Monday, April 22, 2013

Pressing Pause

     It's flat out amazing how refreshing it can be to push the pause button on life.  This  past week, I ditched work and headed to Yosemite for several days.  Don't get me wrong. It's not as if I were irresponsible. I had these comp days coming since last summer,  That's when I made the reservations at the Yosemite Lodge (good quality hotel but not to be confused with the majestic Ahwanee Hotel).  The weather gods must have been happy with me as night time temps were around 40 degrees and the days were clear blue sky days with temps approaching 70 degrees.  Amazing.  The Valley is not crowded on a random week in the spring and the falls are in full gusher mode.  The deciduous trees are budding and the wildflowers are gearing up for their full spring show.

    Yes, I am an ocean person but Yosemite completely captivates me.  I cannot be in that place and have my mind race.  The job place hassles, the worries about family members, even the pain from the recent hand surgery all drift away.  I can breathe and fill my senses with the moment.  I wish I could give this feeling to you, kind reader, but about the best I can do is share a few photos.  Listen to the wind in the trees and the falls barreling down the rocks.  Just be.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


      Last night I had the chance to watch the Academy Award winning documentary "Searching for Sugar Man".  What an inspiration!  Rodriguez is a young Mexican-American man living in Detroit in the early 1970's.  He is a singer / songwriter who pays the bills by doing manual labor in the construction world.  A music promoter hears him one foggy night at a smokey bar in Detroit.  That promoter knows a good thing when he hears it and signs Rodriguez on.  Rodriguez has a compelling voice and writes music that is haunting and significant.

     For some unknown reason, this album, which should have taken off, pretty much flops.  Before the flop is recognized the record company has signed Rodriguez on for a second album.  Two weeks before Christmas, Rodriguez is notified that the record company is going belly up.  So ends Rodriguez's music career.  Or so it would seem.

     Rodriguez's life goes on, including the acquisition of a degree in philosophy and the addition of three daughters to his life.  What no one realizes is that his original album found its way to South Africa.  These were the tense and difficult closing days of apartheid in South Africa and the music that Rodriguez had created formed the most appropriate anthem for the anti-apartheid movement.  Because there was a world wide boycott of South Africa, many people were not aware of the influence of this American singer in that place.  In fact, the urban myth had developed that said that Rodriguez had blown his brains out on stage in America (or burned himself alive on stage - take your choice).

    "Searching for Sugar Man" is Rodriquez's story.  I am so enamored with this man.  His music resonates with me but his attitude and his humbleness are what entirely captivate me.  In some ways, his music reminds me of Dylan (without the raspy voice) but Rodriquez is a man who is not living the "rock and roll myth".    When the music career seemed to cave, Rodriquez went on with his life.  The film suggests the devotion he has for his daughters and the committment he has to his communtiy.  We need more people in the world like Rodriguez.

     This is one of my favorite songs of his:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What You Can't Do Without A Right Hand

     During the last six weeks, I have had the chance to learn the value of my dominant hand.  My right arm/hand has been incapacitated.  The inconvenience/frustration of not having the use of this extremity has been far greater than the physical pain of joint replacement surgery.  Here are some things you might not have realized are impacted when you have only one arm available (especially when it is the non dominant arm that is available to you):

1)  Typing is unbelievably  slow, frustrating,and discouraging. 

2)  You can't button your own pants,  Just try going to work when you have to plan how to deal with bathroom issues: Skirt?  Too cold.   Elastic waist sweat pants?  NO WAY.   Confide in and beg a friend for help?  Don't go to work?

3)  You can't cut up or butter your own food.

4)  Lifting weights with only one arm results in a very uneven workout.

5)  You can't drive because you cannot grasp the steering wheel nor the shifting knob.

6)  Mascara.  Need I say more?

7)  You can't floss your own teeth nor wash your own left arm /armpit.  TMI.

8)  Have to write something?  Like a signature?  Hello, left hand, get to work!

9)  Putting on a bra?  Again, TMI.

10) Try making a decent meal with only one hand.... or folding  a load of laundry.

11)  Open the door while carrying the groceries in?  Right.  Let's just say, it becomes a multi step operation.

12)  Do you have any idea how hard it is to put socks on using just one hand? Or, better yet, tights?

    The thing I have learned (yet again)  is that life goes on.  Things get done.  Or don't get done.  I find creative ways to tackle the obstacles.   I never knew before how useful teeth could be - especially when it comes to getting dressed.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kitchen Remodel

    Home remodeling projects - fun?  Or not so much?  RR and I have lived in this house for 27 years.  We knew when we bought the house that there was a kitchen remodel in our future.  This past February we actually completed the third (this one relatively minor) kitchen remodel.   

     The first kitchen project, completed in 1987, expanded the kitchen to include a dining area.  Prior to that expansion,  the room was dominated by an island.  If the family wanted to eat at a table together, you had to bring everything in the adjacent (carpeted) dining room.  We also created a separate laundry room space and moved the washer/dryer out of the kitchen.  This kitchen project served our young family really well.

      In 1999, we did some major renovations in the house.  We replaced most of the old single pane windows, installed hard wood floors, fashioned a smaller, less obtrusive kitchen island, installed a kitchen pantry unit, replaced the shower units in both bathrooms, and painted several of the interior rooms.  Big bucks, that one!  Despite the expense, we never regretted these improvements.  The house has been brighter, more energy efficient, and more comfortable as a result.

     The most recent project was the least expensive so far.  Its goals were primarily cosmetic and were designed to make the kitchen feel warmer and more open.  The island got a facelift with new countertops that feature warmer tones and integrated sinks.  We replaced the thirty year old stove and fifteen year old dishwasher (still functioning but certainly not as energy efficient as newer models).  Additionally, RR painted over some of the dark wood trim with a warm yellow tone.  The overall effect makes the kitchen feel more open and less cavelike.   Although money is tight, we had saved for these modifications and nothing went on a credit card.  I think it makes the kitchen an even warmer gathering place.


Pre remodel - note the heavy wood accents up high.

Pre remodel - I painted the mural on the east facing wall above five years ago.  It remains a focal point in the kitchen.

Remodel in progress - new stove/microwave and upper trim in transition.

Remodel in progress.  We really like the new countertops and integrated sinks.
       What has been your experience with home remodeling projects?  Have they been worth the money and effort?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


So Invisible

Blending into shadows
melting into darkness

a fragment of a photo,
missing in the frame

met with blank faces 
no thingness

hands reach through
talk around, above, 
not to

always invisible
until seen
until able to see

So invisible you might even forget yourself

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Heft (the book)

  In order to really love a book, I  have to care about the characters.  Heft by Liz Moore clearly fits into that category.  The opening chapter is actually a letter written by Arthur Opp, one of the main characters.  It begins:

"The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.......Second, in my letters to you these past two decades I have been untruthful by omission.....Last and most important: I no longer go out of my house."

   There is something so honest about Arthur and that is obvious in the opening letter.  As the story unfolds, we learn that Arthur is not only honest, he is also honorable.  As Arthur's life begins to  change, the reader can feel his insecurities.  His fears and flaws become palatable and I, for one, wanted to be his friend.

   A parallel story features 18 year old Kel Keller.   The first time the reader meets him, Kel has just arrived home to find his mother passed out on the living room floor.  His thoughts?  "My God she's dead is what I think.  She's dead this time."  Clearly, Kel has been down this road before.  Kel has become his mother's caretaker, the way children of substance abusers sometimes do.  And, like some  children of substance abusers, Kel is also resilient and mature beyond his years.  He is an athlete, bound, he hopes, for the world of professional sports.  Even though he has perfected the act of "cool high school guy", he is not arrogant and, in fact, I wanted to be his friend too.

   There is an interesting juxtaposition here.  In some respects, Arthur seems like a scared child who has lived a very confined and "safe" life.  Kel seems like an adult who has risen to take on the world.  By the end of the story, Arthur has grown up and Kel has been able to grow down. Arthur becomes someone who can care for himself and others and Kel becomes someone who can let others care for him.

   How these two connect is a fascinating and poignant story.  In the end, it is a hopeful story, a tale which demonstrates that change can happen.  It is never too early or too late to be who you want to be.  I think Lisa Moore has created inspiring characters to prove this point.  I came to care about the characters and, yes, that is one sign of a good book.

Monday, April 8, 2013


"Patience, Young Grasshopper."

     The term grasshopper refers to a novice, a beginner, someone who is just learning some new skill or information.  It came from the Kung Fu series that ran  on TV in the 1970's and was given to the young male character by an elderly blind man.  The young boy thought that the old man was at a disadvantage because of his blindness but the master proved that his awareness of the world was much higher than that of the young boy. Even though I am well educated by the culture's standards, I am a grasshopper in other ways.  Most recently, I am learning that the rules by which most of my life has been lived are (surprise!) not carved in stone.  Think Moses and the really doesn't have to be like that.

    There are rules that I have used to guide me through life.  Most of them  (especially those dealing in kindness and necessary caution) have served me well.  However,  let me tell you about three rules that this grasshopper is reconsidering.

Rule # 1:   Life is about work.  Be productive.  Work daily.  An expression that my father threw out all the time was a line from the movie Bridge on the River Kwai:  "Let us be happy in our work."  Work for a paycheck but when not working for a paycheck, do home care/improvement and family care.  Mind you, it's not about how much money you earn.  Not at all.  In fact, it's preferable if your work is community service in nature.  It is solely about work.  It is okay to take evenings off and part of a weekend day. You can have  a summer vacation trip and you don't have to work on your birthday or on Thanksgiving or Christmas (except for kitchen chores which must always be done).

Okay, so now I am wondering about that.  Working all the time leaves little room for reflection, fun, ease.  Much of my paid employment has been satisfying, if not downright enjoyable.  But, still......

Rule #2:   Life is serious business.  Laughter and humor are important and good, but the furrowed brow is the true meaning of life.  

Hmmmmmm.  Really?  How does one learn to lighten up, anyway?

Rule #3:   To be aging suggests that one is losing in life.  To avoid losing the game, one must deny that one is aging.  One must go at the pace of a younger person.  One must make light of (or even deny) any physical disability.  One must maintain an appearance that suggests youth and vitality.  Never wear elastic waist pants away from home.

Wait!  Who made THAT rule?  And how does that make sense?  Oh, that's right.  That would be big business/advertising industry.  My best friends - not.

What do yo think?  Are you, in any part of your life, a grasshopper?  Do the rules outlined above work for you?  What are some rules you might question in your own life?

Saturday, April 6, 2013


      Yes, the name Francis is in the news a lot right now,  The newly elected leader of the Catholic Church has assumed the name of Francis as his own in his role as pope.  Having grown up surrounded by the traditions of Catholicism, I maintain both a knowledge and interest in what happen there (though not a sense of connection or belonging).  When I first heard that this new pope had selected this moniker, I found both interest and hope presenting themselves to me.

     As a child, I was well indoctrinated in the lore of sainthood.  In general, I enjoyed reading biographies and, trust me, there were many biographies of saints available for my reading pleasure.  Because of that background, I could immediately identify three men that the new pope might have had in mind when he selected this name:  Francis of Assisi, Francis de Sales, and Francis Ignatius of Loyola.

     I have the greatest respect and appreciation for some people I have known up close and personal who happen to be Catholics but one cannot deny the depth of controversy currently stewing in the Catholic Church.  The Church is in need of strong, compassionate, thoughtful, and forward thinking leadership. The influence of three Francises (how do you write the plural of Francis?) referenced above suggests that maybe Pope Francis the First might, just might, be that sort of leader.  St Francis of Assisi is renown for his humility, his embrace of the poor,and his love of all things in the natural world.   St Francis de Sales connected with the common person and wrote a book of prayer designed for the bust layperson who wanted to weave spirituality into his or her life.  Finally, St Francis Xavier of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, preached tolerance for other religions, believed in free education for all, and insisted on a vow of poverty for his followers.   These few word descriptions tell so little but so much about the possible direction of the Church in the upcoming years.

     Here's the thing:  why should I, or anyone who is not a practicing Catholic,  even care what this private, religious institution does?  Well, largely because it IS an international institution, with influence in educational and social welfare programs around the world.   Its policies and its culture influence social movements and developments globally, particularly in second and third world nations.   That's why I care what goes on within the Catholic Church.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The End

Between my mother's rapid decline in health and the many issues associated with that.....
AND the surgery on my right hand/arm (which leaves me hunting and pecking with solely  the non dominant hand)....
AND an increasingly difficult workplace environment - the f**ked up system that is public education in CA (Beware:  don't put your kids in  public school here) ....
I am leaving the A to Z Challenge.

I will still post as convenient.  I will still read stuff as convenient.
but it's  not fun when it is pressure and stress.
You all know that -


Things that are empty:

1)  flat tires

2)  broken hearts

3)  my wallet these days

4)  a life when love is gone

5)  schools in summertime

6)  closed minds

7)  the NorCal beach on a Tuesday in January

8)  complaints about the generosity of Santa Claus

9)  99% of what is televised on the commercial networks

10)  tree limbs in December

11) a person without passion

12)  the streets at four o'clock in the morning

13)  zero

14)  loneliness

15)  trash / yard waste / recycling cans on my street on Tuesday afternoons

16)  they say space is empty but it's not

17) the moral bank account of big corporations

What do you think of as empty?

Thursday, April 4, 2013


"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
   Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” 
   Henry David Thoreau (from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays)

          I don't know why but these words have haunted me all my life.  I was introduced to them by Sr Aidan during my junior year of high school.  I remember that the words struck me as sad and inevitable.  I wanted somehow to avoid that fate but I suspect I was too young to even get what he was talking about.  I was a reader and a writer and, even then, I was too reflective for my own good
.  Words like these carved themselves into my soul and I was never able to shake them.

        Thoreau went off to Walden to live the simple life.  He pared his days down to the bare essentials and he found happiness.  Are the possessions we claim and the routes we take to gain those possessions the source of desperation?  Maybe, at least in part.  I think it's that resignation that truly does us in.  If I resign myself to a life that is, for whatever reason,  "less than", then I condemn myself to a life of desperation.  I think quietly desperate lives are passive lives, lived in lukewarm days and empty nights.

    I also think it's the easier path to live a life of desperation.  I didn't say happier or more satisfying.  I said easier.  It takes work to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  It takes hella energy to face obstacles, to look the truth straight in the eye and decide to change something. It's easy to compare yourself to others, find yourself lacking, decide you are not among the chosen few, and give yourself over to mediocrity. It's a lot easier to hang around waiting for something to happen rather than working to make something happen.  

    That was the voice of experience writing that last paragraph.  Sometimes I find myself in what I think of as the ultimate desperation zone:  that I have missed my chance at a stellar life, that I am too old  now to be or do anything more of significance.  It sounds rather pathetic as I read it out loud but it still feels true. Granted, with the help of good genetic material, a good partner parent, and a substantial helping of good luck I can say that my two children are significant gifts that I am giving to the world.  And, yes, my years in public education were filled with passion and devotion to my community.  But the offspring have sprung and I can feel in my (broken) bones that I am running out of steam for community service.

    Will anything light my fire now?

    How about you?  Where are you on the desperation scale?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


“What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable.” 
 Roger Ebert

Ten things about which I am curious:

1)  Money:  How little do I actually need to live on satisfactorily?

2)  Sketch artists:   How, exactly, do people draw like that?

3)  Italy:  Is it really as warm, friendly, and beautiful as I imagine?

4)  People in general:  What are their individual stories?

5)  Dreams: (night time ones)  Can they really be speaking to me and, if so, how do I hear what they want to say to me?

6)  Feelings:  Can you really set them over there and observe them?  Can you make a box around them, and let them rest without having to do something about them?

7)  Night time visitor:  There is a creature who visits the kitchen in the night.  It leaves no scat and completely sidesteps the various mouse/rat/vermin traps we have set up.  It can get itself up to the countertop and it nibbles bread and bananas (if the banana has an unpeeled portion).  It doesn't seem to like stale bread.  There are NO holes in the walls or baseboards and all windows and doors are sealed.  It comes into the kitchen even when the dining room door is tightly shut.  What is it and how does it know to avoid every imaginable type of trap?

8)  Yellowstone in June:  Will a road trip now be as adventurous and fun as it was back then?

9)  My job:  What changes are in store for the 2013/2014 school year and how will I ride them out?

10)  Dave:  I was once upon a time MARRIED to this man.  I have not seen or heard from him since the late 1970's.  I wonder how his life turned out?  What did his story become?

About what are YOU curious?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


“Boldness be my friend.” 
 William Shakespeare

     I like to paint.  When people ask me, "So what kind of paintings do you do?" the words that always comes to mind are abstract and BOLD.   Clearly abstract works to describe what I like to do with paints.  Seldom do I paint something that is representational.  In other words, I am not about painting realistic pieces.  I often paint the conversation that is in my head.  I frequently  paint what I found in my night time dreams.  There are many times when I have no clue about what it is I am painting.

     My work is seldom soft, warm, and fuzzy.  Generally speaking, the colors are vivid, the texture is rich and sometimes harsh.  On occasion, there is an edginess, sometimes a starkness about the works.  My paintings can be infused with playfulness, anger, despair, fear, confusion, joy, and more.  Pretty much they all have one thing in common:  boldness.

      And I find it both amusing and perplexing that boldness shows up in my paintings.  There is nothing bold about me or my life.  I live in a conventional home, in a conventional small town.  I have a conventional job, a retired and conventional husband, two conventional children, and two conventional mutts.  Boldness implies audacity, courage, adventurousness, maybe even brazen.   I wish I could say I were any of those things.  Instead, I mostly feel like a robot that has marched through a predictable life. Maybe the boldness of my artwork is the me who wishes she were someone else.

   Just for fun, I am adding some photos of original work.  The colors tend to be muted on the computer screen so use your imagination to amplify what you see and you might get an idea of the real deal.  Most of these paintings are 18" x 24" unframed (which translates to typically about 25" x 32" framed). The size only magnifies the boldness - a big wall is required for hanging.

Monday, April 1, 2013


“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.” 

- Gilda Radner

    For years I thought  that ambiguity was the sole propriety of language.  I considered a sentence, a passage, a poem, a story, anything with words that was unclear as ambiguous.  And that's where ambiguity stopped.  In 1989, Gilda Radner died of cancer and I discovered this quote.  That's when the door opened on ambiguity for  me.

     Initially, I didn't like thinking of life as ambiguous.  I wanted to know exactly what was going to happen, how exactly were things going to turn out.  I didn't like waiting for outcomes and, instead, I determined that whatever way I wanted things to go was the way they were going to go.  Big mistake.

     More recently, I have made room on the bench of life for ambiguity. Ambiguity is going to push its way in anyway so I might as well make room for it.  Specifically, this means that I don't assume to know exactly how things are going to turn out.  It means that I can be curious about the outcome of some situation rather than decide that I am in charge of everything and that the universe will obey my demands.  

     Making room for ambiguity certainly does make life more interesting and, yes, entertaining. 

I know what I painted but do you know what I painted?  Ambiguity in art!