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.

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.

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.

demonic U-Haul
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.



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.


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.


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.

The fringed look is great for dresses and jackets, not so much for furniture.
Kitten scratching fabric sofa
Interior designer cat. Image from

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.

The classic mullet on Billy Ray Cyrus.
Clooney mullet
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.

Gen and Ellen
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!
1975 hair
Circa 1975.
1985 hair
Mom on the left, me with 80s hair on the right. Circa 1985.
2015 hair
Fast forward to 2015.
2017 hair
Getting longer, 2017. I call this my moody rock album cover photo.
today in 2018
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.

goat herding

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.


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.


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.

(From the Travelling Squid)


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.



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.


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?)

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…

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.


Bright lights, long shadows, and mementos

Memento:  something that serves to warn or remind; also: a souvenir.


When I looked up memento on Merriam Webster, I wasn’t expecting the word “warning” to be a part of the definition. But given the reason I looked it up, it’s actually apt to include warning in my thoughts. Then I looked up memento mori, thinking of the movie Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) and the story Memento Mori (Jonathan Nolan, published 2001). “A reminder of mortality.” Yikes. Even more appropriate. I followed up with memento vivere (a popular tattoo according to the internet): in Latin, remember that you must live; a reminder of life, a reminder of the pleasure of living.

memento poster3 Ryan


Christpher and Jonathan Nolan
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan came up with the story and proposed it to Christopher as an idea for a script. Jonathan’s original story was published after the movie was released.


I read a line in a book I just started, Setting Free the Kites by Alex George (2017):

But such a bright light casts long, dark shadows.

George’s narrator is speaking of his friend Nathan, but it made me think of a dear friend of my own.


Late last year, a friend of mine took her own life.  She was a bubbly, enthusiastic, cheerful person. So many of us were stunned that her bright light hid such dark shadows. Pain, despair. She was always helpful to everyone else, but left her own needs secret from us.

She befriended me and my dog Einstein when we were new in the neighborhood and feeling friendless. She and her Friday dog invited us on walks and playdates. We both joined a neighborhood book club. We went out together to concerts and restaurants. I didn’t see her regularly or often, but when I did, I always felt comfortable (hard for an introvert) and had a good time. She had the most amazing smile and dimples. Laughter came easily. She really was a bright light.

Just last weekend her family held an estate sale at her house down the street from me. I briefly thought of going in and picking up some memento of my friend. I couldn’t do it. I drove past on my way to work and kept going. Partly, it seemed ghoulish, going to a sale at her house and going through her things to buy something. I decided I’d prefer to remember her one of the times we went out together, for tacos at Xolo and then a Damien Rice concert at the Fox Theater on April 23, 2015.



I had bought 2 tickets, hoping I’d find someone to go with me. Trying to be a “glass half full” kind of person and hoping for the best, I posted that I had an extra ticket. She was the first to respond. She wasn’t sure she knew who Damien Rice was, but it wasn’t just about a free ticket. She wanted to do something with me; it felt genuine. We met at Xolo, had a great meal and caught up. At the Fox, I had splurged on not terrible tickets. We goofed around taking photos of the giant Hindu-deity figures that flank the stage.

We chatted with the people in the seats on either side of us. We were mesmerized by Markéta Irglová, who opened for Damien and also sang backup on a few of his songs. She recognized a few of Damien’s songs. It was a great night.

Markéta Irglová


Life got busy for both of us. We didn’t see each other often. She changed jobs, worked a lot of extra hours. I changed jobs twice. My schedule shifted to weekends and evenings. We liked each other’s Facebook posts. She was always the first to respond when dog Einstein posted on his Facebook page (he can be quite witty). At some point, she wasn’t responding any more. I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

Another mutual friend messaged me, asking if I’d heard the news. She was gone. I went to the service, cried with her friends and family, wished I’d noticed something was wrong. We all asked what we could have done. Maybe that’s the memento I carry forward–an awareness of suicide prevention and the ending of the silence around suicide. As well as the notions of memento mori and memento vivere: remembering our own mortality and embracing life.

end the silence


My mother passed away in 2009. I have several mementos of her, but one of my favorites and maybe one of the silliest to an outsider is her beloved cookbook, Noted Cookery: Favorite Recipes from Friends of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1969).

Noted Cookery

It’s hard to explain how much this cookbook meant to my mother and the sentimental value it possesses for me and my siblings. We still cook some of her flagged recipes from it, as they are old family favorites and standards at family gatherings. They aren’t vegan, so I don’t indulge anymore, but I still have fond memories of helping mom make the Broccoli Puff or the Hello Dolly bars (aka 7-layer magic bars).


The cookbook, one of those fundraiser efforts of recipes submitted by various community members, was a Christmas gift to my mother from her sister Isabelle and her family in 1970, part of the reason for its importance to Mom.

Noted Cookery signed


As kids, we were fascinated by the list of contributors, some of whom we had heard of and I still don’t know what their connection to the Dallas Symphony was (but it doesn’t really matter; they generously contributed). Mrs. Bob Hope (Bob Hope’s Favorite Lemon Pie) and Danny Kaye (Chicken with Peppers) were notable among them. Later, I saw names that I had come to recognize: actress Loretta Young (Bride’s Delight), opera great Leontyne Price (Crabmeat Imperial), Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (Pedernales Chili), Mrs. Ross H. Perot (Crabmeat Aspic Salad and Mocha-Nut Tortoni), Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Sweet Potatoes Supreme and Orange Sparkle Cookies), Mrs. Richard Nixon (Apricot Nut Bread), violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (Birchermuesli), actress Greer Garson (English Trifle).


Don’t discount that lemon pie. Bob Hope lived to be 100, and Dolores Hope to 102. And Danny Kaye is said to have loved to cook and to have been quite a good one. Food writer Ruth Reichl, in a piece she wrote after Kaye’s death in 1987:

“It may be the sense of timing he developed as a comedian, or the balance he learned in music. It may be the generosity of somebody who gave so much of his time to charity. Or the sheer gusto of the baseball lover (you should have heard his discourse on hot dogs). Or maybe it was the much-vaunted hand-eye coordination that made his cooking so incredible. But there was something more.

Danny Kaye didn’t cook like a star. He didn’t coddle you with caviar or smother you in truffles. He had no interest in complicated concoctions or exotic ingredients. His taste was absolutely true, and he was the least-pretentious cook I’ve ever encountered. The meals he made were little symphonies–balanced, perfectly timed, totally rounded.”

danny cooking


Some of the recipes in Noted Cookery horrified us. Hot Citrus Fruit Salad? No thanks! Same to the equally horrific Hot Pineapple Salad on the same page. Blech.

Hot Citrus Fruit Salad
Make and consume at your own risk.


Others we loved, partly for the names. Johnny Bozzini, You Asked For It. Remember, it was 1970 and these recipes ddidn’t seem quite as odd as they do to at least me now. Lots of canned soups and weird things in jars.


The cookbook was lost in a house fire in 1987. Mom managed to save the page with her beloved sister’s inscription, but the rest of the cookbook was a charred lump. She put the remnant in a plastic bag and made the recipes she loved best from memory. Years later, around 2004, I was volunteering at a library fundraising book sale. I always look at the cookbooks for hidden gems. There it was, sitting on the shelf, easily recognizable to me with its ochre yellow cover. For fifty cents. I grabbed it, feeling the sense of excitement I might have felt finding a rare first edition of Catcher in the Rye. I managed not to spill the proverbial beans on my weekly phone call with mom, awaiting the look on her face at the surprise when I gave her the book. My next visit, I presented the book. I don’t remember if she cried. More than likely she did. We cry easily in my family; tears of happiness as well as tears of sorrow. We sat down and perused the old recipes. A trip down memory lane. She put bookmarks in at the old favorites, even though she knew the recipes by heart.

When she passed away a few years later, we were going through her things. Somehow that cookbook had taken on an even greater significance for me after having reunited her with it. It’s a memento of her and our earlier family life that I treasure. It sits with my other cookbooks, rarely used but often fondly brought out just to look and remember.

Not so long ago, my sister Ellen texted me that she was making one of the old favorites from what we call the Dallas cookbook: Chicken Tortilla Casserole. Back in 1970, tortilla chips were an exotic thing in Atlanta, so Mom made the recipe with Fritos instead. I’m trying to figure out a way I can veganize this recipe just for fun.

Not one, but two cans of soup.


If you are feeling hungry and inspired to cook, you too can have this gem of a cookcook. I just found it listed on eBay for $5.95. Better idea, think back to a cherished memory and a memento that you can treasure the way I treasure the nostalgic memory of a family, safe and happy, laughing and enjoying a meal together, or the memory of a dear friend who made me feel special.

Memento vivere.  Remember to live.

memento vivere

All mouth and no trousers


don't talk

Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. Practice what you preach. Well done is better than well said. Walk the walk, talk the talk. It was George Bernard Shaw who wrote in 1903 in the play Man and Superman, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” You can talk a good game but be full of empty promises.

GBS at 90
George Bernard Shaw at 90. He looks wise to me!

From Shakespeare, who said everything better than anyone else, in Richard III:


Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no good doers: be assured
We come to use our hands and not our tongues.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Richard III.

In other words, yep, shut up, we are here to get shit done.

Apparently, in the UK they say someone who is full of those empty promises is “all mouth and no trousers.” Which makes me think of the Wallace and Grommit movie The Wrong Trousers.

wrong trousers



Last month I attended my last required residential conference for my doctoral program at Saybrook University. No, that doesn’t mean I am anywhere near completion! One of the sessions I attended was about identifying our values and then living and leading by them. After we each winnowed a 2 page list of terms down to our personal top 3, we had to write the 3 on the backs of the name badges we wore throughout the conference.


Since I could never make my badge hang right anyway, for the rest of the conference, what people saw if they looked was not my name but the words I had written. I kept waiting for someone to ask me about it, but no one did.

Maybe everyone thought I had the adorable hippie name Kindness Compassion Love. It’s easier to spell and pronounce than my actual name.

But I was quickly tested on living by my values. Of walking the walk. Of proving I wasn’t all mouth and no trousers. It wasn’t so easy. In that same values session, we broke out into small groups to discuss examples of leaders who we think of as living by their values. Normally in these sessions, our political alignments tend to be fairly aligned. I mean, come one, it’s an alternative university with twice yearly meetings in Monterey, California. Not a huge bastion of conservative Republicanism; in other words, it’s not Trump country. Just saying. But we are all allowed our own views and the safe space to express them, yes? And there are students at Saybrook from all over not just the country, but the world.


The first student in our group, a new student in her first semester, prefaced her choice by saying that she realized she would be the only one in the room to choose who she was about to name. Then she said that to her, Trump (she said President Trump, which I refuse to do) is second only to God in leadership and values, and that she admires his family values and people skills. No joke. I sat in stunned silence for a moment. She was clearly serious, and I have to admit it took courage for her to take this stance in this group of people. She knew she was a minority of one. My mantra of “kindness compassion love” looped through my thoughts. I smiled, I babbled. I was friendly. Later, I made an effort to befriend this student. I could tell she felt lonely and somewhat ostracized in the group. Others, also shocked but wanting to walk their walk as well, talked to her, engaged her, made their best efforts to include in her group activities. But even though she seemed to relax a bit, she still kept herself somewhat separate from the class.


It was an uncomfortable feeling to find myself so clearly tested on my values. I came away hoping I had learned a lesson in tolerance. And then it happened again at work.

Not a Trump incident, but in dealing with a difficult person in a public setting as a representative of the organization for which I work.

I work at an animal shelter. Emotions can run high in both directions. Yes, pople are often overjoyed at meeting their new best friend and getting to take them home. But people also cry over lost and deceased pets. They get upset when the animal they want to adopt has been adopted by someone else. They get frustrated when we don’t have the answers they want to hear. And we get frustrated when we are trying our best and the situation is still going downhill despite our best efforts. (Check out this list of tips from Psychology Today.)

There is a woman who lost her cat. She comes to the shelter looking to see if we have her cat. That’s reasonable. I would do the same. She is sad and angry about her missing cat. I get it. She is frustrated. Desperate even. She is not easy to talk to. Her anger and emotions get in the way. She perceives she is being treated badly, that people are being rude to her. I spent about half an hour with her, doing my best to practice kindness, compassion, love. To exercise my empathy muscles. Reminding myself that she is a very unhappy person and to be treated gently. It wasn’t easy, but I did my best. We did not have her beloved kitty. I hope she finds him. I hope she comes to realize some inner peace.

lost cat

As for myself, I will always be a work in progress. I have to exercise those empathy muscles so they don’t atrophy. To remind myself not to turn a blind eye to people who are homeless, to not turn my head the other way when I see suffering, to not bury my head in the sand when I don’t want to know what horrible things are happening in our world. Apathy is not one of my values, and I must do my best not to let it lull me to inaction or avoidance.


In the words of essayist/philosopher/poet/filmmaker Suzy Kassem, “Apathy is the door to ignorance. Empathy is the door to wisdom.”

Suzy Kassem


I want to be wise, not ignorant. So I am going to put on my trousers and get out there walking.

my projects


Peace and hugs.

Troubadours and Storytellers

For many years, I have been intrigued by the designations troubadour and storyteller. There is a very long tradition of both throughout history. What’s the difference? The word troubadour is from the French and was used to refer to medieval lyric poets, often concentrating on the theme of courtly love, with verses written to music. A poet musician is how I think of it. In more modern times, troubadours have been folk singers in particular.


Scheherazade spins tales about Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad the Sailor over One Thousand and One Nights, enthralling her murderous husband King Shahryar, who postpones her execution night after night in order to hear another story. Stories are that powerful.



Storytelling goes much further back, when histories were passed down in the oral tradition rather than the written. Oral storytelling remains central in some cultures today.

storyteller 1

Still from the documentary Al-Halqa–In the Storyteller’s Circle (2010, Thomas Ladenburger).


The storyteller figures above were made by Cochiti Pueblo potter Helen Cordero (1915-1994), who based some of her work on the “singing mother” motif and others on memories of her grandfather. Her figures are storytellers and she herself became a storyteller through their creation.

Storytelling clearly doesn’t have to involve words, as seen by Helen Cordero’s work. Images tell wonderful stories. Think of ancient cave paintings, some over 35,000 years old. In the January 2016 issue of Smithsonian, Jo Marchant and Justin Mott explored the cave paintings on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, thought to be the oldest cave paintings thus far discovered.


Scattered on the walls are stencils, human hands outlined against a background of red paint. Though faded, they are stark and evocative, a thrilling message from the distant past. My companion, Maxime Aubert, directs me to a narrow semicircular alcove, like the apse of a cathedral, and I crane my neck to a spot near the ceiling a few feet above my head. Just visible on darkened grayish rock is a seemingly abstract pattern of red lines.

Then my eyes focus and the lines coalesce into a figure, an animal with a large, bulbous body, stick legs and a diminutive head: a babirusa, or pig-deer, once common in these valleys. Aubert points out its neatly sketched features in admiration. “Look, there’s a line to represent the ground,” he says. “There are no tusks—it’s female. And there’s a curly tail at the back.”

Humans making figurative art, using imagination and symbolism–truly a remarkable development. Previous to the discovery of the paintings on Sulawesi, the oldest cave paintings were thought to be the famous Chauvet Cave paintings in France, made a World Heritage site in 2014. You can see an online exhibition of them through the Bradshaw Foundation.


I come to write about this through my love of singer/songwriters. Preferably menlacholy ones. Or romantic. Or romantically melancholy. As I have written about before, I have really weird and vivid dreams. Last week, I had several dreams in which Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot (as a young man, not the close to 80-year old he is now) was wandering through the action, playing his guitar and singing.

As I have also written, I am highly susceptible to ear worms. So for days now, Lightfoot’s song “If You Could Read My Mind” has been on an endless loop in my head. The song is about the breakup of his first marriage. Hauntingly beautiful but unbearably sad.


Sigh. Of course, there are many wonderful examples of troubadours: Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, David Wilcox, Kelly Joe Phelps. I heard Kelly Joe Phelps describe how when he’s performing a song, he sees it as a movie playing in his mind. Storytelling, yes indeed.

Pete Seeger (1919-2014)


Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) and his son Arlo Guthrie (b. 1947)


Bob Dylan (b. 1941)


Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)



David Wilcox (left), Kelly Joe Phelps (right)


Lest I leave out women, I’ll add Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Emmylou Harris. I consider Natalie Merchant to be in this group of female troubadours and storytellers. I could go on and on.


And this is only a very narrow sampling from North American, white culture. There is such an array to choose from; the African American blues tradition, for example, with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter…


Writers are, by nature, storytellers, but I consider some to be more in THE storyteller tradition than others. For example, Irish writer Frank Delaney (1942-2017), a novelist, journalist, and broadcaster, is best known in the United States for his book Ireland, a many-layered and rich story of storytellers. Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

In the winter of 1951, a storyteller, the last practitioner of an honored, centuries-old tradition, arrives at the home of nine-year-old Ronan O’Mara in the Irish countryside. For three wonderful evenings, the old gentleman enthralls his assembled local audience with narratives of foolish kings, fabled saints, and Ireland’s enduring accomplishments before moving on. But these nights change young Ronan forever, setting him on a years-long pursuit of the elusive, itinerant storyteller and the glorious tales that are no less than the saga of his tenacious and extraordinary isle. 

It’s probably not okay to bring up now-disgraced storyteller Garrison Keillor, but for many years, before the sexual misconduct allegations, he created a wonderful world of characters and stories with his radio program and books about the fictional Lake Wobegon. There, I brought him up anyway.


One of my personal favorites is Eudora Welty, author of one of my all-time favorite short stories, Why I Live at the P.O.

Eudora Welty.

Following in her footsteps and the tradition of female Southern writers is my mother’s favorite, Fannie Flagg.


Mom made a point of making sure each of her children had a copy of A Redbird Christmas, which I’ve reread over several holiday seasons, and also listened to the audiobook, read by Ms. Flagg herself.


You might be more familiar with her work from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, based on her book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.


Filmmakers are certainly storytellers, whether it is in telling a hardhitting true story through documentaries, like Michael Moore, or whimsical fictional stories along the line of Tim Burton or Wes Anderson.


There’s a novel I am going to write someday. I know what it’s about, but it’s a long way off, and will require much research on my part. (I think I’ll complete the Ph.D. first.) I already have a vision for what the film version will look like, and Wes Anderson is my first choice for director. I see something in the spirit of his The Grand Budapest Hotel. I hope your curiosity is piqued so that you will read my novel. When I write it. When it’s published. By then, I’ll be old enough for the large print edition myself.


I could go on and on, but I will end with an art exhibition here where I am now at the Saybrook University Residential Conference, being held at the Hyatt Regency Monterey. Photographer and filmmaker Randy Bacon has compiled a work entitled The Road I Call Home, featuring portraits and films of people who are homeless telling their stories. The project is presented by Gathering Friends for the Homeless in conjunction with 7 Billion Ones. I have been gazing at the portraits as I travel the conference center today, but only just started reading the stories they tell. Everyone has a story to tell, and deserves the chance to tell it. Here are a few of the portraits.


It’s late now and time for me to sleep, perchance to dream. And perhaps hear a little Gordon Lightfoot.

Sweet dreams to all.


Cooking with Molly (I made a video!)

One thing I love is cooking and sharing food with friends and family. Recently, my beautiful friend Molly, who just happens to be our beloved Marble the cat’s guardian angel, and I decided to cook a vegan feast together. Take a look!


I have been wanting to make another cooking video for a while now, but time always seems to be in short supply. Plus, I am still quite the amateur with iMovie. My thanks to Robert Ward for helping me with sound editing, in particular.

And to Molly, a huge thanks for being a great friend to people and animals alike. You are one of the kindest people I know.


Peace and hugs.

Shopping on Mars

Dreams are strange things.

Dreaming Light by RHADS


They can be exhilarating, romantic, horrifying, puzzling, and often, to me, inexplicable. Many people describe recurring dreams that they have when stressed or anxious. You know, showing up naked for an exam you aren’t prepared for, that kind of thing.




My anxiety dreams often involve either driving or swimming. I avoided learning to drive and getting my driver’s license until I was in my 30s. I’ve never really learned to swim and am afraid of water. It’s not just the idea of drowning, but all of the things that might be lurking under the water. I don’t take long baths, and stick to quick showers, avoiding with all my might getting water in my eyes. Don’t worry, I do stay clean!



dunn dunn


I don’t mean to single out sharks. I don’t fear them in particular. There are lots of tiny little toothy things in the water that can nibble on you, too.




The other night, I was having a rather enjoyable dream that I was going on a shopping trip to Mars. The planet Mars. The Red Planet, named after the God of War. Not your usual shopping destination.




Note that I am not one who likes to go out shopping. Online shopping has transformed my life. I rarely have to go into an actual brick and mortar store. I haven’t resorted to having my groceries delivered. Yet. But a trip to a mall is my idea of hell on the planet Earth. I do enjoy perusing small local shops when I travel, but that’s not nerve wracking and annoying like going to THE MALL.


This is NOT my idea of a good time.


But in my dream I was very happy to be going to Mars for my shopping expedition. I was on a space shuttle-like transport that looked a lot like the Swedish subway system. It was clean and quiet and not very crowded. In fact, I was the only passenger. Perfect!


Swedish subway system


I wasn’t wearing a space suit. I guess the whole gravity thing had been figured out. Hey, it’s my dream. I don’t have to wear a space suit and get helmet hair if I don’t want to!


helmet hair 2
Is it?


I’m all for equal opportunity and women as astronauts. Go for it! But can we get Project Runway involved in a more flattering space suit?


I was happily anticipating my arrival on Mars. The shuttle was starting to vibrate as it approached the station. And just as we were about to dock I woke up (groggily) realizing that at 2:40 a.m. we were experiencing a real-life earthquake. It’s California. They happen. This one was 4.4 magnitude. We live on the Hayward fault. The epicenter of this quake was the nearby Claremont Hotel. As far as I am aware, there were no reported injuries or damages.





I pretty quickly went back to sleep after a brief wait for either a bigger jolt to come or aftershocks, but I never got to find out what my shopping experience on Mars would be. What would I be shopping for? I imagine if I were to be shopping on the moon, say, I might find a cheese store. A vegan cheese store at that, since there aren’t any dairies on the moon and I only eat vegan cheese anyway. I’d be like Wallace, when he goes to the moon on A Grand Day Out with Gromit and they picnic on moon cheese. Einstein can fill in for Gromit.



In my mind, I would enjoy my Mars shopping experience because it would be quiet, not crowded, and I wouldn’t have to drive anywhere. Except maybe to ride on a Rover. That might be fun.




I found a company online that purports to sell land on Mars, but I don’t need to be a land owner. Mars isn’t anyone’s to sell that I know of!




Another site tells me that 200,000 people have signed up with the company Mars One for a one-way mission to Mars. Should I say 200,000 gullible people?


dressed up


Back to my shopping trip. Who would set up shop on Mars? I don’t want it to be kitschy souvenir stars with key chains and mugs and pencil sharpeners or televisions shaped like space helmets.


JVC Videosphere


No advertising slogans like “Out  of this world deals!” It will all be understated and tasteful. Again, I think I have Mars confused with a Scandinavian country. Only brown and dry.

By Scandinavian, please don’t think IKEA! I mean the expensive, gorgeous housewares and furniture of my dreams. Not DIY particle board furniture and Swedish meatballs.



My Mars shopping experience must include: delicious vegan chocolate, coffee, books, gorgeous ceramics, amazingly comfortable yet flattering shoes, and a kitchen store beyond all kitchen stores. And perhaps a pet supply store. Otherwise it’s not worth the approximate 300 day trip. In my dream, I think it only took about 20 minutes, but still, for me to put on shoes, get to a shuttle, and go into stores, it’s gotta be good.

Chocolate. Luxury Martian chocolate. In the shape of planets and fun little Mars rocks. Dark chocolate. Mmmm.


amore di mona
Amore di Mona luxury vegan chocolate. It’s a thing.


Coffee. Can’t travel without it. The shuttle to Mars will have a barista and coffee bar, naturally.


Coffee bar design by Starbucks (!) for the Swiss Federal Railways. I’m not a big Starbucks fan, but I like the coffee bar.


mars coffee
The coffee bar when you arrive on Mars. (Image: Mapo House.)


Books. If it takes 300 days to get to Mars, I assume it takes the same amount of time to return to Earth. (Maybe I’m wrong. I avoided any courses in physics throughout my academic path.) I am going to need a lot of books! As much as I love Powell’s City of Books (3 stories across an entire city block) in Portland, Oregon, I think my Mars bookstore should be a bit more, I don’t know, sleek? Celestial? Breathtaking? I’m voting for Prologue Bookstore in Singapore to take on the Mars venture.


My favorite bookstore.
Prologue, Singapore.


Ceramics. I am envisioning ceramics along the line of Heath Ceramics (based in Sausalito, California), only made of Mars dust.

heath 4heath 3heath_010610-00016heath-winter


Shoes. Good shoes are so important to health and happiness. I wasn’t born with the shoe obsession my mother and a lot of other women seem to have, but shoes can make or break your day.


Spotted in Oakland, California. Not my car.


I work at an animal shelter and am on my feet all day. My shoes have to be practical and comfortable. I am tired of shoes that make my feet look like clown feet.



If you are bopping around on Mars, you have to have good shoes. I want them to still be cute and petite looking, while not hurting my feet. Currently, I mostly wear Skechers or clogs, which are fine, but give a girl a break. I’m a girly girl at heart. And a vegan. Finding cute, practical, comfortable shoes that are vegan friendly ain’t that easy. Please don’t suggest Crocs.


How many ways can I say NO to this look???


White shoes, not going to work for me.


Cute but not practical for the animal shelter.


I’m leaning right now toward the Mars store being an outlet of Insecta shoes from Brazil. Cute, ecologically minded, vegan. I haven’t tried them on yet to gauge the comfort level, but I am intrigued. They are made from recyled used clothing and plastic bottles.



The one kitschy souvenir idea I am behind–socks with images of Martians, space ships, etc. You have to have the sock wardrobe.

mars socks


Kitchen store. Kitchen gadgets, accessories, and cooking tools–yes! I adore a good kitchen store.


Faraday’s Kitchen Store, Austin, Texas. 


Some people claim that the 190-year old store E. Dehillerin on Rue Coquillière in Paris is the best place on planet Earth for buying cookware. If it’s good enough for Julia Child…There’s also the highly rated Kitchen Bazaar on avenue de Maine in Paris. I’m thinking I should take a little research trip there soon.


E. Dehillerin


Pet supplies. Should I take any of the resident companion animals along on the shopping trip? Einstein gets motion sickness, so he might not appreciate the shuttle trip to Mars. Marble could maybe handle it if I took enough crunchy food along for him. Sara is too old; at 19 she’d rather stay home and get updates in the comfort of her warm bed. For some reason, I see Misty coming along for the trip.

cat in space


Once we get there, I’ve promised her a beautiful blue jeweled collar as a memento of the journey. So, we will need an awesome pet supply store on Mars, too.


Misty looks like a high maintenance diva, but she’s a tough girl.
pet boutique
Pet boutique.
If I try to put this collar on Misty, I am going to need a Martian medic!


space medic
I hope there are medics in space.


I imagine this celestial shopping journey is going to cost a pretty penny or two, so I better get out there and start saving up! But a girl can dream. So I will.

space for girls


Things I’ve thought way too much about while home sick

I hate calling in sick to work. That’s a new thing for me, because for the first time in ages I love my job and miss it when I am not there. Mind you, a day off here and there is welcomed, but generally I’d rather not miss out on anything. Work doesn’t FEEL like work most of the time, and I enjoy all of the people and the animals I’m surrounded with on a daily basis.

Serious moments at work:



Contrast those moments with this:

home sick.JPG
Me, at home sick. Not fun.

I used to look for any reason to stay home sick when I was in school. I was a good student, but I was painfully shy. Staying home was much better! Back in the day, when my single mom was at work, she felt it was safe enough that, when I was in about 3rd grade I think, she could leave me home alone. This was the 1960’s in a middle-class suburb on a street of mostly retired people. My older siblings would be home at various points in the day, and mom could check in at lunch. Nothing bad ever happened. The things is, Mom was almost too sympathetic to my dislike of being at school and often let me stay home when I clearly wasn’t sick. I never had to resort to any Ferris Bueller antics to convince her to let me stay home.


I graduated (with good grades), went on to college, and survived just fine. Then I ended up at some point in a job that I hated. I’ll never forget the morning I burst into tears, threw my hairbrush across the room, and wailed to my then-husband, “Don’t make me go!”  Was that the first time I called in sick to work when it was really just that I was sick of the job?

Things got better. I switched careers after an interlude of graduate school (I hated school through high school, but I loved college), and spent quite a few years only being sick when I was really sick. And then along came the University of California and 12 years of me wishing to be sick, of fantasizing about breaking my leg in the shower so I could go to the hospital instead of work, of reading hopefully about the sysmptoms of appendicitis. My work ethic had died a slow death. I wasn’t so obvious as to call in sick on a regular, clockwork basis, like a colleague in one past job who we all knew would call in sick the day after pay day. Nothing predictable. But maybe calling in sick when I felt a little under the weather but not really sick. I would even gladly go for jury calls and hope to get onto a jury so as to not go to work. I wasn’t precisely a bad employee, just a not very dedicated one. Note to any of my former UC colleagues: there were many times I was genuinely sick. Please don’t think I ever took advantage of you to get out of anything!

'I'm going to be sick on Monday.  I'm telling you now so I don't have to call in.'

That’s all changed now that I am working in animal rescue. Every day brings new rewards and happy endings. Sometimes there are sad endings, too, but I try to keep moving as cheerfully as possible and toast the successes.

I wish I could say I never get sick, but I have whatever this gross lung crud is that’s going around at the end of 2017. I’m coughing like crazy, no energy, sounding like a dog with kennel cough. This would be bad enough in any case, but in addition to animals, I also work with potential adopters, and how bad would it look if I started coughing and wheezing in their faces? That would not bring good customer service marks on a Yelp review. I went in last Sunday and it was not pretty. Nobody ran away screaming, but a lot of hand sanitizer was passed around. I’ve stayed home since then.

I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to think. Too much. Here are some of my reflections.

Cats are better nurses than dogs.  They are sensitive, and pick up on subtle things. Or they just really love blankets and warm bodies. But dogs have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), like “Aw, hey sick buddy, let me cuddle with you…SQUIRREL! Gotta go!”



Watching television during the day is no longer fun. When I was home sick as a kid, or even as a teenager, the majority of that time was spent in front of the television. I’d watch anything. Even though we only got 4 channels back in the dark ages, I’d find something. I watched cooking shows, exercise shows, reruns in syndication, old movies…Maybe watching Julia Child and Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet) contributed to my love of food and cooking, but I also watched Jack Lalanne and have no love of exercise. Note that I watched Jack Lalanne, I didn’t ever get off the couch and do any of the stretches or exercises.  I adored Bewitched reruns. At a young age, I got hooked on soap operas, especially All My Children. My favorite movies were those with Ma and Pa Kettle or Henry Aldrich.

It’s a wonder I have any brain cells left!



Now we have TiVo, Netflix streaming, binge watching, endless channels, and I can’t stand the idea of watching television during the day. I feel like I have succumbed to true hopelessness if I watch. Nighttime is another story altogether, though. Which leads to:

Folding TV trays are a great 20th century invention. They don’t have to be for eating meals in front of television, although we use the old set we bought for $25 at the flea market for that pretty much every night. They are great for holding all of your medications, tissues, water glass, etc. next to you while you are curled up in your favorite cozy spot. I also use them to hold stacks of books and papers when I am at my desk writing and I run out of desk space.


I found the almot exact set we have online, although the colors were less faded, where they were advertised as “vintage Eames era”. If you aren’t familar with the Eames name, Charles and Ray Eames were the noted mid-century designers who, by using their names, you add a gazillion dollars to the price of something.

I really don’t think Charles or Ray Eames had anything to do with these.
Ray and Charles Eames at home, LIFE magazine, 1950.


Life is too short to stick with a book you aren’t enjoying. This is a recent revelation for me. I always doggedly stuck to books I wasn’t enjoying as if it was somehow a virtue. No more! So many books, so little time. I’m not wasting that time anymore. The only time I can remember abandoning a book previously was in 2001, with German writer W. G. Sebold’s Austerlitz. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award that year. Sebald, who died at age 57 that same year, was considered by many to be a great author and possible future winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature until his unexpected death in a car crash. The novel sounds like it ought to be great, but I found it inscrutable. I was about 5 pages in, and I think it was still the first sentence continuing from the first page, running on and making no sense to me. I threw in the towel, figuring I wasn’t smart enough for Sebald.


I was recently defeated again. Not because I wasn’t smart enough, I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. At all. Any of them. This time it was Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, winner of the Man Booker prize in 2013. Maybe I should avoid books that win critics awards? This huge tome (848 pages) was donated to the Little Free Library I steward. I was intrigued. It was free. I needed something to read that would occupy me through a flight to Iceland and back, as well as any down time in between. Never mind that I could barely lift it. We went to Iceland in the summer. It is now very close to January of the next year. I got about 200 pages in. I couldn’t keep track of who was who. I didn’t care.  Finally, common sense (well, actually it was Bob’s common sense) had me send the book back out into the Little Free Library this morning. I want to enjoy my reading time, and if one of the rare chances I get to lose myself in a book is when I am sick, it’s not going to be a book that is torture to read. I saw somewhere that The Luminaries was being made into a limited television series. Yippee.

Now I am free to read a book that sounds right up my alley: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It sounds utterly charming, quirky, and very British. I’m in!




Color coordinated clothing and clothing that isn’t pajamas are over-rated. I’m wearing might-as-well-be-pajamas clothes right now. Leggings, old stretchy cardigan, pulled-out-of-shape knit skirt. I am neither color-coordinated nor fashionable at this moment either. Am I warm and comfortable? YES! I figure I’ve always been more of a “fashion don’t” than a “fashion do.” Whatever. My sisters both have amazing senses of style and fashion. My mother despaired of my disdain for matching handbags and shoes, for scarves, for all of the little details that pull an outfit together. One of the reasons I hated high school was the judgment being passed based on appearances and wardrobe. I was smart and cute enough. Why wasn’t that enough? Not having the right label of jeans or shoes seemed (still seems) such a stupid basis for popularity and friendship.

What Not to Wear. Unless you’re me!

In a brief moment as I was putting this sick-day outfit on, I thought, “None of the blue tones go together.” And immediately after that I thought, “Tell that to Mother Nature when a field of wild flowers of all different colors and tones is in bloom.” Colors go together. Period. Somebody told me once that the outfit I was wearing looked like a fruit salad. Cool, that’s what I say.


Take care of yourself. Stay warm. Eat healthy, whole foods. Remember to splurge on a bit of dark chocolate and other things you enjoy now and then. If you do get sick, stay home.  It’s best for you, your co-workers, and anyone you might come into contact with. If you are lucky, like me, it will be that much better when you get back to the job you love. And please, consider getting a pet from your local shelter.


Be careful what you wish for (and have yourself a merry little Christmas)

(Sensitive readers beware: fear factor ahead!)

Christmas time is here…and I love the holidays. The carols, the decorations, the over-the-top store displays, the Hallmark Channel movies–I love all of it. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t do as much myself. Our Christmas tree is still outside in a bucket waiting for us to have time to bring it inside. I haven’t done any shopping. But I still love to soak it all in wherever I go. I have Pandora on the James Taylor Holiday Channel, from which I’ve realized I actually like singers Josh Groban and Michael Buble (yes, Cathy and Ellen, you told me so).


Like so much of what happens around me anymore, the atmosphere has launched a bit of nostalgia and longing for the Christmas of my childhood. So much excitement! Such specific rituals we followed, and the slow pace that kept an anxious kid like me all pent up, but in a good way. My mother always made us each a special outfit for Christmas day. I specifically remember a red velvet top with a lace collar and pants to match that I wish I still had (in my current size) and a pink velvet midi-dress festooned with pink satin ribbons. I did go through a serious pink phase. And apparently a velvet one, too.

with Santa
Little me with a not very merry or healthy looking Santa.

Oh, the wishes for such treasures as a Lite-Bright and an Easy-Bake Oven, which were never met.

1967 LITE BRITE Vintage 1960s Toy A
Vintage 1967 Lite-Brite.
Easy Bake
Vintage 1960 Easy-Bake Oven.

Or the ones I did get that I wanted so badly. Like the Beautiful Crissy Growing Hair Doll. I loved Crissy so. She had a push-button on her tummy that you could use to wind up her hair to be short or pull it out to be long. As my own hair is always transitioning from long to short or short to long, I was fascinated by this insto-chango approach to hair.


This is where things are going to take a weird turn. Around about 1970 or so, I really wanted a ventriloquist dummy for Christmas. I found one in the toy section of some department store catalog and made sure everyone knew that was what I wanted.

with box
The Danny O’Day model. I had to have it. Him. Whatever.

You know the 1966 book A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd, made into the popular 1983 film of the same name?


All Ralphie Parker wants is a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Set in 1940 in Indiana, the story of Ralphie and his friends Flick and Schwartz and his attempts to evade the bullies Scut Farkus and Grover Dill and Ralphie’s efforts to convince all of the adults in his life that an air rifle is a great idea and that he won’t shoot his eye out. At the end, Ralphie gets his Red Ryder, and remarks that it was the best Christmas ever.

Ralphie and his gun
Best Christmas ever.

Enter me as Ralphie and Danny O’Day as my Red Ryder. The fact that I even wanted a ventriloquist dummy is very strange. I am afraid of clowns and killer Chucky-style dolls. I watched way too much of The Twilight Zone when I was up past my bedtime. There are 2 episodes that feature evil ventriloquist dummies: The Dummy and Caesar and Me. Then there’s a movie I vaguely remember with a mentally disturbed girl and the dolls and stuffed animals in her room that talk to her. They don’t say happy things. Or maybe that was The Twilight Zone, too. No, wait, the Twilight Zone with the murderous doll is the called Living Doll, featuring Talky Tina. This is the stuff of my nightmares.



Again, what made me think I wanted Danny O’Day? Did I think I might have talent as a ventriloquist? Well, I got Danny O’Day, and it was NOT the best Christmas ever. I unwrapped the package, I opened the box, and I screamed. At least I think I did. I know I wanted to. But I dutifully spent the day pretending I loved Danny (who I renamed Charlie) and trying my best to follow the instructions on ventriloquism that came with him. I had no apparent talent for it. And then it was bedtime. I left Charlie in the living room, under the Christmas tree. And stayed awake all night positive that he was going to creep down the hall to my bedroom and kill me if I went to sleep.

He didn’t look that evil. If you start online searching for images of ventriloquist dummies, there are many much creepier examples.

Maybe it was his evil influence over me, but I surprisingly kept Charlie for years. We moved cross-country. We moved several more times. I went to college. I got married. And I still had Charlie. I kept him packed in a trunk (yes, that’s what the idiot humans in all the scary shows do, too, and it doesn’t work), sure he was going to get out eventually.

I had other scares, like the time I was home alone watching television and the trailer for the movie Magic (1978) came on. I turned my head and closed my eyes and tried to block it out. The mute button hadn’t been invented yet, and somehow it didn’t occur to me to immediately change the channel. Charlie-fear reared its evil, ugly head. The film is based on a book written by William Golding (author of Lord of the Flies; that doesn’t go too well for the characters either). Golding also wrote the screenplay. It starred Anthony Hopkins “as a ventriloquist at the mercy of his vicious dummy”.





Yes, I was 17 and home alone for the night, except for Charlie in the trunk, watching television when this came on. Yippee. Needless to say, it was another long, sleepless night.

I did eventually manage to give Charlie away. I am not sure the child who was visiting us  and who thought Charlie was cool really wanted him, but I pretty much gave him no choice but to take Charlie with him. I’ve worried about that child, now a grown man, ever since. Charlie was moved to Turkey with his new person. You might imagine I felt safe. You would be discounting my overactive imagination. The film reel plays out in my mind of Charlie crawling out of his hole, finding his way onto an ocean liner, making his way eventually back to California, and appearing in my doorway, ready for revenge.

Of course I know this won’t happen. It would be silly for a 56-year old woman to hold a lingering childhood fear for a doll who, let’s face it, is a silly looking piece of plastic wearing bad clothes. Honestly, Beautiful Crissy could be said to be just as creepy as Danny O’Day. But still…

Summer before last I went to Maine to attend a week-long residency at the Institute for Humane Education. I was also taking a couple of humane education courses that summer, so I took one of the assigned readings with me to Maine. There I am in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere, and I take out this book, Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing and Advertising, by Susan Linn. Sounds innocent enough, and about a noteworthy topic. As I tend to do when I start a book, instead of jumping right in, I decided to read about the author. OMG, Susan Linn is a VENTRILOQUIST (an award-winning ventriloquist, no less) who uses puppets as therapeutic tools with childen. At first I laughed at the idea, then I got the creeps. I’m sorry, if I went to a therapist who turned out to be a ventriloquist, I would end up needing a lot (A LOT) more therapy! I couldn’t read the book. Again, I was in a cabin in the woods in Maine, scene of lots of teen slasher movies. I didn’t sleep all week. That might have been the massive amounts of caffeine and taking showers at 3 a.m. because there 14 of us sharing 1 bathroom, but Susan Linn, Ed.D., ventriloquist/child psychologist didn’t help me any. (Note: I don’t mean to belittle her work in children’s therapy, really.)

Dr. Susan Linn



Now that I’ve turned Christmas into something totally macabre, let’s go back to happy thoughts. I did finally get that Easy-Bake Oven as a 50th birthday gift from Bob. Thank you!

my oven

Maybe some day I’ll get that Lite-Brite.

My wishes this year are simple yet complicated: happiness, joy, kindness, peace…beautiful words, easier said than done. Going back to another childhood Christmas memory, I like to remind myself of the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas, about the spirit of the holiday not being in all of the things and wrappings and show, but in the love, peace, and care we take in ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us.



I also reread the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol (1843) every year, following Ebenezer Scrooge as he opens his formerly greedy and cold heart to the world around him. If you don’t want to delve into Dickens, there’s always How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Same idea.

Albert Finney as Scrooge, reformed, playing Father Christmas for Tiny Tim, in the 1970 film version.



I’ve posted this video clip before, but it’s become a classic since it was first televised in 1977 and merits reposting. I remember watching it at the time (1977) on the yearly Bing Crosby Christmas special and finding it so beautiful. It still is. It’s not just in the voices, or the melding of two seemingly very different men, from different countries and different generations. It’s in the love and longing for peace.


You can’t go to the store and buy these things. You can’t wrap them up and put them under a tree. But we can give them to each other easily and freely, and we will all sleep better.

Peace, hugs, and have the happiest of holidays.

peace on earth



Sometimes unexpected friendships are the best

I’ve been thinking a lot about odd couples, or what looking at from the outside seem like odd friendships. These musings started, as many of my musings do, watching the animals awaiting adoption at the animal shelter where I work (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, or ARF). Often, an animal housed with another animal will do better at the shelter, and in the home as well. So our behavior and animal care teams try out pairing roommates, and sometimes they come up with what turn out to be surprisingly winning combinations. Our marketing department even recently developed a campaign for 2 cats using The Odd Couple theme as a hook.

Cash and Swift
The Odd Couple, Cash (black) and Swift (tabby).

In Neil Simon’s play (1965), later a movie (1968) and then a television series (1970-1975), the mismatched roomates are the persnickety neatnik Felix Ungar and cigar-chomping slob Oscar Madison. On Broadway in 1965, Oscar was played by Walter Matthau (he seems to have been born for the role), with Art Carney as Felix.

Water Matthau and Art Carney, 1965 production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
Neil Simon
The ever-funny Neil Simon, still smiling at age 90.


Felix and Oscar were perfectly portrayed in the 1968 film by Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau again as Oscar. When adapted for television, Tony Randall was cast as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar.


1968 film poster.jpg


Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as Felix and Oscar, 1974.


But back to Cash and Swift. Cash arrived at ARF as a tiny kitten with his sister Mermaid. The shyer of the 2, Cash watched as his sister and then several kitten roommates were adopted. Unfortunately, black cats, including kittens, tend to stay longer at the shelter awaiting adoption, so Cash was growing up at the shelter. I love our shelter, but kittens should grow up in homes with loving families. Swift, a little zany guy with a serious play drive, was so active that he overwhelmed his siblings. He, too, was the last of his litter reamining at the shelter. Cash was between roommates, and Swift needed a buddy, so the team decided to give them a shot, and it worked! Cash, in the role of Felix Ungar, taught Swift, as a tiny Oscar Madison, some calmer manners, and nutty Swift brought Cash out of his shell and showed him how to have fun. The first time I saw the 2 curled up together on their cat bed, I knew in my heart that they had to stay together. Others at ARF felt the same way, so we made sure to make a point of sending them to an adoptive home together.

bonded pair


It’s not quite as odd a pairing, but it seems to work, for another cat set of roommates: Nathan and Wynn. Nathan is another shy black kitten growing up at the shelter. Wynn is a little older and also very shy. Nathan has done well with roommates, and Wynn originally came in with 3 other cats, more outgoing than he and quickly adopted. Wynn was really shut down at first, cowering in a corner behind his cat tree. But he and Nathan, in an example of mutual support, are both getting a bit bolder every day. It’s sort of more like 2 Felixes making each other feel better about life.



I suppose I’ve been a part of some odd couples. Not so much personality-wise, but more in the Mutt and Jeff way of me being not-tall and many of my friends being not-short.



In the classic odd couple pairing, I was the quiet, good girl who ran off with the loud, bad boy (or wannabe bad boy, anyway). It worked until it didn’t anymore. That’s all water under the bridge, as they say.



I was looking for famous examples of odd couples, not necessarily of the Hollywood celebrity variety, and this one in particular struck me: comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and renowned poet, essayist, and critic T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). They became pen pals in 1961 (coincidentally the year I was born) and maintained a correspondence, finally meeting in person in 1964.



The friendship supposedly began when the author of such profound classics as The Wasteland and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, wrote to Marx, who dropped out of school in the 7th grade, asking for his autograph. Yes, Eliot asked for Groucho’s autograph. My favorite lines from Prufrock:

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 5.14.21 PM

A Groucho Marx line that always makes me laugh:

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 5.16.43 PM

But as Groucho pointed out, they both liked puns, cigars, and cats. Remember, T. S. Eliot did write Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted into the musical Cats in 1980.

eliot with cat
T. S. Eliot stops to say hello to a cat.
groucho with cat.jpg
Groucho Marx with one of his cats.

Of course, let’s not forget all of the cats who look like Groucho Marx.

cat groucho


Another human odd couple that I am fascinated by: Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) and actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962).

Miller And Monroe

They married in 1956 and divorced in 1961 (something about that year, 1961). Famous for such heavy-hitters as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Miller and sex symbol Monroe faced numerous hardships: investigations into Miller’s communist sympathies and Monroe’s depression, miscarriages, and drug use. Monroe died the year after their divorce, at age 36, of a barbiturate overdose. You know I had to look for a pet connection. Marilyn was an animal lover, saying, “If you talk to a dog or a cat, it doesn’t tell you to shut up.” That’s a really sad quote when you think about it.


marilyn with cat
Monroe with one of the many animals she loved during her too-short life.


with Hugo
Miller, Monroe, and dog Hugo.


On a lighter note, there are so many examples of unlikely animal friendships: the gorilla Koko and her love of kittens, Bubbles the elephant and Bella the dog, Mabel the chicken and her puppies, to name a few. There are even several books available about these friendships.

animal friends


While not quite as exotic as some of these, our late Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix Sadie was mother to abandoned kittens Ben and Sara, and she and Ben were close their entire lives.


Sadie and Ben
Ben and Sadie in their senior years.


More in alignment with the original Felix and Oscar theme, we also have Misty, our gorgeous but persnickety 6 year-old diva of the Greta Garbo “I want to be let alone” school, and goofball and wild child, 1 year-old Marble, who insists that they play together. And sometimes Misty will play. When we decided to keep Marble, I was afraid Misty might try to hurt him, but he is persistent and she can’t help but play chase and wrestle with him. He is a force of nature, an irresistible force to her immovable object.

Misty and Marble
Misty, up top, with Marble, down below.


I was that unmovable object once, in the face of an irresistible force–a pit bull named Snuffalufagus. I never thought I’d feel so much affection for such a big dog. She changed my mind forever about pit bulls.

She’s irresistible, and I turned out to be movable!



Don’t resist–make friends where you find them, even if they seem to be unlikely candidates. Greta Garbo didn’t say she wanted to be left alone, she said she wanted to be let alone, and there’s a big difference. Treasure your friends and family.

Peace and hugs.

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

I’m in a Frank Lloyd Wright state of mind at the moment. I go through passions, as any regular reader might have noticed, and right now I’m obsessed with all things FLW. I’m rereading the T. C. Boyle 2009 novel, The Women, about the, shall we say, turbulent relationships FLW (1867-1959) had with the various women in his life. He was not an easy man and his relationships were messy and complicated. In his era, he was in fact scandalous and reviled by some for his flauting of social mores, but today no one would really think it quite that outrageous that he left wives for mistresses. He also was perennially in debt (one of his nicknames was “Slow Pay Frank”), a surprise given his major success.

The Women


Boyle himself lives in a FLW designed  home in Montecito, California, which I am sure has a lot to do with his interest in FLW. As a design student at UC Davis back in the day, of course we studied FLW and his enormous impact, and I fnally saw some of his drawings, furniture, and glass designs in person when I made it to the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago.


Author TC Boyle at his home in Montecito, CA.
Novelist T. C. Boyle in his FLW-designed home in Montecito, California.

But my fascination goes back to another of my childhood memories of music in our house, this time from the iconic album Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) by Simon and Garfunkel.




This album reeived some heavy rotation time on the turntable, along with Carole King’s Tapestry.



There are, of course, many wonderful songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water beside the title track: The Boxer, Cecilia, Bye Bye Love, The Only Living Boy in New York, among others. But the song that always caught my attention when I was a 9-year old, was, oddly, So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. I didn’t really have any idea who FLW was, but the song seemed so sad and made me want to know who this man was.


Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.03.09 AM


The story goes that Simon and Garfunkel (or as I like to call them, Paul and Art) were renting a house in the Hollywood Hills in 1969 while working on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. Art saw one of the FLW homes in the area and suggested to Paul that he write a song. What I didn’t know was that Art, smarter than I realized, majored in architecture at Columbia University just in case music didn’t work out for him. Not a bad Plan B. Theories suggest that it’s also Paul’s goodbye song to Art, as the duo broke up after Bridge Over Troubled Water was released. Note the line “all of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn”.



FLW was undoubtedly a genius, and his designs are amazing. He not only designed the buildings as an architect, he also worked on the details of interior design, including the furnishings, textiles, and art pieces, and even mailboxes. He was known to design the clothing for the women in his life. Was he controlling? I imagine so. And that spilled over into his personal life.




The bit that’s sticking with me at the moment is a scene in the book The Women in which FLW declares himself a pacifist, a conscientious objector to war. That’s cool. I consider myself a pacifist as well. But I’m not a bully, and FLW seems to have been a big one. I’m not a genius either, so…

Much of the novel The Women takes place around Taliesin, FLW’s studio and farm built and rebuilt (plagued by fires and tragedy) in rural Wisconsin, now maintained by the Taliesen Preserve.


FLW at Taliesin in 1911, when the house was first was completed.

Can one be a pacifist and a bully both? I suppose so. We are, if nothing, complex and contradictory creatures, we human beings. He had a vision for how he wanted things to be, and brooked no nonsense from those around him, but he wasn’t violent and held a deep appreciation for other cultures. Except when it came to food. He was very early 20th century mid-Western in his taste for basic meat, potatoes, and gravy. None of that fancy French stuff for him (one of the many bones of contention with his Southern belle and Francophile second wife Miriam Noel Wright). When he traveled in Japan while working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, he had a hard time with what I think of as an amazing cuisine.

The Imperial opened in 1923 and was demolished in 1968. The entrance lobby was saved an reconstructed at the Meiji Mura architecture museum in Nagoya.

I also think of FLW as an artist, sensitive to atmosphere and color and harmony. We have a model of one of his early designs, the Romeo and Juliet windmill, built for his aunts in 1896 in the town of Wyoming, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the artist who made the model. When I bought it from him at an Oakland gallery, he was working in the exhibitions department at the Oakland Museum of California. I’ll post it when I recall it. He is a talented artist who deserves credit for his work.

The Romeo and Juliet windmill.
r and j model.jpg
Our model of the windmill, photo by Robert Ward.


One of Wright’s most famous buildings is Falling Water in Pennsylvania, completed in 1935.

Falling Water


The sesquicentennial of FLW’s birth was celebrated this year on June 8th. This feature by Jay Jones in the Los Angeles Times provides a nice overview of his work: From New York to California, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. One of his more famous and first California homes is Hollyhock House in the East Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in in 1919-1921, the house is now part of the Barnsdall Art Park.


hollyhock living room
The living room at Hollyhock House. Wright was a pioneer of open living spaces, with the hearth at the center of the home.

Yes, I can see a man who has the kind of vision for open, warm, harmonious spaces and the surrounding of ourselves with beauty as being a man who wants peace and harmony for the world at large. The contradiction is in his very messy and unharmonious personal life. The saddest and most tragic episode was that of his mistress, Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney. Mamah and her husband were clients and Oak Park, Illinois, neighbors of FLW and his first wife, Catherine “Kitty” Wright (1871-1959).

The Wright Family in 1898, Frank on far right, Kitty in center with infant Lloyd.

FLW built Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for Mamah, a place where he and she could get away from the press and turmoil caused by his leaving his wife and 6 children and her leaving her husband and 2 children. A disgruntled workman at Taliesin murdered Mamah and 6 others (including her 2 children, on a summer visitation at the time) and set fire to Taliesin in 1914. Distraught, FLW was vulnerable and became entangled with the quite dramatic and mentally unstable opiate addict Miriam Noel, his 2nd wife after Kitty relented and granted a divorce.

Mamah Cheney (1869-1914)
Miriam Noel Wright (1869-1930)

His relationship with Miriam was the most turbulent and fractious, and their divorce battle was a media storm of accusations and paparrazi around FLW’s mistress and later 3rd (and final) wife Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (1898-1985).

Olgivanna Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1968.


FLW was quite proud of his Welsh heritage. The name of Taliesin, and the later Taliesin West, means “shining brow”, and comes from the name of the 6th century Welsh poet, who in Welsh legends is portrayed as a wizard, prophet, and companion to King Arthur.


taliesin poet


Seems fitting in that FLW can be said to have been a wizard in his own way in the arts, but not in his relationships, and defnitely not with money, except to make it disappear.

Whether Paul Simon was writing his song as a literal tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright or using the name Frank Lloyd Wright to refer to Art Garfunkel, it is a poignant song. And it led me on a journey of discover around FLW and his life. And since I am obsessed at the moment, next up in my book queue is the novel Loving Frank (2007) by Nancy Loran, the story of Mamah and FLW from Mamah’s perspective.


Loving Frank


Nancy Horan
Writer Nancy Horan


I have no plans to travel to New YTork any time soon, but when I do, I will make a pilgrimmage to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, itself a work of art and completed in 1959, the same year FLW died at age 89. True to form, the estate he left behind took years to settle.




Love Frank, hate Frank, or puzzled by Frank and his life, you have to admit he led an interesting life.


Tom Wright and his wife, Etsuko Saito, live in a Bethesda home designed by his grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The signature red tile placed on the facades of Wright’s buildings.