Saturday, August 30, 2008

Huck Turns 5

Family and friends gathered at Brentwood Lake to celebrate Huck's 5th birthday. The kids played in the water and in the sand before having pizza and then playing some more. While the big kids had water fights and swam to rafts, the little kids took turns on the play structure and were pushed on the swings.

Then it was time for the pinata, followed by cake and gifts. You can see some of the fun in the slide show:

We left the lake when there was barely enough light to pack up, sandy and sated with birthday good cheer.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


In 1997, my friend Christine and I decided to form a writers' group of two. We were both fledgling writers who recognized our mutual need for support and encouragement. We met every other week at the Pie Tin, often at 7am but sometimes a little later in the morning. We would read each other's work, do free-writes together, share books, or try out writing prompts we'd found. We enrolled in a correspondence course in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa and read each other's pieces before sending them off.

After several years of meeting, Christine was writing a novel and I'd enrolled in an MFA program. We decided that we needed to expand our network, and we each invited another writer and so become a group of 4. When Arlyn and Joan joined us, we got more focused and formalized a very effective critique group protocol. Christine's commitment to her book-length project provided the motivation that I needed to step away from writing personal essays and start my own book.

To gain momentum on our book projects, Christine and I went away for 7 days in 2002 and stayed in a cabin at a rustic resort in Philo, CA. For the entire 7 days, we invoked a no-talking rule, except for during an evening check-in and our mid-day walk. We wanted to get lots of work done and we did! Christine finished the first draft of her novel that week and I transcribed about 10 audio-tapes for my book and completed an outline for the rest of my project.

Sometime after this, Christine moved to San Francisco and Joan had health issues that forced her to drop out of our group. Arlyn and I invited two more writing friends to the group, and I forged ahead on my book. Christine and I stayed in contact, talking occasionally on the phone or meeting for tea when she was in town. She had put her novel aside after taking a playwriting class and had begun work on a script. I was working on the third, then fourth, and finally the fifth revision of my book.

Then this summer a remarkable thing happened. The publication of my book, Between Two Women, coincided with the production of her play "Unforgettable." The weekend of my book launch at the Opera Hall, Christine's play was being produced at Black Bart Players Theater in Murphys. This was not a planned occurrence, though the simultaneity was undoubtedly inevitable.

Our writers' journeys are entwined in time and space. On one marvelous weekend, we shared the fear and elation of making our work public. We smiled with joy and a deep sense of accomplishment. Today we have a tea date to consider the next steps in our writing adventures.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Book Launch

I must admit that a long line of people stretching away from a book signing table can sure make a writer feel like an author!

Beyond that snaking line, Book Launch Day was amazing in so many ways. The gathering of friends and family from near and far was sheer delight: Raymond & Bonnie, my brothers, my son, my mother's best friend, Cindy's parents, sister & nephew, colleagues from the college, friends from the gym, yoga, meditation, the community and my new freelance business. There were friends of Carol's that I'd never met, along with many of the writers I've worked with over the years in various groups. Those who lived too far away to come sent best wishes. My sister sent yellow roses which adorned the podium and friends from Antioch sent cards! My cyber friends sent email cards and posted announcements on their blogs.

The room was elegant, with slants of sunlight pouring through the Opera Hall windows to accent Marianne's astute plan for decorating and arranging the room. The food was phenomenal in no small part because of the women in the kitchen--most notably Cindy's mom and sister-- cutting, chopping, and warming the delicious array. Bartenders Cynthia and Ilana were dressed in ruffled tuxedo shirts with purple adornments. The two kept the wine, beer, and soda flowing with their smiling good cheer. As folks arrived they conscientiously worked on the Trivia Quiz after signing the guest book.

When those assembled gathered for the start of the program, my dear friend Morgan charmed everyone with a warm and witty introduction. I stayed grounded for my part with the exception of a cracking voice and a few tears when I thanked Culley for underwriting the publication of the book. The audience laughed and clapped and played along competitively when we checked the quiz for winners. And wouldn't you know it, Raymond won the grand prize! The applause at the end included calls for Carol which brought her to the stage as everyone stood to acknowledge her bravery and their love!

While people gathered around the chocolate fondue, visited in little clusters, and enjoyed the mingle-music from a playlist compiled by Andrea, I signed books and basked in congratulatory remarks. What an amazing reward after five years spent writing the book and another three trying to get it published. Cindy sat nearby selling books to the folks who then stepped into the signing line. I've never had so many hugs and kisses in one day . . . I'm filled to the brim with sweet regard.

Come back tomorrow for a post about simultaneity . . .


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Blitz

Cindy and I keep a pretty tidy house, but over the past few weeks things have gotten out of control. When we came home from our respective day's work yesterday, what we saw was pretty intolerable: piles of unread newspapers, magazines, and mail; half emptied boxes and bags from my trip to Baker station; Cindy's car-tote with all of her work related paraphernalia; piles of videos she'd acquired from free-cycle; bags and bags of decorations and other stuff for the book launch; all of my DSP&S review materials spread on the dining room table. The counter was strewn with Baker Station notes, my unfinished grade report, a Paperback book swap mailer that needed attention; unfilled prescriptions and empty supplement bottles, change for the change jar, and two broken micro-tape-recorders from work on the Columbia College memory project. In the laundry room, there were piles of campfire smoked blankets and clothing waiting to be washed once the clean laundry on top of the dryer was put away. Our offices each had their own unique messes of un-attended business. The floors were gritty with tracked in debris--smashed oleander blossoms, grass cuttings, sand and dirt from camp boxes, not to mention drips of liquid antibiotic from Cindy's attempts to medicate Ebby in my absence (that's my job and she failed miserably while I was gone).

Without speaking a word, we looked at each other and commenced a BLITZ: a 20-minute work-as-fast-as-you-can session to get things orderly. After 20 minutes when things were looking pretty darn good, she grabbed the vacuum and I the broom and after another 10 minutes we were sitting in a reasonably clean house once again. WHEW!

Monday, August 18, 2008

High Country Bliss

As Cherie and I were packing up after our class at Baker Station, she said to me: "And we get paid for this!" Indeed, it was hard to believe that we were getting paid for a blissful weekend in the high country with 20 enthusiastic and engaged students who spent 2 full days writing furiously and performing powerful yoga asanas.

I could write so much about the wonders of the weekend, but I have to turn my attention to the next two huge remaining projects for August: the Columbia College memory book and my own book launch. So I'm just going to post a couple of pictures that give a tiny taste of the weekend and conclude by saying how grateful I am for the opportunity to teach with Cherie in such an idyllic setting.

The pictures in this order are:
1. Warrior 2 atop a rock formation
2. Mindfulness practice while designing a fruit plate
3. My sleeping spot
4. The view UP from my sleeping spot

No pictures of folks writing as I was working then and too engaged to remember to snap a photo but believe me this group did a lot of writing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baker Station

I'm heading to Baker Station to co-teach a yoga/creative writing workshop entitled "Embodying the Flow." The setting is rustic and refreshing with towering pines and granite backdrop. This is a picture of the dormitory cabin where many of the participants stay. This year, I'm opting to camp out in the woods behind the station.

My co-teacher Cherie leads the yoga part in a little cabin that we call the "Ripening Room," while my venue is outside in what we call the Gathering Circle.

Combining body work with writing is not something we invented, but we think the opportunity to do this work in the incomparable Sierra Nevada is unique. In addition to a yoga hike, one of the exercises is focused on mindfully cutting and eating fruit. Here is a creation from last year. After eating the fruit, the next step is to take the juicy experience to the page and try to make it as marvelous in writing as it was in the doing.

We have great fun-- stretching, journaling, hiking, breathing deeply and eating well. Watch for a full report upon my return.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ebby & Tweety

We have two black cats!

Ebby came with her litter mate Idgy who disappeared when the two were a year old. Idgy was always the more playful and fun kitty while Ebby was aloof and full of claw. She is a pleasant companion if you take her on her own terms: scared and unfriendly. She does, however, always acknowledge a greeting with a purr, and when Cindy comes home in the evening she faithfully meets her in the driveway and drops and rolls for a good scratch. Her only other consistent human contact is her unfathomable desire to sit in Cindy's lap when we watch TV or a video which is infrequent. However, whenever she spots Cindy in the recliner watching TV, she runs as fast as her pudgy frame will allow and leaps into her lap where she purrs so loudly we usually have to turn up the volume on the TV. What I enjoy most about Ebby is her adorable little hip sway when she walks. In the picture, she's the one with squinted eyes and laid back ears.

Tweety is another story altogether. I found her in a give away cage at the feed store-- the last of the litter to find a home. She's a tiny little thing and a superb hunter which is surprising because we think she also has vision problems. The vet can't confirm this, but she does the weirdest things that suggest she might be near-sighted. That doesn't stop her from catching moles, gophers (almost as big as her), field mice, lizards, and all manner of birds. We finally have her trained to keep these prizes outside but not always. She likes to get on the roof every night, but the problem is that she can't remember which side of the house the trellis is on so she can get down. Every night, Cindy has to go out when she hears Tweety madly running back and forth on the roof (her signal that she's ready to come down) and turn on the porch light and call her to the trellis. I didn't believe this assistance was absolutely necessary until one night when Cindy was away and the unending noise of her bounding across the roof forced me out of bed to perform the ritual. One reason she appears to like the roof is bat hunting. She has successfully caught at least one bat mid-air which she brought down for applause.

The cats are an amusing distraction, and if I weren't allergic to cat dander, I'd pet them more and they'd like me a much as they do Cindy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

IRONMAN addendum

While August was completing his half IRONMAN feat, things were happening on the sidelines, not the least of which was my opportunity to accompany him on the one-mile swim. What a gift that early morning swim was! The water was deliciously summer warm and extra clear. The sun sparkled on the green surface, and as I swam I could see pines stretching into blue sky, birds flitting across the water in search of bugs, and Mt. Elizabeth in quiet repose at one end of the lake. WOW! What more could I ask for on an August morning?

Meanwhile on the beach, Papa was contending with a disgruntled Brentwood Lake employee. First she wanted August's clothes out of the bathroom so she could clean it. Papa had set them up for a quick transition from the swim to the bike. Then she wanted my towels and beach bag OFF the sand so she could rake. Then she wanted August's bike IN the bike rack rather then leaning against the fence where it was waiting for the transition. Papa managed her irritation with grace, and August and I were oblivious of her demands until the storytelling AFTER the event.

Right after August reached Middlecamp road at the start of his bike ride, he hooked up with another cyclist, an older man named Brian, who rode with him all the way to Confidence Road and North Tuolumne Road. As they met me at one water stop, the man called out his wonder regarding August's plan. Thanks for your support Brian, where ever you are!

As the event got underway, I tried to call Mama to give her a report, but the Tippett phone was off the hook and I got a busy-signal which was not rectified until the bike ride was almost over. Papa and I kept in contact, however, though my cell-phone coverage was spotty out in the Wards Ferry area. I kept getting dings that I had voice mail, but I couldn't pick them up. So I busied myself with handing August Cliff Bars and cups of fruit and then slowing down as I passed him a bit later so he could throw the cups or wrappers through the window of the truck.

Granddaddy and Cindy met us at about the half-way mark of the bike ride and applauded and cheered and took pictures.

The last segment of the bike ride was up hill for about 4 miles on North Tuolumne Road at noon, so the sun was beating down. I got a little confused about the turn off to Mt. Provo Road and had also given Uncle John faulty directions, so we almost didn't make to the transition point. But John and the girls (Anna Mae & Gianna) saw August toiling up the hill and got the right directions, and I figured out where to turn, and once re-oriented, we were all set up when August arrived with a sun-burned nose onto which I slathered sun screen as he changed to running shoes.

The first part of the run was up hill for 4 miles in the sun. That was the worst part of the day for me. At one point, I pulled ahead of him and found a tiny spot of shade for him to stand in while I poured a bottle of cool water over his head and neck, wetting his shirt. That part of the trek was pretty ugly, but by the time he reached the ditch on South Fork Road, he said, "I'm feeling pretty good, Dearma." And he was looking good too. His posture looked stronger and his gait was stretching out.

The worst part of the day for Mama was after she met August on the other side of the Mt Elizabeth ditch when he began the run down Kuen Mill Road where folks were traveling 40-45 mph and the road is narrow with NO shoulder. Since he was a bit tired by then and less alert, she and the family followed him in the Sprinter for 2 miles, motioning drivers to slow down while back at the lake we were setting up a finish line.

A bunch of extended family managed to get to the Lake just before August arrived (except Granddaddy who got there late because I forgot to call him in time with a progress report). We yelled and cheered and blew birthday noise makers as August came through the gate and burst through the finish ribbon. I have one goofy photo taken of a tree trunk and sand, probably when I was wiping the tears of relief and pride from my eyes.

What a August story this will make in years to come.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


To celebrate his 14th birthday, my grandson August decided that he wanted to do a half ironman. For those who don't know, this triathlon event consists of a 1 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13 mile run-- in that order. While there were doubters among us, anyone who knows August, also knows that when he sets his mind to something there is no stopping him. He checked out books from the library on training and strategy. He put together a 6-week training plan that included practice in all 3 sports plus yoga for strength and flexibility. He bought a road bike and invested money in fixing it up and purchasing cycling paraphernalia. He got on Google Earth and mapped out the routes. A week before the event, he and I drove the bike route to which he made a few minor adjustments. Since I planned on being the shag wagon, I picked out appropriate water and food stops.

On August 8, 2008 at 7:23am, he dove in the water at Brentwood Lake. Eight hours and 29 minutes later he ran through the finish line!


(Click to view larger pictures of the slideshow.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Dopeler Effect

My friend Larry sent me an email message with the 2008 Mensa Word List, posted in the Washington Post. Each year, the Post asks readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. One of the words on the list this year was Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

The Dopeler Effect was certainly at play when I told Anna Mae (and then reported here for all to see) that black skin didn’t really need sun screen. Boy was I taken to task on that one. Though no one actually commented ON the blog, I got plenty of email messages telling me that I had that all wrong. A quick search on Google turned up this site—Brown Skin and Sunscreen-- that reports a bit of research on the matter. There was good news for me at this site. The writer’s conclusion is that “there is very little research on sun protection for dark-skinned people.” Sounds like a research project in the making as almost all of the studies have been performed on fair-skinned people probably because of the racial differences in skin cancer rates. Research is generally first pointed in the direction of problems. Anyway this is a crisp informative article.

The bottom line for me: Don’t speak quite so quickly on matters I know nothing about, especially to children. My son and his family have an unflattering name for this phenomenon. If you know them, you know I was speaking from the BOA when I made my pronouncement about Leon and Aliou not really needing sunscreen. In fact, at least one site reporting on skin care for African Americans recommended daily use of sun screen (while also noting that dark skin can be particularly sensitive to skin care products).

My humbling lesson of the day reported live on twilightme.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Work & Play

The family handyman arrived yesterday, and 6 Tippetts and Huckle came along with him to visit Dearma. While Michael dealt with plumbing and electrical problems, I played with the kids . . . err well, I kept up with the kids. Here are some pictures that show the action.
  1. The kiddie pool on the lawn. (When I was putting sun screen on everyone, Anna Mae asked if black skin needed sun screen as I slathered it on Leon and Aliou. "Not, really," I said, "but they want what everyone else is getting.")
  2. Gianna launching bubbles via the bubble machine while everyone pops them with water guns.
  3. Cindy's Garfield collections is an ever popular feature of a visit to Dearma's.
  4. Michael at work on the plumbing
  5. Huck and I all tuckered out after the Tippetts left (We were actually trying to watch Finding Nemo, but we both fell asleep.)
  6. There are no pictures of Mary Autumn, but she was nevertheless a sweet, quiet presence.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Us and Them

There was a flyer in our mailbox this week warning about mountain lion sightings in our neighborhood. The flyer said to avoid being outside from dusk to dawn and not to grow plants that attract deer. That part was funny, because the deer eat almost everything in my yard. They especially enjoy munching the ornamental plums that are currently all over underneath the three trees that line our yard. I figure that we live here with the wildlife and the best practice is healthy caution but not fear. I have nevertheless moved my walk to later in the morning and we bring the cats in early if we can coerce them to our way of thinking.

That's also why Cindy and I donned gloves and tennis shoes when late yesterday we went out to do some yard work. The vinca along the road really needed some attention. There were spots that weren't getting sufficient water and had turned dry and scrabbly. We poked around with a stick before stepping into the low lying greenery, cautious about disturbing a rattlesnake. Several neighbors had stumbled upon snakes in their yards in the past several months. But we were lucky. We got the work done without coming across anything more troublesome than mosquitoes.

We finished up quickly and Cindy rolled the wheelbarrow of slash up the road and into the driveway while I carried the box of drip-irrigation stuff. I was a little ahead of her when I heard her call my name in a voice unmistakably filled with dread. I was sure she'd spotted a rattlesnake. I turned to see Tweety pestering a tarantula that was zigzagging across the driveway. In unison, Cindy and I both screamed STEVEN!!

Steven is our neighbor and trusty tarantula-removing guy. One look at the neighbor's darkened windows, however, and we knew were on our own this time. I ran to get a broom as Cindy grabbed Tweety to take her to the house. Unfortunately, the broom simply caused the hairy black spider to turn and lift his front legs menacingly in my direction, something he hadn't even bothered to do when Tweety was batting him with her paw. Since tarantulas can jump a pretty good distance, I took a number of steps back. The spider froze in place. "Now what?" I thought. Just then, the light went on in a window at the neighbors and Cindy crossed the street to rouse Steven.

Whew . . . He responded immediately, sauntering across the street saying, "That's the first one of those I've seen this year." In one swift movement, he scooped the creature up and hurled him across the street into the field.

An hour later, I had to go outside to turn off the water that we'd left spraying on the vinca. To get to the spigot, I had to cross the dark, uncultivated side of the yard. As I went out the door, I said, "If I'm not back in 5 minutes, call 911 or at least Steven. There are spiders, snakes and lions out there."