Monthly Archives: May 2015

Return to the Nest

My father passed away two weeks ago. That is when the hummingbird returned to her nest with the intention of starting  a new family. She did lay two more eggs before I traveled to Michigan for my father’s funeral and to spend time with my mother. When I returned this week, she was still on her nest. I am awaiting the new babies.

hummingbird's returnMany times I’ve read stories where a bird visits when a parent dies. I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection here.

The funeral was good. Many people spoke about my father, and my daughter sang “At Last” (the song popularized by Etta James). A military ceremony was held at the National Cemetery. The flag that draped his casket was given to my mother. My uncle put it in a hand-crafted flag case (made halfway by my father and then finished by a friend of his) and then my brother added the casings from the gunshots fired during the ceremony.

The days that followed the funeral I organized my mother’s basement, particularly the family photographs that were strewn throughout. I discovered 150 photo albums and collected loose photos into two cartons, in addition. Hubby bought my mother hanging plants and a rose bush and replanted an indoor plant for her. He taught her how to take care of them. He fixed her front door and her toilet.

I feel very far away from writing now. But hubby and I did make it to the shelter last night for the kitties. It had been too long. We have a new mom and her five babies. Her name is Galaxy as she is all black–and so are all five babies. If I had named her I might have called her Dionne after the famous quintuplets.

Galaxy and her kittens

We have a lot of all black cats right now. If you’re in the Phoenix area, think of how much one of these little guys could add to your home. We have Nakana, Milo, Ebony . . . .

IMG_3732

Please excuse me if I’m slow to get back to blogging. I hope to be fully back next week! xoxo

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Filed under Arizona, Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Writing

A Hummingbird Returns to the Nest

A little update on the hummingbird situation. A hummingbird has been sleeping in the nest on and off. I don’t know if it’s Mama or one of the youngsters. When we first noticed it, hubby got out the ladder and checked–no eggs. Since the bird has been in the nest for several hours now, I’m wondering if she did manage to lay more eggs. I guess we will eventually find out.

I’m taking a blog break for a week or so.

I hope your spring is magical. Until we meet again . . . .

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I have a DOLL GOD Giveaway going on at Goodreads right now. Hop on over there and sign up if you want to win a free copy!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR A FREE COPY OF DOLL GOD

 

 

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New Poems and Old Ancestors

Although I haven’t been writing this spring–on purpose, I might add–when I started my new poetry project last fall I focused on creating poems out of the genealogical research that I do for my family history blog The Family Kalamazoo. It makes sense to narrow in this way, as I am always spreading out in too many directions. However, it’s difficult to write poems about a subject that is so personal to my family. It makes sense to write a poem about a maple tree or a new baby because these subjects are universal, but what makes someone else’s dead ancestors interesting to readers? That is a difficulty.

So far I’ve had one poem from this small grouping published, and that was in December. It was in the online journal Blast Furnacebut here is the poem, a prose poem:

When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother

You identify yourself in the antique image. Long slender neck, narrow torso, your face tipped to avoid the light. Your hands rest in the valley between your thighs sharp under yards of stiff calico. Your face long, well-sculpted by a lean diet and youth, nearly but not ascetic. Blue veins clutch the temples under translucent skin, a milky film that just contains you. In the next photograph your black dog Carlo poses at your side.

But Carlo isn’t your dog. Three degrees separate you across the time dimension. You never beat a man with his horse-whip for using it on his horse, though you wish you had that sort of courage and that sort of hands-on life, or burned all the books except the family Bible, praise her lord. And yet you hold your bodies as both shields and thresholds.

Because a face never reflects the same, every photo sees something else. You’re your father under the red star and your mother’s grandmother in the morning sun. But not your mother who is the image of her aunt. You never did let her kiss you. You see Carlo and his mistress in another photograph, and her smile is so familiar. Now the gauzy mask of your mother’s face floats across her-your features. Another light source and hour. Another shift of the hologram that is you.

If you happen to be one of the three people who read this blog from the first post you might find the subject recognizable. I rewrote that first blog post into this prose poem. I am fascinated with how we look like our ancestors and relatives, but in some lights, various shadows, or on different days, we might look like a completely different person–or share his features. It’s as if our general counteance is always shifting.

This is the great-grandmother I wrote about in the poem. Even I find our resemblance (when I was younger, of course) astonishing. The black dog in the one photo is Carlo.

My idea with the poems is to create a chapbook–a publishable collection that is smaller than a full-length poetry collection. Maybe around 20-25 poems. And I want to focus on my female ancestors. These are the people difficult to research because they don’t show up in old documents and newspapers as shopkeepers, dog breeders, or politicians. What was the day-to-day of their lives really like? I am trying to find out by researching and then allowing the material to develop into poems. At the moment a poem is completed, I feel that I have brought to life the experience of one woman.

It’s difficult to find literary magazines to send individual poems to because the subject matter is not contemporary and only universal in the notion of the project as excavating the lives of generations of women. In other words, I need to find places that specialize in or are sensitive to the intersection of history and poetry.

Are you interested in two unrelated subjects that you have been able to connect in your own life?

In case you are wondering why I am not writing on purpose, it’s because I was writing so much for so long that I knew I needed a period where I don’t take on any old or new projects. I’m resting my brain. Except for blogging, of course, dear peeps.

***

I have a DOLL GOD Giveaway going on at Goodreads right now. Hop on over there and sign up if you want to win a free copy!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR A FREE COPY OF DOLL GOD

 

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Memoir, Photographs, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Research and prep for writing, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing goals

The Hummingbird’s Tale, or a Day-After-Mother’s-Day Story

Last year a hummingbird built a compact nest on the top of a decorative ornament that hands outside my back door. It features a glass ball set in a copper wire design. She built the nest in May, and being Arizona, it became quite warm and the sun beat down on the little nest. Hubby stapled a board up to protect the nest.

The mother sat diligently on the nest for many weeks, but finally left and never came back. We discovered one unhatched egg in the nest. We took the nest and egg and “shellacked” it and put it in our bookcase as a reminder of the little mother’s persistence.

When she came back and began to build another nest in the same spot this year, hubby and I were concerned. However, she built it in April, not May, and she deposited two eggs, which is the typical number for hummingbirds.

We watched the whole process, and this time we were all blessed. After we could see beaks poking up above the rim of the nest, hubby climbed up on a ladder and took this pic.

tiny hummingbirds

I captured the mother feeding babies here:

Then one day their little heads popped up way above the nest, as they awaited food from their mama.

Baby hummingbirds

Here is a still pic of mama feeding babies that are her own size:
hummingbird feeding

One morning I got up, checked the nest, and discovered it empty. I was a little sad that they had disappeared without saying goodbye. That’s when I noticed that one of the two birds was still near the nest, that he hadn’t taken flight yet! He was perched on the ornamental wire above the nest, trying to get up his courage to fly for the first time. And guess what I captured with my iPhone? Watch the top of the light colored area in the frame. Be patient; it isn’t very long, but takes a few seconds before I get the right angle.

For a few hours they flew around the area, even coming up to our picture window and looking in (whirring in place) several times. The next day I saw a hummingbird in one of my trees and wondered if it was mama or one of the “babies.”
hummingbird in tree

These guys kept me focused for a few weeks on the miracles.

What is your spring miracle?

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Filed under Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

A Cat’s Tale

Did you think that all the time hubby and I have been spending at the shelter playing with the kitties was going to increase our cat count at home?

A lot of people have mentioned that they expected me to bring home more cats.

But nah. I did spring one of the cats, but not for me. My son and his girlfriend saw the photos I had taken of some of the shelter cats and fell in love with an 8 month old kitten called “Precious.” They have a beautiful black velvet cat named Meesker. He’s already two years old–a fact I have trouble processing as it seems he was just a little kitten a couple of months ago. The kids decided they wanted Precious as a little sister to Meesker.

Meesker headshot

Meesker

So I sprung the little sweetie two weeks before I would be seeing my son because the cat room had become so crowded at the shelter. We had a lot of new kittens and the anxiety level of the “roaming” cats was fairly high. I decided on the spur of the moment to bring Precious home to my house. She lived in my office.

On Monday, hubby and I drove Precious (now called Lily) from Phoenix to California so that Lily can live at the beach with her new mom and dad and big brother Meesker. Lily traveled in a large dog kennel that belongs to my oldest cat Mac.

She was so good the whole six hours, although for the last 1 1/2 she lay face down and it seemed clear to me that she had a tummy ache from the bumpy ride.

Imagine our surprise when we put two very sweet-natured cats together, and they didn’t get along very well. Lily played in Meesker’s favorite toy, his long fabric tunnel, and it made him sad. Lily chased Meesker, and he hid under the bed.

For awhile, Lily lay on the couch and Meesker on the floor, but it didn’t last long.

Lily on couch Meesker on floor

 

Poor Meesker.

June 7 2014

My son is going to get a gate for the bedroom so that the cats can sniff each other without worrying about losing any fur. I’m hoping that my son and his girlfriend will go very slowly in reintroducing the cats to each other. Then they can all live as one happy family.

So, no, I didn’t get a new cat for myself. However, if this works out well for them, there is a sweet black cat at the kennel who has been there far too long. Actually, there are two, but how many will I be able to slip past hubby without him really grasping how many cats live at our house?

 

 

 

 

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Filed under California, Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction

Formula Gets a Bad Rap

As a reader, I appreciate books with unique storylines and characters. As a writer, I try to create unique stories and poems. So why am I also drawn to books that seem to be written according to a pre-set formula?

Yeah, I know, right? Such a no-no. Definitely not “literature.”

According to my buddy Wikipedia, formula fiction is described like this:

In popular culture, formula fiction is literature in which the storylines and plots have been reused to the extent that the narratives are predictable. It is similar to genre fiction, which identifies a number of specific settings that are frequently reused. The label of formula fiction is used in literary criticism as a mild pejorative to imply lack of originality.

Still, there is a lot of comfort in finding a series of cozy mysteries where I enjoy the protagonist, the setting, and the first murder–over and over again.

Formula fiction refers to a single book or a series. A book itself can be formulaic in that it is predictable. But book series sometimes are formulaic in that they set a formula for each book of the series with the initial book. Some book series are not like this. For instance, trilogies are often completely different stories, following characters over different plotlines. But a heck of a lot of the series you see on the shelves at the library and the bookstore are formula fiction.

For instance, every Agatha Christie book I read when I was in my 20s ended on page 210. Seriously. Who knew she wrote formula fiction?!

Years ago, I liked the mix of cats and murder in The Cat Who books by Lillian Jackson Braun, so when I ran out of unread books, I turned to another cat mystery series: Mrs. Murphy by Rita Mae Brown. Mrs. Murphy is, of course, a cat that solves mysteries.  Once I read the first book in a series I like, I want to keep going in this land I know peopled by characters I know.

I’m the same way about disaster movies. Don’t give me some extravagant budget movie with Denzel and Brad (am I showing my age with them? at least I didn’t say Harrison), please. I like the cheesy ones where the mom, the dad, the boy, and the girl (sometimes 3 kids) gets separated and you know they will be back together by the end of the movie. I know just what I can count on and that the movie won’t allow something strange and “unique” to happen. I want to lie on the couch, maybe eat some popcorn, and relax.

But are reading cozies and watching low-budget disaster flicks like eating McDonald’s and bonbons? Should I figure out a way to limit my reliance on comforting formula literature and entertainment? Is consuming unique literature like eating my vegetables or swallowing my vitamins?  Maybe Nancy Drew and her cohorts ruined me and gave me a taste for formula fiction when I was just a fresh young reader. I should have read that copy of Melville’s Billy Budd I got from Scholastic instead!

The more I think about this, the more I wonder how I ever stay in “balance” in my reading!

Nancy Drew collectionWhat about you? Do you balance your reading? Do you like formula fiction or try to avoid it?

 

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Filed under Books, Cats and Other Animals, Children's Literature, Fiction, Reading

Excerpt: Luanne Castle

A big thank you to Jenn Monroe, editor of Extract(s), for publishing a 3 poem excerpt from Doll God this first day of May.

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Filed under Doll God, Dolls, Literary Journals, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing