One of hundreds of stalls at the Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City

We are on a photo tour of Vietnam for the next several weeks so I will be posting from the road (depending on internet connections, of course). Judging from all the changes to this fascinating city, I doubt I will have any trouble with connectivity in most places in the country. So I’ll “see” you next week!

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New Year’s Resolutions 2019

1.  Take the time to find out if it’s “New Years,” “New Year’s,” or “New Year.”

Family around the table.

2. Spend more time with family and friends.

3.  Call people instead of texting.

4.  Learn to use the TV controls.

5.  Stop worrying about my adult children.  They have made it this far ignoring my advice.

6.  Teach husband how to find lost items.

7.  Give up kissing the cat.  He doesn’t like it and never will.

8.  Write more.

9.  Fret less.

10.  Take it easy, but take it.

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Uploaded to Creative Commons by badstar91

Are you a BAD MOM if you let your kids watch The Ladies Man on Christmas Eve? I’m afraid I may be, at least by local standards.

Our family’s move from loosey goosey California to traditional New England twenty years ago opened up a whole new world of occasions for guilt and shame. That first December, everything looked like a print by Currier and Ives. Beautiful as it was, I couldn’t get a grasp on all the traditions. It seemed as if everyone decorated for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving, my favorite weekend for doing nothing. There were unconfirmed rumors that families wore matching PJs when they opened Christmas presents. One of my good friends had beautiful decorations handed down for generations, and she put them in the same place every year. I, on the other hand, could barely remember what we had for decorations, much less where I placed them in years past.

The most memorable Christmas in those early years was when friends let Eric, their teenage son, come to our house for Christmas. Eric’s Jewish parents agreed that our house seemed like a good place to go because we celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. Our teenage sons rented a video to watch before dinner. We all settled down and the boys turned on The Ladies Man. It was clear from the beginning that this film was not going to be a cozy Christmas story. For starters, it had nothing to do with Christmas. But Tim Meadows and Will Ferrell were funny even though the humor was raunchy—really, really raunchy. While the three boys choked with laughter, I started worrying that Eric’s parents would think we were horrible people. We watched the whole thing.

That was long ago. Now we have our own traditions. I put up the tree and all the other decorations whenever and wherever I please. Our granddaughter chases the cats around the house and the kitties stay under the beds for a week. We eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and pop those ridiculous British Christmas Crackers.  We celebrate on whatever day near December 25th we can all be together. And we always watch The Ladies Man.

Credit:  Upload of photo to Creative Commons by badstar91

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Hedgehog with crown

Baby hedgehog getting ready to party.

Friends are always sending me links to cute animal videos.  I am quite aware of all the time it is possible to waste in a day, so I try to avoid watching them before I sit down to write.  Unfortunately, once I begin watching the clips, it’s difficult to stop.

The videos are often on YouTube.  There is a series on The Dodo called “Little But Fierce.”  In just two weeks I have received from friends clips about a tiny armadillo who “likes to snuggle” and rolls around in a bathtub filled with water and the story of  a “tiny pink blob” who “grew up into a hedgehog.” [Note:  it was an hedgehog blob–what else would it grow up to be?]

If you watch enough of these videos you will discover that they all have a common story line.  Because the animals are “rescued” there is an element of suspense:  will they make it?  And how do the human rescuers know what to do?  In the case of the snuggly armadillo, there was a point at which its little heart failed and the rescuer did CPR on him for an hour and 45 minutes. And it worked!  The baby hedgehog’s chances of survival were very slim but with constant feeding and a heating pad, he (she?) gained weight and, of course, became very snuggly.  The rescued animals are often “tiny fighters” with “huge personalities.”  I have a lot of admiration for a person who would take in a baby armadillo, but what on earth will she do with it when it’s full grown? It’s one thing to hire a cat sitter if you are going away; it’s an entirely different matter to find someone to babysit a 15-pound adult armadillo.

But then again, maybe it will provide inspiration for writing:   Lonely Housesitter Befriends Adult Armadillo….could be a story….

Have a Good Week!

Photo by Liudmyla Denysiu via Unsplash

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Ben Popik, Age 5

For several years I have been afraid of water and therefore seldom mustered the courage to snorkel, even while wearing a life vest.  When our kids were little, I would sit on the sand of some vacation spot and wave at them as they flippered around, enjoying the beautiful coral reefs.  I saved the drawing above, produced by my son Ben when he was five years old, because I loved the idea that he was afraid and understood that it took courage to dive into a pool for the first time.  He overcame his fear and now is a regular scuba diver in Belize, where he lives.

We visited Ben and his wife, Jo, on their island last week and he suggested that if I could overcome my fear of deep water, scuba diving is much more pleasant than snorkeling. He swore he knew someone who could teach me in four feet of water and keep me calm on a deeper dive.  I took the long, boring on-line course required by PADI (the Professional Association of Dive Instructors), managed to get through the four-feet-of-water part (thank you, Raul Cruz of White Sands Dive Shop) and went on to the open water tests.

Let’s just say that the beginning was a little rough.  I was terrified and could hardly breathe, even though I was still on the boat. I will spare you most of the details, except you should know that in order to become a PADI-Certified Open Water Diver, you need to demonstrate—down there 40-50 feet below the surface—that you can fill your mask with water and then clear it out, take your air-supplying tube out of your mouth, fling it away from your body, then locate it with your right arm and get it back into your mouth.  There were other terrifying maneuvers and with Raul’s calming instruction, I did them.


It’s official!

I’m writing this, not because I expect praise but because it is has been decades since I have felt so proud and confident.  As a little girl, I believed I could do anything I set my mind to (thank you, Mom).  As an adult, it has been much easier to refuse uncomfortable challenges. It took one of my children to push me to act like a grownup.

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Like Me!

I'm grateful you like me.

I’m grateful.

Some things never change.  One of them is the importance of “Likes” on my Facebook author’s page.  If you haven’t already clicked “Like,” I’d be grateful if you would do so.



Time to “Like” me again. I know, I know—it’s ridiculous, but it matters in the wonderful webbie world. Why? Because search engines keep track of these things, so the more popular a site is on the web, the easier it is to find on Google, Yahoo, Chrome and other search engines. Heather Havrilesky’s very funny essay, “How to Contact the Author” in September 8’s New Yorker takes this business of “liking” to its extreme and is definitely worth reading.

Here’s a personal example of why “Likes” are useful: I get an unsolicited weekly report from Facebook about how I’m doing by its system’s standards. Say I acquired a new “Like” last week but none this week. My score will be (in red type) “-100% Likes.” I know this information is (until now) between only the reporting program and me, but it is just as dispiriting as a “sedentary” daily report from Fitbit.

So if you haven’t already, please:
1. Subscribe to this blog and ask a friend, roommate, spouse—anyone–to sign up, too. So far I have resisted signing up my cat, but who knows? CatmanDeux may be subscribers one of these days.
2. “Like” the blog and “Like” my author’s page on Facebook.

And thank you. I’m grateful.

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smoky haze

On a normal day, this view stretches 20 miles to the Bay. This is approximately 1.5 miles.

Living with the daily news of death and destruction from California’s wildfires and looking out our windows on what used to be a view of hills and San Francisco Bay, it is difficult not to be overcome by uneasiness.  Those of us who live in the immediate Bay Area are, at this moment, lucky.  The fires in Paradise and the Los Angeles area are hundreds of miles away.  Everyone, though, knows people who have lost their houses, pets and livelihoods.  I have not met anyone whose loved ones are on the lists of the missing but every day all of us hope that those people turn up.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the air quality index on Friday  was “extremely unhealthy.”  In Sacramento, where my sisters live, it was rated “hazardous.”  In our area most of the schools, from Kindergarten through college, have closed to protect students’ lungs.

smokey haze

From Mt. View Cemetery you can usually see Oakland, San Francisco and Mt. Tamalpais

This horror is not, as the president has claimed, simply a problem created by forest mismanagement. It is much more complicated than that, which you can read about here. California has endured five years of drought that caused more than 100 million trees to die. Try to manage that!  California is not only a place of beaches, palm trees and Yosemite. It has huge unpopulated areas, deserts, and a vast acreage of hills covered by dry yellow grass (from which it got its name:  The Golden State).  The dangerous weather cycle is drought, fire, heavy rainstorms and then mudslides. Droughts are more frequent in California now.  The weather is changing and we haven’t yet had those blessed November rains that would have prevented the current fires.  California is not the only place this is happening. I lived in New England for 20+ years and people there talk about how the weather has changed, too.

I feel too sad and uneasy to launch into a diatribe about global warning, but spare me the idiocy of blaming only forest mismanagement.


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Kitty looking evil

We all have evil thoughts sometimes.

Do you ever have sudden evil thoughts—the kind that make you blink hard and shake your head to drive them away?  I have had evil thoughts all my adult life and whenever I have mentioned one to friends, they deny ever having entertained such fantasies.  Here’s an easy one:  I asked a group of close women friends if they had ever had the urge to shove a pedicurist backwards off her stool and watch  her lie there, astonished, with her legs kicking in the air.  Their responses ranged from one choking on her coffee to another shaking her head in emphatic disapproval. I have had many pedicures over the years and have never even wiggled my toes in a threatening way, but I was surprised that my friends were shocked at the fantasy.

I started thinking about this after reading an article about Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl and several other books and screenplays. The piece caught my eye because it concerned Flynn’s writing about “the dark side of femininity.”  You can read it here, though I warn you that there is a sentence that includes “uses…the evocation of post-recession malaise..to flow into incisive cultural critique, and even employs postmodernist flourishes like metafiction.”  When I reached that whopper of a sentence, my mind wandered to my own “dark side.”

I cannot think of a single violent act I have ever committed except punching my brother in the nose when I was 12 (he was nine, so at that time I had the size advantage).  I have fantasized about driving my car through a crowded intersection (hard blink, shake of the head) but I know I would never do such a thing. I used to hug the wall while carrying my infant son downstairs because I was afraid I would throw him over the bannister. Would I do that?  Of course not.  I believe it was a way to be particularly careful carrying a baby downstairs but when I mentioned to another new mother at the time, she was shocked. I hope, Dear Reader, that you aren’t shocked as well, but just in case, I’m keeping the rest of my “evil thoughts” to myself.  But I’d love to hear about yours–and I promise not to publish them, even if they are shocking.

Photo by Callum Wale via Unsplash.

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enthusiastic, enthusiasm

NOTE:  Last week my friend Darcey sent me this link to Nikki Waller’s article in the Wall Street Journal about exclamation points and, as my friend commented, “how much weight one little symbol holds.”  Here is a blog I wrote on that very subject four years ago.  I have since resumed using exclamation points–judiciously, of course–because I don’t want to seem grumpy.


On Facebook and Twitter, being enthusiastic seems to be very important. There’s no such thing as a comment like “That’s funny.” Instead, the responses are more on the order of “That’s funny!!! LOL!!!”

Here are some comments from my Facebook timeline today:

It’s genius!
Share to Agree!
You will LOVE!
Great pic!!!
Squirrel and cat play together!
Love!!!!! (no kidding—5 exclamation points)

I was taught that it is bad form to use exclamation points in writing. Either I am behind the times (entirely possible) or most users of Facebook and Twitter don’t give a fig about punctuation (also possible). The problem with all this over-punctuation is that while “Congratulations!!!” sounds as if you’re really excited for your Facebook friend, “Congratulations.” sounds forced and grudging, as if you really aren’t happy for the friend and may even be resentful.

A subcategory of Exclamation Enthusiasm is that babies are always “Cute!!!” “Adorable!!!” “So precious!” Let’s face it, not all of those babies look that great, especially when they’ve just been born. Photos of women friends also come in for lavish praise: “Beautiful!” “Lovely lady!” “Gorgeous!!!” I’m glad we all support each other by cheering our friends on, but again, sometimes photos don’t merit such enthusiastic responses.

What is to be done? Nothing. No matter how apt, I can’t see commenting, “Baby Olivia is going to be cute as a button in a few months,” or “You look pretty good for your age.”

But at least we can drop all those exclamation points!!!!!

NOTE: It has been a while since I’ve reminded readers to buy my novel, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate. It is a very well received exploration of a fictional family’s journey through the ups and downs of living with Bipolar Disorder.
If you haven’t bought a copy, go to the link at the top right of this page. If you have read it and like it, urge a friend to buy it. And thank you. (I’d add an exclamation point but that would be hypocritical.)

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This past weekend my two sisters, my brother and I enjoyed a “siblings’ reunion”  at my brother’s house in the mountains of California. While the idea of a reunion is laughable because we see each other every week or two, it was unusual and interesting to spend three days and nights all together under the same roof.

The four of us

Liz, Chris, Alexis, Mark

Genetics is fascinating. I remember how surprised I was to see my newborn son sleep with one arm in the same weird position my husband finds comfortable. Still, I knew that physical traits, no matter how insignificant, are passed down through the generations.  What is more striking, though, is how similar our family is when it comes to behavior. Domestic habits are good examples. We all make our beds.  Every blessed day.  If I have somehow neglected to make my bed during daylight hours, I make it before I get into it at night.  We all seem to share (in different degrees, of course) a neatness gene.  My brother and I are countertop wipers. We did a lot of hanging around the kitchen and I noticed that all four of us value speed and efficiency over finesse. Our unspoken motto seems to be “Just get it done.”

7 of us in my car

Family Gang


Also included in the reunion: Bill, my spouse; sister-in-law Pam; brother-in-law Steve. And just to complicate family matters, Pam and Steve are cousins (but that’s another story).



If someone had told me when I was 15 that someday my siblings would be among my very best friends, I would not have believed it.  Now I can’t imagine what life would be like without them.


P.S. If you want to read about favorite literary families, Bookstr.com has a list here.

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