Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pictures in My Mind

This morning an old friend posted a beautiful picture of a transitory moment when sun through a window was captured by an elegant, blue blown glass vase and then scattered across the room.  Without his picture I am sure that you are having difficulty imagining the fragile luminosity of this moment. 

It has been said so often as to become trite that a picture is worth a thousand words. But trite does not mean untrue. Well crafted words, whether poetry or prose can evoke elaborate mental images, even whole worlds in our minds. But the right single photograph can fix one moment, one experience that defies adequate description  and make it available for sharing and keeping for several lifetimes

Richard's picture was taken with his cell phone camera because as he said if he'd taken the time to go upstairs to get his good camera the angle of sunlight would have changed and the moment would be gone. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras and small pocket sized digital cameras has made the capture of such fleeting moments of beauty, wonder, delight, and humor easier than ever before. 

I am suddenly saddened as I think about dozens of astounding images in my mind, stored with hazy imprecision from a life-time of paying attention that cannot be shared with anyone else, and become fuzzy even to me. 

I particularly wish that I could borrow a TARDIS or some other vehicle of time travel and take a digital camera back to my 22 year old self, standing on the top of a hill in San Mateo, watching the setting sun slide beneath the gray marine layer and for a few brief moments turn the city of San Francisco into sparkling gold sandwiched between a lowering fog and a leaden bay. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Burgeoning Green Life

Thirty-nine years, six months, and 17 days ago, I left California where I had grown up and moved to Kentucky.  It was January 1975 and California had been green, rainy with roses blooming. Kentucky was cold, dreary and gray. But three months later spring came to Kentucky, and with it the miraculous abundance of green, growing things. 

Nearly four decades later (some of which were spent in Pennsylvania and Virginia before I found my way back to Kentucky), and I still ceased to be amazed by the exuberance verdancy of eastern woods, forest, fields, roadsides, yards, empty lots, etc.  Indeed any tiny open space in which something might grow, things DO grow. 

People who have lived here all their lives do not appreciate how different this is from the western part of the United States. And people who live in the western states fail to realize how different life is when green growing things can actually flourish without attention and even threaten to take over your home and yard without constant vigilance. 

Currently the entire state of California is in advanced stages of long term drought - severe, extreme or even exceptional drought. The image below is from May 2013; before the drought these hills would have still been green.  (

But even long before the current drought, California was a place where substantial diligence was required to grow things.  For a lawn to grow, a yard had to be carefully seeded and watered regularly every year in perpetuity.  Our Kentucky lawn (pictured at top) was completely dug up last July for a new septic system, the dirt bulldozed back in place, a few grass seeds were scattered, but no other attention was paid - only rain, sunshine and nature operated on the yard. This summer it is as if the construction never took place.  

Every spring and summer, we must continually beat back the forest to keep it from swallowing our home. Already the pathway and gate that used to lead from our property to the neighbors has been completely enveloped in new trees and shrubs.  It is both beautiful and awesome in its fecundity. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

In praise of my life and times...

Back in 1991 for a few brief weeks a wonderful little jewel of a television show flashed like a comet briefly across the airwaves and died away into obscurity. Its title was My Life and Times. In the year 2035 an elderly man named Ben tells about episodes in his life (out of sequence) cover moments from the late 1970's to 1999. 

The show starred some amazing (at that point quite young) actors including Tom Irwin in the role of Ben, Helen Hunt as Ben's first wife Rebecca, and a glowing, ethereal Claudia Christian as his star-crossed love Jessie.  Only six episodes were aired between April 24, 1991 and May 30, 1991, but those few episodes made a significant imprint in my psyche. 

But this post isn't really about the TV show My Life and Times but rather about the wonders of my very own life and times, and how the Internet has transformed my personal experience of my own life. 

Yes, the TV show My Life and Times left me with memories, images and themes that have frequently surfaced over the past 23 years...but I could not remember the name of the series itself. Nor did I know the name of the actor who played the title role, although I would never forget his face, and always thought of this series whenever I encountered him in TV and movies. Yesterday, watching a rerun of Castle there he was, that familiar face, and it reminded me again of how I'd loved him as a young man in that short lived series.  

I wanted to find out if with all the movies and television shows now on-line was that half-remembered series out there to be seen?  But I didn't know his name, and I didn't know the series name. While I was pondering this problem, I happened to be reading recent posts on Facebook and  noticed that one of my friends had shared something from the page of Claudia Christian. Ah ha! I did remember that Claudia was in the cast (a name that I do remember because of her four years with Babylon 5). 

Armed with Claudia Christian's name it was off to the most useful tool for fans of television and movies. A quick scan of Claudia's filmography turned up the name of the series, My Life and Times, which I was surprised to see aired in 1991, some four or five years earlier than I imagined. Click on the link to My Life and Times on IMDb and there were all the other actors names, including Tom nice now to have a name to go with that so very familiar face. 

A Google search of the series title lead to some interesting things, including some articles written about the series at the time it aired. Best of all was a post on the blog Television Obscurities that provided me with a wealth of information, including the fact that: "My Life and Times was never repeated nor has it ever been made available commercially."
Having already done a quick search of and I suspected that to be so...but there was still to consider.  Sure enough someone named maureenkh1 has collected all six of the broadcast episodes broken into two acts (minus commercials) and shared them for everyone.

And because my life and times include blogs, and embedded video, I can share the first part of the first episode with you all.

When this series aired, in the spring of 1991, the Internet existed, and e-mail existed. But most the tools and resources that I used to aid my failing memory and bring that moment of my past back to life and share it did not.  The time I live in are both marvelous and perilous. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dog Philosophy

All well brought-up dogs (and I like to think that ours are so), know quite well that there are two classes of things in the world: things Dog is allowed to chew and things Dog is not allowed to chew. 

The first category is usually fairly limited and includes designated "chew toys," Nylar bones, tug-of-war ropes, some treats, etc. The second category of forbidden items includes all the rest of the world, but especially blankets, pillows, dog beds, shoes, clothing, TV remotes, glasses, and many truly fascinating things. Many are all the more desirable because they hold the scent of beloved Human. 

As indicated previously the well brought-up Dog knows that he is not suppose to chew these wonderful things. However,  dogs are very philosophical beings, and they have developed a marvelous philosophical concept of "attachment." The basic axiom of attachment philosophy is that any item that becomes attached to an allowed chew item, automatically may itself be chewed. 

Suppose for example, that Dog's favorite and well-chewed Nylar bone becomes entangled in the blanket on the bed. It is not Dog's fault that the blanket is attached, no indeed. What other choice does Dog have but to chew the blanket in order to exercise his legitimate right to chew bone? None of course. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Magic of Digital Books

I was a voracious reader as a child.  Mostly I read young people's "classics" (Alcott, Wilder, Sydney, Porter, Montgomery, Lovelace, etc.), science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, Clark, Norton), and British fantasy (Nesbit, Lewis, Arthur) but cared very little for the contemporary teen romances of the likes of Stoltz and Cleary. In other words, I was a fan of the past, the future and the imagined but not so much of contemporary reality. 

The San Mateo Public Library had rich resources for a child of my temperament. Every week we went to the public library and I came home with stacks of books, all of which would be completed and returned for a new stack the next week. The children's department in the old main library held full series many of the old books that I loved, such as all of Louisa May Alcott's young people's novels, and every one of Edith Nesbit's magical children's adventures. I could read not only The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, but the Peppers "Midway" and "Grown Up" and the books for each of the five children. 

Times changed, demands of library space increased, and slowly all those old books disappeared. Libraries would keep The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, but none of the subsequent books; they'd keep Alcott's Little Women and possibly Little Men, but not Jo's Boys, or An Old Fashioned Girl, or Eight Cousins, etc. Most of Nesbit's books disappeared entirely. 

Early in the age of the World Wide Web and I began looking for my childhood favorites, but most were out of print, and unavailable even as used copies from second-hand bookstores. Until the digital book revolution of recent years. With the spread of e-readers, across the country groups of volunteers have begun digging through their stashes of old children and young people's books and painstakingly transforming them into digital content. Amazon makes these public domain books available free of charge to Kindle readers. 

Suddenly I am able to revisit Lucy Fitch Perkins'  The Scotch [sic] Twins and American Twins of the Revolution, and Alice Turner Curtis' delightful A Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony and A Little Maid of Ticonderoga, as well as Edith Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle and The Story of the Treasure Seekers.  

The greatest delight, however, is that some older books that I searched in vain for in childhood, can be found digitally today. 

I loved movies as well as books as a child, and was an enormous fan of Haley Mills, making an effort to see all of her movies (not just those she did under the Disney franchise). One delightful concoction, released in the summer of 1963 was Summer Magic. I was 12 and I was enchanted. In the credits I saw that the movie was based on a book by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin called Mother Carey's Chickens (most people are more likely familiar with her popular Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm).  I looked for Mother Carey's Chickens for years, no, for decades, unsuccessfully. It had been out of print since the 1930's. 

Now, thanks to the hard work of dedicated volunteers who found and transcribed this classic work, I am presently reading Mother Carey's Chickens before bed at night, and thoroughly enjoying the adventures of Nancy, Gilley, Peter, Kitty, Mother, and Julia in the yellow house in Beulah. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Dog Ate Your Homework

For my two decades of teaching I thought that the apocryphal tale of "the dog ate my homework" was pure mythology. Then eight years ago, I found myself having to apologize to my students' for my dog eating THEIR homework!

I was forty-five years old before I had my first dog. In childhood I was for many years frightened of dogs. My great-uncle Tom took care of that by immersing me in the care of his lovable, boisterous kennel of hunting beagles, although I continued to be somewhat leery of large dogs for many more years. In college I had the opportunity to take care of a friend's dog for a month (his parents went to New Zealand and left the dog with him at college, but he was too busy with labs and research so I got to take care of most of Pokey's needs) and loved that experience.  

I wanted a dog for many years, but in my single academic existence of evening classes, trips to conferences, and long office hours I didn't feel like I was settled enough to care for a dog.  Instead I had a couple of much beloved cats. It wasn't until I married John in my forties that I had the privilege of having a dog as a companion. John's dog Missy was middle-aged when I met her, sweet, submissive, obedient, well trained,  and well-behaved dog in every way. She had been an adult and already trained when John rescued her some years before we met.  She lived to the ripe age of 19 years, quite ancient in doggie terms, and in her last years had cognitive difficulties that were endearing and heartbreaking at the same time. 

John didn't want to have another dog. He thought that there was only one dog for him and she was gone. But I knew we needed another dog. A year and a half after Missy's death, a young, large, female Shepard/Lab mix who was dumped in the neighborhood began to hang around our house and porch. Rosie the dog knew we needed a new dog and was persistent in her pursuit of the position. After a week we knew we had to take her in (or face the consequences of  a litter of pups a month or so down the road). 

We quickly learned that life with Missy had not  prepared us for life with a young, boisterous, dominant, untrained dog like Rosie. Rosie was a dog that was all heart, but she needed very strong "alpha" humans to take charge and give her not only love, but also discipline. Rosie chewed and ate things: sticks, socks, shoes, clothing, books, our students' homework (not ours), pillows, blankets, and one entire couch. Yes, Rosie ate and entire couch!

With the help of a wonderful trainer at PetSmart, we learned to gently help Rosie become a good companion and pack member.  But in the process we learned more than Rosie did, about the nature of dogs and the wonder of the bond between humans and dogs. Rosie remained a dominant personality, and we had to continual establish our leadership with Rosie. We had to learn how to be assertive, calm, in control pack leaders at all times. A lesson that was as beneficial to us as it was to Rosie. 

For six years we had the wonder of Rosie's company. Then tragically, all too soon we lost her to a devastating congenital illness two years ago. 

We still have dogs, Molly who joined us during the last year of Rosie's life, and blind Bob who was added to the family 18 months ago, and the lessons we learned from Rosie have made us better able to related to Molly and Bob who each have their own unique problems and issues. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

The simplicity of childhood - NOT!!

I occasionally see an advertisement (such as a recent one for Weight Watchers) or a post on social media that expresses the idea that childhood is a "simpler" time, that children are carefree and joyous.  Children are not in control of their own world, big people control it; children lack the skills and the resources to do many things that they wish to do.  I'm not saying that children are never carefree or joyous, but even the best loved, well cared for child experiences enormous amounts of frustration and anxiety. I was reminded of this truth by the Facebook post of a friend - a young mother with three children, the youngest of whom, Story, is about three years old. Here's what she posted about Story today:
Reasons Story has cried today include but are not limited to:She ran out of chocolate soy milk; Seth let her play with a salamander and let it go; Seth found her another salamander and she couldn't bring it inside; The salamander didn't wait on her on a rock while she went potty; She was cold; She couldn't find her Lotso Bear; The cat wouldn't let her choke it;  She ate one hot dog and the other one wasn't magically cooked before she got done; She ate the other hot dog and it was the last hot dog; She cried so hard for another hot dog she remembered she wanted chocolate soy milk; She cried so hard for soy milk she peed herself; She cried because her pants were wet.
Not all children react so emotionally to the world, but all children experience fear, worry, anxiety and frustration on occasion. It has become common place to use children's fears - whether of the monster under the bed or in the closet - as the basis for humor, but to the child those fears are very real and sometimes immobilizing. 

Sometimes those fears are of something quite real, if ultimately unlikely.  I spent most of my childhood fearful and worried about nuclear war. I lay awake each night for long periods of time listening to every plane that flew over (and since we lived under the approach to San Francisco International Airport there were a LOT of planes) wondering if each one was the one that would drop the bombs.  Every time I went to the public library I gathered pamphlets about how to make fallout shelters.  I would devote hours to trying to figure out how to build a shelter in our garage.  I did not know then that all such advice for shelters was absurd and nonsensical. I took it seriously and made many careful plans about how my family might be saved from obliteration. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ups and Downs of Everyday Life

It seems to me these days, as my mind is no longer able to handle all the things it should. 

Yesterday was a day that I forgot to test my blood sugar, ate breakfast way to late to keep that blood sugar balanced, forgot lunch, entirely forgot  my morning arthritis medicines so I could barely walk by mid-afternoon, couldn't seem to find time for a shower and stayed in my night clothes and robe until 3 PM. But on the other hand, I managed to sit down first thing in the morning and handle three student crises through a multitude of detailed e-mails, grade exams for two classes, update discussion for another, and check blogs of a fourth class, thus managing to cross off half the things on my work to-do list. 

By comparison today, I tested the blood sugar, got breakfast, took medications, dressed, did housework and laundry, put clothes away, dealt with dishes and animals, spent some time outside with the dogs (beautiful day by the way), but at 3:30 PM I still haven't checked my work college e-mail, or done even one thing from the other half of the work to-do-list.  I can't account for my time though I know that some of it has been spent at the computer following bunny trails from Facebook to other Internet locations, reading stories, watching videos. 

Time just seems to vanish, and there is always something essential that does not get done. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Valentine Wish

May you make peace
with all your past,
forgive yourself
let go the weight
and rise on wings
to dance in snow
and pipe your music
to the stars.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nature's orchestra

At dawn freight train wind
hurtles rain in staccato bursts,

a cacophony assaulting the senses.

February 5, 2014

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Lying in the warm dark
the silver liquid sound,
rain on the roof, dripping
from the eaves sooths,
yet raises questions.
Will it turn to ice or snow?


Thursday, January 30, 2014

A January of Small Stones 30

Deep in the night, down the street
dogs bark frantically, a great crescendo
at the affront of two cats calmly strolling
beneath the street lamp.

January 30, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A January of Small Stones 29

Steep driveway arching away from the road,
frosted with a inch of smooth, sparkling snow,
touched only by tiny cat prints,
a perfect single line up the center. 

January 29, 2014

A January of Small Stones 27 & 28

Two meditations on the cold

#1 physical

Hat, hood, scarf,
‘til nothing shows but eyes,
and still the cold is a knife
in the lungs,
I retreat indoors,
Wheezing and coughing,
Struggling to breathe.

#2 Mental

The cold is amber, crystal clear,
allowing the tiniest details to be seen,
while immobilizing my spirit.
My eyes records a hundred small stones,
but my hands stuck in amber cannot write.