Mom is not always right (lies my mother told me)

Unlike the father in the popular Twitter feed, book, and short-lived television show starring William Shatner, Sh*t My Dad Says (Justin Halpern), my mother was never gross or profane (God forbid!). But she still managed to fill my head with some real stinkers.

 

My mother was raised in a fairly strict, upper middle-class home in the 1940s and 1950s South, where manners and social standing were emphasized. Although my maternal grandmother was a Vermont farm girl, once she and my Alabama-born grandfather moved to Atlanta when my mother was a toddler, you’d never have guessed that my grandmother had ever been north of the Mason-Dixon line.

mason dixon

My mother was sweet, hospitable, polite. Things I think I learned from her. She also taught me to love reading, to be kind to animals, and to always have Kleenex within reach. That’s important. We tend to drippy noses in my family, and you don’t want to be caught without a tissue! Of course, in her youth, it would’ve been monogrammed handkerchiefs.

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My beautiful mother in 1969. Note the red shoes. This is important.

 

She taught us well. My siblings and I are all excessively polite, maybe not by Southern standards, but we tend to seem goofy anywhere else in the country. We are all neat and tidy. Although I am less neat and tidy than I used to be since I work full time, am working on my PhD, have 5 animals in the house, and live with a wonderful guy who isn’t so neat and tidy (love you, Bob).

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She also imparted words of supposed wisdom that she honestly believed to be true, but which I have found have either messed with my self-image or made me wonder if I was adopted. Yes, there are baby pictures of me, and yes, I look like my mother, but still…

  • Every woman should own at least one pair of red shoes. She believed this, most definitely, and my sister Ellen will defend that statement with her last breath. But I beg to disagree. I have survived fine with nary a pair of red shoes in my closet. I wore red Keds as a child, so maybe that counts, but I had to wear boys’ Keds at the time because of my short, wide feet, and in the 1960s there probably weren’t a lot of color choices. I wore them because they fit, not because they were red. Ellen talked me into buying a pair of red sandals a few years ago, and during a recent closet cleanout, I realized I had NEVER worn them and put them in the charity collection bag I was filling up. I work in an animal shelter and tend to spend my spare time in my old shabby clogs that act as bedroom slippers. My shoe choices are dictated by comfort and the fact that I have bad feet (bunions, corns, hammer toes; TMI, I know) so red shoes–don’t need ’em, have no use for ’em. Sorry, Mom. And Ellen.

    red shoes
    I think these shoes are darned cute. Not buying them, though.
  • Change your purse to match your shoes. Not going to happen. Ever. EVER. My mother’s closet had special shelves and cubbies for her shoes and purses. She had purses to match every pair of shoes. She kept the purses in silk bags. She paid a lot of money for the purses. When she was in  hospice, one of the things she insisted on was that I take her purses. (We didn’t wear the same size shoes, or she would have made me take those too, I am sure.) I have the purses, and they are very nice. I never use them. One of them is red; she probably hoped against hope that I would buy some red shoes to go with said purse. I don’t have the time or patience to be switching purses. And again, I work at an animal shelter. I haven’t found a purse that matches my grubby black shoes I wear to clean dog kennels and cat habitats. I have 2 purses that I really like and I might switch them out every year or so, if that. In the late Nora Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, she wrote a whole chapter about hating her purse and not understanding woman who spend large sums of money on collecting them.

She had the same purse “failing” that I have. I felt so much better about myself after I read her book. Just find me a bag that my stuff fits in and let me go. I’ll never find my keys on the first try no matter what magic the purse offers.

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My current purse. Practical and makes a statement (Crazy Cat Lady!). Good enough for me until it wears out.
  • Women over 40 should never wear sleeveless attire. I bought this one for a while. Her point was that women shouldn’t expose the jiggly droopy bits that arms develop with age, unless you’re a gym rat or Michelle Obama.
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The kick-ass former First Lady. Intelligent, well-spoken, poised, beautiful, and the most toned arms ever to grace the White House.

Getting old isn’t for sissies, as it’s been said. Your body changes. As noted in the title of Nora Ephron’s book, necks get crepey. Arms get droopy. Laugh lines appear around the eyes and mouth. And I do consider them laugh lines. I earned those suckers with my polite smiling. Some people call that arm fat “batwings”. People (women, really, it’s only women) even get arm lifts, or brachioplasty, from cosmetic surgeons. We’ve been made self-conscious to the point of obsession about our arms. flabby-arms-gif.gifI spent many years living in a hot climate and avoiding tank tops and only wearing pretty sleeveless dresses if I had a cardigan on at the same time (just to cover my arms). I say, “No more!”  Maybe if I had extreme, super droopy batwings, I’d feel differently. But I see a lot of people out in the world who don’t seem to care how they look. I haven’t quit caring; far from it. But if it’s hot or if I’m going somewhere fancy and want to wear a sleeveless (not strapless, that’s a different thing altogether) dress, I will.

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Too cute to cover up. Okay, she has pretty arms. But still, the dress is too cute to cover up with a cardigan. (Image from ModCloth.)
  • Similarly, she said women over 40 shouldn’t go out in public bare-legged. Panty-hose at all times with skirts, dresses, even shorts. Hell no. Pantyhose are hot and itchy. They get runs in them. They sag around your ankles. They are expensive and don’t last long. 890071-001Unless we are talking about either appropriate dress for a job interview or super fun colors and patterns of hose and tights, I am out.
  • You’d be prettier if you cut your hair/pushed your hair out of your face/kept your hair short. I still hear Mom’s voice telling  me to cut my hair. Hey, Mom! It’s MY HAIR, not yours. This has caused me endless insecurity about my hair, the shape of my face, my eyeglasses once I had to start wearing them, my looks in general since I was a little girl. Mom used to take us to a place in Atlanta called David of Paris for pixie cuts back in the 60s. I think Monsieur David only knew how to do one hair cut. Short. Yes, it was cute when I was 5.
    pixie
    The David of Paris look.
    Version 2
    Still young enough for the sleeveless look.

    I’ve had short hair much of my life, and at times it has been a good look, mostly when I was thinner and going blond.

    Seattle and Victoria_0089
    A thin-with-blond-short-hair stage. But I’m wearing a sleeveless dress and no hosiery. Not sure if Mom would approve.

    Then I’d let my hair grow out because I wanted to, and Mom would start on the subtle and not-so-subtle hints for me to cut my hair, or at least pull it off my face. But preferably cut it. I’m trying to tune out that Mom voice in my head when it comes to my hair. I am mostly succeeding these days, mostly, kinda sorta…Should I cut it?

    me now
    Bangs, shoulder length hair, glasses. It’s a look I am happy with. And if I have Pugcat with me, no one’s looking at my hair anyway!
  • If you can’t sleep, close your eyes and lie still. You’ll at least be rested in the morning. FALSE. I still try this. It does not work. Mom would tell me this most often when I couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school every year. I would lie in bed, eyes squeezed shut, and imagine all the awful things that might happen in the upcoming school year, dread filling me, my stomach hurting. I still have sleepless nights, and I lie there, looking at the clock once in a while, thinking I’ll rest, when I’m actually a churning ball of anxiety over whether I’ll ever get to sleep. During one really bad spell of insomnia, I would throw in the towel and get up and bake in the middle of the night. I went on a quest to make the perfect morning bun–those flaky twists of buttery croissant dough, coated with cinnamon sugar and baked in muffin tins. This took quite a few batches to perfect (which I did, thanks to Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery.

    Each morning I would take the resulting pastries to work. I was exhausted, but popular. Now if I get up, it’s either to read or to write. The insomnia is generally now a case of too much caffeine in my system, but it’s just as exhausting as the dread-filled kind.

  • If you feel a sore throat coming on, gargle with warm saltwater. Maybe there is some truth to this, but I hated it. I suffered from a lot of sore throats growing up, and I still wish some doctor had ordered a tonsillectomy for me. But they quit doing them routinely to kids around the time I was born. My Vermont farmgirl grandmother had trained as a nurse and worked in a hospital in New York, where she met my doctor grandfather. The warm saltwater gargle was her thing. Mom would make me take a big glass of the stuff into the bathroom to gargle with anytime I mentioned a tickle in my throat. I’d still get a sore throat, and my mouth would taste of salt. Maybe it is what led to my weird love of salt now. I’ll put flakes of it on my tongue to suck on, and I adore Dutch salty licorice. Maybe I’ll try sucking on salty licorice next time I feel a sore throat coming on.licorice

 

 

I’m sure there are gems of my own I would impart to the daughter I never had. She’d probably roll her eyes, and do just the opposite. What are my truths?

  • Dark chocolate makes everything better. Maybe not literally. You’ll still be ill or broke or alone. But the chocolate will make it just a little bit better somehow. I swear.
    dark
    Medicinal chocolate. (Image from Scientific American.)

    If you don’t believe me, do you trust Scientific American? Writer Katherine Harmon Courage descibed the health benefits of chocolate in scienctific terms in the article “Why is dark chocolate good for you? Thank your microbes.”

  • Your feet are too important for cheap or uncomfortable shoes. That was something my ever-wise maternal grandmother said, and I totally ignored her about this topic until I started to have trouble with my feet. Somehow my grandmother managed to wear good shoes that still looked stylish, but I haven’t managed that. I’ll stick with my flat, sensible, square-toed shoes. Have I mentioned that I work at an animal shelter?

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    Skechers, my shoe of choice these days.
  • Read every day. Pretty simple. I will brook no argument on this one.

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    You wouldn’t argue with this guy, would you?
  • Everyone should have a creative outlet. Whether it is writing, drawing, sewing, music, cooking, making models of castles out of matchsticks, whatever floats your boat. Do something that makes you happy and let’s your mind drift away from your cares and worries.

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    Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting, as seen on PBS.
  • I’ll finish with a quote from the writer C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), sent to me on my birthday by sister Ellen.  “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” Lewis was a brilliant man. Don’t doubt that.
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    C. S. Lewis

     

I intend to follow his advice to the end of my days.

Dream. Dream small, dream big, but dream. Don’t stop.

The Basket Case (with love to Tricki-Woo)

I had caffeine yesterday. Which meant I was awake a lot during the night when I should have been sleeping. Which meant my brain was on overdrive. Which meant I had lots of random thoughts that became BIG THOUGHTS. Which meant I reflected way too much on life and death and unfulfilled dreams.

 

Thus my discourse on the bucket list. I hate the name “bucket list”. Hey, let’s talk about me kicking the bucket! “Things to to before I die” doesn’t sound any better. “Life list” is better but maybe too…I don’t know…not meaningful somehow even though it sounds like it should be.

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Image from Grammer Stammer.
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Image from How We Became Us.

While looking for images of buckets lists that weren’t stupid and/or gruesome, I saw the motivational phrase “Collect experiences, not things”. Okay. I think most things on my list are experiences. Or I can rephrase them to become experiences. As you will see in a bit (really), one of my list entries includes a basket, so I decided that the idea of collecting and the notion of a basket work well together, so I shall call my list a basket, and as I collect experiences they go in my basket. It’s my basket case, so to speak. Just to be clear, I’m not calling myself a basket case, I’m saying I HAVE a basket case. A metaphorical receptacle, container, collection space for my memories of once-in-a lifetime dreams come true.

i iz
Image via MamaM!a via Pinterest

I collected many things for my basket this last summer on our trip to England:

-A visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Every bit as amazing as I expected, and so much to see that we had to pick and choose and miss some things. And of course we made it to the cafe. The coffee was pretty good!

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One of my favorite displays at the V & A.

VA coffee

 

-Finding and shopping at London’s oldest bookstore, Hatchards, booksellers since 1797. Wow. Yes, books were purchased. But the point was the experience of going to the bookstore and soaking in the atmosphere of literary history. And you’ve gotta love a bookstore with a whole wall of P.G. Wodehouse books. Can’t have too much Jeeves and Wooster, ever!

 

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Illustration by micklewhite, on Redbubble.

 

-Conveniently for my basket case, Hatchards and the venerable purveyor of gourmet provisions Fortnum & Mason are neighbors. Two list entries with one stone…

Fortmun logo

 

I have been wanting to go to Fortnum & Mason and put together a hamper of their delicacies ever since I first read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small (first published in the United States in 1972). The television adaptation first aired in 1978.

 

all creatures

 

As I remember it, which could be wrong (but since it’s how I remember it I’m going with it), James and his boss/mentor Siegfried compete with each other, vying to ingratiate themselves with the wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey and her spoiled, fat, flatulent Pekingese named Tricki-Woo.

 

When Mrs. Pumphrey is especially pleased, a food basket (see, basket, I told you it baskets would be relevant) from Fortnum & Mason arrives at Skeldale House for the vets. I always imagined such mouth-watering treats in that basket, or hamper as they refer to it. I longed to see the wonderland of Fortnum & Mason.

FM photo store front

In other English novels along the way, I’ve read other references to the hampers from F & M. The store was more than I hoped for–4 floors of foods, drinks, housewares, and best of all, the hamper section.

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The hampers, oh my. 

 

You can get pre-packed hampers of various assortments or choose the bespoke option (British for “made to order”). Sadly, travel companion Bob wasn’t feeling great when we were at the shop, so we left hamperless. But I was there! And I eventually ordered a hamper to be delivered to the U.S. when we got home. Is this collecting a thing, not an experience? Far from it. Yes, there are delectables to eat and a hamper to keep, but it’s about the experience of going to the store, of ordering the hamper, waiting for it to arrive, unwrapping it…

 

my basket 5

 

 

-If heaven exists, I am sure it smells like chocolate. On our canal boat adventure, we found a whole Welsh town, Chirk, that smells like chocolate. I didn’t even know that was on my basket list until we went there. At first we couldn’t identify the warm, sweet, comforting scent in the air. Then we saw the sign–headquarters of Cadbury Chocolate.  I now want every town on the planet to smell like chocolate! (And I also think “The Town that Smelled Like Chocolate” would be a great title for a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.)

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-Visit a castle. Check. Also in the chocolatey town of Chirk. Chirk Castle.

 

Chirk Castle

 

-How to top all of this? Spend a few days in Oxford. Several items experiences for the basket. Just being in Oxford is hard to describe. It’s difficult as an American to imagine how old things are there. Wandering around the city and the various colleges of Oxford University, you just feel smarter. My first impressions of Oxford of course have literary roots–Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). The 11-part television series (1981) is still one of my favorites.

 

 

And there are others, such as the Inspector Morse books (and television show) and the Endeavor television show (prequel to Inspector Morse), both set in and filmed in Oxford. Another source of my Oxford fascination–Jerome K. Jerome’s quite funny Three Men in a Boat (1889),  made into a hilarious film by the BBC in 1975, with Tim Curry, Michael Palin, and Stephen Moore as the eponymous three men on a rowing holiday on the Thames.

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There are other experiences, of course, that have been added to the basket. For example, my lifelong dream to see Paris, finally achieved in 2014. Everything I imagined and more. Thank you (merci beaucoup), Bob.

Image 3

 

There are still experiences to add to the basket. Going up in a hot air balloon has been on the list for years. And that brings up another basket–the one attached to the balloon. I hope it’s well attached, just saying.

 

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Up, up, and away…

In my younger days, seeing U2 in concert was on the list, but I’ve outgrown that one. I can’t deal with arena concerts anymore. I’ve become old and grumpy about crowds and noise. I did finally get to see Peter Gabriel perform, and check that off my list, at the much easier to manage Greek Theater in Berkeley in 2011. And he was great. I sang along with every song, and Bob was a good sport about it.

 

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Peter Gabriel at the Greek Theater, Berkeley, 2011. (Photo by C Flanagan/WireImage from The Vulture.)

 

At the top of the list–finish my PhD before I turn 60. I don’t want to be the oldest person in the world still in graduate school! I dream of retiring to a house in the country, adopting a rescue goat, designing and building a she-shed, finally learning to speak French well. And getting around to reading War and Peace, and Moby Dick. Yes, both. I can handle big fat books–reading one now.

 

goat.jpg

 

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A simple and attainable she-shed.

 

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My current fat book.

 

We all have dreams. Some seem outrageous (my vegan food truck dream). Some are lofty (end animal homelessness). Some are silly (rewatch the television series Gilmore Girls from start to finish).

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That’s the great thing about your bucket, your hamper, your basket, your life list, whatever you want to call it. The possibilities are endless–the basket can hold anything you dream. It’s up to you to find a way to make the dream come true.

Dream small, dream big. But do dream.

See the Changes (Stills was always my favorite)

One of the pleasures of getting older is looking back on meaningful things in the progression of your life, or making sense of things that maybe didn’t at the time, or even reflecting on what weren’t good times and seeing how they contributed to who you are. I’m realizing how important the music of various times has been as the soundtrack to my story. I more and more listen to the music of my young adulthood and hear a beauty in it that I didn’t necessarily get at the time. I just knew I liked it, but maybe not so much what it meant.

I was reading The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen (originally published in the Netherlands in 2014), and felt compelled to take a photo of this quote. It’s so true!

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Hendrik

 

When we were on our recent vacation in England, I happened to hear over a cafe sound system songs by Leonard Cohen that took me back to the time when I didn’t even think I liked Leonard Cohen.

 

Cohen

 

Now I appreciate him for the incredible poet that he was, and wish I’d paid more attention. The song playing was The Sisters of Mercy (1967), and I fell in love with it there in the cafe.

 

 

I don’t remember if it was the same cafe or later somewhere else on the trip, but my attention was caught by the Crosby, Stills & Nash song See the Changes (written by Stephen Stills) from the 1977 album CSN.

 

CSN

 

See the Changes (Stephen Stills)

She has seen me changing
It ain’t easy rearranging
And it gets harder as you get older
Farther away as you get closer

And I don’t know the answer
Does it even matter?
I’m wonderin’ how

Ten years singing right out loud
I never looked was anybody listening
Then I fell out of a cloud
I hit the ground and noticed something missing

Now I have someone
She has seen me changing
And it gets harder as you get older
And farther away as you get closer

And I don’t know the answer
Does it even matter?
I’m wonderin’ how

Seems like something out of a dream
I had years ago yes, I remember screaming
Nobody laughing all the good times
Getting harder to come by without weeping

Now I have someone
She has seen me changing
And it gets harder as you get older
And farther away

 

 

Most of my favorite Crosby, Stills & Nash songs were written by Stephen Stills, and his voice was always the one that stood out to me. I went to see him in concert in Sacramento back in about 1990ish, and he was older and heavier (as I am now), but he could still play that guitar and his voice was as strong as ever.

 

 

As we steered our canal boat through the English countryside into Wales, See the Changes became the soundtrack in my head, the song I sang aloud when no one was listening. The lines “…and it gets harder as you get older, and farther away as you get closer…” seemed particularly relevant as I took ibuprofen every night after the day’s hard work or raising and lowering locks and bridges on the canalway.

 

 

I also had a lot of time to reflect on the meaning of those lines and whether or not I’d say that it’s true that it gets harder as I get older or if anything seems farther away. I suppose it depends on what the “it” is. Some things get harder as I get older, like getting up if I sit on the floor, or getting by on little sleep, or being on my feet all day. Those are the physical things.

 

gray-pride-were-old-were-tired-get-off-our-lawn-12803091

 

The mental and emotional things, for me, have gotten easier in a lot of ways. My social skills are much better, I’m more tolerant and open-minded, I deliberately aim for kindness and compassion in my approach to life and the other inhabitants of the planet. I love learning, and since I quit drinking 5 years ago, my brain engages and I want to learn more, always.

Im-still-1.jpg

 

Farther away? Well, the closer I get to the PhD finish line, the farther away that seems! People I started the program with, in my cohort as they say, have in some cases finished (congratulations, Barbara!) or are close to finishing (you go, Jennifer!). I’m still about a year away at best. But I remind myself over and over that it’s not a race or a competition, that I’ll finish in my own time and will be proud of what I accomplished. Retirement seems farther away than ever! I dream about the retirement house we will move to some day, where it will be and how clean and simple and tranquil it will be. The projects I’ll get done, all the books I’ll read. It’ll be awesome, if I ever get there.

 

too-many-books-so-little-time

 

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Gee, I wonder what this house costs?

 

In addition to music and language, visual imagery, of course, is a huge part of our memories, nostalgia, reminiscing. I love to look through old photographs, but unfortunately, due a house fire in 1987, a lot of family photos were destroyed.

 

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A rare old family photo: me in 1965 at preschool. I’m the 4th seated in front from the left, worried looking blonde in white.

 

When I was in high school in the late 1970s, I was obsessed with Seventeen magazine. Summer breaks seemed so long and luxurious (maybe because I wasn’t motivated to get a summer job like other teens; shy and lacking in confidence, the idea of applying for jobs was beyond me), and I couldn’t wait for the newest edition of the magazine, with the upcoming fall trends and teen advice. I was shy, yes, and also a loner, but I wanted what was in those magazines! I commandeered my mother’s old sewing machine, dragging it into my room, and followed all of the instructions on how to remake your wardrobe (turning flared pant legs into straight ones was a big one). In particular, the August 1978 issue was one that I read and reread, tried to copy the styles from, and wanted so badly to be the cover model, Lari Jane Taylor. I actually have remembered her name all of these years. I still love the look. I even still have a copy of the magazine, carefully preserved in an archival sleeve. It was my bible going into my senior year of high school, a year fraught with uncertainty and insecurity. In my 17-year old brain, I thought the right color eyeshadow would be the answer to my problems.

 

Lari Jane Taylor

 

 

Lari Jane Taylor was also the cover model of the January 1979 issue, looking into the spring. That issue didn’t have the same impact on me, clearly, since I’d forgotten about it until I searched on her name. I prefer the August 1978 look anyway.

 

lari 2

 

Ah, the late 1970s. A strange time, a transitional time between the “hippie” era of the late 60s and early 70s and the me-first greed of the 1980s. I often felt a little lost, not identifying with my peers. I became vegetarian, made my own clothes, listened to the “wrong” music (I abhored disco music, although I think it’s fun now). I wasn’t a punk, either. I was a geek in a land of jocks and cheerleaders on one side, and feaks and punks on the other. If you’ve never watched the one season of Freaks and Geeks (set in 1980), I highly recommend it, by the way.

freaks

 

 

I was flipping throught the 1978 magazine, and all kinds of advertisements and images struck me as hugely amusing now, 40 years later.

 

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Whoa, 11 8-track tapes for $1! Even that $1 turned out to be a bad investment in a short-lived music format.

But look again at the song lyrics to See the Changes. The lines just before “and it gets harder as you get older, farther away as you get closer”:

Now I have someone

She has seen me changing…

Having someone with you on your journey who sees the work you are doing, who appreciates how hard you are working and can help you get perspective when whatever “it” is seems harder or farther away–that’s now my takeaway from this song. Whether it’s a sibling, a friend, a significant other, a companion animal (I’m not joking)–having someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, to give you comfort when you feel down–can make a world of difference. Hey, that English canal boat was a 2-person job and it was hard (but fun) work. Kind of like life.

Here’s to you, Captain Bob!

 

IMG_2960

 

Peace and hugs.

Be Back Soon

I haven’t written in ages, and it feels odd to say how off-track I’ve gotten with school and writing. It’s been a busy spring and summer. I am currently on vacation, sitting on a canal boat in Wrenbury in the UK. While I struggle with spotty WiFi, it’s made up for by the lovely sights, sounds, and smells of the canal and surrounding countryside. I have loads of ideas for stories and essays ahead, including the funny one about meeting the Red Imps football/soccer team from Gibraltar on a quayside on the canal. For now, I will sign off with promises to get back into writing mode in August. Off to return our rented canal boat, Cobb’s Wren, to the marina and catch a train to Oxford! If that doesn’t inspire me to mental activity, I don’t know what will!

I put a spell on you…

Let me start by saying I know nothing about the religion of Voodoo (or Vodou, considered by scholars to be the more appropriate spelling). I am sure it has been drastically misrepresented in television and the movies. The religion originates in Africa, but is different in the various places it is practiced. As practiced in the Americas (most famously in New Orleans in North America) and the Caribbean, it combines African, Catholic, and Native American traditions. Voodoo is not necessarily a cult, or violent, or the black magic it’s been portrayed to be, and my understanding is that most people who are Voodooists have never seen or used a Voodoo doll. (If interested, you can read more about Voodoo the religion in Saumya Arya Haas’s article for the Huffington Post.)

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Voodoo festival in Benin, image from cnn.com

I, however, am fascinated by Voodoo dolls. I have a few, not a lot, that are not meant to represent anyone in particular and I don’t stick pins in them or anything. Mostly, I think they are terribly cute.

the trio
My Voodoo dolls. Cute! And their powers are for good, not evil.

At least the ones you used to be able to buy from places like Jamie Hayes Gallery in New Orleans are cute. I bought a couple of dolls the week I was there between Christmas and New Years in 2009. In the gallery window was a Christmas tree decorated with little dolls, and I thought it was about the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. )Looking at the website now, I don’t see any dolls.) These are the dolls I bought at the gallery:

I love these 2 in particular because they remind me of another cute overload duo–Hoops and Yoyo™ from Hallmark.

Hoops and Yoyo for real

Hoops and Yoyo™ crack me up. My inner 12-year old takes over at certain moments, and she will almost always choose Hoops and Yoyo™ if choosing a card for someone (given that humor is appropriate; I do have some common sense).

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The tiny Mariposa doll was a gift from a very dear friend who always knows what to pick up for me on her travels.

Mariposa
Tiny Mariposa. Use the cat hair under her feet for scale.

Mariposa, a string doll from Watchover Voodoo, has a particular assignment and was thoughtfully chosen for my needs:

Mariposa tag

My first experience with a real life Voodoo was at a job, a job I loved but unfortunately didn’t stay at long. And no, that had nothing to do with the presence of a Voodoo doll in the boss’s desk drawer. The Voodoo doll was meant to represent the former boss, who had left suddenly and vaulted the new boss into the position with little notice or preparation. In times of stress, New Boss would secretly take out the Voodoo doll of Old Boss and stick a pin or two into her, and then get back to work. The secret didn’t stay secret, but given what a cool and unflappable (being sarcastic there) group of women we were, none of us thought too much about it. It was an amusing way of relieving stress. If Watchover Voodoo had existed back in the early 1990s (or, if online shopping had existed, which, believe it or not children, there was such a time), New Boss might have bought Watchover Voodoo’s the Stress Reducer, the Love Your Job, or even the Ninja.

I myself am partial to, besides Mariposa, the Bad Hair Day (I have a lot of those), the Pixie, the Loner, and the Nice One. Sometimes I really need the Scatterbrain. Take a look at the collection; there’s one for everyone and every need!

I might have made a Voodoo doll once, but I won’t go into too many details except to say I was at a very low point in my life and I was really furious at the person whose name and image the doll carried. I did stab the doll through its little heart a few times. Did it make me feel better? Absolutely, for a minute or two. Did it make a difference? Not at all.

This brings to mind the whole concept of magical thinking, which I’ve always found myself doing, but hadn’t thought about as a concept or applied a name to it until I read the Augusten Burroughs memoir Magical Thinking: True Stories (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).

Best known for the memoir Running with Scissors (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), Burroughs does not shy away from the personal and painful while still mananaging to be funny.

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From the site GoodTherapy.org:

Magical thinking is the belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It is common in very young children. A four-year-old child, for example, might believe that after wishing for a pony, one will appear at his or her house. Magical thinking is also colloquially used to refer more broadly to mystical, magical thoughts, such as the belief in Santa Claus, supernatural entities, and miraculous occurrences.

My experience as an adult with magical thinking runs along the line of the belief that I am bad luck for the San Francisco Giants so I shouldn’t watch their games on television (e.g., if I root for them they will lose, but if I don’t pay attention, they will win). Or if I wish really hard, that pair of shoes I really want will go on sale. Magical thinking can be totally harmless, but can also be correlated with mental health conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Does love invite magical thinking? (I just stole that line from the book The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal.)

Joan Didion also wrote a memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, in which magical thinking plays into her journey through grief in the year following the death of her husband, while she also cared for her comatose daughter, who also eventually passed away.

We see athletes who never vary their pregame rituals or their approach to their turn at bat, say. I’m thinking of San Francisco Giant Pablo Sandoval there.

Or former Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who was reported never to wash his trusty cap, but to spray it with Febreze fabric refresher once in a while, for luck.

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You can call it superstition or magical thinking or delusion or irrational or whatever you want (or unhygienic in the cap case). But does it work? According to a 2009 article by Piercarlo Valdesolo for Scientific American, it can give people an edge. Lucky charms do have power, not because they are indeed magical, but because we believe they are.

Rituals, signs, omens. They’ve been part of the human psyche forever. Supersitions and the belief in luck are reported to have an evolutionary basis. The cave person who runs from the rustling in the bushes survives, whether it’s a fanged and hungry carnivorous beastie or the wind.

Many writers have compiled encyclopediae of superstitions.

Some of the described superstitions are amusing, others not so much. For instance, diagonal windows in Vermont are called witch windows, due to the belief that a witch can’t fly a broomstick through them.

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A witch window. Eccentric but harmless.

At the animal shelter, we see more often than you might think people who will not consider adopting black cats. And some shelters will not adopt out black cats at Halloween to prevent animal torture.

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All of that aside, lucky charms and rituals provide us with comfort and a feeling that we can somehow control the chaos of life. I’m okay with that! Much less fattening than a bowl of macaroni and cheese, even the vegan kind.

vegan mac and cheese
Vegan mac and cheese recipe available at The Organic Authority.

So now I bring out my magic wand and take you back to the magical and simpler time of 1982 and the band that was known as America.

My magical powers are perhaps limited. I can make a great vegan muffin. And make it disappear as well! I can try to make Einstein see the wisdom of my words.

What I really can do is choose how I live in this world. And I choose, to the best of my ability, to live a good life, a life of love and kindness, and a belief in the magic of happiness. Perhaps the beautiful and inspirational Audrey Hepburn said it best.

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Peace and hugs.

Remember Proverbs (Cultivate Kindness)

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That’s something I never thought I’d do: start an essay by referring to the Bible (or any other religious text). It’s so not my style. First of all, I’ve never read the Bible so quoting the Bible or anything remotely Biblical is beyond me. The Bible would be one of my nightmare categories if I ever competed on Jeopardy! or any other quiz show. Along with sports and pretty much anything to do with geography.

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I think of myself as more of a secular pagan (if there is such a thing) than anything else: I love feasting and gift giving but for reasons of all kinds and on a daily basis, not because of any religious foundations. I’d much rather celebrate solstices, equinoxes, the seasons and nature. And kindness as an everyday way of life. Which leads me to Proverbs.

I didn’t get there by myself. The author Alex George took me there in his book Setting Free the Kites.

On page 39, the main character Robert, after the new kid at school, Nathan, defends him from the school bully, is being told by his mother, ” ‘So now he needs you to be kind back. Remember Proverbs: Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.’ She smiled at me, and I knew the game was up.”

Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. 

This struck me as possibly one of the most important things I’d read in a long time. (If you must know, it’s Proverbs 3:3, according to Google.) Words spoken by Solomon, who I was thinking about just the other day. Really.

A story I do remember hearing often is that of two women both claiming that they are the mother of a fought-over baby and King Solomon, deciding the case, advises cutting the baby in half. I was always horrified by what was called the wisdom of Solomon. But of course the upshot is that he correctly surmises that the woman who says she will give up the baby is the real mother. In her love, she’d rather give him up than have him hurt.

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Maybe the story wouldn’t have scared me as much if I’d seen it told with Legos.

I have to remind myself every day to be kind. As much as I wish it always came naturally to me, it doesn’t. People try my patience and elude my understanding. I find myself being judgmental, envious, dismissive. Working in an animal shelter, I see both the best and worst in human nature. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, part of the unpredictability of being human.

I felt called upon to be Solomon not so long ago when two women were arguing over who should get to adopt a particular dog. Would Solomon have suggested cutting the dog in two and seeing how the women reacted? Neither was willing to step back and let the other adopt the dog. I had to make a decision based on our first come, first served policy. Whatever my decision, one of the women was going to be very angry with me. My interior voice was saying that there are plenty of little brown Chihuahuas (also called LBDs, Little Brown Dogs) to go around so let’s not argue over that particular one, but I can’t say those things out loud. I really don’t like the feeling of having made someone angry and unhappy. And if I had handled it better, two dogs would have gone to new homes, not just one.

I wish I had remembered the wisdon of William Ury rather than Solomon. Ury is a noted writer, speaker, negotiator, and helped found the International Negotation Network with former United States President Jimmy Carter.

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William Ury

Here’s his amazing TED talk, The Road to Yes.

 

I am familiar with William Ury from his book The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop.

the third side

 

I automatically went to the role of arbiter in the dog dispute, but I could have explored other roles. If I’d only had the book with me and the time to consult it! As an introvert operating in an extrovert job, I find myself not always thinking fast on my feet. I like to mull things over, reflect, and formulate my responses. I’m terrible at witty answers to stupid questions, too.

One of my go-to sources on postings about life as an introvert is Introvert, Dear. I’m not alone in my need for time to respond. Plus, if I said the first thing that comes to mind, I could get in a lot of trouble.

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The motto “the customer is always right” really sucks sometimes. Because the customer isn’t always right. Alexander Kjerulf listed 5 reasons why the motto is wrong:

  1. It make employees unhappy. True. We take a lot of bad mouthing and abuse and smile while we do it.
  2. It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage. Absolutely. Squeaky wheel syndrome. Bad behavior is rewarded.
  3. Some customers are bad for business. Yes, anyone causing a ruckus at any place of business will turn off other customers and they will go elsewhere. Or we will get a bad Yelp review.
  4. It results in worse customer service. If we are tired, humiliated, frustrated, we may unintentionally reflect that to clients who are there with the best of intentions.
  5. Some customers are just plain wrong. They are. And sometimes we have to convey that to prevent harm to an animal. Tactfully, of course. Our ulitmate priority is the health and safety of the people and the animals we serve.

I can list many examples of all of these points, some funny (the male dog returned after 2 hours because the woman felt awkward explaining to her 6 year old about male body parts), some sad (the elderly woman who fell in love with and wanted to adopt a particular dog but her son said no because he didn’t like the breed mix), some infuriating (people who insist on animals living outdoors despite evidence that animals who live indoors with their human families generally live longer, healthier lives), some downright puzzling (the woman who pointed to a kitten and asked “do you have that one in gray” as if she were shoe shopping). And don’t get me started on some of the phone calls we field!

John Cleese
“You want me to come catch the wild turkey in your office parking lot?”

We all have bad days, make mistakes, could use a little leeway. I try to keep that in mind with the people I deal with. I wish everyone kept that in mind when dealing with others: we don’t know what another person might be going through, what might be making them act they way they do, what their story is.

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In a world where you can be anything, be kind. To each other, to animals, to the earth. To yourself.

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A song I adore (got to get a musical reference in here somewhere!) that speaks to love, kindness, and writing them on the tablet of your heart is Clem Snide’s Find Love. Love is an infinite commodity. The more we give, the more we have.

 

I do have a quibble with Proverbs. Our hearts are not tablets. That to me implies stone, a hard substance that wears away with time. I think of the metaphorical heart as able to grow, to be nourished and to provide sustenance, more like a garden. Apparently Jesus said that hearts are like gardens too (I didn’t know that, I just Googled “the heart is a garden”). I also discovered a poem by Katherine Merrill, Heart’s Garden.

Heart’s Garden

By Katherine Merrill

My heart is a garden where thought flowers grow.
The thoughts that I think are the seeds that I sow.
Every kind loving thought bears a kind loving deed,
And a thought that is selfish is just like a weed.

So I must watch what I think each minute each day,
Pull out the weed thoughts and throw them away,
And plant loving seed thoughts so thick in a row,
There will not be room for weed thoughts to grow.

Buddha also compared the heart to a garden. As did Oscar Wilde. I feel like I am in such good company on this one!

buddha

Oscar Wilde

If this is too high-minded for you, think of Dr. Suess’s character the Grinch and his tiny little heart that grows when he discovers the power of love and kindness.

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You might have noticed I haven’t addressed the truth side of the Proverbs quote. Is it possible to have kindness without honesty? Honesty without compassion is cruelty, I’ve heard someone say. Bruce Kasanoff writes about the downside of honesty without compassion. Maybe brutal honesty is just brutality. Michelle Reid addresses the question of whether honesty and kindness can coexist, and they can, if we stop and think before we speak. And I’d add, reread and think before you hit send on a text or email.

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If I am honest with myself at this moment, I should go fold that load of laundry waiting in the basket. But I’m going to choose kindness, and get back to my reading.

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Peace and hugs.

Sunshine on My Shoulders and Other Small Victories (and Some Small Acts of Anarchy)

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I was enjoying a nice lunch break at work one day last week, and was pleased to notice while enjoying the warmth of the sun that my socks not only matched each other and my shoes matched each other, but my socks matched my shoes. It made me so happy, and on one of those days when I was feeling behind on everything at home and perhaps a bit stretched at work, it felt like such a victory. A small victory perhaps, but embracing those victories helps me keep my well-dressed feet on the ground, so to speak.

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Especially working in the world of animal rescue, it can be easy to slip into the feeling of never getting anywhere. For every animal successfully placed into a loving home, there are countless more that need help. The spay/neuter message is not getting out to people, if the number of kittens coming into shelter right now is any indication. On some days, it seems like we have more animals coming into the shelter than going out. Believe me, I love fostering kittens during so-called kitten season, but I wish there wasn’t so much need for it.

me with fosters
I love these little cuties, but I wish there weren’t so many homeless kittens that need our help.

 

My way of coping, and staying firmly planted on the sunny side of the street (my preferred side of the street and of life), is to focus on the small victories.

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Celebrate the one cat that did get a wonderful home.

Read a book.

reading 2

 

Take a break and walk around the neighborhood admiring the trees and flowers. Sing a song, loudly and out of tune, in the car on the way to work. It’s okay to have a moment of happiness in these troubled times. Even keeping up with the laundry is a victory to celebrate some days. And at an animal shelter, we have a LOT of laundry! When it’s neatly folded and stowed on the nicely labeled shelves, it’s a thing of beauty.

 

 

Other victories, built on baby steps over the years, involve me driving on my own to places I never would have before. I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my early 30s. Then I didn’t drive on the freeway until I was about 40. Of course, the Google Maps lady on my iPhone has made a huge difference in my bravery. (I have remarkably poor orientation for someone who used to draft maps as part of my job.) Yesterday, I celebrated 2 victories–driving the shelter van on the freeway, and driving it with animals inside! I feel extra apprehensive when I am responsible for lives other than my own.

 

The caption to this cartoon is about happiness. I celebrate these examples as small victories as well.

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I prefer the middle brownie to the edge one. Notice that the laundry theme comes up again.

 

Sitting out in the sunshine (that’s where I started this conversation) can itself be a small victory on a busy day.

sunshine joy

 

I have been revisiting John Denver’s song catalog lately, mostly inspired by Sunshine on My Shoulders. It’s a sweet, simple, but poignant song, and a good reminder to embrace feelings of happiness and joy, however small they might seem.

 

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John Denver, 1943-1997.

 

Near the end of John Denver’s life, people made fun of him. It was cool to NOT like John Denver. I always liked John Denver, but I went through that period of wanting to fit in so badly that I pretended NOT to like things and people that I did and to like things I people that maybe I didn’t care about as much. I feel really bad about that now. John Denver, if you can hear me from wherever sing/songwriter souls go when they pass along to the next stage, I apologize and I proudly sing Sunshine on My Shoulders again.

 

 

I remember the anti-John Denver sentiment from the period when he was lobbying to be the first civilian in space on the Space Shuttle Challenger. The punch line was “Help send John Denver into space–one way!”  He didn’t go on the Challenger mission in 1986. When the Challenger exploded on take off, NASA’s plans to send civilians into space were ended. All 7 crew members were killed. I remember watching the tragedy on television.

 

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The Challenger crew.

 

John Denver was a flawed human being, absolutely. But every one of us is flawed. It doesn’t mean we should hold him up in disdain for the contradictions between his clean, wholesome (okay, nerdy) image and his battles with drugs, alcohol, and marital infidelity. At one point in the 1980s, the University of Colorado campus newspaper ran an essay contest called “When did you first learn to hate John Denver?” And there’s the rub. I never hated him. I just pretended to, which is even worse. Peer pressure is, in my opinion, a form of bullying. And that is not cool.

 

Peer-pressure
Excluding others and bullying, not cool. I’m with her.

 

I was never cool or popular, and I cared a little too much about it as a teenager and young adult. I agonized over what to wear, who to like, why boys ignored me. At one point I tried a little too hard to break out of my introvert shell and had a disastrous tryout for high school cheerleader. It was bad. Really bad. Humiliating. I never did that again!

 

 

But people were kind to me afterward, not cruel as so easily could have been the case. Now, I still care maybe a little too much about what others think of me, but I am much more accepting of who I am and what makes me happy.

I have fond memories of watching The John Denver Show on television in the early 1970s. In 1974, his Back Home Again album was a hit, mostly because of the songs Thank God I’m a Country Boy and Annie’s Song. The song my friends and I loved to sing was Grandma’s Feather Bed (written by Jim Conner), to which we not only sang, but jumped up and down on the beds and had pillow fights to while singing along.

 

Jumping on beds while having pillow fights is one of those acts of anarchy and rebellion we cherish as children. I still have my acts of anarchy, too. Mostly they revolve around socks with attitude. I might be smiles and sunshine to all appearances, but my socks are telling it like it is. Of course, no one sees the socks unless I pull up my pant legs, but I know what they say. I have socks for every mood. I love my Blue Q socks. They make me feel victorious.

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Today, I am the Duchess of Sassy Town.

 

I throw off the yoke of oppression and declare my love for John Denver songs, the Hallmark Channel, and the ocassional romance novel. Call me sentimental, silly, whatever. I don’t care and you can kiss my grits if you don’t like it! (Southern sayings are great, by the way.)

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Love the things you love, don’t pretend to love the things you don’t (unless tact and good manners make it the kind choice), and celebrate the small victories.

 

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How can you not tickle that belly?

 

As soon as I am done tickling this kitten, I am going to go sing while folding laundry, and then maybe sneak in a few minutes with a good book. Best day ever.

 

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Peace and hugs.

 

 

Five Little Poopers and How They Grew (apologies to Margaret Sidney)

We have foster kittens in the house again! Beautiful momma cat Cola arrived to us with her 1 week old babies Squirt, Soda, Pop, Fizz, and Bubbles, on April 2. In the week we have been watching them, they have shown so much change. I can sit and watch them for hours. And I do, believe me, much to the chagrin of my instructors at Saybrook University, who keep waiting for me to submit this semester’s essays on the human animal bond. Instead of writing about it, I am living it! They have me mesmerized.

Here is the family on the first day they came to stay with us.

 

 

These little bundles of love and joy get bigger, stronger, and more active every day. I feel so privileged to be a part of their journey to finding new homes with loving human families.

It was a bit of a challenge to sort out which little one is which, but on the day of their first weigh-in we tried our best.

Day 7 collage

I’ve been waiting for a mom with 5 babies to come along just so I could use the title Five Little Poopers and How They Grew, a nod of a sort to Margaret Sidney’s series of books, Five Little Peppers. The first in a series of 12 books (published 1881-1916), The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was a childhood favorite of mine. As I’ve written before, as the youngest child of a young, pretty widow, I was fascinated by stories of widowed mothers with spunky children, everyone pitching in and getting into all kinds of hijinks.

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Margaret Sidney was the psuedonym of Harriet Mulford Stone Lathrop (1844 – 1924).

Five Little Peppers book cover

Margaret Sidney considered the series done after 4 books, but pressure from her fans prompted her to keep writing. The series, in order:

  • Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1881)
  • Five Little Peppers Midway (1890)
  • Five Little Peppers Grown Up (1892)
  • Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper (1897)
  • Five Little Peppers: The Stories Polly Pepper Told (1899)
  • Five Little Peppers: The Adventures of Joel Pepper (1900)
  • Five Little Peppers Abroad (1902
  • Five Little Peppers At School (1903)
  • Five Little Peppers and Their Friends (1904)
  • Five Little Peppers: Ben Pepper (1905)
  • Five Little Peppers in the Little Brown House (1907)
  • Five Little Peppers: Our Davie Pepper (1916)
all 12 books
Someday I will own them all!
kindle collection
For now, I will settle for the much cheaper alternative of the Kindle version of the complete set.

In 1939, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was released as a film, with Edith Fellows receiving top billing as sister Polly.

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The cast of the film version of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1939).

 

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Of course, as the youngest in my family, my favorite Pepper was baby sister Phronsie (short for Saphronia). She was also the sibling saddled with the least common name in the family, another trait I share with her. In the film version, she was played by adorable little Dorothy Ann Seese.

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Dorothy Ann Seese (1935-2015) was considered to have the potential of Shirley Temple. She appeared in 11 films between 1939 and 1955. She became a data analyst and then a paralegal.

When I finally saw the movie, not so long ago, I became seriously concerned for the kitten actor who appears as a gift to Phronsie. Phronsie hauls that poor little thing around like an old sock, and I became concerned for the welfare of that long gone cat.

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Phronsie and her kitten.

Apparently I’m not the only one who was concerned for the kitten. I found pictures of the kitten in several scenes, marked with a red arrow to show that the kitten was alive and kicking and still in the movie.

 

I’ve been oddly fascinated with the number 5 recently. Biblically, the number 5 supposedly signifies the grace of God because man was created with 5 fingers on each hand, 5 toes on each foot, and 5 senses. In other traditions and readings, the number 5 represents balance, health, love, marriage, the human (the 4 limbs and the head that controls them), peace, harmony…

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Other odd things about the number 5: there are 5 vowels in the English language, an earthworm has 5 hearts, many (but not all) starfish have 5 arms. Back to the Bible, David was armed with 5 stones when he killed Goliath. I am generally opposed to throwing stones at anyone or anything, but it’s a good story as far as parables go. With faith and determination, you can do what you set out to do.

5 stones

 

Legendary designer Coco Chanel considered 5 to be her lucky number. Her most successful and iconic perfume, Chanel No. 5, was released on May 5, 1922. She purportedly said, “I always launch my collection on the 5th day of the 5th month, so the number 5 seems to bring me luck – therefore, I will name it No 5.”

 

 

I am currently reading Louise Penny’s 9th novel in her Inspector Gamache series, titled How the Light Gets In. Gotta love a book that references singer/songwriter/poet/ordained Buddhist monk Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

 

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Here is the song performed by 2 amazing singers, Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla, who were both backup singers for Leonard Cohen, or his angels, as he called them.

 

In the Inspector Gamache book (yes, back to the book, there is a reason I brought it up), How the Light Gets In is a mystery surrounding the famous Ouellet quintuplets, a fictional set of 5 identical sisters based on the real-life Dionne quintuplets (born 1934) and the story of their family ceding custody of the girls to the government of Ontario, which made millions of dollars off of them a tourist attraction.

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Ontario premier Mitchell Hepburn with the Dionne quintuplets.

The Dionne quints were the first known quintuplets to have survived infancy. In 1934, such a birth was headline news and not a common occurence. Now, with fertility drugs and medical interventions, such a story would not be the rarity it was then. In the midst of the Depression, the world was hungry for what they thought was a happy story. But the true story of the Dionne sisters is much darker; they were watched, examined, kept by Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe in his Dafoe Hospital and Nursery with the support of the Ontario government.

Quintland
Living facility constructed by the government of Ontario for the quintuplets, surrounded by barbed wire fencing. It became known as Quintland and was a tourist attraction.

 

The parents were poor, unable to make ends meet, and already had 5 older children to support, so the girls were taken away at 4 months of age, exploited, exhibited publicly several times a day. They didn’t see their parents Oliva-Edouard and Elzire Dionne until they were 9 years old, in 1943, when Oliva and Elzire won custody of the girls back from the government. In later years, the girls described being sexually abused by their father. They had all left home by the age of 18.

 

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Never thought of indvidually, sisters Annette, Émelie, Yvonne, Cécile, and Marie.

 

Émilie became a nun, but died young at age 20 from suffocation during a seizure. Marie died of a brain tumor at age 35. In the 1990s, surviving sisters Annette, Cécile, and Yvonne, living in poverty, received a settlement from the government, but it could, of course, not make up for the abuses they suffered. They also told their story in the book Family Secrets, with writer Jean-Yves Soucy. Yvonne died of cancer in 2001.

 

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Annette, Yvonne, and Cécile in 1998.

 

As far as I can tell, Annette and Cécile are still living.

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Cécile and Annette in 2017.

family secrets

 

Morbid curiosity on my part? Probably. Partly. It is a fascinating story. Not necessarily murderous as in the Louise Penny fictionalized version, but still dark and tragic.

 

 

As for my 5 little ones, their mother is taking quite good care of them, and they are on the path to very happy lives. Yes, I love to show pictures of them and it would be great for people to spend time with them, socializing them to human company. But I don’t get any benefit from them other than tremendous happiness and the feeling that I am doing something good in the world. Priceless.

 

 

I love all 5 of the babies, and their momma, to pieces and would never do anything to hurt them in any way. But I do want to share them with you. Everyone needs a little kitten photo break in their day.

Cola today
Mother cat Cola.
Squirt latest
Squirt, the only boy.
Soda latest
Lively adventurer Soda.
Pop latest
Serious looking Pop.

 

Fizz today
Curious Fizz.

 

Bubbles today
Tiny Bubbles, the smallest of the siblings. The smallest always holds a special place in my heart.

(I am aware that Tiny Bubbles is a 1966 song from singer Don Ho, but I am not going there right now. You’re welcome.)

I wish them loving adoptive families, long healthy lives, happiness cat-style, safety, delicious nutritious food, and bright sunny windows. That’s 5 things. I am sure I can come up with more, but this seems a fitting place to stop.

Consider fostering for your local shelter. You’ll be glad you did.

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Read books. Read every day. Seriously.

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Peace and hugs (and kittens).

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Beige is Not a Color

I love color, unapologetically and enthusiastically. Everywhere. In the landscape, in my closet, for my food, cars, house paints, you name it. Color makes me happy. Lack of color bums me out.

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So cheerful!

On a recent Project Runway Allstars, designer Isaac Mizrahi, in giving the contestants a color challenge, said that people crave color without knowing it. Then why were all of the designers so freaked out about using color? Over the years I have heard countless Project Runway hopefuls say they don’t use color or prints. Yes, many women are looking for that perfect little black dress. But if I had one, I would liven it up with an amazing splash of color. I don’t want to look like Wednesday Addams!

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Not my style.
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See, she has to accessorize with a cat to add some color, plus the contrast of the pink background. I admit I would wear a little black dress if I looked anything like Audrey Hepburn in one.

 

Mizrahi, although often dressed in black himself, is known for his use of color. At the exhibition Izaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History, the Jewish Museum in New York showcased his high-end and colorful women’s fashions. Yes, there is some black in there, but it’s not what stands out to me.

 

 

I met a dear friend for coffee today, and for fun we went into Neiman Marcus just to look around. There were some spring pops of color, but still an awful lot of black and gray tones.

 

Even some of the art on display was black and white. It might be meant to denote a certain elegance, but to me it’s just dreary (the lack of color, not the painting).

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Judith Foosaner, Breaking and Entering #12, 2012, acrylic on paper on canvas, The Neiman Marcus Collection.

One window display did catch my eye, with 1960s inspired colorful print dress. Although the mannequin seems worried, or startled.

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Why are people afraid of color? Interior designer Maria Killam has a theory that people aren’t afraid of color, but of choosing the “wrong” color. Mother Nature doesn’t have such worries! In nature, fields of wildflowers grow in an amazing array of colors, yet many of us worry that mixed colors will clash when we choose clothing, paints, etc.

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Perfectly lovely color mixing.

Okay, I have a black and white cat, a white cat, and a beige dog. But my brown tabby girl–when you look at her coat it’s a wonderful mix of various shades of browns, oranges, black, white.

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Sara’s coat of many colors.
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Marble’s coat is black and white, but his personality is colorful!

When I was a design student at UC Davis back in the “a long time ago” era, I had a professor, Richard Berteaux, who often said that beige is not a color. His own home was shades of pink varied to take advantage of the shifting sunlight. It certainly stood out among its dull, beige neighbor houses.

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Urban Dictionary’s definition of beige.

 

The architecture of Amsterdam is cheerful even in gloomy weather, with its bright palette and quirky facades. Compare that to Monte Vista Villas (silly name) in Oakland, which I see on my drive to and from work every day. Boring! And ugly, defacing the hillside, but that’s another story.

 

 

It was a mjor change in movies when Technicolor came in. In The Wizard of Oz (1939), when the movie shifts from black and white to color, it still is breathtaking all of these years later.

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In the film Pleasantville (1998), the characters and scenes emerge from black and white into color as the characters experience real emotions and change.

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The musical is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Who wants to see Joseph and the Black Overcoat? That sounds way too teen-angsty and sad.

Do you live in Technicolor or Film Noir?

 

 

I choose Technicolor!

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I embrace color!

Back when I had to sell my house in Napa, the realtor advised that I paint over my multicolor walls (they were the blues and yellows of Provence, like a Vincent van Gogh painting) and make it all white. Ick! I worked hard getting all of those colors together and on the walls! Plus I didn’t have the time or money or patience to repaint the house.

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Vincent van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888.

Bob welcomed color into our house when we went through a remodel a while back. Even the light switch plates are colorful. I’m so proud of him.

 

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Painting by local artist Carol Aust.
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Andy Warhol Endangered Species (1983) series prints.

My closet is colorful too. Once I wore my tangerine sherbet color jeans to work with a colorful t-shirt and a coworker said I looked like bubblegum. That’s okay with me!

 

 

I noticed today in a parking lot that most of the cars were black, white, or silver. Mine is a color called Laser Blue. Makes it easier to find.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I was at my fun Monday book arts class, where we were making little house books. I was the only one using a bright color. Everyone else was using muted yellows, greens, and blacks. Mine also has some black in it, but the predominant color is red.

 

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Good, whole foods are often in wonderful colors.

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Okay, the potatoes are brown, but they are so delicious, who cares?

 

I love playing with new mocktail recipes. My latest, in living (well, artificial) color, I dubbed The Shape of Water. Might be a little scary looking to some, but it was tasty and refreshing, a happy drink.

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The Shape of Water: mint, kiwi, lime, coconut water, sparkling water, and a splash of Torani blue raspberry syrup. Colorful and delicious!
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Don’t worry, my mocktail, I promise, tastes nothing like the murky depths.

One area in which I am admittedly lacking in color–footwear. My mother always said that every woman should own at least one pair of red shoes. Working at an animal shelter, my shoes tend to comfortable, practical, and who-cares-if-they-get-dog-poop-on-them-able. On my days off, I aim for “no shoe” days of not leaving home. I think I need to get some red shoes. Not the evil, possess you and make you dance until you die kind from the 1948 movie, The Red Shoes. The happy, sparkly, magical kind from The Wizard of Oz.

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So, I think I’ll make a colorful mocktail and do some online shopping, in my bare feet, for a colorful pair of shoes. Happy feet!

 

Cheers, and live your life in brilliant color.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

As with many of these musings, this one begins with a dream and a musical earworm. I dreamed that my family (a mixed lot of from throughout time and some people strictly from my imagination) moved into a house, an old, blue-painted, farmhouse in need of a lot of work but with some great features, and before even unpacking, my dream father-figure (one of the imaginary dream characters, oddly resembling the writer Michael Chabon) decided we were selling the house and moving. There was much interaction with realtors, cleaning up of the farmhouse, etc.

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Author Michael Chabon.

Moving has been a recurring theme in my life from the age of 10 through my adolescence and adulthood until I met Bob, who’s comfortingly happy in one place.

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Home is where the heart is.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve moved over the years. If my tally is correct, I moved 25 times between the years 1972 (Atlanta to Sacramento) and 2006 (from Napa to Oakland). Locations in between included Ashland, Oregon; Ankara, Turkey; Chico, California; and a long tour of Davis, California at 5 different addresses. I’m sure family and friends gave up trying to keep up with my changes of mailing address along the way.

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Demonic U-Haul, drawing by headexplodie.

Which brings me to the earworm, David Bowie’s 1972 song Changes. I was never a huge Bowie fan when he was alive, sad to say, but I’ve come to appreciate his work more in the last few years.

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Most of us want change at some point in our lives, whether to escape boredom or troubles, to challenge ourselves, to not be stagnant. In recovery circles, it’s called “doing a geographic”, and is not always the best approach. Such as in those 25 moves over 34 years–some were for good reasons (new jobs) and some were for the wrong reasons (unresolved unhappiness). My mother’s second husband put us through a few moves, usually for financial reasons (downward, not upward) and in one case, to escape creditors in one state by fleeing to another on short notice.

Then I went off to college and met a boy, and set off on a whirlwind of moves myself. My now ex-husband seemed to think the cure for any unhappiness or restlessness was to do a geographic. Rather than addressing the real problems in our lives, we had the thought that going to a new place would make everything better. Unlike smaller changes we make, like a new haircut that can put a spring in your step and make you feel sassy and fun, moving is itself stressful. And your friends get really sick of being asked to help.

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Some changes, like I say, are great. I went from vegetarian to vegan in the spring of 2015 and although I am not a perfect vegan, I am a happy one.

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I remember visiting my paternal grandparents in about 1971, and thinking how cool and modern their house was. I revisited years later and nothing had changed. It made me sad. It seemed old and faded and no longer cool but fusty. I look around our house now and long for new furniture, partly because the cats have destroyed most of our upholstered furniture, and partly because I don’t want that unchanging, old-person fustiness to envelop me. Unless fringed furniture becomes stylish, in which case my cats are trend-setters.

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The fringed look is great for dresses and jackets, not so much for furniture.
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Interior designer cat. Image from cattime.com.

Haircuts and hairstyles and fashion are like that too. We change with the times. And if we don’t, we can hope that what’s old comes back in style and is new again. That 1980s mullet hopefully never comes back in style! Please, never.

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The classic mullet on Billy Ray Cyrus.
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Even young George Clooney looks silly with a mullet.

My hair has changed many times over the years, long to short and back again. It’s also changed as I’ve gotten older, from thick and wavy to neither of those things.

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Me on the left with a lot of hair, my equally thick-haired sister Ellen on the right, circa 1988. My hair, sadly, is not thick and wavy anymore. The things they don’t tell you about getting older!
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Circa 1975.
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Mom on the left, me with 80s hair on the right. Circa 1985.
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Fast forward to 2015.
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Getting longer, 2017. I call this my moody rock album cover photo.
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Today in hair, March 13, 2018.

Rather than moving, when I am hit with those “doing a geographic” urges, I go back to school. School is my comfort zone, my safe place, the place I feel like I belong much of the time. I’ve been back to school several times over the years, and now with online education, I can be a life-long learner from the comfort of my own home, changing mailing address or not. Someday I’ll finish this Ph.D. I’ve embarked upon, and then I’ll maybe go to sewing school or goat-herding school or who knows what.

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Another change I go through admittedly more than I’d really like is jobs, which is what really brings up the whole Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes song for me.  I’ve had jobs I loved–working as a museum technician for California State Parks in Sonoma, as Assistant Registrar in the art exhibitions department at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa. I’ve had jobs that I disliked–my first job after I finished my Bachelor’s degree in design, working as a “scientific illustrator” for an unnamed company in Sacramento. I’ve had jobs that I was mostly “meh” about–the 11 years I spent as the Assistant Registrar at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

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Because I was “meh” about that job, I spent a long time looking for and interviewing for other jobs. I thought I landed my dream job when I was hired by the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis in late 2015. I love UC Davis and I love the city of Davis. I was sure that was the job I would retire from. Maybe it’s true that you can’t go home again, though I don’t really believe that. Maybe my clue should have been my start day on Pearl Harbor Day–December 7. Or on my second day of work when my car broke down and I was 3 hours late getting there.

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Needless to say, it didn’t work out and in the summer of 2016 I found myself unemployed. Yippee!

I felt unappreciated at first, then I tried to be positive and think of it as a learning experience.

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(From the Travelling Squid)

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A career change, that’s what I needed. I wanted to do something to make a difference in the world. Another version of doing a geographic, maybe, but in my case, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I applied for jobs at every animal shelter and rescue group I could think of, and landed at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in August of 2016. I couldn’t have been luckier. Or happier.

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Best job ever!

I spent a wonderful year and a half there.  I fell in love with the dogs and cats there everyday, and couldn’t ask for better colleagues or volunteers to spend my days with. I traded down in terms of a paycheck, but seriously up in terms of satisfaction and mental rewards. Like David Bowie sings, “Don’t want to be a richer man…” (woman), just a more fulfilled one. I wasn’t looking for a change.

So I applied for a job at the East Bay SPCA.

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I’m still not sure why. Needing a personal challenge? A shorter commute? Trying to go home again (I volunteered there from 2009 to 2016)? I was offered the job. I spent 5 days agonizing over what to do. I accepted the job. And here I go again, starting anew. Which starts my ear worm transition to Here You Come Again, by Dolly Parton (1977) (“…here you come again and here I go…”).

 

I hope I made the right decision. Admittedly, I miss my friends at ARF. But I seriously hope I spend the rest of this career in animal welfare with the East Bay SPCA (assuming I do a good job and get to stay). I’d like to stay put in one house and one job for a while. I can keep changing my hair. Maybe we’ll get new furniture and miraculously the cats won’t destroy it. (Do they make stainless steel living room furniture? And how uncomfortable is it?)

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Cat proof?

Before you know it, it will be time to make a big change and retire. Then maybe we’ll sell the house, move to the country, rescue some goats…

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Leanne Lauricella, one of my heroes, is the founder of the goat rescue and sanctuary Goats of Anarchy.

Keep learning, keep happy, and stay motivated to make a difference. You can change the world.