Monday, December 14, 2009

The Annual Christmas Letter

Pancho in the sunlight

Christmas 2009

Another year that was somehow both ten seconds long and ten years long. Another year full of life, which means tears, laughter, grief, and joy.

Sheila (mostly) and I decorated for Christmas this afternoon—much less than usual, but still the house looks sweet with little trees here and there, candles, and special ornaments. I am not baking cookies. I did try to make pralines the other day, from my mother’s recipe, but I only saw “1 tablespoon” where “5” were called for, and thus they failed. They may have become a successful vanilla ice cream topping, though. We’ll see. I made a pie with the leftover pecans, and it was the best I’ve ever tasted. We ate the whole thing within a 24 hour period. In this house, it’s called showing restraint.

We brought our sweet brown Boxer’s ashes home from the vet this morning. Pancho died December 7. A month before that, we had noticed that he was having trouble breathing, and it was discovered that he had a big tumor in front of his heart that was putting pressure on his bronchial tubes. We enjoyed all the bittersweet time with him that we were given, but we couldn’t allow him to suffer, and he was getting into serious difficulty the last weekend of his life. He would have been 10 in January. There will never be another like him.

If our hearts are broken, the cats couldn’t care less. They show no signs of missing Pancho. Both of them did act like they’d taken a nut pill the day he died. “Maybe they were celebrating,” our friend Carolyn suggested. Who knows. Anyway, Billy and Miss T should have no doubt that they are loved. If they take us for granted, that’s as it should be.

Since I wrote last year, Tara has undergone treatment for cancer in her lungs and stomach, apparently stemming from the original ovarian cancer diagnosed three years ago. On top of that, she was laid off from the part-time job she did from home, and by that time she was unable to get a teaching position at the University for the summer. Being Tara, she was able to find another job without even a break in paychecks, has taken no or very little sick time from her 4 day/week job, and is due for a major promotion in March. The latter is confidential, which is why I haven’t named her current employer. Don’t tell anyone. Oh, I forgot—it almost seems inconsequential that she was also rear-ended twice this year and had her identity stolen. To say that she’s had a very rough time of it is a ridiculous understatement, and I don’t know the half of it. Her friends, including her Rabbi and his wife, have been incredibly supportive. They love her. Her mothers know why. Her mothers also love them.

As for Sheila and me, what can I say. Same old same old, and I do mean old. We’re so damn old we laugh about it all the time. We joined a gym in April, started doing weightlifting and cardio, and eating much healthier. That lasted until sometime in September. Now we are eating pie and ice cream again and lying around napping and reading books. We have a lot of excuses. We are going to exercise and eat right again. Soon.

There were some very good things about this year. Old friendships deepened. New friends were made. We both feel that our love, our faith, and our hope have been severely tested and survived. No doubt they will be again, and yet again. In the meantime, we are really learning what it means to try to live in the moment. It means much more than we thought. We never realized that doing so could be such a gift.

I always seem to end these Christmas letters with a poem. This year I want to end with some things Sheila said that Pancho taught us: “He made everyone believe they were the only ones he loved in the world, and then he would make the next person feel they were the only one and on and on.  That's his lesson to us, his survivors.  Show your good side, be faithful, wag your tail and never refuse a hug.”

I would add to that: “When you see a patch of sunshine, lie down in it. Heave a big contented sigh. Live right now.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Season’s Greetings, Love and Happy New Year 2010 from Sharon, Sheila, Billy, and Miss T

Monday, November 23, 2009

Culture Shock

up on the housetop I heard the first Christmas carol of the season on Saturday.  (I don’t get out much; I know they started up right after Halloween.)  It was wafting from the outdoor loudspeakers at the shopping center in our neighborhood, and the second I heard it, I was back in Mexico.  The song was Up On the Housetop:

Up on the housetop, reindeer pause
Out jumps good ol' Santa Claus
Down through the chimney with lots of toys
All for the little ones, Christmas joys
Ho, Ho, Ho! Who wouldn't go?
Ho, Ho, Ho! Who wouldn't go?
Up on the housetop, click, click, click
Down through the chimney with good Saint Nick.

Why in the world would this particular carol, which has never been a particular favorite anyway, remind me of Mexico?  I’m going to tell you, of course. 

We lived in a relatively small Mexican village for four years.   Sheila and I decided to volunteer at the village elementary school as teacher’s helpers.  We would not be helping a Mexican teacher, as it turned out, but another foreigner who was allegedly teaching English to second graders.  Our first day was a disaster.  The “teacher” was power-hungry and manic. She made it clear that we would primarily be passing out scissors, glue, and crayons and otherwise we would stand around keeping our mouths shut. 

Her focus on that particular day in December was the Christmas carol Up On The Housetop, which she had on a cassette tape.  Look at the lyrics.  Second graders who know only a few words of English encounter a pun in the first line, and more than likely have never heard of reindeer.   Then ‘ol’” Santa Claus climbs down through the chimney, a structure I’d be willing to bet not one kid had in their home or had ever even seen. 

The children could not have had a clue about this song.   The Teacher insisted that we all snap our fingers on the “click, click click,” and she had a couple of the students running back and forth in front of the room with reindeer antlers on.   The kids got the running back and forth part, and almost all of them lined up to do it.  The Teacher was running a few steps here and there in her own crazy way, looking like a combination of Edith Bunker and Adolf Hitler.  I have always wondered what those children told their parents about that lesson, and what the parents made of it. 

So much for a 10 year old memory.  I had another culture shock just last week, when the final phase of the infamous kitchen update rolled out.  The floor installer, whom I had not encouraged to chat with me, confided that he was always fascinated by other countries and sometimes considered moving somewhere else in view of “the way things are going here.” 

He had recently questioned an Australian he had met about what that country was like.  The Australian said that it was a lot like the United States, except that in Australia they had thrown out a lot of the laws the US had, because they don’t let people get away with things there “like we do here.”  As an example, the floor installer told me gleefully, in Australia they recently “rounded up all the Muslims, gave them public floggings, and deported them.”  “Oh,” he said when he looked at my face, “I guess you don’t agree with that.” 

He was disappointed.  I told him that such a thing reminded me of Japanese prison camps during World War II, and the Holocaust.  That I certainly did not agree with punishing people for the way they looked or the way they worshiped.  That I wondered how people who were born in America, as many Muslims are, could be “deported.”  That almost every group you can think of has its radical members.  I don’t know what all I said.  I know I kept my voice calm, and that I tried to remember that this same man had two rescue cats that he loved.  He took what I said pretty calmly as well, perhaps having heard a dim bell somewhere reminding him that bringing up such an inflammatory subject with a customer is not the wisest policy. 

We love our new floor.  But I will never be able to forget that the man who installed it is just one example of the ignorance, fear, and misunderstanding that inevitably breeds hatred and injustice and sometimes, even terrorism. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not Picasso’s Blue Period


Let’s just pick up where we left off.  Well, no, we’ll stay out of the kitchen.  I mean let’s pick up somewhere in this drafty, creaky crazy-house I call my mind. 

I’ve been laughing, more or less to myself, all morning over an email from my dear friend Toni, who has a live rat in her house.  Toni’s cat Joseph has a poor sense of what makes a gift appropriate.  When I say I’ve been laughing, I hasten to add that my thoughts and prayers are with Toni and Gary as they attempt to divest themselves of the gift that is currently residing in the wall behind the appliances in their kitchen.  However, their situation immediately recalled our own Rat Period of 12 or more years ago, which becomes slightly more humorous as the years roll by.

Southern California has fruit trees.  Rats like fruit.  They gambol along the telephone and power lines strung behind suburban houses, which form an efficient Rat Town Trolley with frequent stops at all the best fruit stands.  The most popular time to take the Trolley is just at dusk, when the rats emerge from their living quarters to gather at the trolley stop.  The whole family shops together.  And where are their living quarters, some of the more curious may be asking?  Well, I can only speak for one (vastly extended) rat family.  In their humble opinion, the attic crawlspace in Sharon & Sheila’s house in Long Beach was perfect.  It was a quick scamper from there to the trolley stop.

At first, we thought we were imagining the scratching noises up in the ceiling, particularly in the master bedroom at the back of the house.  Maybe birds on the roof?  Then one afternoon Sheila was taking a nap in the bedroom, with our dog Rosie stretched out next to her.  Suddenly, She was awake for some reason, and just as suddenly, Rosie was staring up at the ceiling.  She’s eyes followed Rosie’s (never ignore an animal who is looking up or behind you), and in mere seconds a perfect circle of ceiling, about the size of a 50 cent piece, dropped on the bed.  It didn’t take long to call an exterminator company.

They couldn’t find a hole in the roof.  They put poison up in the attic crawlspace.  The result was a sudden death wave of expired rats lounging around the yard in various lifelike poses with their eyes open.  I screamed when I found the first one on my way to cut some lovely roses for the living room.  Sheila scoffed rudely at me and swaggered out to do the pickup while I hovered behind a closed window, watching.  When she hauled up next to the rat, she turned a whiter shade of  pale and headed back to the house at a trot.  I had to do the actual pickup and disposal while she crouched behind the curtains.

Then a dead rodent body appeared inside the house, again in a lifelike, lounging position (what’s with that?).  Actually, it was in our bedroom in the middle of the rug.  I screamed urgently, “Bring a lot of newspapers, the shovel, and the bucket!! Hurry up!!  And for God’s sake, don’t look!”  (I stayed in the bedroom near the door to make sure the thing didn’t rise from the dead.)  For once She didn’t respond as usual (“What?”  “What the hell are you talking about?”) but came quickly.  She peered around the door.  “Oh my God,” she croaked.  “Can we just throw the newspapers on top of it and leave it there?”

Skipping over how we got to be on a first-name, home phone number basis with Matt the exterminator (that killed us:  Matt the Rat Guy), one morning before dawn Sheila alerted a still-sleeping Tara and a still-sleeping me that there was a rat in the house.  Alive and on the move.  Tara got up, wedged her leather jacket under her door and went soundly back to sleep.  By the time I stumbled out into the hall, The Town Crier screamed that Rosie had the rat cornered behind the highboy in the guest room.  I dialed Matt.   

When Matt arrived, Rosie was still guarding the highboy.  I think she was grateful to turn the crisis over to Matt.  Matt shut the door to the guest room, and what seemed to be a fierce scuffle with some unpleasant high-pitched noises ensued.  Sheila and I clutched each other in the hall.  Tara slept on. 

Eventually, Matt emerged from the guestroom, looking somewhat drained and clammy and mumbling something about usually dealing with rats that were already dead.   “You wanna see it?” he asked with shaky pride.  We declined, loudly and in unison. 

Sometime that week, the tiny hole in the roof was found and sealed, the attic was checked for any hold-out tenants, and the Rat Period drew to a welcome close.  It’s funny now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It’s Always Something

We’ve blown up two brand new electric ranges in less than a week.


It’s that time of (life?) (the moon?) (the alignment of the planets?) when stuff goes wrong.  I mentioned our kitchen issues here.  There’s more.  And then there’s more. 

We decided to pursue our original idea of buying a compact range, as opposed to ripping out and replacing perfectly good cabinets and a nice countertop, and making a new big hole in our brick house, etc. to the tune of might-as-well-be-a-million-bucks, just so we could open the oven door like we think normal people do.  We wanted a 24-inch stainless steel self-cleaning oven.  They’re scarce.  And for reasons that are counter-intuitive, they are twice as much as standard-sized ranges.  The most “reasonable” was a GE.  It duly arrived, accompanied by a GE tech and a helper, and our plain old but not very old white range was delivered out of its tight space, barely avoiding a C-section.  The guys hauled it out to the truck.  The new, cute, smaller range was put into place and plugged in.  Burners were turned on.  Good to go so far. 

Oven was turned on.  Ten or 15 seconds passed.  There was a spark and a big bang.  We all shouted.  The new range was dead, and our circuit breaker was tripped.  The technician also had a burned thumb from thinking he’d been shot and laying his hand down on the still-hot smooth cooktop.

Our old range was hauled back in from the truck, plugged in and worked fine, just like always.  We all figured the blowing up thing  must have been a fluke.  They said we’d get another range in less than a week, and we did.

The same crew came back, only this time they didn’t take the old white range all the way out to the truck.  We all joked about it, because we knew the second range wouldn’t blow up.  But it did.  Everyone shouted again but the technician remembered not to put his hand down on the hot cooktop. 

The old white range went into her space with not a little crankiness.  She might have been a little swollen from all the tugging she’d endured.  The technician said he probably wouldn’t order a third range, but just in case, we should have an electrician out to check our circuitry.  Maybe it was a little higher than it should be, throwing off the newer range, he theorized. 

We had an electrician out for just under a hundred dollars.  Our circuitry is fine.  What we had was two defective brand new ranges in a row.  The electrician moved the  old white range forward a little bit (she was really pissed off this time and tried to refuse) so we could open the oven door.  She’s not flush with the cabinetry, but the door opens and she doesn’t look bad.  We’re going to leave it alone now.  Figure we saved at least $700.00. 

Then the air conditioning system went out in the car.  No fan.  The Honda guy said over the phone it was probably a relay switch.  I’m guessing it  probably costs $32.95 and labor is $329.95.   It’s due for a 60,000 mile check anyway.  That’s another $400.00.   We’re taking the car in tomorrow because it’s close to 90 degrees here.

There goes the money we “saved” on the range.  I told Sheila that God had sent us two defective GE ranges because He knew about the air conditioning system.  She said He’s pretty smart.

Then last night we had just gone to bed and all The Pets were tucked in for the night as well.  There was a huge crashing/rumbling noise and the whole house shook.  At first I thought it was Sheila falling into her closet, as last week she fell into the hall closet (she just takes a notion to stagger sometimes and never drinks more than one glass of wine).  We had to have a nice strong neighbor come over and get the sliding closet door back on track.  But it wasn’t Sheila this time, so we chalked it up to an oak tree limb falling on the roof.  They’re “self-pruning” as neighbor Linda says.  It was too dark to investigate.

This morning it was dark when I got up.  Miss T wanted out on the back porch but refused to go outside as usual and seemed to be glaring suspiciously at something out there in the dark.  When daylight came, turned out she had been glaring at an enormous self-pruning oak tree limb which was lying across the yard.  It had ripped the power line completely away from the house and the wires were draped across the grass and walkway.  There was also a piece of vinyl siding lying on the grass.  We had all the siding painted earlier this year.

The power company man came out and fixed the line.  He cheerfully reported that the wood under the place where the siding had come off is rotten.  Just so we know.

It was nice that the electrician mentioned back in the part about checking the circuitry had not yet come back to install the back yard floodlight we talked to him about.  Because it would have come down with the power line.  So that’s a cost savings as well.

Meanwhile, as Gilda Radner once said, “It’s always something.”  And it’s never what you worry about.  So don’t worry.  Be happy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Another Day At The Pool


Honk if you believe in civility.  (I heard a radio DJ pronounce it “civil-ty” today, but at least she believed in it.)  Last night we had a Representative from South Carolina yelling “You lie!” to a sitting President of the United States, who was addressing a joint session of Congress.  The Congressman apologized today for his lack of civility.  The young radio DJ didn’t even know how to pronounce the word.  It’s not used much these days.

This morning I went to “Poolates,” a Pilates-class-in-92-degree-water for mostly old broads, including some really old broads.  There are usually about 15 of us, including almost always a certain woman named Shirley.  We’ve all had a Shirley in a class of some sort, and when you’re as old as I am, you’ve had a Shirley in one class too many.  My friend Mary Gretchen and I keep fantasizing about ways to drown Shirley in the pool.  Shirley would be a manic depressive if she had a depressive stage, but she seems to be stuck in permanent mania.  She must talk louder than anyone else.  She must comment on each and every word out of the instructor’s mouth.  She must constantly require “help.”  She once held the entire class hostage while she told a long, very boring  joke. 

Anyway, Shirley was there.  So was a large woman I hadn’t seen before.  When the instructor threw a beach ball into the water and called out “Toss this around, y’all,” just before the class got going, the strange woman glowered.  “I thought this was a Pilates class,” she barked over the hubbub.  “It is,” replied our genteel little  instructor, “it’s just a fun way to get it started.”  “This is not the kind of atmosphere I would expect to have in a Pilates class,” growled Strange Woman.  Then, as the class started the first exercises, she heaved herself out of the pool.  Now, people come and go from the pool all the time.  But as Strange Woman disappeared around a corner, Shirley bellowed to all of us, “Never mind, y’all.  It’s just bad karma or she got out on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”  Typical Shirley.

The next thing we knew, Strange Woman reappeared from around the corner where we all thought she’d gone for good, holding a pair of goggles in her hand.  “Maybe you could say that a little louder,” she yelled across the pool to Shirley.  “I couldn’t hear you very well.”  For once, Shirley’s mouth was hanging open with no words coming out.  “And then,” continued Strange Woman in a menacing tone, “you could shut your mouth.” 

“Shit, man!” I thought to myself.  “This could be an old lady SmackDown!”  But to my relief or disappointment, nothing further happened.  Strange Woman starting doing laps by herself, with her goggles on, and Shirley recovered sufficiently to huff “Well!  I apologize to everyone!  I seem to have misinterpreted.”  Then she was about 3% quieter for the rest of the class.  In what I have concluded was typical Southern lady fashion, my classmates and the genteel little instructor did not betray by word or eyelash that they had heard or seen a thing, and I followed suit.

Seems to be happening a lot lately.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Hate Cooking Anyway


Sheila and I have bought three houses together, including one in Mexico.  Here’s what happened last time, building on a theme established with the first two houses:

Sheila walks in the front door and proceeds two or three feet.  “I love this house,” she announces to me and the strange realtor who will now refuse to negotiate the price more than ten or fifteen dollars.  Something ineffable has called to her, and she is  happy.   I like her to be happy, so I try to look around with her eyes.  That way, I don’t  really see the 1950’s painted metal cabinets (no, not well preserved) in the miniscule kitchen or the faded,scratched, gouged, outerspace-theme countertop in same kitchen across from the gasping refrigerator. 

It’s six years later.  We have replaced every appliance in the kitchen and laundry room except for the water heater, which was born in 1983 and is no doubt planning a hideous end for us and The Pets.  We have replaced the countertops twice and the cabinets once.  We have spent thousands of dollars on a kitchen that still looks like crap.

A significant number of thousand dollar bills were siphoned off  last summer by a contractor named Alan who spent lots of  time making friends with us and reappearing on numerous occasions to re-measure.  Why was it not obvious to us what is going on when a man measures the same space 15 or 16 times?  The man is trying to make the answer come out differently, you bozo!  There’s a problem here!

But Ms. and Ms. Bozo did not notice.  My father was busy dying last summer and I was still working a million hours a day.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, She had a problem with her heart that was not allowing  for proper blood flow to her brain.  I am not trying to be funny.   To skip all the painful details and cut to what you saw coming, Alan did not measure correctly.  Well, everything fit in snugly without the molding around the doors, which was the way Alan left it so that we could “touch up” the paint later.  When we finally got around to “touching up” (the entire kitchen needed two coats) the paint and putting the door molding back, months later after my father’s death and She’s open heart surgery, we couldn’t open the oven door.  Alan was off by about an inch, and had left us no wiggle room.

This could be a 600 page book with the next chapter titled “Various People Offer Advice” and taking up 500 pages of the book.  What I am trying to say is, don’t butt in here with a brilliant suggestion.  1) Anything that involves Alan is either not possible or involves the discharge of a firearm. 2) We’ve already heard it and it won’t work.  3) It costs anywhere from 10 thousand to a gazillion dollars, and involves ripping out lots of things that are fairly new and we like and we already paid a lot of money for and it still won’t look all that great, even though the oven door will open.

Here’s what happens most of the time when people offer advice on anything in your house, whether they are friendly amateurs or professionals:

1) They ask you who put this in. 

2) They tell you that something isn’t centered, and in everyone else’s kitchen in the entire world, even in mud huts, it is.

3) They hint that although everything appears to be up to code, your house will probably still burn down.  After it explodes.  A variation on this is “It could happen tomorrow or not for 20 years.”

4) They warn you sternly that the simple solution that you yourself have come up with, albeit in your opinion still costly, will keep your house from selling 15 years from now when one of you is dead and the other one is headed off to the nursing home and doesn’t give a shit.

5) They tell you that the part  that you like and think looks good is the low-grade, low-class, ugly, cheap version and the clear implication is that everyone else, even people who live in mud huts, knows this.

6) They tell you that if you pay $10,000 in cash instead of credit, they will give you a $90 discount and let you have something that already belongs to you “for free.” 

Thanks for listening.  I know what we’re going to do now.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The End of August

Miss T and The Quilt

The weather was ideal today, sunny but with a high of  only 72 degrees.  What  a relief at the end of a sweltering August.  We turned off the air conditioning and opened the windows to enjoy the fresh air.  People moved up and down the street all day, walking by themselves, walking with a dog, pushing a stroller, running, or biking. 

Dean came to put down lime, weed, and seed on the front lawn.  The front dirt.  Every year we think we finally have a lawn, and every year it dies a hideous death.   Dean thinks that the two huge maples suck up all the water and nutrients.  I glare at the malevolent maples.   “Looks rough,” understated Dean.  “You gotta  do two things now.  You gotta water every day and you gotta love it,” he advised.  “Can you love it?”  “You better add prayer to that,” I replied.  Dean crossed his fingers.

We celebrated the end of August by going to Padow’s for toasted egg salad sandwiches, sitting at our favorite table by the front window.  After lunch, I held Miss T’s back paws while we napped on my already beloved, beautiful new purple and green quilt, made by a dear friend who is a genius with a big, soft heart (and thankfully, a low tolerance for my whining and begging over the last two years).

This evening we sat on the back porch in the gathering dark.  Sheila silently said her beads, and I bowed my head in the sure presence of angels, picturing their wings enfolding those I love. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

For Tara

Tara's gift

What’s ahead?

Only what we are given in that first breath,

Which is everything.

What’s ahead?

Perhaps an understanding

That the flight of a hummingbird

And a yellow hibiscus,

A church bell ringing,

The scent of a candle,

The touch of a hand,

The life in a handful of earth,

And the taste of salt

Are enough.

To the watcher at the window,

The road is not empty

But only waiting

For the walker or the rider

To come into view.

Ahead are gifts not yet given

Or received.

And time, before we leave.

- Sharon, c. 1999, written for 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Air and Memory



I don’t want to do anything or go anywhere except

Back to a hot blue sky morning in Texas with a yellow

Sun suit strap hanging off one shoulder,

Stirring mud pies with an old spoon

In a backyard that is full of oranges and tangerines

And grapefruit and white and pink oleanders

Pushing thickly against the fence.


I only want to go on a picnic next to a cold river

In the mountains, look at my toes on the pebbles

Through the clear water and swim

With my laughing yellow dog.


Or walk  through the woods,

With another dog, and a child with her hand in mine,

Looking for a certain small white flower that was said to

Grow there, but mostly just squishing along the muddy

Path, smelling the leaves, and quietly feeling so alive.


I can’t get there from here except when I lie on the bed

In the afternoon in a quiet house just at the end of summer,

With a cat curled up on a quilt at the bottom.

And I ride with my eyes shut on an invisible pillow

Of air and memory to the only places I still want to go.

Sharon, Summer 2008

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ordinary Time


Late yesterday afternoon was hot and humid, much like today.  It is since we moved to Richmond that I truly understand the term “wet blanket.”  We need a good downpour with some righteous thunder and cracks of lightning, but no rain is in the forecast right now.

I went off to church at 5:30 pm, grateful to be able to wear short sleeves,  light clamdiggers and a pair of sandals.  I did carry my new bright green hobo bag with the hot pink lining, $8.00 on sale  Saturday at Penney’s.  When I got inside the dim, candle-lit church, I stood at the back for a couple of minutes, looking for my friend Lacey, but couldn’t see her, so I sat alone in an empty pew.  For some reason, I decided upon a pew that has a pillar at one end, and later wished I hadn’t, because it’s hard to squeeze around that big fat stone pillar on the way back from candle-lighting or Communion.  No wonder I was alone.

It was cool enough inside the thick walls of the church.  I said a few words to the Creator Spirit, and sat back to reflect upon the week before the service started.  We finalized our plans for Cincinnati and will be seeing Tara on Friday.  I need to hold my daughter close and touch her hair.  Sheila finished painting our old red shed and it is now terra cotta and green and looks new.  I don’t know how she managed it with the ladder and the heat, and she says never again, but it looks wonderful.  Our neighbor Linda made a tomato tart with homemade pastry and heirloom tomatoes, and invited us to share one night.  Walking home down the sidewalk, we noticed how bright and clear the moon was.  As always, we had good books to read this week, Weight Watchers fudge bars in the freezer,  and pets on our laps or snoring in the corner. 

Just before the service began, my ears picked up an odd sound, very much like a cow mooing in a pasture.  Must be something outside, I thought.  Then the pianist, the harpist, and the flute player began the prelude.  One of the priests read the opening poem.  All of us sang the first hymn, We All Are One In Mission, the words and tune unfamiliar to me but easy enough to follow.  A lady behind me, who sounded tall and elderly, sang out with confidence and enthusiasm, off-key.  Terribly off-key.  Then the priest read a prayer for evening “…our love and encircler/Each day and each night,/Each light and each dark,/Be near us, uphold us,/Our treasure and our truth.”

Just before the Reading from the Gospel, it was quiet, and I heard the cattle lowing again.  It wasn’t outside.  Somewhere across the aisle and behind me, someone who sounded large and male was sound asleep.  The acoustics in the church are excellent.  Had the reading been about shepherds watching over their flocks, the lowing might have added a certain atmosphere.  But the Reading was actually about the disciples asking Jesus what sign he is going to give them so that they can see it and believe.  Jesus, of course, has been walking on water, calming storms, feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, and so on.  But the disciples want another sign, like bread from heaven.  Jesus tells them, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 

The Reading concluded, and silence was observed, except of course by the dedicated snorer.  The man in front of me looked around and quietly laughed once, into his lap.  Weezie, one of the priests, gave the brief Reflection.  I like it best when Weezie tells a story with herself in it, but she didn’t this time.  Relating to the Gospel, she asked us to think about the signs we are looking for, versus the signs that are right there in front of us every day.  Ordinary things. 

“Ask yourself,” Weezie said, “what is it you are coming here for.  And receive what you get.” 

Ordinary time.  Our treasure and our truth.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just Put A (Red) Pencil In My Eye

Statue of Limitations

OK, I’ve had it.  You know the newspapers that publish the names of the “Johns” in prostitution cases, with the idea of shaming them into some sort of decent behavior if not outright morality?  I’m going to start a variation of that, except I know it won’t do any good.  I know.  In fact, in a few years, people who still read at all will wonder what in the world I’m talking about.

Lots of people don’t read anymore.

Lots of people think they read, but they are so distracted and in such a hurry that they miss key words and thus the whole point of what they read.

Lots of people don’t listen, either.  See above for some of the reasons.

Because people* don’t read, don’t comprehend, and don’t listen, they (can’t bring myself to name them) come up with the following uttered or written words:

Isn’t there a statue of limitations? [Uh, no.]

He likes to be on the spotlight. [Must be damn hot after awhile.]

We worked feverously on the project.

He died of smoke insulation.

We need to prevent people to dogfight.

I did it on accident.  [What?  Sat on the spotlight?]

You have a beautiful rhododendrum!

There was a whift of smoke. [This one is not connected with the victim of smoke insulation.]

My mother makes an excellent tomato aspect.

What was you wanting[Where do I begin?]

Here’s one Tara had from a student recently: It was necessary to take gastric measures.  [Don’t think that’ll help.]

*All but two statements or questions came from the mouths or pens of college graduates, some with advanced degrees. 

I didn’t start writing down these little gems until a few years ago, after a cocktail party at an artist friend’s house in Mexico.  One of her quasi-boyfriends was an aged Hell’s Angel wannabe, and he sat rather glumly apart from the other people who were gathered on Janice’s veranda, drinking and talking about her art.  Boyfriend just drank quietly for awhile, and then he seemed to catch a word or two of conversation and roused himself long enough to address everyone: “I had an easel under the porch once, but the dogs ran it off.”  

If you recognize yourself here, at least you recognize yourself.  That’s a good thing.  And if you have your own favorites to add to the list, let me know!   I’ll be waiting with baited breath.  [Eeew].

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Still Speaking

God speaks

God spoke to me in the shower this morning, and not for the first time.  I hadn’t actually heard from Him for quite awhile, at least not actually speaking directly to me in the shower, so I was surprised when it happened today.

It all started a couple of years ago.  When I was working, I always hopped into the shower first thing, and I was often mulling over some hard part of  life, primarily the fact that I was working.  At least, that’s what I was specifically mulling the first time it happened.  Things had been so difficult at work that I was dreading the start of another week.  Then God said something to me.  The fact that He said anything at all was completely unexpected, never mind the fact that I knew immediately who it was.  It was just a brief sentence or two.  I can’t quote it exactly, but it had to do with setting down a heavy load that I’d been carrying, and it made perfect sense.  It wasn’t something I would have thought of on my own.

Since then, I’ve consciously used the shower as a place to pray, and a place to listen in case God ever wants to say something to me again.  Every once in awhile, He does, but He picks the occasions and they don’t come often.  Anne Lamott says there are three kinds of prayer:  “Thank you thank you thank you,” “Help me help me help me,” and “Wow.”  I say them all in pretty much equal measure.  God never says “You’re welcome,” or “OK, here’s what I’m gonna do for you,” or “Yeah, that was pretty neat, wasn’t it?”  I’ve prayed “help me help me help me” a lot lately, as in “Please give me strength.”  The only sound I could hear in response was the water hitting the bottom of the bathtub, and there was no comfort from the tiled walls.  But I’m here to say, I’ve been given strength.

God only talks to me, it seems, when I least expect it, and no use trying to pretend that I’m not expecting it, because He’s on to that and won’t say a word.   This morning, I was thinking about someone who very recently gave me some unsolicited advice that was so inappropriate and thoughtless it bordered on the bizarre.  I felt slapped with a dead fish, disappointed, hurt, and angry.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I was chewing bitterly on it in the shower. 

God suddenly said, “It’s hard to love people sometimes.”  I knew exactly what He was implying, but I’m not up for loving this person again right now.  Actually, I had decided something along the lines of a cold day in Hell.  “I have to go,” I told God.  “I have a dentist appointment.”  He didn’t answer.  He’s done for the moment.  But I’ve been thinking about it all day long.  And I know I haven’t heard the end of it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


falcon and chicks2

Every year for the past several, I have watched the peregrine falcons who nest on a downtown highrise.  There is a webcam setup there, and I take a look many times a day during nesting season.  It’s the most fascinating thing to watch the mother sitting on her eggs, and then the hatching and the feeding and the growing and the suspenseful leave-taking.  Twenty-five percent of the time, they say, it’s the father keeping watch, but let’s just stay with “mother” right now. Falcons, in case you’ve never had a good look at one, are heart-catch beautiful, and the babies are adorable fluffs of white feathers, sleepy eyes and wobbly legs at first. 

I’ve spent extra time watching the past few days.   The best time of the day is late afternoon, when the sun is lighting the nest well enough to see everything clearly, but not glaring on the camera lens and blurring the view.

Yesterday, the mother was watching over three white fluffs, with one egg yet to hatch.  There seemed to be something going on with that egg, though, and the mother was keeping a close eye on it and the chicks already born.  Sometimes she covers them up entirely with her body, but yesterday afternoon she was standing over them in an angelic pose, wings poised and at the ready should the babies need their extra protection. 

The mother falcon instinctively knows the right thing to do; the right move to make.  She knows so much more than I do, and yet so much less.  The future is not a concept that she understands or cares about.   She lives only in this moment.  (Non-human creatures are always trying to teach us this.)  Are her newborns safe this moment?  Is the unhatched egg safe and warm?  She may be living the words of an Olive Kitteridge character:  “If you can’t figure out something…don’t watch what you think, watch what you do.”

I watch, like praying, and I try to learn.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I’m Sharon, and I’m a Bookaholic

Books at the bedside

Please, someone, stop me before I buy/borrow more.  Ever since I retired at the end of October, a disease I thought was fairly well controlled has gotten out of hand. 

I’ve never waited until I ran out of things to read before going to a bookstore and/or the library.  But now, I’m a glazed-eyed addict on a rampage.  I actually already own enough books to keep me busy for the rest of my days, assuming some re-reading here and there.  Furthermore, this house is significantly under 1400 square feet, and all of the bookshelf room is taken.  On my bedside table, books obscure the clock radio, and hang over the edge of the shelf underneath.    Other tables and large baskets on the floor throughout the house groan with books and magazines.  We recently bought a small side table for the screened porch, and it was covered with reading material in minutes. 

We really don’t have this kind of money.  Will I have to resort, in my arthritic old age, to mugging old(er) ladies on the street and stealing their purses?  Cat burgling is completely out of the question at this stage of life.   And speaking of this stage of life, my eyes won’t  allow me to read for hours as in days of yore.  Nevertheless, I press on, trying fruitlessly to keep the car from turning into the Barnes & Noble parking lot when I’m on Broad Street.  Hell, the car will start up and drive to Barnes & Noble if we’re sitting in our own driveway.

Here are just a handful of the books lying about on the top surfaces around the house:

The Best of Adair Lara:  Award-winning columns from the San Francisco Chronicle.   Haven’t gotten to this yet.  I used to love reading her columns when I lived in California.

Given Sugar, Given Salt:  Poems, by Jane Hirshfield.  (This is a re-read.  I got the book off the shelf to find the title poem, which I want to send to a friend.  Then I decided to refresh my memory on the whole collection.)

Southern Living magazine, July issue.  I plan to make the lemonade iced tea with bourbon.  Woohoo.

Evensong, a novel by Gail Godwin.  This is a re-read.  My new status as a reaffirmed Episcopalian drew me back to the book, because the main character is a married woman who is an Episcopal priest.   Also, I’m very fond of Gail Godwin.  Haven’t gotten very far into it yet.  I note that there is a “reading group discussion guide” at the back of this book.  I hate those.  I don’t think I would do well in a book club.  It reminds me of book reports in grade school.  We always had to answer the question “What was the author’s purpose?”  When I taught junior high school English, I made sure never to ask that question. 

Coop, by Michael Perry, author of  Population:  485, which I read and loved.  Michael Perry is a guy who grew up on a farm and spent a number of years as a volunteer EMT in the rural area where he grew up.  Population:  485 is about that experience.  Coop was written after he married, moved to a ramshackle farmhouse on 37 ramshackle acres, and had children.  I can’t wait to read this.  I would not like living in rural Wisconsin at all,  or rural Anywhere, but Perry is such a wonderful and evocative writer that I savor every vicarious moment spent there with him.

Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts.  I could make soap.  I could make candles.  I could make jewelry.  I could make 100 different things at least from this book, if only I could pick one to start.

A Homemade Life:  Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg.  I’ve been reading Molly’s blog “Orangette,” for awhile now.  I’ve even made her roasted broccoli with shrimp twice lately.  So of course I had to buy the book.  I read cookbooks as story anyway, but Molly is right up there with MFK Fischer.  Dare I say better? 

We haven’t even gotten to the teetering stack on my bedside table.  And on the floor next to the bed, where I flang it last night before my eyes slammed shut, is Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.  This book is so good, I’m putting up with the teeny tiny typeface.  An excellent writer links short stories together with a recurring character who is uncomfortably a lot like the part of me that I try to keep hidden. 

Oh, and Sheila reads, too, with an addiction only slightly more controlled than mine.  We didn’t even know that when we met up.  If either one of us hadn’t been a reader, our 23 years together wouldn’t exist.  Shudder to think. 


If all commercials were this good, we wouldn't need the fast forward button on the remote.

Les nonnes

Shared via AddThis

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Father’s Day

I have no one to buy a Father’s Day card for this year.   Last year, on the Saturday before Father’s Day, my dad went to the hospital and never came home again.  He died on August 26. 

My dad was not my natural father.  He married my mother when I was 10 years old, and adopted me when I was 15.  When I was younger, I always told him “I’m glad we married you.”  He loved me from day one.  He was the guy who taught me how to ride a bike, throw a ball, and play chess and checkers.  He found the special picnic spots on the river and brought the first dog home.  

When he moved to Virginia from California 5 years ago, when he was 84, I was terribly pleased but amazed that he would leave the State where he had been born and lived for over 80 years.  Then he got here, and I discovered that I did not really know the quiet man who had always been overshadowed, as was I, by my mother’s domineering personality.  He was almost a stranger to me.  It was hard to talk to him, and made even more difficult by his severe hearing loss.  He was good one-on-one and face to face, but the subtleties that we all depend on—the comments tossed over the shoulder and the quick one-twos, were lost on him.  When I picked him up for a visit to our house, our drives were silent.  That was his “bad” side; and the good side did not hear well at all. 

In his younger years, and even when he had just turned 80 and my mother was still alive, he was always the person who could fix anything and do anything.  At 80, he was still going up on their roof to sweep off the pine needles and clean out the gutters, and chopping wood.  It was hard to reconcile that person with the man who had given up his driver’s license before he moved out here and had trouble seeing to unlock his apartment door.  I was always tired from long days at work, and I was impatient with all kinds of things.  He was simply lonely, trying hard not to be a burden and not succeeding  in a number of small ways.  He complained a lot.  I didn’t smile very much.  We forged ahead, trying to be good to one another.  He tried harder than I did.  He blew up at me once; then called to apologize.

After his unexpectedly gangrenous, septic gallbladder was removed on Father’s Day weekend, he went into a decline that very quickly escalated into dementia.  We know now that it was caused by the overwhelming infection from which he never recovered.  Every night he was at an Air Force base or on the train to one.  “Which city are we in now?” he’d say.  “Maybe I’ll stay here  at this base for awhile.”  He dodged imaginary cars and other flying objects, and plucked imaginary bugs from his food tray.  His hospital roommate was trying to kill him.  The Hallmark channel on the TV was showing porn.  And yet he always knew my name and who I was.  “I’m sorry to be dying and leaving you behind,” he noted one day.  “You love me, and you’ve always loved me,” he said on another  It broke my heart.  And then, at the end of the summer, he died.

The other day, I saw the bus from the independent living apartment complex where he lived, parked outside my grocery store.  It was senior discount day.  When I went in the store, it was like I saw him in every other aisle.  “Did you know my father?” I wanted to ask an old man looking at soup.  He wore a baseball cap, like my dad always did.  What I really wanted was for that strange man to turn into my father, and I would throw my arms around his neck there in the canned soup aisle and sob and say that I was sorry for being so impatient and not spending more time with him and not being a much, much better daughter, and could I please have another chance?  Because now that it’s forever too late, of course I know exactly what to do. 

Driving home with the groceries, I thought about how I had wanted him to change:  to not be old, not be deaf, not be antisocial, not be slow, not be stubborn.  And it struck me hard that as far as I know, he had never wanted me to change in over half a century.  He said once about a not-so-bright dog that he had owned, “She did the best she could.”  He believed the same of me. He had only wanted me to be happy, always.  He was quite a dad.  I miss him so.

Father's Day

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This Moment


I sometimes ponder the fact that animals mostly live in the present, unburdened by thoughts of mortality;  never mind dwindling bank balances, what to cook for dinner, or how much they weigh.  Would we be happier if we were unaware of our mortality? Would we still cherish life?  I tend to think the answer is “Not so much.”  The Pets chez nous certainly give every evidence of enjoying their lives, often with every cell in their little bodies.  But cherish?  Dream a dream beyond nailing that chipmunk in the bush over there or hoping Mom will throw a piece of steak my way?  I don’t think so.  Nevertheless, they do know how to live in the moments of their lives.

A few posts ago (see “Dust” in May) I talked about how our neighbor Catherine was dying, and she did die on May 29.  She left behind to mourn her beloved cat, Coco.  I’ve been taking care of Coco off and on since the beginning of April, and most of that time she has been all alone in the house where she has lived for ten years, since the day she walked in the back door as a stray kitten and told Catherine they belonged to each other.  I knew her when Catherine was alive, of course, but we’ve forged a special bond in these last few months, and I became determined to find my kitty friend a good home when the time came.

Fortunately, Catherine’s son was all too glad to relinquish that responsibility to me.  He’s not an animal person, and in fact he’s a rather unlikeable fellow except for one little unaccountably kind and loving thing he did for his mother.  The last two weeks his mother was alive,  he took Coco to visit her every day that he was in town, and she stayed on Catherine’s bed for hours at a time.  No one knows  for sure if Catherine was ever aware of Coco’s presence, but I like to think she was. 

Anyway.  After the funeral, Catherine’s son let me know that he was anxious to get rid of Coco and get on with his life and gave me permission to “find her a home” or “take her somewhere.”  With the help of a flyer, emails, calls, caring friends and caring strangers,  a home for Coco has been found, and it will be a wonderful one. A doctor from the hospital where I used to work will be taking Coco home with him.  I had never met him before now,  but he is a compassionate, tender, and funny man who will give this little lady cat a good life once again.  To make it all even better, Sheila and I took an instant liking to him, and I hope we will continue to know him and become real  friends.

Coco’s  new dad is waiting until Monday to pick her up, because he was visiting his own human father out of town this weekend, and didn’t want to leave her alone in a brand new place.  When I went next door to feed her this afternoon, I went through our usual cuddling ritual first, and I was holding her close to my chest and telling her all about how very soon she won’t be alone anymore, and she’ll have a new person to love who loves her back. 

I told her that just as we think we’ve had our last adventure, or the future is looking bleak, or we don’t believe we’ll ever love again, something wonderful like this happens, and we always have to remember that and believe it.  Coco listened, but she didn’t know what I was talking about.  She was living in the moment, snugged tight against my heart sounds, getting her eyebrows stroked and purring loudly.  Life doesn’t get any better, she might have said, than right now.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I Feel Good

I Feel Good

I fly into a frenzied rage over bad grammar and punctuation.  Three other people in the world today feel exactly the same way I do.  The rest don’t seem to give a rat’s ass.  Before anyone horns in here, let me hasten to add that I know my own grammar and punctuation is not perfect.  But only the three other people and I know that, so it’s not high on my list of worries. 

My daughter is well aware of my low boiling point in this matter.  Nevertheless, she brazenly slaves away at a Ph.D. in English.  A couple of weeks ago, she informed me that the Chairman of the English Department at a University that shall remain anonymous insists  that it’s correct to “feel badly” about something.  I had been drowsy from an afternoon nap when she called, but this news drew me upright and I yelled “What?????!!!!” so loudly that the cat jumped off the bed and ran out of the room.  Compared to this, my past reactions to news from Tara about being rear-ended, having her identity stolen, being rear-ended again, being laid off, etc. have been practically disinterested.  I had a pleasurable rant over the entire issue and was feeling positively vibrant with energy by the time we hung up. 

Today, neighbor Glo let us paw through a few boxes of books that she picked up for $10.00 at a yard sale.  (I’m such a Californian; I almost said “garage sale.”)  One of the books is a real find:  A Manual of English, by George B. Woods and Clarence Stratton, published in 1926.  People who wrote such books in 1926 are the very people who taught my generation and my parents’ generation how to speak and write, and I highly approve of them.  Here’s what George and Clarence have to say about “I feel badly”:  After copulas—verbs like appear, be, become, feel, look, seem, shine, smell, sound, and taste—use an adjective if the word refers to the subject, an adverb if it describes the action of the verb.  [Note from Sharon:  “badly,” for those of you born after my generation, is an adverb, dammit.]  George and Clarence then proceed to list some examples of “right” and “wrong” (two other words that fewer and fewer people give a rat’s rear end about): 

Right:  I felt bad when I saw their great need.

Wrong:  He has looked badly for a week.

I was gnawing bitterly out loud on the whole “badly” bone yesterday on our way to the gym.  Sheila, who was not an English major but was educated properly a long time ago, was backing me up at every point.  However, she is well known for making authoritative pronouncements that don’t make any sense, and she got a bit carried away as she wheeled into our parking spot.  “Even James Brown knew how to say it right!” she proclaimed.  I’m still laughing. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Seven Things I Love

One of the blogs I sometimes read mentioned writing down “seven things I love.”  I’m assuming that’s not a list of specific people or animals and probably a little more profound than “mint juleps.”  Although, I swan, (my grandmother said “I swan”) mint juleps are pretty doggone profound. There are a lot more than seven, of course, and that’s a good thing to remember.  So many more things than seven. 

Sunset Nag's Head

  1. That moment just before the curtain goes up on stage, or just before the conductor lifts the baton.  Get ready to be transported somewhere else.
  2. Train whistles at 2 a.m.
  3. A beautiful garden in the Spring.  I can’t pick a favorite flower. (But it may be an iris.  Unless it’s a peony.  Unless it’s a rose.)  And what about herb gardens?  And cottage gardens with foxglove and hollyhocks?  And the colors!  Purple has to be the best, unless it’s that orangey pink or the creamy white.  There has to be a bench in the shade, where I can sit and listen to the birds and smell the blossoms and feel a slight breeze.
  4. The memory of getting up in the middle of the night in Baja California, and seeing the moon over the Pacific Ocean, in a field of a zillion stars.
  5. The thrill of thunder when it echoes against the mountains.
  6. Watching the sun pop up from the horizon like a glorious magic trick, or go back down.
  7. Feeling like Jacob in the Bible waking from his dream:  “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

What are yours?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blurb & Bourbon

2003 photo album 

Want a hardcover copy of your blog, cookbook, family photo album, collected poems, travel journal or whatever? How about hardcover copies (with dust jackets, even!) to give away as gifts? Check out

Oh my, I’ve had fun for the past 24 hours. I dragged out all of my photos for 2003, which fortunately I had on a “picture CD” as in 2003 we did not have a digital camera. I’ve made what I hope will be a very nice little 28-page family photo album for that year, with text and some good page layouts. That’s the cover of my album, above.

There’s a tutorial video on the website, and it’s actually quite good. I finished putting the album together just a little while ago, uploaded it, and ordered one copy which should be here in about 10 days. Highly recommended for those of you who take wonderful photos and write terrific stories, as well as those of you who are wonderful cooks. You know who you are! Even if you take mediocre photos and write only mildly entertaining captions for them, here’s a newfangled way to make an album without going to the Hallmark store. The possibilities are endless. Check it out.

In other news, the afternoon was made brighter when neighbor Linda hallooed across the fence that she had fresh mint grown in her own backyard, as well as some Maker’s Mark bourbon with which to make mint juleps. Linda and other neighbor Glo came over forthwith to sit on our back porch under the ceiling fan and partake of same.  Linda, bless her, had brought everything in a well organized paper bag, including ice cubes!  That’s a registered dietician for you. The juleps were delicious beyond description, and we have agreed that this may become a weekend ritual for at least as long as the fresh mint lasts.  Here’s to us.

Friday, May 15, 2009


faceless angels

Once I make up my mind to do it, I love dusting the bookshelves in my room.  It takes a while.  I have to pick up this book and that, planning to read or re-read.  There are so many photos and little things on the shrine-like shelves that I have to pick up and think about, too.  And next to the shelves are the little chairs on the wall, each with something special on the seat.  One has a wonderful bird’s nest that we had in our patio garden in Mexico.  Another has two black, faceless angels.  We have a thing about faceless angels around here.  She started it, and now I like them. 

Anyway.  Catherine, our 80-something widowed next door neighbor, is dying in a hospice room at St. Mary’s, up the road from us.  We went to see her on Monday, but she is in a coma.  It will be any time now.  Dusting, I thought about her and how she used to bring over something Greek that she had cooked for our dinner.  How she listened to Rush Limbaugh turned up full volume, but she openly envied our having each other to love.  I thought about how I could have been a much better friend. 

My hand fell upon a collection of Jane Kenyon’s poems, called Otherwise.  I remember that book arriving in the mail about this same time nine years ago, when we were living in Mexico and my mother was dying.  I took it with me when we went for the day to the balneario, a collection of swimming pools perched on a short cliff overlooking the beach where cows and horses strolled along the Lake, and the mountains on two sides.  The book fell open to this poem, and I cried out in recognition as I read the first lines.  I put it here today in memory of my mother and in prayer for Catherine.

She is like a horse grazing

a hill pasture that someone makes

smaller by coming every night

to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,

stopped even the tight circles.

She drops her head to feed; grass

is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

Master, come with your light

halter.  Come and bring her in.

--“In the Nursing Home” by Jane Kenyon, from the book of her collected poems titled Otherwise.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Lucky Mother

Tara age 3

I can’t write about my mother on Mother’s Day. My daughter? Oh, yes. The person who makes me such a lucky mother.

Here’s what Tara has always been and is now:

Creative. Hundreds of examples, but one I remember clearly is the time when she was about 8 and I was sleeping late on a Saturday. When I roused myself, the dog was licking my face. And clipped to the dog’s collar was my wedding veil, complete with big lace bow. When I rubbed my eyes, I realized that Spooky was also wearing big white polka dots all over her black fur (they were supposed to be price stickers from an upcoming garage sale). Tara had dressed up Spooky and paraded her around the neighborhood, to great appreciation that I heard about later.

Smart. When she was 2 ½, she knew our full names, our street address, city and state, our telephone number, and the name of the ad agency where her daddy worked. “Hello,” she said to a strange man in the airport waiting room. “My name is Tara ________. Want to see me do a puzzle?” Whereupon she whipped out a puzzle designed for much older children and slapped it together before he had a chance to say “No, thanks.”

Somewhat shocking. (Same flight; different puzzle.) Tara is putting a puzzle together on her tray table when half of it accidentally falls off onto the floor of the plane. “Shit!” yells out the adorable toddler to the quietest passengers on any plane that ever flew.

Funny. No one can make me laugh at myself harder than she can.

Generous. The first indication was the sign she hand-printed for Santa Claus when she had just turned 4. “Santa Enjoe yor Cookes. Tara.” Five minutes later, it seemed, she was baking cookies for firemen, serving the homeless, helping old ladies (besides us), always choosing the perfect gift for someone, and endlessly giving of her time to provide company and comfort to those who need it.

Happy. She makes the deliberate choice, more than nine times out of ten. In recent times, that has included having cancer, being rear-ended twice in a month, having her identity stolen, and being laid off. “I’m getting sick of counting my blessings,” she said not too long ago. Laughing.

Loving. I can’t adequately describe how loving she is to her mothers, her other family members, her friends, and animals.

Loyal. Got some faults? If she loves you, and there’s a good chance she does, Tara will stick by you anyway, and will never badmouth you behind your back.

An excellent teacher. A couple of years ago, her other mother and I were privileged to sit in the back of one of her college classes and watch her teach. I was terrified that I might be called on, but so proud of the way she drew everyone else out and made them think and respected them that I could have put my head down on the desk and cried.

Faithful and full of faith. Several years ago, after a long and thoughtful search, Tara converted to Judaism. At the beginning of a religious service, there’s a prayer that includes, she explained to me, bowing to your angels. I’ve watched her, and I think she can see them. I know they see her.

Happy Mother’s Day, Tara Cat. You’re the best kid ever.  Love you past the moon, the stars, and all the planets.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Do Not Send

stopsign Something really chapped my cheeks today, fried my eggs, and definitely pushed my buttons. This isn’t what I was planning to write about for my next post, but here goes.

Someone I consider a friend and a person who should know better forwarded me and about 50 other people an email that was extremely bigoted and, if the truth be known, originally created by someone who is obviously not of high intelligence and incapable of logic. It managed to be offensive about race, politics, and religion all in one fell swoop. Rather than let it go, which I might have done a few years ago, I responded in a way that made it crystal clear how offended I was. And then I got even madder.

I’ve had it with people mindlessly firing off forwarded emails:

(1) that they obviously do not understand and haven’t thoughtfully considered.

(2) to absolutely everyone they know, whether or not that person might be offended.

(3) that contain no logic of any kind.

(4) that try to build fear and hatred.

Then there are the emails sent out to one and all in a person’s email address book, along the lines of “Your cat will die if you use such and such a product on your floors,” “collect plastic bottle caps and when you redeem them a cancer patient will receive a free chemotherapy treatment,” and of course “Obama is not a US citizen.” College graduates blithely pass such nonsense along to all their friends. I’ve even received emails that say “I don’t know if this is true or not, but….” Here’s a concept: if you don’t know if it’s true or not, why are you passing it along? If you use email, you should also be Internet-savvy enough to check out anything that seems amazing or incredible in some way at or some other solid fact-checking service.

Whatever you do, don’t send your narrow-minded, bigoted, hate-filled, illogical crap to me. Because I’ll just think you’re stupid. And I’m lifting 10-pound weights these days. Don’t mess with me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hurray For All Of Us

The Reflection at tonight’s Celtic service made me think of our fitness trainer, Jim.  In only three weeks, we have become devoted to him.  Jim knows his business and is able to teach what he knows in a very clear manner.  He’s watchful, making sure that we don’t hurt ourselves and that we don’t slack off from what we are capable of doing.  He doesn’t let us get away with a thing.  And when Jim says “Great form!” or “That’s kickin’ it, Sharon!” or “Excellent pace,” I straighten up and reach higher and move faster and try harder.  He’s a cheerleader, Jim is, but his cheers are sincere and they mean something.  No automatic “Good job!” from him.  (Oh, the ubiquitous and too-often patronizing  “Good job!”  A lot of mothers and teachers tend to roll those out like jellybeans, just for breathing in and out.  It’s another version of “Have a nice day.”  And I think that deep down the kids know it.  How about something specific?)

I was thinking tonight about all the times that we just want someone to notice how hard we’re trying to do something that’s difficult for us, or just need someone to confirm that they love us, or think we’re smart, or look good today, or were seen doing a kind thing.  Some of us are lucky and we get that kind of validation often.  And others, many of whom are trying hardest of all, almost never do.  When that happens to children whose parents weren’t their cheerleaders, I think it leaves scars for life.  In their secret hearts, nothing they do is ever good enough.  But I think no one ever outgrows that need for spoken validation, no matter how self-confident and unbreakable they may seem to others.  Sometimes I’ve found myself jealously guarding my praise.  Why should I give support to someone who doesn’t do the same for me, or who seems to get “too much” from someone other than me, or who “should know” that I love them or am grateful for them?

Tonight I’m hoping to remember to be on high alert for any opportunity I may have to be someone else’s cheerleader.   For one thing, when I see him on Tuesday, I think I’ll thank Jim for being such a good one.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Further Adventures In Measuring

Conversation on the way home from working out today:

Me: I was going 178 steps a minute during the intervals! That’s a lot of steps per second!

She: Yeah, about 50, right?

Me: Heaven help us.

She: I oughta get a job at Home Depot. Everybody’s windows would be mismatched, decks would be either be 3x3 feet or taller than the house, contractors would quit in disgust, Home Depot would go out of business….then I’d write a book titled How To Be A Math Genius, by Sheila.

Me: This is going in my blog.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Missing LA

la skyline

We saw a wonderful movie, The Soloist, the other night. I demand that you see it, too. The performances by Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. are not to be missed. It’s a true story, based on newspaper columns about a homeless musician by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. And like so many true stories, especially true stories set in Los Angeles, it is indeed stranger than fiction, and ugly and piercingly beautiful at the same time.

I didn’t grow up in Southern California, and probably only drove through there once with my parents on the way to Texas, back in the 50’s. I remembered the palm trees, the riot of color in flowers, plants, and stucco, and the Hollywood Hills where we stopped and visited cousins. I didn’t see it again until 1963, when I visited the 18 year old college boyfriend who would later become my husband. We went to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, matching our hands with the sidewalks prints of the stars, and Disneyland. Bob’s parents lived in San Marino, home of the John Birch Society and rich people who weren’t movie stars. They had a Thunderbird. That was class.

When Bob and I married in the Summer of 1967, I moved to LA and began a close but uneasy relationship with the city that was to last the better part of 30 years. The marriage, also uneasy, did not last, so it was the City itself that remained a part of my life. I met She in the “Greater Los Angeles Area” as the multitude of cities that run together for hundreds of square miles are called. And we moved from there to Mexico in 1998.

Until I saw the opening scene of The Soloist, I wasn’t aware that I love LA. In fact, I would have laughingly denied such a thing, maybe even snorted in disgust, and millions of others would understand why I always considered it to be a place I lived because I had to, not because I chose to. But I looked at that iconic shot of the LA skyline, and I realized that the City was like a close but somewhat obnoxious and irritating relative that I never realized I loved or missed until it was too late.  I do love LA. I even miss it. It’s inextricable from the story of my life, and it’s inextricable from the story of this country.

Somehow I always felt that LA was a living being, breathing in and out (never mind the smog), the mountains and the hills, the Pacific Ocean and the freeways and the swimming pools and the Santa Ana winds and the millions of lights all a part of that living, breathing thing, and that all of our lives were acted out on millions of little stages. I have been as lonely there as the last person on earth, standing at the edge of the continent; and I have been as happy there as someone blessed and kissed by God and sent out to play in the sun.

Bob and I lived, for a week, in his bachelor apartment down the street from the Ambassador Hotel, where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated the following year. (Martin Luther King was assassinated that year, too. The principal at the school where I was teaching would not agree to lower the flag to half staff.) 

Like many other Angelenos who are not at all wealthy themselves, I have spent a lot of time in fabulous homes with fabulous views and incredible art work and electric gates, and have never been envious because the people who owned them were just like me except with money and maybe not as happy.

I was there for several major earthquakes, and each time I wanted to move that day and never come back.

My skin has tanned next to countless swimming pools all over the Southland, while I read a book to the background music of The Beach Boys.

I’ve sat under a full moon on a warm night and listened to some of the world’s greatest music at the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre.

I’ve known LA characters with strange lives and storytellers and musicians who would blow your socks off with crying and laughing and loving.

The night my daughter was born, I leaned against the car in the hospital’s parking lot and looked up at the moon and all the stars in the bright October sky.  Even today, we say “Love you past the moon, and the stars and all the planets.”

I’ve spent Sunday afternoons in the patio of a crumbling old Mexican restaurant with a group of gay women, drinking margaritas and listening to a “girl” band composed of women in their 70’s and 80’s.

I’ve worked in the middle of Hollywood, the beginning of Beverly Hills, and the beach, driving by just-shot-to-death bodies on my way to the bank at noon, fleeing from major riots, getting stalled on the freeway at rush hour because of bomb threats and police car chases and horrible car crashes and nothing at all.

I drove past the LA County Jail every single morning while OJ Simpson was incarcerated there, and gave him the bird each time.

I’ve awakened in the middle of the night and not known why until I realized it was because of the  deafening silence when the nearby freeway was shut down due to a major accident.

I’ve raised roses and wisteria and hibiscus and geraniums just by sticking them in the ground.

I’ve lived alone with my young daughter in the same neighborhood where the Night Stalker roamed, and slept with the windows open anyway because it was so hot. 

I’ve lived on the beach and just blocks from the beach in LA, and sometimes I wish I still did.  But only if I could have what I have in my life right now, and life would never change and it would always be precious, and the sun would always set blood red above dark blue waves and wet hard sand, and the land and the mountains and the sea and the stars and the freeways and all the millions of people would breathe in and out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

23 Years

On this day 23 years ago, She and I decided that we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives.  (Secretly, She gave it 3 months.  I, on the other hand, was doing an extremely rare thing for me and living only in the moment.)  Despite each of us having said “I give up!” dozens of times (hundreds?) in the past 23 years, accompanied by stomping off in a huff or even the occasional door slam, neither of us ever has actually given up.  We’re still on the same road, and it always leads us home.

In celebration of this day, I tried mightily to embed a video from YouTube with a very charming song called First Day of My Life.  Couldn’t even copy and paste the URL.  I followed every direction, but no go.  You can see it yourself at

My favorite lines are:

Yours is the first face that I saw.  Thought I was blind until I met you. 


Monday, April 20, 2009

Foot, Schmutt

We survived our first week in the fitness program, and enjoyed it. I look forward to the exercise. Did I just say that? Yes, I look forward to it. We have even used stability balls to do squats, and they didn’t come flying out from behind our backs and let us fall and break body parts, like I thought they would. Both of us have lost five pounds and feel positively agile.

I haven’t been blogging, because we seem to be fixing something to eat (every three hours), writing down what we ate and how many calories and carbs it was, or cleaning up the kitchen (again). Nah, it really isn’t that bad, but it does keep us busy. We did cheat a little bit, carb-wise, when we went out for my birthday dinner, because we each ate three and a half miniscule round slices of French bread. And we may have eaten two chocolate truffles that the chef put in a gold box as a birthday gift. But She, who is notoriously clueless when it comes to measuring things, emailed a friend that we had eaten a “foot long” loaf of bread. To her, there’s no discernible difference between five or six inches and a “foot.” This is why I watch her like a hawk whenever she starts describing something to anyone. Once, she measured a kitchen window for a screen (this was many years ago, before I knew enough to stop her). When the custom-made screen was ready, it turned out to be one-fourth the size of the window. And I am not kidding. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Change Up

Sharon at 5

April, 1949 

I’m going to be 65 on Saturday. Already, I’m in the post-Paul McCartney’s When I’m 64 period of my life. How did this happen? That’s the universal question from those of us lucky enough to have reached 60 and over in this world. I’ll bet it’s asked in every single language.

Well, enough of that. The whole point is, I’m looking at the short end of the stick, and it’s become clear that “now or never” has never been truer. So I’m doing something about a couple of important things, like physical and spiritual health. She is my partner in the physical health arena. We’ve signed up for a 10 week “Make It Personal” session at the Zacharias-Ganey Health Institute here in town, and this is our first week. The program combines weight loss management with exercise, and they’ve had some outstanding successes, even with people in much deeper doodoo than She and I are. I can already tell you the secret of their success. The physician who runs it and the staff of personal trainers are with you, adaptations are made to fit your situation, you’re part of a group that signed up at the same time you did, you all exercise and weight manage together, and cheer each other on. It’s very structured, and yet friendly and personal, and not in some phony, false-cheery way. I love our group’s trainer: “If you hurt yourself, I’ll kill you.” “If you’re late, I’ll skin you.” “No jut butting!” (The latter refers to the wrong kind of posture while lifting weights.)

Having said that, I can tell you that for this first week we are on kind of a detox program from our high-carb way of life, and it’s not all fun and games. We are supposed to eat 5 small meals a day, of approximately 300 calories each and (here’s the kicker) no more than 25 carbs each. (Apparently we are going to be able to eat more carbs after this first week.) (We pray that this is so.) This week’s eating plan is supposed to get rid of our cravings. Not yet, folks. Not yet. And if we were doing this alone, both of us would have quit already. But we’re together, we’re doing it for the same reasons, and we ain’t quittin’.

For one thing, we’re investing a lot of money in the program. I wasn’t going to do it at all, due to the expense, and then I realized that we spent $400.00 just having a new toilet put in recently. And we had the kitchen painted, and the carpeting taken up. We pay a guy to take care of the grass and shrubs. We justify spending money on the house because the house is an investment. Hello??? Time to spend money on getting and keeping ourselves ambulatory for the final stretch. We have not been doing too well on our own.  I have severe osteoarthritis and a titanium hip.  Strangely enough,  60-70 extra pounds caused by eating like a pig and not exercising does not help alleviate pain or allow for much mobility.

As for spiritual health, one of the events I recall is my confirmation as an Episcopalian, 50 years ago. I chose that particular church on my own; my parents were not churchgoers and both disavowed the existence of God, although in retrospect I think both would have loved to have been talked into it. I have been on a serious spiritual journey my entire life, enhanced by reading and prayer, but a big chunk of it has not been spent going to the Episcopal Church, or any other. Oh, for awhile I thought I was a Unitarian, and I’ve explored Judaism, but most of the time I’ve stayed home on the Sabbath. Occasional forays back into organized religion have all fizzled out, mostly due to the “organized” part. However, those of you who read my blog know that I have been a rather steady attendee for the last year or so at the Celtic service at the Episcopal Church. And the other night on my way in to the service, I signed up for the Inquirer’s Class before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, much like the time I got my ears pierced when I was 30.

The class is for those who are already confirmed Episcopalians as well as those who are not. Our first class was last night. It was interesting and I felt comfortable there. That’s all I know right now. Well, actually, I know a lot more than that right now, but I’m not ready to articulate and share. For one thing, I don’t have enough calories and carbs on board right now to be articulate. I just know that I need to get my spirit healthy right along with my body. And for me, that might require some organization. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

On The Walls

Herself has been nagging at me to document our art work with the camera, and I’ve been saying “Yep, yep, I will.” For posterity, so to speak, I plan to post at least some of it here from time to time.

This is a favorite of mine, and is hanging above the computer desk, where I spend a lot of time. It’s called Waiting At The Window For You, and the artist is Neil H. Cronk, an Austin, Texas painter who spends part of his time in Mexico. We purchased this is Ajijic, Mexico about 10 years ago, when we were living there. The red chair, either overstuffed like this one or straight-backed, occurs often in Cronk’s work, along with at least one black crow, and always the melding of reality and the imagination. In Waiting, you can see the extension of the lake, mountains, and trees outside the window. I love this because it’s kind of my ideal place: a soft chair to read in, water to gaze at, a breeze coming in the window, and even a plate of food! And there’s someone to wait for. That’s such a gift.

We have two other Cronks. These are colored pencil drawings, and again there’s the red chair, and the merger of the outdoors and the indoors. The crows appear in one of the drawings, and the other has a religious theme that appears often in Mr. Cronk's art. I’m sorry that these drawings don't show up well in the photograph, because of the glass in their frames. But you get the idea.