Sunday, April 30, 2017

Y and Z -- thus endeth the 2017 A to Z April Blogging Challenge

 My daughter says I am the most anti-authoritarian person she knows. And she could be right, though of course I don't know everyone she knows nor do I know their standing on the conformity/rebellion continuum.

The unlikelihood that I will read written instructions, my standard noncompliance to verbal commands, and my uncommon reactions to people with celebrity status may be evidence for her thinking that.

These two common traffic signs are excellent examples. 

The No Left Turn sign causes me to exercise the most stringent self-control. It seems my car's steering wheel almost turns left of its own accord whether I have any reason to turn left or not.  

 And the No Parking. It goes without saying that I invariably apply the brakes even though there's nothing that interests me within walking distance of the sign. 

This could explain why I have run out of the inspiration to follow the rules for the 2017 A to Z April Blogging Challenge and have generally messed up this last week. 

To be fair, though, I don't really agree with our English alphabet's order. I mean little things like "U, V, W." Now, if you'll compare that with the Spanish alphabet, you'll see that it's out of order. In English, the Spanish V is pronounced "vay" and the W which is obviously the V doubled is pronounced "dobla-vay." So why would we separate the "yoo" from "double-yoo" which looks like a "double-vee" with the single "vee?"

Then there's the geography of the United States -- Why in the world is Indiana east of Illinois? Ahhh, but that's a whole 'nother question.

There are traffic signs that I do pay attention to like these. I live at the foot of the foothills to the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and when I'm driving in the mountains these signs mean slow down, gear down, and prepare for your heart to constrict in fear.


And when we're in Rocky Mountain National Park this is my favorite sign. 

Actually it means "slow down," too. But for an altogether different reason. It means the cars ahead of you will all be stopped and the people will be out of their cars taking pictures. -- Me, too. See, sometimes I conform.

And if you see this sign, it probably means you've taken a
wrong turn and ended up in Dallas, Texas.

Although there are no hills that look like this near Dallas.
But there are lots of nice folks and they will gladly give you directions if you get lost -- speaking from personal experience.

What? No Y or Z topic? Oh, well. Maybe I'll do better at conforming to the recommended letters for the daily blog next year. In the meantime I'll be visiting some of your wonderful blogs that I've become aware of because of this year's A to Z.

Enjoy the rest of this blogging year and write on.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

X's -- Flash Fiction

image from The Omniscient Mussel

Pulling away in a maroon Chrysler Pacifica, she gave him a thumbs up and smiled. Damn. Thirteen minutes late. Mike said she had to be at the airport.

It must be an Uber, Jen drove a little yellow Honda Fit. What kind of name is that for a car? A three-year-old pitches a fit when he doesn't get his way. A hissy fit not a Honda fit. Mike said his Southern was showing when he talked like that. Mike'd say the same thing about his being late.

He called Mike. "Missed her."

"I know. She called. Not a problem." But he didn't sound too happy. "Don't screw this up. There's a key in one of those fake rocks. Under the lilac."

"Okay. Do you know where she left it?"

"She left you a note on the fridge." He didn't sound happy at all.


"Gotta get it to them before seven tonight or the deal's off." He sounded angry.

Mike was not a good man to cross. He didn't know what Mike's deal was, but he was smart enough not to ask. None of his business. He just needed to find the money, and he had no idea what a lilac looked like. He could find a fake rock.

Once inside the house he found the note. As it turned out, one among many items on the fridge. A conversion chart for cooking measurements -- teaspoons to tablespoon, cups to pints, etc. Crayon art. A coupon for Blue Belle ice cream. He didn't know they'd started selling that again. Maybe he'd pick up a half gallon.

There was a handwritten list. It had ten items with an X marked in front of three of them -- pink make-up bag, (that notation had a red line through it,) Baking for Dummies, pg 73, and  dog treats. Jamaica Blue Mountain was scrawled in pencil along the side.

Do you suppose she broke it up? Really not a bad idea. Maybe it wouldn't all be lost at once.

X must mark the spot. Okay. He knew what he was looking for -- two packets of one hundred $100 bills each.

He found the cook book on the second shelf of the book shelves at the end of the kitchen counter. No money. The dog treat box was in the pantry. Just dog treats. He couldn't find the pink make-up bag.

"X, my eye. Mike's gonna X me out," he muttered. He pulled out his phone. Maybe he should call Mike. Then again, maybe he'd better do some more looking.

What the hell did Jamaican geography have to do with anything? He googled "Jamaica Blue Mountain." Coffee?

Where would Jen keep coffee? Not in the pantry. The cabinet over the coffee maker? Nope. The freezer?

The freezer, yes! And, guess what, "X" doesn't mean a thing. $20,000, however, fits very neatly into a one pound coffee bag. Smells pretty good, too.

Now, if he just didn't get caught in traffic.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

U, V, and W -- Nonfiction

W Is for Writer 

I am a writer. I have one novel in print Murder on Ceres. It is available from Amazon as both a paper back and on Kindle. And I'm currently working on the next in what I plan to be a series of four.

At some point several years ago I decided to do what I've always wanted to do -- write a book.

Although my fiction reading is eclectic (some would say indiscriminate) my fiction goto's seem to be murder mysteries and hard science fiction. So I wrote a science fiction/murder mystery or maybe it's a murder mystery/science fiction like I would like to read. The story is set in the future when civilization is centered in the Mars colonies and Earth is truly the "old country" but humans are still humans and murder happens.

"Balancing the demands of his job and his responsibilities to his family, Rafe investigates the suspicious death of a Ceres Colony Consortium accountant. Suicide? Overdose? Homicide? Not his upcoming trip to Earth, not his independent and fiery wife, nothing will keep him from the case.

"Through a whirlwind of illicit drugs, space pirates, and secret identities, Detective Rafe Sirocco chases the truth all 266,000,000 miles from the shining cylinder of Ceres Colony to the alien landscapes of Earth. But will he make it in time to save the one person that matters to him most?"

My nonfiction reading is equally eclectic -- Stephen J. Gould, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov (yes, they wrote nonfiction which I actually like better than their fiction.) David McCullough, Carl Sandburg (his Lincoln and his poetry,) Maya Angelou, Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, etc., etc., etc.

If I had written a U-blog, it would have been about the Universe just because it is so beautiful and I could use pictures from the NASA/ESA Hubble telescope like this one.

Close-up of M27, the Dumbbell Nebula

Their name for this photo. Imagine calling this a "close-up."  It is more than 1,200 light-years away. A light year is the distance light can travel in one Earth year which is nearly 6 trillion miles. Now multiply that time 1,200 and this is a close-up.  This glorious display of color is the result of an old star that has shed its outer layers. Discovered by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1764, a dozen years before the Revolutionary War, it was the first planetary nebula discovered.

And had I done V-day, it could have been Voyager 1. On September 12, 2013, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed that Voyager 1 had indeed left our Solar System and entered interstellar space. Where is it today? Click here for a real-time odometer of Voyager 1's distance from the Earth and the Sun in astronomical units (AU) and kilometers (km).

Better yet, The Golden Record.

It is "a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. The Voyager message is carried by a phonograph record-a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth."



Monday, April 24, 2017

Thank You, Ms. Thomas -- Creator and Writer of Call the Midwife

Heidi Thomas 

Ms. Thomas created and writes Call the Midwife, now in its 6th season airing on PBS.

I have no scientific studies to back me up nor am I credentialed in any form of psychology, but I believe that the most effective way to change a culture is through arts and entertainment. And within the arts and entertainment world, TV is the most likely to reach the most people.

I know you're thinking not PBS, you won't. And that's probably true. BUT Downton Abbey certainly did reach a huge audience. The first five seasons of Call the Midwife are available on Netflix with the sixth season most likely to be available on Netflix early next year, so it is easily available to a vast audience. By-the-bye, if you're interested in watching now but have missed the first five seasons, you could catch up on Netflix then watch the sixth on PBS online.

Call the Midwife is set in Poplar, a fictional district in London's East End. My first knowledge of the East End was from The People of the Abyss, Jack London's nonfiction account of the year he lived there -- 1902. The conditions then were like those in the worst of America's ghettos. Poverty, disease, violence, alcoholism, drugs, lack of education, substandard housing and/or homelessness.

By the late 1950's when Call the Midwife starts, poverty and all its attendant ills still thrived there and the people were dependent on charitable organizations for many services, including medical care. The first season recounts the experiences of Jenny Lee, a newly trained midwife based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a real midwife who worked with an Anglican nursing order of nuns.

The characters are about evenly split between the sisters of Nonnatus House convent and the trained midwives who work for them. Most of the deliveries are made in the local women's homes, but over the years Nonnatus did open a small maternity hospital in Poplar.

Okay, with all this history of the mythical Nonnatus House, this is what I wanted to talk about.

We are buffeted and pummeled and generally knocked about by strident would-be tyrants who think they can convert us to their point of view with angry voices and defamatory pronouncements against their critics.

Someone once told me "the louder the voice, the weaker the argument."

In Season 6, Episode 3, Ms. Thomas has written what is, in my opinion the perfect example of this truth. There are no car chase scenes. No explosions. No gun, knife, or profane verbal fights. But the tension is palpable. And all the conflict any writing instructor asks for -- internal, interpersonal, and external.

Spoiler Alert!

Sister Ursula, the new autocratic Sister in Charge of Nonnatus House, continues to make changes in the way things are done there including plans to send Sister Monica Joan to the Mother House because she has dementia and, after all everyone must earn their position at Nonnatus House. Sister Julienne who has always effectively run Nonnatus House with understanding and tolerance is hobbled by her vow of obedience and will not question Sister Ursula's tyranny. Humanity vs. efficiency.

A young, part-Chinese, first time mother has to deal with her overbearing Chinese mother-in-law. Cultural traditions clash.

And the Maternity Home is being inspected by a government bureaucrat working with the Health Ministry to close neighborhood maternity homes in favor of larger hospitals. Better care vs. cost effectiveness.

Sister Ursula has mandated that each midwife is to take no more than 20 minutes with each patient so they can see more patients. Mrs. Chen wants her daughter-in-law kept in a stifling, closed room both before and after the baby is born without regard for the young woman's comfort. The bureaucrat is courteous but unimpressed with the maternity home's clean, professional, accessible facilities noting "all this for only four beds." The District Doctor explains that the people in the neighborhood have no transportation other than the bus to get to a hospital or doctor's visits, so maternity care in their own home or a local maternity home are their only reasonable options.

Sister Ursula's enforced time limitation causes one of the midwives to fail to pursue the new mother's and baby's discomfort and fairly mild symptoms. Mrs. Chen's insistence on keeping the room closed tight and the heater on, causes the baby to lose consciousness due to carbon monoxide poisoning. At which point she grabs up the baby and runs to the maternity home for help.

Where the government inspection is interrupted by the emergency and observes the prompt, effective solution of sending the baby and mother-in-law by ambulance to a regular hospital and the doctor and a midwife decamp to the substandard home to care for the new mother.

-- My down and dirty description of the action doesn't begin to convey the tension that I felt while all this was going on. Ms. Thomas' writing in no way spoonfed the audience or belabored explanations. She trusted us to recognize what was going on. To understand. --

The rest of the inspection is done with the bureaucrat accompanied by our beloved, but no-nonsense, plainspoken Nurse Phyllis. He's convinced that the maternity home should not be shut down yet, but, not unsympathetically notes that the shut down is inevitable sometime within the next several years. Times are changing.

Then Nurse Phyllis explains to Sister Ursula that her time limitation was unrealistic and led to the midwife not recognizing the dangerous situation of the Chen family.

The baby and new mother survive and Mrs. Chen explains that she was pregnant when she and the rest of her family had to flee during the Japanese invasion of their city. She had her baby on the road and had no way to keep it dry and warm. It died. She had only been trying to protect her grandchild.

-- By now I was in tears. Not just because Mrs. Chen had had her baby and lost it because she was driven from her home by war, but because women all over the world are still having babies and losing them because of war. --

Sister Julienne listens nonjudgmentally to Sister Ursula and joins her in prayer. Sister Ursula sees the error of her ways, apologizes to Sister Julienne, and leaves to return to the Mother House. Sister Monica Joan gives her a sweet and advises that too much penitence is prideful and even a penitent must eat. And Nurse Phyllis offers to drive her to the station. All to show that Sister Ursula is completely forgiven by those at Nonnatus House.

Humanity vs. efficiency. Cultural traditions clash. Better care vs. cost effectiveness.

All is not well no matter how well this particular episode ended. Times do need to change. Without car chases, explosions, and fights.

And this is a heartfelt thank you to Ms. Thomas for her showing us how.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SCIENCE "in service to civilization"

Please, whether or not you read the rest of this blog post, watch this video and think about it. It's only 4 minutes long. It's about our future. Our children's future. Our grandchildren's. Our Human Species'.

I'm just a little more than three weeks out of my second total knee replacement and that many weeks in physical rehab, so I can't participate in person in tomorrow's March for Science in Denver.

See this. These scars are what science has done for me.
I know knee replacement is not a question of life and death like a heart transplant is. Like Insulin is. Like an intrauterine blood transfusion providing blood to an Rh-positive fetus is when fetal red blood cells are being destroyed by Rh antibodies. Like antibiotics and antivirals and vaccinations can be. 

Benjamin Franklin was a rock star of a scientist at the birth of our nation. Electricity. No, he didn't invent it or, for that matter discover it, but he did identify it.

image from Wikipedia     

And look what our scientists and engineers and inventors have done with it. Light in our homes, cooling, heating, preservation and preparation of food, transportation, communication, access to information from anywhere in the world and the universe. 

a fan, a lamp, a computer monitor         image from the ESA/Hubble telescope        
in my living room                                                                         

Dr. Franklin had no idea that all these things would come to pass. He just had an idea. And that's what continues to go on to this day. Scientists who discover something today or next week will likely have no idea what wonders can come of their discoveries. Can we deny these possibilities to our children and grandchildren? Imagine babies born without cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, children who do not develop diabetes, grandparents who do not develop dementia. No more cancer.

Those are just the medical marvels. My medical wish list. The other things that will come along I can't even imagine in order to wish for them. Maybe even an Earth that is a healthy habitat for life and colonies of human beings in Space.

Stand with me for Science

P.S. I just got a telephone call rescheduling my post-surgery follow-up. My surgeon, Dr. William Peace is being deployed to Afghanistan. Please keep him and all those in harm's way in your thoughts and prayers.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Robinson, Kim Stanley -- a Science Fiction Writer

Mr. Robinson is identified by The New Yorker, "as one of the greatest living science-fiction writers." He was awarded the Hugo for two of his Mars trilogy books and a Nebula for the third in the trilogy. Plus two more Nebula awards and last year the Robert Heinlein Award for his whole body of work. Oh, my goodness!

And when did I hear about him? About a month ago during an interview he did with NPR. They didn't mention all those awards. (I only mentioned here the ones that mean the most to me. He's got quite a list of them.)

During the interview they described New York 2140 as focusing on the way realistic humans might deal with the world when sea levels rise 50 feet above their current levels and the major cities are and have been flooded for several generations. And they specifically said it is not an apocalyptic view of society.

So, of course, I got on line to my personal source of all things written -- my public library -- and reserved a copy.

The book is complex, peopled with characters from all walks of life. Regular life -- a police detective, a hedge fund operator, a building super, a couple of feral pre-teens, a government/NGO activist (read social worker) and an entertainment personality. Each of whom brings their own community connections. And, of course, some unknown, nefarious speculators intent on a hostile take over of the potentially lucrative intertidal real estate where our regular folk live.

Plus an anonymous citizen who explains the City of New York, its geography, a bit of its history, and its 2140 climatic conditions. All information, I as a non-New Yorker need and am interested in. Though, let me reassure you that it's not necessary that the reader recognize the City's particulars to follow the story.

The story is fairly simple. Climate change has done the inevitable, drowning the major coastal cities of the world with New York being our particular city of interest. American society and government has continued on it merry way meaning that income inequality has escalated and the people's income continues to determine the quality of life they lead and limit their political power. The amazing part to me, is that New York continues to be a people magnet, attracting people to live there in whatever condition they can afford despite its flooding, hostile weather, poor housing, etc.

The story draws us in as the characters work together to change their society to more successfully deal with what to them is New York's normal, if difficult, condition.

There is no lantern jawed hero scientist or bosomy damsel in distress. Well, maybe the entertainment personality, but that's not all there is to her.

I like the idea that a group of regular people can change the status quo and have a chance at making a better world, albeit a seriously flawed physical one.

And you can bet I'm going to be reading much more of Kim Stanley Robinson.

image from El Periódico


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quintessential, etc. Reprise -- flash fiction

Confession time:
I didn't have a Q post ready to go this morning. When I sat down to write one Facebook came up with one of those memories from past posts and this was today's, two years ago. It made me laugh when I wrote it and it made me laugh all over again today. So Fellow A to Z Bloggers you're getting a reprise of an old Q. And I'll use the one I was planning for today for when we get to T.

Quintessential, Quit, Quiet

note the date: 2015

“Oh, my goodness,” she wailed, tears streaking her smoke and ash stained face. “I tried to use the fire distinguisher. I did, but …”

“Maggie, it’s all right. You’re all right.” I hugged her and patted her back. “Take a deep breath, dear. It’ll all be all right.”

“I’m not being historical. Really, I’m not.” She settled against my shoulder, hiccoughing. “But, you always say I should be more remorseful.”

“Resourceful, dear.”

“What?” She pulled away from me, her blue eyes wide, filled with fresh tears.

“Resourceful. I always say you should be more resourceful.”

“I know. That’s why I tried to put it out myself.”

I knew I shouldn't laugh. She was my beautiful daughter who normally smelled of cherry blossoms and lavender. She spoke faster than she thought when she was in the throes of any intense emotion – anger, joy. And today, fear.

“And you did fine. I’m glad the fire department got here so quickly.”

“They asked me how it started. I tried to tell them. But I couldn’t remember all the perpendiculars.
I’m afraid I got them all mixed up.”

I laughed. “You, my dear, are the quintessential master of the malapropism.”

“Quinta what?” She stamped her foot. “Mom, you are being completely nonsensual.”

“Maggie!” I laughed. I cried with laughter. “Maggie, Maggie, please quit. Just be quiet for a little. My cheeks hurt.”


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, and a Blogging Friend -- Nonfiction

John, Anabel, and me
on top of the world

On a clear day it really does seem that you can see forever from the top of Pike's Peak. At 14,115 feet, it's the highest point from there east to the Atlantic Ocean. And looking southeast across the prairie you can see Oklahoma's high point Black Mesa at 5,705 feet. If you know what to look for. That's about 250 miles away. Of course it's much easier to see Pike's Peak from Black Mesa because it seems to rise up alone, right out of the prairie.

Looking west, all you can see is range after range of mountains. Pike's Peak is one of Colorado's 53 Fourteeners -- mountains higher than 14,000 feet above sea level.  It's not the tallest, but it's the most visited mountain in North America.

That snow covered peak rising above the other mountains is Pike's Peak. I took this photo from the top of Green Mountain a couple of miles from my house. And about 100 miles north of Pike's Peak.

There are so many ways to get to the summit 14,115 feet above sea level. There is a paved road to the top and a cog railway.  Motorcycles are popular. You can rent a bicycle or hike it. You can even take the railway part way up then hike the rest of the way. There are outfits that will take you to the top in a van then you can bicycle down. There is an annual marathon running 13.32 miles up then back down again. And the 2nd oldest auto race in North America, The Pike's Peak International Hill Climb covers 12.42 miles of the 16 mile highway to the top. It's a timed race -- one car at a time. For a vicarious adrenaline rush you can watch video of it on YouTube.

When I was growing up in Oklahoma our family vacations took us either to the mountains in Colorado or the beaches on Texas' gulf coast. And, of course Colorado included on one occasion a car trip up Pike's Peak. In those days the highway to the top was not paved. There were even fewer safety rails along it then than there are now, and there are none to many now. Because of the altitude my Dad had to stop in Colorado Springs and have our car's carburetor adjusted so we could make it to the top.

My Momma was afraid of heights. Actually, I am, too. But I love Pike's Peak! Momma liked Garden of the Gods better. It's a beautiful public park in Colorado Springs at the foot of Pike's Peak. It has dramatic, natural sandstone formations. And no heart-stopping drop offs.

Did I say "on one occasion" Daddy drove to the top of Pike's Peak? I didn't make it up again until my husband Scott and I moved here five and a half years ago. Since then I've been up it several times and enjoyed it every time. There are, after all, special donuts in the gift shop/snack bar at the top. Making donuts at that altitude takes a very special recipe. And they are wonderful.

When I heard that my blogging friend Anabel of  The Glasgow Gallivanter and her husband John were coming to the U.S. to explore Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, I quick quick contacted her and asked if we could meet while they were in Denver.

As a matter of fact, we ran across each other's blogs during an A to Z Blogging Challenge. She is a retired librarian and writes travel blogs. John does her photography and is an electronics engineer and Dean at the University of Glasgow.

We agreed to get together one day while they were in Denver on their way home. I don't know about Anabel and John, but I had great anxiety about meeting her in person. I do very well with people reading and writing, but in person there's always the concern that they might not like me. Or like the things I like. Or the places I like to go.

From reading her blog I knew they hiked a lot. But by last September my hiking days were pretty well on hold. I needed knee replacements, but couldn't get that done while my father still lived. He was in hospice care and I needed to be able to see him everyday or at least almost every day. And I needed not to go further afield than a couple hours from home. There had been no time for me to have surgery and rehab.

So I was pretty limited to within close driving of Denver and things we could do that didn't require any serious walking.

My three favorite places in Colorado are the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Pike's Peak. In that order.

Anabel and John were planning to see Rocky Mountain National Park on their own, which was good because it was too far away for me to go. That left DMNS and Pike's Peak. Well, I figured as many places as they've been, they've seen their share of museums. Then Scott offered to drive us up Pike's Peak.

Honestly, that's the most exciting way to see it. Before you get above timberline it's not so scary, because if for some reason you missed a turn, the trees are thick enough, they'd break your fall down the mountain. Trees don't grow above timberline -- too cold, not enough water, and high winds. In Colorado that varies from 11,000 to 12,000 feet. Above timberline, there's nothing to break your fall if you miss that curve.

I trust my husband's driving unreservedly.

And you really must read Anabel's blogs about their visit to Tibet. Pike's Peak couldn't possibly be that big a deal. (See the link above to the Glasgow Gallivanter.)

Needless, to say, we made it safely up and down and then drove through Garden of the Gods.

John and Anabel                                                      and Scott       
Living proof that we made it back down the mountain to Garden of the Gods

And I guess they liked me well enough, because they took us up on our invitation to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science the next day.

I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them and they taught me what it takes to be a good traveler -- the courage to take a chance and the flexibility to deal with whatever comes up.

I've got new knees and am working hard at rehab, so the next time they come through Denver, maybe I can keep up with them. And we can actually do some hiking.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

One of Those Days -- flash fiction

image from clipartfest

"Xcell Enegy, how may I direct your call?"

"Hello, this is Angela Spivey. I live at ..."


"Not now, Honey. I live ..."

"Momma?" The child climbed onto a stool at his mother's left elbow.

"Just a minute, Baby." She turned her back on the child. "I live at fourteen oh four ...."

"Momma," the child tapped his mothers arm.

"Fourteen oh four South ..."

"Please hold."

"No, wait .... My electricity ...."

The child tapped her arm again. "Momma." Tap, tap. "Momma..."

"Your call is very important to us." Dissonant video game music filled the phone.

Tap, tap. "Momma."

"If you are calling to report ..."

Pinch. "MOMMA."

She flinched and glared at the child.

" outage, you may contact us online at xcel dot ..."

Apparently afraid to repeat the pinching, the child tapped her arm. "Momma." Tap, tap, tap.

She slammed the receiver down and turned on the child.


Shocked into silence, the child couldn't remember what he wanted.

All the mother wanted was to change her name to anything other than "Momma" and have the electricity come back on.


Monday, April 17, 2017

No One Snaps Beans with Grandma Anymore -- Nonfiction

Or shells peas or shucks corn or pieces quilts or, for that matter, quilts with Grandma anymore.

This was the title of a piece that showed up on my Facebook feed and now I can't for the life of me locate the article. It doesn't really matter. Whatever point the article made, the title makes the point for me that we need to take time to explore our history.

Not the history that Miss Hall taught us in the eleventh grade. That history was about people so important that they have become legends. People who wrote the Declaration of Independence and spoke the Gettysburg Address and spoke the I Have a Dream speech.

I mean our history. Our stories. And we didn't get them just snapping beans. We got them around the dinner table. Or in the early evening sitting on the front porch. At family picnics when the little kids sat on the ice-cream churn holding the top down while the men cranked and cranked until the ice cream was frozen enough to make churning nearly impossible.

Or in the car when us kids couldn't stand Daddy's Country and Western music and he couldn't stand our Rock and Roll so the radio just rode along silently while someone said "Do you remember the time..." Or someone else pointed out the place where Great Grandpa and Great Grandma first settled when they came to Oklahoma -- the men and big boys came in a covered wagon along with the livestock, the women and little children came on the train.

The story about Grandma's grandpa who was still picking cotton at age 94 and making his grandchildren hop to keep up with him.

The story about a time when Grandpa could ride a horse in the Deep Fork Creek Valley through grass so tall you couldn't see the horse.

And about Granddad carrying planks in the back of a vehicle he called "the duck" to lay across creeks where there was no bridge so he could deliver the mail.

The story about Dad's being sent by steam locomotive from Rhode Island, a place none of us were quite sure where it was, all the way across the United States to the West Coast to be shipped to the South Seas in World War II. And how they had to go north from Denver into Wyoming, then west across the Rockies, because the mountains weren't so tall there and the train could pull the grade.

About the mean rooster that flogged my cousin Chris who was just a little boy. And we had that rooster the next day for Sunday dinner.

About watching Neil Armstrong in that grainy, black and white, TV picture take humanity's first step on the moon. Astronaut Armstrong was definitely the stuff of legend, but the people in the den watching were my story. There were nine people, three generations -- some watching avidly as history was made, a couple oohing and ahhhing over a new baby and a couple more playing with a new puppy. It seemed to me that I, alone, understood the importance of the television event.

Actually, I alone was missing history being made right there in that room with me. Now, the old people who were in that room are long gone. They took with them, the recipe for Big Mama's Fresh Apple Cake, stories of the early days in the uranium ball mills of New Mexico and the oil fields of Oklahoma. Even the baby has grown children and I've lost touch with him and all his stories.

The important thing about snapping beans and shelling peas, is being present to our own histories as they're being told. Indeed, as they're being made.

Where was I when the big world events were making news? When the Cuban Missile Crises made the news? When President Kennedy was murdered? When my friends were being shipped to Vietnam. When the Oklahoma City Bombing happened? When the World Trade Center was attacked?

How did I meet my first husband? What was it like when my son was born? What went wrong with that first marriage? How did I meet the man I happily live with now. What was it like when my daughter was born.

Where have all those people gone? What did they do?

Where are all those people still in what is becoming my history? What are they doing right now, today? What will they do as they make their way in the world?

What are we doing? How will we make our way?

We don't need to snap beans anymore. We can if we want to. Better yet, we can take the time whenever, wherever. To find out what that youngest grandchild's favorite color is? Take a ride with the newest licensed driver in the family. With the radio turned off, of course. Watch the video of the band performance and basketball game on Facebook.

We can scrapbook, read our daughter-in-law's blog, attend a slam poetry competition, listen with enthusiasm to a discussion of soda firing pottery.

The venues may have changed, but we're still busy making our histories. And we can still pay attention.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mildred and the Bank Robbery -- fiction

"I know downsizing is hard, but did you have a good turn-out for your sale?" Carmichael asked as he opened the car door for Mildred.

"A good what?" she asked propping her cane against the console as she got in.

"A good sale? Were you able to sell everything you didn't want to keep?" He spoke more loudly.

"You've got to speak up, Dear. And, yes, I was able to sleep. She settled herself into the car seat and put her handbag on the floor at her feet.

"No, not sleep. Did you sell everything you didn't want to keep?" He closed her door and went around to the driver's side door.

"I'm sorry. I can't hear you over that radio."

He turned the radio off. "Mildred, are you wearing your hearing aids?" he asked pointing at his own ears.

"No. Forgot to get batteries, but I can hear well enough if you will speak up and speak clearly."

He made no further attempt at conversation. "I'll just let you off at the bank and run over to the pharmacy for a minute," Carmichael turned into the parking lot. "Would you like me to get anything for you?"

"That's all right, Dear, you can just let me out in front," Mildred said gathering her purse and cane.

"I'll pick you up some batteries," he said.

"You know, you might pick me up some batteries, if you don't mind. They know what size I use."

Mildred smiled at the tellers as she crossed the lobby. She never could remember that blonde girl's name. Ashley or Amy or something like that. The young black woman's name was Julia.

First thing in the morning when the bank was just opening was the best time of day to come. It was never crowded then. Come around closing time and you'd be lucky if there wasn't a line practically out the door. There were only two other patrons at the windows. She didn't know either of them. She didn't see the Renfro boy at all. He was her favorite teller. His father and her youngest son Jerry played on the same baseball team in high school. He was probably in the back.

She took her purse over to the counter against the wall. She seldom made deposits any more since her Social Security and annuity checks were set up on that direct deposit program. She resisted making the change, but it turned out she was wrong. Direct deposit really was more convenient and she hadn't had any problem with them losing her checks or depositing them in somebody else's account. A pleasant surprise, she must say.

Jerry had offered to fill out her deposit slip for her at home. He was a good boy. A really good help getting everything ready for the sale. But she didn't want to be a bother. Plus she didn't think it was safe to endorse the checks until she was at the bank. After all, anybody could cash them then.

She chose a deposit slip from the documents in cubbies at the back of the counter and rummaged in her purse for that silver and gold ballpoint her granddaughter Chelsea gave her for Christmas last year. She removed the oversized paper clip from the eleven checks and began carefully entering the information onto the correct lines of the deposit slip.

As she concentrated on the work at hand, three men entered the bank behind her. She didn't notice them. They wore black hoodies and distorted masks that looked like that painting by Edvard Munch. She knew his name, but she hadn't the vaguest idea which of the Scandinavian countries he was from. Or maybe he was Austrian.

"Everyone get up against that wall," the men ordered.

There must have been screams, but Mildred didn't notice. She made every effort to endorse each check with her best handwriting which was not as good as it had been when she was in school. She still had the certificate showing she'd won third place in penmanship in the state competition when she was in the fourth grade.

Using the calculator function on her cell phone she added the entries three times, coming up with the same total twice. Close enough, she decided. And kids these days didn't think someone her age could use electronics.

Before leaving, the masked men herded everyone but Mildred into the vault and closed the door. Why the robbers let her continue working at the counter no one would be able to explain.

She looped the handles of her bag over her left arm, gathered the completed deposit slip and the endorsed checks in one hand and her cane in the other, and turned toward the teller windows. The room was empty.

"Amy?" she called quietly. Or maybe it was Ashley. The two customers she didn't know were gone. Julia was gone. She walked toward the back of the bank. "Jared. Jared Renfro?"

Just then Carmichael came through the glass doors into the lobby, his face ashen. "Mildred, are you hurt?"

"Do what? Speak up, man. I can't hear a word you're saying." She looked around the room again. "Where is everyone?"

"The bank's been robbed." Carmichael shouted at her. "I saw them leave."

By then, the police had arrived and the bank employees and other patrons were being freed.

Carmichael helped her to a chair and got her a glass of water. "I got your hearing aid batteries," he said.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Locavore Reading -- Book Review

Stephen White image from Denver Post

How do you find the next book to read? I've heard it said that some people go to a bookstore and open a likely book, read whatever page they've fallen upon, and decide whether or not to read the rest of the book. Other people read the back cover or the endorsements from famous authors just inside the front cover. I even know people who actually read the reviews in the New York Times.

Me? I listen to interviews on NPR. Or my retired librarian friend Lou brings me the book she's just finished so I can read it and return it to the library before its due date. Sometimes my husband recommends a book he's just finished. Or my daughter, the poet, Grace Wagner assigns a must-read.

When I worked at the Edmond Public Library in Edmond, Oklahoma, I often read books that were being checked out and in a lot. This, dear friends, is not nearly as successful as recommendations from family, friends, and NPR. One rule that I developed while reading those books was that if I didn't like a book, I read one more by the same author before I write them off completely.

I am an indiscriminate reader, but I especially like mysteries -- thrillers, not so much. I value characters over plot. And, in my own work, I take pride in writing dialogue.

Richard in my walking group happened to mention that Stephen White wrote what he thought to be the best dialogue he'd ever read. The scene was a woman in shock trying to tell a police officer that she'd been raped. But he couldn't remember the title of the book. And bye-the-bye, White is a Colorado writer.

I will gladly eat grapes from Chile in January and strawberries from Mexico in February. But I'm an unabashed locavore when it comes to consuming books. I believe in supporting local authors.

White himself was a practicing clinical psychologist in Denver. His book The Last Lie opens with the scene my friend described and its dialogue is very well done. The Last Lie is the 18th of 20 books about Alan Gregory, a clinical psychologist who practices in Boulder. (My husband derisively refers to Boulder as San Francisco East because of its unapologetically left-leaning politics. Not a problem for me.)

I was, however, put off by White's first-person writing style. I have good reasons for preferring third-person. I'm sure I do. The only one I can think of off-hand is that the writer can't show the reader anything the protagonist can't see.

Plus, I'd never followed murder mysteries solved by a clinical psychologist. A Los Angeles cop. A San Francisco lawyer. A Colorado caterer. A little old lady who lived in Cabot Cove. Okay, so why not a psychologist?

Three things hooked me right away.

1.) White's language is a good three steps above most mystery writers. Who but a psychologist would describe a song getting stuck in his head as "one of those songs that could stick to my dendrites like a wad of gum adheres to the sole of my shoe."

2.) And he's a bit snarky. He describes "A waitress--some people wear their Boulder-ness so visibly that it is as obvious as a brightly colored outer garment....She had a touch of glittery makeup on the lids above her pale eyes. Maybe some eyeliner. I pegged her as waiting for the ski resorts to gear up so she could spend her days doing some serious boarding. For an underemployed recent grad, being a ski bum had to be more alluring than slinging Scottish ale and grilled cheese sandwiches."

But the pièce de résistance.

3.)  Lucile's Creole Cafe. On page 59, White's hero has breakfast at Lucile's. Yes, it is a real restaurant! there are now six of them scattered across the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. You can get red beans and rice, shrimp and grits, and beignets from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Maybe not Café du Monde, but I can attest to their beignets being the next best!

The book itself was a little too Agatha Christie for me. In one of the chapters toward the end it tells you what happened, because of course, being first-person White couldn't give us enough information to figure it out by ourselves. So what's to keep a reader from skipping to that chapter and finding out who done it and why?

To give White a fair chance, I went back and read his very first in the series, Privileged Information, which I think is the much better of the two. It's rather interesting, in that it goes into some detail about means and methods of psychotherapy. It also discusses at some length the concept of privileged information. Both food for thought.

Will I read another of his novels? Maybe. But I can guarantee I'll eat at Lucile's again the first chance I get.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Kendrick Lake Park -- nonfiction

Kendrick Lake is one of the several walks we do. The trail around the lake is one mile. It is generally not too much uphill nor too much downhill. That's important because people who walk with us are at all fitness levels.

Our walking group is very fluid. Anywhere from three to ten walk on any given day. Here are five of our walking group.

Kendrick Lake is especially fun because the people who live along the shore decorate for the holidays and maintain beautiful flower and vegetable gardens.

             Halloween Spider. It moves!                         and the Grinch rises up out of the chimney.

Donut Burst
Our walks are not just for physical fitness. They are also for our mental health. So after the fresh air and restoration by virtue of Mother Nature, we meet for coffee and whatever. We have different favorites depending on which place we walk. When we walk Kendrick Lake we either meet at Donut Burst or Taste of Denmark. We share political opinions, book and movie recommendations, find out about travel destinations and new grand babies. And generally solve the world's problems.

Kendrick Lake is five minutes from my home and like most everywhere in Lakewood has a beautiful view of Green Mountain. The lake has been an inspiration for two pieces of short fiction. It has a thick reed bed at the west end -- a perfect place to hide bodies! Did I mention that I write murder mysteries?

Kendrick Lake with a shaft of sunlight illuminating
a patch of Green Mountain