Sister Sally and Brother Chuck

A very chilly 8 degrees frozen solid here today. Unusual for us. But then, even Tucson got a hard freeze.

Arctic air, paying us a visit. Just a little reminder that it can.

Besides, it’s sunny and clear. Already the solar energy is warming the house.

I’m an only child, if you didn’t know. My mom didn’t really plan it that way. In fact, I’m sure she would have loved to have more children. But it took five years of trying for her to get pregnant with me and then my dad died when I was three. She was a widow for four years and, when she remarried, my stepfather didn’t want more children.

(In many ways, he didn’t really want even me, but he loved my mother and we were a package deal. Don’t be sad – things got much better once I was an adult.)

At any rate, as a wildly imaginative kid who often played by herself, I enjoyed the company of many imaginary friends. One was a ghost I called Casper, along with a little girl in a red dress named Jill. I remember seeing them quite clearly. They were vividly present to me. Sometimes I wonder if imaginary friends aren’t some kind of non-physical entities that small children have the non-busyness to talk to. Of course, there was also a magazine rack shaped like a cat that I remember told me stories when we lived at my grandparents after my dad died.

Fine lines, I suppose.

I never felt the lack of siblings, except that people were forever asking me if I minded not having them. People being grown-ups, of course. Other kids never asked me if I minded. In fact, they always said how lucky I was, usually when an older brother was tormenting them or a younger sib was being a pest. As I got older, nothing I saw in my friends’ families made me think I was really missing out on the sibling experience.

Except that people kept on about it. People even sometimes hinted that I might have psychological problems because of it.

So, at one point, I invented a little sister. I couldn’t see her as clearly, but she was short, bouncy, and had blond ringlets. I named her Sally. She was an ideal little sister because she was available to play or gaze at me in adoration, and also conveniently disappeared when I lost interest. She didn’t last very long, but I do think of her, from time to time.

I thought of her a little while back, when my mom’s friend, Jan, was dealing with her aging mother and all those awful decisions about nursing homes, etc. Jan, also an only child, said to my mom over drinks: “I keep wondering – where the hell is Chuck?” When my mom looked blank, Jan explained that Chuck was the brother she never had, the one who should be there to help her make those decisions.

My mom just got a new kitten. This sounds like not a big deal, but it is. Since her last cat died, over a year ago, she’s gone without. For pretty much the first time in her adult life, she hasn’t had a feline companion. So about a month ago, she finally went and got a rescue Main coon kitten.

And named her Sally.

It’s significant, I suppose, because my mom had to take into account that it’s possible Sally will outlive her. She asked me if I’d take her in, if it came to that. I said of course I would, though I don’t like to think about that.

Sally is a bit skittish yet, from her traumatic start, but we played with her all of Thanksgiving. She became the main entertainment. By the end of our four-day visit, she’d let me rub her ears. But David won her heart by teaching her that couch pillows make great tunnels.

So, now I do have a little sister named Sally. One who lives in the immediacy of the moment, who forgets her fears in the spirit of play.

A lovely addition to our little family.

Oops, We Did It Again

We really didn’t plan it this way. There might have been an element of “oh, this was so fun last year, we should do it again.”

My mom, Hope and I went shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. We go to La Encantada in Tucson, which is this lovely outdoor mall that isn’t crowded. We don’t go for Christmas shopping, either, but more to screw around and enjoy ourselves. We had Italian for lunch. And really, Hope did the most shopping, which is a major reversal.

All was well until we hit the Black/White store and found these great tops that were neither black nor white. My mom loved the sweater and went to try it on, while Hope and I waited in the dressing area. We’d previously spotted and admired the tops with the roses, but left it there. Then this young gal came out of a dressing room and looked so fab in that selfsame top, we felt compelled to try them on, too.

It was meant to be, don’t you think?

I got Hope’s for her as a birthday present. She promised to put it away again after Mexican food night, and re-open it on her special day. We’ll see if she does.

This was our Thanksgiving. Nothing profound. Nothing earth-shattering. We did silly things and ate great food, drank a lot of wine. We slept in, sat in the sun, took walks, read.

Perhaps a happy life gives one little to report of interest.

Still, I’m thankful.

Counting Trespasses

No Crazy Gym Lady today!

She’s off to Baton Rouge for Thanksgiving. (Sorry Danica.) But I saved this one from last week.

“Normally I love to cook, but I hate cooking for Thanksgiving because my mother’s kitchen is so…Limited! It’s very frustrating for me.”


This year my mom and stepsister, Hope, are doing all the cooking. I don’t recall if I mentioned that. Despite my NoNaNo words about Thanksgiving being about lots of prep, things worked out so that we can’t get to Tucson until tomorrow midday. For those keeping score at home, that leaves little time for cooking, even though we do eat later in the day.

They’re both so lovely about it, they’ve said not to worry and I can cook at Christmas.

So I’ll waltz in and be fed. Pretty glam.

We’re lucky to have a place to go for this celebration, with people we enjoy so much. I’ve been having a lot of conversations this week with friends dreading their Thanksgiving obligations. The same themes rise over and over again. Families who don’t listen to each other, who are so busy judging who’s living the more correct life that no one can relax and take pleasure in the day. The gathering of family becomes a gauntlet for some, an annual performance review that almost always comes with a stamp of “Did Not Meet Expectations.”

Never mind that those expectations are rarely anything the person agreed to.

People have been saying a lot this week about thankfulness, gratitude, counting blessings. That’s to be expected for this holiday. It’s important to me, to count the ways I am so fortunate, so rich. Perhaps, though, we might spend time thinking about the demands we lay on the people we love, who we expect them to be, how we expect them to behave.

I think often of this quote, which I’m sure I’ve quoted here before, by Jim Morrison:

The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.

He’s talking about those expectations. I imagine we can all think of ways our families have asked us to be someone we’re not. David and I have been trying to turn that around, being diligent not to be the smiling murderers ourselves.

That’s my small bid for change. Sending along my wishes and hopes that you who are dreading the gatherings find joy in some part of them.

If not, you can all come to my mom’s house!

With that, I’ll leave you to at least enjoy the time off. Have a lovely holiday!

Stocking Stuffers

Crazy Gym Lady (to a guy leaving the gym): “You won’t relax. You’re high energy like me. I keep myself busy.”

“Manic,” I mutter under my breath.


I dream sometimes about missing holidays. I know I’ve mentioned this before from time to time.

It’s one of my standard anxiety-dreams, along with the one about taking a final without having been to class all semester. (Why is it always Calculus?? It wasn’t as hard as Organic Chemistry or Biochemistry. Yet somehow I have this lingering idea that there’s one semester of Calculus I still “owe” somebody, somewhere. And of course I never have studied for it…)

The other night, I dreamed that I forgot stocking stuffers. Everyone was at our house; everything was ready. And I realized I had no stocking stuffers for anyone. Off I went to buy some, which segued into the long dream of the strange and endless store which morphs into some kind of haunted Victorian mansion with a boat at the dock I never seem to reach.

You guys have this dream, too, right?

Anyway, the stocking-stuffer deal is pretty much mine in the first place. I suspect the rest of the family would drop it if I let them. Which I won’t. I love the touch of magic in it. Playing Santa. I like that we have to sneak around, trying to avoid each other late on Christmas Eve, or early Christmas morning, to tuck little gifts in the stockings. Generally they’re silly things. We each find three per person. It can be stuff like lottery tickets, candy, mini-screwdrivers, and iTunes gift cards. Sometimes someone gets frisky and does a more expensive small something – jewelry or tech devices.

It’s fun and a challenge to see what people come up with.

But, because they have to be small, require inventiveness and because they’re low-key, people put-off acquiring the stocking-stuffers. Then you have to keep track of them without nametags and keep the unwrapped things hidden. Just a bit more effort.

Every year someone asks “are we doing stuffers this year?” hoping we can drop the tradition. Always I talk them into keeping the magic for just one more year. Let’s not let it slide just yet.

Last night someone said to me on Twitter that her family is thinking about Denny’s for Thanksgiving dinner. I’d been teasing someone else about whether Southerners knew how to to a “real” Thanksgiving and passed her when she assured me they have pumpkin pie, not sweet potato pie. This other gal jumped in to tweak me with her Denny’s deal. I obliged her with crying blasphemy and she said she knew – that’s why they like it.

But is it really being iconoclastic? Breaking tired traditions for the freedom and energy of it can be a terrific thing. Sometimes though, we just don’t feel like putting in the effort, so we dress it up as being rebellious.

I usually find the results are worth the effort. It’s tempting to let things slide, to let competing projects, like crying baby birds demanding to be fed NOW, take priority. But it’s not always the loudest, most obnoxious thing that deserves our attention. It’s up to us to choose.

And, to whomever I owe a semester of Calculus, I swear next time I’ll study.

Frosty Moon

Crazy Gym Lady (as I walk in the door): “Let’s see, she’s got on her red coat and teal headband – she’s all ready for Christmas!”

Me: “Um, but it has nothing to do with Christmas.”

Crazy Gym Lady: “Well, I’m very visual.”


This moon is from Saturday evening. I would have liked to catch it last night, but I foolishly scheduled an FFP board meeting at the same time as moonrise. But, since the moon was technically fully full at 10:27am Sunday morning, the night before is pretty much the same as the night after.

November’s moon is the Frosty Moon. It’s also called the Full Beaver Moon. I am not Tawna Fenske, however, so I decided to stay away from that one.

Saturday wasn’t frosty at all. In fact, it was fully and gorgeously warm. Doesn’t that picture look like a summer sky? We went hiking and sat on the patio for cocktails. But, as if ushered in by the Frosty Moon, cold weather hit last night. The wind roared in, freezing rain pelted the windows. Between the bright, full moon and the turbulent storm, we and the animals woke several times during the night. This morning shows a dusting of our first snow.

Seems appropriate for Thanksgiving week to me.

Which, um, has nothing to do with Christmas.

More than a Feeling

David loves Pandora. You know, it’s internet “radio.” You plug in a song or a favorite band and Pandora creates a “station” for you of similar music. He hooks his laptop up to the stereo and listens for hours that way.

Yesterday, Boston’s More than a Feeling came on and, like music can, it took me back.

No, I’m not old enough for that song to have been a current, hot hit for me. I was ten when the album was released. I don’t know that I had ever heard of Boston or that song – what got me was the cover. Somewhere around the time I was 13 or 14, I found that record at a garage sale for something like 50 cents. Heavy into sci fi at the time – which had the additional bonus of often including quite steamy sex not discernible from the appearance of the books – I bought the record for the spaceships.

When I played it, though, the opening chords of More than a Feeling sucked me right in.

Something about it transported me, gave me that more-than-a-feeling feeling. It’s added layers now that the lyrics say “when I hear that old song play.”

Around that time I joined the Multi-cultural Club. Oh yeah, possibly the geekiest club in school. It was like I couldn’t help myself – I irresistibly drawn to those social groups who doomed your chances of ever being cool if you went to even one meeting.

Of course, I didn’t think that way.

At any rate, we wanted to do a fundraiser and it was to be a fashion show. I don’t know why. I think to showcase the different national costumes or some such. The club sponsor was a young woman. Early 20s, I realize now. And she was of some kind of Latino or Hispanic extraction. Maybe South American? I didn’t really register it then, but she spoke with a heavy accent and was shy. I said we needed music and she said okay, I was in charge of music.

We did this during lunch, to maximize the audience. How this was a fundraiser, I have no idea.

As we gathered together, this gaggle of geeks, with our various outfits to change into, I eyed the busy lunchroom with trepidation.

This was a really bad idea.

Nobody is cruel like high-schoolers trying to each lunch. Even in my hopeful naivete, I knew this. But we were committed. Our club sponsor happily started the record and I readied myself to step out onto the platform catwalk we’d set up around the room.

Those sweet opening chords filled the room, propelled me forward. I became that girl walking away. Not a geek, but a model on the catwalk.

It was spectacular. They even applauded.

More than a feeling, indeed.

It’s the Little Things

This is actually a sunrise picture. Ha! Tricked you, didn’t I?

Yeah, the sun here, it goes up, it goes down. Sometimes with clouds, sometimes without. Always doing something.

I have this friend whose marriage has been going bad for the last several years. It was one of those long-time coming deals. He’d been a drinker until she told him his choices were rehab or divorce. He’d had a couple of affairs in the past, but they’d worked it out and moved on. They’d reached a point where he wasn’t drinking and they were trying to make things work, but the little things still pointed to fundamental cracks in caring for each other.

It’s funny which things really get to people.

She’d already put up with far more than I would have, more than a lot of people would have, when the whole truck thing happened.

He drove her to the next city over – about an hour – to buy the truck when her old one died. She’s the kind of gal who plans ahead, who saves. She knew her vehicle was on its last legs so she’d saved her money and researched dealerships. They went and she bought exactly what she wanted. A rare treat.

Except it ended up costing a bit extra because the husband asked the dealership to add a decal to the rear window of the truck of an eagle and an American flag. Several hundred dollars worth of decal.

Then he wanted to drive the new truck home and have her drive the old one.

She was so mad.

I mean, this is a gal who rarely complains. She likes everyone to get along. I don’t know if she’s ever been in a shouting-mad fight. But she fumed over this. The audacity of him thinking he’d drive her truck home. Oh, and how she hated that decal she had to pay for. It had the added bonus of blocking her sightlines out the rear window.

When things finally got bad enough to blow the top – when she discovered he was involved in yet another affair – they split. He moved out. She kept her truck, of course. We all said, Now you can have that decal removed.

But it turned out to be expensive to take off, too, and she decided it wasn’t worth it. She hoped a rock on the highway might break the window and she could just replace the whole thing with insurance help. When we visited, we discussed sneaking out at night and smashing it with a baseball bat, making it look like vandalism.

Unfortunately, none of us have ever shattered a car window with a baseball bat. Sure, it looks easy in the movies, but… we chickened out.

He’s been gone a couple of years now and her life is better.

The other night, for her birthday, she went out in the evening to meet friends. She emailed me the next morning saying she’d be out for a while, taking her truck in to get fixed. Turns out she backed into her friend’s steel flatbed truck. Didn’t scratch it, but put $2700 worth of hurt to her pickup.

It was raining, she said, and had she ever mentioned that the dammed decal has bubbles in it that catch water. She couldn’t see a thing through the water-filled eagle and flag.

The good news is, she’s having the decal removed. The daughter is overjoyed, too. There are different ways to measure cost.

It’s about time.

Creation, Destruction and Writing

A lot of writer’s blogs give writing advice.

I’m not entirely comfortable with this.

Never mind the whole question of at what point in your career are you really qualified to offer advice on the art and craft of writing. I really couldn’t say. But I notice that people often pass around the same “lessons” on how you should do things. Frequently this kind of teaching is repeating what someone has told them, rather than from experience.

We used to run into this kind of thing with Kung Fu.

I studied and helped teach some of the Taoist arts for about 15 years. The three major internal arts, Tai Chi, Pakua and Hsing-I, are often presented as arts for lifetime practice. Like most arts, it takes time to learn the forms, the movements and the rules. Then you practice. Over time, you make it your own. Like most Taoist approaches, results are measured by your internal barometer. There are no real external markers for success.

Of course, our society isn’t much for long-term anything and we’re all about external markers of success.

Thus the weekend seminars where people learn Tai Chi, and then go teach it. To me this is a lot like passing along writing lessons that aren’t from actual experience.

So, I rarely give writing advice, except to talk about an experience.

I’m breaking that rule today.

I notice a lot of people complain about getting stuck in their manuscripts. Always at the same place. For some it’s starting, for others finishing. A lot of people hate the middle.

This isn’t just about writing a novel, it’s about dealing with all of life.

So, I give you the cycle of the five elements here. If you’re familiar with this sort of thing, you’ll know the principles of the five elements form the foundation for much of the Oriental philosophies. Yeah, I’m lumping India in with the Orient.

Here’s a nice simple chart. There are some abysmally complex ones out there, but we’re keeping this simple. So a basic way to read this is, water grows wood, wood burns into fire, fire reduces to ashy earth, earth transforms into metals and metals reduce back into simple water. Don’t get caught up in the logic – suffice to say their idea of “metal” is a bit different.

Instead, look at it this way.

No, I’m not just randomly substituting. Birth is like water, like the primordial sea that is the beginning. Wood is growth, like the forests, plants and vines covering the world. Maturity is the fire, the balance between growth and decline. It can be nurtured to last a long time or can be a flash and disappear. Earth is the decline, the sinking back of growth into the ground. Death is the endpoint that cycles back into birth.

That’s one of the points. This isn’t a straight line; it’s a circle. Death makes birth possible.

You can match this to the seasons, too: Spring is birth, followed by summer, a moment or forever of midsummer, the decline of autumn and the death of winter – which gives way again to spring.

So, at last, my point:

We can apply this to writing our stories and novels. The analogy should be clear by now. You have your beginning that sets the stage, the growth of the story, the middle, which often contains the turning point, then the the decline, the wrapping up of the story and the ending.

Most of us are better at some points in the cycle than others. In our hearts, we already know which parts of life we struggle with. Some can start things; some can’t end them. Some get stuck between growth and decline with no understanding of what to do with it.

One writer-friend of mine has a hard time with decline, for example. She hates to let things go. Once they’re already declined, she can let them go into death, but she has a tendency to try to keep things from declining. That’s where she gets stuck.

Me? I don’t like killing things off. I like things to last forever. So I practice. I try to embrace the end of things in my life. Kill it off and let it go.

I’m not necessarily good at it.

Ah, but the birth that follows is a glorious thing.

High Drama

Overheard from the Crazy Gym Lady: “That wasn’t sugar. It was honey. Honey isn’t sugar.”

This morning, the Jeep was completely frosted over. A heavy fog had settled in overnight – indeed a wind-driven fog bank was still whipping by overhead, foaming and turbulent like those old paintings of horses boiling out of the surf – and froze onto every surface in a thick coat.

David turned on the defroster, to the second-highest setting, then got out to scrape off the windshield. Once he was out of the car, I turned the defroster up to its highest setting. He won’t do this. Something prevents him from using the “high” setting on anything. Even boiling water in the tea-kettle, he’ll put it on just a notch down from high. Or, much more aggravating, he’ll put it on somewhere around the low side of medium.

Not particularly wanting to wait half an hour for the water to heat, I’ll sneak into the kitchen and turn it up to High.

“Why is the tea kettle on High?” he’ll ask.

“So the water will boil,” I tell him in my soul-of-patience voice.

“It’s already boiling.”

“No – it’s just hot. I want my water hotter than that.”

“You just like to superheat everything,” he tells me.

He tells me that a lot. I like to put the take-out pizza in the oven to keep warm while we eat the initial slices. Yes – “superheating.” I bring pasta water to a rolling boil. I like baths hot, not tepid.

Oh yes, it’s a problem sometimes. I’m impatient, so I nearly always start a skillet or pan on my favorite setting, start the oil, maybe the garlic, and dial down from there. Sometimes I might, um, get distracted, too. I really do try not to let this happen often. The getting distracted part. I’m still quite fond of High.

That’s the intensity in me. The drama. I like things bold and decisive. Dithering drives me up the wall. While David rarely dithers, he’s for the careful approach. He likes to ease into something, take it slowly. Wait and see.

We’re fire and water. It actually works for us.

Though I’m forever turning the dials up, he’s there turning them down. He hesitates to take action, but I’ve already bought the tickets. When I’m running too hot, he tells me to settle down.

Are we attracted opposites? I think it’s more the balance.

Honey isn’t sugar. Except it is.

Suicide Owls

I’m not usually rabid about symmetry. In fact, for a long time I habitually wore two different earrings, just to be asymmetrical. But I like how this photo came out.

Straight road to the mountains and the sky beyond.

The other day I heard a loud crack, the unmistakable sound of a bird hitting one of our windows. I knew immediately the bird had killed itself. I didn’t have to get up from my desk to know. Birds hit our windows sometimes, because they reflect all that sky, but usually they’re just scooting around the house on birdie business and bounce off. In over a year of living here, this is only the second bird to die on our windows. It’s only when they’re not paying attention, when they’re hunting or being hunted, that they screw up.

It’s with dread that I go look to see what bird it had been. Sometimes I’d like to pretend I don’t know, avoid looking altogether. I can’t give the bird its life back and yet I feel I have to at least witness it.

Surprising to me, this time it was a raptor. I thought a little kestrel, but David ID’d it as a pygmy owl. Turns out they sometimes hunt birds during bright daylight. Which also explains why he was easily fooled by our windows. Daylight is still not the strong suit for owls.

Really a neat little guy. I wish I’d seen him alive.

Cycle of life and all that.

And then David found out yesterday that one of his lifelong friends had “died suddenly at his mother’s house,” according to the obituary. He hadn’t seen the friend in quite a while, but it’s a shock. The guy was only 56.

These things make us sad, in diffuse ways. There’s nothing to be done. It’s part of the natural order and yet, it’s also natural to mourn their passing.

Death is the bookend to birth. A dreadful symmetry that draws boundaries around our mortal lives. We might try to buck that, play little games with ourselves and pretend that death is far away or that we’ll be different. But we know it’ll chase us down sooner or later.

We never know when we might be shooting for the sky and snap our necks on plate glass instead.

Because we can’t know, we focus on life. Death moves among us, but we live. In some ways, we owe it to the dead to enjoy our lives. Relish every breath, every joy and sorrow that reminds us that we’re part of the world.

And when we get down the road, there is the sky, and everything beyond.