Thursday, December 31, 2009

Party Like It's 2010

I love new beginnings. A chance to start with a clean slate, wipe away the mistakes, make it right.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Long Time Ago in a Land Faraway

She Never Went Hungry

She couldn’t remember
the first time she saw an avocado.
Even if she’d known about them
they would have been too expensive
to find their way to her shopping cart.
She bought at the base exchange:
potatoes, flour, sugar
canned corn and red beans
Wonder bread and baloney.
He took his lunch.
Sandwiches and cookies and
a thermos of coffee.
She waitressed at the pancake house
where two free meals
could be anything on the menu
(except the T-bone.)
Mostly she chose pancakes,
homemade pie, ice cream
growing plump beneath the
white nylon uniform.
By Thanksgiving she knew
her rounding stomach
was more than too much starch.

If she didn’t count the vomiting
and the loss of interest in sex,
it was a good time.
She quit her job, took up nesting
filled the freezer with casseroles
and the dresser with tiny
handmade shirts and blankets
While he spent all his time
working on the car.
She filled the empty space
with television
mother-to-be magazines
and lemon meringue pies.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What Else Could He Do

The walls are thin and she can see sunlight around the windows. When the wind gets up, the howling keeps her awake and creates small dunes of red sand along the west walls. During the day she wedges cotton into the cracks around the windows with a case knife. It helps, a little, but they still have to sleep with a wet wash cloth over their faces in order to breathe. 

She didn’t ask for this life, had once imagined joining her sister on the assembly lines at the plant in Dallas. But that dream was overcome by a handsome airman who undid her bra with one hand on their first date. She made him fasten it back and take her home straightaway but his big gold-toothed smile and an embarrassed apology made her give him a second chance.

A month later he asked her to marry and she said yes. She knew he had a child and wasn’t quite divorced yet, but he promised to fix that soon. After the wedding at city hall, they rented a house in River Oaks near her sister so she could babysit her niece and nephew. 

After he was discharged from the service, he took a job driving long-haul trucks. He was gone a lot but home long enough for her to get pregnant. In the summer, he brought home ears of fresh corn and tomatoes and green beans from the roadsides where he stopped to sleep. And then one night he showed up with a scrawny kid with long braids and his hazel eyes, carrying a grocery sack of faded dresses and raggedy underwear. “What else could I do?” his eyes begged.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fresh Start

In the summer of ’88, I loaded up everything I owned in the largest truck I could get from U-Haul and moved to a former apple orchard outside Aromas. Within a few months I’d populated my two acres with a ewe and her two babies, a dog, a cat, and a pair of gay goats. In the rare evenings when the fog didn’t come in, I imagined I could see the ocean through the notch between two small hills on the western horizon. 

Some nights I’d pick up a jug of red wine, throw briquettes on the rickety barbecue, and grill a big ribeye for me and the dog. Most days I’d work awhile in the yard or the garden area. Once I came across a small snake hiding under a thick patch of Johnson grass. Deathly afraid of snakes, I called the Aromas Fire Department for help. “Is it on fire?” they asked.

Another time a red ferret raced into the garage and out again. Occasionally wild chickens would try to roost in the laundry area. Once I found a small greenish egg up near the box of Tide.
Over time I grew tan and muscled and comfortable with myself in a way I didn’t remember being before. I canned apples and made applesauce and finally got a small garden put in. I got to know my neighbor with the funny accent (he was from Malta by way of Canada) who made his own wine and cured olives. I learned to take his advice about most things.

My life now is tamer. I miss the sense of adventure, the naive belief in unlimited possibilities.


Yesterday seemed warmer somehow. The tree, the fireplace, the warmed over tamales. A spectacular dinner orchestrated by my brilliant son. 

Today I feel like an icicle, waiting to break off the gutter and crash to the ground.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Getting Closer

Fabulous art from
It's almost here--Christmas, then fast on its heels, the New Year. It's true what they say: time flies faster as you grow older. 

But it's also true that we can slow it down just by taking a deep breath, refusing to let go of each minute, each second, until we've sucked all the sweetness out of it. My mantra remains: beauty, order, and purpose.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Russell has been my guy from the beginning. My eyes are full of tears. I can't explain it. It just is.

My Brain on Work

To Do List
  • Make sure everyone turns in their timesheets
  • Turn in all the timesheet information
  • Reorganize teacher assignments
  • Notify teachers that are being "let go"
  • Identify and punish students who are terrorizing bus drivers
  • Find classroom space for two new "outside" programs
  • Make sure everyone gets their picture taken for badges
  • Make sure I get my picture taken
  • Make sure everyone knows about the Jan 11 training
  • Find out EXACTLY when/where/if training is taking place
  • Reassure the principal that after school is under control
  • Reassure my district office boss that everything is under control
  • Convince myself that after school is under control
  • Get all the staff authorizations in place for 2010
  • Drink more coffee

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Love Art

That sings to me; art that sucks me in, makes me want to dance. Art that sits outside the mainstream. Chor Boogie paints with a spray can, public art, big art. I want to apprentice with Chor Boogie.

Wanda Part 9

Ruby drops the mail on the kitchen table: The Farm Journal, the butane bill, the weekly advertisement from Furr's. Then the envelope with the familiar handwriting and no return address. She reaches for the chair back to steady herself, then sits. Her hands shake so hard she can hardly open the letter. 

Dear Mama and Daddy,
I hope you have not worried about me cause I am fine. I am sorry for not writing. I miss you. Tell Daisy I hope she is doing good in school. I love you and I'm ok. 


She looks at the smeared postmark. She hears Marvin coming in the backdoor and begins to cry.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

On this day in 1685: Artificial pearls were first manufactured in Paris by M. Jaquin by covering gypsum pellets with fish scales. They're still working on artificial swine.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Looking Out the Window at Jack London Square

Jack London (age 9) with his dog

White Fang was enormously popular with my 4th grade students. Enthralled with Jack London’s famous tale of the part-wolf, part Indian sled dog, I think they made connections on many levels with their own uprooted lives and limited, sometimes dangerous options. I like to think that reading this story helped them, in the long run, to better navigate their own tenuous paths.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


After my grandmother died, my grandfather's bachelor brother moved in with him. They lived together for many years in the tiny house where I grew up, finally adding a bathroom on the back of the house and abandoning the old privy. 

They whiled away many hours drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and playing cribbage with their homemade scoring tiles, pictured above. I'd give about anything to spend just one more afternoon with them, laughing and talking about the good old days.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Once Upon a Time

I was married to a crazy man. He was also an artist and taught me to paint with oils. This is one of my paintings. When I look at it, I can't believe it was me, either as the artist or the wife. But that's my signature.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beautiful Biloba

On the advice of my primary care physician, about a month ago I started taking ginkgo biloba. Research and trials in Europe have shown a correlation between taking ginkgo biloba 2 or 3 times daily and increased mental acuity. The data indicates that it can reduce the effects of early stage Alzheimer's. I do feel like my memory is better. So stay tuned.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Wonderful Woman

My sister. Today is her birthday. She deserves to be Queen for a Day, this day. Every day. She is one of the best human beings I've ever known. A hard worker, a loving wife and mother, a sweet sister. Happy Birthday!


I'm spending half my time in this job fixing time card problems from the beginning of the after school program. Yikes! Oh well, it's $28.65 an hour. Our tax dollars at work.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Think That I Shall Never See

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.  
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
                             Joyce Kilmer

One of my favorite grade school activities was memorizing and reciting poetry. It offered a glimmer of a wider world, something to reach for. There doesn't seem to be much time or interest in such things these days and that makes me sad.

Armageddon in Retrospect

"Writing was a spiritual exercise for my father, the only thing he really believed in." Mark Vonnegut

I have been in love with Kurt Vonnegut for most of my adult life. Imagine my joy when I came across Armageddon in Retrospect. It's a wonderful collection of unpublished stories and essays. It fills in some of the blank spaces and reminds me once again how important writers are to civilization.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Utter Exhaustion

Except for the cigarette, this could be me. I won't go into the details, but in a few short weeks I've got myself enmeshed at school, as surely as if it were a big tar pit. Oh well. As my hero Kurt Vonnegut would say, "So it goes."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Memory Lapse and Incoming Information

School is overstimulated and overstimulating. Teachers are stretched too thin. Principals are unrealistic. Students are out of control. Parents are overworked. I fall into bed at night, sleep the sleep of the dead. How could I have forgotten that this is the way it always is?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Queen for a Day

In the early 1950s, my grandmother and I listened each morning to Jack Bailey as he bestowed temporary royalty on an audience member. Each contestant explained why they needed a specific item: a washing machine, special shoes for a crippled child, groceries for a starving family of 10.  The lucky winner was chosen by audience applause. I always tried to imagine what my grandmother would ask for if she were on the show.