Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Eyes of Fire

It's that time of year when the windows in the condo building across the way reflect the rising sun. At first glance the place looks like it's engulfed in flames, the windows like giant eyes of fire.

In Oaxaca it's two hours later, and the sun stays up til six in the evening there. The skies are nearly cloudless all through the daylight hours, and the chill in the morning air is crisp, not damp. I love being home, but my body feels soggy and tired.

I dreamed of my mother last night. She was younger--maybe the age I am now or even in her 50s. We were all gathering somewhere for a family get-together. At my brother's house, maybe, or my son's. There were plans to sightsee and go to a concert. Picking up the tickets was confusing and my car had somehow downloaded the software to be a self-driving car. It was disconcerting, sitting in the back seat while the car inched its way through city traffic without a driver. I climbed into the front seat anyway--no easy feat to make it from the back seat of a Prius into the driver's seat, but I did it, twisting my body this way and that, and then realized it really wasn't necessary.

Wherever it was that we were, the house was full of us, arriving and deciding who would sleep where, and then changing our minds. My mom decided to drive herself back to her apartment a day early. She grabbed my older daughter in a hug and told her she lived too far away. I don't know when I'll see you again, she said.

I woke too early this morning, waiting for the first sliver of daylight before I flung off the covers. I walked toward the building that was glowing, and on the grass found a playing card. Two of clubs. What is the significance of the two of clubs? I googled. It's the card of conversation. The two of clubs person is gregarious and entertaining. It's the card of communication.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


No matter where I've been, I'm always thrilled to come back to California.
The airport shuttle drove up the Coast Highway. Over two hours in traffic is almost tolerable when you get to look out over the ocean at sunset.

It felt like I hadn't walked on the beach in ages.
The beauty of it is always new.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Art in Oaxaca, Mexico

I'm not a visual artist. I'm a writer. But at a friend's suggestion, I joined her for this:

With the focus on Day of the Dead, I decided my project would be an altar box dedicated to my mother. The instructors were fantastic, and the box, I think, honors my mother's life, her beauty, and her spirit. I also included her twin sister. That 's my aunt on the left and my mom on the right. These are the doors on the outside of the box

Below is the complete view of the inside of the box.

Here's a close up of the inside side panels which reflect her life in California and her last birthday party.

This last picture is a close-up of the center inside panel.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Visiting the cemeteries

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is a celebration as deep and wide as a field of marigolds. While All Souls Day is November 1st, the towns stagger their celebrations so people can visit more than one cemetery. I came to El Dia de Los Muertos in Oaxaca for the first time last year. My mother had been dead for only seven months, my boyfriend Dan for a little more than two years. I brought their photos to place on the altar of the place I stayed and prayed for a glimpse of them or some sense of their presence. My mother was elusive, but I saw Dan in the base player of the ensemble who played at the graveside party for the husband of my hostess. Once or twice in the crowded streets, he seemed to be ahead of me before turning a corner and vanishing into another throng of people.

This year the artists hosting the workshop took us to three cemeteries. The care in cleaning and decorating the tombs, the density of the flowers, the whole place awash in candlelight after the sun sets, the mix of solemnity and celebration as evidenced by the loud music, the children playing among the graves is like nothing I've ever experienced in a cemetery in the U.S.. I think I saw a sign at the cemetery where my parents are buried prohibiting live flowers. Or did I dream that? After a week here, it seems like that can't be real. Here in Oaxaca, you can sit next to your loved one in the candlelight, breathing in the scent of marigolds while waiting for the cotton candy vendor to come by.

The four photos below are from Xoxochotlan.

We also visited the large urban cemetery in Oaxaca City.

On the way into the cemetery, there's plenty of food and games.



San Felipe Cemetery might have been the most beautiful. The photos below were taken there.


Archways of marigolds mark the doorways of houses, businesses, offrendas, and tombs so the dead can find their way back to visit the living.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Overheard in the streets of Oaxaca

Two acquaintances or old friends  run into one another on the street and exchange greetings. I can't talk long, she says, I've got get to my class.
Oh, you're studying Spanish again, he says.
Yeah, but my Spanish still sucks, she says.
Mine too, he says, but I don't go hungry.

squash soup

street food/fresh made tortillas with Oaxacan cheese and pumpkin flowers

sopa azteca

shrimp with mole negro and tamarind

I didn't really come here to eat. I came for Day of the Dead and to create a piece of art as an homage to my mother. Somehow I did manage to do those things in between eating these beautiful meals.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Parades and Preparations: Oaxaca, Day of the Dead

The Parades have been going on for days already. They're family friendly.

Many people get their faces painted, and businesses like this bakery have a side hustle doing the painting.

These giant sphere's appear in the parades and parties. The design varies and the meaning or significance of them remains a mystery.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

This is Not a Food Blog

But this was my lunch today.

There's a lot of beauty in Oaxaca.

The sink  in my hotel room looks like a shrine.

While out and about in Oaxaca today, I think I found the stairway to heaven.

I think that's where these folks are headed.

We Are All on the Same Path

Parade through the streets of Oaxaca Day of the Dead 2017

Well, if you look closely you can see the glint of the tuba, but not much else. There were fabulously made-up marchers, but the crowd was huge so I could barely see them myself, much less photograph them. And I was woozy from lack of sleep and a big meal, so I have to confess I didn't try really hard to stand on a fire hydrant or jump three feet into the air or anything.


This was dinner. Plus a fancy cocktail made with mescal, mint, and cucumber.
It's good to be alive. Despite all the treats brought to the cemeteries for the dead, I'm pretty sure the living eat better.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Good Lord

This evil giant finally crapped out this morning, and after three expensive repairs in as many years, I'm done with Mr. Fancy, and I'm getting a regular refrigerator. It took two tries to find a place that would deliver the new fridge as well as haul this behemoth away.

And my first premium payment for Medicare is lost in the mail.

And I had a nice little getaway this weekend and stayed in a place where the hot water ran out.

And it's another day of record breaking temperatures here---with Santa Ana winds and a red flag fire warning. It was 90 at 6:00 a.m. right here, one mile from the ocean. I never want ice in anything except the occasional gin and tonic. Except today when I want ice in everything. And the behemoth is just pee-ing it into a puddle on the kitchen floor.

And wow, every day I see a friend's post about Day 30-whatever now in Puerto Rico where most people still have no power. It's amazing to ponder it. If my house had no roof and no power today, someone would have to haul me away. And every day I see another friend's post about her daughter's medical bills, and the whittling away of their insurance. So many awful things are happening, and then they just slip away out of the news, but they're not gone. People with no houses and their places of employment, blown to bits or burned to a cinder. Health insurance being ripped away from people who can't survive without it. I can't imagine it. I have to imagine it. I want to imagine it. I want to keep imagining it so I will vote in every election large and small.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

This Is My Ocean

And it's your ocean too. Whether or not you ever, in whole entire life, see it up close in person.

It's your ocean.

It's my ocean and when I'm away, I miss it. I miss it right now, sitting at my desk typing away under the picture of my ocean for a little time with it before I tear into Chapter 19 of my book.

I'd write by the ocean if it weren't so terribly impractical. Sand, wind, sunscreen, etc. Like those movie sex scenes on the beach. Sand. Wind. Sunscreen.

These days at home, I like to write facing the wall.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Party When You're Dead

My niece got married yesterday, and I loved how the wedding decor included those who are no longer on this earth. While I don't really believe that they were watching from above, literally, the way that we were all watching when the bride and groom danced their first dance, they were there through us. People say I look a lot like my mom these days, and my brother's resemblance to our father is almost uncanny.

parents of the bride watching the first dance

So there we all were. All of us. Present in our earthly bodies. Present in the stories told, present when we catch a glimpse of one another out of the corner of our eye, and think, whoa, for a second, I thought....

At one point in the evening my youngest grandniece came up to me out of the blue, and said, "I remember Great-Grandma Ethel." And I said, "Well, let's go look at her picture." And so we did.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I'm going to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts!

Greetings from the Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke

I'll be heading for the VCCA in a couple of days. Meanwhile I'm visiting fabulous old friends and getting shown the sites in Salem and Roanoke. 

The Taubman Museum is a gorgeous place, designed by Randall Stout, who worked for Frank Gehry.

The VCCA is its own kind of gorgeous. I think at least half of my published stories were drafted there during prior residencies. 
I'm thrilled to be going back.

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.