Tag Archives: Memoir

A Medical-Nightmare Memoir, A Darkish Thriller with a Social Conscience, and A Brightly Lit Romance

I finished another memoir, this time one my mother recommended. Called Brain on Fire, it’s about a young journalist (Susannah Cahalan) who suddenly lost her mind. She suffered from symptoms which appeared to be mental illness, but were accompanied by seizures–her only actual provable “physical” symptom. After being wrongly treated by a neurologist who insisted she suffered from over-drinking (she was not a big drinker), she was admitted to the epilepsy ward at NYU.

Her first stay was a full month and during that time she lost her mental abilities and, although she slowly recovered after her rare condition was corrected diagnosed and treated, she lost her memories of that month.

Because of her job and her position at the New York Post, Cahalan was able to publish an article about her illness that spurred the medical world into diagnosing others with the conditions. She wondered how many people were locked away in psych wards when they, in fact, had anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. How many people had unnecessarily died? In the few short years since her illness in 2009, the condition is diagnosed much more often–and lives have been saved because of her courage and her job and connections.

The book is important because of its spotlight on this particular rare illness, but also for how it shows that there is hope for other sufferers who have not received diagnoses or proper diagnoses. I went through a similar problem with original diagnosis for the tumor in my foot when the first specialist I went to, a “big name” doctor, ignored my concerns and misdiagnosed me in a way that could have led to me losing my ability to walk permanently. I suspect this happens more often than we know.

Another aspect of the book I found very intriguing was Susannah’s life stage. As a 24-year-old who had been living on her own, with an ambitious career job, she had just been moving into a “genuine” adulthood, but her illness made her dependent on her family and others. This is a difficult time of life to have this happen. Kid, adult, now kid again–or at least that was the way she felt.

Finally, she meditates on the loss of her memories at the end of the book, wondering if she will ever retrieve that lost month again. But she says about memory is true of anyone, and if she was a little older, she might realize that, too:

Maybe it’s [the memory of that month] not gone but is somewhere int he recesses of my mind, waiting for the proper cues to be called back up. So far that hasn’t happened, which just makes me wonder: What else have I lost along the way? And is it actually lost or just hidden?”

These are the questions of every memoirist.

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I finally wrote a review of Carrie Rubin’s unique novel Eating Bull. If I had written it soon after finishing the book, my review could have been longer and more detailed.

I devoured (sorry for the pun) Carrie Rubin’s Eating Bull very quickly, although I savored it as I read. Then I didn’t write this review for many months. Perhaps because this book took me by surprise and just a tiny bit out of my comfort zone, writing about this book proved to be daunting. Eating Bull is a suspenseful thriller which showcases the dark world of the fast food industry and of fat shaming and bullying. It has a cast of characters I found very realistic–which means annoying and endearing at once. The protagonist, Jeremy, is a boy who deserves the sympathetic eye of Rubin’s narrator on his life and dilemmas. His mother frustrated me. She clearly loves him very much, but I wanted to step in and advise her on ways she could help improve her son’s life, but of course, I could not. Perhaps the most vivid character is Sue, the public health nurse, who teams up with Jeremy to fight fast food. Eating Bull is a very important book in the way it shines a spotlight on topics allowed to fester in our culture all the while the reader is obsessed with following the compelling story to a satisfying resolution.

What I realized about this novel, which Carrie says is in the “deep genre” (a genre I am not familiar with), is that the contrast of the real-life everyday problems of unhealthy eating (and an industry devoted to pushing it), fat-shaming, body image issues, and bullying with the excitement of a suspenseful thriller had to be digested carefully. It’s an amazing novel and should be put at the top of your reading list.

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To offset the seriousness of those two books and to relax into your comfort zone of a romance in a delightful small town, remember to pick up Jill Weatherholt’s Second Chance Romance. This is the same review I linked to a week or two ago.

A charming story of love and light, Jill Weatherholt’s first novel Second Chance Romance is published by the Love Inspired imprint of Harlequin. According to the website:

“You believe hearts can heal. Love Inspired stories show that faith, forgiveness and hope have the power to lift spirits and change lives—always.”

I’m not used to reading in the genre of Christian fiction, and I was eager to try something new. If you think that everything is puppy dogs (there is a puppy, happily) and rainbows in Weatherholt’s book, you will be astonished. Melanie, a divorce lawyer from D.C., has lost her faith and hope in the face of horrific tragedy. A resident of Sweet Gum, handsome single dad Jackson has been touched by darkness in his life, too. But he’s been able to hold onto his faith.

Events transpire that first set Melanie and Jackson at odds and, later, try to prevent them from finding love together. The reader is left in suspense until the end as to how the problems will be resolved. And how faith and forgiveness and compassion can change their lives.

The characters are engaging, especially the characterization of Rebecca, Jackson’s little girl. Her personality rises right off the pages, and I feel as if she’s an actual child I know and can’t wait to see again. I’ll always remember her characteristic twirl.

Weatherholt’s book is one I want to pass on to several people because they will love moving to Sweet Gum, a town with a heart, for the duration.

Once you’re done reading Jill’s and Carrie’s books, please leave a review–even a couple of sentences will do–on Amazon (and Goodreads is you’re over there) for them! I know they will appreciate it. Don’t be like I was with Carrie’s review–waiting until I had just the right words to say. It’s more important to put up a review, even if it’s short, than to worry if you are writing it well enough. I wish I had realized that myself and not made Carrie wait all this time. :/

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Memoir, Novel, Reading, 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.

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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

Fresh Air for Cats and Writers

Did you watch that Bowl game yesterday? I sure did. The important one–the Kitten Bowl. (Yes, I saw the other crazy game, too!)

After I bought a cat stroller last summer (see here) it was too hot (for them) for walks or just to get some air, then it was too rainy and cool (for me). This weekend it was just right.

Because I don’t have a catio (a screened-in porch for cats) I don’t like to frustrate the cats that would take most quickly to outdoor life. We are a strictly indoor cat household–for the safety of our cats, the safety of the neighborhood birds, and for my mental health. So I don’t want anybody to get any big ideas.

But Tiger has a very constricted life. She finds Kana and Sloopy Anne very annoying. They like to chase her, and Tiger likes to flee. So she needs little events that make her feel special. Therefore, she was the one who was chosen to go out in the stroller in this beautiful weather.  I put down a wee-wee pad (Chux underpad), just in case she got too excited. But she didn’t have an accident. She felt the breeze on her face and smelled the odors on that breeze. She watched for tiny movements I couldn’t even see. And she listened for her dad’s voice since he was close by.

When she came back in the house, she was thorough about checking out the stroller for the smells it brought back into the house. And she stood her ground afterward, giving Sloopy Anne a nice long smirk.

A writer friend asked me what writing project I’m working on now. I had to admit I feel a little at odds. I have a draft of my memoir completed, but am doing some thinking about it. I have a publisher interested in my poetry/prose chapbook that is based on the lives of women in my family history. I’m not jumping back into poetry or into creative nonfiction right now. Partly, I would like to focus on wrapping up these two projects. But maybe it’s also that I feel a little singed by these genres.  I’ve been working in them for a long time, and they take a lot of emotional strength.

My friend asked me if I was going to work on fiction now. It was her idea, not mine. She might do it herself. I think it’s an idea well worth thinkin’ on pondering. Maybe I could use some “fresh air.”

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

A January Overview (Happy It’s Almost February)

So far 2017 has been extremely hectic, chaotic, distressing, you get the drift. My aunt passed away without too much suffering (thanks to hospice), and my mother went home. On Mom’s flight home, she was again required to spend the night in the layover city–this time because of weather in Kalamazoo. After that, she wasn’t sure she wanted to fly again–and my son’s wedding is this spring on the beach in California. But now she feels a little better and is going to look for a dress for the wedding this week (so, yay!).

Kitties are better, although today Pear is getting an ultrasound because something is wrong with her bladder–and we need to know what. The ultrasound has been an option for months, but I’ve put it off because of the cost. I spent so much (on my credit card) in January on veterinary care that the ultrasound no longer looks as expensive because it’s a “drop in the bucket.” Ugh. I think those of us who can and will pay for good veterinary care for our animals are subsidizing the salaries of veterinarians (and clinic costs). I just wish that money went to treat more animals, but I know that not all vets are good about pro bono work.

Speaking of cats, did you see this article? They needed a study to prove that cats are as smart as dogs? I thought that the decision was made a long time ago (cats are smarter ;)).

On another note, we’re still using Home Chef. Don’t turn up your nose at that idea. I don’t know a soul who really has the time or inclination to plan and deliver on 21 meals every single week–and to have 2-3 of them taken off the list makes the other meal planning more rewarding and less onerous.

Steelhead Trout Niçoise

Mojito Lime Chicken

The trout was fabulous–and there was enough salad left for lunch the next day. I also made Mojito Lime Chicken.

And I made Chicken with Basil-Pecorino Cream Sauce. I haven’t made a single Home Chef meal that wasn’t delicious. I served the gardener the basil chicken that looked like the recipe card.

I set his chicken on a tiny bit of the cream sauce because of his lactose intolerance. But for myself I didn’t hold back, and so my plate didn’t look as “well-plated” as his did. Or as the recipe card.

Oh man, was it ever good! Tonight we’ll have a non Home Chef meal of mushroom and cheese omelet. I am an expert omelet maker. I learned from watching  The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, on TV decades ago. Anybody remember him? Great personality, good teaching skills, and an unfortunate (and terrifying) end to his public career (look him up!). By the way, I also learned about the “chef’s assistant” from Jeff–only he chose sherry and I choose chardonnay (or sake).

I have been revising the memoir because I want to send it to someone for a thorough read-through now that I have rethought and reorganized the structure.  I think I have reached the point that it’s ready. I don’t want to go too crazy with line-editing if it still needs a lot more “big” work.

Also, I have an offer from a publisher for my poetry/prose chapbook about family history. Stay tuned on that one.

Now that things are finally starting to settle down over here, it’s TAX SEASON for me and the business. Ick ick and ick.

Have a good one this week, friends!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Food & Drink, Memoir, Nonfiction, Publishing, Writing

A Pica Named Tiny

Catharina Lind is a Swedish journalist, a published author, and a fascinating person. We met through Ancestry.com because Catharina’s husband wanted to discover what happened to a relative who immigrated to the United States. It turns out that this relative married my father’s first cousin. My dad’s cousin’s husband (called Swede by everyone) is someone I knew as a child–and I played with his daughters.

Before I even knew Catharina was a writer, she wrote me a charming story about her favorite pica (magpie) in a conversational email (not a formal story). Magpies have always fascinated me, although we don’t have them in Arizona, so I was particularly tickled to read about Tiny. In fact, I wrote about my love of magpies on this blog 3 1/2 years ago. Catharina lived in the United States for awhile because of her husband’s job, but they are back living in Sweden–with a pica named Tiny.

baby Tiny

Teeny Tiny: last summer

We have between 20-23 hours of daylight during the summer–around the solstice it’s never really dark. Another thing that I miss from Dallas: warm, dark evenings with candlelight dinners.

I’m sitting by the kitchen windows, and my “little” Pica Pica almost crashed into the window right now. The snow is picking up and it’s rather windy. He is a magpie, similar to the Black-billed magpie. He is the toughest bird I have ever met.

He was born last year, a tiny, tiny little magpie with a damaged wing. Our house has two additional wings on each side, and there is a yard between the three houses. The fourth side has a very large hedge, so it’s secluded. He was such a little bird, so we named him Tiny. We fed him cat food, or more exactly the leftovers from our spoiled cat. According to a website that’s supposed to work for a Pica as they need protein and veggies.

Stefan had left some branches in a pile and Tiny moved in underneath them. Most of the days he walked around the yard, eating and poking around. When he got scared he either returned to his pile or sprinted into the hedges; he didn’t fly. We don’t know if he fell out from the nest or if it was a birth defect. His wing has a very strange angle and he can’t stretch it.

He wasn’t forgotten though–a few times per day his parents and siblings came by, spent some time with him on the ground, and then flew off. We weren’t sure that Tiny would survive the winter, but he did. He learned to fly a little, 10-15 feet at the most; but he flew. When the snow fell he sat on a lamp, curled up next to the wall.

Tiny is still living in our yard, but I think we gave him the wrong name. Imagine the largest magpie you can think of and add a big white belly. Then add an extra inch around the waist and you have a gigantic magpie with an obesity problem; that’s Tiny.

He’s getting better and better at flying, but he doesn’t fly much. He spends most of his days eating around the yard–hence the big belly. He and our cat have great respect for one another and they help each other by chasing away neighboring cats, especially the big, red nemesis next door.

Then in August something special happened: he got a girlfriend. Magpies mate for life, so I really hope this works out. We call her Tina and she is an adorable, little girl; though shy and scared of us. They are so cute together. They spend their days poking around the yard. Then she flies up into a tree, teasing him to follow her; but she is never out of reach.

His flying skills have improved tremendously since Tina came into the picture. They don’t fly far, nor high. She is a few feet above him, flying as slow as she possibly can. Sometimes she makes a loop so he can catch up. He, on the other hand, flaps his crooked wing as hard as he can and you can see how tough it is for him to keep up, but he doesn’t give up. A few times per day she needs to stretch her wings properly, so she flies high and he sits in his little tree looking at her. That bird has such a strength in him and he never gives up, regardless of the odds.

I really hope they have a nest next year.  It’s going to be interesting to see if their kids will live on the ground or fly like regular magpies.

Now this became much longer then intended, but that’s what happens when one’s favorite Pica almost crashes into a window. With flying difficulties comes bad aiming and a strange landing tecnique.

Upper left:  from last winter, with Tiny on his lamp post next to the house

Upper right: a little earlier this autumn

Lower left: Tina (on the left) with her love Tiny

Lower right: Tiny, taken just the other day

If you loved Tiny’s story, please check out Catharina’s blog! Who knew that this new relative-by-marriage was a blogger?!

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Filed under Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

Stories Horses Have Told My Cousin

Although I have been working on and off for years on a family history and photograph project, I don’t bring it up too terribly often over here. I have collected antique and vintage family photos from many branches of my family–once I showed an interest to my grandparents years ago, the whole family has been directing heirlooms my way. It’s very time-consuming, and I’ve had to do a lot of genealogical research to put information in order.

Through my family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo, and Ancestry.com I’ve met (online mainly) soooo many people who have helped me. It’s astonishing. I now have friends in Europe, as well as the United States who are relatives, distant cousins, or related by “someone-somewhere’s” marriage. These are all such special people. And they all have fabulous stories.

I was introduced to my cousin Jeane by a genealogist friend who I met through The Family Kalamazoo. Her father and my father were first cousins, but they never met, to my knowledge. Her father was older than mine and the families had become more distant as years went on. I hope I can meet Jeane in person. She lives in the east, on a lovely horse farm (a post-retirement project), and loves–get this–animals and writing. She is also involved in animal rescue. 🙂

When Jeane was a girl she dreamed, as so many girls, of having her own horse. She imagined riding the horse and the bond they would have. But after she retired, and after years of dog rescue, she fell in love with a horse named Virgil that had been abused. Jeane had to board him as she had no place to keep him. Eventually, she and her husband got their own farm because of Virgil and other horses. Through him, Jeane began to learn how difficult the lives of horses can be. She also learned to place a high value on communication with horses.

Jeane has written a collection of short stories called Stories My Horses Have Told Me. The background of each horse that Jeane adopted is detailed in these stories. After adopting four rescues, Jeane tells us:

 

After five years of dreaming and searching, we arrived at our farm in the middle of June 2004 with four horses.  As each horse stepped off the trailer they were led to a stall and allowed to rest.  Each had hay and fresh water.  All were anticipating their first turn-out into their new fields.

Although the four horses all came from different families, they bonded immediately.  They were now a family.

What we didn’t realize is that our herd was not complete yet.  Star was waiting for us . . . .

We swore we would never buy a horse.  There are horses needing adoption or rescue and that was our focus – until Star.

Jeane has had a couple of wonderful horse whisperers helping her to communicate with her horses. One of them was able to communicate with Star.

Star talked about being cold.  She said she never wanted to be cold again.  We didn’t understand then that she was talking about her sale in January, being shaved, with no shelter or blanket in her new home.  That information came in a conversation with her previous owner.  I asked what time of year he bought her and under what circumstances.  Then I asked if she had been shaved.  When he said “yes,” I asked had he blanketed her.  “Lord no! She’s a horse.”

To sum up Star’s previous life:

What we know about Star’s previous life is that there had been seven owners in her short five years.  Her owners had not been kind, treating and riding her roughly. Her winter coat had been shaved off in January 2004 so she would present as sleek and shiny for a horse sale.  Her new owner didn’t have shelter and did not offer her a blanket to protect her from the sub-freezing temperatures, and she was cold.  She also endured being stabbed with a pitchfork, a broom handle broken over her head, and her halter used as a weapon to make her obey.  She had little patience, and no trust in humans.

There was more, much more, to Star then met the eye.  She was not a happy horse.  She was a loner, not wanting to interact with any of the herd.  Something about her made you feel so sad.  There was someone special she was searching for.

That someone special was not to be Jeane, but it’s a tribute to Jeane’s love for animals that she recognizes that every horse is different and with different needs. Star was determined to be a highly intelligent horse.

What an extraordinary horse.  But her trust in humans remained unchanged regardless of our efforts.  She would leave the barn as we entered, wanting as little contact as possible, but that didn’t happen the day a friend arrived for a visit.  Their eyes locked, Star walked up to her and life suddenly had purpose.  Michele is a professor at a university in Washington, DC.  Star sensed the intelligence – an equal.  The connection couldn’t be denied and Star soon went to live with Michele.

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We don’t always have control over the destinies of our horses.  We always hope we are making the right decisions.  Often there are difficult choices, but if we learn to listen to them it will make their lives, and ours, better.  They are always talking – take the time to listen.

Michele is a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  From England, she now calls the US home.  An accomplished equestrian, along with many other talents, she continues to ride and train in dressage.  Michele and Star make an incredible team!

Heroes for the animals come in so many styles. Jeane’s has been to make her home a refuge for all manner of needy animals (including cats :)!). Obviously, I’m thrilled to find this cousin of mine and hope we get to meet before too long.

 

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

What Does Your Memory Smell?

I’m slowly putting my memoir in chronological order (from age eleven) and deciding which scenes to leave out and which to put back in (that I had already taken out). The story has to be told differently in the order it happened in, as opposed to a present day telling that dips back and forth. Stories connected in a more thematic way before, but now the reader has to be able to follow threads where they may stray farther afield for a while.

There was a scene I’d first written several years ago where my mother tried to persuade me to go to medical school. It has connections to two major threads, so I was thinking of putting it back in. I couldn’t find it anywhere and now wonder how much of my story I’ve inadvertently deleted or lost. But I did find some old writing exercises that were kind of fun.

Here is one from a class with Faith Adiele:

In trying to work on the muscle memory assignment I became very frustrated by all the memories which are not available to me.  I wanted to smell the dirt in Kalamazoo.  When we dug on the playground at McKinley school, which was next door to the celery fields, we pulled out spoonfuls of rich black muck.  Muck holds a lot of water in it, maybe because of the clay base to the soil.

When we planted petunias in the dirt behind the filling station, Grandpa told me that the muck was like Dutch soil and that we knew how to work with it, that it was in our blood.  When we moved to Portage, which is a suburb of Kalamazoo, the soil was brown.  Mom said it was sandy soil from all the lakes in Portage, but I’m not sure it wasn’t just plain brown dirt and that she thought it was sandy in comparison with what she grew up with on Burdick Street.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time digging in the dirt, building forts and hiding treasures.  I’d like to put my hands into these soils now, squishing the muck between my fingers and spilling the Portage soil from my cupped hand.  I’d like to smell them and see what I can remember.

Instead, I’ve got the Arizona dirt now.  On dry days, it’s tough, light-colored and packed too tightly.  When it rains just a bit, like it did today, and I step outside, it smells like wet sand in the air.   Looking down I see that the dirt has packed even tighter, its matte finish more dense.  It takes me farther from home and my memories.

So I wasn’t able to do my muscle memory exercise, but if I could find a Be-Mo potato chip, I might be able to do it.  Or maybe those little wax pop bottles.

Reading this is like reading my own writing in some ways, but in others, it is like reading something by someone else. After all, I have changed in recent years–and so has my writing and my thoughts about my past. I wasn’t sure what a muscle memory assignment was meant to do, so I had to search for Faith’s assignment. I found it here:

Muscle Memory: Begin to collect sensory souvenirs that you can incorporate into your standard investigations. Avoid the visual, as we tend to over-rely on sight; instead, eat a childhood candy, listen to what was popular on the radio the month your brother left home, lay your cheek against the hammock you brought back from Guatemala. The sense of smell is particularly evocative; spend several minutes with your eyes closed experiencing a jar of your grandmother’s favorite spice or a bottle of your father’s cologne. Now freewrite whatever memories come to mind.

So the idea was to use sense memories as triggers for writing.  I desperately wanted to remember what Kalamazoo muck smells like and was unable to do so. If I recall, I asked someone–probably my father–to mail me some soil.

It’s funny that I was asking for a Be-Mo potato chip or those wax pop bottles of my childhood. I can remember very well what the chips smelled and tasted like and how it felt when the tiny amount of “pop” slid into my mouth from the wax bottle, then the taste and texture of chewing up the wax.

Using your muscle memory, what can you remember?

CAT OF THE WEEK

This is Maverick. I posted earlier about his brother Moe. They need to be adopted together.

Just as I finished this post, I was notified that the shelter is having a lowered fee week for cats and dogs that have been at the shelter longer than 6 months. That includes Moe and Maverick!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

I See Dead People

I used to love Halloween. When I was little it was the costume selection/creation, school party, and trick-or-treating. When my kids were young, I had a great collection of decorations and loved to take them trick-or-treating with their friends. When they didn’t need my company any longer, I sat on the porch with plastic pumpkins brimming with candy and waited for the little ones to come around. Now I live in a neighborhood where children rarely come by, so I am less enthusiastic.

 

Maybe it’s the pageantry that attracted me because I am not a fan of horror. Mystery cozies, yes. True crime shows, yes. Disaster movies, yes. But not actual horror. And it’s surprising how many horror movies are always showing up on my TV screen. If the gardener wants to watch, I try to read, but it’s hard to look away from true horror. Still, I’m not a fan, just like I’m not a fan of vampires.

But I do like photos of dead people. For “postmortem photos,” check out my Pinterest board: Still Life After Death. I don’t know why I find these so fascinating. I didn’t even know this stuff existed until I studied Huckleberry Finn and met the character, Emmeline Grangerford, who is dead, but lives on in her family’s stories about her–and in her own maudlin poetry and art. She is obsessed with death and the macabre. My teacher theorized that Emmeline might represent the Victorian obsession with death, when postmortem photos and brooches made of the hair of the dead had a secure place in pop culture. I found that pretty darn interesting.

On my family history blog, I post a lot of antique and vintage photos that belong to my family. I have quite a collection since I’ve been the recipient of photos from several branches of the family. My family didn’t seem to go in for postmortem photos, but there is one photo I’ve always wondered about, especially since the Victorian flower sign for death was an upside down rose and sometimes the freshly-dead body was propped up amongst family members as if she/he were still alive.

On another note, the memoir writing lessons have done their job; I am working on my memoir 30 minutes a day (except for one day), and while that is not a lot, it is much better than not at all. There are still tons of lessons left in Goldberg’s book, so think of picking up a copy. I might be back with more exercise results–or not–in the future.

 

 HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

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Mom Made Me

I’m sorry this post turned out so long. My back has been out for days, so I probably am not thinking clearly. I’m taking Advil, but it isn’t touching the pain. (Hidden subtext: feel sorry for me, please).

LESSONS

My parents struggled financially when I was a kid, but I still got weekly lessons in one or more of the arts.

When I was about seven, my mother started me in ballet school. Mrs. B had been trained in the Royal Academy style of ballet and had been a member of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I wasn’t very talented, but I tried (I really did) and managed ok. My favorite part of Royal Ballet training were the folk dances because they were a release of emotion, whereas you had to suck it all in for ballet. Not just the emotions, but also the derriere, as Mrs. B called it.

By third grade, I wanted to tap dance. Tapping seemed more outgoing and forgiving of mediocre talent than ballet. As a guest student one Saturday morning, I watched kids pull their shoes out of their little pink or black dance bags. They all had black patent-leather shoes with single ribbons across the arches and silver taps screwed on the fronts and backs of the soles. When the kids lined up in rows across the wooden floor, I tried to copy, but was several steps behind, which confused me.  I knew there was no use as Mom wouldn’t let me join the class permanently.

What I had already learned by then was that ballet was “good” for me, and tap wasn’t enriching, so there wasn’t extra money for it.

A couple years later, I fell in love with the Scottish highland dancing that Mrs. B taught in the class after mine. It’s related to Irish dancing with a stiff upper body and strong legs. Unfortunately, you need expensive kilts, knee socks, and black lace-up shoes even for class. Mom said NO.

hs-16

A few years later, I was reminded again that Mom knew best about what lessons I needed. It was important that I learn to play the spinet piano that my parents had purchased.  But there was no money for voice lessons, drama class at the Civic Theatre, or riding lessons (or a horse ;)).

A few years later, Mom decided that art lessons were important, so I went to art class at the art museum.

HOW DID I FEEL ABOUT THESE LESSONS AT THE TIME?

Sometimes I cried myself to sleep on Friday nights, filled with anxiety over the ballet class to come next day. I didn’t cry because I didn’t want to dance, but because the older girls were “mean girls,” and they treated my friend and I with condescension and nasty comments.

Sometimes I fooled around on the piano between lessons, but I never practiced. Right before my lesson each week–if I had a few minutes–I would pull out last week’s assignment and read it over, maybe plunk a few keys. Then I went into class and played better than I had the week before. Not well. Just better. After all, it was my second time playing the pieces. I didn’t realize my piano teacher knew I didn’t practice until one day when tears came to her eyes as she chastised me. “You could play quite well if you would just take the time to practice.”

Ahem. That was my modus operandi for a lot of things, let me tell you. That’s probably why art lessons went well. There was no homework. We did our work in class and then didn’t think about it again until the following week.

WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT THE LESSONS NOW?

I learned a lot from taking ballet for years. As a young adult, I even went back to ballet class on my own–and searched out Mrs. B. More recently, Mom attended a lecture on Swan Lake by my old teacher who still looks marvelous (yes, Mom sent a picture).

I loved art class and it gave me an advantage in art classes in public school.

Piano taught me about music in a general sense. It also taught me that I was a disorganized and lazy fool who threw away opportunities.

My parents found it hard to carve out money for these lessons. I felt ungrateful.

Now I’m kind of winded with guilt when I think of how many kids would have loved these lessons and they received none.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have become a more outgoing person if I’d been allowed to pursue the arts that appealed to my child sense of fun–tap dance, highland dancing, singing, acting, and riding (which I tend to think of as an art as well as a sport)–rather than pursuing the more introverted endeavors of ballet (huge focus on barre work), piano, and art.

 

Did I learn any parenting lessons from my experience? Hahaha. No. And yes.

When my daughter was little, she showed singing talent by age four. I thought I would ignore that and encourage her in sports, rather than the “typical” lessons for little girls. I went on and on  yadda yadda how I would put her in soccer and roller hockey and keep her away from the “expected” activities for girls.

But when she was six, she begged for shoes that make noise, and I knew I couldn’t force her in a direction I thought was correct. The way she could get shoes that made noise was to take tap lessons.  Now, after years of dance, voice, and acting lessons (that cost me buckets of money) and years of experience in those areas, my daughter is able to go after her own interests–as she says, she follows her dream. For full disclosure, by age nine, she had the makings of a talented athlete according to her PE teacher, but she had to decide between performing lessons and sports because there is only so much time and money, and she had religious classes as well. She chose performing.

If you think I’m writing this to point out that my mother was wrong to choose my lessons and that I was right to let my daughter’s interests call the shots, I’m not. Well, maybe I thought that once, but not any more. I was a lucky duck for my lessons and my teachers, and my daughter was also blessed to have the lessons and teachers she had. I’m not sure either philosophy is right. Training and experiences do help guide our paths in life. Maybe I would be more outgoing if I’d had tap and voice lessons, but then it’s less likely that I would be a writer. If my daughter had been persuaded to pursue soccer at a certain point in her life, who knows where her life would be today? She wouldn’t be the brilliant performer she is, though, that I believe.

If neither of us had had these lessons at all, our paths would have been still different. Different, not necessarily worse or better. That’s just my opinion. But I can almost hear other opinions clamoring out there. Maybe you had lessons you hated? Or lessons you couldn’t have that you wanted so bad you still feel resentful? Maybe you think kids shouldn’t have lessons at all until they prove themselves worthy of them?

What is your opinion of supplemental art and music (type) lessons for kids?

One last thing: I feel very very strongly that art and music (and dance and drama) should be offered in public school for children of all ages. This is a different subject than after-school lessons, but obviously related.

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Filed under Art and Music, Essay, Family history, Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Writing

Another Glass of Chardonnay (or Sake)

Somehow I got conned tricked into an online wine club (by accident). I discovered they were putting $40 every billing cycle on my credit card. I like wine, but I sure can’t use $40 a month! So I placed an order for the wine I had coming to me and quickly cancelled the subscription.

One of the wines I ordered was Rumpus, both because it was advertised as a popular chardonnay and because the name reminded me of “Let the wild rumpus start!” from Where the Wild Things Are.

When I first opened the bottle, I liked that the wine had no bite, no aftertaste, and was very smooth and good tasting. But the next time the wine (from the previously opened bottle) was sharp to my tongue and a bit abrasive–like a typical cheap chardonnay. The third time I drank from the bottle, the sharpness had calmed down, but it tasted like a very average chardonnay.

Notice on the back the talk of “Angel funding.” That was my $40 per month. I’m an Angel, but when I cancelled I had to turn in my wings and halo. Now I’m just a wine parasite.

A long time ago, I promised you more chardonnay reviews.  The problem is that if I don’t take good notes and if that one glass turns into 1.5 or even 2, I forget all my very important observations.

Here are some wines I’ve tried since that review last December.

Qu is another wine club offering. It was adequate. Actually adequate is not bad because that means that it is a lot better than most house chardonnays in most restaurants, right?

Cloud Break is such a pretty name for a wine. Gosh, where are my notes? That means I have to buy it all over again some day, just to see what I thought.

To my knowledge, the vineyards for this Jerome wine aren’t anywhere near Jerome, Arizona. I heard on TV the other day that there are over 30 wineries in Arizona now, but I kind of turned up my nose. I didn’t care for this Arizona wine. In fact, I thought it was pretty icky and suspect most of them are like this. (I apologize to my dear friend I gave a bottle of Arizona wine to yikes). Any Arizona wineries out there want to prove differently, email me for my shipping address. I accept free wine for review.

If I drink more than a glass or two of chardonnay a week, my stomach gets free-ranging acid. So I had to find a remedy. Most people would switch to red wine. Or vodka. Or stay away from alcohol (and chocolate).

My remedy was to switch to sake. It doesn’t seem to bother my stomach, and it’s never disappointing. I buy or order junmai sake because junmai means distilled alcohol has not been added. That assures that the wine is most likely gluten-free (the celiac has had good luck with junmais).

Fun sakes are Mura Mura: I’ve enjoyed four of its locations: river, canyon, mountain, and meadow. They are all quite different, but delicious. The most unusual is mountain: sweet, , full, rich,  and milky white. It fills the tongue beautifully.  Mountain is perfect for drinking by itself (without food). River feels and looks thinner, has a milder taste, and is pale yellow. Canyon and meadow are closer to river than they are to mountain.

Now Mura Mura makes a pear orchard sake, but I have yet to taste that delicacy.

Here are some other good tasting junmai sakes that are varying prices. Momo Kawa is intense and a bit dry. It’s very good, but not a favorite of mine. I suspect I like the sweeter sakes best. Ozeki is good, sweet, and I might add that it tastes slightly metallic–but even by putting that into words is exaggerating the characteristic.

The differences between junmai sakes are not that different from each other, according to my uneducated palate. I drink these sakes at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. If you want warm sake, order the crap like Gekkeikan that you see in every supermarket.

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On another note, I finished the little free library memoir Monkey Mind and highly recommend it for anyone suffering from anxiety (unless you’re a kid and then it’s not appropriate!). The style is not chronological narrative as I am trying for my memoir (yes, I decided to put it–mostly–in order), but rather more thematically arranged and with a journalistic twist to it (research).

Kana’s selfie shows the best anxiety remedy: cat cuddling!

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Food & Drink, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Writing