Sunday, April 28, 2013

What I Saw Whilst Walking on the Beach

"O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!"

This, dear readers, is a photo of, I believe, a rather senior gentleman in full wetsuit, cap to toes, patterned in yellow and black--a bit like a court jester. He is balanced on what appeared to be a wooden post, similar to a telephone pole, but squared off, paddling like crazy.

Enlighten me, please. A new sport? A triathlon which involves caber tossing, a swim, and then perhaps totem-pole carving?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Walking With Whales and A Bird in the Hand

Having recently found out that my blood pressure continues to be a bit high and that my blood sugar is elevated as well, and that I have a severe vitamine D deficiency, I decided to step up my fitness routine by walking to the gym a couple days a week. I tried this a while back and found it too unpleasant with the 50-mile per hour traffic in my neighborhood, but I think I've now hit on the solution: Drive to the sand and then walk to the gym along the beach. Round trip is probably about two miles, and since I usually walk on the sand after the gym anyway and then have to walk back to my car in the gym parking lot, the new plan only requires that I leave the house 40 minutes earlier. Since I get back home about half an hour earlier, the extra net time that I leave my Mom alone is only 10 minutes.

So yesterday was the first morning of the new fitness plan, and about five  minutes into my walk, I spotted four gray whales swimming parellell to the shore, heading north as I walked south. Long after we passed one another, I could still see their spouts when I turned around to look. Margaritaville continues to astonish me just one year and two weeks since I bought my house here. The birds alone might have sufficed to let me know I'd found paradise. Pelicans still take my breath away. And just recently I've finally sorted the willets from the whimbrels, and the whimbrels from the curlews--and I think I've recently added a type of godwit (marbled?) to the list of shore birds I can identify. The first time I saw dophins during one of my walks, it felt like a miracle. The whales caught me completely off guard. I didn't know they swam that close to shore. For all I know, maybe they don't usually.

A couple of days ago, I came across an injured bird on the beach. Sure that I had entered some kind of bird rescue number in my phone, I began scrolling for it while standing back so as not to alarm the  creature in distress. Not finding the number right away, the big questions began to ask themselves: Would it be better for the bird to remain where it was? What if it got rescued and spent its last moments in some claustrophobic tiled room literally circling the drain? Shouldn't it be allowed to die under the sky next to the sound of the waves? But while I was agonizing and scrolling, a woman strode toward the bird with a long-handled net. Without slowing,she walked just past the bird, got behind it, and dropped the net over the top of it. A few seconds later, she reached under the net and scooped the bird into her arms. She finagled her net then--folded it or shortened the handle somehow--and then placed a cloth  over the bird who was carried off under her arm like a privledged chihuahua.

photo credit: travelocity

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day/Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

A few mornings ago, I awoke stumbling out of a dream--caught in the vortex of my subconscious, it felt like forever before I could open my eyes. There was an enormous orange moon that turned out not to be a moon at all, but some kind of balloon-like satellite. This not-moon had fallen from the sky and came to rest on the street. The Someone was there, pointing out a small control box attached to the edge of the glowing sphere. And there were antelope. As the antelope bounded by--paying no heed to the fallen moon--their legs seemingly spring-loaded, I reminded the Someone of the backpacking trip where we'd seen a herd of them. Back in those pre-Wikipedia days, there were inexpensive guidebooks and pamphlets often purchased by hikers and day-walkers who wanted to learn the names of those wild things they might encounter on the trail. The backpacking trip I mentioned in the dream was a real life backpacking trip, and  I'll bet there's a booklet still on the shelf in the study in the house where I no longer reside, a check mark next to the picture of the animal who, it turns out, is not actually an antelope at all.

Yesterday, my mom pointed out an article which seems to have disappeared from the electronic version of my L.A. Times. I did, however, find THIS.  I was stunned to read that the pronghorn is critically endangered. Only fifty left in the wild? Today I dropped into a sort of Earth Day rabbit hole. I just couldn't wrap my head around it. While I often delighted in watching old movies with my kids and saying things like, "Look, oh my god, look, that's a typewriter," or "See that? It's a telephone with a dial! That's why we say dial tone," I don't ever want to say that I saw an entire herd of pronghorn in 1979, and that no one will ever see them in the wilderness again.

After  an hour with my iPad in the dentist's office waiting room while my mom had some work done, I'm happy to report that the peninsular pronghorn mentioned in the above link, is not the only sub-species of pronghorn on the planet Earth. The type I came across somewhere in the Sierra, seems to be managing--though my heart sunk a bit at THIS. I am not anti-hunting, but my brain did another trip back to the 70s when the Someone and I sat at the newly installed computers circa 1974 (could this be?--or am I conflating college with law school?) playing a game where the object was to properly manage the bison herd of  a by-gone era. We wiped them out. Inadvertently. Best intensions and all that, but oops! No more bison.

So, while I have no idea why I am still dreaming of the Someone occasionally, or why I dreamed of antelope, Happy Earth Day. The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere and also has the longest land mammal migratory route. Seen in the wilderness, they will take a backpacker's breath away, the white stripes across their throats streaking through the dappled light like no Nike swoosh has ever done. Your body will throb with adrenaline to be in the presence of so many wild animals at once. Your brain will grapple with their vertical springing vis a vis the swiftness at which they pass you by. Then you'll stand there stunned at what you've seen, the pronghorns long gone.

Photo Credit:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Blood is Thicker than Water, but Smoke Looks a Lot Like Fog

I smelled it. That chimichuri sauce I put on the fish seems smoky, I thought. I was at my desk juggling  a pile of paper with making dinner. My mother was talking to herself  in full voice, and it had been going on for hours. I needed a little space. I put on NPR. Turned off NPR. Put on music. Turned off the music. Finally I went to my room and closed the door, and turned on my computer. I could hear the fog horns--they'd been making noise for long while, but it was only an hour or so ago that the fog really began to roll into Margaritaville. I wanted to stay in my room and watch the fog blanket my corner of the world. C'mon, muffle everything. Wrap me into silence.

But there was dinner.

My mother was standing at the kitchen island with her martini when I went downstairs. She was still talking. Something about cheese. She'd had enough cheese. It's even foggier than it was a minute ago, I thought. When I opened the oven to test the fish, a cloud of smoke rolled out. The pyrex dish that the fish had been in had spit in two, and the fish now sat in a crevasse, its juices dripping to the bottom of the oven, a slick back stain solidifying into a smoky crust.

I'd already had a fairly stupid day. I'd walked into the sliding screen door and wrenched my neck. I'd sunburned myself while oiling my teak table and chairs on the patio. Not being able to tell the difference between smoke and fog while incinerating dinner was not really necessary to bring home the fallible human shit.

Dinner, surprisingly, was not bad. The fish was not ruined. The roasted carrots and sweet potatoes survived. The avocado was perfect. My cheap red wine tasted expensive.

After dinner I decided to walk--fog or no fog. Afterwards, I picked up our mail and came in through the back door. My mom didn't hear me come in, and there she was, drinking right from the bottle of cheap red. Caught you, I said, and left it at that. She keeps her martinis pre-mixed in the freezer. Maybe she's been tipping that bottle right up to her lips, too. Maybe that's why she finds herself a scintillating conversationalist.

I don't know why her talking to herself gets on my nerves, but it does. About half of it is moaning rather than articulated words.

The good news is that when I went back to the doctor's office for my blood pressure re-check on Thursday, it was normal. The nurse gave me all the blood pressure hand-outs anyway. How you're feeling isn't a reliable indicator of blood pressure, apparently. Which is good, because today I felt like my head might just blow off and go straight through the ceiling.

photo credit:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This is a Cautionary Tale

No, this picture was not taken in jail, but if there were a jail for clowns masquerading as grown-ups, I would probably be doing some serious time.

Tax day was nigh, and I breathed a sigh of relief when the email from my tax guy landed in my inbox. I read the cover letter, checked the adjusted gross income, verified my name and social security number. The attachment was over 100 pages. I had house guests. I did not, I confess, comb through the hundred and some pages. There was a tidy little box in the cover letter that showed my refunds for state and federal and the amount owed for capitol gains for the sale of my farmland in the state of Nebraska. The net result was a negative number, (alas) but the letter advised me that all of this giving and taking would occur electronically. Ah, I thought, I don't have to do anything. How nice.

I awoke on April 16th with a jolt. Wait....wasn't I supposed to pay my quarterly estimated taxes for 2013? On the 15th?! I spent part of the day in denial, part in a panic. There would be thousands in penalties, I thought. I was too embarrassed to call my tax guy or the ever-so-patient financial advisor. What now? How could I be so careful, so meticulous all year long, and then screw things up?

At the end of the day, sick with dread, I called the financial guy, figuring that if I were a tax preparer, I would be in Maui at the bottom of an umbrella drink on April 16th, and I would most certainly not answer a phone call from me. "D" I said, "I did something really bad." There was a long pause while he contemplated what the crazy woman might have done. Vegas? A couple thousand Power Ball tickets? I explained. Then he explained. Turns out it's not a big deal. Yes, there may be a couple of days of interest... but it might be more cost effective for them just to forget it. Oh--and the quarterly payment for the state taxes had a one-day grace period for online payments. So I wasn't late there at all.

I was a wife for 30 years. I let my husband take care of all things financial. Bah!--why worry my pretty head? That philosophy has resulted in several financial migraines these last few years.

Oh pretty young wife married to the man of your dreams, I wish you a wiser road.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The River of Un-knowing

In the classic Greek myth, Eurydice dies twice. Once on her wedding day when she is bitten by an adder, and again just as she is about to be released from the underworld to rejoin her grieving husband. Orpheus charms Hades and Cerberus with his music in order procure his wife's freedom, but Eurydice is returned the underworld when Orpheus defies the prohibition against looking back at her as she follows him to the land of the living. Eurydice cries out when she steps on a thorn, and when Orpheus turns, it is their final parting.

In the Sarah Ruhl play,"Eurydice," which I saw at my favorite theater company on Sunday, Eurydice's return to the underworld is  no accident.  She causes Orpheus to turn around when she calls out to him for no apparent reason, presumably so she can return to her father whom she has become reacquainted with in the afterlife. She chooses death over life or, perhaps, in a moment of panic, chooses the familiar over the unfamiliar. It is the mandatory dipping in the river between this life and the next that causes the dead to forget the living and much of what they knew above ground. "Hold your breath," Eurydice's father advises her as they discuss her possible return. He himself has maintained the ability to read and to speak the language of the living. If Eurydice forgets too much, she will not remember him, just as she barely remembers Orpheus.

Living with my mother, I often feel that she is standing in the river of un-knowing. Certain words escape her. Sometimes, near dinnertime when her tongue is wearing its fuzzy martini overcoat, and my ears are full of wine, it seems that we are speaking two different languages. Like Eurydice, she can no longer  accomplish the tasks that came easily in life. Eurydice who once loved books and ideas, no longer knows how to read, and does not even recognize a book. My mother, who was once a devoted cook, now pares an apple with a bread knife and struggles to open a box of crackers.

Eurydice, in Ruhl's play, is lured to her first death with the promise of a letter from her deceased father. For years, my mother has had nighttime visitations from my long-dead father, from her dead brothers and sisters. They stand at the foot of her bed and talk to her, she says. When she first told me of these gatherings, I was afraid that they were calling her to them. Perhaps they are, and in the wee hours of each morning, she chooses to step from the river back on to dry land, still remembering most of what she needs to get through life. Volition, as in Eurydice's return to the underworld, no doubt has its role in the timing of our exit from this life--or so we like to think in this age when where we so esteem control. But maybe sometimes, even though our heads are full of love songs, we are simply fated to an encounter that will kill us.

What interests me most right now is the river. What it washes away. What we manage to cling to as it rushes by. What seems gone forever and then reappears swirling at our feet. Greek mythology implies that it is too painful to leave this life without dipping into the river of forgetfulness. The dead are thus required to forget, while it is our job--the job of the living--to remember.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Early Morning Beach Walk

Blue-gray sky seamed to blue-green ocean
Sand dolloped with foam
Purity of willets' wings.
Seaweed spells out a message in a language indecipherable--
words I think I once knew.
Blackest crow meets whitest dove
Shells cracked open, picked clean.
No sliver of beach glass
Only my own footprints--present meeting the past head on.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What the Yoga Teacher Said

"Imagine your body as a set of systems controlled by dials. Now adjust all the dials to the yoga settings."

Hello, mortgage underwriter. Hello ex-spouse. Hello all you literary magazines who have my stories in your slush pile. I have a message for you: Do not touch that dial.

photo credit:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Destination: Divorceville

I took a brief trip today to my old town, Divorceville. I opened the gate to the city (a.k.a The Box) and wallowed in the muck of those filthy streets. It's tax time, and if that in and of itself isn't stressful enough, I needed to find the purchase price of the farmland I received as part of my divorce settlement. I sold said farmland almost immediately and now must pay capitol gains on it since it appreciated quite a bit since The Someone and I bought it in 1993. I thought there might be some reference to its original worth in an email or a file folder, but no there was not. I made various phone calls--one of which at least provided the amount of the original mortgage on the land.

How many more times am I going to have to open this box? I asked myself as I sat on the floor of my bedroom with stacks of paper avalanching off my lap. Probably again and again, I answered myself. So I decided I would at least put some of what I was holding into chronological order. So I did. And then the prospect of that task became too great, so I began to read some of the papers around me.

The man who loves me once told me that, one day, I might forgive The Someone. I might look back and see what a love we had and what wonderful daughters we raised, and I told him that no, I didn't think that would ever happen, and he said something to the effect of, well, you don't know, and maybe it will someday. I am the first to admit that time does change things. It turns down the volume, blurs the colors, rearranges details. I did perhaps feel a tiny speck of compassion at the end of December when The Someone told me about his reduced income. I made no plans to thwart a court ordered modification of my alimony. And maybe, just maybe, right then I tested the waters of, well, not exactly forgiveness, but something less bitter than what I had been steeping in for the past five years.

Today, after reviewing some of the papers I excavated from the box, my perspective now is that the process was far more brutal and cruel that I was able to absorb at the time. I am more aware than ever of the depths of my devastation, how far I plunged before my seared lungs managed a gulp of air. I'm beyond thrilled to be here in Margaritaville living with my mom and the ancient cat, friends visiting, soaking up the love of children and grandchildren, cherished by the man who loves me in a way I didn't know existed.

As of yet, even though since January I have received substantially less that the current court order demands, there is no modified court order for reduced alimony in process because no proof of reduced income has been provided. This evening I found my Google search for "retroactive modified alimony" quite satisfying.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hang onto Your Haaa-----Better Yet, Hang onto Everything

The wind is having its way with Ventura County. All night long gusts rocked my house. Howls were punctuated with crashes as all my potted trees tipped over. My mom feels terrible for me when the trees tip over. So much work for me, she says. Not really, I tell her. I really want the greenery outside my windows instead of the neighbors' houses. So my trees are horizontal, laying low quite literally, until Mother Nature decides it's time to inhale. The trees have blown down a dozen times in the last year. I'm okay with it.

Luckily, not one of my mother's seven different doctors needs to see her today. Palm fronds are thudding to the ground. Streets signs come loose on days like today. Traffic lights go out, and it's the planet of projectiles out there when these winds pry loose various things from their moorings.

It was difficult to sleep last night. I was not particularly anxious, as I sometimes am when nature gets testy, but these straight line winds, as damaging as they can be, are not the tornadoes that occasionally touched down in Iowa while I was growing up. In Iowa, if my Dad deemed it wise, we kids slept in the basement. He lost a brother in a tornado when  he was growing up on a farm in southern Illinois.

Here, my house doesn't even have a basement. I like to sleep with the shades up when the wind blows. I can see what's blowing by, and prove to myself that it sounds worse than it is. If a boat ever becomes air born and sails by my window, it's quite likely that I'll run for the first floor screaming like a two-year-old.

One of my plastic owls (in the photo above) has had an unfortunate encounter with a gust. He was the handsomest one--with luminescent eyes and a head that swivels in the breeze.  I've nicknamed him Humpty-Dumpty. I hope I can put him together again.

The real birds are faring much better. Still visiting the feeder despite the wind.

 Piper, the ancient cat, has interrupted her nap on the couch a time or two to express interest.

While I would never let her outside to even hint at terrorizing the birds, I think it's good for her to be interested. I stare at my writing on my computer screen. My mom stares at the newspaper on the iPad. Piper stares at the birds.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Birds and Bees and Brains

I read about THIS in the newspaper a few days ago.

I could see the barricade and the sign as soon as I stepped onto the sand this morning and knew what it would be. The sea lion was gone when I got there. A vacancy opened up in a rescue center, I hope.

Mother Earth is pretty stressed out. The BEES. The THE BIRDSOur BRAINS.

I now have the marine mammal rescue phone number in my phone.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tossed in the Deep

We've had the talk more than once in the last week. How she hopes she falls off her chair like her father. Dead before he hit the ground, probably, she says. Not left to suffer for weeks like her mother. Heart beyond repair, but kept alive in the hospital without any prospects. Certainly not like her mother's mother. Bedridden at home. Not well cared for by her daughter-in-law. Not even washed until my grandmother went to wash her.

She wishes California were a right-to-die state, she says. Like Oregon or Washington. She was upset by this article in the L.A. Times. Says the man should have made it look like suicide. Held his wife's hand to the gun.

While all of this talk of death and dying, of mercy-killing or perhaps murder might seem morbid, I find that it diffuses the tension. It comforts me, in a way, to know that I know what my mother wants (not that I have any plans to wrap her hand around a gun.) It comforts me to know that she has an advanced directive. That she trusts me to be her medical power of attorney.

Sometimes she says she wants to go home to Iowa to die. Let me know, so I can get plane tickets, I say. Then we both laugh.

My mom is doing great. But she's 88. At her check-up with the pulmunologist yesterday, he told her he'd see her in four months. Thanks for stopping by, he said. Now he had to go take care of some sick

There have been some big changes since she stopped smoking. The icky gross smoker's cough is gone. She seems less in a fog in the morning--literally and figuratively. When she quit, C said the thing that amazed her the most was that her grandmother was focusing on the future. There's always a future until the very last moment--which is something not every young person sees when they look at an old person.

But mostly, I'm thankful for the present. Though it's easy to let that gratitude slip away when things are difficult. M coming for the weekends, visits from friends and the man who loves me are pure sustenance. And I try to remember to read "Well" and The New Old Age Blog. There is so much information on health, caregiving and aging there. It's weird, this fractured family life that's prevalent in our society. When my daughters were babies and I was struggling with getting the hang of breast feeding, I remember thinking how odd it was that I hadn't actually seen anyone breast feed a baby. I haven't seen the day-to-day of helping an old person manage life either. But here I am doing it.

I suppose I might have learned to swim by being tossed into the deep. But I'm glad for those summertime classes. For steady hands under me while I floated. For the cajoling to put my head under the water. For gradually learning to hold my breath longer and longer, and eventually to stroke smoothly and turn my head, taking in the power of each lung full of air.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Jack Gilbert poem and thoughts worth considering about love and marriage

On Thursday, I have old friends coming to stay with me for several days. They've been married a long time. Perhaps they've known the wisdom in this Jack Gilbert poem from the beginning. But maybe not. Maybe they stumbled upon it in the ruins, parched and out of water, cursing under a relentless sun.

Tear It Down

by Jack Gilbert

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.

- See more at:

Monday, April 1, 2013


I was as big and bright as the moon the first few days of spring.
And then I wasn't.

Worry about the re-fi, the Someone's lack of co-operation to get the new court order which would help me prove my income so I could get the re-fi, my inability to shoehorn my budget into its rather fragile and smaller glass slipper (first world problems--I know,) and why was I so confused about my mom's prescriptions, and why was I feeling so incredibly awful...blah, blah.

Turns out I had every possible reaction on the information sheet to both the shingles vaccination and the Tdap booster--except for severe shortness of breath and a closing throat. Five days later, left arm still has a lump and a sore muscle, and the right arms still has a bright red itchy welt, but it looks like the re-fi is going through anyway, and I've figured out how to better manage my mom's many drugs, which have grown in number.

And the little songbirds birds have found the feeder (most blah bird photos ever, but in real life they are lovely little creatures) We have three kinds of sparrows and at least one kind of finch--maybe two. And so far the plastic owls have deterred both the swallows and the pigeons.

The lovely M came home for a visit and pacified the ancient cat, and me, and her grandmother.

And friends will arrive on Thursday. And perhaps the man who loves me will come up here this weekend.