Monday, December 31, 2007

PH as Professional Blogger

On January 1, 2008, Judi Moreo, author of You Are More Than Enough Achievement Journal
(Stephens Press, Dec. '07), will embark on a virtual book tour throughout the blogosphere. She wants BLOGGERS to be the star in a campaign to let the world know how WE are taking steps in realizing our dreams.

On this last day of the measured year, I'm practicing being a professional blogger by accepting Moreo's invitation to be a part of her virtual book tour. Accepting the invitation also serves as an initial step in getting linked into the larger blogging community.

If you've been following Twilightme regularly, you know that I've spent the last few weeks dreaming about (and planning) my freelance writing business venture. (You can read the first such post here.) Let me say that Twilightme is not going to change. I intend to keep it as my personal journal/blog to record the daily happenings of my retired life, celebrate joyful times, reflect on minutia, and wander aimlessly if I so desire.

However, I'm excited about my business dreams which ironically have more structure than Twilightme was ever intended to have. Here is what I anticipate doing business-wise in 2008:

  • Create a second blog—a professional, moneymaking blog (I have a nifty idea, so watch for a launch announcement in the next few weeks);

  • Develop a Web page;

  • Write an E-book (to sell);
  • Self-publish, promote, and sell Between Two Women, (AND of course do a virtual book tour);
  • Secure consistent commercial writing assignments (primarily locally but also farther afield electronically);

  • Ghostwrite articles and possibly a book for an entrepreneur friend;
  • Take on assignments that fill not only my pockets but more importantly my spirit. In other words, I want everything I do in this writing business to have value for others as well as for me.

Not surprisingly, I've come to realize that my family and friends are my greatest resource which I attested to in the post entitled "Gifts." Given your smarts and accumulated wisdom, I invite you to comment on my dreams and should others stumble upon this obscure little blog, I welcome your comments and advice as well.

Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Double Feature

Since we got gift cards for the movies, we thought about taking in a show yesterday, but in the end we decided that what we really wanted to do was be home after 5 days away. We had one DVD from Netflix, and Cindy had a coupon for a free movie at Blockbuster. So after a trip to town for a few groceries and picking up the second movie, we were all set for a double feature. Cindy made some pasta while I set up the TV trays and got all the other paraphernalia we like to have for movie watching, i.e. her pistachios and a bowl for the hulls, the portable phone, a blanket, drinks, etc.


The first movie we watched was Wordplay which features Will Shortz, the puzzle king. The documentary focuses on crossword puzzle players in the 28th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament which turns out to be surprisingly entertaining and informative subject matter. I've been listening to Shortz for years on NPR on Sunday mornings, and though I'm not a crossword puzzler, I do have fun trying to guess the word puzzles Shortz does on the air. Cindy, on the other hand, enjoys doing crossword puzzles, especially while traveling on planes or trains though she admits that she regularly cheats. The folks featured in this movie don't cheat. They are ultra serious about doing puzzles and train by timing themselves doing the New York Times puzzle. What's fun about this movie is that I learned a lot about puzzle construction and about the attributes of good puzzlers. Did you know that the best puzzlers are musicians and mathematicians? The movie explains why and features The Indigo Girls as an example of musicians who both enjoy and are good at doing puzzles. The movie garnered a 95% among reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes, and I'm sure it's because the characterization of the various puzzlers is deftly managed. Also the suspense that develops at the tournament offers a terrific climax because by that time viewers undoubtedly have chosen a favorite to win. This movie gets a thumbs up.

Two Weeks

Cindy and I are Sally Fields fans, so we thought we would enjoy Two Weeks even though we knew that the movie was about a woman who is dying of cancer. Fields plays Anita Bergman whose impending death brings her 4 children to her bedside for the last days of her life. We recently watched a similar movie Evening, which I loved, but this film hit me differently, managing to sound every emotional chord in my body. Maybe I needed to cry which is what Michael said about the movie we gave his family for Christmas, another tearjerker about a mother dying. An hour-and-a-half spent watching a woman die a painful death is definitely tough, and we cried a lot. But director Steve Stockman has depicted family dynamics around grief with such honesty that I think everyone should see this movie. The death of a family member is not easy, as Cindy and I well know, but we also know that such times bring out the best and the worst in us and that there are also surprising moments of laughter as well as bittersweet moments remembering. I think Two Weeks poignantly captures the whole picture of a family sitting with a loved one through death. Pick a time when you need to cry and watch this movie. Oh, and don't forget to grab the box of tissue along with your other viewing paraphernalia.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Where She Rests

December 28 is Ashley's birthday. We acknowledged the day and paid homage to her too-brief life by visiting her resting place. Ashley is buried in a hillside cemetery beside the Catholic Church. Her grave sits beneath a towering pine. Close by are the tiny plots of three infants, a poignant reminder that we had her for 18 years.

A cement retaining wall surrounds the grave and a cross is carved into the steepest facing. Her grandfather has filled the shallow bay atop the grave with shards of Mariposite, gray-green rock with a dull sheen. A headstone of dark granite is in the making and water has puddle in the place where it will sit—like a collection of the tears that won't stop flowing. Family and friends have left keepsakes and memorials at the grave. Her grandmother made a heart wreath of ivy with a ceramic angel at the base. For Christmas, her mom placed a small potted cedar on the grave and decorated it with ornaments. Little pumpkins sit on each corner of the enclosure, placed there back in October for Halloween. Someone has piled white rocks and a baseball cap on the steep downhill side of the grave, and candy kisses, artificial flowers (that the deer won't eat), and other mementos adorn the uphill side.

Snowfall had blanketed some of the graves when we visited, but Ashley's is protected by the spreading limbs of the pine from seasonal assaults. Pewter clouds hung heavy and low, attesting to the weight of our loss. We stood huddled together in coats and gloves to ward off the 38 degree cold, silently remembering and wishing it weren't so.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


This is the week between Christmas and New Years and for days, I 've been on a crazy teeter totter.

One minute, I'm flying high on holiday merriment and the next I'm totally obsessing on business names, web site design, and what kind of writing services I want to focus on.

There I was hiking across a field with seven grandkids, watching a hawk swoop down and grab a mouse and horses gallop across the pasture up ahead.

The next minute, I was reading about writing ebooks and becoming a professional blogger.

On Christmas Eve I sat in church singing "O Come All Ye Faithful," then cuddled on the couch with Cindy's family to watch It's A Wonderful Life.

The next day after a filling Christmas dinner, I sat before the computer reading blogs about attracting readers and clients and setting business goals for 2008.

The next evening, I played Texas Hold 'Em and ate Fred's fudge.

In the morning, I was scheming about an appropriate niche topic for a moneymaking blog.

The tottering tweener signs off to continue her ride. . .


Sunday, December 23, 2007


As I mention in an earlier post, I have directed most of my pre-Christmas preparations to considering and planning my freelance business rather than shopping and baking. This past week, my mind has been overwhelmed with ideas I'm reading on freelance writers' blogs. I've spent several sleepless nights sitting before the blue glow of my computer screen, wrapped in my fuzzy cape with a steaming cup of licorice tea cupped in my hands. I have easily spent 2-3 hours of a dark winter night, perusing blog pages, clicking through back entries to follow particularly informative threads. Oblivious to the cold chill in the air, I was enthralled and happy. Of course by day I was depleted and fumbling when it came to assisting Cindy with the task list of holiday preparations. I asked for the list, and I've tried valiantly to work it, but my mind has been lost in day dreaming about my business.

One thing I realized was that my business needed a name. Each time I thought of a possibility, I would drop what I was doing and rush to the computer to Google it, checking to see if the name was in use elsewhere, and in most case, YES, some other brilliant mind had already grabbed the ideas that were popping into my head. So I wrote to family and friends, gave them a little background, and asked for their thoughts on business names. And in the spirit of the season, I have been gifted with some true gems. Among my favorites are "All Write" and "Write Brain." What's most amazing to me is that folks have taken my request to heart and sent many terrific possibilities. My writer friend Mic, however, is the wisest reindeer of them all in guiding my quest. Here is a piece of her message:

When Kath develops a concept for a commercial project (i.e. when someone is creating a business identity), she asks them to create a list of words that describe what they want people to know about them, without necessarily using those words, like "reliable" or "creative" or "incisive" for instance. When a person begins to create such a list, they begin to form a conceptual framework that helps them know the quality and parameters of the work they wish to advertise. Often out of that process comes a business name or shift in name, or mission statement, or images and colors, etc.

Mic followed this tantalizing tidbit with a list of questions for me to think about:

  • What subjects do I want to research and write about?
  • What subjects are not suitable for me?
  • Who and what would I want my writing to support or not support?
  • Who do I want to write for—audience and employer?
  • How will the genre of creative nonfiction look for me?
  • What are my intellectual, artistic, spiritual, and emotional interests?
  • What intrigues me and will bring out the best in me as a writer and person?

Oh my goodness, such wonderful questions to feed my already overfull brain. I can't resist biting into this gift anymore than I can resist grabbing one of Cindy's warm chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven.

Stay tuned for the eventual unwrapping of my business identity. Meanwhile enjoy your holiday preparations in whatever shape or color or way they emerge.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Anna Mae’s Aesthetic

Seeing the Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet is a dreamy, magical, awesome experience. I remember going several times when I was child, and once I had a classmate who had a minor role which somehow made me feel the show belonged to me. I still feel that way. Maybe because I grew up in the city, I feel it's a privilege to share this San Francisco wonder with the girls in my family. When my daughter was 6, I got tickets to take her to the Nutcracker, and yesterday I took Anna Mae who is 10.

We drove 3 hours through a storm to get to the Opera Hall, but the long drive rushed by in the blur of Anna Mae's excited conversation. We talked about many things, beginning with her growing mastery of math facts which is highly motivated by the promise that she can get her ears pierced when she knows them all and can produce answers rapidly. She told me all about her geometry lessons, explaining acute, right, and obtuse angles. I learned about her method for drawing clothing designs by dividing a page into squares and drawing different costumes in each square, e.g. school outfit, play outfit, church outfit. She even has a box for accessories. She measured the distance to SF by the number of towns we had to pass through which prompted consideration about what constitutes a town vs. a city and if SF was bigger or smaller than Los Angeles, a town she's visited many times with Papa. After several hours of conversation, she decided to work on her Christmas cards which she did until we reached the Bay Bridge.

Once in the city, Anna Mae's mature aesthetic kicked into high gear. We missed a turn and ended up driving in the Mission District for about 10 minutes, where Anna Mae was impressed with the gorgeous murals on buildings and curious about the graffiti on so many buildings. She said she prefers clean cities to dirty ones and was tickled when she spotted the dome of City Hall behind the building tops. We were trying to get there, but numerous one way streets thwarted our progress. But it wasn't long before we were on Van Ness, and she immediately spotted the giant lighted Nutcrackers on the front of the Opera Hall. We parked in underground parking and emerged on Civic Center Plaza into breaking sunshine which lit up City Hall. Anna Mae reached for her camera. "Papa would love this," she said as she snapped away. I was impressed with her clear photographic purpose, climbing onto retaining walls and walking through wet grass to get the best shot.

That was just the beginning because we still had the ballet ahead of us. Our tickets were in the balcony, high above the stage. I worried that the distance was just too much and immediately began planning how I could save money for Dress Circle tickets next year, but Mae was totally happy. She was an astute critic as well. Having watched a movie version of the Nutcracker, she quickly began to compare the two, noticing many differences and whispering her observations. She was impressed with the sets, especially the way the gifts and the tree grew to make Clara small for the war between the mice and the toy soldiers, and we were both entranced by the snow in the dance of the snow prince and princess which was truly lovely for their slippers made lovely patterns on the white that covered the stage floor. What I loved best was Anna Mae's gasp of appreciation at absolutely the right places and the fact that she understood my tears of pleasure when Clara danced with her prince. Tchaikovsky's music made an early imprint on me and I could feel it doing the same in Anna Mae.

On the way home we discussed how we could highlight or summarize all the details of this wonderful trip for friends and family. I'm sure Anna Mae's animated version to her siblings was filled with the vibrant energy of our time together and covered many details that I've omitted. What remains for me is the glow of the performance and a clear intention to get every one of my granddaughters and their moms to the Nutcracker in San Francisco.

JL, get the Sprinter revved up. We're all going next year. I'm already saving my money.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seasonal Resistance

If you are a regular reader, you might wonder where I've been for the past few days. The truth of the matter is that I'm not cut of a cloth that can weather the hyped-up energy of the holiday season. For years, I have succumbed to my annual cold in December, and this year was no exception despite the fact that I'm retired and did not spend the first two weeks of December closing out a semester at the college by reading a slew of student papers and getting my grades all tabulated and turning in book orders for the Spring semester and new syllabi into the print shop.

True to form, on what would have been the last day of the college semester, had I been working, I woke with a sore throat and a heaviness in my chest. By Friday night I knew I was going down. The rest of the weekend (and most of Monday) I spent in hibernation—in my view the most desirable situation for late December when the days are oh so short and the temperatures hover around freezing. For me, hibernation looks like this:

My pajama clad body is cuddled under blankets on the double recliner with lots of pillows ready for the many short naps I take all day. On the end table, there are empty tea cups, a glass crusted with Emergen-C, a box of tissues, my cup of pens, pencils and highlighters with the built in post-its, the portable phone, several notebooks, and 2 or 3 pads of lined paper in several sizes. In my lap and all around me on the recliner, books and binders of material are ready for delving into. This December, the focus has been two books, Start Late, Finish Rich and Ghostwriting for Fun & Profit. Along with these two books, I now have a wireless card on my lap top, putting the wonders of the Internet at my fingertips, so I've been reading a number of newly discovered blogs about freelance writing (I have 5 new RSS feeds). Over the course of 2 ½ days, I've scribbled notes and devised plans and created two neatly converging tracks: one for earning more money freelancing and another for getting us out of debt and saving money.

There I sat truly sick but busy in a snuggly way and without a doubt totally happy while Cindy shopped, baked, did laundry, and prepared in countless ways for Christmas. Last night as I rallied and actually worked on our greeting cards, she commented none to wryly on my habit each December of getting sick and disappearing into one of my book and paper projects that has absolutely NOTHING to do with Christmas preparations.

If only I weren't so transparent. So my dear Cindy, with only a week left until Christmas, I promise to resist my seasonal resistance and participate fully if you'll just give me a list and point me in the right direction.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Fantasy Bridge

I'm reading Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, mostly because it was referenced on a one of my favorite blogs, Tuckova in a post called "A lot of thinking about YA fantasy." As fate would have it, a few days later I was at the library, and they had this very tasteful display of books and quotes related to grief, along with little chits on which you could recommend books that helped you through a sorrowful time. Sitting among the books was Bridge to Terabithia, a book published in 1977 that I somehow missed when my kids were young. It has now been made into a movie. So I checked it out, and I put The Vampire Lestat aside for a few days (I'm going to finish it because I rarely abandon a book; I just need a break because truth be told, I don't particularly care for Anne Rice's style of writing—her sentences and paragraphs are choppy and redundant—and then there is the whole notion of vampires. I'll never understand the hype or interest in such ghoulish other life or I guess they are actually dead, but that part simply doesn't make sense to me).

Anyway, I was ready for a shift to quality youth literature. Terabithia is a Newberry Award, and I can certainly understand why though I'm only a third of the way into the book. The writing is delicious, the characters are believable, and the portrayal of schoolyard life drops me right back to my own school days. And of course there are the woods -- the place of Terabithia and the way Jess first relaxes into it knowing he won't have to go deeper into the dark part of the woods: "But as a regular thing, as a permanent place, this was where he would choose to be—here where the dogwood and the redbud played hide and seek between the oaks and evergreens, and the sun flung itself in golden streams through the trees to splash warmly at their feet." I relish this language and know such places even as I recognize the foreshadowing in Jess's thoughts about "dark places where it was like being underwater."

The blogger on Tuckova says she learned about writing from books like Bridge to Terabithia and The Chronicles of Prydain. Last weekend, I went to a workshop on the writing program that my grandkids are doing at their charter school, and the workshop leader said something similar, that is that children need to read, then study what they are reading and copy the form and style when they write stories. She even described an activity where she gives students a children's story and tells them to re-write it with people and places that they know while retaining the same narrative line. I love this idea and know that one of the best pieces of writing I ever did involved replicating the shape of an essay by Adrienne Rich while using different content. I know that my grandkids enjoy writing stories about make believe places—i.e. fantasy stories the closely resemble the stories they are reading.

So where am I going with all of this? I'm not sure other than the fact that I want to hurry off to my recliner with my cup of tea and read more about Jess and Leslie and Terabithia.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Business Plan

Yesterday, I spent a good deal of time organizing a slew of material that I've been collecting related to developing a freelance writing business. I want to earn money with my writing, and Cindy (the household bookkeeper) tells me it would be terrific if I could plump up my retirement income. I have this gig with the local newspaper, writing play reviews and an occasional feature article. I think they would print more feature pieces if I submitted them, which reinforces the fact that I have to make writing the focus of each day, like I did with NaNoWriMo and when I was writing my book. To that end, my goal for the 2008 is to approach freelancing like a business with time dedicated to both development AND WRITING.

For the past several months, I've been researching and accumulating things related to freelancing, like notes from magazines, books, blogs, and radio programs as well as a good-sized stack of writer's guidelines from publications to which I'd like to submit my work. Organizing the guidelines was easy because they fell into neat categories of interest: teaching and learning, family, gardening, writing, book and theater reviews, gay and lesbian, interfaith/spirituality, and a category I called "off-the-wall." Organizing my notes was less easy. Though I have managed to collect my notes in the same general vicinity, their relevance to the project seems scattered. I needed to make sense of them and then to make it all useful.

And so the list-maker arrived to use the handy-dandy bullets of word-processing and this ready-made venue for positing the vagaries of my collected notes. I'm allowing myself one line summaries of each page or so of notes.

  • Create a web page that is tightly organized and allows a potential editor to quickly discern that I'm well-established as a writer (in and out in 2 minutes).
  • The pitch needs to be entertaining, enticing, descriptive, and succinct.
  • Ghostwriting is lucrative if you have the ability to put your ego aside.
  • Make a list of 12 subjects/topics about which I want to write.
  • Create a schedule that divides time between writing and self-promotion.
  • Make time for literary projects, especially if that is my source of writerly inspiration.
  • Study the publications for which I want to write; listen for tone and discover idiosyncratic styles.
  • A writer never retires.
  • The road to hell is paved with unfinished manuscripts.
  • Few writers have the appetite to be truly dangerous or daring.
  • Spice up bland topics with humor, a current event hook, or a self-interest angle.
  • The right market for my work may lie waiting in the library's collection of magazines.
  • Keep a running list of ideas and don't save an idea for a better day or a better offer. Write it NOW!
  • Recycle work—reframe pieces for different publications.
  • Fail and fail and fail again but don't stop; a successful free-lancer perseveres.

Well there you go, Patricia. That all makes sense. Now just do it!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


For my college yoga class, I had to write a one page paper on the topic of energy. The assignment allows students to address the topic in any manner they choose. Here is what I wrote:

My body is alive with energy. My fingers tap energetically on the computer keyboard. My hands deploy energy pushing little ones on the swing or whipping tapioca with a whisk. My arms surround family and friends with the energy of big familiar hugs. I shoulder grocery bags, suitcases, book bags, and kids of all ages with a certain energy. A noble energetic pedestal, my neck lifts my head high. My head nods affirmative energy. My chest is a chamber that holds the energy of my cycling breath—inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. My diaphragm spasms with giggling and hiccupping energy. My belly’s jiggling energy can be harnessed into powerful mulabhandas and uddiyana bhandas or gyrate in kapalabhati breathing. My pelvis presses energetically against a yoga mat for cobra pose and shelters the growing energy of a baby in my womb. My thighs retain volumes of energy in every cell for marching up mountains, running marathons, standing in warrior poses, or making a lap for nursing infants or snuggling cats. My knees bend, expelling energetic pops that musically accompany every squat. The curving muscles of my calves contain the most satisfying stretch of energy. My feet hold all the energy I need for standing tall and walking firmly. My toes spread in a luxurious reach to clasp the earth and gather more energy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reset Pain

I helped Cindy reset the analgesic section at a local pharmacy yesterday. In the life of the merchandiser, resets are a common occurrence though the rationale for the practice is a little fuzzy. Why, one might ask, can't the shelves remain with the product as is? I don't know the answer to that question. Instead, I know that the merchandiser (that would be Cindy) gets a planogram which pictures how the section is supposed to be reset, meaning that all the product gets moved to different locations in a 12 or 16 foot section which is usually 6 to 8 shelves high. There is a detailed list that accompanies a planogram which identifies every single item and its numeric location on the shelf. The merchandiser uses this information to rearrange the whole section and to "cut in" (make space for) any new product. Are you still with me?

As I said, our job yesterday, was to reset an analgesic section. Analgesics (from the Greek an-, without + algesis, sense of pain) are used to treat pain, inflammation, headache, and cramps. Many of the analgesics are also antipyretics meaning they reduce fever. Do you have any idea how many different types of over-the-counter analgesics American pharmacies carry?

There is aspirin (Bayer and Ecotrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). There is also a combination of aspirin and acetaminophen with "therapeutic" caffeine added (Excedrin). Then there are the ibuprofens (Advil and Motrin), and last but not least naproxen (Aleve.) But wait! Each of these comes in various strengths usually measured by milligrams, ranging from the newly popular 81 mg of aspirin (for heart thereapy) to 250 mg. (the amount usually noted as "Extra Strength"). They also come in various forms. In 1914, Bayer introduced the aspirin tablet. But now analgesics also come in coated tablets designed to protect the stomach and caplets, EZ caps, and geltabs, all of which are purportedly easier to swallow. There are also rapid release gel-caps. And for you old timers who remember aspirin powders (BC), they are still available too.

Of course, some folks want only a few pills (20-40) while others want a family-size (500). There are several sizes in between too: 50, 60, 100, 125, and 250, depending on the brand. Many of the brands offer special formulations for night-time labeled PM, and other formulas specifically for back pain (Doan's), and also ones for cramps, migraines, tension headaches, restless legs, and arthritis. There are also liquid suspensions for infants, and chewables for 2-6 year-olds, and melt-aways for 6-11 year olds. Oh, and there are topical analgesics that come in creams and balms (including non-greasy forms) and wraps and patches. The wraps and patches offer different shapes for arms, backs, necks and yes, even the forehead.

OK, you do the math! How many analgesic products do you think you'll find on the pharmacy shelf? All I can tell you is that there were five pages of product listed with the planogram, and it took us six hours with 20 minutes out for lunch to reset the section.

We were both hurting when we got home from bending and squatting and kneeling and reaching, so I popped a couple ibuprofen caplets and Cindy swallowed a couple of Excedrin Extra Strength tablets and we were ready to kick back and watch a movie.


Monday, December 10, 2007


My brother and son are like two peas in a pod and have enjoyed each other's company since Culley was just a wee guy about the age Huck is right now. One thing they love to do is play games and the game of the moment is Settlers. I've been invited many times to join them in playing this game, and I finally made the time on Sunday. Apparently, it is unusual to have 6 willing players which made the game I participated in special, for there were 6 : John, Culley, Andrea, Heather, Adrian, and me.

As a newbie to the game and for the most part a lukewarm games-person, I don't feel qualified to explain how this game works. I can only describe my impressions while playing. At first, I felt overwhelmed by all the permutations. When I got a Development Card called "Monopoly," of all things, I couldn't read the fine print and since my glasses were out in the car, Adrian got me a magnifying glass to read the instructions. I believe that the card gave me the option of collecting all of one type of resource from the other players and what I needed to do was to pay attention to what other folks were getting and cash the card in when I knew there was a lot of something out there I needed. BUT I was still concentrating on the cheat sheet to see what I needed to buy a road, or a settlement, or a city, and I could hardly pay attention to what anyone else was accumulating. The other thing that I had trouble with was trading. Someone would ask to trade say "ore" for "lumber" and before I could figure out if I had ore or if I needed lumber, the trade was over.

So you can imagine my surprise when late in the game I had 9 points, just one point away from winning. Now I'm competitive enough that I was suddenly motivated to win, but the opportunity was ripped away from me when some robber got my cards, the very ones I need to buy a settlement and collect that last point I needed for the win. In the end, Andrea won and with a lovely if smug smile sat regally as John read the notice that we all owed her immeasurable homage is the duchess or some such noble title of was it Cantrel? or Cantra?-- the fantasy land which we were settling and developing.

So I've been baptized as a Settler and look forward to the day when I can knit and bake cookies while playing like Andrea and Heather were able to do, but first I'd better learn to knit and bake, of course not while playing Settlers and all cases with my glasses close at hand.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Under Cover

When I was seven or eight, I had a neighborhood friend, Kathleen Dutton, who was the sixth-born in a family of six children. As the first born of a large family, I was fascinated with the idea of having older siblings. I loved spending the night at Kathleen's house where I could witness the life of her teenaged sisters and brother from the sidelines while playing dolls or doing puzzles with my friend. After dinner, everyone gathered in family room to watch TV and visit, and Kathleen and I played off to the side at a little coffee table. Sometime during the evening, Kathleen's British mother brought in a teapot covered with a cozy and scones and butter—yum, yum.

After this treat, Kathleen and I were sent to bed. She shared a bedroom with two other sisters, and I remember the room being mostly beds with a small dresser on one end. I also remember crawling under a heavy pile of blankets that made up Kathleen's bed. I don't remember having lots of blankets on my bed at home, but at Kathleen's getting under the covers was a delicious sensation. I slept next to the wall in her single bed, and I would lie on my back beside my friend and relish the weight of those blankets. Kathleen went right to sleep while I lay listening to the activity in the house: her father arguing with her brother about a misplaced tool and her parents quarreling with their eldest daugther about getting home late from a date. Such household troubles were as unfamiliar to me as the heavy blankets under which I rested.

Soon I would know teen life first hand—a time when my father and brothers argued about tools and I got home late from dates. And eventually, I would know this world as a parent, feeling the frustration and worry that my parents and Kathleen's must have known.

Over the years, I've felt the weight of many different blankets—lightweight electric blankets when they were in vogue and not believed to be unsafe; down comforters also light but holding so much warmth, but to this day, my favorite bed cover is piles of blankets that are weighty and seem to insulate me from life's woes.


Saturday, December 8, 2007


Huck, Nell, and I dressed in turtlenecks, vests, scarves, hats, gloves, and heavy coats and went to the Twain Harte Christmas Parade last night. Years ago, I used to take my children before it was called a parade. Back then, it was simply Santa's arrival and he rolled in on the local fire truck right after the Christmas lights on the big cedar tree were turned on for the first time each year. Somehow that event has turned into a sweet little Christmas parade.

We got there early because the last time I went (two years ago with August and Anna Mae), the streets were packed, and I had to push the kids forward in front of tall people so they could see. But the weather changed all that this year. The parade attendance was light which meant we stood waiting in a soft rain for almost half an hour before it started. But the rain did not dampen the kid's enthusiasm. I bought candy necklaces from some child doing a fund-raiser, and they munched on the candy while singing along with the carolers who were on the porch of El Jardin's. Huck was alert to every song that had been played at Music Night: Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and what seemed like his favorite: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. He also pointed out Christmas decorations that were nearly invisible to me in the dark and the rain, for instance a metal Frosty at least a football field away on the edge of the old Penny Saver parking lot. Nell meanwhile sucked her candy.

The rain also did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of paraders, nor Huck's delightful commentary which was all the more amazing because the rope set up to keep spectators out of the street hit Huck right at eye-level. This meant that he had to stoop down to look below it or lift his chin to peer over it. I suggested that he step just on the other side of it and watch but NO, that wouldn't do for this rule-following guy. So he stooped and stretched and grinned and laughed and pointed out all the things he noticed. For example, the local Corvette Club had entered at least 10 cars and he loved these "race cars" as he called them, especially the one with Santa driving. He also enjoyed the Therapy Dog group with Great Danes and Daschunds and the Corgi club with all the dogs in wreaths. The Twain Harte Kazoo Band was cheered as was an ATV all lighted up and driven by a very young person.

Meanwhile I was holding Nell who got spooked by something early on (not sure what) but was fine if I held her. She watched in quiet awe and every once in a while smiled and pointed to something she liked, for instance the Miss Tuolumne float carrying four beautiful little girls of varying ages all adorned with crowns. She also liked the fire engines which rang their sirens as they passed by.

Cindy in a heroic drive from Arnold made it in time to watch the parade but from the opposite side of the street from us. DARN! When the parade was over, she helped Huck and Nell through the crowd to the cookie and hot chocolate table and then snapped their picture in front of the Snowman that Huck had noticed earlier. She walked us back to the car and helped buckle the kids into their car seats, and then we drove her back to her truck parked at the Middle School. In short order, she had both kids laughing with musical glee as I negotiated crowded wet streets peering through windows fogged from steaming hot chocolate.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.


Friday, December 7, 2007


All night the rain clattered on our aluminum awning. What a welcome sound, knowing that the thirsty earth is finally getting a good long drink.

I remember back in 1997 when an El Nino phenomena caused torrential rains and flooding in California. I lived on high ground in Twain Harte where overflowing gutters were the worst of our problems, but I remember driving down Phoenix Lake Road and seeing Sullivan Creek raging with red-brown churning water that looked more like a river than a creek. I've never lived in a flood zone. Even now that I live in deep in a river canyon, my house sits atop a knoll where rain water rushes downhill away from my place in several directions. The road into this area before climbing to my knoll descends along the base of Table Mountain where the drainage called Bear Creek collects water that spills in spectacular waterfalls in several places. At one point, the road crosses Bear Creek, and I imagine that in 1997 this bridge may have been impassable at times.

The forecasters say we are experiencing La Nina this season which is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, compared to El NiƱo, which is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. El Nino means lots of rain for us, but La Nina mean less rain and colder than normal temperatures during the winter months.

All I know is that until this rain, I still had to water my yard a couple times a week which feels ridiculous in December and which I often forgot to do until I saw a sorry looking plant that was still finishing off its growing season. Since I haven't planted any veggies for a winter garden, something I always intend to do but never get around to in the fall, I'm less tuned into my yard's needs. Add to that an injury that has made it difficult to rake leaves and my garden is suffering from human neglect along with near drought conditions caused by La Nina.

. . . but that was before this lovely rain arrived to soak the earth and serenade my sleep.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mary Autumn Turns 3

Dressed in winter white, Mary Autumn enjoyed the company of family who came to celebrate her birthday. Earlier in the day, she had assisted Mama in baking and decorating a snowman cake. The cake was set before her as family sang, and she smiled winningly after successfully blowing out all 3 candles She happily accepted a piece with a maltball button in the center. After cake and ice cream and bite of turkey meatloaf made by Aunt Andrea, we all gathered round to watch Mary Autumn open gifts. She opened each gift with 3-year-old glee, followed by a thank you to the giver. Then she displayed her newly received accoutrements--hat, purse, stroller-- beside cousin Huck who couldn't resist making a silly face of wonderment.

Love Dearma.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Yesterday, I went on a field trip with my brother Andy and grandson August. Andy is a water treatment specialist and August is greatly interested in the local natural history. Combining those interests, our plan was to go to Lyon's Dam and take a look at the start of the ditch system that supplies much of Tuolumne County's drinking water. On subsequent days, we planned to explore other sections of the system.

Our trip was thwarted when we discovered that the dirt road to Lyons Dam was closed for the winter. We decided to pick up the system on Mt. Elizabeth, and while we drove to our new starting point, Andy told us a little about the history of the ditches and the river that feeds them. Being the good teacher that he is, Andy started with a geographic overview in which he explained the ridge upon which we were driving (Highway 108) and the two rivers that flowed in the canyons on either side of the ridge: the Tuolumne and the Stanislaus. He explained the forks of the Stanislaus and the fact that our ditch system is born of the middle fork of the Stanislaus where it dumps into Lyons Reservoir. We didn't get to look at the flumes that carry the water out of the reservoir, but we will do that next spring. Instead we hiked for several miles along one of the widest sections of the ditch system that curves around Mt. Elizabeth from the Twain Harte side to the Cedar Ridge side.

Andy explained that the ditch system originated because of the need to provide water for the gold miners in the huge settlement of Columbia back in the 1850s. Later the water became essential for hydraulic mining when large areas of soil were washed away with heavy streams of water and the residue was run through a sluice to find the gold. By the 1900s, the water began to be used for hydro-electric power. While not disputing the historic relevance of the ditch system, Andy told us that the system is antiquated. He compared it to the much more sophisticated aqueduct system developed by the Romans which prevented water loss from seepage and evaporation--definitely problematic aspects of the ditch system and relevant in our area of population overgrowth and potential drought.

This problem notwithstanding, we had a wonderful four mile hike along the ditch trail, accompanied by the pungency of mountain misery and the crunch of newly fallen black oak leaves. Sharp-eyed August pointed out many things along the trail, including a hawk, a mountain mahogany, a statuesque golden oak, and a big fat trout that fishermen had missed. He also entertained us with a story Papa had related from NPR and an anecdote from his favorite book Redwall about a shrew and hare in a pie-eating contest.

Homeschool field trips are the best, especially when you're ditchin'.


Monday, December 3, 2007

The Malady of Mortality

I'm reading The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice for reasons that are interesting but not particularly related to this post. Early in the book, Lestat is consumed by something his friend Nicolas names the "malady of mortality," a deep shuddering realization of pure emptiness, the absolute absence of any answer in death. The malady overtakes him during a drunken evening with Nicolas not long after Lestat's harrowing near death experience with a pack of wolves which was followed closely by his mother's admission that she is dying and "perfectly horrified" by the fact. Having once seen this darkness, Lestat sees death standing behind everything—"real death, total death, inevitable, irreversible, and resolving nothing."

Yesterday was the three month anniversary of Ashley's death. In a moment of hopeless sadness and tears, Cindy and I confessed to one another that we each have this constant undercurrent of fear that it will happen again, that someone else dear to us will die or that we will die and leave behind for others the huge sadness that we feel.

When it feels like the sadness will never pass, we've found the only salve is gratitude—remembering all the things we are thankful for in each day: a beautiful sunset, children's laughter, the arms of a loved one around us in a warm happy hug.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Flour Sack









Author Unknown

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Real Thing

In 1967 while in college, I spent a week babysitting for four kids. After putting the kids to bed the first night, I found a book on the couple's bookshelf that I'd heard about, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. For the next five evenings, I'd put the kids to bed and read until after midnight. I was so terrified reading this book that one night I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom after making sure that every door and window downstairs was locked first. I'd never read anything like In Cold Blood which was a non-fiction novel, one of the first or maybe the first.

Capote's book made him famous and some believe that in writing it, he "invented" a genre. Sometimes called literary journalism and at other times called creative non-fiction or the literature of reality, this genre combines heavy research with unapologetic subjectivity to create a powerful read. Other examples that fall into this category include: The Right Stuff, Hiroshima, Honor Thy Father, and Nine Parts of Desire. Since reading Capote's book I've been fascinated by non-fiction stories, so much so that when I did my MFA, I concentrated in the genre of creative non-fiction.

In the last 30 years, books and films about true events and real people have become popular. Last night, we watched Capote which is a film adaptation of a biography about Truman Capote. Actually the film is a slice of his life, concentrating on the four years during which he researched and wrote In Cold Blood. The film is a superb character study with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote. His portrayal is thought provoking, disturbing, funny, and finely wrought. In writing this screenplay, Dan Futterman has joined others in contributing to the genre Capote is said to have invented.

Capote was another one of the films I found listed in Writer Magazine as being among those every writer should watch. I'm sure glad I didn't miss it. After spending a month writing fiction in the NaNoWriMo event, this movie brought me back to my first love in writing—subjective authenticity—exploring a subject to connect with a strand of thinking that floats untethered in me like the silvery wisp of a spider's web. I suppose many writers find this wisp when writing fiction, but for me, it's the real thing that tickles my fancy.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


My mom, Evelyn Stevens Mical, died 26 years ago today. Here are some of my memories about her:

She went to college in the late 1930s when that was unusual for women. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in microbiology and did her graduate work at UCSF. She was a superb phlebotomist (person who draws blood). When she worked in a hospital lab, she was frequently called upon to draw blood from children and babies because she was not only quick and sucessful, she also had excellent rapport with kids. She was a thinker with the mind of a scientist and a particular interest in things medical.

She was a wonderful seamstress and did lots of handiwork like smocking on dresses. She loved to play games, especially cards and scrabble. She was a dynamite scrabble player, and she and Raymond used to go head-to-head to win, he with the strategy and she with the vocabulary. She read all the time and loved mysteries, especially Agatha Christie and John LeCarre.

She was very limber. I remember her standing on her head in the park and at the beach when we begged her to. She used to do the Canadian Air Force calisthenics in the front room with instructions from a record, and when my brother started doing yoga at 18, he taught her some asanas which she did every evening after work for years. Late in life, she took a walk every morning in Golden Gate Park. In the summer, she frequently took a swim across Twain Harte Lake doing the side-stroke.

She always sent Christmas cards. When we were kids, the card included a picture of us, but later the picture was of her or her house. She collected little boxes and kept them on display all over her house. She had a lovely old rocking chair that she rocked my little sister Ginger in and may have rocked the rest of us too. She liked a candy she called "turtles," which I think were chocolate covered peanuts. She ate Wheaties with banana for breakfast. She always took an afternoon nap and drank a glass of iced tea when she woke up.

She would be 86 years old if she was still living.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Done Deal

In case you didn't notice the word meter to the right, the clip art to the left says it all.
In the words of Anne Lamott, I wrote a "shitty first draft." Ta Da!
Now, I'm going to spend the morning in my alter ego as the pruning lady. In a week or so, I'll sneak a peak at Memo and decide if the whole mess is worth revision so "my novel" can make an appearance in the larger world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

NaNo Blahs

According to everything I've read, I'm supposed to be racing to the end of this adventure with joy and exultation, but instead I'm bored and frequently head off on procrastinating side-trips. Yesterday I went to the library to write and spent an hour looking at books in the teen section using the excuse that my book might be for a youngish crowd and needed to do some research. There are some great books written for teens. I checked out three. Then I set up my computer and found a Columbia College catalog and read it for awhile and considered taking so many classes in the Spring that it would be like taking a full load. Then I realized I could get on the wireless hub for the Internet, so I checked my email and looked on Amazon for the investment books that Kenny had suggested and found a 3 for the price of 2 sale and started looking at the mysteries. In the midst of all this Cindy dropped by to say hello, and we visited for a while. I finally got back to Memo a half hour before it was time for me to leave.

Two things worked once I got home—advice that came in pep-talks sent by the NaNo folks. The first was to write a scene that I'd been imagining but which was not necessarily at the point I'd reached chronologically in the book. I leaped ahead and wrote about something I imagined would happen near the end of the book. That garnered close to a 1000 words. Next, I used Julianna Baggott's suggestion: "Polish your jealousy to a high shine---like the chrome of a well-loved Mustang." This was easy when I went to post my word count on the NaNo website and two of my long distance buddies had reached the 50,000 completion mark over the weekend, and Arlyn had pulled ahead of my by 3000 words, and Annie had more than doubled her count over the weekend. What the heck had I been doing?

Dinking around with my blog and all the other aforementioned activities. I dove back in and wrote another 1000 words before bedtime. I'm ready to be done with this. It's been fun, but I want to step into December with all the accompanying wonder and madness of the year's end.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Video Viewing

We spent yesterday catching up on NetFlix and Blockbuster DVDs and the recorded TV programs that are stacked on our entertainment center.

First, we watched three episodes of our favorite TV program ER. Poor Abby has fallen off the wagon, breaking out hearts because she is our favorite character and we too are on the wagon. Looks like the subplot or connecting thread for the entire season is going to be about her backsliding. Darn it Abby . . . Just go to a meeting. In a funny side story, Cindy and I admitted that we each had wanted to write Abby's name on a chit for the Boutros game on Thanksgiving, but we could remember her last name, probably because we were so far behind in our ER viewing. Abby Lockheart. How could we forget? Until partnering with Luca for the second time, Abby's MO on the show was her locked heart. DUH!

Next we watched Factotum. The film is based on Charles Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Matt Dillon plays Herry Chinanski (the Bukowski character) and Lily Taylor (from Six Feet Under) plays his sometimes girlfriend. Taylor can sure play the weird chick well. Makes me wonder what she's like in real life. In the film, Dillon and Taylor are dynamite together, superbly underlining and playing off the frailties of each other's characters. You have to have an existential bent to enjoy this film, but for me the final scene was worth witnessing Chinanski's agonizing life for 90 minutes. I won't spoil the end should you see the film, but I'll tell you that I made Cindy rewind it so I could watch it a second time. The cinematography and the recitation of what is probably the end of Bukowski's book is an exquisite merger of film and writing. (Feminists BEWARE)

We both loved the second flick though it only got lukewarm reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. But then Cindy and I adore a good love story and this movie, The Secret Life of Words, qualifies as that. Cindy picked it out on a solo trip to the video store which can be deadly for us. She picks a DVD by the picture on the cover and I pick them by reviews I've read which means we don't often land on the same page when we choose a movie alone, but it happened this time it. I'd read the review of this film and was thrilled when she brought it home (Yes, she did pick it because she liked the cover.)

We had intended to watch a 3rd movie, but after watching The Secret Life of Words, we wanted to hold the film's imagery in our minds and hearts for the rest of night, so we stopped there. I won't tell you about this story—read a review or just take a look at the cover and decide if you want to watch it.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dixon Day

When the Dixons lost eighteen-year old Ashley, the ties that bind them pulled more snuggly together.

I spent yesterday in Mariposa with this extended part of my family. A large contingent had come north from Southern California, so the welcoming hugs took a while when we arrived. The early indoctrination into the hugging practice was apparent when 18-month old William met us with arms spread wide followed by his knee-level hug. William milked the hugging for all he could get as he continued to seek a hug from each person that sat visiting in a big circle of couches and rockers on the porch.

After the initial hellos and check-ins, we all gathered on the porch steps where we were treated to a dog show by cousin Rhonda, whose three pups—Maddie, Hank, and Penny—wowed us with their patience and obedient performance. What's more, at the end of the show, 6-year old Christina got a turn to toss treats and the pups did their leaping tricks for her.

Next we gathered around the dining room table for a photo-slide show of the volleyball game we missed on Friday and the triumphant participation by Aunt Joanne. Two years ago at Thanksgiving, we all gathered at Joanne's thinking this might be her last since she was severely incapacitated by COPD. But after lung transplants last February, Aunt Joanne was able to play 3 games of volleyball on Friday and there were pictures to prove it. In a series of photos, we watched Joanne collide with sister Bonnie as both tried to reach an out-of-range ball. Joanne hit the ground and rolled but rose again, we were assured, to keep on playing. GO AUNT JOANNE!

Then Kenny arrived to collect the giant pile of chocolate chip cookies Aunt Cindy had baked for his return to New York next week. We had a great visit with him, hearing his new passion-- getting rich by investing smartly--while he dipped cookies into a big glass of milk as he ate them.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the disorderly confusion that generally accompanies a large family gathering, i.e. seven conversations going at once that get mixed and mingled until the threads are tangled and one person is answering a question that wasn't posed to him and another is missing the gist of an argument because of an interjection by someone asking for chip dip.

But things do get done, like the retrieval of a photo of Ashley from a cell phone that took no more than 5 minds at the computer and the creation of a huge and delicious pot of chicken noodle soup and dumplings made by many hands.

After consuming big bowls of soup, we piled into cars and drove in the Dixon fashion—a streaming caravan of vehicles-- to the high school to watch Kenny play in the alumni-varsity basketball game. What a hoot watching old and young Mariposa Grizzlies duke it out on the court. The Alumni won by one point. YEHAW Kenny!!

After the game, Dixons et al poured onto the court for hugs all around as we prepared to leave. Our holiday with the Dixons was over and we drove the curving Highway 49 full of familial good feeling.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Boutros-Boutros Ghali

With Andrea came the game of Boutros-Boutros Ghali. What I love about this game is that the playing field is flattened and all stops are pulled. Elders and youngsters can mix and match as can a post-modern sensibility with a 50s-antiquated intelligence. You can be book-learned or TV learned or street smart or not smart and you can still play Boutros. You simply have to be willing to play foolishly and without a need to win.

Here's the game in brief. Everyone playing gets 10 chits. On these chits, you write the names of people. They can be real (historical, friends, family or the famous) or imaginary, (characters in books, plays, movies, or cartoons). Fold your chit in half and place in the sturdy hat or can that is provided. Next comes partnering. Beans or tokens in pairs are the most playful way to match folks up, but you can also put pairs of numbers on slips of paper. Everyone blindly chooses one of these sets of pairs and your partner is the person who has the thing that matches the one you chose (for instance two pinto beans or two 5s). Partners sit side-by-side around a table or in a circle. Pairs can seem to be oddly matched, i.e. Lee with Adrian or pairs can appear doomed from the start like when Culley and Andrea were once partnered and were bickering from the start. In both of these cases, the unseemly pairs were the ultimate winners. That's the cool thing about Boutros. You never can tell who will win. Sometimes there is simply a brain wave connection between two people that causes one word to give the partner an immediate correct answer like last night when Sidney said to Shayley, "kissing" and she said, "Flogging Molly." (I think that's the name of a band which is not an acceptable chit but when you have made up the game you can also make exceptions which someone did in this case.) How Shayley got to Flogging Molly from kissing, I will never know, but it must be some generational thing that teens could grasp.

So back to how the game works: Each pair gets one minute. One partner takes a chit from the sturdy hat or can and tries to get his/her partner to guess the person listed on the chit. If guessed correctly, the other partner grabs a chit and starts giving clues. When one minute is up, you keep all correctly guessed chits and pass the hat to the next pair who takes a turn. Unless an immediate connection is made as when Lee said, "He was the President" and Adrian said "Bill Clinton," then the clues and/or the guessing becomes a comical scene of errors and silliness, and everyone watching is laughing and there is always someone whose turn it is NOT who knows the answer but can't say and hopes to get that chit when their turn comes around.

Boutros is the perfect accompaniment to turkey and stuffing. Laughter and good company is the best dessert I can think of. Thanks Andrea.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

From the inside out, I offer gratitude to:

  • My body for the ultimate in service and to my spiritual and physical care-takers, Nancy, Cherie, Christian, & Jay.
  • Cindy, partner extraordinaire, whose loving kindness is sheer joy every single day, whose dearness tickles my funny bone and whips my heart with happiness.
  • My children and their spouses and my grandkids, who fill me with immeasurable delight, generous dollops of play, and just the right sprinkling of challenge.
  • My brothers and sisters, who despite distant and infrequent contact, remind me so much of me and where I've been in this life time.
  • My extended family the Dixons whose huge arms hug me close and keep me ever so warm and safe.
  • My amazing network of friends with whom I play, work, meditate, exercise, write, garden, serve, laugh, cry, think, and grow.
  • My neighbors and community who are generous of spirit and helpful when I least expect it.
  • The bigger world which pulsates with the possibility of greater goodness. . .

To all of this, I offer the love that is expressed and experienced every where this day.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

WriMo Briefing

NaNoWriMo is past the mid-point, and I have this sorry novel in the making. As my word count goes up, the story gets FLATTER and FLATTER. The murdered girl is dumped on a sand spit beside New Melones, Memo is afflicted with a staph infection in a cave on the other end of the lake near Natural Bridges, and the main character is having meat loaf with Memo's grandmother. Where's the narrative arc, the suspense, the red herrings? I haven't a clue . . . I'm just writing toward 50,000.

There was another write-in at Starbucks last night with a newcomer, which means there were four of us, plus Miles who has this encyclopedic brain and is the artistic consultant of our newest member C. Ravenlocke, a fantasy writer and three-time NaNo winner. Miles popped out an answer to a question I had that turned out to be the only noteworthy thing I wrote last night. Well at least it had to do with death and was therefore remotely connected to the murdered girl on the spit of sand.

See how it's going?

Today is a writing day. The plan is a 6000 word day to get some words in the bank. Hopefully something goofy, unreal, disturbing, suspenseful, suspicious will fall out of my fingers instead of the meatloaf dinner I got hung up on last night.

Speaking of banks, the deal around here is that Cindy goes to the casino when I go to write-ins, and last night she hit a spade royal flush and won $1000. There is some WriMo math here for those of you who wish to calculate . . . I spent 2 hours writing 1670 words for zilch and Cindy spent 15 minutes and $20 to win a $1000. Is my math/writer friend Annie able to solve this word equation?

Write on ph

Monday, November 19, 2007


I've been away from home and blogging for 5 days and I have missed both a lot. Having done such a wild array of things of late, it's hard to remember way back to Wednesday when I was last home and blogged. Here is a selection of thoughts and activities that I might have written about had I been blogging daily:

  • Hanging out with a 93- year-old guy slowed me down considerably. I listened to stories and questions posed repeatedly but with complete sincerity, stayed on a strict schedule of meals, played Rummy after dinner every night, and took short leisurely walks. This is not a bad way to live.
  • One of my greatest teacher fears was realized at Little Red School House last week but not by me. The teacher wrote an entire lesson on the white board in permanent ink marker. OUCH!
  • A full day with Gianna allowed sufficient time to talk about horses, housekeeping, jello, and remote control convertibles.
  • My son's family was one of two of the original Hickman Charter School families in Tuolumne County, a brilliant move on my daughter-in-law's part as the kids have definitely gotten a rich and complete education in this context AND they were each perfectly cast in the school's fall drama production of "Cinderella."
  • I just had to buy Leon and Aliou boots that light up when they walk. I've wanted sandals like this for years and if can't have them, then two of my grandkids will.
  • My friend Linda Du and I ended up at Bon Appetite after speeding from restaurant to restaurant last Friday evening looking for one without a wait. What a lucky thing for us, for as Linda will tell you the Lobster bisque at this restaurant is "to-die-for."
  • After dinner we went to "Plaid Tidings." You can read my review of the play later this week in the Democrat, but suffice it to say I had the most fun writing this review of any to date. Maybe it was because Linda accompanied me to the opening night party at the Lickskillet--my first such party—where Doug B. complimented me on my reviews. Since I've wondered if anyone connected with the productions was reading what I wrote, I think his comment gave me a happy push to make this one shine.
  • Saturday at a co-ed baby shower that was accompanied by a poker game, I met a student from Sac State who was doing a research project on American folk traditions among which baby showers are included. Showers originated, I learned, between WWI and WWII and are directly connected with a move from agrarian economics to industrial-urban living. Go figure.
  • I'm absolutely certain the God was delighted to hear the giggles of Leon and Aliou as Father Fitzpatrick poured holy water over their heads while baptizing them on Sunday. I know the parishioners loved the music of their laughter, not to mention their stunning white embroidered Liberian costumes donned for the occasion.

I'm home now. I've had 2 zero count days in NaNo but plan a 6000 word day for Tuesday which should put me ahead of the game going into the Thanksgiving weekend.

Oh one last thing—a remarkable coincidence upon which I must remark. In my usual practice of reading one book and listening to another in the car while driving, I have encountered two major characters with the same name: Pete Kovacs. How weird is that? The authors are unconnected as far as I know and were probably writing their books at roughly the same time judging by the publication dates. I guess a noveling sprite was hop-scotching among authors having a lark with planting character names.

Now for more tea and plunging forth to increase my word count.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WriMo Math

My friend Annie, the math teacher, is cranking out words toward the 50,000 finish at the end of the month despite starting 5 days late because of work commitments. Here is a little WriMo math she passed along yesterday:

Today, I reached 12,500 words which is one quarter of the way but we are two fifths of the way through the month. This doesn't sound as far behind as 9,000 words in a 50,000 word race somehow. Funny how natural it is to manipulate the numbers to believe what we wish.

Don't you just love the way math shows up in a writing event. Most WriMos have reached the point of OCD behavior when it comes to word count now that we are closing the second week of NaNoWriMo. I, for one, can't quit checking the numbers. I make myself write for half hour blocks before I'm allowed to check.

Short blog today. I'm off to be pruning lady and I probably won't post again until Sunday as I'm going to hang out with my chiropractor's 93-year-old dad for the next few days. There isn't a decent Internet connection out that away. But I will be writing and of course checking my word count.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Poker Moves

NaNoWriMo has seriously inhibited our movie watching. We have a pile of movies from NetFlix and Blockbuster online that are languishing on the entertainment center, many of them from the list of movies every writer should see that I copied from The Writer magazine a month ago. We just don't seem to have time for movies right now.

BUT we did watch Lucky You the other night which is a fun poker flick. The romance it portrays is fairly predictable, but there's not one person in my family who could miss a movie in which the main character is named Huckleberry. Now, I'm not sure I want our Huckleberry to grow into the mold of this Huckleberry though it's not an impossibility growing up with Uncle John who resembles the character played by Robert Duvall. The movie is full of a lot of trippy poker playing, especially tournament poker like the Texas Hold Em game we play on Friday night. The players in the movie are REAL professional poker players and if you ever watch poker tournaments on TV you'll recognize these folks. (Yeah, I know that's not a niche most of my readers fall into.)

Not only was the movie an entertaining treat, it set my WriMo buddy Annie and her pal Robert off on a hilarious tangent. You see, Annie is writing her novel about our Friday night poker game, and I suggested that someday her book might be made into a movie like Lucky You which got Annie and Robert figuring out which famous actors would play which of the regulars who sit around their table. Annie wants to be played by Bette Midler with Jim Belushi playing Robert and Billy Bob Thornton for Peter. They couldn't figure out who would play Tommy, the antagonist but they will put the question before the poker players this Friday. I decided I wanted to be played by Ellen DeGeneres. (I'm not even close to funny but one can wish.) I wanted Cindy to be played by Lily Tomlin but she chose Mary Stuart Masterson instead.

Uncle John has to be played by Robert Duvall . . .


Monday, November 12, 2007

WriMo Happenings

You can see by the NaNoWriMo meter that I'm chugging along. The expected quota for day 11 (yesterday) was 18,337, so I'm 1000 words ahead. Today is the day I'll pass the 20K mark, which makes this endeavor seem quite real. Here is list of the good, the bad, and sluggly happenings of last week:

  • Arlyn and I met for 2 write-ins at upper Starbucks last week, Wednesday & Saturday. Write-ins work! We barely said a word to one another, we kept our bottoms in the chair and our fingers typing for two solid hours, and we accumulated words. We meet again tonight, and my friend Annie is going to join us.
  • Annie is the success story of the week. A total newbie writer who joined NaNoWriMo on a lark, Annie is hooked, writing the definitive poker novel and topping 10K words this weekend.
  • Another success story is Arlyn's mother, who is a potter turned writer and who is also sailing along, actually beating her daughter in word count.
  • Our knowledge of the local WriMo contingent grew last week when Arlyn discovered a WriMo while doing a routine job related visit and a young woman who works at Jack-in-the-Box approached us when we were at Starbucks on Saturday and asked if we were WriMo's. When we said, yes, she said, "Me too!" We have the makings for a celebration when this is over and maybe a Foothill Region for next year. (Who typed those words: next year?)
  • The part of me who didn't sign up for WriMo is perfecting procrastination. I'm starting later and later each day to accumulate the word count quota, even when I have time early in the day, and the words are coming at a sluggish pace. ("BUT," hollers the true WriMo, "They are still coming.")
  • A murder, or at least a suspected murder, has plopped onto the page easily without much fanfare and no blood.
  • Yesterday, I wrote the very last thing that my mind had pre-conceived, so today's writing starts on a bright, clean tabula rasa.

Send good juju!


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Beautiful day in the neighborhood

I love Mr. Rogers and I love my neighbors and friends. Yesterday, these wonderful people reminded me about goodness.

First, a couple in our mobile homepark came up a way to raise money for new playground equipment down at the clubhouse. They took orders for a hot meal of spaghetti, French bread, salad, and dessert which the gal cooked and the guy delivered on his golf cart. They charged $7.50 a person for the meal and delivery and asked for ingredient donations from park residents. What a treat to have a hot meal delivered. We tipped the delivery guy with extra cash and a couple of home baked cookies. Not only does it look like they raised plenty of money for the playground, everyone in the park has been buzzing all week in anticipation of getting their dinners.

We, however, had a double spaghetti dinner booking yesterday because a group of our dear friends had arranged a benefit for our friend Judy who was diagnosed three months ago with breast cancer. Judy, who has worked for non-profit organizations for many years, including WATCH and Mountain Women's Resource Center, is UNINSURED. I won't go into the dark hole of frustration I have about a country that can't/won't create a health system that takes care of people. Instead, I want to focus on how neighbors take care of one another.

This event was amazing. People from all over the county from all walks of life came in support of Judy. Tickets were $20. The spaghetti was delicious and even better was the dessert. Cindy spent all day yesterday baking brownies and chocolate chip cookies which were a huge hit and in my opinion crowned the meal gloriously. The music was terrific, and there was both a silent and live auction and a raffle. What a blast! Folks competed at the silent auction writing their bids for coveted prizes. A beautiful Native American rug went for over $300. Not only did people want the prizes, everyone knew that the money ultimately went to a noble cause. The live auction was even more lively with Mike Macon calling and folks laughing and cajoling each other to bid higher and higher.

I know a lot of money was raised to help Judy. But what's more important is that the organizers intend to make this an annual event to raise money for uninsured women who need expensive medical care.

I'm grateful to live in this generous community.


Friday, November 9, 2007

OUCH! Bingo

Here's my theory about why people who play Bingo smoke: They are gamblers who are also able to gamble with life. I said this to Cindy (who is a smoker) last night at Bingo and she smiled and said I was probably right.

Somewhere in this theory also lies an explanation about why I spent over 3 hours in a cavernous (and cold) smoky hall playing Bingo to gather information for a novel that I'm trying to write in 30 days. Not only did I breathe smoke-filled air for longer than my poor asthmatic lungs could tolerate, I spent almost $50 on game cards, warm-ups, early birds, and specials and I didn't even come close to winning on the slew of cards that I spent all evening dobbing. However, I suspect my utter failure to have a card that was a potential winner is not nearly so bad as Cindy's near wins, for all night she was repeatedly one or two numbers away from the BINGO holler. Another dubious side effect of Bingo was my choice of snack food, purchased and gobbled no doubt to quell the rush of adrenaline that I get trying to keep up with the caller on my spread of 2 sheets that each have 6 Bingo cards. In a state of mild sustained anxiety, I sipped Pepsi and ate popcorn (pre-buttered) and M&Ms, all of which I'm sure fed the giant canker sore that is growing on the inside of my lower lip.

I didn't win, nor did I offer any assistance to my body which is valiantly trying to ward off the viruses that have been assaulting my mouth and throat since NaNoWriMo started. BUT I collected several pages of notes that I'm going to try to shove into my novel during the next few days. Goodness knows what it all has to do with Memo who is mysteriously missing in the novel.

Two related WriMo items:

  • Thanks to Ginger, Tuckova, and Lynn all of whom offered truly fine yet diverse suggestions regarding the murder-writing dilemma. I am taking these suggestions to heart and weaving them together to bluster into a non-murder mystery.
  • Did you notice the new and working word count gauge in the right corner of my blog? The NaNoWriMo website has provide widgets (whatever those are) to copy and paste to blogs or web pages so that participants can display their progress wherever they wish in the electronic world.

Now a walk to oxygenate my over-taxed lungs and then I'll let the muses try their turn at Bingo.


Thursday, November 8, 2007


One instruction often told to writers is: Write what you know. Since this instruction works well for me, I made of a list of places and activities to plumb this week for novel material:

  • The Precept Ceremony and Bodhisattva training class,
  • Working with August on taxonomy and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven,"
  • Time spent with Leon, Aliou, and Athan at a preschool child development screening,
  • Helping Cindy construct a standee for the film Atonement at the Regal Crown Cinema
  • Pruning roses at Greenhorn Creek in Angels Camp,
  • Consulting with the chiropractor about my psoas injury and subsequent lower back spasm,
  • Visiting Little Red School House and observing a game of Red Rover and a writing lesson centered on the Declaration of Independence,
  • Yoga class with a closing chant—Deep Peace-- lead by Julie while I laid in savasana,
  • Meeting Arlyn for a 2 hour write-in at Starbucks, which incidentally offered the opportunity to eavesdrop on a gathering of teens who are the same age as some of the characters in my novel.

And tonight, Cindy and I are going to go play Bingo to help me write a scene that popped onto the page yesterday from goodness knows where . . .

My life is providing fodder for my fledgling novel. And though I still haven't inserted a murder, I'm pretty sure that I know how it's going to make its way in AND better yet, how my sleuth is going to accidently get involved in its solution.

Busy-ness is certainly a source for material though I'm looking forward to down time on the weekend when I can spend more time writing.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Murder She Wrote

My novel is a mystery but I've been struggling with putting a murder in it. It seems to me that committing murder on the page is too closely akin to committing it in real life. But the thing is murder is fairly central to plot in the mystery genre, so this was posing a problem in my novel. What kind of mystery was my sleuth going to solve if not a murder and how was I going to make it suspenseful enough to make someone want to keep reading? I wrote about my dilemma in an email message to my WriMo buddy Arlyn and her response was so cool that I have to share it here:

One day I sat down to 'murder' someone in a story, and it was awkward and not too cleanly done at first. I grazed a few people and a mule with bullets before I finally let an arrow hit a target, and even then, I just let someone find the body in a stream in the mountains and didn't go into any details. Somehow that helped me turn the corner, though that story is now scrap paper. Then I wrote another one and added suspense and some graphic, but no blood, and the story took off just fine. I'm happy with it. I had to come to place where it was not about the deed, but about sorting out what happened, who did it and chasing that killer down so they wouldn't get away with it. For me, it's now not about a violation of the sanctity of life, but about the quirks and weird stories people tell themselves to justify their actions –and then the integrity of the protagonist who finds the murderer and won't let them get away with it and forces them to face what they've done.

So today in my story I'm going to write about a body being found . . . and just see where it goes from there.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WriMo Bump

I was tempted to write a number 1 after the title of this post as I suspect I've just hit the first of several bumps in this journey, but I resisted the temptation in an obvious attempt to not jinx myself. The weekend was slow in terms of mounting word count. I purposely got myself ahead the first two days because I knew I had a busy weekend. By Monday morning, I was 300 words behind the daily quota and stalled.

Even though I wrote NaNoWriMo at the TOP of my To Do list, I did not start with writing in the morning as I promised myself I would do for the month of November. In fact, I did everything else on my rather long list and at 5:30pm, I still had not opened the word processing program. I was having a crisis. My cold, which keeps fading back, was rearing its head again. I had a sore throat and a headache. (Maybe I'm allergic to writing.) My pelvis, which has been acting up for a couple of weeks, was throbbing after a stint of leaf raking. I had left the novel on Sunday morning a few pages from the end of Chapter 1, and though I'd had an Ah Ha in the shower that morning about how to bring it to a close, I could not remember exactly what the Ah Ha was. The whole story was feeling dry and boring.

But I opened the document and read the last paragraph and started clicking away, first making a few cuts and additions to the last paragraph and then moving ever so slowly forward. I had to get 1967 words in before bedtime and I was already tired. The first 300 words were torture. Nothing was flowing. After an hour or more, I realized I was at the end of the Chapter 1 and it was an OK ending. I moved to a fresh page and typed Chapter 2. All of a sudden, it was 8:00pm and I'd passed the mark. I was at 8450 words. I'd found the groove.

WHEW! I guess that supports the theory about getting one's bottom in the seat (or on the cushion in the case of meditation) and IT will come, whatever IT is.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Vowing To

I've been a student of Buddhism for 20 years and yesterday I took a giant leap (for me) by participating in a formal ceremony in which I vowed to live my life by Buddhist principles. I've always been a sucker for ceremony and ritual which never fail to bring chills to my back and a tear or two to my eyes, but as my spiritual teacher Nancy said when she hugged me after the ceremony, "This step has been a long time in coming."

I know that I have been using the Buddhist precepts as a guide for living for many years, and Nancy was clear in reminding us 8 preceptors that this ceremony did not mean we had or needed to perfect their actualization. Our vow was simply to use them as a guide in our spiritual training.

In this way, I do most deeply vow to train myself.

In the days before the ceremony, I gave a lot of thought to the word "vow." It's a word that holds powerful sway over me. I have "vowed to . . ." several times in my life. I was baptized a Catholic and made my holy communion and was confirmed. I participated in the sacrament of marriage. Two years ago, I took the Bodhisattva vow which begins like this:

As earth and the other elements, together with space, eternally provide sustenance in many ways for the countless sentient beings, so may I become sustenance in every way for sentient beings to the limits of space . . .

In a nutshell, I vowed to live compassionately with a clear intention to assist, benefit, and nourish all sentient beings. It's a tall order, for sure, but studying the teachings that lend themselves to this vow keeps me paying attention to every action, if not exactly in the moment at least upon reflection.

But getting back to vows. The big question for me is how these vows work together. Does taking one vow negate a previous vow? I know that my relationship to and understanding of the vows I have taken has changed. Does that constitute fickleness or growth?

One thing is certain: It is terribly important that I feel a connectedness and inclusivity among spiritual practices. Perhaps that is why I always speak this line in the morning recitation a bit louder and with the deepest respect and commitment, "Homage to the devotees of this and all paths of self-purification."

The vows I have taken are all part of the fabric of my spiritual life, woven strands that make a peculiar but nevertheless inspiring pattern.

May all find simplicity the joyous and practical guide.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Have Laptop Will Travel

I took my laptop out on the road yesterday. The plan was to go to the library after yoga to write and wait out the time that the housekeeper was at the house. THWARTED! The library was closed for the day for some reason that was never quite clear to me because I didn't walk all the way up to the door to read the fine print. I could see the big CLOSED sign from the parking lot. I watched about 20 people walk up to the door and read the sign while I sat in my car munching an apple and trying to decide what to do. At first, I thought they might just be opening late, like on the half hour, but since no one sat down to wait, I finally realized that they were closed for the day. I didn't want to drive all the way out to college and walk half-way around the pond to go to that library though I will do that someday, so I knew I had to take the plunge:

I went to Starbucks! I bought a cup of coffee and set up my laptop. It wasn't too bad. I wrote almost uninterrupted for an hour and a half. One former student came over to say hi and I had a pee break. That was a bit of a dilemma. What do you do with your laptop and cell phone when you are working in Starbuks and need to go to the restroom? I waited until I was bursting before I decided to get up and go, leaving it all on the table. My rationale: No fool would steal a plugged in, up and running lap top in a busy coffee shop. So I clicked the SAVE button and went to pee.

When I got home, the housekeeper was still working, and she was cleaning my office, so I set up the lap top on the tiny table on the patio and plugged it into the power outlet for the fountain (which by the way is scummy from disuse and most likely breeding mosquitoes with West Nile virus—I need to do something about that). Writing outside was cool too. I turned on the drip system which in the back yard consists of a lot of those sprayers which made a lovely water sound and created a pleasant ambiance (this in lieu of dealing with the scummy fountain), and I typed away for about an hour.

I'm up to 5734 words which is well ahead of the daily quota. Good thing because I won't have much writing time the rest of this weekend. I'll be back on Monday with further WriMo news.


Friday, November 2, 2007

WriMo Rock & Roll

Rock: I have a full blown cold: sneezing, itchy watery eyes, runny nose, and two monstrous canker sores in my mouth.

Roll: I wrote 3669 word yesterday and added another 1000 this morning;

Rock: I have flaming tendinitis in my right wrist and it's only the 2nd day (probably due to doubling the daily word count yesterday)

Roll: the words are flowing, mostly laying out the background of the story that I've been thinking about constantly since signing up for WriMo started, but there have been a few happy surprises AND at least two dynamite sentences J

Rock: I have to go to a play tonight (White Christmas) and write the review by Monday and I'm scheduled for a 1 ½ day meditation retreat this weekend plus the daily WriMo commitment

Roll: I have a friend right here in Jamestown who is doing Wrimo too… and she dove in yesterday and made her daily quota +. Go Arlyn!!

Rock: I haven't a clue where this book is going once I finish the first chapter.

Roll: I'm going to the library with my laptop after yoga to work on the novel. I've never tried to write in public before but I'm game to try. Chris Baty says it ROCKS!


Thursday, November 1, 2007

WriMo Day 1

Yesterday, I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. Jittery and giddy and talkative and not exactly centered. I went to get my haircut at 11:15 but my appointment was for 2pm, so I went to thrift stores and I bought chiffon scarves. I'm not sure why but they seemed like they would be good writing totems. And I found this wonderful sheer blue shirt with gray whales on it. It is silky and flowing and falls to my knees and without a doubt it is the perfect shirt to inspire something. I also bought a pair of black pedal pushers with small green frogs embroidered on them. I went to Staples and bought a purple and pink plastic calculator and a bunch of half-sized colored gel pens and a package of 20 of my favorite pens. I don't need pens. I have drawers full of them and so does Cindy, but I do need a calculator so I don't have to walk to Cindy's office and get hers when I want to calculate something. Then I went home and washed the scarves and hung them to dry before going back to town for my haircut and yoga class.

After dinner, I called Rex for a list of hip-hop, rap, and alternative music. His list included Blink-182, Afroman, 2Pac, and about four others. I downloaded about 15 songs from ITunes and was listening to this stuff, trying to get into character with Memo and Curtis--two guys who star in my novel-- while Cindy wore her black cat hat and passed out candy to the trick-or-treaters. I listened to 2Pac sing "Dear Mama" and hung chiffon scarves around my office. After Cindy came and frowned at me because the music was so raucous, I turned it off and tidied my desk and got everything ready for morning. It was getting late but I wasn't sleepy, so I read my mystery and drank peppermint tea and ate toast, and it got to be 11:30 and though I wasn't sleepy yet I went to bed anyway. When Cindy came to bed at 1:30 and I still wasn't asleep, she said I could get up and start because it was Nov. 1. But I didn't.

I got up at 5:30 -- a half hour after I planned. I had a sore throat and felt hung-over. I washed my face, made tea, and put on my whale shirt. I opened a word doc and typed "Memo Goes Missing" at the top. And then I stared at the screen. In the past week, I have thought of at least 10 opening lines for my novel, but I stared at the screen and couldn't think of one word to start. A fly landed on the white screen. I watched it walk across the back lit page. At 5:48, I typed the first word. At 7:36, I had 1700 words (the daily quota being 1667) and I had to pee really bad.

I promise to not read one word of what I wrote when I get back to the page. GO AWAY Internal Editor. I don't want to see your scowling face for 29 more days!!!