Saturday, September 16, 2017

Drinking with the Saints

We put my mother's ashes in the ground in my hometown in Iowa today. There's something indelibly shocking about seeing both of your parents' names on tombstones.

My brother suggested I read something so I revised a past post that was the product of many dinner conversations with my mom during the years that she lived with me.

My mother’s education only went as far as the 8th grade, and then she went to work. But even before that first paycheck, she remembered get paid a nickel to pick the bugs off the neighbor’s potatoes. She began her first full-time job at the age of fourteen, living with a doctor, his wife, and their newborn. Never leave the mother alone with the baby, she was cautioned. In the middle of one night, my mother awoke to a commotion, and was told that the mother had tried to kill the baby even though the husband had been right there with her. In the morning, the wife was packed off to an asylum, the baby went to live with relatives, and my mother found herself out of a job. 

After that she and her twin sister Millie worked in the cafeteria at Loras College. She remembered how she put the cherry just so in the center of the grapefruit halves for the priests.

Then they were waitresses in Dubuque, Iowa at Diamond’s Bar and Grill and at the Triangle CafĂ©. There were no tips in those days. Except from one guy who always tipped a quarter. The waitresses would trip over each other trying to get to him.

There was a stint at 
Betty Jane Candies, hand-dipping chocolates. Eat as much as you want, she said her boss told her. The eating with abandon only lasted a day or two.

And she sold cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia at Stampfers, a fancy department store in downtown Dubuque.

Then she worked in a club across the river in East Dubuque as a dice girl in the game "twenty-six." Millie spun the roulette wheel. One night their parents walked in, surprised to see their daughters there. My mom told me she and her sister were just as surprised to see their parents.

Millie went out to Baltimore first. They had a girlfriend who could help them get good paying jobs at Glenn L. Martin, a company going full throttle in the manufacture of aircraft for World War II. Mom borrowed money from a friend to send Millie out first in the spring of ’43 and then they both worked to save money, and my mom joined her sister in the fall. Millie was a riveter, and my mom worked for Glenn L. Martin as a file clerk.

Then came the jobs that I envy. If I could go back in time and be my mother for a couple of months, I'd be a hatcheck girl at the Chanticleer, the Band Box, or the Club Charles. I'd live in Baltimore and hear every fabulous band and collect all the autographed headshots of the stars. I'd be the photo girl snapping souvenir pictures, remembering to ask first if the gentleman and his date would like a photo--because you never know, the gorgeous gal on his arm might not be his wife. 

A couple of things happened next. I'm not sure in what order. My mother had a boyfriend, a grocer, who was shot and killed one night when he went back to check on his store. And her sister got married to a guy who didn't especially like her. She went back home.

After my mother returned to Iowa, she worked as a hostess at a bar called The Circle where the bartender introduced her to a snazzy older man with blue eyes so beautiful, you could dive in and never want to come back up. They eloped. 

My father didn't want my mom to work--though she worked in his grocery store for a couple of years until he sold it. But there was a home cooked supper every night, baking to satisfy my father's insatiable sweet tooth, making delicious jams and jellies, canning, filling our back porch with crocks of pickles, and sewing our clothes.

After my father died and she was swindled out of his life insurance, she went back to work. She was 51 years old, had an 8th-grade education, and had been out of the workforce for almost 20 years. She made parts for machinery. She made plastic buckets, getting paid minimum wage. She worked at a factory that had something to do with fabric, and one year there was a small fire and she came home with bolts of salvaged flannel. Nightgowns for everyone! Her big break came after she heard about a union job at the John Deere plant. She drove a fork truck there and worked on the assembly line doing whatever job they asked her to for more than 9 years--until she was laid off just a month or so before she would have qualified for a pension.

Then she took care of an old woman, keeping her company and preparing her food. She worked in a bakery in a town so far away that her wages barely kept pace with the cost of her gas. There was another minimum wage factory job or two. 

When Millie’s husband died, my mother moved back to Baltimore where she worked for the City of Baltimore as a custodian cleaning office buildings.

Now she’s rolling the dice for the angels and making martinis for the saints.

It's a long and winding road. And we are all on the same path.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Thursday, September 7, 2017

What the Yoga Teacher Said

A positively beautiful sunset from a couple of nights ago

I have four different yoga teachers. They say many fine and memorable things.

Thursday's teacher always ends her class with a quote.

I've been working on forming new positive habits, so I appreciated today's quote very much.

Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Monday, September 4, 2017

You might as well let go and enjoy the ride.

My younger brothers and me

In this picture I'm not the one looking resigned to being hurled down the slide, but I felt like I was at the top of a steep and rather slippery slope when this:

arrived in the mail a couple of days ago. In a couple of months I can put it to use. Hope I get a chance to wear it out. And I hope we have Medicare for all before I leave this planet. The ups and downs of my health insurance post-divorce were just plain stupid. Why do we still have our health insurance tied to our jobs? 

In other news it rained here again last night. And it's still humid. I've used my air conditioner three times in three days--before then it didn't get used at all. It was just a place to set stuff. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Notes from the Apocalypse

Blue heron on a neighbor's chimney

Parts of Houston are still underwater. Many Texas towns have been washed away entirely. California is on fire. The rest of the West is pocked with similar wildfires. A 2700 year old grove of Sequoias near Yosemite is burning. One of the longest-lived organisms on this Earth, the Sequoia has seen centuries of man's folly. The freeway in my old neighborhood is closed due to L.A.'s largest-ever wildfire. A dozen cites in California recorded their highest-ever temperatures yesterday. Today's temperatures may beat that.

It was 86 here in paradise on Friday. Yesterday's high was a little higher. The temperatures aren't dropping much at night. I turned on my air conditioner before going to sleep last night since it was in the high 80s upstairs. Right now, it's already 92 outside. Probably a record. When my mom first arrived here in August of 2012, one of my first tasks was to buy her some long underwear. The fresh breeze from the ocean blew right through her. It was perfectly still here this morning.

And I'm wondering about how my front closet would fare as a fallout shelter. Sometimes the skies around here rumble and roar with military activity. At night it makes me uneasy. There's something going on, but I don't know what it is and probably don't want to know, really.

But the un-knowing of what we know doesn't serve us. I want to hold fast to what I know and let it propel me toward change or insight or something.

I hope you are well, dear everyone. Stay safe. Don't breathe the smoke. But breathe.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Saturday Morning Beach Report: Teach a Man to Fish....

It was immediately obvious that something was going on at the beach this morning. It turned out to be a fishing tournament. I kinda counted heads--and I'd say about 80 people (mostly men, but not all) were there. It was fun to notice what people were wearing. Lots of shorts and bare feet. There was also a guy in hip boots, and two guys who appeared to be friends wearing black shoes and black socks, but wet up to mid-calf anyway. The couple wearing matching American flag shorts got some compliments from their fellow fishermen.

I turned my attention to the dunes for awhile. I don't think I give them enough attention. They are beautiful in their own right.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday Morning Beach Report: Heron Stalks Fisherman and other news

Here's what the beach looked like when I arrived this morning.

And as if that wasn't enough, there were some dramatic bird goings-on.

There was a great blue heron stalking a fisherman. I've never seen a blue heron on the sand, but since this one could fly, walk, and tiptoe like a thief perfectly well, I guess it was okay. Mostly the herons hang out on the rooftops  and boat docks of the houses in the marina.

I take all my photos with my iPhone and that's painfully obvious here. But this gathering of little white birds (I couldn't quite tell if they were snowy plovers or sanderlings) is only partially captured in the photo. They were just sitting there. Hundreds of them.

And there was beach glass. Nice big chunks of it.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

How to Vote

I celebrated the anniversary of women's suffrage yesterday by going to a demonstration in downtown LosAngeles.

You know all about voting, right? Here are a few tidbits of information to chew on:

From the International Business Times:

The Senate passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, and on Nov. 2 of the same year over 8 million women across the U.S. voted for the very first time. It took over 60 years for all U.S. states to ratify the amendment with Mississippi being the last one to do so on March 22, 1984.
This amendment was the center of controversy this election season when #RepealThe19th began trending on Twitter after polls found that Republican nominee Donald Trump would win if only men voted and his rival Hillary Clinton would become president if only women voted.
From the Asian American Legal Defense Fund:
Throughout United States history, Asian Americans have been disenfranchised by discriminatory laws that denied citizenship to Asian immigrants and rendered them ineligible to vote. It was not until 1943 that Chinese Americans were first permitted to become citizens. For Asian Indians, it was 1946. For Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans, that right did not come until 1952.
Also from the International Business Times:
While the 15th Amendment allowed all U.S. citizens the right to vote irrespective of their race or color, Native Americans weren’t allowed to vote until the passage of the Snyder Act of 1924, also called the Indian Citizenship Act.
However, even with the passage of this act, Native Americans were still not allowed to vote as the Constitution left it to the states to decide who could and couldn’t vote. It took Native Americans about four decades to achieve suffrage in all U.S. states.
This massive timeline lays it all out. When George Washington was president only 6% of the people could vote!!!
And I thought about my mom yesterday. She was super serious about getting out to vote. I don't think she ever missed a presidential election. When she left my home to go back to Iowa and live in a nursing home in 2015, I don't think we thought about registering her to vote in Iowa. It would have been complicated. Since she was in a new state, she would have had to prove residency. No utility bill. No official mail with the care facilities address on it. No driver's license--though I'm sure we could have gotten her a state I.D. in Iowa like she had in California so that she fill out the application to vote by absentee ballot in her new state since actually getting to the polls would have been difficult. As we baby boomers get older and older, I think this is something we want to think about...ahead of time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

East Meets West...and they pretty much agree

The treatment room's only decor

I went to see an old-school acupuncturist today. Next to a barbershop, the dark doorway opened into a waiting room full of ornate Chinese furniture, some of it covered in plastic the way your most fastidious aunt might have kept her living room in the 50s or early 60s. Not a gurgling water feature, a buddha, or an orchid in sight.

I diligently filled out the form, detailing my acid reflux diagnosis of a year ago, including the details of my reaction to the medication which nearly ended in a trip to the ER at 3 a.m. the night that my kidneys felt like they were on fire and my stomach bloated like one of those full moons that appear to be sitting on the freeway, occupying all six lanes. The scene in the acupuncturist's office then went a little Mel Brooks on me when the older Chinese lady at the desk got up to lead me to a treatment room, and I saw that she could not straighten up. Whether permanently bent at 90 degrees or not, I had a moment of Oh, nooooooo. Ruuuunnnnn. But I didn't.

Before really studying the form, the doctor asked me to stick out my tongue and said, "Big digestive problem! Big nervous system problem!" After he read what I'd written down and asked me some questions, he explained acid reflux to me pretty much the same way the ENT doctor did last year when he looked at the lesions on my vocal chords that he said were caused by acid reflux.

So my sexy voice might go away. I'm supposed to eat 20% less at my daytime meals, and 40% less at my nighttime meal (which I'm supposed eat early.) So maybe I'll run into you at some restaurant that has an Early Bird special. I'm also supposed eat very, very slowly.

Eating slowly is difficult. Like almost impossible. I get excited about eating, and I just eat it up. Boom. Done. I think I've always been kind of a fast eater, but I think things got out of hand post divorce when I ate pretty much all of my meals on the couch, flanked by two large dogs. Later when I began to care for my mom, I ate slowly because she ate VERY slowly, and I didn't want to seem rude or in a hurry. And we ate early. So that was actually good for me.

The acupuncturist was a old Chinese man with decades of experience (and with his round face and sweet eyes, reminded me a bit of the man who loved me.) He says that after a while, the antacids stop working and you just need more. He says I can get better without antacids, but it's a 50/50 deal between me and him. I have to do my part. So, wish me luck, and I hope that sometime soonish, my normally irritating nasally voice will return, and that my stomach will be more like a crescent moon. And who knows, maybe the treatments will be good for my anxiety. Pretty nifty coincidence that I blogged about that EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO. And yesterday I was a nutcase and had to walk for hours.

And tell me, how are you?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Morning Beach Report

Imagine the humans already departed. The buildings empty shells. The streets quiet. Voices silenced except for the shouts of two madmen with sharpened sticks poking out one another's eyes.

What right do they have to murder the birds, extinguish the seas, pluck out the tongues of whales, crush the stones into dust?

I heard a drum beating beneath the waves this morning. Or the whales were talking to one another, already mourning.

Even the pink of the clouds is priceless.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Kitchen Sink's Best Time of Day

I walked into the house an hour ago and found the kitchen sink ready for its glamour shot.

It made me think of the pictures my friend Elizabeth has posted of her bathroom on her blog.

I guess we all have our moments.

My window ledge is full of beach treasures, fortunes from fortune cookies, and plastic musical instruments. If you zoom in you can see a metal tag that I picked up off the sand. It says "Joy Equipment Protection." Joy definitely needs to be protected. So protect yours, okay?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

One more divorce post. Then onward.

I ran across this the other day. It made me laugh out loud. I made it some time in the early months of chaos.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tuesday Beach Report:Beauty and Damaged Hearts

lone surfer ready to try the waves

looking away from the water

Crushed love--but survivable, I think

And good news in the mail! Life insurance for my mom. No medical exam!!! Good thing, huh?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One Decade of Divorce

Monument Valley, 2007

On July 30, 2007 at 7:37 p.m., I sent out this email to my closest friends:

Dear Friends,

I hope you'll forgive the mass email approach here and bear with me.  I
learned yesterday that xxxxx is in love with someone else and plans to
remarry and start a new family.
I wish I could tell you all in person one-to-one over a good stiff drink,
but I'm afraid I'm not up to that at the moment.
What I need mostly is advice, and for those of you who are local a couple
of contacts.
1) therapist for me-not too far west
2) a divorce attorney
I know news like this can shake things up a bit for everyone, especially
old friends.
Thanks for listening.

Wish all of us luck.
I don't think I'll be able to talk on the phone in case you were thinking
of calling.

But just to be clear, my decade of divorce is not counted from the date of the decree of divorce. That happened a year later. And the division of joint assets was not in place until July 11, 2011. So there will be more anniversaries to "celebrate," but to me it's the end of the marriage that is most significant. The end of that 30-year relationship was, for me, a loss of identity and the loss of a family that I loved. This decade since the end of the marriage, I've constructed a new me--a person related to the person I was then, but also quite a bit different. I don't miss the old me. But, if I'm honest, I still miss the family. That us. That unit. I don't idealize it. It was awful some of the time, (as most families are?) but there's something lost that's irreplaceable. It's gone. Permanently.

"Really, do you want that?" I once said to a friend who was playing around with the idea of an affair. "You may never have Thanksgiving dinner with your family again." That and a million other things large and small will happen.

What I regret most is the small hurts that accumulated over the years of my marriage and not really having the skill and the strength to mend them.

I do not want to be a gatherer of small hurts.
I do not want to be a deliverer of small hurts. 

The beginning of this last decade was almost insurmountably difficult. I remember every kind thing, dear family and friends. Cups of tea, glasses of wine, home-cooked meals, your hospitality, your love, your words, your open ears, your waiting arms. I slept in so many comfy beds under so many roofs. You walked with me, drove with me for thousands of miles, held my hand on airplanes, sat with me in hotel lobbies and in parked cars, and sang to me. You told me things would be okay, and somehow, somehow you made me laugh. I have lived my life this past decade because of your help. My life has been a litany of love.

Thank you.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Welcome Back, Ethel.

Ethel, Sept. 2013

My mother's ashes were returned to my brother's house in our hometown in Iowa last week. Her body spent well over a year at the University of Iowa Medical School, and this past several months I was longing for the end of it all--the end of the end, when we'll put her ashes into the ground next to my father. 

When the mail carrier brought the box to the door, she told my sister-in-law that she'd been traveling around all day "with this nice lady." I think my mom would have enjoyed a day riding around with the mail carrier a lot. She loved to just take things in. She could look out the window or sit on the patio for hours. She might report on the hummingbirds, which boats had been cleaned, and even opine on why a neighbor might have had to sleep on his boat the previous night.

My mom and I, watching the pelicans dive between the sea lions, Feb., 2013

I'm glad she's back where she wanted to be. Of course, really, she'd probably prefer being here among the living, sipping a martini.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What the Yoga Teacher Said, and How the Ocean Is

gratuitous photo of a heron

When you engage your strength on your mat during practice, it helps you be strong when you step off your mat. When you breathe deeply on your mat, you might remember to take a deep breath later in your day when you really need it.

Something like that, anyway. Pretty close. Sometimes I have the feeling that all we can do is paraphrase one another--even if we say the exact words. But no doubt about it, yoga has made me stronger.

And the ocean is the ocean is the ocean. And after five years of living one mile from its shore, I run (not literally) to it to see what it looks like today.

Sometimes it's nice to look the other way.

Beach etch-a-sketch? At first I saw only the straight lines. Then a dog or maybe a horse.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bird of the Day: Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

After 5 years of walking on the beach almost daily, I've never seen this bird until today.

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Unless you're this bird who was flying solo as far as I could tell.

Whimbrels on Hollywood Beach

 I love their even spacing.

A real photographer could do so much better, but I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday Morning Beach Report: First Day of Summer

The crowds arrive! I've always wondered about these meetings of gulls. Dozens more arrived as if there was an appointed time and place for a big meeting.
Where are all the humans?

Looking towards Ventura, not a soul on the beach.

Looking toward the harbor, a lone beach walker.

Then just as I was leaving, this happened. A crowd of middle schoolers, struggling to set up beach umbrellas in the stiff wind. Flying projectile alert on Hollywood Beach today. Don't get stabbed by a beach umbrella.
Oh, and god bless the chaperones.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

Where the Muse Can Find Me

Since May 7th, I have written every single day (except one) for a minimum of two hours. The first night was in a weird motel room in Needles, CA where I used the same table and chair to later barricade my door. It's been easier since then.

It turns out that what my favorite mentors told me years ago is true (at least for me right now.) If you park your ass in a chair and get ready to write, the muse will know where to find you.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Saturday Beach Report


Dark sky, blue sky
parade of sailboats

Terns crying overhead
a flock of whimbrels at water's edge
a lone sea lion swimming close to shore

Beachgoers of all varieties
swimmers, fisherman, castle builders, loungers in beach chairs staring out to the horizon,
a man on horseback looking like a vacation ad in a magazine

And a message found on the sand.