Sunday, August 21, 2016

Frog and the Buddha Head East

One week ago some people who love me agreed to give up an entire Saturday and work hard all day in sweltering temperatures to move everything in my Ontario house forty miles east to Calimesa. Bless them. Bless them forever. I stayed one more night in the neighborhood of loud parties, gun shots, cherry bombs and burglars, then scooped my cats into carriers, called Sgt. ThomasTibbs into the extra cab of the truck, and off we went to pursue new adventures (with hope and a prayer for peace and quiet).

The first night was bliss. We slept with the window open, a cool breeze wafting in across our faces (well, mine and the cats—Thomas sleeps in his cushy bed on the floor). No booms. No drunken voices shouting. No sirens deep in the night. Just quiet.

I am happy to say the bliss has continued unabated.

Calimesa is a small town of rolling hills just east of Yucaipa (which is just east of Redlands—and there is a Trader Joe's in Redlands, so further bliss). Because this oasis in which I live is on a slight rise, Thomas and I are surrounded by sweeping vistas to the east (sunrise!), north (the mountains!) and west (sunset!) when we walk—and now we are walking in the morning and the evening as well. There is an orchard on the property here, and I have augmented my breakfast cereal with fresh peaches a few times or savored a ripe plum with my lunch. Watching the ducks glide across the lake at dawn is both calming and renewing.

A lot of the residents here (Plantation on the Lake, a 55+ community) drive around the property—to the pool or lake or fitness room or mailboxes—on golf carts. Often a small dog will accompany them, sitting happily on the front bench seat, leaned against the thigh of its person, enjoying the wind blowing across its face, as dogs do. When someone passes us, they wave. Everyone does this. So I've joined in, waving to those I pass as I head out in the truck or ride my bike to pick up my mail. It's a lovely gesture, isn't it? Just the simple acknowledgement of a fellow human. "I see you, and I greet you with kindness."

Several friends have asked why I moved to Calimesa. Oh dear. That story began long ago... in the winter of 1983. It's a story of fate, romance, longing and life change. And it is too long to add on here as a postscript. So it will have to be the subject of next week's post. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Here's a happy ending for ya!

A few months back I was experiencing a moral dilemma, and I posted about it on Facebook, asking folks to chime in with their thoughts. The kids next door, as long as I’ve lived here, have been throwing stuff in my yard—some things got here unintentionally, I know, but others were shot across the fence while I was actually in the yard working in the garden, and there was definitely mischief about. The kids never came over to get their stuff back, so I just started collecting it in the garage—especially after their three-foot-long Styrofoam glider landed in my yard. My dilemma concerned what to do with all that stuff upon my move from the premises. The comments of my friends on Facebook ranged from, ‘Just give them their stuff back; they’re just children!’ to private messages advising me to get Child Protective Services involved as the wild children certainly must have negligent parents, and every nuance of response in between.

My favorite response came from my beloved friend and former student, Josh Reed, who sent me a private message to gently and lovingly suggest that I exchange kindness for malice, returning the kids’ toys just before I left, perhaps with a note asking them to be nice to the new people moving in. It touched my heart so much that I decided that would be my tentative plan of action.

Today is Thursday. I move out on Saturday. This afternoon, I opened the garage, pulled the old lawn mower out and mowed the lawn for the last time (here, anyway). As I was edging with the trimmer, the two little elves from next door approached me. They’ve never spoken to me before. The ten-year-old (hereinafter referred to as Big Boy) let the five-year-old (hereinafter referred to as Little Boy) go first.

“Excuse me,” he said. I put down the trimmer and pulled up the painter’s mask I have to wear while doing yard work. Encouraged, he continued.

“Can we have our plane back? It flew in your yard. It was an accident!” he added quickly. “It went in there a long time ago but, um, we forgot to ask you for it and, um, our mom said we should ask you.” He gestured toward his driveway. Their mother stood there, shielding her eyes, watching out for her boys.

“I have your plane,” I told him. “And I have all the other stuff you’ve thrown in my yard. Little Boy looked hopeful. Big Boy suddenly looked alarmed… and a bit ashamed. “I’ll give it back to you,” I told them, “if you promise you won’t ever throw stuff in my yard or at my dog again.”

Simultaneously Little Boy happily exclaimed “Okay!” and Big Boy looked down at the sidewalk, putting a finger to his lips. Oh, what a tell! When my boys were little, this would be the point at which I would say, “You just told on yourself.”

“I think you know you threw some of those things on purpose.” I waited. Big Boy nodded his head, still staring at the sidewalk. I told them I would be moving on Saturday (they hadn’t known), and I made them promise they would be nice to the new people moving in and never throw things in the yard on purpose. Then together we walked to the garage, and I loaded them up with various balls and darts and toys and the longed-for glider. They could hardly carry it all, and they skipped back down the sidewalk to their own house. As I picked up the trimmer, I heard Little Boy recounting the story to his mom, telling her with great enthusiasm that they had promised they would be nice to the new neighbors and not throw things in their yard. Well, if Mama wasn’t aware of their behavior previously, she is now.

All’s well that ends well, eh? Thank you, Josh.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Big News!

I'm moving. On a Thursday three weeks ago I put an offer on a home in Calimesa and listed my house for sale. The listing went up on the Multiple Listing Service at 1:00p.m. and the first call requesting a showing came in thirty-five minutes later. They wanted to see the house that night. I actually showed it twice that night. And ten times over the weekend. By Monday we had three offers. I chose the first people because, well, they were first. And we bonded over our love of dogs.

And so for the past three weeks I have been immersed in the dark dank catacombs housed beneath the Institution of Real Estate, signing papers, greeting strangers at my door with a forced smile and allowing them to traipse through my home unsupervised as they inspect and appraise (and scare the cats and the dog), and, of course, signing more papers. (Have you ever carefully looked at a "proceeds sheet"? Man, when you sell a home, it's like you're throwing a party for strangers and everyone gets a piece of the cake. I'm handing money over to people whose faces I will never see for services they performed behind closed doors in an escrow office.)

At first, I was motivated in my packing by two things:

1. I can't wait to move out of this neighborhood and into the new one.
2. The buyers of this house began chanting, "Let's close quick-ly!" on the day I accepted their offer, and their voices have only gotten louder and more urgent as the days have flown by. Plus now I think I hear drumbeats to accompany them.

So where normally at this time of the summer I'd be returning from a relaxing trip to Missouri or driving down to Laguna to walk on the beach of a morning or sitting in a cool movie theater watching Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, I'm packing, cleaning, packing, organizing, packing, donating, packing (and occasionally getting a glimpse of one or two of my children and grandchildren).

This week the stress is starting to take its toll. Let me state the obvious here: It's all fun and games being a single, independent woman in good health with no one to answer to except one sweet dog and a couple of cats, but when you're in a race against time to pack up a three-bedroom home (in addition to fulfilling all those other paper-signing and inspection obligations) and it's hot and you're tired (because you're not sleeping well because somewhere in the neighborhood someone is STILL setting off explosives at night), it sucks to be alone. We were meant to have companionship, to have a shoulder to lean on when we're exhausted, to have a partner in our corner who will say, "Come on, we'll get it done. I'll help you."

I'm trying to think of something flippant to follow that with, like, "In lieu of that, I'm eating more ice-cream" or "At least I only have to pack my own dirty laundry," but the truth is, I'm really struggling here. So I decided to write it out. (Yes, I know, these few moments of venting could have been spent packing. But sometimes you have to cut open a vein and let the toxins run out for awhile. So... mission accomplished.)

Addendum: I had just finished writing this and had gone to the kitchen for some more iced tea when the phone rang. My youngest son was calling from Ohio to tell me he'd taken care of some old debts and raised his credit score by 30 points. (Atta boy!) But we also talked at length about my move, and he reminded me that there will be a great deal of peace and enjoyment on the far side of this journey, so "That must help keep you going somewhat, right?" Right, my son. With that in mind, I'm going to go pack a few more boxes.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Madam President? The Good News and the Bad News

Tonight at the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton will take the stage to accept her party’s nomination as their candidate for President of the United States. All around the country, women young and old will cheer—or at least smile—to know that a chick is finally busting into a previously male-dominated arena and kicking some serious ass. Yay. Good on you, Mrs. Clinton, Madam-President-to-be. Personally, I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I voted for him (yes, even as an avowed feminist, I picked the man over the woman) in the California primary, but I’m still happy that a woman has made this advancement on the part of all women who feel they should be able to attain the same goals as do men in this country. By the way, this does not make us special or progressive as a nation. Around the globe currently there are twenty-two women serving as leaders of their countries, most of them elected (a couple of them appointed). Yep, as sophisticated as we believe we are, we are still kind of backwards in some social settings. (Huh. That reminds me of someone else who is running for President.)

So that’s all good news. Yay us! Yay women! Yay USA! I’m a proud patriot, so any time we get something right, I am figuratively yet fervently waving my flag.

But know what puts the damper on my enthusiasm for all this history-in-the-making with Hillary? It’s the fact that she’s about to be attacked and vilified for months. And that won’t stop once she’s in office. I don’t mean the same type of political attacks and posturing that occurs in all election cycles. I mean the ugly, name calling, hate and fear mongering crap that started with the election of The First Black President of the United States. When Barack Obama announced his intention to run for President, I was over-the-moon happy. I had wished it for him four years prior when he gave his amazing address to the Democratic Convention of 2004. But now that he has served two terms, I regret wishing it for him. I think, having been subjected to the absolute worst manifestations of our country’s ugliness, he must be emerging from the office a changed man. I know I would be. If he’s not, he’s a better person than I am, by far. It wasn’t just the constant reminders from Republicans that they absolutely hated him and would never let him come near accomplishing all that he wanted to do (although he did get quite a bit done in spite of them), there were also the constant horrible racist postings about him on social media, to say nothing of the death threats.

Hillary will face this. Just as there were those who believed no Black man should ever be President, there are those who believe no woman should ever be in a position of power and authority. So, just as Barack Obama was throughout his time in office, Hillary Clinton will be threatened and targeted and criticized and maligned. But damn, the lady has some huge… well, she has courage and fortitude. So yay her! And really, all things considered, yay us again! For as much hate and ugliness as we’ve seen in the past few months, there has been a lot of love. And as Hillary Clinton supporters have demonstrated, love trumps hate.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Glimpse of the Future

On several early mornings now, while driving Thomas at a snail’s pace up to the bike trail for our long morning walk, I have passed a very old man walking along the sidewalk on 7th Street. In his gnarled left hand, he holds the leash of a medium-sized dog, perhaps a terrier and cattle dog mix. The fingers of his right hand curl around the handle of a doll stroller, and he pushes it before them as he and the dog walk ever so slowly down the street.

Though I’ve seen them several times now, I haven’t been able to determine what’s in the doll stroller, but it looks like a small cooler, the type one would use to carry a bottle of water and perhaps a sandwich. Or possibly, if one had a worrisome wife or husband at home, extra medication… and contact information. I can only conjecture.

The dog is not an old dog. It is not stiff or plodding in its gait. It’s blocky, cattle dog head is held high, pointy ears straight up at attention. Its eyes are bright and clear as it surveys the landscape around them. One would think that such a dog would long to trot forward, sniff the grass, examine the shrubs along their route, and pee copiously. This dog does not. It matches its pace to the slow, methodical pace of the very old man as it marches majestically beside him.

My friends and I (those of us who love our dogs as if they are our children) wonder, “How will I walk my dogs when I am very old?” Let’s remember the doll stroller, shall we? If nothing else, it will offer something solid to lean on as we make our way down the road.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

More on The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford

Bertha Gifford's first husband was Henry Graham (which would make him my great-grandfather) Recently I met a cousin with whom I am related through the Graham family. (Thank you, thank you, Before we met, she had already learned of Henry's infamous wife and had read the new, independently published version of my book, The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford.

When we met for lunch, Laurie didn't know anything about me other than what she'd read on my blog and that we shared great-great-grandparents. As we chatted about the book, though, I was struck by how similar our perspective on it was. She kept going back to the so-called "confession," the statement Bertha gave to Sheriff Georg regarding her personal use of arsenic as a medication and how she had administered it while acting as a volunteer nurse. Laurie's thought was this: If her intent had been murder, why would she readily volunteer this information? Wouldn't she instead try to deny it?

I come back to that point frequently myself, and I'm also quite sure that what Sheriff Georg asked her to sign was a statement summarizing what she'd said. Not until the statement was given to the press was it characterized as a "confession." Yep, we've all seen those true crime shows—48 Hours, Dateline, Cold Case Files—in which the perpetrator sits for hours in a small interrogation room being questioned repeatedly, and we all hope to see the moment in which the guilty individual will finally cave and come clean. This was not the case with Bertha. Sheriff Georg put her in a room alone and simply left her there for hours. I'm guessing by the time he finally returned and asked her for a statement about her use of arsenic, she was anxious to comply so that she could get back home to the farm and her husband, her son and her granddaughter (my mother). She never expected to be arrested based on the contents of that document.

Let me repeat what I've said countless times before: I make no attempt to exonerate her. I just want people to think through all of the known facts before making a judgment about her.

Friday, June 10, 2016

+1 Wherein I return without delay to my previous occupation after a thirty-year absence (of sorts)

I wasn't supposed to be a teacher. I knew from a young age that I had been gifted with the ability to write (a gift I do not take lightly), and I also knew that I was a damn fine horse trainer, patient as the day is long and able to get along better with most horses than I did with people. So my career goal in high school centered around those two endeavors. I thought if I could find the right partner in life, I could settle in to a routine which included working horses in the morning hours and writing in the afternoons. For a tiny space of time, I reached that goal—but then was thrust clean out of the end zone by life's capriciousness (if you'll forgive a football metaphor in a writer/horsewoman post).

When I found myself single at thirty with four kids and no child support from their daddy (the guy who said, "Let's have six!"), I knew I needed to do something quick, so I went back to school to get my teaching credential as teaching would afford me the most amount of time—winter break, spring break, summer break—with my children. When I took off my stay-at-home mom/writer hat and donned the mortarboard of academia, I'd already published one book (at the age of twenty-three) and was smack dab in the middle of writing a second. (That second book, which I abandoned during my divorce, would have been a good one... but was never finished.)

In all fairness, I can't say I haven't been writing in the past thirty years. I have. I've had three more books published, and I've seen my work in national periodicals such as The Writer and the Christian Science Monitor, in addition to the Los Angeles Times.  (Yay me!) But one of those books was written in the short span of a ten-week summer break. Another, the YA novel, was written in just thirty days during NaNoWriMo. So the writing has been on the back burner while teaching has been my day job.

Yesterday, I carefully removed all the remaining bobby pins from my mortarboard and wrapped it up in metaphorical plastic to be stored forever as a memento of the job I came to love so much it stopped being a "job" years ago.

And today I woke at 4:00 (old habits die hard), crawled out of bed (carefully, as Purrl will sink her claws into my leg to keep me in bed like a sleepy teen slamming the snooze button), pulled on a comfortable old pair of cargo pants and a t-shirt, and set my writer's hat jovially, insouciantly, enthusiastically and passionately upon my head. Hallelujah! It still fits!