Category Archives: Lifestyle

How Do I Feel At “The End”?

Generally I am a fan of lyrical memoir and lyrical poetry. Give me metaphors and gorgeous descriptions. Give me something to admire in the way words bounce  off each other and give me a sense of the glorious art of language.

This is not Becky Galli’s memoir. Rethinking Possible, Rebecca Faye Smith Galli’s memoir, is told in a voice that is hers: direct, focused, prepared, smart, communicative, tough, and with a spark of humor.

Becky’s memoir is a must read. Becky’s memoir touched my heart, and I have a hard time writing about it. It’s not like writing about a beautiful artful book. It’s writing about someone’s heart and soul right out there on paper.

Becky’s memoir will be going to film. I wonder who will play Becky.

Becky is a competitive type-A personality, driven to be perfect and nearly reaching it. But God has other plans for her life than what she has envisioned or set up in her personal PowerPoint presentation (metaphor).

In literature, I have never seen a person’s life so beset by one tragedy after another, except in war literature. And yet Becky was prepared for this—prepared by the best. Her pastor father was a marvelous mentor to other pastors, a newspaper columnist, and a clear thinker. He shielded Becky throughout her  upbringing with the strength of his wonderful advice.

That’s why, when I turned the page and encountered a chapter entitled “Farewell to My Father,” I burst completely and utterly into tears. I’m sure the gardener thought I had lost it as he was watching TV nearby.

I could provide you the litany of losses in Becky’s life, but really, what is the point. Please, in this one case at least, take my word for it and read the book.

I travelled through the darkest days with Becky in this book and at the end I am not sad. Amazed, certainly. Gobsmacked, for sure. I am not sad because watching how Becky’s family was transformed has left me in awe of what family is and can be.

I can’t write about this book without tearing up, but I also can’t wait to see that movie when it eventually happens!

 

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Filed under Book promotion, Book Review, Books, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Memoir

Introducing Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, Author of Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience

Meet Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, the author of Rethinking Possible (She Writes Press, June 2017), a memoir that is Galli’s response to living in the wake of extraordinary losses.

Becky (I need to call her by the name I know her by) and I met a few years ago in writing workshops in the Stanford University online writing certificate program where we were cohorts in the creative nonfiction track. In class and in her column and blog, Becky inspires. Although I have read parts of Becky’s story, I am eager to read Rethinking Possible and to learn more about Becky’s unique life and her strength and determination.

Here is a brief bio from Rethinking Possible‘s press kit that sums up why Becky is perfectly positioned to write a story about extraordinary loss, grief, and resilience.

Rebecca Faye Smith Galli was born into a family
that valued the power of having a plan. Her 1960s
southern upbringing was idyllic—even enviable. But
life does not always go according to plan, and when
her 17-year-old brother died in a waterskiing accident,
the slow unraveling of her perfect family began.
There was her son’s degenerative, undiagnosed
disease and subsequent death; her daughter’s autism
diagnosis; her separation; and then, nine days after
the divorce was final, the onset of the transverse
myelitis that would leave Galli paralyzed from the
waist down. Despite such devastating tragedy, Galli
maintained her belief in family, in faith, in loving
unconditionally, and in learning to not only accept,
but also embrace a life that had veered down a path
far different from the one she had envisioned.

Look at that sunny smile on Becky’s face. And those gold boots! Wowza!

I pre-ordered Becky’s book a couple of months ago, but Friday Amazon wrote and asked me if I still wanted it. UM, YES!!!! So I hope it will be arriving soon! In the meantime, I asked Becky some questions that had been on my mind while she’s been working on the book.

*Writing a memoir means that the writer has to put herself back into the events she is writing about. Many writers find this very challenging emotionally. As you wrote about so many losses that you have experienced, did you consciously protect yourself in some way during the writing process? How did you cope with reliving the losses?

You are so right. The pain was intense, often relived more than once through the edits. Two things helped me:

 Structure: When I wrote about deep loss in the early stages, I would block off two to three days on my calendar and binge write. I prepared healthy meals ahead (tuna salad, grilled chicken, and tons of boiled eggs), stocked up on my favorite not-so-healthy snacks (Lance cheese crackers, Reese’s® peanut butter cups, and peanut M&M’s), and made sure I had plenty of water, coffee, and green tea. I took breaks, often setting alarms to make sure I got out of the house to walk the dog, grab the mail, or sit on the deck for a change of scenery.

Support: My sister was my anchor. She knew my writing schedule and exactly what I was writing about each day. I would check in with her in the morning and then ask her to call me at the end of the day. She would often help me remember details or give me her point of view about the same scene. Counting on her call and hearing her voice helped me time-block the intensity. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know it is for a finite period of time.

***

*You and I met in the writing program at Stanford. We learned that memoir is both the retelling of the experience and the reflection upon that experience: “What does it mean to me? What did I learn from it? How did it shape who I am today?” So how does reflection figure into Rethinking Possible? What form does it take and how much a part of the book is it?

Reflection is key to the book; in fact, it is baked in its message of “rethinking possible.” Through the years, I’d found comfort and inspiration from many sources so I decided to begin each chapter with a quote, inviting reflection relevant to the chapter’s topic.

Then, the reader witnesses the transformation of “character Becky” through her own self-reflection. After each loss, she reacts, revolts, and is unwilling to accept the unwanted realities about herself or the circumstances that she is facing. She was raised to be a winner, a competitor. She did not like to lose. Through each challenge, the reader sees her stubbornness, her self-absorption, even her arrogant self-righteousness. They also see her pain, her bold questioning, and unvarnished self-doubts:

Why me?

Why my brother?

Why my child?

Why my divorce?

Have I become unlovable?

Yet, she does not give up.

Her stubbornness becomes a steadfast determination as she pursues the closely-knit family life she experienced before her brother’s death. Through this honest self-reflection she discovers how to rethink what’s possible, accepting not only the circumstance, but what she has learned about herself.

Without reflection, an assessment of “what is” based on “what was,” we limit our perspective, our capacity to grow, and our ability to fully engage in “rethinking” what is possible.

***

*Did you do any research for writing your book? Since it’s your own story you are telling, did it all come “from your head,” or was it necessary to read and look up information?

I relied heavily on my father’s book, Sit Down, God. . . I’m Angry for the details about my brother’s death. His vivid descriptions time-warped me back to the scene, but my memory had to kick in to recall my twenty-year-old mindset. After Matthew’s seizures, I began keeping a journal. It was the only way I could capture my spinning thoughts and put them to rest. Then in 1997, six months after my paralysis, a friend introduced me to the latest craze—the internet. Shortly after that, I reconnected with a high school friend through email who wanted an update on my life and my adjustments to paralysis. Our exchanges created an email journal that documented nearly twenty years of experiences and reflections and were the basis for my newspaper column career. Still, I googled for details like the make/model of car we loaded up and packed for vacation when I was six years old, song lyrics, and the exact kind of workout gear I sported in 1981.

***

*Through reading your thought-provoking columns and blog, I see you as a woman of strong Christian faith who was very influenced by her pastor father. Do you think your book speaks to others who have experienced losses who are not themselves religious or who come from other religious traditions?

Great question! I do! The philosophy that, “Life can be good, no matter what,” is based on a commitment to find the good in our circumstance. Again, that takes tremendous and sustained effort. For me, my faith is my fuel. My belief system sustains me, grounds me, and gives me a confidence that there will always be something to hope for. However, no matter what your belief system, we must first accept our circumstance before we can “rethink” what is possible in it. Resilient living depends on it.

***

*Do you have hopes or goals for what readers will take away from reading Rethinking Possible? 

I hope Rethinking Possible will offer encouragement and hope to those who have loved deeply and lost dearly. At its core, I think resilience translates into a foundation of hope. Yet hope is a tricky emotion. It can be wonderfully sustaining, but it can also be exhausting.

In my book, I talk about the benefit of pursuing parallel paths after loss, especially when the future is uncertain. Sometimes it’s helpful to pursue hope and reality at the same time. Often what we hope for just isn’t possible. The key to resilience, at least for me, is to temper hope with reality. In essence, resilience is a process of constantly rethinking what is possible after we have accepted a new reality.

I truly believe that life can be good, no matter what. However, “can” is the most important word. After significant losses, it often takes tremendous and sustained effort to find hope within a newly-defined reality. After reading Rethinking Possible, I’d love for the reader to feel like it’s worth the effort.

***

From what I have read of Becky’s writing, the reader will definitely feel that it’s worth the effort to read Rethinking Possible.

You can join Becky for her Thoughtful Thursdays where she shares what’s inspired her to stay positive that week.

She’s on social media as @chairwriter.

Rethinking Possible can be ordered on Kindle right now and the paperback will ship starting on June 9.

 

 

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Filed under Book promotion, Books, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing Talk

One Wacky Western Landmark

For years, whenever I traveled on the 202 freeway loop and saw a strange wedding cake shaped structure in the distance I wondered about it. Then the gardener saw a program on TV where the place was identified as Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights. I googled the castle and discovered that there were tours of the property. When we decided we wanted to go check it out, I found that I needed to book the tour many months in advance. So about nine months ago I bought the $15 tickets for two. In the amount of time it takes to develop a full human baby, the gardener and I finally were allowed to visit and learn about Tovrea Castle.

Our tour group traveled across the property and up to the castle in two golf carts driven by our two orange-attired docents, each named Nancy. I’m not sure if the tour guides have to be called Nancy or if it was a coincidence they were both named Nancy. (OK, I’m kidding).

The castle and acreage are now in the middle of the city with industrial and commercial zoning all around. It’s not far from Sky Harbor Airport either, and I saw several planes overhead. Other people on my tour saw roadrunners, squirrels, and a jackrabbit with big ears, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of anything with a heartbeat outside of our tour.

What looked like a castle from afar actually wasn’t that large up close. The entire building is about 5,000 square feet, and that includes the basement, which is the largest floor. The second and third floors have small hotel rooms. We were not allowed to go up there, but were told that there is only one bathroom per floor. On a 360 degree iPad tour, the rooms looked quite nice and ready for move in. I might call the architectural style cheesy, but maybe I just don’t appreciate it properly. The light fixtures and other accessories were all in the art deco style, which is definitely a style I like very much.

The castle is painted in its original colors. The front door was remarkable for its plainness. From every floor of the building it is possible to get a 360 degree view of Phoenix.

The bannister is made of terrazo and the columns marble. Terrazo is a compound of granite and concrete.

Before the castle was ever built, F.L. and Lizzie Warner established a homestead on 160 acres in 1907. They built their house (no longer in existence) on a rocky knoll, overlooking . . . desert. Scrub is what I call it. Eventually they added to their property and when Lizzie (after F.L. died) sold the property to Alessio Carraro in 1928 there was a total of 277 acres.

Carraro was an Italian immigrant who made a fortune in the sheet metal business in San Francisco. In 1928 he moved to Arizona, wanting to develop a desert resort and luxury housing subdivision. The “castle” was built as a hotel and completed in 1930. Because of the Great Depression, Carraro had to sell the property in 1931 at a great loss to get cash. Maybe he also sold because his wife refused to move to the desert. Or maybe it was another reason . . . .

While Carraro owned the property, a lot of construction was completed. He hired a Russian gardener, called Mokta, who built an enormous cactus garden. The garden still exists, in a way, but some of the sahuaros (the sentinels of the Sonoran Desert) are dead or dying, and it does not look as rich and thickly planted as shown in the old photographs. What my gardener noticed (that was not mentioned by the tour guides) was that in the old days the property was completely irrigated, whereas today it is not. Even sahuaros need some water, I guess.

Mokta, Carraro, and Carraro’s son Leo planted over 500 species of cactus and lined the property with white river rock from the Salt River. They also created two concrete-lined pools, a horseshoe area, and a game court (for a game that was a combination of bocce and pool).

At this point, the history of Carraro and the “castle” meets the history of the Tovrea family.

Edward Ambrose (“E.A.”) Tovrea was born in Illinois in 1861 and moved to Kansas at the age of 10 where he worked on a cattle ranch. He started a freight company that transported goods between western states and eventually settled in Arizona where he built and owned butcher shops throughout the state, founding the Arizona Packing Company, later known as the Tovrea Packing Company.

In 1931, E.A. and his second wife, Della, purchased the castle with 44 acres from Alessio Carraro. Now this is not part of the official story, but I found it online and maybe it’s the real reason Carrara had to sell the property:

Carraro’s dream of a resort hotel and a subdivision of fine homes ended a few months later. For some time, Carraro had tried unsuccessfully to buy 40 acres adjacent to his land that would serve as an important buffer between his property and a stockyard and meat packing plant. When the acreage finally was sold, it went not to Carraro, but to the owner of the nearby packing company E. A. Tovrea.

Tovrea promptly put up sheep pens on the land. That was it for Carraro, who figured few people would be interested in buying a nice home next to a flock of sheep. In June, 1931, Carraro accepted an offer from a real estate agent for the hotel and much of the property. Unknown to him was that the buyer was Della Tovrea.

What rotten luck. I’ve seen photos of the descendents of Carrara and Tovrea together in a friendly manner, but this must have been such a blow to Carrara.

That stockyard came to be part of the Tovrea Stockyards. Can you imagine the smell in the heat of the summer?

E.A. passed away within a year, leaving behind a son who took over the family businesses. Della Tovrea resided in the castle until her death in 1969. During the time the property was owned by the Tovreas, features added to the gardens include a large concrete patio just east of the castle, a rose garden, an aviary, and a reflecting pool. The pool reflected an enormous sahuaro. The sahuaro is now a skeleton only 1/3 its original height.

There are a lot of small outbuildings on the property, but most are completely falling apart.  The well house is one of the few that still stands. You can see it below.

Near the well house is the dovecote which is completely fallen apart. The dovecote was to keep pigeons to feed the many workers.

Another outbuilding was a little kennel for the dogs. It was just a large free-standing cage. The guide explained that this was built for the protection of the dogs because of the dangerous predators in the area. Hello! So the dogs are inside this cage the size of a small bathroom and the bobcats, mountain lions, javelina, coyotes, and God knows what else, are LUNGING at them from the outside. How many dogs ended up with heart attacks?!

Della Tovrea was a very important person in the Arizona Democratic Party and the only woman representative for Arizona at the 1936 convention.  In her later years, she began sleeping in the kitchen. I have no idea why she slept in the kitchen. She had developed a fear of being locked in her huge bank-type vault in the basement by burglars and had had the lock disabled. One night while she slept just feet away from her beautiful blue kitchen sink two burglars did break in and force her to take them around the house pointing out the valuables. There are two different stories about how a bullet hole was made in the kitchen ceiling that night. In one version, a burglar shot his gun. In another version, it was Della herself and her old Colt. When the men left in their pink Cadillac (no relation to Mary Kay or Elvis, to my knowledge), she had no way (in 1969!) to contact the police or the caretakers who lived in a cottage on the grounds and had to make her way to their house in the pouring rain. She died two months later, possibly of pneumonia.

The cast of characters in the story of Tovrea Castle would make for a picaresque novel, to be sure, and I think Della was the greatest piece of work of all. I have a soft spot, though, for Carrara who was a dreamer who repurposed creatively (the blue sink might have come from elsewhere, as did the maple floors and other features of the building and grounds). He took risks and couldn’t withstand the machinations of “bottom line Tovrea,” as I like to think of him.

Today the basement is a tiny museum of Carraro Heights. The ceiling is the bird’s nest style (with hidden eggs throughout). And there are tunnels leading outside.

The Boy Scouts made and installed green ladder stairs around the property. These are views far away and up close.

In 1993, the Castle and the 44 acre Cactus Gardens were purchased from the Tovrea Family Estate by the City of Phoenix which now maintains the National Register of Historic Places property and runs the tours. But at some point somebody else must have run tours here because in the basement there is an old sign.

When I asked why it’s necessary to buy tickets so many months in advance, the tour guides explained to me that they don’t have enough docents. I’d almost swear the one lady looked at me pointedly and hopefully at that moment.

The thing is that while the combination of history and garden and architecture was great fun for both the gardener and me, the desert leaves me cold (you know what I mean). I can’t blame Carrara’s wife for not budging from San Francisco. Are you KIDDING me? What was he thinking? We probably lucked out and got the last beautiful weather for the next three months or so. From now on it will be HOT.

On the other hand, plenty of people love the desert. Identify yourself right now!

And, like Tevye (I like musical theatre references), I can always repeat on the other hand: have you ever seen a bluer sky than ours?

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Filed under Essay, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, History, Lifestyle, Liminality, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Memories Made and Kept

I’ve been a lot of things in my life: daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, mother, student, and teacher, just to name a few. Add poet, writer, and crazy cat lady. Now I can add mother-in-law! I hope I won’t be like that one in the old Herman’s Hermits song (“the worst person I know”).

My son and his fiancée got hitched over the weekend, thus giving me a beautiful new daughter. The ceremony was in Laguna Beach, California, with most of the wedding-goers digging their toes in the beach sand.

As you can imagine, I #amnotwriting, but have been #traveling and #celebrating.

I try to be stoic or to keep it light when I can, so I was unprepared for the tears and the joy I felt at my son’s transformation into a married man and at gaining such a lovely and thoughtful daughter.

My new daughter and my son had asked me to write a poem for the “memorial table” she had planned for the celebration. They framed photographs of the grandparents who have passed away, including my father and both my in-laws. I asked for information about her grandparents so I could incorporate them into the poem.

Before Us

 

Those who have come and gone

before us

leave their imprint

in the details. Oil paint

and canvas, camera

always at hand

to memorize those they care for,

the stacks of photo albums,

offerings left behind.

Daily steak dinners for

beloved pets. Advice

offered with grace. Wartime

service, a sense

of humor and a sense

of duty born of justice.

Born of freedom.

Born of love.

All this, and so much more,

from those who have come

And gone before us.

I was thrilled when my new daughter gave me a necklace and a card with a poem for me that she had written.

How my father would have loved to be at the wedding!

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Filed under Lifestyle, Sightseeing & Travel

A Quick Visit to The Land of Beaches and Traffic

I’ve been beachside for my future DIL’s bridal shower.

Lovely air for my sinuses and skin.  

The hills were alive with the color of wildflowers everywhere that housing developments haven’t taken over!

We had a great family time. Now it’s good to be home with our cats and away from the hubbub.

Pear Blossom wondering why Tiger Queenie keeps coming so close. After all, Pear is the undisputed actual Queen of the house at age 17.

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Filed under California, Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

A Matter of Taste

When I was in 3rd grade, my father built us a new house across town. At the time we lived in a small bungaranch (or it is ranchalow?) with a bomb shelter in the basement. In 2014 I wrote a post telling a bit about that bomb shelter.

But this post is about our next house, sort of. My parents pored over architectural plans and made changes so that the house would be exactly what they wanted. It was a very well-constructed white aluminum siding and pink brick ranch with a full basement. My bedroom had a built-in desk, vanity, and bookshelves. We had a wood-paneled family room with fire place, and the living room had a wall of glass looking out to the woods behind. The house was 1,787 square feet (thanks, Trulia), which seemed of castle-like dimensions to me, particularly since I had most of that big basement to play in.

My father had some help from subcontractors, but all the framing, the masonry, and extras like concrete walks and patio were done by my father. With me watching and fetching.

When the house was almost completed, my father said my mother could choose the finishing touch. She could select the color of the front door.

This is where I wish I could put a little cardboard swinging door over the answer so that you would have to guess first. Then you’d pull open the door (like on a page of a child’s cardbook book) and look in shock at the color.

I remembered this story because I read Joey’s red door post on Thursday.

But our door wasn’t red (which is always striking on white or gray houses). Our door was turquoise. Yup. Gulp.

Maybe you love blue for decorating (I generally don’t as I prefer warmer colors). Or even turquoise. Or think it’s teal.

But it’s not. Turquoise is turquoise, and I’m sorry but it is not an appropriate color for a door, even if the rest of the house is lovely.

Flash forward. I moved into my house in Phoenix with its gold-tan stucco walls and dark brown trim–both in a sort of mottled faux finish. The colors suit the landscape here. And they are “house colors.”

After we moved in, I noticed that the faux brown around my windows and doors had started to peel. I went up to the door and pulled at a paint shred that was just hanging. As I ripped it up, I saw the color underneath.

It was turquoise. I am NOT kidding. The whole dang house is trimmed in store-bought turquoise trim. It’s not painted, but permanently coated with turquoise. And it defies paint on the top of it, which is why it peels all the time.

###

When the gardener and I visited Michigan just before my father got sick, we went to see our old houses, schools, and haunts. This is a pic of the pretty house that no longer has a turquoise door. The only thing is, the house was more distinctive looking with the turquoise door. So maybe it’s all a matter of taste–not good or bad–but individual. Sadly, we only lived here for a year and a half because, even after all my father’s work on the house, we couldn’t afford to keep it.

house

I’ve been really busy preparing everything the publisher needs for my chapbook, as well as doing a little work on the memoir. Fingers crossed on how all this goes . . . .

I hope your Valentine’s Day is lovely even if you don’t have a special love. Find someone who would be warmed by a valentine–and deliver. Word of warning if you plan on a bouquet: if they have cats, try to stay away from lilies and carnations, which are toxic to cats. Roses and orchids are safe. And the fewer greens the better because nobody ever seems to know which ones are toxic and which ones aren’t.

Muah!!! xo ❤

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Family history, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry Collection, Writing

Can Always Be Worse Continues

Last week’s title was “It Can Always Be Worse.” Hahaha. Yes, it can! Felix is still isolated for another week, and on Tuesday night Pear Blossom, our oldest cat at 17, got very sick with another UTI and passed a huge (for a tiny cat) blood clot through her urethra. I spent a few hours at the animal ER where they tested and medicated her. Then I came home and slept on the floor of the closet with Felix for 2.5 hours. That is the sort of 2 weeks I’ve had.

Pear got a little worse, but now seems somewhat better. However, the ultrasound at the ER showed she has something weird going on with her bladder, so it’s likely that this huge money suck we’re in the middle of is going to continue.

Mom didn’t bargain for coming to a cat hospital, but that’s what she found here in Arizona. At least she’s here with us.

Spending lots of time with my kitty loves for now. In lieu of a real post, I’ll leave you with this love-ly photo that belongs to my friend Gayle.

Gayle's heart

Please continue thoughts and prayers for Aunt Jean’s comfort and passage.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Writing

It Can Always Be Worse

What a week. But I’m on the upside of it now, and that reminds me of a favorite children’s book. It Could Always Be Worse is based on a Yiddish folk tale where a man complains to his rabbi about his small overcrowded house. The rabbi has him add to his inside household, the chickens, the cow, and other animals. The man does what the rabbi instructs. Then when he is ready to pull his hair out, the rabbi has him take the animals back out. When the household is back to its original size, the man is so relieved he stops complaining.

I feel as if I’ve written about this book before, but not sure.

Mom was scheduled to come on Wednesday morning, and I had been having a problem with my leg (part of my lymphedema), but hadn’t found time to treat it. I was rushing around, trying to get stuff done before she comes for a month. Tuesday night, right after dinner, my cat Felix got very sick–vomiting and diarrhea. We ended up taking him to the emergency clinic because we were afraid of a urinary blockage (since male cats are prone to those), but he was diagnosed with a microscopic parasite called Coccidia. It’s very contagious. Yippee! Great to hear when you have 5 cats (4 of them elderly). We started medicating Felix, and separated all the cats from each other!

Wednesday morning I took poos from the other cats to the vet and picked up meds for them, then went to Petsmart and bought disposable litter boxes. Then we had to haul all the plastic litter boxes and other cat paraphernalia out to the driveway for cleaning and disinfecting.

FYI, Felix did not get the Coccidia from the animal shelter where we volunteer. He came to us as a stray with parasites that hid from detection in his intestines, and he has had problems in the past because of his medical history.

Then Mom’s first flight was late, and she missed her connection. They couldn’t find her another flight to Phoenix that day! Eighty-two years old, traveling by herself, and they gave her the wrong shuttle bus name. Then they made her go to some ancient Day’s Inn where the ceiling was crumbling onto the bed. They bought her dinner, but NOT a glass of wine!

She arrived the next day in the midst of the chaos of Coccidia over here. I am exhausted. No hat is going to help me now ;).

But day by day things are getting better (or so I tell myself). And we’re just glad to have Mom here and not in Michigan weather right now.

Even this busy, I am doing a little secret editing. #amwriting

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Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

A Tip O’ My Hats to 2017

A few years ago I made an avatar that showed me in my usual garb–tank top, yoga pants, baseball cap, and sunglasses.

The latter two items are because light, especially fluorescents!!!, is a nasty trigger for my complicated migraines (note: complicated migraines are a real thing, related to regular migraines, but not just complicated versions of the headaches). The other day I visited a fancy Whole Foods store in north Scottsdale and because the store was so big and the ceiling so covered with fluorescents within ten minutes large black shadow blobs floated in front of my vision and I got agitated. I’d forgotten my hat!

I forget my hat often enough that it’s led to a collection of emergency (and non emergency) hats. I’m trying to branch out from caps because the brims aren’t big enough and don’t block enough light.

In Bisbee, Arizona, I bought this crushable, foldable comfy hat in my favorite color, coral. I can travel with it. I usually pretend this hat matches whatever I’m wearing.

My soon-to-be DIL had a cat birthday party for my son. She ordered these caps with pix of both their cats. Look closely and you will see Lily Lane on top and Meesker on the bottom.

I fell in love with this Tucson style hat at an art fair. Look at the pretty trim.

This hat makes a specific statement that has something to do with fashion, and I don’t usually feel I can live up to it.

I found this straw cowboy hat at a rest stop between Arizona and California. It goes with my boots!

This men’s dress felt is a love. It’s too big, which is one thing that endears a hat to me.

 My family calls this my bird lady hat. As in the bird woman in Mary Poppins. This hat is important to me to watch TV on the couch. The lamp that is necessary to watch the screen at night, is behind my head, and I have to protect my head and face from the light, so I wear this hat while I’m in my nightgown, cuddling with the cats. The brim is merely fabric on a bendable wire, so I can lie back without ruining the hat.

The night the gardener and I went to the restaurant in New Orleans that has gluten free deep-fried seafood, I forgot my hat. What a mistake. That restaurant’s ceiling was populated by the harshest fluorescents I’ve ever seen. The employees were wearing ball caps! It was 9PM in the French Quarter. I was there because of the gardener’s celiac disease, but he saw how bad the lights were and went on a mission after we placed our food order. He ran blocks searching for an open store with a hat. I couldn’t do it because I can’t run or walk fast for medical reasons, so I sat there under the lights with my purse over my head (you can go ahead and laugh at that image–it won’t make me feel bad).

When the gardener got back, I couldn’t believe how well he did. He found a second hand store that was open. It sold a few new items, including this cool fishing hat! It looks a little worse for wear and needs a good brushing, but wow, it feels good and it looks good! The second I put it on my head, my body calmed down. (Fluorescents give me all kinds of unpleasant sensations that are probably part of migraine aura).

Ta da: the brim!

Gift shopping with my daughter led to us trying on hats at Dillard’s. They had an amazing Downton Abbey hat marked way down, and although I would NEVER wear it in real life, I thought it might be handy in case I had to attend a serious dress-up function under the LIGHTS.

At least it looks really great in my closet!

A huge welcome to 2017. Let’s move forward! Best way to do that is watch the Cotton Bowl TODAY and see my Western Michigan University Broncos kick some Badger butt!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Lifestyle, Nonfiction

Cities of the Dead

If you think cemeteries are unbearably creepy or sad, you might want to skip this post. After returning from a trip to New Orleans, I am still seeing her “Cities of the Dead”– as the graveyards are called–in my mind. New Orleans has dozens of cemeteries, but why are they so memorable?

Because so much of the land is at or below sea level, burials are mainly above ground. When caskets are buried underground, as the water table rises, they come right up out of the ground and float away. Above ground burials are in stone vaults or monuments, and when you see a cemetery full of these little “houses” they give the appearance of a ghoulish neighborhood or town. You can see decorative iron trim, stone crosses and sculptures, and some vaults even have stained glass.

A lot of movies have been filmed in these cemeteries. The one that has stayed with me is Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd gets locked in a casket in Lafayette Cemetery #1. The Easy Rider scene was filmed at St. Louis Cemetery #1. The latter one is the oldest cemetery in the city and located in a swamp. It’s claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen, who was buried there in 1881. Many of the cemeteries are Roman Catholic or divided into sections by religion and also by race. The oldest cemeteries, like St. Louis 1, 2, and 3 are very dilapitated. The stone is crumbling, there is moss over many of the vaults, and therefore they are the most creepy.

Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans, not the city of Metairie) is newer and was set up by a Creole (usually “mixed race” person, and that is important to the following) who did not want sections by religion and race and did not want a segregated cemetery. It has the most extravagant marble monuments in the city, though, and Anne Rice’s husband the poet Stan Rice is buried there. He died at age 60 of brain cancer. At the same cemetery, the owners of Whitney Bank made their monument look like a little bank.

You can take tours of the cemeteries, but I think the best way is to plan a couple of days to visit several cemeteries on your own. That way you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the ones you prefer.

It might seem odd to take photos of places where people just like me were buried, but I belong to FindaGrave, which accesses cemetery records across the country. The point of that site is to take photos of all the headstones/graves in the U.S.–and connect each one to the person buried there–birth and death info, relationships with others buried, and photos of the individual. I “tend” a few graves on there by paying a one-time fee of $5 to remove advertising from the grave’s page.

New Orleans even has a Masonic cemetery. I was actually surprised to see the old, abandoned Masonic Temple because my understanding is that the doctrines of the Catholic Church and Freemasonry are incompatible. Since New Orleans has a Catholic historical base and population, I mentioned to the gardener that I probably wouldn’t find a Masonic Temple here, and right at that moment, it stood in front of our car.

I wanted to visit the Masonic cemetery, but it was not to be (for which I blame the gardener).

He doesn’t really understand my fascination with the Masons. He even said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a place for a bunch of guys to hang out.” He doesn’t think they are mysterious or intriguing at all.

But I do ;).

And the same is true for those cemeteries. But then I can’t go past an old cemetery without stopping.

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, History, Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel