Category Archives: #amwriting

From Japan to Lebanon to the Hummingbird’s Nest All in One Day

Recently the gardener discovered the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix: RO HO EN. We visited the other day for the first time. I was so taken with the size of the pond, and this spot of beauty nestled under the tall condo buildings near the Central Arts District (theatres, museums, opera, and arts schools). If you haven’t been to that area, it’s a must see–so active and vital.

 

The garden resembles a lovely park more than it does a Japanese garden of the sort I am used to (Portland, the Huntington, etc.). They offer tea ceremonies to the public on the third Saturday of every month. The fee is $30 ($25 seniors). Imagine living in one of those condos with a view of the garden all year round.

 

 

The pine cones were fun because they aren’t a common sight in Phoenix.

 

The park did not have flowers or too many bells and whistles, so the gardener was not impressed with that aspect. For me, the park-like environment was fabulous. But it did come with a $7 price tag ($6 for seniors, $5 for students, and free for little kids).

 

The pond is loaded with giant carp, and when you check in they ask if you want to buy a little bag of food for the fish. The way they all gather to eat a few crumbs was a little terrifying for me. I thought it might be stressful for the fish. The upside for them is that the pond is so big that their environment is better than that of many pond-living carp.

 

This big guy in the middle was truly enormous.

Ducks live at the pond, too, and the mothers all were watching over their ducklings. One duckling imprinted on us and tried to follow us until we discouraged her. This is a short video of a baby duck, just in case you want to see cute right now.

After the garden, we went to one of our favorites, Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli. The owner Isam is so nice, the gluten-free options are diverse (pita, tabouli, and more), and the Lebanese lemonade to die for.

 

This time a tray of turnovers sat on the counter. They looked intriguing. Isam told me that he makes them for Ramadan every year. He is Christian, and though he makes them on behalf of his Muslim customers, he admits to loving them ;). He explained that on Ramadan, because of the fasting, people need the quick energy this sweet treat provides. He said he starts with a pancake and fills it with a cheese or walnut filling, turns it over, and deep fries it. It’s then covered with a rosewater syrup. I cannot tell you how much I LOVE rose flavored food and drink. I keep two bottles of rosewater in my fridge! I brought home two kataif–a cheese and a walnut. The gardener told me I was consuming 1,000 calories each. Hahaha, I just grinned as he was saying it because these are obviously not a gluten-free treat!

 

Click on the link to find out more: Atayef (Kataif)

Now for an update on the hummingbird mom and her babies.

They are growing up so fast. The gardener watched one fly away already. I wonder if their mother is the child or grandchild of one of the hummers who hatched in our backyard a few years ago.

Since I restructured my memoir, making it more of a hybrid genre in structure and style, I have debated adding a few poems to the book. This week I revised a couple of poems I am contemplating for the book.

Happy week, everyone!

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerslife, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, gluten free, gluten free restaurant, gluten free travel, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Writing

My Practical Father (Not Always) Repost for Memorial Day Memories

Since my father was a Korean War veteran, I thought I would repost an old blog post I wrote about him five years ago. When you get to the part about him being in the hospital, remember that this first went up in March 2013. He passed away in May 2015.

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My father was born in 1928, and the memory of the Depression is imprinted on his decision-making.

When he has a color choice, he goes with “brindle brown” because it’s practical and doesn’t call attention to itself.  Until I actually looked up this color, I thought it was a term unique to Dad.  And I figured it meant something like “shit brown.”  Now I see that it really means spotted or streaked like an animal’s coat or like the word piebald.  I suspect that my father’s meaning is closer to what I had originally thought, rather than a dog’s sleek brown fur.

I’ll go a step further and assume Dad probably picked up that term in the Army.  Since he was raised by a single mother, Dad’s true “finishing” came from his fellow soldiers in the Korean War.

Dad’s always hated the color black.  It’s impractical–shows dust and lint.  He doesn’t like lavender either.  His mother wore the widow’s weeds of black and lavender, so maybe there is an emotional terrain underneath the practicality.

When I was younger, men owned small leather grooming kits for travel.  They were sometimes called Dopp kits, although Dopp was a name like Kleenex, an actual brand name.  My father’s was brown, and if somebody gave him a black one as a gift, he wouldn’t use it.

His brief case was brown, not black.  So was his squeeze-type coin purse, back in the days when men carried those.

For the past thirty years he’s carried a brown leather magnetic money clip.

images (2)His belts are brown and not black.  And certainly not khaki canvas or burgundy leather and they don’t have a big turquoise-studded buckle.

My father looks practical and shops with a practicality born out of that Depression upbringing.

But don’t be fooled by how he looks.  When a friend or an acquaintance would show up with something to sell, Dad would buy it, no matter how impractical.  He bought things like:

  • An old non-working violin he was told was a Stradivarius (it was not)
  • A silk Oriental rug (beautiful, but impractical)
  • An old motorboat much too heavy for the motor that fit the boat (it never worked right, but I was still light enough that I could water-ski slowly off the back of the boat)
  • An abacus when I started 4th grade (so I could do division on it)

You get the idea.

Do any of your characters (or real life relatives) contain contradictions?

My dad is sick in the hospital right now, and the doctor isn’t quite sure what’s wrong.

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It’s been three years and 14 days now since my father died. I can hardly believe it. He’s buried at a veterans’ cemetery in Michigan, so I can’t be there today. But I’m still thinking about him.

 

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The Cat in the Prose Poem

Today is the last day of #NaPoWriMo and National Poetry Month. I have kept up my share of the bargain (the bargain with myself: I will write some version of a poem each day and in return I will not think I missed a good opportunity). I have one more poem to write today. Then I can relax on that count. I’ll wait a few days before I look at what I have and then start to revise.

Yesterday, I stopped and asked myself what my goals are for May. I can’t keep up the pace of April’s poetry, but certainly I can aim for a few goals. I think I’ll work on creative nonfiction in May, with the idea that I complete at least one short project or do some significant work on my long project. Additionally, I can play around with April’s poems.

I think it helped me not to post my poems every day because rushing to “complete” a poem is not a good idea (something I mentioned last week).

On the cat front, I had to take in a couple of my seniors for checkups. Felix’s heart murmur is stable and his poo is bugless. He continues to have IBS symptoms, but that is probably caused by the parasites he harbored in the past. Eighteen-year-old Pear Blossom’s bloodwork is like that of a “two-year-old cat,” according to the vet, but she has another UTI. Sigh. So tired of her getting those things. I worry about the quantity of antibiotics she has to take.

Tiger will be next. Then Kana. Then Sloopy Anne. Yes, all seniors and all with issues. But I need to wait for another credit card billing cycle :/.

As for Perry, he still does that rapid breathing thing sometimes.

Did anybody try writing a prose poem? I find myself falling more and more in love with the form.

In yesterday’s #NaPoWriMo prompt, you can find an essay about prose poems. Listen to this cool quote:

A prose poem is a poem written in sentences. It appears as a block of text without line breaks. You could think of a prose poem as a bowl or a box with poetry inside.

OK, I can’t help but see a glass fish bowl with a poem inside, pressing it’s wacky little face up against the side of the bowl, its feet and arms all squished in around the face. The poem is confined, but I’m drawn to the bowl and what’s inside as much as the creature inside is wondering what in the world is outside the bowl.

Sorry, but I cannot unsee this image. If it helps, imagine it’s a cat inside the bowl!

I feel as if I am writing more and more prose poems. There are two in Doll God and six in Kin Types.

This poem was originally published in the October 2013 issue of A Narrow Fellow and then included in Doll God.

This is from my copy of the book that I use for readings, so the binding is getting overused!

This past month I’ve written at least six of the poems in prose poem format. There is no telling what will happen to form in the revision stage, but it does show me how useful I find the prose poem.

Go forth and have a productive week! Or, if you prefer, have one where you pamper yourself, even if it’s for fifteen minutes a day. Who am I kidding? Let’s go for both!

Arizona spring means that the saguaro cacti have flowered with bridal wreaths on their crowns.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I can’t get a pic just yet, but a mama hummingbird has set up shop in the oleander right outside my door. The gardener saw three eggs in it, and I saw Mama sitting there looking busy.

 

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#NAPOWRIMO: The Last Week

I’ll tell you what. I’ll post a picture of my dearest love from this week, and you can guess what’s been going on.

That’s right: I’ve been sick for a week! Allergy season is horrific in Arizona right now what with the palo verdes in full bloom, so when the illness began I thought it was the allergy symptoms I had already been having. But NO. Turns out allergy morphed right into virus.

I am proud to say that I turned out some sort of poem draft every day, but I am pretty sure they are mainly crap. I didn’t try to clean them up because I knew that was the best way to kill them. If I leave them in this half-awake state, maybe I can do something with them later.

Yesterday, NaPoWriMo.net posted notes from Wesley McNair: On Craft. There’s some excellent ones in there. If you write or want to write poetry, I would recommend reading this short piece. The very last line applies to workshopping poetry, but you can apply it to writing fiction or creative nonfiction, too. He says, “No good poem was ever written by a committee.”  Haha, I take it to mean to get advice from others as needed, but don’t let their voices take over the poem.

Another note refers to something I mentioned above.

Contrary to the notion of the schoolroom, your slow-witted self is your smart self because true intelligence is not in quickness. Work slowly as you make your poem, so as not to give in to the quick self.

If I rushed to finish up those poems in my ill state, they would be ruined. I will let them slowly work their way into life.

If you are not a poet and do not write poetry, but are a prose writer, I have a way for you to honor poetry month, if you’re game. Try a prose poem. If it makes you happy, think of it as a form of flash nonfiction. Actually, prose poems are claimed by both genres, so there ya go. When you write a prose poem, format it in a block so that both left and right are justified (although you can’t keep that format on WordPress). Just write your prose in this block shape and then to revise get rid of things that sound too prosaic–too much explanation, too many extra words, and try to heighten the images and the language a bit. Try it without dialogue. And try it in present tense. Read the sample prose poem first. OK, ready, set, GO.

Sample Prose Poem

Gary Young 

I discovered a journal in the children’s ward, and read, I’m a mother, my little boy has cancer. Further on, a girl has written, this is my nineteenth operation. She says, sometimes it’s easier to write than to talk, and I’m so afraid. She’s offered me a page in the book. My son is sleeping in the room next door. This afternoon, I held my whole weight to his body while a doctor drove needles deep into his leg. My son screamed, Daddy, they’re hurting me, don’t let them hurt me, make them stop. I want to write, how brave you are, but I need a little courage of my own, so I write, forgive me, I know I let them hurt you, please don’t worry. If I have to, I can do it again.


The cats are well. Perry was actually quiet and rested for much of the week. It’s as if he knew Mommy didn’t feel well enough for his usual antics.

Stay well!

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Reporting in at Half Time #NAPOWRIMO

I guess there is no half time, no break, just keep going through the whole 30 days without drawing a deep breath. Shallow rapid breathing. I’ve written 15 poems in 15 days (actually in 16 days because I started a day early, but somehow I lost a day–or maybe lost a poem–and am now where I am supposed to be: 15 for 15). Can’t write long here as I have another to write today!

This month has been much sloppier than when I did the Tupelo 30/30. I am happy just to get a crummy rough draft done and move on to the rest of my day. I don’t have time to take a break and revise, not to mention that daily blog posting I did in September 2015!

So I don’t really know what I will end up with. More than zero, I guess. Some days have been awful. I had to travel to California for work last week, so there were 2.5 days of hours and hours of travel (not just the getting there and back, but the travel within California for work). Do you know how hard it is to find that poetry zone in my head when the gardener is playing oldies (loud) and chomping gum (even louder)? He also keeps up a running commentary on every driver, every traffic jam, every building site, in short, whatever passes by on the road. I can only tell him to shut up so much as he is the one who is driving in the hideous traffic. I can no longer tolerate the sound of the traffic whooshing around me either. It’s gotten so bad that it permeates my innards all way to the tips of my soul.

Still, I came up with something. One day I was “blessed” with seeing two different birds of prey at different points in the trip, each carrying its squirming meal. That was a poetic coincidence. One morning I woke up dreaming about poetry.

I’m getting tired pushing myself this hard to crank out the poems, but in two weeks it will end, and I can go back to being regular-tired instead of super-tired.

Thought I’d mention that I’ve mainly been using the NaPoWriMo.net prompts. And that anthology I am creating over at poets.org? I am still working on it, but am pretty frustrated because a lot of my favorite poems are not on their site and you have to use the poems on their site. They don’t have some of the best poems of the poets writing past 1970.

Have you written daily poems? Any poems? Prose? Blog posts? Writing for work?

If you have, go pet a cat or dog as a reward. That’s what I plan to do!

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When Did You First Feel Different? Multiple Answer Version

Was it when you ate dinner at a friend’s house and saw their family structure and customs were completely different from your own? Was it when you noticed that all the other kids in your kindergarten class were drawing pictures with light hands and you looked down at your own dark ones? Was it when you realized that was lust you felt for another kid of your own gender? Maybe it was when you realized you couldn’t squeeze into your older sister’s jeans.

I have a theory that a lot of children and teens feel “different” from other kids. I am not talking about something that makes them different—just that they feel different.

I’d already started notes for this blog post when I read a poem called “My Barbie Dated George Harrison” in Karen Paul Holmes’ new collection No Such Thing as Distance. In the poem, the speaker’s Barbie (and it quickly becomes clear that Barbie is really the speaker hiding behind her doll to mask her emotions) has a crush on George of the Beatles, instead of Paul as the other girls do.

I kid you not, but the first note on my list was “George not Paul.” You see, that’s how I first felt different. All, and I mean ALL, my friends loved Paul with his big doe eyes and his cute young-looking face. He wrote love songs. Of course he did!

But I preferred George. Did I have a picture-kissing crush on him? No, but I knew I would prefer his company and that there was more to him than met the eye. And that meant something to me, even at age 12. When the Beatles hung with the Maharishi, I knew George took it seriously. I doubted that the others did.

Just for the record, I never contemplated the truth that if I had really been different I would have selected John or Ringo as my Beatle. But no girl in her right mind would choose one of them.

George was the alternative Beatle. He had a handsome face, but not too handsome. Not a movie star face. He seemed gentle and deep.

Hahaha.

If I had been more perceptive, I might have come to this feeling earlier. For instance, my epiphany could have arrived when I was the only girl who couldn’t do cartwheels, either because I had no upper body muscles or because I was too terrified. But I never had that feeling of “knowing” until everyone turned to stare at me when George flew out of my mouth.

But this train of thought led me to seeing that I remember in strands, like add-a-pearl necklaces where first one memory is added to strand A and then one is added to strand C and another onto A and so forth.These strands accumulate simultaneously.

When a memory comes to mind now, and it is at the beginning of a strand I think, “Oh, this is the first time this happened. There George is at the beginning of this strand so knowing I liked the ‘other Beatle’ was the first time I felt different.”

I have to remember that there are other strands. I found one of them in my memoir draft. Have you ever heard of the old movie The Boy with Green Hair? One day the boy dries off after a bath and discovers that his hair has turned green. In those days, long before the brilliant hair dyes of today, green hair was apt to set someone apart from everyone else.

I wrote in my draft that at age 11 I felt like the boy with green hair because of my father’s strict rules and loud yelling. The kids in my neighborhood would comment to me that they could hear his yelling down the street and sometimes, on summer evenings, even in their own homes.

So where is the truth in all this? When did I first feel different? Was it when George, rather than Paul, called to me? Was it when I learned to be angry and embarrassed about my father’s actions? And when would that have been? When I was three? Six? Nine? Eleven?

Sometimes someone will ask me something, and the answer I give makes sense at the time. For my favorite food I might say pumpkin pie. Later, I might think that it’s not really pumpkin pie. It’s fried squash. Or baklava. I wonder if these foods are part of different strands of memory. Maybe the fried squash goes with my teen summer days living at our lake cottage, and baklava goes with my first experience at the Omar Khayyam restaurant in Pittsburgh that I loved so much that my father drove us all back to Pittsburgh from Kalamazoo so I could eat there a second time. So you see my father wasn’t all yelling and rules, but goodness too, and he hides in various pearls on the strands of my memory.

What about you? Do you remember in strands? Do you remember when you first felt different?

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH AND #NAPOWRIMO UPDATE: So far so good!

Pauline‘s prism rainbow with plant shadow

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Welcome, National Poetry Month and #NaPoWriMo!

April is National Poetry Month, and it is also #NaPoWriMo, meaning you and I should be writing a poem a day for the entire month. I’ve done this before when I participated in the Tupelo Press 30/30.

Many thanks go to the Tupelo 30/30 for getting me started on what became Kin Types.

This month I plan to go it alone because I am not sure I can really handle a full dose this time–and tax month yet (I don’t think T.S. Eliot was thinking of that when he called April the cruelest month, but that is why I think of it that way).

I read through some articles like the following links and made a list for myself of goals for April.

So here is my list. It’s what works for me this year. Your list will be different (so go ahead and make one!).

  • Create a personal poetry anthology on poets.org (I’ve already titled my anthology: THE MOST BESTEST POEMS IN THE UNIVERSE)
  • Learn more about poets and poetry events in Arizona (poets.org list)
  • Read Edward Hirsch’s essay (poets.org list)
  • Recreate a poet’s favorite food or drink (poets.org list)  I struck out this item because there wasn’t enough choice on the website, so I’ll make my own kimchi fried rice
  • Read the first chapter of Muriel Rukeyser’s book The Life of Poetry (this will be a reread, but I can’t remember it as it’s been so long) (poets.org list)
  • Search Twitter through #NationalPoetryMonth and #NaPoWriMo and #TMMPoetry (partially from Make Use Of)
  • Write a poem a day (from Make Use Of and at least 3 magazines/presses that offer programs for April) But see below for some free daily prompts!!!

To find your free daily prompts try these sources:

They both can be followed on Twitter and/or Facebook, as well as their websites.

If you are more interested in PROSE writing prompts, here are a full month’s worth from Toasted Cheese.

I won’t be posting my daily poems here, but I will give you updates if I am doing ok at it. If I am not writing, you might hear radio silence.

Are you going to join me in celebrating poetry this month? In trying out #NaPoWriMo?

I hope nobody who ever has anything to do with the poster designs for National Poetry Month reads this, but I think they suck every year. Or maybe I should say they are not my idea of good poster art. Why oh why can’t they find something that knocks my socks off, or as Emily D. might say, that takes off the top of my head? The posters need to be WORTHY of poetry.

 

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Medical Art + Writing + Cats

On Friday I had some medical tests. I’ve been having some shortness of breath problems. I went to the doctor months after I should have, but I doubt it matters. I now suspect it is more of that acid reflux problem! Probably getting into my lungs. But my doctor thought he heard a new heart murmur so I had to take some tests. I’m sure it’s because my mother had a TAVR last summer. She was so lucky to do so well because she had more wrong with her heart than people usually do who get TAVR procedures. This is less invasive than open-heart surgery as they “go up through the groin.” My mother is now the darling of Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids and is featured on billboards throughout the city. She’s so darn cute. Tell me if she’s not adorable.

I’m not worried about my tests because I have seen how bad this acid reflux situation is. I have a splint thingie that I am supposed to wear at night for my TMJ problem, but the acid has eaten through the acrylic!!!

I kid you not.

I go to Mayo Clinic in Arizona because, why not? One-stop shopping for medical. They take my insurance for which I worked my TUSH off by teaching for a pittance for all those years. (If you think I am exaggerating, you would be wrong. Lecturers or adjuncts or freeway flyers, which is what I was, do over half the teaching work in most universities and get paid a tiny share of what professors make. People who clean houses–and do not need high school diplomas–get paid more per hour than I did with my P. H. and D. No kidding again. But I will say I did it with love).

What I noticed at Mayo this time was a preponderance of beautiful art. I hope that somebody loans or donates it to them because I would hate to think that my insurance and my deductible and all is paying for that art. Beautiful Chinese jade pieces, well-made Native American pottery, you name it. They are in glass cases, so I couldn’t really photograph them because of the reflections.

But I will admit that I feel better getting poked and prodded in an artistic and serene environment. Art calms my soul. Kind of like cats do.

A quintessential Phoenix Soleri bell

Another quintessential Phoenician art form

Flowers floating on the wall

The best part of the day, though, were the therapy dogs. I saw three! And they were all beautiful dogs. One a big blondie, another a golden of sorts, and the third? Here he/she is!

What is that noise I’m hearing? Is Kana in a kitchen cupboard again? [Leaves to go check.] OK, I let her out.

Here is my writing update. If I don’t write one day, I try to make up for it the next. This weekend I worked on a piece for a book that someone else is writing. The book is about the beautiful old lakeside park and dance pavilion that my great-great-grandmother’s niece owned and that my father bought from her on a land contract . . . for a time.  Since those years of my childhood stimulated my imagination, it’s a story I’ve been writing and rewriting as poetry and prose for years.

I had a nonfiction story taken by a magazine I was hoping would take it (woot!).

The ole memoir is completely restructured now. (Aren’t you sick of hearing about that dang thing?) And I organized my send-out pieces. Three months ago I thought I had nothing left, but I’ve rewritten poems and prose pieces and feel I have some offerings to the world.

I hope you enjoyed Carol Bachofner’s pieces. Years ago, Carol was my student, not for creative writing, but for literature. She was a fabulous student, the kind of student all teachers wish for: passionate and smart and logical and creative. And hard-working.

Are you wondering how Perry is doing? hahaha He’s driving everyone crazy, but he’s so darn sweet. Kana and Felix figured out if they lie on the cat trees by the glass doors, I can put the drapes around them, and Perry can’t get to them. He knows they are there, but it makes it too difficult for him to climb on them.

That is Felix on our left, looking out. You can see his little face in the door. Kana is the black shape on the right side. From the inside of the house, Perry and I can only see the drapes.

If we don’t do this with the drapes, this is what happens. Perry climbs right up with Felix and within a few seconds he starts to annoy!

Perry got to stay up after 10PM for several nights last week because he is so good! The only trouble is that he has to have his bedroom door shut at night because no matter how I wrap the sheet over the gate, he can figure out how to get out. The little smartypants.

What’s up with you this week?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida in Fours

The trip to Florida was another test of our gluten free sleuthing. It’s so exhausting that sometimes I wonder why we bother traveling. But our hotel room was more like a time-share, so we had a kitchen. That helped a lot as we ate breakfast and occasionally lunch (when we ate lunch) in our room. There was one big surprise in Sarasota.

 

Look at the sign on that restaurant: GREAT GLUTEN FREE MENU. What was nice is that Beckham’s on the Trail has a dedicated fryer and makes fish and chips gluten free. Please tell me why a huge city like Phoenix (far bigger than Tampa/St. Petersburg) doesn’t have more dedicated fryers!!! If you’re not familiar with that type of fryer it simply means one which only fries gluten free food. It’s not contaminated by gluten.

Although I didn’t see a lot of art while we were in Florida, we were greeted in the Tampa airport by this beauty. I love this gigantic multi-colored net that hangs on the wall over the escalator. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time or free hands to stop and take a good shot.

When I went through my photos from the trip, I discovered a fascination with four items. Four is challenging. Anybody who “decorates” knows that it’s easier to work with groups of three than with four. But four has its own special meanings. It’s the four seasons and four functions in math (add, subtract, multiply, divide). Once you start to think about it, I bet you can think of more fours than I can.

 

These chairs were so pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Someone had left these shells lying here for others to enjoy. The gardener kept bringing me little shells he found, but the ones left on the wall were larger and nobody had taken them, which was amazing in itself.

These guys fascinated me. One of them had been trying to pull a plastic bag of (presumably) abandoned food out of a trash can, and I shooed him away because I couldn’t bear the thought of him eating the plastic and styrofoam. But he didn’t fly far–just to the ledge of the walkway at our hotel to join his friends. These guys are trying to pull a poem out of me.

I keep wondering why I saw fours in Florida.

Try writing about fours. I’d love to see what you come up with. Fours in a poem, a blog post, a story. What comes in four? How does four make us feel? Is there anything intrinsic or essential about four?

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