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


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


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


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


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


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.