Category Archives: Writing

Book Review: Leora’s Letters OR How I Learned Empathy for Americans During WWII

Last week I experienced an emotional interior life as I read Joy Neal Kidney’s nonfiction book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. 

I first met Joy through her blog attached to her website: JOYNEALKIDNEY.COM

Gradually, I realized that her family story was quite remarkable, and that Joy had put it into book form. Since Joy is a joy to communicate with on her blog and mine (articulate and kind), I decided to read her book, which was written in conjunction with Robin Grunder,  although WWII is not really “my area.”

Before I started the book, I already knew the gut punch of the book; it’s not a secret that one finds out only by reading. The horrifying reality is shared right on Joy’s website. Joy’s mother Doris had five brothers. All five young men entered the war on behalf of the United States. Only two brothers came home at the end.

Although it might seem counter to know this fact up front, it actually heightened the suspense because I was reading carefully for the details of their lives as the war began and then continued, luring one by one of the brothers into the war. I wasn’t sure who would survive and who wouldn’t—or what would happen to them before they died and how they would die. What a page turner!

I was captivated by the life of these Iowa farmers from the beginning. Hard working and smart, they also were satisfied with so little—simple, healthy food; satisfying work to perform; family togetherness; and aspirations for the future. I fell in love with each one of these brothers as they shared their hearts and lives through letters to family members, especially their mother Leora. They were not small-minded or selfish, but operated out of honor and a humble pride.

During the last section of the book, I was reading in the doctor’s waiting room because I couldn’t put the book down except when I absolutely  had to. I read something so really small, but so powerful, that I burst into tears right there in front of the other patients. That’s a warning to you if you read the book in public.

This book is not a novel. It doesn’t have the frills of one. Joy curated the letters and wove the story around  the letters in a very graceful way. I was so impressed with the powerful and understated writing skills that went into crafting the book. The editing job was also well done. Now I have much more feel for what my father-in-law went through in WWII. And for that entire generation.

###

My father-in-law Murray Scheshko (later known as Castle) was part of the 353rd Fighter Group that flew bombing missions over occupied Europe. They are considered heroes in England. Murray was not a pilot. He was staff sergeant, an “armourer,” which means that he was in charge of the weapons for the group. His file was destroyed in the 1973 National Archives fire, but there are records associated with his payment history. According to a transcript of the record he also served in the following “battles and campaigns”:

  • Air Offensive Europe
  • Central Europe
  • Normandy
  • Northern France
  • Rhineland
  • Ardennes-Alsace

Here is a photo of Murray:

Murray died in 1984 from a heart attack he experienced while on a commercial plane flight.

I never thanked him for his service.

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Scrapping Scraps

In September I posted photos of the fabric scraps I still have from my childhood. The inspiration for ruminating on what to do with them came from a couple of sources. One was Dawn Raffel’s book The Secret Life of Objects.  The other was Swedish death cleaning–getting rid of stuff so my kids are not one day burdened with it.

I promised I would do something with the scraps, and I have not forgotten. I am far from the point of actually getting rid of the fabric, but did start a project that was suggested by sarahsouthwest.

I’m making a scrapbook of scraps! For each page I plan to include a fabric remnant, a story or description of the memory it stirs up, and, if possible, a photograph of the garment made of the fabric. So far I’ve only made the cover and one page, but thought you might want to follow along with the process. I’m not very good at crafts, but hey, it’s mine, baby, all mine.

 

 

First, I chose an ugly on-sale scrapbook and then padded it and covered it. I selected a print corduroy from the late 1960s for the front cover and a gingham from the early 1960s for the back.

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You can see what my first page looks like in the slideshow above. I decided to keep the page very plain and even left the raw edge of fabric visible. In the photograph you can see me wearing the sleeveless tent dress that my grandmother made for me. It has a high yoke decorated with large embroidered white daisy appliques. I loved that dress. It was so comfy and very pretty. The type of fabric was called “whipped cream,” and was lightweight, airy, with a little texture to it. My mom’s cotton or cotton/poly fitted dress, also sewn by Grandma, was very Barbie-style.

This is the story I wrote about what the dress and the photo remind me of:

 

In this photo, my parents and I are in Canada, seated at a restaurant in the 1967 International and Universal Exposition.

 

The summer I turned 12 is the one I will always remember as a peaceful and memorable week with my parents. We left my 4-year-old brother with my grandparents in Kalamazoo and drove to Montreal for Expo ’67, the World’s Fair.

 

We stayed in Montreal at the winter (city) home of my grandfather’s 2nd cousin, Harold Remine, the Chief Engineer of Quebec Hydroelectric. It was a beautiful and elegant brown brick row house. The dining room was complete with all the requisite china, crystal, and silver. But the house was not large, and I had to share a bedroom with my parents.

 

Harold and Lillian also had a lovely lake home, which we visited. Harold introduced me to curling, a sport I had never heard about before, by taking us to a curling club.

 

The Expo itself excited and exhausted me. It had some elements in common with a state fair or Disneyland, a place I had not yet visited. There were snow cone and cotton candy booths, hot dog and burger stands. A caricaturist drew my likeness holding a book. I was disappointed afterward that I hadn’t given him a better hobby. Reading seemed so nerdy. But the truth was that I read more than I did anything else.

 

Each participating country sponsored a magnificent pavilion that was supposed to reflect the national personality. The U.S. pavilion was a huge geodesic dome—this is a sphere that is built of short struts that follow geodesic lines (the shortest line between two points on a sphere) and form an open framework of triangles or polygons. There were very, very long escalators that seemed to hang in “thin air,” and the park’s elevated minirail ran through the structure. The effect of being inside the pavilion was of being suspended in space. I believe I saw a doll collection and space race memorabilia, but since I was afraid of heights, I mainly remember my fear.

 

My favorite pavilion was the Burmese one. Under its appealing multi-roofed pagoda design, a gigantic golden Buddha dominated the interior lobby. I suspect that the restaurant in the photo is the Burmese one. To this day, it is my favorite type of food. If you haven’t been lucky enough to eat it, it is a cross between Thai and Indian food.

 

Habitat 67, a futuristic housing development, was situated near the edge of the fairgrounds. It reminded me of photos of Anasazi dwellings for some reason. I was both repelled by the makeshift quality and fascinated by a new way to conceptualize living quarters.

 

I guess my parents had decided not to bring my brother because he was too young to appreciate the cultural opportunity or even to go on the fair rides. But when we got home to Kalamazoo and stopped at Grandma and Grandpa’s to pick him up, he was flushed with a high fever. He sat on someone’s lap, and somebody else snapped a pic a second before he leaned over and threw up on the floor. That’s when I started to feel guilty that we had left him behind.

 

Habitat 67 from Wikipedia

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A Little Bit Like Grandpa

On one of my family history blogs, The Family Kalamazoo, I was chatting with family history blogger and blog friend Amy Cohen (check out her amazing work at Brotmanblog: A Family Journey) and I was trying to give her an idea of my grandfather’s personality. I directed her to the first poem in my chapbook Kin Types, “Advice from My Forebears.” I reminded her about two lines in it: “If they come to your door, feed them. Then send / them on their way.” This particular advice sounds exactly like my grandfather’s philosophy.

Amy said, “There’s something both soft and tough in it, probably like your Grandpa.” Amy was right. That was Grandpa.

What does it mean to be both soft and tough? In some ways I am both those things. I am uber-soft about animals, as you know, and a well-directed commercial about almost anything can leave me in tears. I am the same way about children’s issues that I am about animals–especially foster children and adoptees.

But I do have a little bit of a pull yourself up by your bootstraps iron somewhere inside, too. I lose my patience with people who I view as too soft on themselves. I don’t mean people with problems like mental illness, addictions, anything like that. I mean people who give in to their emotions excessively (IMO), but always when it is about themselves.

I didn’t intend this to turn into a vent, but I guess when you follow a thread into yourself, you find out what you don’t like, as well as what you do like.

I don’t necessarily like this aspect of myself. But I’m not sure that I don’t value it in some respect, also, because it means that I keep myself going, no matter what, I never give up trying to be a helper where truly needed, and I’m a hard worker like Grandpa.

That said, it isn’t up to me to decide when someone is being excessively about themselves. I can extricate myself from the relationship completely, or at least distance myself. But I need to stop judging or labeling and just do what I need to do. In other words, I need to send myself on my way ;).

I have a few writing goals this year. I hope I can accomplish even a quarter of what I plan haha. My submission acceptance goal remains the same as for 2019, and I already have three, so I have hopes that I will meet it once again. This year also will be a year of helping a bit with the wedding planning (for daughter and her fiance).

 

Perry and Sloopy Anne have been lying together on the bed for hours every day. So I can’t make the bed. Not a bad reason not to make a bed, huh? Sorry the lighting is so poor in there, but aren’t they cute?

Let’s make this week one that really counts!!! XO

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Bravery on the Streets: RIP Dexter

This is Dexter, but it is just one of many names he has been called. He lived his life on the streets of Phoenix for many years. He evaded every trap that kind people set for him—and who knows how many that bad people set. He was covered with scars and his ears were all screwed up, but he was still gorgeous when you looked into his soulful eyes. When he knew the end was near he sought out my friend who had given him food and soft words, asking to end his days with her. She gave him a home for the past couple of weeks while he peacefully faded away in a quiet place. She was with him, petting and consoling him, when he passed away on Saturday. Dexter was a strong cat, a brave cat. He lived life on his own terms and died that same way. RIP to a cat I will never forget.

 

Dexter was very sick in these photos. I couldn’t let him pass away without sharing his story because courage isn’t an attribute special to humans (when you can find it) or to dogs. Cats and other animals also can be very brave and strong, facing up to the unfairnesses thrown at them in life. I wanted us to appreciate the strength this boy had to live his life the way he lived it. And the courage he found not just to battle for that life every day on the streets, but the courage to come to my friend when he finally felt he needed her. Bless her for noticing that he needed help beyond the usual.

Dexter lived in my friend’s neighborhood and was at least 12 years old, possibly as old as 15. He was a stray, not truly feral (I’ve written before that a lot of cats are classified as feral who truly are strays–and Dexter would have been seen as feral by some, but he really was not). He trusted my friend and some others enough to get close so they could feed him and even pet him. He lived in an area where coyotes hunt cats. My friend says he “owned” her neighborhood and now he is buried there.

Dexter is not confined to the cage you see. The door was open so he could move into the room. In case you wonder, my friend is very experienced and knows quite a lot about medical and behavioral issues with cats. She decided that he would be completely freaked out by euthanasia by a vet, although she held it in her mind as an option if he didn’t pass peacefully.

So please grieve for Dexter, but also celebrate his bravery and his strength and when you have a chance to help someone, please take the opportunity. If you don’t know about the good work of Alley Cat Allies please check them out.

I can’t leave you without showing you some happy cat rescues that I have recorded with my new iPhone.

Kana, my Home Fur Good rescue princess, is in the stage light mono portrait mode.

Felix is, um, I can’t remember which portrait mode. Felix was rescued from the streets.


Perry is in stage light portrait mode. As you know, he was also rescued from the streets a la our backyard.

MAKE YOUR WEEK COUNT!!!!

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This Time of Year

Starting last winter the gardener and I had a business project begin that has taken up a lot of our time. It’s been difficult to write in the midst of it, although I tried to do some writing. I also had my mother here for about 10 weeks in the spring. Throw in a couple of trips on top of the extra work. Then recently Mom was here again for two weeks, and I began The Artist’s Way program (FYI: bad timing to begin at this time of year). Felix had serious health problems beginning in August, as well.

Then week before last my grandcat Meesker had a urinary blockage, just like Felix. He, however, needed further surgery because of stones in the bladder. Although he’s doing fine it upset our holidays plans, as well as some other big plans in our family.

We had to change everything. And my daughter’s boyfriend had to change the date for a marriage proposal. This past week was pure chaos as we made a business trip to California, had car trouble the third time in a row, made it back in time for the proposal and little party afterwards, and then had our Hanukkah/Christmas family celebration.

I am ready to COLLAPSE. Seriously. Collapse.

The gardener and I developed colds, but I’m so glad that everyone seems pretty well right now other than that–including all the cats, the grandcats, and the granddogs. We had that darling puppy Riley here all day on Saturday. She was so  good, only pooing in the house once. The cats were interested in her, but she tended to nap when they stared at her.

Going back to the proposal. YAY!!!! We are all excited because we love her boyfriend. They were friends for twelve years before dating, so we’ve known him for thirteen years. He proposed at the elegant Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort, which was decked out for Christmas. In fact, they have a Winter Wonderland, complete with pageant, every year.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort lobby

He proposed at the fountain in front of this giant Christmas tree that changed colors. The song playing was “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It was on a music loop, so it was just chance that it wasn’t an uptempo Christmas song, but a more romantic-sounding song.

The staff was in on the proposal, so they were relaying information by text messages to each other and to a group of us waiting in hiding:

“They are leaving the restaurant.

They are stopping at the bathroom.

They are rounding the corner.”

All went well. My daughter is over the moon with happiness and loved the old-fashioned-style proposal.

Saturday my son made gluten-free latkes for us. He used an entire bag of giant russets, so we still have leftovers. (Yay because they are my favorite). I prefer them with sour cream, not apple sauce. How about you?

 

My mother pulled a fast one on me, by the way. When she was here, she had me drop her at the mall. Apparently while she was there, she purchased me an entire set of Fiestaware dishes! Then she had my daughter pick them up and hold them until Saturday when the kids all carried them out to me.

I’ve wanted Fiestaware for ten years, but couldn’t justify it because I have perfectly good dishes that I hate. I was so touched because it’s one of the nicest things my mother has done for me. She might be 85, but she still loves me :).

Hah, I don’t like to think that I am that materialistic that purchasing an item shows love, but the whole notion of my mother getting the idea of buying them for me and carrying out the plan because she knew I love the dishes really made me happy.

She chose four colors, plus serving pieces in other colors. Here are three of the colors. Aren’t these pretty plates?!!!

Now that we celebrated with our family, the rest of the month should be less hectic–and for that I am grateful.

Hugs as you travel through sluggish traffic and on cantankerous air travel, if you are doing so. And I can’t imagine too many don’t have to go out on the busy streets.

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Poetry of Loss

The Plath Poetry Project is one of the most unique poetry projects around. The central event involves writing poems that are inspired by Plath poetry. The poems are accompanied by explanations of  the inspiration. PPP published a poem I wrote once before, and now they have published one I wrote based on Plath’s “For a Fatherless Son.”

by Sylvia Plath

You will be aware of an absence, presently,
Growing beside you, like a tree,
A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree —-
Balding, gelded by lightning—an illusion,
And a sky like a pig’s backside, an utter lack of attention.
But right now you are dumb.
And I love your stupidity,
The blind mirror of it. I look in
And find no face but my own, and you think that’s funny.
It is good for me
To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung.
One day you may touch what’s wrong —-
The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush.
Till then your smiles are found money.

 

My poem is “For an Adopted Child,” and if you read the poem and the explanation you will see how I came to write a darker poem about adoption.

For An Adopted Child

My children were adopted by the gardener and me as babies. My brother was also adopted by my parents as a baby. Although my kids are vocal about the positive side of adoption, that does not mean that they haven’t been scarred by the process of adoption. Adoptees aren’t born when they join their adoptive families. They have lives before that–perhaps a week, three months, or six years. They know loss before most other people. In the case of my kids, they are transracial adoptees, so that brings some more baggage along with it.

We’ve come a long way from the days when even educated people told adoptees they are lucky they were adopted, but there are still plenty of unenlightened people out there saying stupid stuff, never fear. It’s not lucky to lose your birth family, no matter what the circumstances. It’s not lucky to know loss so young.

I hope you appreciate “For an Adopted Child”; it’s one of my favorites.

 

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Who Inspired You?

One of the first epiphanies that I experienced from The Artist’s Way occurred at the first meeting of my local group. I wrote about it in a blog post for the Brevity blog. I’m so excited to see it up there today, in such great company. If you want to read a variety of voices on the craft of writing, be sure to follow their blog.

MODELING THE ARTIST’S LIFE at Brevity Blog

Now really think about it. Who inspired you? Don’t think of who you are supposed to mention. Who really and truly inspired you to something MORE?

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It’s Old Hat

It took me a week to respond to comments on last week’s post. What a slacker!  I’m so sorry! Mom is here, though,

Oh, look at that hummingbird out the window flitting from yellow blossom to yellow blossom (on some sort of tree or huge bush we have), drinking out of each little cup :).

Is it worse to interrupt oneself or someone else?

Anyway, Mom is here, and I am trying to keep up with her. Thanksgiving coming up and then her birthday party a few days later.

Saturday night we attended a bat mitzvah shindig. Second best part was the martini bar.

They offered lemondrop, cosmo, gin, and one other kind–vodka ones? The chocolate fountain wasn’t bad either.

The best part of the night was I found myself a new OLD HAT. If you recall I was in love with that fishing hat I got in New Orleans and lost in Tampa. I first wrote about it here: A Tip O My Hat.

When  the DJ started the music, he turned on all manner of flashing lights. Ms. Complicated Migraine here can’t tolerate those. I asked the event planner if she had a hat with brim I could wear. She pulled one off the costume stand for me.

 

Later they said it looked so good–so RIGHT–on me that I could keep it. Hahahaha. If you want to see it on me, I may or may not post a pic on my Instagram account (catpoems).

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL WHO CELEBRATE! XOXOXOXO

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Poetry Parody

I’ve mentioned Diane Lockward’s poetry craft books before, as well as her free monthly newsletter. If you’re a poet or just want to try writing a poem, be sure to sign up for her newsletter HERE.

In October’s issue, she included a link to an SNL parody of  English teachers/poets/poetry readings. Wondering what you make of it!

If you don’t have time to watch the video, then just save it for later (if it appeals to you) and say HI. This past week ended up even crazier than the one before. We went to California for work. The gardener had a scary car problem on the fast-moving freeway–the car simply shut down and he had to coast to the left median and wait for AAA (thank goodness for AAA!). That is a sample of the week haha. To make up for it, I am starting a walking plan, which just means that I plan to walk more! There is a beautiful path near my house that isn’t too long and is easy on my bad foot.

Arizona Unfiltered as Seen From My Walk: Saguaro Hotel (for the birds)

Mom comes at the end of this week, so I need to catch up some of my work and get the house ready.

Are we officially into holiday season now?

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The Cat’s Way of Time

I’m still trying to stay on top of everything, but last week kicked me in the behind. If only I could clone myself. I used to like that movie Multiplicity where the man is cloned several times. Remember that? It wasn’t a great movie or a popular one, but Michael Keaton is one of my favorite actors. I am always hoping to clone myself, but that unlike the Keaton character in the movie, I can control the clones–perhaps even operate their brains ;).

Not only did I have a jam-packed week, but a lot of little stuff went wrong. My anxiety level increased as the stress did. I’m wondering if this anxiety is a byproduct of The Artist’s Way program. So far I’ve gotten some advice from a TAW Facebook group. We’ll see how it goes.

But I am happy to report that I snagged a 2020 publication this week.

Still, if only I could learn from my cats that time pools up between our paws when we let it do so. If we’re chasing after it, we’ll never catch it.

How’s about this Marge Piercy cat poem?

THE CAT’S SONG

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.
*
Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.
*
You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?
*
Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.
*
Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word
*
of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.
What a beauty of a poem.

Let’s all remember to honor VETERANS DAY today!

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