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October 4th, 2021

Upon Waking

I took this picture just after I woke up. An altar to beauty and an altar to memory. Each item on that table, including the table itself, evokes a memory of person, place—a moment—in time past. I suppose if Marcel Proust can write an enormous book about searching for memories of past times, I can manage a blog post.


I have just marked four months in my new home on Samish Island—no boat or ferry needed—a land bridge was built from earth dug up by early farmers in the valley to build dikes to keep their farms from flooding. I live in a little house built in the late 19th Century. It began life as the Atlanta Tavern. And later it became the home of early pioneers on the island. I’m sitting on land between Padilla Bay and the Samish Sea which was the home of Native Americans for hundreds of years. It is very beautiful.

So that table. Wood with inlaid marquetry. Slender. Just the correct size to stand across from the foot of my bed. It belonged to my dear friends, Jeff and Helene. They gave it to me when they left Seattle for Brooklyn. I think of them each time I touch the table.

At one end of the table I have placed a beautiful 19th Century etching of Jerusalem—the city on the hill. My sisters Rebecca, Deborah, and Troya bought it for me when they came to visit Seattle many years ago. I was very touched at their thoughtfulness. I love the golden light. The winding road up to the city. I remember my first visit to Israel and the road from Ben Gurion Airport taking me up the hill. What a long ride that was so many years ago. So many stories, lives, so much history.

But what catches your eye, the star of the show, is the glorious hand- painted maquette—a weavers guide—that runs almost the entire length of the table. It is painted on paper—old, wrinkled but still vibrant. Sound like anyone you know?

I bought that piece from a dealer in Tacoma many years ago for my wonderful store in Seattle—Found Objects. Actually, I bought maybe a hundred or so of similar pieces which I pinned to the very high walls in Found Objects creating a visual symphony. Each piece in varied size, design and color was somehow harmonious together. I sold all of them save this one.


Memories of Found Objects are always happy ones. I am touched when I meet someone who remembers the store and tells me about something they own that they bought at the store. I feel so honored to know that they found a treasure that made them happy. Found Objects was a work of love. A joy. Wonderful staff, wonderful customers, and a wonderful landlord—Melvin Poll—may he rest in peace.

Tall candle sticks made of odd pieces of plumbing and pipes kinda eccentric and irregular suit me just fine. Their dangling crystal drops seem incongruous among the pipe fittings but they make me smile.

The two Chinese bowls I bought from Mike at District are holding blue stone grapes—more offerings to the gods. The bottle of fragrance, a gift from a friend, is also. Aren’t all offerings clouded by mirrors and aromatic smoke?

Lying flat and not easy for you to “read” are some old—very old—scraps of decorative molding. (I shot a separate picture so you can see more detail.) I picked them up out of boxes lying beside the walk way in Florence. Scraps salvaged from the flood that ravaged that city in 1966. Some institution must have been cleaning out its storerooms because I was there in the late 80’s. I took as much of the small carved wooden pieces as I could stuff into my back pack. This larger one was a treasure since it is painted a deep red with gilt trim. I assume there were many such pieces put out for the taking. No one even seemed to notice or care that I was picking from the boxes. I am always reminded of Florence, Rome, and all the other places I visited over many years when I see these lovely pieces hand carved by artisans living hundreds of years ago.

Sitting on top of the painted wooden trim piece is a gift from Curtis Steiner. He came to my home for dinner and brought this along. It’s a sheaf of wheat made of gold wire. You often see these sheafs in the hand of statues from ancient times. I imagine to indicate abundance and good harvest. Curtis is a master at creating an abundance of beauty wherever he treads.

The crystal-handled brush and several others similar to it were purchased at a big out door flea in lower Manhattan. They were all sold at Found Objects but I kept this one. If I remember correctly, my dear friend Betsy was with me on this shopping adventure. She would trundle me from 156th and Riverside Drive where she lives in her trusty old Subaru and schlep me and all the stuff I bought back to the packing store. You’ll hear more about Betsy soon. We’re about to embark on a big road trip from Manhattan to Bar Harbor, Maine. Stay tuned.

The yellow Chinese pot is waiting for an orchid or some other perfect posy to rest inside. I bought it at Housewright Gallery a beautiful store in Seattle. I believe the pot is conventionally filled with artists brushes, but I don’t have any of them, so a plant will have to fill in.

We’ve come to the end of the tour or my altar. I am a fortunate woman and I am grateful. I offer the closing words from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Place I Want to Get Back To”

”If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named
Gratitude.”

July 14, 2021

“What’s New!”

Happy Quatorze Juillet—The Fete Nationale or to most Americans, Bastille Day

I haven’t written a post for a while—I moved on May 31, and have spent June and half of July just getting things set up. Mostly complete at this point but pictures remain seated on the floor, and garden beds are desperate for help. I remind myself that slow is good!

I moved to Samish Island—once a true island now you drive on. Many people visit Bow/Edison two wonderfully charming little towns in the gorgeous Skagit Valley founded in the late 1800’s, they retain what I can best describe as an arty-hippy vibe.

But few come to Samish Island unless you live here or a friend does. There is no commerce at all on the Island, but scenery abounds as well as heron, eagles, and all kinds of small birds whose names I do not know. Deer, and perhaps other small beasts—I hope so—but haven’t seen any yet save once when I spied a young deer nibbling something in the garden bed. She left a large brown blob as a calling card!

Sitting quietly on my $10 purchased-at-a-garage-sale wicker chair on my porch is the best. Usually a bevy at hand and a book on my lap. Early morning—birds sing and the two mile loop walk beckons. Early evening birds sing, breezes whisper, the Samish Sea and Padilla Bay shimmy and shake as the glorious sun sets.

But I wanted to write about snakes or serpents. Yep. I bought a marvelous linen table cloth and as I examined it carefully saw that the brilliant artiste Nathalie Lete who designed it used winding snakes to circle and slink around the cloth’s border. I’ve never been a big fan of snakes, but I resolved to love these creatures because I adore the tablecloth.

I’ve wondered why my immediate impulse is to turn and run when I encounter a snake. I don’t think my response is really fear, I think it’s two fold: the suddenness of a snake’s appearance in my path and the psychological message we’ve been given that snakes are bad. I think that stems from Genesis. Eve, or Hava, is bad—she defied the rules—she took a bite from the apple. And both Eve and the serpent are punished.

I’ve thought a lot about this lately and I think Eve was curious and intelligent. She wanted to have knowledge. Good for her! I’ve never been very good about keeping rules either. All this is to let you know that when I was gardening a few weeks ago this little snake came sliding by quite near me. I stopped, stayed still and watched. S/he moved along smoothly and silently. Where to, I don’t know. Out of sight.

So now I know to watch out for this visitor. To watch where I shovel and hoe. To be alert for another visit. I’m also told that her/his visit was an auspicious moment. That it was a “howdy to you, new girl” from my small, silent neighbor.

May 20th, 2021

“A Simple Twist of Fate”

From Blood on the Tracks 1975 Bob Dylan

With a deep bow and heartfelt salute to Bob

I’m in the throes of packing. Third move in five years. You know how much you uncover as you pack—LOTS! I came across this piece written in August 2019. It remains pertinent—kinda a measure of my travels—figurative and real. And I love the song.

My old workhorse, the ‘03 Passat wagon with only 68K miles on it is going to the knackers. That car has been my friend, my companion, my safety net, my freedom, my liberation. We drove seven thousand miles over hill and dale in 2011 as I sorted through the mysteries and musings of my life—my family’s and mine. Nary a hiccup; she performed like a champ. Like Bucephalus, Marengo, and Traveler she carried me home safely. Only a dog can match that loyalty, endurance and strength—that total gift of self without complaint. My careless act killed her. Like a mighty war horse she was pierced by a lance’s tip—my distracted and careless driving. She fell to her knees and expired.

“They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark
She looked at him and he felt a spark
Tingle to his bones
T’was then he felt alone
And wished that he’d gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate.”

Do you ever feel that God, the Cosmos, Fate has a firm hand on the wheel of your life? Lately, I’ve had that sense that something is very strongly engaged in my life. Not being especially superstitious, and only moderately religious, I nevertheless must note that I was involved in a collision on August 13. I’ve never hit a car before in my life but I did this day. If this is a gentle nudge in the direction of a car-free life then I’m listening. Fortunately, only my car was hurt.

“They walked along by the old canal
A little confused, I remember well
And stopped into a strange hotel
With a neon burnin’ bright
He felt the heat of the night
Hit him like a freight train
Moving with a simple twist of fate?”

Then I was struck by a nasty cold. A response to the trauma. Why do I feel so sad, so lost, so adrift? It was only a car. Right? No, much more.

“A saxophone someplace far-off played
As she was walkin’on by the arcade
As the light burst through a beat-up shade
Where he was waking up
She dropped a coin into the cup
Of a blind man at the gate
And forgot about a simple twist of fate.”

Another piece of the broken pact released into the stream of life. Is this freedom? I am compelled to rid myself of everything from that union—-that long union—that was dissolved two years ago. But still some residue persists. I hope the force for change softens. One collision is quite enough. I get it! I’m listening! I’m doing what I can to detach. To be here, not in the past, and not in the future. Just here. Now.

“He woke up, the room was bare
He didn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care
Pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside
To which he just could not relate
Brought on by a simple twist of fate.”

I do wish for a bare room. A fresh place. Something all my own. I’m getting there. Not quite. But staying with this.

“He hears the ticking of the clocks
And walks along with a parrot that talks
Hunts her down by the waterfront docks
Where the sailors all come in
Maybe she’ll pick him out again
How long must he wait?
One more time, for a simple twist of fate.”

Do I believe in agency? Are we really self-directed? Can we create our present and our future? I do know we must move out of the past to go forward. But aren’t we shaped by our past? Catch and release. Yes, catch what sings and release what doesn’t.

“People tell me it’s a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin
But I lost the ring
She was born in spring
But I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate.”

“To know and feel too much within. . .” That is the human condition. We all know and often feel too much. But better to feel too much, than to feel nothing at all.

May 9th, 2021

Mother’s Day

A problematic day for many. I am one of those whose memories—happy memories—of my mother are scant. This is and has been a many dimensional problem for most of my life. I explore some of these themes in Limina.

My mother lost her first child—a boy—who lived only a few days. While I didn’t learn of this sad story until I was 8 or 9, I can’t help but believe it scarred my mother for the rest of her life.

There were four more children born after I, all healthy and all alive as I write. Still this lost child shaped mom’s capacity to love and enjoy each of us.

She was born in May. She died two days after her 90th birthday. My siblings and I had all come to Durango, CO to be with her on her birthday. My brother, Jerry, and his family live in Pagosa Springs about 60 miles east of Durango. Mom had lived with them for several years after my father died. She and Jerry were very close. Jerry had made the arrangements for the party at the hospital.

I remember Mom being overwhelmed by all of us and the commotion of the birthday party festivities. I also remember that she was not able to move her neck comfortably and was unable to drink except in small sips from a straw. I wondered if she was adequately hydrated.

My three sisters had to leave after the party and return to their homes in Texas and in California. I thought long and hard and decided to stay with my brother and take some of the burden of visiting Mom off his shoulders. He and I began taking turns driving back and forth from Pagosa to Durango on alternate days.

The doctor had moved Mom in to the hospice unit at the hospital and advised us that she was failing. I was very glad I had stayed. On the second day, I could see that she was struggling. She was unable to speak and had begun to disengage. The hospice nursing staff advised me that her toes and feet had begun to turn blue and her breathing would become increasingly labored.

I sat beside her holding her hand and speaking to her in a low voice throughout that day. I told her it was OK if she wanted to go. The doctor came into the room late in the afternoon and said he would call Jerry to come immediately.

I remember as clearly as if it were today her last moments. Her breathing was slowing and then just one last breath. I saw out the window that the sky was glowing and that the sun had dropped behind the mountains. And then she was gone. I remained with her, holding her hand. Jerry arrived shortly afterwards. I know seeing that she had passsed was hard for him.

We drove back to Pagosa, had several shots of bourbon, smoked and talked. I learned how important it is for me to listen to my heart and act on what it tells me. Being with Mom those few days smoothed out the jagged edges I was holding on to enabling me to call up my best memories of her and to love her.

April 17, 2021

Solamente Una Vez

I’ve found that listening to music makes me want to write. Sometimes I listen to Agustin Lara singing his own songs. He wrote Granada, the only song many Anglos might know, but I read that at his death he had composed over 700 songs. Lara was born in the port city of Vera Cruz. He lived all over the world but spent the last years of his life in Mexico City.

Why am I writing about Agustin Lara? It’s a nice little story. When I attended a writers conference in San Miguel de Allende in 2019 I had occasion to meet two young musicians. They had been hired to play during the lunch break at the conference in the lobby. Of course, most people just kept on talking but I sat in a chair near them and enjoyed their music. One on violin, the other on guitar.

The guitarist was handsome but he smiled rarely. The violinist was tall and slender and much more outgoing. Each were very talented and had good singing voices too.

Seeing that I was listening closely they motioned for me to come over during their break to chat. The violinist spoke excellent English, the guitarist very little. However, he did tell me he was from Vera Cruz. I asked him if they could play Solamente Una Vez after their break. His face lit up. He was amazed that I knew about Lara and that I knew that Lara was born in Vera Cruz. They played my request. I was surprised and touched. Each day during the lunch hour I sat in the lobby and enjoyed their music.

One day I was out strolling around the town and I heard music. I recognized it and as I turned the corner, there they were busking on the sidewalk. We had a wonderful chat and they asked me to come to a hotel where they would be playing that evening. I told them I’d try. I didn’t go; I’m kinda sorry I didn’t.

The last line of Solamente Una Vez goes like this: “Y cuando ese milagro realiza el prodigio de amarse hay companas de fiesta que cantan en el corazon.”

Translation: “And when this miracle of loving you is realized festive bells will ring in my heart.”

April 13, 2021

Yahrzeit

Remembering those we love is a good thing. Observing the yahrzeit — year anniversary— of my father falls in April. Because the Hebrew calendar is lunar, Dad’s yahrzeit doesn’t fall out on his birthday but it does fall out more or less at that time. Since he died right around his birthday, his death and his birthday are often close together.

I find lighting the small long-burning memorial candle very comforting. I like getting up in the middle of the night and seeing it’s small flame on the top of the stove flickering away casting a soft warm glow.

When I light the candle I think about Dad and I remember all the good things he gave me—my love of art and design, my athleticism, my affinity with animals. So many things. As time goes by, he’d be 110 this year, the bad memories fade away and all the good comes shining through.

This year especially, as Limina has also sent it’s light out into the world, I think of Dad. His life was the original impetus for the book, but the story found it’s own way and it’s own meaning and is certainly very much about me.

Next month will be Mom’s yahrzeit. I will look forward to opening myself up to memories of her.

April 2, 2021

ISBN

I once worked in a book store and learned what an ISBN was. It’s a universal identifier (International Standard Book Number) attached to most published books. It is kinda like a book’s social security number. Limina has an ISBN now: 978-0-578-88537-7

In today’s book world the ISBN is accompanied by a bar code which is scanned at the point of sale. The bookseller gleans various kinds of information regarding the book from the barcode as well as the price of the book. Speeds up the transaction.

So my Limina has now entered the ranks of books that can be found in Books in Print. Wahoo!!

March 15, 2021

Why Did I Self-Publish?

Lot’s of folks have asked me why I chose to go down the self-publish road. One reason was I had witnessed friends who had an agent. Who had a contract. Who had an editor. And who had a grueling–sometimes a five year-long–process of writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and yes, finally, a polished manuscript that went off into the hands of talented pros at the publishing house they’d signed on with and finally a published book which you can find in your local book store or Amazon and so on.

It took me a decade to bring Limina to a place where I felt it was ready to publish. My wonderful editor, Karen Fisher, had shaped and polished it but I didn’t have an agent, and I don’t have a lot of time either–that is I didn’t want Limina published posthumously!! So I sought help.

Friends, Mary Ann Jordan and Joe McDonnell, referred me to Ed Marquand, of Marquand Editions and Paper Hammer Studios in Seattle. Ed referred me to Cyrus Zachary Hooker, book designer, and Stephanie Lock of Iocolor Press in Seattle. Last fall Zach, Stephanie and I set about creating Limina. During Covid lockdown, I labored over further revisions and eventually line edits. In less than a year my beautiful book is in your hands.

I am extraordinarily grateful to Zach and Stephanie who were kind and thoughtful throughout this process. Zach’s creative talent and his insight into me and the story I had to tell is manifest in the cover, the typeface, the motif, the paper and the layout. All areas I had thoughts and feeling about but little knowledge. Michael Guidry produced an author’s photograph that is utterly unique and true to my spirit. I had a great team.

But here’s the downside of self-publishing, I’m responsible for the marketing and distribution of my book. I’m not very good at self-promotion–which doesn’t mean I’m not very proud of my book–but selling a memoir to independent book sellers who don’t have a lot of shelf space and hundreds of selections from big publishing houses to choose from may have little interest in unpublished local writers.

Limina arrived in Seattle on January 22, 2021 from Chicago where it was printed. I have sold about one hundred books to date. I have another 400 to go!

February 22, 2021

The Winged Wheel

Several people have asked me about the significance of the Winged Wheel which appears as a motif throughout Limina. It’s an interesting story. It’s a very old symbol—often seen with the wings folded—dating back to antiquity.

It first got some traction when the image was adopted by motorcycling enthusiasts in the early 20th Century. Subsequently, it became a logo for cycling clubs as well.

However, I first encountered it when I was nosing around in newspaper archives in Mercedes, Texas. I saw it in the masthead of the local paper there and was captivated by the image.

Prominent business men—enterprising men from St. Louis, Missouri—wanted to turn South Texas into a garden. They planned to do that by taking water from the Rio Grande to fill the irrigation ditches which were being dug for that very purpose.

The winged circle represented progress and moving forward in the early 20th Century. It was adopted for the mast head of the paper. I found the imagery so impressive and made a copy of the early paper’s front page to bring home to Seattle.

Another piece of this story is the amazing coincidence of my finding the small medallion pictured at a huge antique fair in Brimfield, Massachusetts years before my 2011 trek around the Midwest and Texas which I write about in Limina. I loved the image and a good friend—a talented jeweler—fashioned the medallion into a pendant and hung in from antique copper chain. I don’t think coincidences such as these are accidents! What are they? What do you think?

January 26, 2021

I drove to Jon’s warehouse and waited for the truck to arrive with Limina packed into many cartons and secured on a palette.

The delivery arrived at about 11. I was so excited. I opened one of the cartons and there the books nested. What a thrill. Now the process of distribution and marketing begins. But first a few moments to absorb the reality of a decade-long effort

January 21, 2021

Tomorrow the truck arrives with a pallet —300+ pounds or so—at Jon’s warehouse. I’ll finally unpack a carton or two and find shrink-wrapped Limina nestled inside. Pictures to follow!!

January 18, 2021

The truck has left Chicago and is due in Seattle at the end of the week. How many times in your life has a dream come true? Maybe a few, I suppose, but this is one that is hard for me to really believe. I suppose when I meet the truck at Jon’s warehouse and the pallet is off loaded and I unwrap one of the dozen of so cartons, and see nestled inside, my book, Limina. Well, I guess I can really say that my dream has come true!

January 8, 2021

As I write today, I am aware that my books have been printed, bound, and shrink wrapped. They are being packed into a dozen or so cartons and loaded onto a pallet and placed on a truck. They will be traveling to Seattle from Chicago. I cannot wait to see—touch—them!