Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mariposa Holiday

Christmas at the Dixons in Mariposa is usually full of excitement. The big family gathers in various mixes, beginning on Christmas Eve with Sandie's family attending Church services at Ponderosa Basin Chapel. Next is the ritual of opening one gift: new pajamas and posing for pictures in front of the tree, followed by a movie--often It's a Wonderful Life..

In the morning, Sandie's kids (who are really young adults) start the next round of festivities by opening their stockings. Then Aunt Cindy passes out gifts to her parents and her sister's family. After a delicious Christmas breakfast and another Christmas movie (this year it was Fred Claus), the rest of the extended family begins arriving for more gift giving and Christmas dinner. This year snow began falling about 11am, so there was also sledding and a beautiful rainbow visible through the trees.

The Dixon's like to go, go, go, so the day after Christmas we traveled to Fresno to paint pottery which took longer than anticipated and so we didn't have time for dinner at an Italian restaurant as planned. Instead, we ate at a family eatery called Pete's and loaded our plates with fries and onion rings and hamburgers before going en mass to the movies to see Seven Pounds (we filled 2 full rows). The movie which was about a heart transplant was a bit emotional, and we lingered in the lobby afterward, tearful and hugging.

Saturday was spent trying out gifts like web cams and friers and, for me, reading the new books I received.

Sunday was Ashley's birthday, so we met at the cemetery to recall the wonders of her all too brief 18 years. Then we went to Angel Falls, one of her favorite places on earth. We slipped and slid climbing through snow to the falls and then tossed pink roses into the rushing water in her memory. A snowball fight on the way back to the cars was the perfect touch! No doubt everyone recalled her gleeful and contagious laughter as the cold snow dripped down our faces and necks.

Happy Holidays, Dixons!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dearma Date



Mary Autumn, Nell, and I went on a luncheon date to celebrate Mary Autumn's 4th birthday. We had lunch at the counter at Diamondback and then walked down the street to Out of Hand to paint pottery. Mary Autumn chose a rabbit to paint and Nell chose a cat. After painting, the girls played for a while in the play area. Then we strolled back to the car. It was the sweetest of afternoons, spending time with these two girls who are so companionable.





Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Post Surgery Update

This note at 9pm from Wendy A.'s sister Robyn who is at UCSF with the gals:

Good News! All went very well with the surgery for both Wendy's. They ended up with THE best team here: W P's doc has an outstanding reputation, and W A got the HEAD of the transplant department, Dr. Ascher. Google her - she's pretty impressive!

W P's doc reported that she had a beautiful kidney, and she was doing very well post surgery. W A's doc said everything went very well, and now they are waiting for a post op ultrasound to check progress. They'll both be in recovery for another 2 to 3 hours before coming back up to their rooms. We won't know anything more until then, and tomorrow will be a day of watching reactions, getting fluids back into their bodies, and beginning to walk.

Thank you all for your support and positive energy that you've been sending to them today. On the part of Wendy Archer's family, we are so thankful to Wendy Pound for being willing to become part of our family!

Transplant

In February 2007, my dear friend Wendy A. was diagnosed with kidney failure. At the time of her diagnosis, doctors declared that she was already at end-stage failure and eligible for dialysis.

Wendy A. met this diagnosis head-on. Terribly weakened by the kidney failure, she nevertheless garnered her incredible personal resources and stamina for she was determined to NOT do dialysis until it was absolutely necessary. She conducted Interntet research and quizzed doctors and nurses about her condition. She adopted a diet that would keep her kidneys from working hard and reduce the side effects of high blood pressure and high cholesterol that resulted from her failing kidneys. She made regular massage and accupuncturue appointments and spent time in her hot tub warming her body and relaxing her spirit. She let people help her--she who was always, always, forever helping others. And she assumed a reasonable and moderate exercise program the helped her regain the strength she had been steadily losing for months. The exercise program worked so well that she was able to do some hiking in the summer, one of life's greatest pleasures for Wendy A.

She also went through a rigorous screening to see if she was a good candidate for a kidney transplant. She was! And her sisters began testing to see if they could donate a kidney to her. Neither of them were viable donors, but on a momentous hike during the summer of 2007, another friend-- Wendy P.-- told Wendy A. that she would like to be in-queue as a potential donor.

Two years later, having avoided dialysis by an incredible regime and healthy life style changes, and after a roller coaster of medical, mental, and physical preparations, TODAY is the day that Wendy P. will give Wendy A. a kidney.

Please hold these two women gently and easily in a circle of prayer and love. See them both hiking in the high Sierra next summer: noble friend Wendy P. and fully recovered Wendy A.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Party

We took over 300 pictures with our new camera at the Christmas Party, but I've narrowed it down to a slide show of 31 pictures that offer highlights from the rich and wonderful day! My favorite parts of the day were: Listening to my boys jam on banjo and guitar; watching Cody and August shoot pool; the amazing array of food; the circle of kids around the tree patiently waiting their turn to open gifts; chocolate fondue joy; Huck asking for a job at clean up time, and each kid climbing the ladder to take down decorations to a background of music by Culley, Raleigh, and Cody as we ALL cleaned up.

The party was everything I hoped for! THE BEST GIFT ever: a family gathering!!



For another, slower option of viewing the slideshow click the picture below:
The Christmas Party

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Our Christmas Tree

Today we put up our Christmas tree. Since we got the tree late and will be leaving on Christmas Eve, we decided on a little tree that we put on the dining room table. After we decorated the tree, we ate our dinner from plates set on festive red and green braided place mats in front of the tree. We had been decorating the clubhouse all afternoon for the big party tomorrow, so it was fun to extend the experience into our own home.

Friday, December 19, 2008

San Francisco Ballet

I grew up in San Francisco where going to the Nutcracker ballet performance was part of the Christmas tradition. Though I didn't go every year as a child, I went often enough that the music and the magic are deeply woven into my experience of Christmas. When Jennie Lou was a little girl, I wanted very much for her to have a Nutcracker experience, and now that I have a number of girl grandchildren, I'm determined to get everyone of them to the Nutcracker during the Christmas season at least once during their childhood.

So it was with great excitement that I headed to San Francisco and the ballet with Jenny, Taylor, and Candice this week. The Opera Hall itself was simply stunning, from the red and green lighted nutcrackers tucked between the balustrades of the exterior to the glitter and sparkle of decorations inside. One can't help but look upward at the amazing chandelier hanging in the grand assembly hall. And no matter how many times I see the Nutcracker, I am moved to tears by the Snowflake dance at the end of the first Act and the Pas de Deux at the end of the second Act, just as I am awestruck by the Christmas tree that grows to a magnificent size, gleeful at the appearance of the Russian dancers, and delighted by the Dancing Bear.

But best of all is sharing and enjoying the unmitigated pleasure of newcomers to the San Francisco ballet performance of the Nutcracker. I'm confident that Jenny, Taylor, and Candice enjoyed the performance as much as I. Plus we had a great post-performance dinner at the famous Max's on Van Ness. What a marvelous day!





Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Rescue

Cindy has the opposite relationship to shopping from me. She takes her time and enjoys the process, patiently visiting multiple stores and price checking until she finds just what she wants for the right price. I'm an in-and-out kind of gal with about a 30 minute ceiling on the time I can spend shopping (That's why Black Friday worked well for me.)

We quickly recognized this difference in behavior and have taken it into consideration when it comes to shopping. When I must go along, I always bring a book or my journal so I can retire to the car when I "hit the wall" which is how Cindy describes the glassy-eyed zombie behavior that signals I'm done shopping. Mostly I just don't go shopping. She either goes by herself--sometimes late at night, like after 9--or with her mom, who has a similar shopping style.

This past weekend we went to Mariposa, and I stayed home with Cindy's dad by the fire while Cindy and her mom headed to Merced--an hour away-- for Christmas shoppping. They left in the early afternoon despite a winter storm warning for low elevation snow. While I napped and read Harry Potter, they shopped. They didn't buy a lot, but it was clear when they checked in by phone that they were enjoying what Cindy called "the investigative" stage of shopping. She was researching on her Blackberry at the same time that they looked at items in stores. Her voice was filled with happy good cheer.

When they left for home, they drove directly into the storm. Six miles from Mariposa, they struggled to crest a hill, fishtailing in Cindy's two-wheel drive Dodge Dakota pickup, and slid into a snowbank on the side of the road in a place where they had no cell phone coverage. Stuck in the snowbank, Cindy flagged down a passing motorist and asked the driver to call her dad for help when she got to town.

When we got the call, Cindy's dad, Fred, and brother Jimmy left to rescue them. Jimmy's son-in-law went too, and he and Jimmy got Cindy's truck out of a snow bank, driving it over a hill that the Highway Patrol insisted they could not make without chains. Cindy argued with the CHP while her brother headed forward with the truck with the son-in-law bouncing on the bumper to offer necessary traction. Then Cindy and her mom hiked over the same hill to get to Fred who was waiting on the other side.

The truck was almost out of gas because they had sat with it running for 2 hours, so they could have heat while they waited for Fred and Jimmy to come. Since they had sent word with someone in another car, they had no way of knowing if the people had called us and if Fred was even coming. They got home at 11:30, wet and freezing.

It was an adventure that years from now will be a family story, but it's one adventure I'm happy to have missed. Cindy thought I should have exhibited more concern, but I was admittedly feeling a little smug about being warm and comfortable rather than weathering the adventures of Chrismas shopping.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Brother Andy Retires

At my brother Andy's retirement party, someone asked him how long he had worked. "My whole life," he replied.

It's true! I remember Andy working diligently to pack the car for family trips to Twain Harte when he was 8 or 9. A few years later he was getting up early in the morning to go to work with my dad in dark and dingy theaters. He's been in business for himself and worked for others, built his own home in part from salvaged materials he collected himself and invented improved methods for his most recent job at Modesto Irrigation District, the place from which he is officially retiring. There is no doubt Andy will continue to work for the rest of his life, but now he has the daily option to choose what he will work on and when.

It was a pleasure to celebrate Andy's retirement with family and friends on a brisk December night in the lovely home that he and Connie have built and designed with such attention to detail. The cozy orange glow of this picture speaks to the warm celebratory evening. Welcome little brother to the next stage.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Everybody Loves a Parade

The small town of Tuolumne City has a dear Christmas Parade each year. Cindy and I along with Huck and Nell stood with the town's people in the frosty December night under a glorious full moon, enjoying the floats and the Summerville marching band.

The Tippett family donned angel and shephard costums and rode on the St. Joseph's float. Baby Clare wrapped in a blanket in Anna Mae's arms, formed a tableau of Mary with the baby Jesus. A huge green banner reminded onlookers: "Tis the Reason for the Season."

After the parade, we all went to a festival in the Memorial Hall where the kids sat on Santa's lap, decorated a Christmas cookie, and then climbed in the bleechers. We made a stop on the way home to enjoy some of the Christmas lights at a spot I had visited on the Special Event bus tour the night before.

As the house fills with the aroma of baking cookies today, I'd have to say that the spirit of Christmas is definitely parading through the month.







Friday, December 12, 2008

Special Event


















Every year Tuolumne County Transit offers a Christmas Lights Tour in exchange for a donation of a non-perishable food item. Since Jenny and I have been trying to do a field trip on the Transit, we thought this would be a way to get that trip in and see some of the lights around the county.

So at 4:30, Jenny, Taylor, Kyle, Candice, and I got in line with others to be among the first-come-first-served passengers for the bus ride. Our first clue that this might not quite meet our expectations was the line of people waiting to get on the buses: At 60, I was a youngster among those lined up, and the kids and Jenny were mere infants. This was a special event for the oldsters in the county it seemed.

When the buses marked "Special Event" rolled up, we boarded, depositing our non-perishable food items at the front of the bus in payment for the ride. For some reason, the buses sat running in front of Gottschalks for a very long time, and it was 5:30 before we pulled away from the curb.

We bounced along Tuolumne Road noticing many homes that were beautifully lit but which we sailed by so quickly that Taylor, who was trying to get pictures, merely captured a blur of light. When we got to Tuolumne City, the busses slowed down and we saw some truly marvelous displays where homeowners had gone to great length to create delightful scenes with lights and other figures. After that, we drove through Soulsbyville, Willow Springs, the housing tract above Raleigh's home, over to Crystal Falls drive and then cut over to Crestview. Then we went into a tract off Phoenix Lake Road. Next we flew down 108 to drive through downtown Jamestown and out to Rolling Oaks. Our last cruise through was at Mill Villa Estates.

We saw many gaily lit homes but we were spent. In fact, we were spent some where around Crestview, getting hungrier by the minute. Everyone was outwardly patient even if inwardly we were ready to get back to the Junction, and Candice kept us entertained with her lively conversation. At one point, we were discussing folks who ride the bus because they don't have cars. I told her people paid to ride, and she said quite confidently, "They get to ride the bus for a can of beans!"

OOPS! Guess our field trip on the Transit left a faulty impression about the cost of public transportation. It was a Special Event we will file away in our memory of 2008 field trips. Next year, however, we may visit the lights in the family car.




Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Leon's Finger

Leon's exuberance got the best of him the other night. With a mighty slam of the bathroom door, he caught the end of his pinky. OUCH!! Papa wrapped his bleeding finger with a washcloth and called on Andrea, the family medicial consultant. Andrea cleaned and bandaged the wound and also offered Tylenol, a chunk of cheese, and some popcorn, and released him to Mama's care for observation and control.

Leon has to take it slowly for a few days while his finger heals. That's a tall order for an active almost 6 year old and an even taller order for the mother who has to remind him.

We are all praying for Leon's speedy healing!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Huckleberry Speaks His Mind

Andrea sent this email about 5 year old Huckleberry:

so tonight and last night i put huck to bed. his meandering
conversation was so amazing to me on both nights that i spent the
whole time making mental notes and committed to write it all down the second i left the room. here are the bits i remember.

somewhere in a long conversation about fencing:

h: i am scared of sword fights.
a: yeah but sword fights are a sport now; they wear shields and
masks. no one is killed.

which led somehow to bullet-proof vests and me explaining that really only police or people in war wear them.

h: do i know any one who is in war?
a: grandpa (shannon) was in a war.
h: i think what would be safest for the world would be if there were
no weapons.
a: there is a country called japan, you know like in "my neighbor totoro," where the dads take deep baths with the kids and the people all have black hair and eat sushi for breakfast and roll out mats to sleep on at night, you know...japan? the people there all decided that they wouldn't have any weapons.
h: i think everyone in sonora should move to japan.

h: if you kill someone, you go to jail forever, that's fair. if someone kills your dad, it is fair to kill their dad because you don't have a dad forever and they should also not have a dad forever.

h: you told me last year that santa is pretend, but all the kids tell me he's actually real.

h: santa is a city gnome.

h: dad told me cannibals are not pretend. (thanks pippi longstocking).

h: if you need a son, or if you need another daughter, you could always grow one in your belly if you want.

i recommend to all people that they put huck to bed soon to get in on this.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mary Autumn Turns 4
















Mary Autumn celebrated her 4th birthday with family at Grandaddy's. She wore a green velvet dress and white tights. Her cousin Nell wore a matching dress, and the two played side by side all evening while family mingled and socialized around them. Bonnie prepared a turkey and there were delicious side dishes. Mama made a snowman birthday cake with maltball eyes. A good time was had by all.

Here is slideshow of pictures taken at the party.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Indulging















The last I heard, Anna Mae was on page 650 of the 5th book in the Harry Potter series. I distinctly remember days as a child when I was able to indulge in reading a book for hours on end, a time when gobbling up a whole series was a week's occupation.

That's why when I came home exhausted from work yesterday, I changed into my jammies, grabbed a Harry Potter book off the shelf, and snuggled into bed at 6:30. It didn't matter that I only have 3 books in the series, all of which I'd already read. What I sought was the lovely pleasure of losing myself in a book. I only managed to read 50 pages of Book 2 before sleep grabbed me, but for a short time I indulged in delicious adventure with Harry Potter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heavy Viewing

The extra long weekend allowed lots of time for movie watching. Here are my thoughts related to the five DVDs that we watched, none of which were light viewing. Though we thought we had chosen at least two films that were on the lighter side, we were wrong.

The Kite Runner- I always allow ample time between reading a book and seeing the movie adaptation, so I wasn't ready to see this movie when it came out in the theater. It was an excellent adaption and every bit is difficult to digest in film as it was on the page. The issues, including class, war, brutality, betrayal, courage, and hope, were managed truthfully. It's a tear jerker for sure but well worth seeing. The kite flying cinematography is a soft visual space amidst the hard truth this film portrays.

The Life Before Her Eyes- We mistakenly thought we were going from a hard film (The Kite Runner) to a less intense drama when we watched this film. NOT!! Featuring the beautiful Uma Thurmond, the film's premise was built around a school shooting. The issue is choices, and it was offered with a post-modern twist that took a good 15 minutes of head shaking and conversation to sort out at the end. I love a movie that keeps me thinking for a long time after and this one did, but beware: it centers on horrific tragedy.

Iron Jawed Angels- This is a must see for every woman. We owe so much to the women who secured our right to vote and this film reveals their courage, conviction, and perseverance. And it features Hilary Swank in another one of those thought provoking pieces she is wont to do. I feel like such a wimp in comparison to those who are compelled to pursue human rights and I'm glad to have films that remind me about standing tall and firm on such important issues.

The Visitor- Again we thought we were choosing something on a lighter note when we picked up this one. It features Richard Jenkins (who was in Six Feet Under) as Walter a university professor whose life is bland and plodding. Walter's zest for life is renewed by a young Syrian man and his Singalese girlfriend who have surreptiously rented Walter's apartment in NYC. Surprises both good and sad await the viewer. This film gently grabbed our hearts and then squeezed painfully.

The Savages- This piece fits into what seems to be an emerging sub-genre, i.e. films about adult children caring for an aging parent. We got it because I like Philip Seymour Hoffman who played Capote brilliantly. He was excellent in this film too as the elder brother and university professor. Laura Linney is also terrific as the younger sister. This is a tragi-comedy, so there are many laughable moments but with a cost when watching two adults flounder through life because of unskillful parenting when they were kids. Though it was a little slow moving, I'd give it a thumb up.

That was our weekend in film. We've swallowed a serious dose of heaviness and will be returning to romantic comedy for our December holiday season viewing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Conversation in Books

My book shelves are filled with books I have yet to read and my Amazon wish list and Goodreads "to be read" list both sport a huge number of books. Not infrequently, however, someone I love speaks of a book they are reading. Their tone of voice and facial expression tell of their delight with the book and reveal how it has touched them in some way. Immediately, my curiosity is aroused, and so I set aside the long list of books calling to me to see what has called them.

When August was reading Redwall, his enthusiasm piqued my interest, so I read the first book in the series. When Taylor was reading Harriet the Spy, I wanted to re-read it, and after Anna Mae read Pegeen, the second in a series by Hilda Van Stockum, I borrowed it. I read The Body Ecology Diet after Jennie Lou found it, and I read the Faith Club based on Ashley's comments. When Ginger described the wonders of Christiane Northrup's Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, I bought and read it. Every time I talk to Andrea, I leave eager to read the books currently on her bed-side stand, and Culley's pleasure with the audio production of The Subtle Knife had me running home to download it.

I know that books serve as a conversation; I learned this back when I was in school. Writers of any merit are conversing both with earlier writers as well as with their audience of readers. Anyone who has been in a book club or shared a book with another person recognizes the way in which books evoke conversations among readers. For me, the conversation moves beyond this, however, for I've found that reading books that appeal to people I love also serves as a window in their hearts and minds because it seems clear that the book's appeal is likely a reflection of their thinking and values.

That's why when Raleigh spoke about enjoying The Shack, I immediately bought and read it. I knew the book was Christian fiction and that the spiritual ideology was likely to differ from my own, but I wasn't reading it to find support for my own practice. I was more interested in the tale that evoked my son's satisfaction with this book. I wanted to know him through a story he loved.

I wasn't disappointed. I found a window into the nature of his faith and the manner in which love and forgiveness serve as his underpinnings. Though Raleigh and I have not spoken directly about this book, I feel like we've had a conversation because we've read the same words on the page and we've each responded these words. As I read The Shack, I was able to consider where our thinking was likely to have connected and where it might have diverged in response to William Paul Young's story, just as I wondered about Jennie Lou's and Taylor's thoughts when I read The Body Ecology Diet and Harriet the Spy.

The conversation offered by books is far reaching, rich, and deeply satisfying. It's always worth it to put aside a book on my list to pick up one enjoyed by my dear ones.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday

For the past several years, Cindy and I have headed out before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving to hit the big sales. This is the first year that I've heard them called "Black Friday," but apparently that name has long been in use and refers to the fact that this is the day that retail businesses finally get their accounts in the black after running in the red for the entire year. Christmas sales make or break such businesses, and we jumped into the midst of the bedlam that helps make their day!!

Getting up early is not the hard part. I wake up easily and surprisingly so does Cindy though she is not exactly functioning in top order at that time of the day, being the night owl that she is. BUT she'll do almost anything to get a deal, and the deals at these sales are phenomenal! We donned hats to cover our sleep bent hair and vests to be warm but not too hot in the stores and jumped into her truck to go. I drove because her night vision is poor and the sun had yet to rise. She nudged me along to faster speeds: "Snails don't make good door busters," she cajoled as I poked along at 35 miles an hour. So I stepped on the gas, and we screamed into the parking lot at the Junction just as they were opening the doors to Gottschalks at 5am and BUST the door with 100 or so other folks.

We have learned to avoid Wal Mart where at least 1000 people are shoving through the doors (and if you read the news where a man was sadly trampled to death in NYC this year as the doors opened). No, I can't handle that scene at all. The closest we've come was the year we pushed through with a huge crowd at Staples because we were after electronic equipment for Cindy's mom. This year was very mellow, however, by comparison, though there was a rush of adrenaline as we skipped through the aisles in different directions to get the super deals we'd circled in the sale paper.

The thing I like about this kind of shopping is that it's purposeful. On Wednesday night, we carefully circled the things we wanted to buy and planned the order in which we would go to the stores related to our highest priority and the best deals. In each store, we went different ways to grab the things we'd circled, and we met back at the check-out stand. I'm good at this kind of shopping because there is NO perusing all the possibilities, which drives me simply nuts. The purpose is just to get in and get out!!!

This year we made out like bandits! We got every deal we were after and were on our way home before 7:00 am. When we got home, we did online Black Friday shopping which happens from 2am to 11am across the country. We shopped from our respective computers, eating cinnamon toast and drinking tea as we called back and forth to each other to ask questions and confirm choices.

By 8:20, we fell back into bed to sleep for a couple of hours, having happily completed a major chunk of our Christmas shopping.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Andrea's Table

The lovely Andrea attracted the most amazing array of people to a Thanksgiving table that dissected her living room. A burgundy stripped cloth and red napkins invited guests to gather at length for the feast.

In addition to Culley, Huck and Nell, the extended family who counted among the guests included Cindy and I, Uncle John and Lee, Uncle Andy and Aunt Connie. Andrea's friend Russell, who was her roommate when she and Culley connected, was there with his family, Michelle, Griffin, and Holly. Also from the Portland set but now living in Madison WI came Meg with her daughter Niamh (pronounced Neve). Meg's sister is currently living in Berkeley, and she came up from the Bay Area with three friends from France: Marie, Mathew, and Paul (I think that was his name). Another of Andrea's friends, William, came from Sacramento with a cousin and her boyfriend from North Carolina as well as a Nepalese woman (whose name I can't spell or pronounce).

This cosmopolitan mix joined in preparing a delicious variety of food, including the traditional turkey and stuffing (from Erin's & Meg's mother's recipe). There was also a roasted ham, roasted purple potatoes and carrots, mashed potatoes and gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, and a salad with raddichio, greens, sliced apple, celery, pistachios and a cheese that I can't remember. Added to this was our saurekraut and jello salad and dinner rolls. There were bottles of wine from Italy, France, and California along with pitchers of delicious well water with floating lemons.

Then came dessert: homemade apple and pumpkin pie (prepared exquisitely by Michelle), almond torte (by Connie), choclate mousse, brownies (by Cindy), vanilla ice cream and whipped cream accompanied by rich dark coffee and piping hot tea.

In true Andrea tradition, the meal was savored as folks sat at the table eating slowly and talking, talking, talking. Two hours at the table with marvelous food and this diverse, congenial company made for a memorable Thanksgiving feast.

Bike Ride

On Thanksgiving morning, I joined the ten Tippetts for a bike ride on the old railroad grade in Tuolumne City. It was a spectacular day with billowing clouds topping off a blue sky above the river canyon. We weren't the only ones who thought a jaunt on this trail would be fun; there wasn't a vacant place in the parking area at the trail head.

The bike riders took off with unbelievable energy while Jennie Lou walked, carrying Clare in a backpack, and I pushed Mary Autumn in the stroller. The kids riding ahead of us took every opportunity for a quick jaunt off trail or a jump over a berm. There were stops for tree climbing and rock climbing and Toyon berry fights. Mike and I did some plant identification, and JL and I chatted up a storm as we walked.

Here are two pictures: The first is when the advance party stopped and waited for us stragglers and the second is when bikes were abandoned for tree climbing. In a few days, I'll post a Piccassa slide show with pictures from the entire weekend, including more from the bike ride.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

More Cooking

Thanksgiving is a feast day, so it involves LOTS of cooking. Around the country, kitchens are alive with mixing bowls, rolling pins, and chopping boards, and the heat from many stoves is surely competing with furnaces and wood heaters. At my son's house, they've been working on pie making for two days.

At our house, we started cooking last night after what was a short but rather intense week of work for both of us. We only had to make 4 dishes to take to dinner at Culley's, but it was enough to use almost every piece of cooking paraphernalia we own and conclude with a mountain of dishes in the sink.

Before I describe our creations, let me preface by saying that Cindy and I fall somewhere near the lower 10th percentile in the bell curve of cooking expertise. We each have our specialties, but beyond one or two dishes, we are not particularly skillful OR creative in the kitchen. That said, I have to say I think we did a swell job of cooking last night.

We each prepared a traditional dish from our childhood Thanksgivings. For me, that is the version of sauerkraut that my Polish grandma made and for Cindy it is a fruity Jello-Cool Whip concoction. These dishes came together with minimal effort. The Jello has to be made in stages which Cindy worked on in between doing the tedious aspect of her day's work: entering the jobs on the work web-sites. Meanwhile, the kitchen filled with the smell of sauteing onion, pungent sauerkraut being rinsed in the sink, and the nutty aroma of roasting caraway seeds as I fixed my dish.

After finishing the sauerkraut, I moved on to the artichoke dip. This dish is NOT in our repertoire. Our theory is that Andrea assigned it to us so we would branch out a little. When I said I didn't know how to make it, she said, "But you know how to use the World Wide Web."

Point well taken I thought. So I went to the WWW and found a gazillion recipes for artichoke dip, most of which called for gobs of mayonnaise. Not being a fan of mayonnaise, I was appalled and called her back and said, "Is this for REAL?!!!"

"Yes," she replied, "Get over it!"

I found one that called for half sour cream (low-fat) and half mayonnaise which felt a tad more friendly to my overloaded cholesterol bloodstream. I stood with assembled ingredients last night and re-read the instructions which called for a food processor. Cindy has one, but I'd never used it, so I interrupted her work for a lesson and volunteered to wash the many parts of the contraption in exchange for her expertise. In short order, she took over chopping the hearts.

The instructions also called for transferring the appetizer, once cooked, into a chafing dish with some kind of warming device. I called Andrea again to determine exactly what chafing dish meant and if it was necessary. "NO," said she, laughing kindly at the question. "Just bring it in the casserole dish you cook it in."

When my part was done, I washed dishes while Cindy started the brownies. Andrea said that brownies would be a good addition to pie and that's another of Cindy's regular contributions to family dinners so we were happy with this assignment.

I finished the dishes and as I headed to bed eager to snuggle up with book, the smell of baking chocolate permeated the house. It wasn't a traditional Thanksgiving aroma-- like roasting turkey or baking sweet potatoes-- but it was nevertheless a delicious reminder of the feast to come.

Eat joyously and slowly and blessings to ALL!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cooking

In preparation for Thanksgiving, the homeschoolers were cooking this week. In my morning shift, the pre-school kids made cornbread muffins while Anna Mae took her first stab at pie dough in preparation for making pumpkin pie. (Read more about her cooking activities on her blog.) Meanwhile at the afternoon shift, Candice was cooking along with more traditional school-work. Both girls share a particular look of concentration that goes with learning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time Marches On

Thirty-one years ago, my friend Julia and I shared a home. We each had newborn sons, and for the next several years we watched our boys grow until Julia moved to another abode. The two boys, however, retained a lasting friendship, and now they have babies of their own. Last night, we met at Julia's for a reunion dinner. Here are two pictures: first, the proud Mamas with their grown sons and second, the proud Dads with their children.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Friend Mic

What a pleasure to witness my friend Mic debut as conductor of Symphony of the Sierra this weekend.

I first met Mic in the 80s when she was publishing a local literary magazine. As a fledgling writer, I wanted desperately to be published in this magazine. Alas, I was a day late for the magazine was folding, but Mic wrote the kindest of letters explaining that had she continued producing the magazine, she most certainly would have published my piece. Not long after, I met Mic in person at a poetry reading where she performed her signature "act" of soliciting words from the audience and composing a poem on the spot from the words tossed her way. In short order, Mic made an impression on me. I recognized a talented, generous, and creative human being.

Since that time, our paths have crossed numerous times at poetry readings and in writing classes and groups. When Mic was completing an online degree, I facilitated her exams at the college. When I was preparing to publish my book, she lent her photographic expertise to the cover design. Two of my grand-kids have taken music lessons from Mic, and I've enjoyed summer performances at the Jamestown Park given by the volunteer band she organized and led.

I was also among the guests at a party that celebrated Mic as the recipient of the prestigious Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation award for commitment to teaching children to play and enjoy music. Mic had received the $10,000 award at Carneige Hall in New York before friends gathered locally to applaud her.

So it was with great pleasure that I attended the Winter Concert of the Symphony of the Sierra and Mic's debut as conductor. WHOA!! There are not words to describe the manner in which the music infused me with emotion. Always moved by the sound of the violin, I wept through the first piece, a string quartet by Tchaikovsky. From there, the sound took me from poignant to joyous, from foot-tapping to heart-pounding.

Mic had pulled together an unusual array of musicians and melded them into a truly fine orchestra. Watching her conduct with enthusiasm, intelligence, and grace was the frosting on the cake of one terrific afternoon.

Mic is one of my most remarkable friends: creative and gentle and unbelievable compassionate. And she is giving our community a sublime gift as conductor of Symphony of the Sierra.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cindy's Surveys



















For as long as I've known Cindy, she's done surveys. I've never understood the motivation behind her efforts, but she is a devoted survey-ist. When it's time to relax around here, it's not unusual to find her happily working on a survey while I curl up in the recliner reading.

Sometimes she gets paid for doing surveys, anywhere from $2 to $50. Another pay off is the accumulation of points toward gas cards, motel rooms, and other such things. Last summer, we funded a good portion of a trip to Knottsberry Farm with her niece and nephew using rewards from her surveys

Survey work usually involves filling out forms on websites. Sometimes though the work involves live chats and sometimes she answers questions via the phone. Cindy's survey practices have brought us some interesting products to try out and a few good laughs.

We have tested things like ball point pens, toothpaste, dryer sheets, body wash, shampoo, face lotion, mosquito repellent, and we just got these big boxes of tissue to test just in time for winter. I like testing the products. One of the pens we tested has become my favorite writing implement.

Recently our cats were enlisted to product test. The product is a cat treat called Lickittys. According to the literature accompanying this treat, Cindy was to observe their "catisfaction." The treat looked like a nipple that the cat is supposed to lick. As you can see in the picture above, it sits on a pedestal with an adhesive back so it sticks to the floor. It has a little plastic top to "help keep the treat fresh when not in use." The idea is to allow the cat to enjoy the treat in "their natural grazing way."

Cindy set the treat near our cats' food bowls so they could do their part. After peering skeptically from a good distance, the cats gave the nipple wide bearth, clearly avoiding it for the entire 3 days they were commissoned to test the product. I don't know what the reward was for this survey, but in my opinon our laughter alone was worth the effort.

Just for the Record

In case you can't read this sign easily--it says that gas is sold at this station for $1.97 a gallon! An important detail is that date on the picture is 11/19/2008. A year ago, I made 3 financial goals. One of them was that I would only buy gas at the cheapest station in town. It's kept me on the lookout for the low price. Admittedly, however, it was Cindy who spotted this deal!
I'm headed there this morning.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Winterizing

Is the opposite of spring cleaning called winterizing?

It seems to me that there is as much to do to prepare for winter as there is to clean up in the spring. We have spent the past couple of days scurrying like a couple of squirrels in the process of gathering and storing acorns.

First, there was the trip to Costco which was truly in the vein of acorn storage. We packed in supplies for a year: laundry detergent, different sized baggies, dishwashing detergent, computer paper, toilet paper, BOUNCE, cat food, canned goods, huge jars of mayonnaise and pasta sauce and peanut butter, cans of nuts and bags of pasta, packages of meat for the freezer, and my favorite purchase was a big slow cooking crock pot to make soups and stews--the best kind of winter food. The Costco trip required major re-organization of cupboards, pantry, refrigerator. and freezer after we unloaded the truck, and Cindy jumped right into that task with relish!

Next, was the trade out of summer clothes for winter clothes. I don't know where I picked up this practice. Maybe it comes from having Chicago relatives, but I've long been in the habit of seasonal clothes storage. Cindy and I use this time to cull through clothes and clear away things that we didn't/won't wear and/or don't fit anymore--in my case because they're too tight and in hers because they are too big (SIGH). Getting the boxes down off the closet shelves late in the fall is like an early Christmas because there are always articles of clothing we forgot about, so it's like getting new clothes. Our closets are now neatly arranged and there are two big boxes in the front room awaiting transport to the thrift store.

Finally, there is the outdoor winterizing. We did a little bit of that work prior to the first big rain. We got all of the yard tools and summer furniture put away back then. But that rain caught us up short on gutter cleaning for the downpour created overflows that made their way through a couple of windows. We also have to maintain a gutter that runs the length of our yard along the road, down which significant run-off from the mobile home park flows. Each year, it has to be cleared of overgrown vinca and several inches of dirt and decaying leaves. We have 4 big oaks on the side of the house that had all kinds of dead wood as well as several large branches over the house that needed cutting back. We started on the work on Saturday and gave up exhausted after two hours to call Argos to the rescue. They sent Mike yesterday, and he did a beautiful job of finishing off the work. The yard is all spiffy now.

As much as I love wood heat, I'm relieved that we don't have to pile in wood stores on top of this other work--a chore currently at the top of the list for the rest of my family all of whom have wood stoves. We've done plenty of work already, and there is still leaf fall to blow and rake next month. I must admit, however, that the satisfaction of getting everything done is a great feeling.

Happy winterizing!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Relative-ly

My visit with Aunt Jean gave me a lot to think about. One thing we discussed was the sad passing of two of her daughters, Cathy and Ruthie, as well as the deaths of Uncle Robert and my grandmother. Two of these people died of cancer and two of heart-related ailments. Hearing the cause of their deaths made me think about others who have passed. My Aunt Grace died of a heart attack; my grandfather died of cancer, and my mother had a small cancerous tumor removed from her lung about a year before she died of congestive heart and kidney failure.

I thought a lot about the importance of considering the tales of relatives passing for the valuable information each story holds. What was most interesting about my aunt's stories was the hindsight she has regarding each illness and death. She was able to describe many indicators that something was wrong long before there was a diagnosis. Knowing earlier might have changed the outcome in some cases. For instance, my cousin Cathy's weight problem and reluctance to exercise were likely factors in her death. And my cousin Ruthie had an aversion to doctor's probably as a result of injuries suffered in a serious car accident. This aversion prevented her from getting to the doctor promptly for an assessment of some troubling symptoms. By the time she was evaluated, she had Stage 4 lymphoma.

At the same time, there were undeniable problems in the medical world and/or with insurance coverage. Cathy was given samples of medication for high blood pressure that seemed to make quite a difference in how she felt, but when she returned for a prescription for these meds, her insurance would not cover that particular medication and insisted she take another one that did not seem to work as well. At least Cathy did not feel as well taking what was in all probability an inferior medication. Ruthie was referred from one doctor to another and had long waits before appointments could be scheduled which was certainly a factor in her delayed diagnosis.

These are distressing stories and have made me think very carefully about what I'm doing and NOT doing with regard to my health. For one thing, I let my daily walks slide this fall when I started working part-time at the college. With my high cholesterol and my mother's and grandmother's histories of atherosclerosis, I can't let daily aerobic exercise slide for a minute. Walking is also a huge preventative for osteoporosis. Since the bone scan I had two years post menopause indicated that I had already lost bone mass, it's imperative that I walk regularly. I also realized that I am 10 months overdue for a mammogram. My aunt had another sad story about losing her sister this year to breast cancer, a loss that could have been prevented had her sister had a mammogram.

My response was quick: I've walked every day since returning from Arizona and I made an appointment for a mammogram. Though my diet is relatively good, it too had slipped and I got back on track with more greens and less coffee.

I don't expect to live forever, but I can behave responsibly with regard to my health and not ignore important indicators of the care I need to take. Thanks Aunt Jean for ALL of your great stories but especially for sharing your hindsight regarding the loss of your dear ones.

Friday, November 14, 2008

HAPPY!

I'm thoroughly enjoying all the wonderful email messages about Obama's victory that include UTube videos, political cartoons, prayers, and pictures. This one just tickled me to pink.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Revisiting Harry Potter

While I was traveling with Anna Mae last week, we listened to the Sorcerer's Stone on CDs in the car. I first read this book not long after it came out. It was required reading in a class in my MFA program. I really enjoyed the book then, but I think I listened differently this time, in part because of my granddaughter's presence (I was trying to hear the story from her perspective) and partly because my writer's mind is differently attuned to reading these days (I pay more attention to style, technique, and structure).

Apparently one criticism of JK Rowlings and Harry Potter is that Harry often disobeys rules and the directions of elders in an attempt to do something he believes is right. Critics believe this gives the wrong message to kids. That was one of the things my daughter asked us to look for in the book. It is of course a major feature of the character, Harry Potter, though I hadn't realized it before. This trait is often found in heroic characters, so the question becomes does it give the wrong message? I'm not sure I can answer that.

However, I did notice something from an adult perspective. I was amazed at how adroitly Rowlings depicts adult's blowing it in exactly the way that we all do, operating as we do from the assumption that we know best when in some cases the thinking of a child is much more clear sighted and fresh and in fact allows him/her to see wrong doing when we are missing it. What I learned is that I should listen more fully to children and not always assume I know best.

Anna Mae was making her own observations, paying more attention to how the kids were interacting with one another, be it supporting a friend or being mean in some way. Her criticism was mostly of Malfoy and his buddies who were the meanies, and she was aware of how the friends, Harry, Ron, Hermionie and Nelville, were a little odd, not fitting in with what would be regarded as acceptable and usual among the other kids.

So not surprisingly, we both listened to the book with our own filters on: she looking at the kids behavior and I at the adults.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On the Road . . . Continued

When last I wrote, Anna Mae and I had reached Ridgecrest on our way to Yuma, Arizona and Aunt Jean's. We drove most of Thursday to get to Yuma though that was not the plan. We thought we had 5 hours of driving ahead of us when we left Ridgecrest, but a number of factors made the trip take about 9 hours.

We were tootling along, making great time across the high desert, enjoying the Joshua trees, the stark mountains, and Harry Potter when I noticed a billboard for California Pizza Kitchen in Palm Springs. "Let's take a little side trip and go to lunch in Palm Springs," I said. Anna Mae was game, and it was only 10 miles out of the way (or so we thought).

We had a fantastic lunch sitting on the outdoor patio. We took pictures of each other successfully and not so successfully rolling pasta on forks with the help of big spoons per the "correct" way. We laughed at pigeons and people-watched. When we left, we asked for directions for getting to Highway 10 or Indyo.

The directions (as well as the question) were faulty, and we headed out on Highway 111 surface streets that took us through miles and miles and miles of desert towns, a little like El Camino Real on the Peninsula up North. The sights were great: gorgeous palm trees and bougainvillea, and Anna Mae was making notes in her journal and snapping pictures left and right. I would roll down the back window (electrically) so she could get better shots, but then the back window would not go up. We pulled into a gas station to see if something was caught. We found a little rock which we spent quite a while removing, but still the window would not go up. We also asked again for directions and this time we were sent Northeast toward Highway 10.

About this time, we decided to call Aunt Jean, and it was a good thing because she gave us the best directions yet. We turned around and were soon on the right track with Anna Mae in a sweatshrit and blanket to ward off the wind blowing in through the back window. We traveled through date farmland where we nearly hit a huge black stallion galloping suddenly and wildly across the road with a rider who managed to turn him just in time.

It was after dark when we got to Arizona, so we didn't get the traditional picture at the boarder crossing sign, but we did have a lovely dinner with Aunt Jean at the Olive Garden in the new Mall in Yuma, followed by a brief night time tour of town.

Next day, Anna Mae prepared pancakes for Aunt Jean and me. Then after tons of talk that kept zipping from one direction to another as Aunt Jean and I tried to fill each other in on years of family stories, we headed out to sightsee. We saw the Wetlands Park along the Colorado River and a monument to the Mormon Battalion (the same one that has a monument near Tuttletown and left it's name on Mormon Creek). Then we drove out into the farmlands where Aunt Jean grew up. Then we visited an Indian Casino run by the Quechan tribe that is actually two buildings with a sidewalk between them. One part of the casino is in Arizona and the other part is in California. You can play poker in the California casino but not in the Arizona one. Then we went to Fort Yuma and a little Mission Church followed by lots of time at the Yuma Territorial Prison. Somewhere in there we ate Mexican food for lunch.

Evening brought more story telling, with Anna Mae patiently exploring the backyard, reading, doing a little email, and listening to Aunt Jean and I visit. We had dinner at Home Town Buffet where my tiny granddaughter filled her plate 3 times. Where did all that food go???

On Saturday, we packed the car to head back to California. We spent a lot of time taping a thin sheet of Styrofoam to block the wind from coming through the gaping window. (I have an appointment to get the window repaired in Modesto next week.) However, our handiwork blew out in 3 blocks, and Anna Mae once again donned her sweatshirt. She took lots of pictures from her seat in the back of the VW of the sand dunes and gazillions of dirt bikes and ATVs as we crossed the desert.

Just north of San Diego, we met my cousin Terry at a shopping mall in Carlsbad. The mall was crowded with Saturday shoppers, and we had fun trying to guess which one was Terry since I hadn't seen her since 1981. Of course, when she walked up, we recognized her immediately. We sat in Starbucks and visited for an hour. Anna Mae again was the picture of patience while two older women gabbed.

Next was San Juan Capistrano where everything went smooth as silk. We drove off the freeway and found our motel immediately. We dressed for Mass and found the Basilica just blocks from the motel. The church was beautiful. Anna Mae chose a seat in the front row of the huge church where the 6pm vigil Mass that we attended was offered in Spanish. Attending the Spanish Mass was also Mae's idea, and I'm so glad she made this choice. The church was full. Crying babies and the voices of small children served as a back drop to the beauty of Mass being offered in a foreign language before a spectacularly ornate altar.

Next stop was Marie Calendar's, one block from the hotel. We took our pie to go after eating soup and salad for dinner and went back to the motel to soak in the hot tub before eating it. I could hardly read I was so sleepy, but Anna Mae kept reading long after I gave up and closed my eyes so engrossed was she in Harriet the Spy.

Soon I'll wake her to set out on the last leg of our journey--the road home.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On the Road

Anna Mae and I are traveling to Yuma, Arizona to see my Aunt Jean. We left Soulsbyville at 12:55pm yesterday and spent the day driving, driving, driving. We only stopped 3 times to stretch (my sciatic nerve dictating the need).

We alternated between chatting about all kinds of things and listenting to the first Harry Potter book. This was Mae's first time with Harry Potter. We got permission from her mom who also read Anna Mae a review of the book by a high school Catholic homeschooler. After each CD, we discussed our responses to the book: what was going on and JK Rowlings writing style and how the book related to the review. I felt like I was in a college class discussing literature.

We had planned to go over Sonora Pass, but then it snowed so we had to go down Highway 99. The problem was I had a motel reservation in Ridgecrest on 395 for the first night, so we had to cut over at Bakersfield and travel 58 over the Tehachipi Mountains with every big rig in California. One of our stops was in Tehachipi where, as luck would have it, we took an off-ramp that led directly to the library. How's that for a coincidence: two avid readers ending up at a library for a rest stop?

Then we got back in the car and started our search for Highway 14 which was where we were going to cut across to 395. We found it, but it was the one place where the Map Quest instructions went a little awry. Anna Mae was reading the directions in the back seat where she has to sit because of her small stature and the VW airbags, but there is no light back there since the VW convertible has no ceiling light. She managed to read them fine with the visor light turned on, but the road they wanted us to go on was nowhere to be found. Finally, I just decided to head north as I knew this was the spot where we had to back track and it was the right decision. Highway 14 is, however, dark and desolate and there was almost no traffic. I was relieved when we were finally able to see the lights of the Ridgcrest in the distant valley below.

It was still awhile before we got to Ridgecrest, but we finally rolled into our hotel about 7:30. After we got settled, we went to dinner at an Italian Restaurant and had pasta. When we came back to the motel, we went to the hottub. The warm bubbling water felt great on my back and Mae had this minor shoulder injury that was also soothed by the soak.

Back in the room, I read while Mae wrote email to her family, and then we both read for awhile before going to sleep. We are getting ready to check out the continental breakfast that comes with our room and then we'll be off again! We should reach Yuma late today.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

History

My grandsons, Leon and Aliou, watch as Barak Obama is declared President-elect of the United States of America.

All Saints Day

Late last winter, Cindy and I planted a cedar tree in the meadow in Ashley's memory. Sadly the tree did not make it through the long hot California summer. Cindy tried valiantly to save it by creating a shade canopy and covering the trunk with protective wrapping, but the truth of the matter is that we simply didn't start watering it soon enough when the weather turned warm. I take responsibility for that because I had cultivated other trees in the meadow and knew they needed weekly watering for the first year until they got well-established.

We decided that All Souls Day would be a good day to plant a second tree since this is the designated day on the Christian calendar to devote attention to the dead. We bought another tree, a California Gold, Thuja Plicata -- the same species as the previous one. We chose this tree because the new growth is a yellow-gold that resembles Ashley's hair and because cedars are considered sacred in many traditions serving as a bridge between life and death. We chose a smaller tree this time, hoping a younger tree would be more amenable to getting established in the unforgiving heat at our elevation.














Cindy's mom and dad were here for a visit, so we all worked together to plant the tree. The day was cloudy following the first rain of the season. Getting the tree in the ground at the start of the rainy season would also bode well, we thought, for a successful transplanting.

Once the tree was in the ground, we joined hands and said a prayer for our Ashley and for the little tree planted in her honor. All Souls Day is surely an auspicious day for the tree to begin life in the meadow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

NaNoWriMo--Year 2

Around the world, National Novel Writing Month begins on November 1. NaNoWriMo, as it is called for short, is 10 years old, and this is my second year in joining the madness.

The goal is to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel. Chris Baty, who is founder of the event, cautions writers not to have a goal of writing beautiful prose. The idea is simply to give yourself free rein to get words on the page--1667 words a day to be exact IF you want to make the 50,000 word mark by November 30.

It's a blast! It's insanity! It's an awesome commitment that feels wonderful in part because of the Internet which maintains a connection between the 125,000 writers who take part in this challenge. The NaNoWriMo web site has forums, radio programs, interviews, and pep talks. Each writer has his/her own page where counters tabulate the number of words accumulated each day.

Last year I "won" NaNoWriMo which means I wrote the 50,000 words. I wrote the worst mystery novel ever, but I learned a lot about the genre and about myself as a writer. Two local friends joined me in the event, Arlyn, who had been in my writing group for years, and Annie, who had never written a word in a creative genre before. We started meeting once a week at Starbucks to clack away together on our laptops for a couple of hours. Such events are called Write-Ins by participants. That's where Charlene found us. A 3-year WriMo veteran, she introduced herself and soon joined our weekly contingency. On the last day of the month, we had a party to celebrate our awesome accomplishment with ice cream cake and balloons.

This year, we had a kick off Write-In at Starbucks. Charlene had bumped into 2 more writers, Sherie and Phil, who were eagerly awaiting the November event, so we were 6 strong on Saturday (7 if you count Miles who is Charlene's consultant and readily provides answers to obscure questions that any of us ask while in the throes of creativity). Annie didn't join this year, but Shelley, another writing group friend, took her place. Here we are in the 2nd hour of Saturday's Write-in. We all made the requisite 1667 words and most of us surpassed that number on the first day out. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I Love Fridays

Friday is my favorite day of the week. I've survived the overwhelming fatigue I always feel by the end of a Thursday. I wake refreshed and ready for the fluidity of the day which often starts with blogging after which I head to yoga class. Brother John is usually at Friday yoga class, and I get to marvel at the agility of his 59-year-old body.
















The rest of the day unfolds differently each week. For instance, on this past Friday, I had Cindy's truck loaded with two bicycles for grandson Cody who builds bikes from a mish-mash of old bike parts. When I saw a couple of bikes at Fred's and Bonnie's yard sale, I was pretty sure Cody would be interested and he was. I was impressed by his knowledge of these older bikes. He explained the differences in the gear configurations on each bike and recognized one of the bikes as the kind his mom had owned as a girl.
















The afternoon was spent with 16 Waldorf kids age 3-6 years old. Andrea volunteered to do childcare while their moms set up the Fall Festival at the school. Since I live close by she asked if she might bring the kids here where it would be easy for the mom's to collect them after the work was done. In addition to Andrea, three other moms stayed to help. I arranged to open the clubhouse in the park and the kids played on the play structure, rode bikes and trikes that Andrea brought, and played inside with building blocks, memory games, and child-size cooking paraphernalia. They also ate sliced apples with almond butter, pretzels, and popcorn. The kids were fantastic about sharing and getting along. The whole thing was so successful that Andrea announced that she thought this might be the "First Annual Pre-Fall Festival Childcare at Rawhide MobileHomepark."
















Cindy got home from work shortly after the last child was picked up and we started getting ready for our evening event, the annual Fall-o-Weenie Party hosted by our friends Morgan and Lynn. It's always fun to see the crazy goulish decorations Morgan has on display, and of course it's a treat to visit with friends whose company we don't have enough opportunites to enjoy. I fell into bed after this long luscious Friday and slept wonderfully against the backdrop of wind and rain.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Prayer for Goodwill

It's truly scary when my friend's Obama sign is ripped from her yard night after night. Why? It's just a sign speaking one household's opinion. Isn't that what the US and freedom of speech allows and respects?

This morning so many of the blogs I read are discussing fear mongering and viciousness with regard to the election. One blog writer told about her friend who is volunteering in the Obama campaign in Littleton, Colorado. Here is part of a letter this volunteer Laurie Adams wrote to friends:

I am writing this to you now because, in the midst of one of the most vicious political weeks I’ve experienced, I hope everyone can still feel a little of what this election should be about, and is about, among the people who are working for and voting for an Obama/Biden ticket. Out here in highly Republican Jefferson County, it is easy for me to feel overwhelmed at this point by the cynicism and negativity, the racism, and lies that are informing a lot of people’s decisions.
People’s yard signs get stolen each night, a woman told me to “go away . . . he is an evil, evil man.” College educated people admit, “but what if he really does have ties to Al Qaida?” I don’t know what it feels like other places, but I’m afraid that things are getting overwhelmingly bitter and mean (and potentially dangerous). And so I am also asking you to take some time each day for the next 6 days to offer a prayer or some silent intention, a chant, a song, or whatever you have, for this country, for this world, and for everyone to stay SANE, to stay calm, to have open hearts and courage. I want to feel the power of caring love is stronger out there than the power of fear and self-interest. Please.

Won't you please join me in a prayer of goodwill for our country and for the supreme good intentions of both candidates?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Birthday Pictures

Who is this man with such a gorgeous family? Could he be my son?


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, My Son


Raleigh, who is 31 today, and his beautiful wife Jenny!

HOORAY! HOORAY! TODAY'S YOUR BIRTHDAY!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

WHEW! What a Week

Life got over full last week, so none of the blog posts that I wrote in my head ever got posted. Fortunately my granddaugthers were busy blogging and chronicled reports about some of my activities.

Anna Mae wrote about homeschool for the pre-schoolers at her house on her blog Sunrise. We were working on the letter "C" as in "cupcakes for cousins."

Taylor wrote about the American history project we've been working on at her house. You can see her creativity in the sample she posted on her blog, June Special.

Also, Anna Mae discovered gmail chat last week, and so she and I did a lot of instant messaging in the evening. We are planning our trip to Arizona next week to see my Aunt Jean, and we were discussing our route which she was checking out on Google Earth and our hotels which I was reserving on Expedia.

My work at the college has gotten easier but also more intense. I have 25 students in various stages of learning disabilities assessment, and so I work solid from the minute I get to the college until I leave each Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday. I have a goal to complete all of these assessments before my contract ends in December. It's ambitious but possible, and it sure would help DSPS get back on their feet if I could accomplish this.

Cindy is equally busy, and I tried to help her a little last week. She is doing a huge job at a bunch of pharmacies, setting up gift card displays, so on Wednesday after work at the college, I went to Angels Camp to help with one of those. I had helped the week before, so she didn't have to train me, making the work pretty efficient. I also helped her work on a gift for her nephew's 18th birthday. She puts together photo albums for her nieces and nephews for this landmark birthday. It's a big project but well worth it watching the kids get their albums and enjoy looking at their life thus far in pictures. We celebrated nephew Rex this weekend with a trip to the casino Saturday night followed by a birthday gathering with cake on Sunday. (Cindy was a winner at the Casino which made us both happy.)

Wednesday was also my writing group day. We had a great meeting as always. Some of us are preparing to do NaNoWriMo in November. This will be my second year, and I'm still not sure which of two "books" I want to work on. Guess I'll just see what comes out of my fingers on Saturday at our kick-off Write In.

Thursdays I leave the college early to go get Huck and Nell at Waldorf. I got there a half hour early last week, so I could visit with my friend Trish who has 8th grade twins at the school. We rarely get to visit but realized this was one way to fit in a quick chat. We sat under a tree and talked as fast as we could.

I managed to fit in one yoga class on Friday which was without a doubt a highlight in my week. The Yoga Loft is my stress saver and I adore my teacher, Cherie. My body is so grateful for her guidance.

Friday was also "Meet the Author" at the College. I got all worried that no one would show up but the turn-out was wonderful--about 33 people. I was nervous at the start and did a lot of stuttering, but it smoothed out as I got warmed up and the crowd asked great questions following the reading. The Democrat had a nice article in the Weekender, and low and behold my picture was in Monday's paper too as Teresa Chebuhar, the editor, came to the event and took photographs for the section called Weekend in Pictures. Nice publicity all around.

And I feel full of hope that Barak Obama will be our next President. I am not watching the news as I dislike all the negative stuff, but I've discovered some heartwarming and encouraging pieces in my blog reading. Two of them gave me a rush of satisfaction along with the desire to jump and dance! YES! Here they are if you want to feel good:

First, Donna Brazile is simply inspiring in I'm not going to the back of the bus!

Second, watch this lovely video answering the question Who is Barak Obama? I watched it 3 times, grinning, grinning, grinning. I see this man as MY President!

This week is as full as last, but I'm going to try to post small bits more frequently. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Belated Blog Action Day

I have never been politically active. My mom and dad always kept their voting decisions confidential and I generally follow that practice too. I don't display bumper stickers or wear political pins. However, I always vote, having NEVER missed an election since I turned 21(even the tiny ones with only one local issue on the ballot).

When my candidate or issue loses, my practice is to find small ways to work at a grassroots level to facilitate change or support conscientious and ethical behavior. For instance, I recycle as best I can; I try to choose "green" action whenever I can. I never let the water run while I'm doing dishes or brushing my teeth. With regard to controversial issues like abortion, I look for ways to facilitate wise decision making, and I donate to my daughter-in-law's annual walk for local pregnancy agency. Economically, I've turned a big corner and work consistently to live within my means and eliminate previous credit debt. I know I could be doing much more in many ways, but I try to not beat myself up for only making small steps in the direction of living and acting responsibly.

And sometimes I accidentally do something that feels very good. Last week, I got an email message from Code Pink about a single mom, Jocelyn Voltaire, in New York state who lost her eldest son in Iraq and who was also unable to keep up with skyrocketing mortgage payments so she about to lose her home.

This amazing video clip by American News Project describes Jocelyn's plight.

Her story was so compelling that the chance to help seemed like a no brainer. Plus I was inspired by my daughter-in-law Jenny's blog post Coats, Coats, and more Coats.

I donated $25 immediately to help Jocelyn Voltaire.

Apparently, in less than 2 hours with the assistance of the Internet, Code Pink raised enough money to save Jocelyn's home. It felt so exciting to be a tiny piece of a bold statement.
While our government has taken billions of our tax dollars to bail out the wealthy, a bunch of Americans came together to bail out a desperate mother.

Now, I'm looking for other small ways to help. And so, of course, I was immediately offered a suggestion in the form of Blog Action day which was a day dedicated to talking about poverty on blogs across the world. I actually missed the day, for it happened on Oct 15, but I know it's not too late to address the topic. In fact with the economy flopping all around me, any day is a good day to consider ways to do something.

Check out this list of 88 Ways to Do Something About Poverty Right Now. I'm going to choose a few to do right away! Won't you join me?


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cold . . . Tired

Die hard theater-goers at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival must be willing to deal with weather if they are to watch productions in the outdoor Elizabethan theater. In the summer that might mean baking heat, but in October it is sure to mean cold and possibly wind, rain, or sleet. Rain and cold were the offerings on the night we saw "Comedy of Errors." In this picture, I am sitting bundled next to an unknown fellow who had fortified himself against the elements. The actors on the stage never missed a beat in the rain, which at one point was torrential, and the audience clapped and hollered in deep appreciation of their commitment to the "show must go on!!" The next two nights there was no rain though it was bitterly cold for "Othello" and "Our Town" (I know that's not Shakespeare, but OSF produces plays other than Shakespeare).

Did I mention that I traveled with a group of students who were for the most part in their early 20s? Well they have terrific stamina and stay up very late. On the last night, we came home and deconstructed the production of "Our Town" while eating homemade ginger caked slathered with chocolate pudding, compliments of Brandon, who is a chef at the City Hotel. Sometime during the course of the evening I had a mentioned a game we played when I was kid: SARDINES.

It's the reverse of hide-and-go-seek and it's played in the dark. One person hides and all the rest of the players hunt for this person. When they find him/her, they quietly snuggle up against the person until everyone has located the hider and all are smashed together in whatever space the person has hidden. At 1am when six of us headed for bed, the others started a game of SARDINES. Needless to say there was little sleep for us amidst the hilarity the engulfed our cottage as folks fell down the spiral staircase, tripped over ottomons, and knocked pictures off the wall. Nothing got broken and by 3am there were, mercifully, sleeping bodies every where.

But wait! We had to be out of the cottage by 9:30, packed to go home, and ready for a two-hour backstage tour. After that we had to drive 8 hours to get back to the college. Everyone was giddy with fatigue. On the drive home, we played "I spy" and told jokes on the walkie-talkies that connected our two vans as we sailed down Highway 5. I was so proud to be the one who solved a walkie-talkie mystery story from clues bandied back and forth between the vans!

Fatigue, however, was overwhelming. At one rest stop, Kevin, the driver of one of the vans, stumbled from the driver's seat onto a divider and promptly fell asleep in the middle of the day lilies while the rest of us used the restrooms and bought sustenance from various nearby food places.

Did I have fun. In a word: YES!! (And I've been sleeping for 2 days)