Poem: A writer’s lament during the holidays — Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More

Note: This hilarious “poem” is by my friend Robert Hawkins, who perfectly captures what I go through in the days before I post my weekly blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Alexis

That moment when you realize the offbeat lead to a blog post that you have been struggling with since Thanksgiving isn’t really the lead to a blog post, but an offbeat poem that celebrates the particular insanity that grips us between Halloween and Boxing Day. I say this, fully cognizant of the fact that I […]

via Poem: A writer’s lament during the holidays — Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More

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EMINENT VS. IMMINENT

With the news of the past week even more scary and depressing than what has become normal, I find myself focusing on what I know much more about than the very complicated crisis in the Middle East:  the English language.  Words matter.  Thus, when I can bear to watch the news, I find myself yelling at the President—not my usual “Are you out of your mind?”—but rather:  “The word is ‘imminent,’ not ‘eminent.’”    [NOTE: Not that I am certain anything was “imminent,” but I’m darn sure eminence is not involved.]

Definitions from the Oxford Dictionary 
Imminent:  adjective; about to happen (ex:  “They were in imminent danger of being swept away.”)

Eminent:  adjective (of a person) famous and respected within a particular sphere or profession (ex: “ one of the world’s most eminent statisticians.”)

Words matter.  Isn’t it eminently reasonable to expect our elected officials to speak proper English?  Is it too much to ask that our pumpkin-hued leader know the difference between “origins” and “oranges?” and “eminent” and “imminent?”  Or is it simply less frightening to focus on the words rather than the actions.

Have a linguistically correct week!

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RESOLUTIONS 2020 AND OTHER B.S.

Fireworks

 Every New Year, I make resolutions that I seldom keep.  This year the resolution I hope will succeed is to stop swearing.  The problem is, I enjoy swearing.  It’s a small and satisfying way to let off steam.  I would like to think it doesn’t hurt anyone, but judging from the expressions on some people’s faces when I throw a colorful cuss word into an otherwise polite sentence, it is clear that I am wrong.  The shocked expression I see may partly be due to the discrepancy between how I look (quite respectable) and how I can sound (salty).  But if those same listeners believe that 70+ women don’t swear like sailors (at least in private), they haven’t met my friends. 

The second of my two resolutions is to eat a healthier diet.  My husband is the chef of the house and he makes wonderful, healthy meals.  However, over the years, a pound here, a pound there…we all know how that goes.  On January 2, I happened to read an article in National Geographic about a village in Sardinia with an extraordinarily large group of men who are 100 years old or more.  Dan Buettner, on whose  book, The Blue Zones,  the article was based, reports that the men live in a hill town (which requires daily exercise by virtue of its topography) and eat a diet primarily consisting of corn, beans, vegetables and bread prepared by the women of the village.  The women rise before dawn, stoke wood fires and prepare the hot breakfasts the men gather later to eat at communal tables.  These male centenarians’ long lives are attributed to their diet, lifestyle, and—wait for it—“Sardinian women have a reputation for taking on the stress of household responsibilities.  For the men, less stress may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease…’I do the work, admits Tonino, hooking Giovanna around the waist, “my ragazza [wife] does the worrying.’” 

I feel a swearing fit coming on.

Photo by carson arias via Unsplash

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A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN MARION

From the archive….December 2015.  (I think it’s time for A Child’s Christmas in Oakland.)

Last week, I published a copy of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”  Now, Kamiko is back in Marion for Christmas, asking me if we can play all the games we did last year (games of which I have no memory), put the gingerbread house together RIGHT NOW and–although it’s midnight and all the adults are exhausted–play a quick game of charades before she sleeps.  So here is a reprise of  last December’s “A Child’s Christmas in Marion.”  Whatever holiday you do or do not celebrate this time of year, I hope you get some time off to enjoy yourself and I wish all of us a kinder, more peaceful 2016.

With apologies to Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”

Sippican Harbor

 One Christmas was…like another in those years around the sea-town corner.

 Male Cardinal in his Petticoat

Birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills

Church_

 It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy.

Miko and Lily

 Cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires.

There are always uncles at Christmas.  The same uncles.

There are always uncles at Christmas.  The same uncles.

FullSizeRender-2

Auntie laced her tea with rum, because it was only once a year.

...and then I slept.

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight…I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill….I got into bed.  I said some words to the close and holy darkness and then  I slept.

Merry Christmas 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2015

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NO MALARKEY!

“No Malarkey!” and no fear, Dear Reader, that this week’s blog is political.  Instead, Joe Biden’s new campaign slogan got me thinking about how much words matter.  If a candidate is looking for young voters, “No Malarkey” is a slogan that isn’t going to grab anyone under, say, the age of 60.  

Words Matter!

Look at it this way:  if you want to come off as the bees’ knees rather than a fuddy duddy, lose the fusty slogan.  “Malarkey” is old hat and reinforces the notion that you’re a geezer.  And by the way, Joe, only an eejit would suggest families sit around listening to a record player together in the evening–but at least you didn’t call it a Victrola.

I spend a lot of time figuring out “keywords” for my blogs—short words or phrases that will draw readers in.  They are the search engine equivalent of campaign slogans. I can check my blog’s weekly statistics to see how many people have visited the site based on the blog’s title.  (No surprise that anything containing the word “Cats” is a sure winner.) I wonder what keyword test “No Malarkey” passed.

I did have a lot of fun researching old-fashioned slang. Here are a few more doozies that I came up with that I couldn’t manage to work into the narrative but think you will enjoy:

Gobbledy gook (double-talk); nincompoop (dopey person); codger (another word for geezer); beauty parlor (hair salon); floozie (“cheap” woman); mortified (embarrassed to death).  Most of these words are insulting, which might lead one to put on a puss face (pout).  Coincidentally, this screed may lead some to think I am a Holy Joe (self-righteous person).

Have a good week!

Photo by Brett Jordan via Unsplash.

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING 2019

This bird won’t be on anyone’s table ever.


Meet “The Limper,” a turkey who lives in the woods behind our former abode in Hartford, CT. Despite a hinky leg, he has survived year after year, avoiding coyotes, bobcats, and whatever other predators lurk in the bushes. Here in California, I miss the old guy and because of him, our Thanksgiving dinner includes lots of vegetarian options.

I hope that you and whomever you celebrate Thanksgiving 2019 with have a delicious and peaceable feast.

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AGING

Image by Jake Thacker via Unsplash.

Aging:  as the saying goes, “It beats the alternative.”  I have searched the internet for the origins of this cliché and there is no definitive answer but lots of suggestions.  You could say the same about the benefits of aging:  there is no definitive answer but lots of ideas.  To me, either you live long enough to age or you don’t.  If you live long enough, life inevitably changes in good ways and not-so-good ways.

Since I have been laid up for the past month with a giant sling as my constant companion, I have been reading and thinking about the physical effects of aging. (I don’t recommend this if you have any tendencies towards depression.) There are lots of books on the subject, some of them written by aging Baby Boomers who seem to be as shocked as I am that we are growing old.

If you don’t have time to read a whole book because you’re too busy with physical therapy appointments and Zumba classes, check out The New Yorker’s November 4, 2019 issue. Arthur Krystal’s column, “Old News,” is a gem.  In addition to an extensive list with short descriptions of books about aging, Krystal’s own views on the subject are insightful and often funny.  For example:

Vain, self-centered people will likely find aging less tolerable than those who seek meaning in life by helping others.  And those fortunate enough to have lived a full and productive life may exit without undue regret.   But if you’re someone who—oh, for the sake of argument—is unpleasantly surprised that people in their forties or fifties give you a seat on the bus…you just might resent time’s insistent drumbeat.

I’m with Arthur.  The time a fifty-something woman offered me her seat on BART, I balked until my husband nudged me and said “Just take the seat.” It was a “senior moment” of an altogether different kind.

Have a good week.

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WHAT I’M READING

I have been reading more than usual these past few weeks while my shoulder and arm are healing. It has been such a pleasure to lie around, guilt free, and catch up with some favorite authors.  Here’s last week’s list:




I love reading my favorite authors. It is like catching up with dear friends.

THE DUTCH HOUSE by Ann Patchett
Patchett has long been a favorite of mine.  Her writing seems so effortless.  The Dutch House is a multi-generational story of love, loss, revenge and reconciliation. Goodreads rates Patchett’s novel as 4.3 on a scale of 1-5. While I enjoyed this story, I am still wondering why Patchett made some of the plot choices.

OLIVE AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge is back. I love this cantankerous Mainer. She is a curmudgeon with a tender heart. Last night  I read this description of a conversation Olive is having with her adult son and I feel exactly the same way when my adult sons come to visit:  “He spoke a great deal about his podiatry practice…the insurance he had to pay, the insurance that his patients had, Olive didn’t care what he talked about….On and on he talked, her son….She would stay here forever to hear this.  He could recite the alphabet to her and she would sit here and listen to it.”

PALACE WALK by Naguib Mahfouz
This is the first book of The Cairo Trilogy by the acclaimed Egyptian writer, Nobel Prize winner and author of 34 novels and more than 350 short stories.  I have begun this novel several times and it hasn’t really grabbed me, so it brings up the “so many books, so little time” issue.  It’s an important story, so I believe this time I might finish it.  We’ll see.

And what are you reading this week?

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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Black(out) and Blue

This was to be a note that, due to my restricted black and blue shoulder (see blog of Oct. 7), I am planning to take a couple of weeks off and will return when I can type with all ten fingers again. Now we have just learned that there is a blackout scheduled for 5:00 pm today; all our electrical power will be turned off indefinitely due to very high fire danger. There are about a million households near our area affected. I tell ya, if you ever want to feel like you are living on the edge of disaster, think of last week in California: a few earthquakes, several wildfires and, of course, the political news from Washington, DC. It’s enough to make you jump off the back deck (as CatmanDeux tried last week, as if there wasn’t enough excitement around here). Keep your spirits up and…

Have a good week!

Photo by Martin Evans via Unsplash

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Autumn Leaves and Leaving

Autumn Leaves, Simsbury, Connecticut

Autumn Leaves,
Simsbury, Connecticut

In the autumn of 1996, Norm appeared at my kitchen door and told me he had come to say “goodbye.” Our family had moved to Connecticut from California six months earlier and Norm was one of my few friends. We had worked together fashioning a garden around the newly built house, planted trees, installed a raised bed for growing vegetables. It was Norm who taught me about frost heaves, the mud season, hardy perennials and Swamp Yankees—all new concepts for a West Coast native—and he was a good friend, besides, so I was distressed at his leaving.

“Are you moving away?” I asked.

He shook his head; I recognized the incredulity with which most locals greeted my cluelessness. “No. It’s the end of October. I’ll see you when winter’s over.”

It seemed odd, since we lived three blocks apart, but that was before I understood it wasn’t only the leaves that left by the beginning of November. The comforting night sounds of crickets, cicadas, and katydids were silenced. The ever-present, annoying mosquitos disappeared, too, but so did most of the neighborhood birds. All that remained were a few drab sparrows, winter-plumaged finches and—a life-saver for the Seasonally Affective Disordered—cheery red cardinals. Garden magazines carried articles about choosing plants for bark color to add “winter interest”—a depressing concept, if ever there was one. Then the sun set early—really, really early. By 4:00 p.m. the sky began to darken. By 4:30 I had to turn the lights on.

The natives had terms for all varieties of winter weather: sometimes the sky was only “spitting” snow; other times we endured Nor-easters, ice storms, power outages that meant not only loss of electricity but also water, because the well had an electrical pump. I began to wonder why anyone ever chose to settle in New England. By February even Florida seemed appealing.

That was many years ago. In time, Norm retired, the kids went off to college and I, belatedly, grew up, too. I stopped hating winter (well, except for January and February) and began to enjoy Snow Days, the “bones” of my leafless garden and flannel sheets. In California, one season slid into another and I scarcely noticed. All that counted was if it rained or not. In New England, I learned to appreciate the austere snowscape as well as the extravagant summer foliage. That appreciation is all the keener because winter is so long. I’d like to think that I’ve become accustomed to friends’ leaving, too; it would be a pat, inspirational way to end this musing. That’s not true, though. The best I can do is to remember that with losses comes the anticipation of new friends, different landscapes and other adventures–after an appropriate wait, of course. And for those of you who are impatient, there’s always Florida.

Note: I publish this “From the Archives” every November.

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