Monday, December 21, 2015

As a Baker . . . Nonfiction and Personal

Bad Kocka!

I know I always say I won't have cooking or crafting on my blog. This blog is about writing. But writing is story-telling. This is my story and I'm sticking to it.

With the probability of next year inaugurating reduced circumstances in our house, we decided to make Christmas gifts for the family. My husband has prepared various and sundry smoked and spiced pecans. Give that man a grill and he can do anything. (Including a beef loin roast that he's preparing for our close-family Christmas dinner.)

Because we're having our Christmas dinner Monday evening; my husband is leaving for Christmas in Oklahoma early Tuesday morning; and I'm a world-class procrastinator, I did the baking Sunday. He's had the pecans done for days.

First I put away all the items cluttering the kitchen counters. This goes down to the basement. That goes out into our so-called pantry in the garage. To the linen closet at the end of the hall. Into the office. And voila, I've got a place to work.

The butter and sugar are in the mixer, creaming nicely.

CRASH! Something bad in the entryway. KOCKA! Bad cat! He'd knocked a plant off its perch. There the cat-demon sat obviously amazed and pleased at the freshly watered soil spread across the floor.

I'm ranting and raving. My husband is ranting and raving. "That's why I don't want a cat," he says waving his arms at the cat trying to shoo him out of the dirt. "Cats belong in the barn." (We don't have a barn.)

I was planning to repot the plant anyway. Just not on baking day.

I brought the broom and dust pan in from the garage and went to get a proper pot from the back porch -- preferably one that wouldn't tip easily.

Kocka closely watched the whole plant-repotting and soil-sweeping process, staying just beyond my reach. When I finished, he fled down the hall and hid in the bathroom. Perhaps I look dangerous when I'm not actively cleaning up after him.

Back to baking. Add eggs and vanilla to the sugar and butter. I couldn't open the vanilla without using my handy-dandy bottle opener. I'd been fighting that bottle's lid for months and I was tired of it. I used to use the vanilla lid to measure out a teaspoonful. Approximately. And I knew the vanilla dried and effectively glued the lid in place so I'd started using a measuring spoon and wiping the mouth of the vanilla bottle. It still stuck.

So I decided to transfer the vanilla into a bottle with a lid I might more easily twist off. Found a bottle . . . a mead bottle. A not quite empty mead bottle. But it was after 8 in the morning here and 5 in the afternoon somewhere, so I poured it into a glass and drank it.

              

Perhaps, you noticed my fancy funnel. Couldn't find my regular one so my husband re-purposed a plastic wine glass by cutting off its stem. It worked very well, so it is freshly washed and living in the drawer where the AWOL funnel should be.

Four Cookies shy of a full sheet.

And where, you might ask are those four cookies? That was the second sheet of cookies to come out of the oven. I only recently learned the benefits of parchment paper when baking. From my beautiful daughter-in-law. (Who is also a good blogger. Click here.)

However, parchment paper has side effects. One of which is that it slides easily. And the cookies slide easily. Those four cookies slid off the cookie sheet. Onto the floor. Into the bottom of the oven. Through that crack at the bottom of the open oven door into the drawer at the bottom of the stove.

Kocka thought the cookie-mishap clean-up was pretty interesting, too. But he doesn't eat cookie crumbs. Where's a Dachshund when you need one?

By 10:30 a.m. I had achieved a repotted plant, a clean entryway floor, a clean kitchen floor, clean stove drawer, and some oatmeal cookies. Rice Krispie Treats, Spritz cookies, peppermint cookies, two apple pies, and some kolaches were yet to be baked. I know. You don't bake Rice Krispie Treats. Thank goodness for tiny mercies.

And I'd learned so much. Cats belong in barns and they don't eat cookie crumbs. Be extra careful with parchment paper. And as a baker, I'm a pretty good writer.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dear Santa (4th of four) -- A reprise of last year's Christmas flash fiction

image from ebay.com

If you missed Dee's first letter click 1st Dear Santa. For her second one click 2nd Dear Santa. For her third letter click 3rd Dear Santa.


Dear Santa,

Happy almost Christmas!

I know you must be as tired as I am. It’s three o’clock in the morning here and I’m at the hospital with Becca and Thurman. You remember, my daughter and her family are staying with me while their fire damaged house is repaired.

Thurman was in the middle of responding to a burglary-in-progress when Becca went into labor. He met us at the hospital all out of breath and worried that he’d missed everything. The man’s done this three times already. You’d think he’d know it’s going to take a while.

The nurses say everything is going normally and we should have a new baby girl. Soon, they say. They always say that. I’m seriously considering going home to get some rest.

Before we left I woke Rodney. Rodney, of the umpteen rabbits in the basement. We left him in charge of the kids. I explained the situation. He promised French toast for the kids, rolled over, and went back to sleep. He’s tired, too.

He’s been accepted in culinary school. He’s a little old maybe, but like his father always said, better late, than later. I miss Marvin. He had a way with words. Sometimes the three years since he’s been gone seem like forever. And sometimes when Rodney smiles just a certain way or Becca rolls her eyes, it seems like yesterday that their daddy was holding my hand and telling me things would work out.

We’ve had the tree up for a while, and we’ve been putting a few presents under it as we go along. It’s an endless fascination for the children. They’re good about not bothering the packages. As much as it surprises me, I have to say the Labradors have been good about not bothering them, too. It all looks so pretty – blinking lights, shiny ornaments, and the star on top.

My favorite ornaments are the ones the children made. I’ve still got Rodney's and Becca’s little Rudolph the Reindeers from when they were in the toddler class at church. You know, with the little red pom-pom noses and googly eyes. Then the ones with their school pictures pasted on. Most of the glitter has come off of those. Thank goodness.

And now we’ve got ornaments the grandchildren made.

In fact, we spent most of the morning yesterday around the dining table drawing and cutting and pasting while Rodney tried out a recipe for shepherd’s pie. He likes to get a head start on whatever his next project is. I guess cooking classes are no different.

Jerry – he’s the eight-year-old grandchild – is very creative. I never thought about Spiderman riding in a sleigh, but he looks almost natural. Despite the odd angle of his legs. At least his mask is red. Mostly.

I think five-year-old Maggie is going to be our engineer. She pasted as many strips of paper as I would cut making the longest paper chain I’ve ever seen. And she doesn’t limit her links to traditional colors or designs. I don’t think I have an intact magazine left in the house.

At almost ten, Michael is the wise, elder brother. He worked diligently with a plastic Crèche kit, defending it against any assistance from his younger siblings. He did let Maggie put the Baby Jesus in the manger. And Jerry added a battered pick-up he called Mater. From the Disney film Cars, but I'm sure you already knew that. Sometimes I wonder if movies aren’t too easily available to children these days. What with DVDs and Netflix.

Then again, I do think it’s better for them to watch those at home than for their parents to drop them at the movie theater for the afternoon. At least there’s more parental supervision this way.

Not that they get enough of that at my house. 

Sometime after putting the Baby Jesus in the little plastic manger, Maggie disappeared. None of us missed her until a rabbit emerged from the open basement door. Luckily Thurman had just gotten up. He’s working graveyards. He saw Rocky’s ears perk up. The young Labrador had spotted the rabbit. Thurman shouted “Stay!” stopping all of us in our tracks. Including the rabbit. Thurman got the dogs out the back door and Michael caught the wayward bunny.

Rodney plunged down the stairs, his flour-dusted apron flapping around his legs. There were rabbits everywhere. Maggie sat in the middle of my bed petting my wide-eyed cat Cleo with one hand and a full-grown rabbit with the other.

After the boys lifted rabbits into their cages and Rodney latched the cage doors securely, the smoke alarm went off upstairs.

Poor Rodney. Smoke billowed from the oven. He turned the oven off and the exhaust fan on high while I flapped a tea towel at the smoke alarm. I would like to say tranquility was restored but Becca came in from work and Thurman made Maggie tell her mother what she’d done. The tale was told amid great sobs and the child was put in time-out while her brothers and Uncle Rodney made a trip to the Colonel’s for chicken.

After a late dinner, Thurman went to work and the rest of us went to bed. I'd only gotten a couple hours of sleep when Becca woke me to take her to the hospital. So here I am. Waiting on our new baby girl.

Drive safely Christmas Eve. I’ll be thinking of you.

Your friend,


Dee

P.S. Thurman just came out to tell me it’s a boy. We all thought it was a girl. The doctor said the baby was shy and they couldn’t see the hangy-down bit on the ultrasound. He said it happens sometimes. Wonder if they'll put him in those pretty little pink things they got at the baby shower. 

P.P.S. They named him Marvin.

P.P.P.S. If you’re not busy the Saturday after Christmas, we’re having a few friends in for dinner and you’re welcome to come. Rodney is fixing rabbit.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Using Real World Senses

Green Mountain December 18, 2015

A writer needs to involve all the senses to set a scene or build a character. A good way to prepare to do this is to just pay attention to your own senses in the real world.

I walk in my neighborhood and gather ample sensory fodder to use.

First the sense of sight. In the distance, Green Mountain is obviously white, but the blue sky over Green Mountain tells me this snow is past. And the view is clear -- no blowing snow to dim the view, no shadows identifying the nooks and crannies of the mountain so the sun must still be in the east or overhead.

And touch. If you could've seen me, you'd know that I was wearing a t-shirt. No coat. No gloves. No hat. When I touched the snow, it was cold enough to make my hands ache. And wet enough to hold the snow ball shape. Yet all the while, the Colorado sun is warm against my skin, regardless of the ambient temperature. Warm enough to be perfectly comfortable. And there is no wind, not even a light breeze, and the lack of moving air touching my face is as palpable as a 20 mph gust, if I'm paying attention.

I'm surrounded by sound. Children squeal with delight and call back and forth to each other as they sled down a nearby hill. A tree full of magpies sound off. Their raucous cries punctuated with the piping of chickadees and counted by the coo of a dove. Somewhere a dog barks. And I can barely hear the traffic noises from the distant interstate highway. Barely, but it's there. The melting snow sounds of running water, while it crunches under foot in areas where it refroze in the night.

But scent, that's the one that I think is most important and least described in most written material. It may not be obvious enough to grab our attention, but it's there. Sometimes soft, calming, like a newly bathed and powdered baby. Sometimes energizing like the air in my neighborhood. Clear and cold and smelling of winter.

Then as I walk, I smell someone's dryer exhaust redolent with the scent of their fabric softener sheet.
And it occurs to me that the smell of clean is different from one person to the next. That can tell a lot about a character. To one character, that dryer sheet smells clean. To another the smell of sun-dried laundry means clean.

And scent from a house where they've had bacon for breakfast stimulates my sense of taste and makes me hungry and ready to go home.

My husband adds a sixth sense, proprioception. That's the sense of the relative position of parts of the body and the effort being employed in movement. This sense is probably more developed in my dancer and athlete brothers and sisters than it is in me. But I'm learning.

Take away one of these senses from our character or our scene and I've got a disabled character or a diminished scene. Or a really good plot device.






Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dear Santa (3rd of four) -- A reprise of last year's Christmas flash fiction

Image from sites.google.com

If you missed Dee's first letter click First of Four or her second one click Second of Four.



Dear Santa,

It’s me again. Dee. You know, the 53-year-old widow living with her son, pregnant daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons, a granddaughter, two Black Labs, a cat, and umpteen rabbits.

I’m still sleeping in the basement which used to be very nice. Well, it still would be nice if it weren’t for the rabbits. Rodney assures me that the smell will not saturate the walls and flooring. The floors are quarry tile. Marvin, my late husband, chose the flooring because he thought it would withstand just about anything that could happen to it. Though I doubt he considered the possibility of rabbits.

Friday was the last day of school before Christmas break. I must have been mad to volunteer to watch the kids while Becca and Thurman are at work. Becca plans to work until she starts labor. I’m glad they’re expecting another girl. Then they’ll have two boys and two girls.

They’re having trouble scheduling contractors to repair their house. The holidays, and all that.

Maybe you remember that Thurman is a cop. He planned to take care of the children while Becca works, but he works all kinds of hours. Mostly while the children sleep, so he needs to sleep while they’re awake. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage.

I thought Rodney – my son, the one with the rabbits – would help. He quit his job. Said he just didn’t fit in. He doesn’t mind cooking for all of us and he’s good at it. But Saturday morning and all day yesterday with me and the kids and the critters was enough to get him job-hunting.

Not that I’m complaining. I know it’s temporary. Lots of grandparents don’t get to spend time with their grandchildren. Marvin would have loved the full house. Dogs, kids, and all. He was a dear, sweet man, but I don’t know how he would have felt about the rabbits.

Michael – that’s the oldest grandson – he’s almost ten and plays the violin. Luckily most days are nice enough he can practice outside on the deck. I don’t know what the neighbors think. Jerry – the next grand – is eight and has just started the violin which means he’s still playing on a tissue box with a paper towel tube for a neck. Learning to hold it properly, they say. Thank goodness for small mercies.

And Maggie, dear little Maggie. She’s five and very bright. She wants to know everything. But if I hear “Why, Grandma?” one more time, I’m going to lock myself in with the rabbits until New Years.

Cleo, my cat, hasn’t been upstairs since I rescued her from the dogs that first day. Truth be told, Becca rescued both of us. Not that the dogs are bad dogs. No one could expect a dog to overlook being attacked by a hissing, spitting monster.

If the kids slept as much as the dogs do, I’d be more rested. After Maggie’s nap, we went to the park. We had to walk the dogs anyway. I took Buddy. He’s like me. He appreciates peace and quiet. Michael was in charge of his little sister and I figured Jerry could keep up with Rocky. Maybe tire them both out.

At less than a year old Rocky is bigger than most grown dogs. But he’s still a rowdy pup. He tries to mind. You can tell. The way he looks at you knowing he won’t get permission to do whatever it is he longs for.

Our parks are well-used, especially on sunny days. Meredith, who lives two streets over was there with her daughter Meghan and their great lug of a dog named Bruno. Meghan is most likely on your “good child” list. I’m sure Bruno is good, too. He looks like a cross between a St. Bernard and a Great Dane – too much hair and too big.

Louise Fenton was there with her little Dachshund Mac. Louise always looks so nice, full make-up and coiffed, just to walk her dog.

When I stopped to talk to her, I guess Mac thought Buddy was too close to his Mistress and she needed protecting. He screamed and went for Buddy. (I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a dog make a sound like that.)

Buddy and I were shocked. Rocky apparently thought the Dachshund was attacking us – which I fully believed, myself. He came across the playground at a dead run, dragging Jerry behind him. He charged under the swing Maggie was in and tipped her out onto the ground. Jerry lost hold of Rocky’s leash when he crashed into Michael who was trying to catch Maggie.

Poor Buddy pulled back on his leash trying to stay away from Mac. I guess with Rocky bearing down on him, that Dachshund felt the need to run. His leash was around Louise’s ankles when he ran between Bruno’s legs. And then Louise was on the ground with me standing over her holding tight to Buddy’s leash so he wouldn’t join Rocky in the chase.

Bruno pulled free from Meredith and knocked poor little Meghan down. Now, there were two little girls crying. And Jerry was screaming at Rocky.

As big as Bruno is, I doubt that he’d ever felt the need to be fierce. He must have felt threatened or he’d never have attacked Buddy.

There I was hanging on to Buddy’s leash for dear life. Because I wouldn’t let go, Buddy couldn’t get away from Bruno. He had to fight back. But I knew if I let go, I’d have no control of either dog.

You’re never supposed to get in the middle of a dog fight. I knew that, but what could I do? I jerked on Buddy’s leash and pulled him away enough to thrust my hip in Bruno’s face and get between them. The minute I got between them, they stopped fighting.

Forgetting that he wanted to defend Buddy from Mac (the crazed Dachshund) Rocky ran away from the commotion toward the street with Jerry hot after him. Such screeching and honking, you’ve never heard. I can’t imagine what good those idiot drivers thought they’d do honking at a dog and a boy plunging into the street. Luckily, the cars got stopped before they ran down my grandson and his dog.

That Dachshund sat there as calm as could be watching the whole thing. Like none of it had anything to do with him.

Hope your day went better than mine. I think I may have pulled something in my right side.

Tomorrow is bound to be better.

Hopefully yours,


Dee 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Best of Enemies -- a review


image from blu-ray.com


Best of Enemies, a 2015 documentary available streaming from Netflix, chronicles the 1968 televised debates between conservative William F. Buckley, Jr., and liberal Gore Vidal.

In 1968, three television networks vied for American audiences. CBS was first among equals, closely followed by NBC. ABC was a distant third. Those were your choices. No FOX. No CNN. No cable at all. Not even PBS.

CBS and NBC planned to cover the 1968 political conventions gavel to gavel. ABC couldn't afford to. They had to come up with something to draw ratings away from their two rivals. And as someone in Best of Enemies says "nothing draws an audience like the sugar of a fight."

Do I hear the names Jerry Springer and Donald Trump?

In 1968, ABC gave birth to modern political punditry and point/counter point political commentary with these end of the convention day debates between America's most television savvy intellectuals, both from Eastener aristocracy stock. Pompous, but well-spoken and mostly restrained, each was absolutely confident he was right and the rest of the world could acknowledge that or be damned.

1968's national political conventions found the United States mired in the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights Movement continued unabated. Women's Liberation and the youth movement further fractured the nation.

Everything happened on TV.

January 30, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive.

March 31, sitting president Lyndon Johnson announced "I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term" as President of the United States.

April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee.

May 4, four students were shot dead by National Guardsmen on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.

June 6, Robert F. Kennedy, a leading contender for the Democrat nomination for President, was murdered in Los Angeles, California.

And every evening on the national news no matter which network we watched the TV news anchors gave the numbers. How many Americans were killed in Vietnam. And how many North Vietnamese.

August 5, the Republican Party opened their four-day convention in Miami, Florida, to nominate their candidate for President of the United States. The leading contenders were former Vice President Richard Nixon and then Governor of California Ronald Reagan.

August 26, a demoralized Democrat Party opened their four-day convention in Chicago, Illinois, a city run by iron-fisted Mayor Richard J. Daly.

Best of Enemies mixes extensive footage of the actual debates between Buckley and Vidal with comments and clips from the conventions and the real world then swirling around the conventions. There are illuminating comments from people close to the political actors of the time and to Buckley and Vidal.

In Best of Enemies, we get to hear again the dulcet tones of Senator Everett Dirksen speaking at the Republican Convention. We see snippets of the luminaries of the times -- Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Dick Cavett, the Kennedys, Norman Mailer. There's a clip from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, the iconoclastic TV show that gave a comedic raspberry to the foibles of American society and introduced the American public to fringe, go-go boots, and psychedelic humor.

Best of Enemies reminds us that passionate political views can be expressed at reduced decibels, intelligently.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dear Santa (2nd of four) -- A reprise of last year's Christmas flash fiction

Image from rackandshelf.com

If you have not read Dee's first letter to Santa click here.



Dear Santa,

   It’s me again. Dee, the woman from the Thanksgiving Day parade. My son moved home and my daughter’s having a baby, remember? Well, Becca's not having a baby right now, but maybe by the time you get this letter.

My daughter, and her husband Thurman had a setback. Thurman’s a policeman. Very nice man. Becca’s a loan officer at the credit union. Anyway, their house caught fire. Thank goodness no one was hurt and the house didn’t burn to the ground. But there was extensive smoke and water damage, so it looks like it’ll be after Christmas before they can move back in.

Marvin – you remember my husband that died three years ago on Black Friday? I do miss that man. He had no idea how much we’d need the basement. The kids being grown and gone by the time he got around to it. I just thank goodness he put in the bedrooms and bath. My cat Cleo and I are in the front bedroom down there. Rodney – you remember my son? The one with the rabbits? He’s in the back bedroom.

I let Becca and Thurman have my bedroom and their two boys have the other upstairs bedroom. Maggie, my five-year-old granddaughter, is sleeping in my sewing room on the futon. That’s upstairs, too. So Becca’s family is all upstairs.

And their two Labradors.

Cleo wasn’t best pleased when the dogs moved in. We had quite a rodeo. They didn’t know much about cats. I guess Cleo decided to indoctrinate them right from the get-go. She bowed up and hissed and spit at Buddy. He’s the old dog. Poor thing. He wasn’t sure how to act, but then she slapped him – claws out – right across the muzzle. He wasn’t having that at all. And the chase was on.

Becca may be pregnant out to here, but she reacted immediately, plunging headlong after Buddy. The younger dog Rocky cowered against Thurman’s legs and tripped him when he tried to help Becca. Those two boys laughed to high heaven and Maggie screamed like she was the one being chased.

I was so shocked, I just stood there watching the cat, the dog, and the pregnant girl. Through the living room into the dining room, then the kitchen and back into the living room. Cleo must have recognized me as some kind of King’s X. Her second time around she ran right up me. Thank goodness Becca grabbed Buddy’s collar before he climbed up me, too.

Cleo’s staying pretty much in the basement now. We have to keep the door closed to the storeroom where the rabbits are. I don’t know if she’d hurt them, but she certainly paid them a lot of attention, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.

You know, even with Rodney changing their litter every day, it’s pretty ripe down there. I asked him what he plans to do with those rabbits. He said he’s not sure.

We don’t really need anything. The insurance gave Becca and Thurman some money to replace some of the necessities. They’d already bought most of their Christmas presents and were hiding them at his mother’s house. So come Christmas Eve, the kids will still have a nice visit from you.

Thurman’s mother has a nice house. They’d have stayed with her, but she’s the nervous sort and they were afraid the three kids would be too much for her.

We went to the thrift store and got a bassinet, some linens, and clothes for the baby when she gets here. It’s a girl, did I tell you? They’re going to name her Sylvia after his mother. I guess that's okay.

I know you’re busy – and heaven knows I am too – so will sign off for now.

Sincerely,


Dee

Letters to Santa (1st of four) -- Flash Fiction

Two years ago I wrote this series of four letters to Santa -- all flash fiction.
Last year I reprised them and this year they are a tradition.
They will be posted on consecutive days. Enjoy.

image from twinset.us


Dear Santa,

    I saw you in the Thanksgiving Day parade. You looked right at me. I was between 14th and 15th Streets. In front of the Silver Spoon. You have such kind eyes. 

You probably think I’m too old to be writing to Santa. Maybe I am. But 53 isn’t so very old.

Anyway, my husband Marvin died three years. Ironic isn’t it, him dying on Black Friday.

Rodney’s moved back in. He’s my son. Thirty-two years old. His wife served him with papers that Monday. Pretty cold-hearted to do that Thanksgiving Week, don’t you think? Still, it is nice to have the boy home again. He made the Thanksgiving turkey. The whole dinner, actually – green bean casserole, dressing, stuffed celery. And three pies. Apple, pumpkin, and pecan. Marvin always liked pumpkin. My favorite is strawberry-rhubarb, but never mind.

I thought Jennifer was a nice young woman. She just didn’t appreciate Rodney’s financial ventures. Adventures, more like. Not long after they married, he went in with a friend raising ostriches. You know, the birds. Turns out the people already in the business were selling breeding stock and dreams of wealth. They convinced people that there would be a market for the meat and hides. It never developed and Rodney got stuck with the birds. Those birds will eat anything. One of them knocked my sunglasses off and swallowed them before I could pick them up. I covered the vet bill since it was sort of my fault.

I’m glad the zoo agreed to take them. Abandoning them in the national forest just didn’t seem right.

Then he bought gold when it was at its height. And there was that land in New Mexico. The photos were beautiful. Mountain scenery. But no access and no water. I’m not sure what he intended to do with it.

But the boy’s always worked. It’s not like he spent her money on any of these, shall we say, investments. I think she objected to the way he works, too. He can’t seem to stay with a job very long. He was at that investments counselling place the longest. Good money, but his heart just wasn’t in it.

I don’t think the girl was pleased with him raising rabbits either. He brought the rabbits with him – two does and their litters. I’m not sure how many babies there are, but their eyes are open and they’ve got hair. Or is it fur? They are so cute.

I know my Home Owners’ Association probably has some rule against keeping rabbits, but he’s got them downstairs so nobody will ever know. I’m glad Marvin finished the basement.

We do have some good news. My daughter Becca is expecting. A little girl, due in a couple of weeks give or take. You know how that goes. Anyway, hopefully by Christmas. That’ll make four for her.

It's just as well that Rodney and Jennifer don’t have any children. Under the circumstances.

You may think I’m crazy, but I’m going to mail this. I’m not really expecting any response. I would have written to Marvin, but that seemed wrong somehow, him being dead and all. I just needed someone to talk to.

Very truly yours,

Dee

Monday, December 7, 2015

Janis: Little Girl Blue


Janis: Little Girl Blue, Official Trailer


Instead of a still pic of Janis, I'm putting up the Official Trailer. Give it a watch. I think you'll enjoy it.  For Janis, you need sound and color and motion. The Amy Berg documentary has it all and more.

I heard about Janis: Little Girl Blue on NPR December 1. I wanted to see it, but where was it showing? It supposedly aired on PBS's American Masters on November 25 which should mean that I could stream it on my TV at home. Easy-peasy, no driving. Wear what I'm wearing. Have a nice whatever I want to eat and drink. Sounded lovely. But it was not meant to be. Janis: Little Girl Blue doesn't show up on PBS's American Experience website.

Surely it'd be showing somewhere in Denver. Yup. December 4, 7:30, The Sie FilmCenter. Of which I'd never heard. Located on East Colfax which was somewhere downtown.

The Sie FilmCenter is separated from The Tattered Cover by a sort of alleyway re-purposed for outdoor dining. I've been to the bookstore several times, but had never noticed the theater. You get me near a bookstore or library and I can't see anything else.

Colfax is Denver's primary east/west surface street. I knew how to get there. Except, it was December 4, the first of two holiday Parade of Lights. The parade would cross Colfax west of the theater -- that was between me and my destination. An alternative route would be necessary.

No problem. I'd just go the way I go to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, my favorite place in Colorado. Cut north to Colfax and voila, I'm there.

Thank goodness, my daughter was with me, navigating. Who'd a thought the traffic would be so bad?! Guess it was Friday night in the big town with a parade that traditionally brought people into downtown by the hundreds, maybe thousands, from what I was seeing. And, like me, those folks weren't used to driving downtown in the dark with roads closed for a parade.

We got to the theater in plenty of time, took the elevated down from the parking garage to a subterranean theater lobby complete with bar and snack bar. And me, I thought I was so grown up at my regular movie theater where I can get a nice cappuccino and popcorn. Here I could get a nice margarita and popcorn.

We got to the window and Janis was sold out. BUT, we could take a number and see if anyone who'd bought a ticket online then cancelled or whatever, didn't show up, in which case we could buy those tickets, but we'd probably have to sit in the front row and may not be able to sit together. They'd let us know in about ten minutes.

I'd just driven through that traffic. The parade hadn't started yet and getting home would still be through that mess. The next showings of Janis: Little Girl Blue were sold out. My bad attitude was ignited and I wasn't about to come back downtown again anytime soon.

It worked out that we got two seats together and the front row seats have high backs so it was surprisingly comfortable to lean back and watch the show. And with the audience all behind me, it was as if they didn't exist. It was just Grace and I, our entire field of vision filled with the sights and sounds of my youth.

The documentary is very well-done. Lots of footage of Janis performing. It's matter-of-fact about the difficulties of being Janis Joplin, but not dreary. She did everything, be happy or be sad, full-tilt, just like she performed. And the film shows that.

Janis also has snippets from her letters to her family and interviews with her brother and sister that were enlightening and comforting. You get the idea that her family loved her and cared about her, kinda like the rest of us.

Janis: Little Girl Blue with its sights and sounds from an intense and turbulent time in our nation and lives brings back Janis's own passionate exhibition of that longing and laughter.

It was more than worth driving home in Downtown Denver traffic. All the lights and noise and people on the street just extended the experience.


P.S. I misread when Janis: Little Girl Blue will air on PBS's American Masters. It's next year some time. So we can all watch it again without the traffic.

P.P.S. Still glad I got to see it on the big screen.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

( Explanation )


image from blog.acronis.com

I had a dream. In my dream someone was talking about IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) but when they handed me one, it was an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) which exploded some kind of repulsive goulash all over everything. Without sound or smell. (Sometimes my dreams are like that. Visuals only.) But the feelings were there -- fear, revulsion, nausea, anger.

I live in Colorado and I love it here. Colorado is famous for world class skiing, majestic mountain scenery, and three-hundred-thirty days of sunshine annually.

And for mass shootings. (None involving Muslims.)

In the most recent here in Colorado, a man entered a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire. During a snow storm. While the shooting was ongoing, the images on our television screens showed flashing lights, ambulances lined up waiting, military style vehicles. And people with ATF, CBI, CSPD, CSFD, etc. on their jackets moving through the snowfall. It was like a snow globe gone mad.

Somehow the letters made it all worse. It's like the world needs parenthetical explanation. And there is none.

Today the sun is shining. The air is clear and cold. I am going for a walk with friends who do not espouse hate, celebrate war, or speak in acronyms that need explanations.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Someone from Home -- Flash Fiction

image from saintpaulalmanac.com



"Know what you want?" she asked him.

He hadn't slept well since he got there. Hotel beds never felt right. Hotel cuisine was uninspiring and too expensive. "Home cookin'," he said.

"Depends on where home is," she said. "Ray there, bless his heart, is from Chicago so I guess it's Chicago cookin'."

He rubbed the stubble on his chin and turned the menu over to look at the breakfast offerings.

"Breakfast 'til ten," she said. "You've got three hours. Take your time."

"Not breakfast without grits and biscuits and gravy." He laid the menu down.

"Honey, you are so right." She laughed. "Where're y'all from?"

He laid the menu down and looked at her for the first time. "Tyler, Texas, ma'am. Rose capital of the world. Where're you from? Not Saint Paul with an accent like that."

"Accent? Why ever would you say that?" She looked down the counter to check her other customers. "Back in a jiffy." She grabbed a coffee pot and was gone.

He felt more alone that he'd felt the whole time he was up here. Just Thursday. Meetings all week and it wasn't Friday yet.This world was cold and windy and cloudy. And the snow looked like it would be here until April. He missed his family.

She returned to him taking up their conversation where she'd left off. "Greenville, Mississippi, by way of New Orleans. Ray can fix you potatoes any way you want 'em as long as you want hash browns."

"Okay. Hash browns. Coffee, black. Two eggs, over easy. Bacon. Whole wheat toast. You got Tabasco?"

"Does the Mississippi run east past St. Paul and New Orleans? Of course we got Tabasco." She relayed his order to Ray and poured him coffee.

"Does it run east past St. Paul and New Orleans?"

"It does," she said over her shoulder as she went to the cash register to take care of a customer.

She was taller and thinner than his wife. Probably about the same age, but Brenda was prettier. Both their girls looked just like her. He should be home in time to see Meagan's school Christmas play.

The waitress plunked his breakfast down in front of him and retrieved a bottle of Tabasco from her apron pocket. "Eat hearty, Tex."

"Ted, actually," he corrected her.

"Well, Ted Actually." She winked at him. "Enjoy your breakfast." And she was off again.

He hadn't thought about how he looked when he left the hotel. Sweats, a fleece lined hoodie, gloves, a knit cap. He'd gone for a run before breakfast. That's how he found Ray's Diner. He'd not showered or shaved. He felt good working up a sweat in this cold country.

When she smiled, she was pretty. Watching her take somebody else's order, he felt grimy.

She was back refilling his coffee cup.

"desJardin," he said. "Ted desJardin. How'd you end up in Minnesota?" he asked before she could go away again.

Still holding the pot, she put her other fist on her hip. "I'm a refugee," she said.

What could he say to that? She must have seen his confusion.

"Katrina, honey. The storm?"

"Can I have some ketchup?" he asked.

"Me and Gene just kept driving north. Neither of us wanted to get away from the river. We both grew up on it. We had a baby then and we've had two more since then. Kinda made a home for ourselves here. I'm even getting where I like snow."

The food was good. He ate slowly and watched the waitress work. He asked her questions as she passed back and forth. What kind of work did her husband do? Did she cook at home? What was there to do for fun in Minneapolis? But he didn't ask her what time she got off work.

She put his check in front of him and leaned her elbows on the counter.

"Listen hon. I get off at two. How'd you like to go for a late lunch?"

He didn't know how to answer that. He had afternoon meetings scheduled. He was leaving in the morning.

"I'm married," he said quietly.

She smiled and laid her hand over his.

Had he said it so quietly that she hadn't heard? Did he hope she hadn't heard?

"Why, honey, I am, too. But Mama Susie's Creole Cafe is just about five blocks from here and it's the only place I know of that you can get decent red beans and rice north of  Monroe." She patted his hand.

Maybe he could miss the last meeting of the day.

"Meet you there at three-thirty. Gene'll pick me up about five. That'll give us an hour and a half to have a good meal and talk about home."

Yes. It was all he could do to keep from pumping his fist in the air.

"Are you any kin to the desJardins over at Lake Chicot?" she asked.

He laughed out loud. He didn't think so. He didn't know where Lake Chicot was. And it didn't matter. He was going to have a late lunch with someone from home, no strings attached.









Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Art -- An Essay


image from mountainmusictrail.com

The definition of art, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is "1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. 2a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium."

My definition of art is more what it does than what it is. It helps me experience my world.


It takes me places I've never been and where I'll never go. 
 Sometimes beautiful. 

Northern Lights, Iceland,
 
photo by John Hilmarsson for National Geographic

Sometimes a disturbing view of a place half-way around the world
but very like where I grew up.
 
Vincent Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Crows


I can read Jack London's The Sea Wolf or watch the movie 'Perfect Storm,' and art will bring me close to experiencing a storm at sea without my ever stepping foot on a ship.

Art helps me feel and find my way within that nature ambiguously referred to as human nature. 

The Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash makes me happy. I laugh every time I hear it. And I've never understood the words.

Saturday when the band on Garrison Keillor's radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, played and some in his audience sang La Marseillaise, I cried. And I do not understand the words to that song either. 

It doesn't matter that I don't understand the words, it's the feelings that count. And art does that. It lets the feelings count.

Art helps me find sense, and helps me find a way to accept senselessness if there is no sense to be found. A friend brought me a passage from Stephen P. Kiernan's novel The Hummingbird to help me understand PTSD.

     "If you kill a man," he continued, "whatever the circumstances, he is on your
     conscience for life. Whether you used a tomahawk three centuries ago, a
     bayonet two centuries ago, a rifle one century ago, or a drone last Tuesday,
     his death was violent, premature, and by your hand."


Art, whether it be visual art, music, dance, the theater, or literature, has always helped me understand my world. Sometimes it reinforces my own peculiar understanding. And, sometimes it utterly destroys my understanding, which opens the way for me to embrace a wholly new one. 

Sometimes I get caught up in the science of our world. But that's an art form, too. It's just that the languages of science are not as easily accessible to many of us, whereas the languages of art are. 

We are all artists whether we can draw the proverbial straight line or not. We must be artists to respond to it. And we do. All of us. Maybe not to all art forms. Maybe not to all expressions within any one art form, but we do all get it.

Art is as natural to human beings as breathing.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th -- Nonfiction

Image result for friday the 13th images
image from katsbookofshadows.blogspot.com

Okay, my kocka Kocka is not black, nor smooth coated, but I recognize the expression in those eyes. And it is Friday the 13th. It was most assuredly so until eleven o'clock this morning.

My husband has been trying to cure me of superstitions for many years now. And I use the plural for both superstition and year on purpose.

Most of my superstitions I inherited from my grandmothers. Black cats never figured into any of them. Probably because Grandma W. didn't like cats of any color anyway so bad luck never attached itself to any particular colored cat, as far as she was concerned. She taught me not to move a broom and to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.

And Grandma H. had nothing against black cats. She liked animals in general without regard to their, species, color, religion, or gender. She taught me not to sew on Sundays, not to open an umbrella in the house, and not to put a hat on the bed.

Friday the 13th, however, never figured into our family superstitions. The fact that Grandma H.'s birthday, September 13, periodically fell on Friday may have played a part in our failure to adopt that particular superstition.

Until this morning, that is.

I couldn't find my purse. Now that, in and of itself, is not unusual. But it was nowhere in the house. It was not in the car.

The local news anchor reminded all who were tuned in that it was Friday the 13th. Just a silly superstition, I reassured myself.

Maybe I'd left it at the assisted care home where my dad lives. The last place I knew I'd had it. I called him and asked him to look. True, Daddy often cannot see what he's looking at. So, when he couldn't see it, I figured it must be there and I'd go soon to look for myself.

Then my father's Occupational Therapist called to discuss his blood pressure. I asked her to look for my purse. She did, but she didn't see it. And she still drove so I trusted her vision.

"If you left it here," she said, "it's gone. These places are notorious for theft."

I defended the home saying we'd never had that kind of trouble there. But she'd planted the seed. And it was Friday the 13th. And my husband was not here to remind me that I'm not superstitious nowadays.

My credit cards were in that purse. They'd have to be cancelled. I could go by the two banks I use and cancel them. But would they let me cancel them if I didn't have a photo i.d. to prove I was me? My driver's license was in that purse. I'm seldom ever in either of the banks so they probably wouldn't recognize me.

And what about getting a replacement driver's license. Would they let me pay for it with a check if I didn't have a photo i.d.?

Maybe I could use my Rec Center i.d. It has my picture on it. But it was in my purse, too. The people at the DMV certainly wouldn't recognize me. I've only been in there once almost four years ago.

And what if I got stopped by the police for something on the way to the DMV to get the replacement driver's license. I couldn't prove to them that I was driving legally which of course, technically I would not be because I didn't have my driver's license. And even if they checked the records to see if someone by my name is a licensed driver, I couldn't prove I was me, by any name.

And the bank may not let me get cash to pay the DMV to get a replacement driver's license so I'd have a photo i.d.

Friday the 13th, indeed!

What happens to a person who can not prove who they are? I was undocumented. To be on the street, unknown to anyone of authority. The people who could vouch for me were not easily available. My father, my husband, my children. They've seen my documents or even used them in one form or another. The rest of the people who "know" me, only know who I am because they've taken my word for it.

Things were not going well.

I needed to take Daddy's clean laundry to him, so I decided to go by the banks afterward to cancel the credit cards. I would just have to trust that they'd have a way to confirm I had a right to cancel said cards.

And that brought up another problem. My husband was out-of-town today. What if he needed to use his credit card for something? Like gasoline to get home. If I cancelled the credit cards, he wouldn't be able to use his. He wouldn't be able to buy gas. Or get home.

And as I thought about it -- Daddy's credit card was in my purse, too. If someone stole it, they could clean out his bank account. If someone had stolen all our cards they could clean us all out.

And it is the holiday season when people who don't have a lot of money are feeling the pinch. I could understand the temptation to take advantage of some woman's failure to insure her purse's security.

There was nothing for it. I just had to suck it up and drive to my dad's without a driver's license. I scrupulously observed every traffic signal and every speed limit. I was hypervigilant for any other driver who might involve me in an accident that would require I show my driver's license. I was a wreck -- trying to think of every possible danger.

I reminded myself that Friday the 13th is just a silly superstition. Of course, it is. Unfortunate things could happen any day. These particular unfortunate things never had. At least to me. But they could have.

Thankfully, the drive to my father's was uneventful.

And better yet. The moment I walked into his apartment I saw my purse exactly where I'd left it. Its contents intact.

I knew I was tense, but I had no idea how tense until the tension was released. I needed to eat. It's just a good thing there's a Panera's on my way home. Diet or no diet. Saving money or no saving money. I stopped there for lunch and paid with a credit card.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dearest Pol -- Flash Fiction


image from heartwhispers.weebly.com

As a writer, I often use prompts to get me to write. The prompt from which this bit came was "Write from the point of view of a literary character who changed your life." It was not easy for me to choose just one. I've met so many -- both fiction and nonfiction -- who introduced me to ways of living and thinking that I would never have imagined on my own. This one is from my very early childhood and she has saved my life too many times to count. It comes from what I imagine her as a grownup to be like. She would have lived through both World Wars, which seems appropriate for this Armistice Day.


Dearest Pol, I love you.

She looked away from the letter. I love you, too. The thought came as automatically as she would have said it had Jim been there. She tried, but she couldn't think of a thing to be glad about.

I'm looking at a slip of a moon. I know that, if you are looking at it right now, it looks the same there at home. In a couple of weeks I'll be shipping out. I can't tell you where they're sending us, but the moon will be full there then, she read.

Hadn't she been through enough? She didn't remember her mother at all. She remembered her father teaching her the "glad game." She had so wanted a doll, but the only thing in the mission barrel for a child was a pair of very small crutches. He said she should try to find something to be glad about the crutches. Together they decided she could be glad she didn't need them. It didn't help much at first.

And then he died when she was barely eleven, the same age as her own Jenny. The Ladies' Aiders sent her half a continent away to live with her Aunt Polly whom she'd never met. Things got better and worse and better again as life had a way of doing. And most of the time she could find things to be glad about.

Aunt Polly died of the Influenza but Uncle Tom came home safe from the Great War. Then they made it through the Depression. And now her own dear Jim was going into this new war leaving her and their Jenny to do the best they could without him.

Remember the best way to play the game is when it's hardest to find something to be glad about, he wrote.

He was reading her mind. Finding something to be glad about him going to war had eluded her since before he left. He was right to go. She tried to be glad he was a doctor and could save lives, when what she was really glad about was that surely they wouldn't send doctors to the front. But that didn't feel right somehow and took away the "glad" part.

I don't know how soon you'll get this letter, but if you're having a full moon, show Jenny. I'll be enjoying it, too. Then we won't feel so far apart. Sometimes a thing to be glad about is not something hard to find, but something that's there all the time, if you just look.

Kiss our beautiful Jenny. I love you Pollyanna Pendleton. Your Jim









Thursday, October 29, 2015

EDITED!!!

image from rsanews.com

So -- (Don't you hate it when someone starts an explanation with that innocent little single-syllable, two-letter word? It's like "like." Remember when everyone said "like" and "ya know" every time they meant "uh" or "er" to announce that they were trying to think of a real word to say. A second of silence would have given them the same amount of time to think even though it wouldn't have done them any good anyway. And while we're at it, how about everybody doing "up-speak" so they all sound like ditsy Valley Girls? Even guys? Nurses! Financial advisers! The most excellent young man who bags your groceries.) But I digress. Sorry.

So, I was looking for an image to top this blog post and it occurred to me that being edited was, like, ya know, getting busted. And there among all those images were these guys from Myth Busters, the Discovery Channel's show. They enjoy their job way too much. Explosions, high speed car chases, trashing an area. What's not to enjoy? Sometimes I wonder who's gonna clean that mess up. Anyway, they make me smile and once I saw them I couldn't see any of the other options.

  

See this page? This is what my short story looked like when I got it back from my editor. I'm used to my work looking like an ax murder victim, but come on. All the colors of the rainbow, too? Who's gonna clean up this mess?

My editor learned this in class. May the saints preserve us from exercise instructors who go to workshops and editors who take classes.

She did provide a Legend to go with the colors.

She said good writing is a mix of these categories. The following examples are all from my new short story "Jane's Way."

     Narration (Green):
            action, choreography
                    Gretzky motioned Simon to follow him.

            attributions for dialogue
                    ," she said.

            and often used in lieu of attributions for dialogue. 
                   ?" He jabbed the gun at the dead man.

     Exposition (Orange):  tells backstory or explains something
                    She was there when Rita's dad died. Two years ago from cancer, too.

     Description (Purple):  just like it sounds. It describes something or someone.
                    Blue-grays filtered into the reds eddying around him.

     Dialogue (Yellow):  anything between quotes
                    "You, girl. Don't go in there!"

     Interiority -- I know, it ain't in my dictionary either, but she's the editor and that's what it was
     called in her class and she likes it -- (Pink): This is what's going on inside the Point of View
     character's head.
                    What was the fool going to do? Simon wanted to shout, to rage.

I had one page that only had green and yellow on it. "This is more like a script than prose," my editor said. "You only have dialogue and stage direction on this page."

But I'm really good at dialogue.

Ah, yes. I am good at dialogue, but she was right. Don't you hate it when you pay people to help you and then they do?!

There was plenty of red ink on that edited manuscript, as well. Being a serious writer means cleaning up your messes. So I did. 

"Jane's Way" now passes muster and will soon be submitted -- somewhere. Wish me luck.