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!


ph

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.

Wordplay

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.

ph

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.
ph

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tweener

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. . .

ph.



Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gifts

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.

ph

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.


ph

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.

ph

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.

ph

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

Energy

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.
ph

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.

ph



Monday, December 10, 2007

Settlers



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.


ph

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.

ph

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Parade

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.

ph

Friday, December 7, 2007

Rain

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.

ph


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.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARY AUTUMN.
Love Dearma.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ditchin’

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'.

ph

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.

ph

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Flour Sack

IN THAT LONG AGO TIME WHEN THINGS WERE SAVED,
WHEN ROADS WERE GRAVELED AND BARRELS WERE STAVED,
WHEN WORN-OUT CLOTHING WAS USED AS RAGS,
WHEN THERE WERE NO PLASTIC WRAP OR BAGS,
AND THE WELL AND PUMP WERE WAY OUT BACK,
A VERSITILE ITEM WAS THE FLOUR SACK.


PILLSBURY'S BEST, MOTHER'S, AND GOLD MEDAL, TOO,
STAMPED THEIR NAMES PROUDLY IN PURPLE AND BLUE.
THE STRING SEWN ON TOP WAS PULLED AND KEPT,
THE FLOUR EMPTIED AND SPILLS WERE SWEPT.
THE BAG WAS FOLDED AND STORED IN A SACK.
THAT DURABLE, PRACTICAL FLOUR SACK.


THE SACK COULD BE FILLED WITH FEATHER AND DOWN
TO BECOME A PILLOW OR CUT FOR USE AS A SLEEPING GOWN.
IT COULD CARRY A BOOK AND BE A SCHOOL BAG,
OR BECOME A MAIL SACK SLUNG OVER A NAG.
IT MADE A VERY CONVENIENT PACK,
THAT ADAPTABLE, COTTON FLOUR SACK.


BLEACHED AND SEWN, IT WAS DUTIFULLY WORN
AS BIBS, DIAPERS, OR KERCHIEF ADORNED.
IT WAS MADE INTO SKIRTS, BLOUSES, AND SLIPS,
AND MOM BRAIDED RUGS FROM ONE HUNDRED STRIPS.
SHE MADE RUFFLED CURTAINS FOR THE HOUSE OR SHACK,
FROM THAT HUMBLE, TREASURED FLOUR SACK.


AS A STRAINER FOR MILK OR APPLE JUICE,
TO WAVE MEN IN, IT WAS PUT TO GOOD USE.
AS A SLING FOR SPRAINED WRIST OR EVEN A BREAK,
TO HELP MOTHER ROLL UP A JELLY CAKE,
AS A WINDOW SHADE OR TO STUFF IN A CRACK,
WE USED A STURDY, COMMOM FLOUR SACK!


AS DISH TOWELS, EMBROIDERED OR NOT,
THEY COVERED UP DOUGH, HELPED PASS PANS SO HOT,
TIED UP DISHES FOR NEIGHBORS IN NEED,
AND FOR MEN OUT IN THE FIELD SOWING SEED.
THEY DRIED ALL DISHES FROM WASH PAN NOT RACK,
THAT ABSORBENT, HANDY FLOUR SACK!


WE POLISHED AND CLEANED STOVE AND TABLE,
SCOURED AND SCRUBBED FROM CELLAR TO GABLE,
WE DUSTED THE BUREAU AND OAK BED POST,
MADE COSTUMES FOR OCTOBER (A FLOURY GHOST)
OR A PARACHUTE FOR OUR CAT NAMED JACK.
FROM THAT LOWLY, USEFUL FLOUR SACK!


SO NOW MY FRIENDS, WHEN THEY ASK YOU,
AS CURIOUS YOUNGSTERS OFTEN DO,
"BEFORE PLASTIC WRAP, ELMERS GLUE
AND PAPER TOWELS, WHAT DID YOU DO?"
TELL THEM LOUDLY AND WITH PRIDE DON'T LACK,
"GRANDMOTHER HAD A 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.