are not with family - or ARE with family, but wish they were somewhere else. Because amidst the exultations of joy and celebration, I know there are heavy hearts, for a wide variety of reasons. My arms are around you, if that is you. You are not alone! Call me, if you need me!

But right now, I'm looking at that Swarovski bag over there from Reggie and wondering what is in it. I'm waiting until tomorrow, when he calls, to open it because it is the only present I have! But I'm sure it is something wonderful and I will be happy to have it, even if he is 1800 miles away.

Tonight, I must GO TO SLEEP! Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 20, 2013


Somewhere between 1993 and 1996, I received a late night phone call. I didn't yet have caller ID, so I often let calls go to my answering machine. On this particular evening, I was crying because I had just been in a huge fight with my boyfriend. When the phone rang, I jumped to answer it, hoping it was him. When I answered, a male voice said "Hi!".

It wasn't my boyfriend. In fact, I wasn't sure who it was. My brain was whirring, trying to match the voice with someone I knew. Then it hit me. I had attended a conference and met a really nice man from Wisconsin who had talked to me about quite a lot of things, including whether or not he should marry the woman he was living with. Sometimes, men who discuss problems with wives/girlfriends are really trying to get into your pants, but this guy was just very kind and very confused. We had talked once or twice since the conference, but then several months had passed.

I said, "Steve?". He said, "Yes! How you doing?"

Once I had him placed, we talked a while. I confessed that he had caught me crying because I had been fighting with my boyfriend. He told me that I should really dump the guy if he didn't treat me right. Then he told me he was at the airport, having just arrived in town for a conference. He asked if he could come over. The request struck me as rather odd. We really didn't know each other well enough for him to invite himself to my home. But I actually considered it. He had been such a nice guy and I could use someone to talk through things with.

But my inner voice told me NO. There was something that just wasn't quite right about the situation. When I said no, he started applying pressure to try to get me to change my mind. This went on for a while. We had been on the phone 15-20 minutes. I finally firmed up my NO and said I really wanted to get some sleep. I encouraged him to call the next day and maybe we could meet for lunch.

After I hung up, I sat and thought about it for a while. I remembered a conversation we had had way back at that conference where we first met. He had mentioned to people that he always changed his answering machine message to say he was out of town and where he would be and when he would be back. Several of us counseled him not to do  that because he might be giving information to someone who would rob him. He waved off all of our concerns.

I got up, dug out his phone number and called him in Wisconsin to see if his answering machine message would say that he was in Atlanta. The phone rang once, twice, then a male voice answered. I was startled, but I managed to choke out, "Steve?". He said, "Yeah?". I explained who it was and I asked him if he had just called me. He said he hadn't. So, I told him all about the phone call. He said I should call the police. But I reasoned that the person calling me had to have been calling random numbers in the phone book. And he would have the address of the apartment complex I was in, but wouldn't have any idea which apartment I was in. And what would I say to the police anyway? Steve and I eventually said good night.

The next day came and went without me hearing from the imposter. In fact, I never heard from him.

Several years later, I was watching 20/20 or Dateline or some other similar show. They had a segment on a serial rapist whose M.O. was to travel to other cities and call women who were listed in the phone book and pretend to be someone they knew. Then he would talk the woman into letting him come over. When he got there, he would brutally rape the woman. When I heard this, my heart raced. They actually played a tape recording of his voice. They indicated that he had operated throughout the southeast. Atlanta was named.

Today, I went looking for the information about the guy and I couldn't find anything. But I think back to that moment when I was wavering about whether to let "Steve" come over. He could tell he was making headway with me and really put the pressure on, but in the friendliest possible way. I don't know if this was early in his "career" or later. I wish I knew more!

Thankfully, my inner voice was strong on that particular day or I could easily have been on his list of victims. And while I congratulate myself on eventually saying no with a clear voice, I recognize that I was hesitating and actually considering letting him come over! More importantly, I am realizing that I have not always spoken with a clear, strong voice in my relationships with people. But apparently I hide that very well, because I don't think most people would say that about me.

I'm making resolutions for the coming year. Speaking clearly is going to be one of them!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

simple pleasures

Simple Pleasures

Ice cream.
The sound of the ocean as you drift off to sleep.
The first sight of your baby - birthed or adopted - whatever that baby's age might be.
Your perfect sigh as you settle in to your lover's arms.
A novel's plot twist that you didn't anticipate, coupled with rich, complex characters.
The satisfaction that follows exercise.
Finding that you've taken a photograph that pleases you very much.
The first time you hear lyrics to a song that devastates you.
The moment when a pill kicks in that is fighting something - headache, body pain, inability to sleep.
Creme brulee.
Laughing with someone you know well and feel safe with.
Really great sex.
Arriving at your vacation destination.
Reworking a sentence until it is exactly right.
The moment when someone realizes that you've done something very sweet for them.
A view of something spectacular in nature - ocean, mountain, river, valley, babbling brook, waterfall, etc.
Identifying a bird that you didn't previously know.
The sensation of a dog sprawled out in your lap, knowing she adores you.
Mastering something new - a language, a task, a recipe - anything you couldn't do, but now CAN do.
The smell of bread baking in your oven.
The first moment you realize that you are strong enough to weather just about anything.
Standing tall for what is right, even if that makes you unpopular.
Singing along with the radio, even if you don't know all of the words.
Lowering yourself into a wonderful bath.
Looking over a menu at a restaurant you haven't previously visited - even online, before you go.
Opening a present and finding just what you wanted.
Looking at your toes after a pedicure.
Watching a really good movie in the theatre, with Milk Duds and a frozen Coke.
A clean house, especially if someone else cleaned it.
Seeing happiness and success in the life of a former student.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

martha and the phone books

{I mistakenly read 333 words when the prompt asked for 33 words. Oops.}

"Make extra cash delivering phone books." Martha stared at the ad. Before she could stop herself, the phone was in her hand. They told her to come on down for the morning training session.

In the room with her were a half dozen very unfortunate looking people. Martha thought she might be the only one in the room with all of her own teeth. The "trainer" played a video about how to place two phone books into a plastic bag. After the "training" was complete, Martha backed her SUV up to the loading dock and a man filled her car up with phone books and one box of plastic bags. "You'll have to come back for the rest."

Martha carried the books into her house and painstakingly bagged them up. Using the address list from the company, she drove around and delivered her phone books, knowing all the while that she'd have to go back for more. She realized that she had neglected to ask what the pay would be.

With six bags left, she pulled into a driveway, waving to the man who was in the yard. She placed the bag on his porch, then got back in her SUV and backed out, only to run over the man's mailbox, knocking her car's side mirror off in the process. She got out to survey the damage. The man walked over. "I can't tell you how sorry I am," Martha said to the man. She gave the man her contact information, gathered up the broken bits of her side mirror and drove home.

Martha received a check in the mail for her services. $250, less the second batch of phone books that she never went back for. Total earnings = $211.78. Martha also received the mailbox bill for $178.43. When she picked up her car from the shop, the bill was $569.23. With a $500 deductible, she calculated that it had cost her $466.65 to spend the day working on her delivery job.


My photography prompt for 12/17/13 is "tree". We're in the middle of December, so it is no surprise that many people posted photos of their Christmas trees. But lots of people went in the same direction that I did, which was to take a photo of a regular tree.

I might have taken a picture of my own Christmas tree if I had one. This is the 5th or 6th year in a row that I didn't put up a tree. I got rid of a fake tree some years ago when I was relocating from one state to another. The tree had seen better days and I figured I would just get a new one at my new destination. But then I didn't. Every Christmas, I vow that I'll buy a new tree in the sales just after the holiday. But then I don't. Even more peculiar, I keep buying ornaments for a tree I don't have!

But back to photography, I'm really drawn to tree bark and the way in which trees are constructed. I'm fascinated by the way the tree functions. In my original picture, I took a photo of a tree trunk that featured peeling bark and all sorts of marks and imperfections. I realize that I have no idea what species this tree is. Maybe I'll go back and figure it out later.

While I was on the same walk, I also saw a palm tree that I found equally interesting. The trunk of the tree showed several places where the fiber of the tree was simply shredding itself and separating from the tree in a very stringy, lacy way. I have no idea why the tree does that, but it makes for an interesting photo.

This brings to mind the wide variety of personalities of humans. We're all scarred and peeling in various ways. But what really sets us apart from one another is how we view others.Too often, I focus on the imperfections that people display. What I should be keenly aware of is that they are there at all. What does this person bring to my life that is important for me to see? Behind their scars, what is there? And more importantly, what do I have to offer them?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

almond pecan popcorn

In 1975, my last sibling left home to go to college. That left just me & Mom at home. From that point until 2002, I lived with or near Mom and we spent almost every Christmas together. For the first few, my sister who is a year older came home. But after she finished college, we didn't see much of her, just as we didn't see much of my older siblings.

Mom and I had traditions. One tradition was to buy each other entirely too many Christmas presents. It was ridiculous. And once I had a child of my own in 1987, the outrageous gift-giving reached a fever pitch. One Christmas, we counted almost 100 presents under the tree, all for the three of us. Some of those came from other people, of course. But it was still insane. And we largely kept it a secret from my other siblings. Once I started working and had a decent income, I could not stop myself! Every time I went shopping I would see just ONE MORE THING that I would convince myself would make Mom happy. And she apparently had the same problem. It was almost embarrassing. Over the decades, I think I bought her the entire Pfaltzgraff Winterberry holiday china collection, including the gravy boat and the three-tiered desert tray.

Another tradition was Neiman Marcus Almond Pecan Popcorn. Oh, delicious candied popcorn with sweet pecans and almonds mixed in! It was so good! If we didn't eat it all before the day I had to get in the car to drive home, she would pack up half of what was left in a plastic baggie and send it home with me. My son was lucky if he got any at all.

We also ALWAYS had Almond Roca, her favorite candy. Each piece is a perfect foil-wrapped morsel, which could easily be consumed in one bite. But I always bite off half and set the other half daintily on the opened foil. Then, I slowly eat the first half before popping the second half in my mouth. And when my brain registers that the second half is almost gone, it tries to convince me that if I glance over at the foil that the second half will still be sitting there waiting for me. It never is. But I always check, just in case I got distracted and just THOUGHT I had consumed it.

What else? Oh! Mom always made cookies. We had chocolate chip cookies and cardamom cookies. But the best cookie she made were her Russian tea cakes or wedding cookies, as some people call them. The little balls of cooked dough (butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, chopped pecans) were cooled and then rolled in confectioner's sugar. Oh, who can eat just one ... dozen?

Mother always had her train set assembled and going around the Christmas tree. She loved Norfolk & Western and the one with the Chessie cat. As my son got older, he lost interest in the train set. I often wonder what became of it.

We would listen to all kinds of music and watch the Nutcracker on television. If A Charlie Brown Christmas came on while we were there, we always watched it. And Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (with Burl Ives) was a must if it happened to be on while we were there. But mostly I remember listening to music.

We always attended Christmas Eve service somewhere. During the years she was in the pulpit, it was at her church, of course.

On Christmas morning, we always started with V-8 juice and some kind of sweet roll. Then we opened presents! Woo hoo!!!!! Then we cooked all day. Yes! For just the three of us! Turkey, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, rice & gravy, crescent rolls, cranberry jelly, olives and pumpkin pie for dessert. Then we always worked the new puzzle that Santa had brought us.

Depending on when I needed to be back at work, I might stay one day or up to one week after Christmas. So sometimes we got to do after-Christmas shopping. We always tried to hit the Hallmark store first thing in the morning on December 26th. The deals!!! And there was always some type of artists' cooperative to hit to find pottery or other small objects.

We had a lot of fun. I loved asking Mom to tell me stories from her childhood. There was always something I hadn't heard before.

In 2002, Mom decided to go live with my oldest sister and my brother-in-law in Colorado. It happened around the same time that my son left to go live with his father. And that was the end of our Christmas traditions. I honestly didn't realize how much it meant to me until the time came when I didn't have it any more. I've spent more than one Christmas day alone since then, declining invitations from people I knew but didn't have a close relationship with. That was probably stupid. I told myself that I'd rather just stay at home in my pajamas, which was true. But I think I was just missing my Mom.

Oh, the complexity of the mother/child relationship. Mom has issues. Heck, I have issues! But for that 25+ year period, we were good friends. I knew most of her secrets and she knew most of mine. But I didn't know her as well as I thought I did and we weren't as close as I thought we were. Because once she moved to my sister's house, our connection pretty much disappeared. I understand more about why and how that happened now, but back then it was pretty mind-blowing.

You never know, from one year to the next - or from one moment to the next - whether you will continue to have what you have now. The advice I have isn't new or unique. Enjoy now. Love each other. Show appreciation. Because you just never know!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

far from home

French Polynesia is the only place I've ever been where I accidentally paid $47 for a t-shirt. The exchange rate was fluctuating rather wildly while we were there and we could not do the math in our heads fast enough. On the island of Bora Bora, we rushed over to see Bloody Mary's, a restaurant and bar that is entirely too far from the dock where we were to board a catamaran for a sunset cruise around the island. So when we finally DID get to Bloody Mary's, we had to rush through the gift shop for souvenirs, then leap back into the waiting taxi to get back for our cruise. The ride back was long enough to pull out a calculator and figure out that we had just purchased some outrageously priced tchotchkes. Oy.

But that champagne sunset catamaran cruise around the island is in my top five life memories. It was amazing. I will never forget the feeling of being stretched out on my belly on the sail and trailing my hand in the water. The sun slowly sank. I enjoyed my champagne and assorted nibbles of fruit. But looking into that water, I felt farther from home than I have ever felt. Of course I was in the southern hemisphere, so technically I WAS farther from home than I had ever been. It was truly amazing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

r is for ...

I don't even like peanut butter flavored candy. But there I was in the store, walking down each aisle with my camera in my hand and muttering "R is for, R is for, R is for" under my breath. When I saw the bright orange packaging of the Reese's candy, I had that AHA feeling. I rearranged the shelf a little and took five or six photos.

Back home, I was unsatisfied. But then arrives the familiar feeling that explains clearly why I will never be a world famous photographer. When a great photo happens, I've overjoyed. But when a photo fails to ignite my passion, I'm not one to force myself back out into the trenches to try again. This will do for now, I think. And I move on to something else.

The same could be said for many of my more creative endeavors, or attempts at creative endeavors. I get ideas. But I don't complete most of them. I need a creative partner - or two. Right about now, for instance, I could use someone to finish this blog entry.

Monday, December 9, 2013

it's (almost) always sunny in Phoenix

Living in Phoenix, Arizona is like being on vacation. Everywhere I go, there are remarkable views. Sunny days are on order approximately 310 days out of the year. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, move to Phoenix. Cured!

These last few days, however, have been very odd. Freeze warnings at night and sweater weather during the day. Last night I woke up and stumbled to the linen closet to drag out an extra quilt to throw on my bed. When I woke up this morning, before I opened my eyes, I questioned whether I had dreamed it. But no, there it was!

I've been bragging for years about eating Christmas dinner out by the pool the first winter I lived in Arizona. It was an amazing experience that convinced me that I really wanted to live here for the rest of my life. But it doesn't look like we'll be doing that this year!

What helps me to survive the brutal heat of an Arizona summer is imagining the winter months with my doors and windows open to let in the warm air. I've only had a few weeks of open window weather, so far, and I'm feeling cheated! I hope it gets warmer soon.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

jekyll island sunrise

When I look at photos I've taken of sunrises and sunsets, I'm always acutely aware of what a luxury it is to be in a place to take such a photo. I'm sure there are people who live their entire lives without every seeing a sight like this. I feel special, but with a tinge of guilt. How did I get this lucky?

Friday, December 6, 2013

it'll be fine, just fine

My best friend, Jane, has always handled crisis with grace and aplomb. She waves away the worst predictions with her signature phrase, "It'll be fine, JUST fine!" I once fussed at her about this tendency of hers to expect the best. I went to her with some work-related crisis, suggesting that something awful was just around the corner. She replied, as usual, "It'll be fine, JUST fine!" Exasperated, I said, "Jane, you ALWAYS SAY THAT!!!" Without missing a beat she replied, "And it always is."

Thursday, December 5, 2013


My paternal grandparents were teetotallers and did not even allow spirits of any kind in the house. My maternal grandmother liked a glass of sherry every evening. My mother almost got arrested at the nursing home because she fought so hard for her mother to continue having her evening glass of sherry.

My own relationship with alcohol is not so black or white. As a teenager, I smoked pot. Alcohol was just not interesting to me. I recall drinking some beer, but I favored Miller ponies (the shame!) because there was a small chance that I might actually finish one before it got hot. When I did get to the point where I might have a mixed drink, I liked a Pina Colada. Clearly, I wasn't in to alcohol!

So how did I end up married to an alcoholic, you might ask? He was abstaining from alcohol when I met him because he was living with an older cousin who was a recovering alcoholic. Never in a million years did it occur to me that he might have a problem. When I met his family, I cheerfully answered, "I'm a drug and alcohol counselor" when asked about my career. Only much later would I be able to make sense of the stunned silence that followed my response. My new husband's mother was an alcoholic who had been married five times - to five alcoholics. My husband's father, absent from his life for years at the time I met him, was one of those five alcoholic husbands. My husband's sisters were both drug addicts, addicted to crack cocaine. My husband's brothers were alcoholics, although the oldest had managed to completely distance himself from the family and was clean and sober. My husband was considered to be the only healthy member of the family. He had never mentioned any of this during our short courtship.

After our first son was born, I encouraged him to find an activity to do outside the house. He joined the office bowling league and promptly started coming home drunk on Wednesday nights. I'll spare you the ugly details. After an attempt at marriage counseling, thwarted by his mother who told him "there is NOTHING wrong with you!!!", the marriage was over.

But my relationship with alcohol pre-dated my fiasco marriage. My father's second wife was a raging alcoholic who was typically drunk by about 3 p.m. every day. My sister and I first visited the new couple when we were 9 and 10. The next summer, she became enraged at me and sicced her German Shepherd on me. I narrowly escaped mayhem by climbing an apple tree. My father came home from work, rescued me and took me to the airport to send me back home to my mother. My father and I were estranged for a few years after that and only reconciled after that marriage ended.

You could say that alcohol has not been kind to me. So why do I have alcohol in my cupboard? For one, I love to cook. The Pioneer Woman's Whiskey Glazed Carrots are amazing, so Jack Daniels is an absolute MUST have. My sweetheart likes a good screwdriver, so I keep Ketel One and orange juice in the house for him. The other bottles are the product of having people over for dinner and asking them what they like to drink. I also keep red and white wines on hand, just in case. But if left to my own devices, an open bottle of wine will eventually be poured down the drain. I just don't drink.

One of my favorite takes on alcohol is a song written by Sofie Livebrant & Svante Sjoblom and recorded by Brad Paisley:


I can make anybody pretty
I can make you believe any lie
I can make you pick a fight
with somebody twice
your size. . .

Well I've been known to cause a few breakups
and I've been known to cause a few births
I can make you new friends
Or get you fired from work.

And since the day I left Milwaukee,
Lynchburg, Bordeaux, France
Been makin the bars
Lots of big money
and helpin white people dance
I got you in trouble in high school
but college now that was a ball
you had some of the best times
you'll never remember with me
Alcohol, Alcohol

I got blamed at your wedding reception
for your best man's embarassing speech
and also for those naked pictures of you at the beach
I've influenced kings and world leaders
I helped Hemingway write like he did
and I`ll bet you a drink or two that I can make you
put that lampshade on your head . .


Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Roberta and John. They were my two little turtles when I was a young girl. I named them after my mother's widowed secretary and her dead husband. That sounds terrible how I've written it just now. But at the time, it was really sentimental. I have no idea how old my mother's secretary was, but we called her "Granny B". She was very sweet and I adored her.

Every day, when I got out of school, I walked about a half mile from the elementary school to my mother's job. My sister and I were supposed to walk together, but we were mortal enemies then and I walked really fast to keep ahead of her. As a result, I always arrived first and got lots of attention from Granny B before my sister finally walked in. I convinced myself that Granny B liked me best.

So when I got turtles, I rushed to tell her all about them. She asked me if I had named them. I hadn't. So I asked her what her real name was. She said Roberta. I asked her what her husband's name was. She said John. And that was that. My turtles died. My mother, with her typical mix of self-absorption and neglect-is-good-for-children, hadn't bothered to do any research on the care and feeding of turtles. They probably starved to death because they didn't get proper nutrition from whatever I was giving them.

Since then, though I continued to love turtles, I kept my collecting to the non-breathing brand of turtles. My mother, once again, was the source of my very first turtle. It was from Mexico and carved out of marble. I'm many decades and dozens of turtles down the road from that first one. I've had to cull the collection several times because people have given me some horribly ugly turtles over the years. But I've also had some wonderful ones. I even had a little padded turtle footstool until one of my pets destroyed it. Sigh. I really liked that footstool too.

Somebody asked me today, why turtles? Long after I started collecting them, I learned that the turtle is featured in lots of creation stories. That's pretty cool. The tortoise beat the hare in a race because he was slow and steady rather than rushed and careless. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The turtle is awesome. But why did I start collecting them? I honestly don't know. But I once came face to face with a green sea turtle at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. He was swimming around the tank and came to a stop just in front of me, seemingly ignoring all the other humans. He moved his flippers to maintain his position and mere inches apart, we gazed into each other's eyes. I felt like I was looking into the eyes of time. He seemed to be saying to me, "Hey, I know you. I've known you for a long, long, long time." My whole body relaxed and it felt like I was being called to swim out to sea. Or maybe he was just asking me to take him back out there. Who knows?

I've had similar encounters with turtles since then. Each one feels the same. I feel a kinship, which sounds really stupid. but it feels real. I am a turtle. How I got in this human body is not explainable.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


"Don't gain the world and lose your soul. Wisdom is better than silver or gold." (Bob Marley)

I've never really had a strong and lasting desire for things. Every now and then I'll see something that I want and I'll really want it for a while. But it usually passes. I like silver more than I like gold, even though I know it isn't as valuable.

"Silver and gold, silver and gold, I'd rather have Jesus, than silver and gold. No fame or fortune, nor riches untold. I'd rather have Jesus, than silver and gold." (Kirk Franklin, Silver and Gold)

No, my lack of desire for things isn't borne of any religious belief, none that I can identify anyway. If I was forced to tie it, I would be more likely to tie it to Buddhism. Most people think that the Buddhist view of wealth is one in which it is renounced. But that's not really true. It's okay to have wealth, provided it is gained through right living. If one is exploiting others in order to gain riches, the wealth would be frowned upon. And once one has wealth, the expectation would be that one would freely dispense with it to help others. Getting too attached to material goods is the greatest obstacle to good living. So maybe that's what I've been after. I don't ever want to be so attached to something that I can't turn it loose.

"Silver is produced from lighter elements in the Universe through the r-process, a form of nuclear fusion believed to take place during certain types of supernova explosions. This produces many elements heavier than iron, of which silver is one." (Hansen, C. J.; Primas, F. (2010). "Silver Stars". Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 5: 67.)

The silver rush in the 1800's was responsible for an increase in westward movement in the USA. The first big find was the Comstock Lode in Nevada, which led to lots of crazy people rushing to get to the location in hopes of striking it rich. And some did. Comstock was just lucky to be there at all. He was actually left there to be caretaker of the cabin belonging to the Grosh brothers, who had earlier found both silver and gold at the site. But this was just a decade after the gold rush in California and they were intent on getting there, so they left Comstock at their cabin and headed west. They both died, so Comstock claimed the cabin and the land around it. But the Grosh brothers didn't get credit for the find. Neither did Comstock. Such were the vagaries of the day. None of the original miners really made any money. No, the real money was made by the money handlers in San Francisco, who manipulated the value of silver in order to amass huge fortunes. Some things never change.

Genius without education is like silver in the mine." (Benjamin Franklin)

My father's maternal grandparents were quite wealthy. My grandmother, the eldest of six children, was encouraged to get all the education she could. She was born in 1891, so going to college was rare for women of her generation. Only a few women's colleges existed and she went to three of them. Papa Joe (my great-grandfather) enrolled her at Winthrop College (of which he was one of the founders) and Converse College, both in South Carolina where the family lived. But after that he sent her to Smith College, because he also wanted her to have an education at a northern school. So she ended up with two bachelor degrees, one from Converse and one from Smith. Grandmother was a smart woman with knowledge about many things. She and Granddaddy then went on to send all five of their children to college. By the time we came along, it was just expected that we would all attend college. In my family, education is critical. Learning and a thirst for information is one of the main gifts we have as human beings. To deny it is to wither on the vine.

"For all the gold and silver stolen and shipped to Spain did not make the Spanish people richer. It gave their kings an edge in the balance of power for a time, a chance to hire more mercenary soldiers for their wars. They ended up losing those wars anyway, and all that was left was a deadly inflation, a starving population, the rich richer, the poor poorer, and a ruined peasant class." (Hans Konig)

Wow. That sounds familiar. Today we have the wealthiest of Americans getting richer, the poorest Americans getting poorer and a disappearing middle class. What's different about us is that the richest are using a new strategy of convincing the people with not much that the poor are trying to steal it from them. While the people with not much are focusing their angry eyes on the poor, the rich steal them blind. It's amazing that it works.

I dreamed last night of a giant escalator to heaven. The sides shone silver in the light of the sun. It had multiple stages where people would get off for examination. The one I noticed was for evangelicals. I got the sense that since they claimed to know God better than anyone, that their examination would be specifically detailed. But it seemed that it wasn't going well what with all that judging and excluding that goes on in those circles. Their faces looked shocked. Further up the escalator were some children. They were playing on the moving stairs. I wanted to tell them to stop because their feet might get caught. I even wondered if there was an emergency stop button at the bottom and the top, just in case.

That escalator looked almost inviting. But I'm not ready to get on just yet.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

three sisters

Sisters. It took the youngest two sisters 50+ years to figure it out. They had been played against each other by a master of manipulation. What should have been a close, nurturing, loving relationship took on the flavor of artists competing for the grand prize. They learned early on that only one could be the winner. The prize-giver kept both girls on edge, never knowing whether the day - or even the moment - would mean momentary victory or crushing defeat.

The oldest sister had escaped and left the two youngest to fend for themselves. She managed to cross to the other end of the continent - safe - at least for a while. But even from a distance, the master of manipulation kept her vying for the prize.

Maybe individual talents had been developed in response. Maybe the youngest was gregarious and entertaining because she learned early on that this disarmed the master of manipulation. Maybe the oldest developed musical talent and an amazing way with fabrics in an effort to finally gain the elusive prize of permanent approval. Maybe the middle sister developed her brain and her ability to store massive amounts of information in order to impress the master of manipulation. Or maybe they would all three have been this way even if the master of manipulation had not been so. Maybe they would have been the same - only happier.

The master of manipulation still reigns supreme. But the sisters have figured it out. They lost years and years of support and love for one another. But they will claim what is left. They will love each other and care for each other from now until death. It is decided.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

big mike

Big Mike strolled over to the side porch and peeked around the corner real quick. Yep, Aunt Maimie was working Daddy's shirt through the roller, getting the water out. At her feet was a big basket full of other just-washed things. If he stepped out now, the next 20 minutes would be wasted hanging out wash.

He eased backwards through the front door of the summer house and walked as quietly as he could down the shotgun hall to the back of the house. If he cut through the copse of pine trees, he could circle around that way and Aunt Maimie would never even know he'd been there. He had something to do that could not wait. The excitement propelled him forward.

Monday, November 25, 2013


There can be no doubt that I am a quirky individual. In fact, I take great pride on being an individual who lives in an authentic way. When I catch myself "faking" anything, the realization is always accompanied by shame. And, of course, I am human and imperfect, so there will be those moments!

I'm 55. But I can look back over my life and see a pattern of quirkiness. My earliest years (1959-1964) were spent in Japan as the daughter of missionaries. My hair was so blonde that is was almost white. I stood out!!! It was not uncommon for Japanese people to touch my hair and exclaim about how soft it was and what an interesting color. I'm quite sure that I absorbed the message that I did not belong! I was quirky.

My personality was beginning to form during this time. My parents tell me that I had an astonishing level of energy, unlike anything they had seen with their first three children. I would never stop moving all day long and would resist bedtime until finally I would simply collapse from exhaustion wherever I happened to be. I was also an entertainer. A recording of me telling the Goldenlocks story is now lost, but was a hilarious insight into my 4 year old personality. You can hear my oldest sister, 8 years my senior, attempting to guide me through the telling. I keep saying "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" in a very dramatic way, making it very clear that it is ME telling this story!!!

First grade found the family in Massachusetts, where my extremely poor English made me an easy target for the cruelties of children. I spoke Japanese fluently, but avoided saying anything because that only led to misery. There was no winning. I was the outsider and would be for all of our four years there.

But if I thought that was bad, I was totally unprepared for the next move to Georgia. My English was fine by then, but any Southern person can tell you that kids how move there from Massachusetts have a whole different set of challenges to face! The Boston accent! The lack of familial connection to anyone there! The inability to identify a hushpuppy! It was murder.

When you're on the outside looking in, the only people who embrace you are other people who are on the outside looking in. So it's no surprise that both in Massachusetts and in Georgia, my circle of friends included other misfits. We were ALL quirky! And together, we helped each other feel normal.

Georgia was my home from 5th grade through 9th grade. In 1973, we moved again to North Carolina. Again, I found myself on the outside looking in. But it was easier. I was learning to ignore people who didn't like me. Instead, I adopted an "I don't care" attitude and used my energy to identify people who DID like me! I graduated high school with a handful of high school friends and a wider circle of friends who were older.

College was easier. There were lots of quirky people there! We formed "The Family", with pseudo-marital and familial relationships that created a complex family tree. But we all loved each other, quirkiness and all!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

moon pies

My family moved from Georgia to North Carolina just prior to the beginning of my 10th grade year. The move was quite mind-boggling. In Georgia, I had been close enough to the big city of Atlanta to be exposed to cutting edge music, innovations in the distribution of marijuana and even national and international trends and ideas.

Entering the quiet and closed, rural part of North Carolina to which we moved was like going backwards in time. The people with whom I interacted had very little awareness of the wider world. They would often stare at me with widened eyes as I talked about one thing or another. I was a musician and quickly found a band, which then led me to take up with one of the guitar players. I was 15 and he was 19. His friend sold pot out of his house. He would buy kitchen matches by the case, throw the matches away and pack the empty boxes with pot. When I showed him plastic baggies and suggested a scale to weigh the bags, he behaved as if I had just invented sliced bread. Years later, when I read Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, I totally understood how it felt to have people be in awe of you for knowings things that were common knowledge in the place from which you had come.

One thing I didn't know about was Moon Pies. I'm sure they were sold in Georgia. But in North Carolina, they were iconic. "RC Cola and a Moon Pie" was often mentioned as if it was mana of the gods. There were even songs written and recorded about the duo. But as often as I heard of the two as a pair, I do not recall ever seeing someone consume the items together. Within my own family, we were strictly Coca-Cola loyalists. The one taste of RC Cola I ever had just did not measure up. But I did eat plenty of Moon Pies during my years in North Carolina. They were huge, so one would be a sufficient snack that would stay with you for a while. And everybody's mother kept them stashed in the pantry.

My best friend, Linda, who no longer speaks to me because she is ashamed of our wild teenage activities, had a mother who would greet us as we walked in the door by reciting the entire contents of her kitchen. I can still hear her now. "Are ya'll hungry? I can fix you a ham sandwich. I got some Beanie Weanies. Ya'll want a Moon Pie? I can heat you up some soup. We got chicken and stars or chicken noodle. Ya'll want some Ritz crackers." The list would go on as we sidled past her and into Linda's room, politely declining each offering. "No ma'am. We're not really hungry. No thank you. Maybe later. Thank you, no, we're not all that hungry." Once in her room, we would collapse into giggle fits that would not stop. If the giggles started to run out, one of us would say "I got some Beanie Weanies", and we would crack up again.

My high school years were difficult because I felt like a fish out of water. There was really nobody I felt a true kinship with. (Even Linda seemed provincial to me.) I was unable to keep my mouth shut and would challenge teachers and refuse to be dominated. The great teachers attempted to challenge and guide me. The horrible teachers sought to stifle and punish me. And my classmates were mostly locals who had spent their entire lives together. I was strange and new, which in the south often translates to WEIRDO. Anything that is DIFFERENT is observed, but only rarely embraced. It was a strange three years! Thankfully, my college years were amazing, with a great group of friends and plenty of joyous experiences.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


It was 1995. My best friend's daughter (Caroline) was backstage somewhere with the rest of her dance class, probably being herded like cats in a holding area by desperate teachers straining to contain little girl excitement, which from my experience is prone to burst out in ear-splitting shrieks at the slightest provocation. Jane and I were sitting with my son, age 8, suffering through dozens of other performances in order to see her daughter's group dance. I was in my mid-30's and still a little vain, so I typically only wore my glasses to read a menu or a book. This meant that the little girls on the stage were slightly blurry shapes in various pastel colors. If I squinted, I could make out their features ... a little.

The truth was that I needed to be wearing those glasses all the time, but I wouldn't admit that for at least two more years when I returned from a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, and was horrified to find that with the help of the dim period lighting of the restaurants, I had tipped between 6% and 35%, leaving behind service personnel who either felt like lottery winners if I had imagined that a zero was an eight or victimized if I had imagined that a six was a zero. Oh well. Sorry!

But on this particular night, yet another performance NOT featuring Caroline was taking shape on the stage. The Tchaikovsky began and from the wings came a line of four rather large girls in the classic hand-over-hand hold that we all remember from every Nutcracker performance of all time. I leaned forward and squinted, thinking they were too old for this recital, trying to make out what I was seeing. I whispered to Jane, "Are those girls? They're kind of big." Jane stifled laughter and whispered back, "It's the adult class." Well, what in the WORLD would possess middle-aged women to don white tutus and dance out onto a stage? I simply could not believe it. I couldn't really see them well enough to confirm what she was saying, so I whispered back, "Are you serious?" She laughed and answered, "Yes!" At that point, my son hissed at me, "Mommmmmmmm, puleeeeeaaase, you're embaaarrrrrassing meeeeee!"

I looked around. People were looking at me. Well, this was my very first children's recital. My son wasn't in any dance classes. He played soccer. They don't typically field middle-aged people during half time of a children's soccer game. So this was my first time experiencing what, apparently, is a very normal thing in the South and, for all I know, everywhere else too. Otherwise normal, adult women sign up for ballet lessons alongside their daughters and granddaughters and they, too, prepare for recital night and perform their hearts out. I SWEAR I did NOT know!!! I'm sure in their hearts, they feel like little girls. Maybe they didn't get a chance to take dance way  back when and they're, By God, doing it now!

By the way, florists make a KILLING at these events. Every parent in the audience had a bouquet of flowers for their darling girl, as if each and every girl was the prima ballerina assoluta of the "company". Having a boy has saved me from making a fool of myself in a white tutu and spending my retirement funds on bouquets of flowers. Thank you, ex-husband Charlie, for the Y chromosome you helpfully donated to the cause.