Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Things

Think of all the little things you see every day. Like the dragon flies that soar over the garden fence and land on that rock behind you. One of the hundreds that had to be pulled from the ground and set somewhere out of the way so the cucumbers could grow. I love dragonflies. I wish I knew if they ate potato beetles because those suckers are making lace at a rapid rate on the new leaves of so many plants.

As I zipped around the house, cleaning, I had to shake some dirt out the front door. As I turned to go back into the house a snappy little blue car sped down the road. Top down, hair flying and something in the passenger seat. A big blow up Smurfette! Amazing. I looked a little harder and her face was purplish. Ewww. I wonder if Smurfy was purchased at a discount and just what was that young driver up to anyway. Huh.

I put some olive oil on the two huge Portobello mushrooms I wanted to have with my steak for supper. Hubby obligingly grilled them for me, but passed when I offered him one. Sorry, honey, you‘ve always known what a fungus lover I am. I did offer to share.

After supper we hopped into the car and took off for our first hike of the year at Lindenwald.  We had our cudgels – uh, walking sticks – and hiking shoes on and set our feet on the old familiar trail. Which was covered with cottonwood tree fluff. Some of it had gathered on the edges of the small puddles of water the recent rains have left and some of it bounced off our noses as we walked. Kinda fun. Then the wild phlox rose from the surrounding greenery all purple and white. Tall, reaching for the sun. Hard to find in this climax forest, but they do.

Under the towering trees, looking up at the fresh new leaves all lacy against the sky, I know why they call it spring green. So, so pretty. I know they'll darken, get dusty and turn orange and red as summer rolls into autumn, but I'm not going to think of that yet. I also spotted one hearty honeysuckle bush – the one in our yard has already dropped her fragrant buds, but this one still seemed at peak.

As we made our way up and down the soft rises and slippery declines my favorite little bird chirped away in the trees. Wish I could tell you what it is. Next we heard the gurgle of the meandering brook over which the Boy Scouts have built a short wooden bridge. Water doesn’t flow beneath it often and I stopped to listen right there on the boards. “Don’t you just love when you can hear it?” I asked Mr. Pathfinder. He just smiled.

Back home I finish sipping my root beer float and watch a fat robin enjoying her evening ritual in the birdbath. Splash - dash! Then a tiny bit of cottonwood fluff drifts by the window as the evening wears on and I wonder if tomorrow will be as hot and humid as today was.

Just some Friday things to share. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Where the heck is John Wayne?

Last night a terrible storm hit just north of us. Bad. Bad enough to take down tree limbs and knock out power. We were safe inside at the time and I was at the computer wondering if our power would kak out on us. It didn’t. But when I turned to look out the window the sky was the most peculiar color – yellow. Hmmm. Did I remember that tornado skies look like that or was I going all yellow brick road for a moment there? My mind began to spin as I considered . . . disasters.

What would we do, hubby and I, if we lost everything to a tornado, fire, hurricane or you name it? We’ve nipped the edges of great loss a couple of times. A few years ago it was a horrific ice storm that brought down some of the tree limbs from our ancient maples. I remember standing in the bedroom the following morning. As hubby sat in a chair next to the window pulling on his socks we heard a slow ominous craaaack! Then a whooosh. Then a thud! The limb speared through the porch roof about a foot from where he sat with only a window between him and sudden death. Well, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but scary to think what might have happened.

The carnage in our yard was astounding. People slowed down to take a look as they passed on the road in front of the house. Smaller limbs had come down, javelin-like, and stuck up out of the ground. Brush was everywhere. But you know what? We didn’t sit around whining about when the power would go back on (okay, maybe a little) or what programs we could tap into for help. Nope. My former Navy Seabee went to work. He got dressed, got the chain saw and got on with it. The old joke is that the Seabees arrive on the scene to get things ready for the Marines. Ha! And John Wayne did a pretty good job of showing exactly how that was done when he starred in The Fighting Seabees in 1944. So my guy did his John Wayne on that tree limb and when our son and grandson stopped by they pitched in, too. We have a video of it somewhere.

Okay, I did my part. I was on the insurance company before you could say Dorothy and Toto. The adjusters in the county were very busy that week. And so were the National Grid guys, and the Red Cross. But I wonder . . .

Have we lost the ability to get out there on our own and take care of business when calamity strikes? Do we have good examples of that “get outta my way, I’ll take care of this,” style that doesn’t sit and wait for help? Good grief. What did people do before “programs”? What did they do before the truck came down the road with relief? I think I know.

They hunkered down while the forces of nature assailed and then they assessed the damages. Next they got off their duffs and got busy. That little bit of John Wayne in all of them took the disaster by the horns, shook a fist at the sky, and moved forward. Helping neighbors, consoling each other, swapping stories and foodstuffs, plowing through the wreckage to recover what they could, and all the while thanking God for their lives.

I pulled away from the window and sighed. I know it’s not so simple to pick up the pieces sometimes. It’s called devastation for a reason. But all hope is never, ever lost. We’ve got to grab onto a better mindset than the one that allows us to sit and wait, grousing and complaining. We’ve got to shake our own fist at all that tries to crush us and fight like a Seabee and on occasion, when necessary. . .  pray like a lost soul.  

I'm pretty sure John Wayne would approve.

Image: Jennifer Ellison                                                      Free Digital Photos

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

For Writers

Keeping Your Pipeline Full

Not long ago I hit a high water mark in my writing career by receiving five payments for writing work in the space of a few days. It was quite delightful, but the result of lots of hard work, too. As in any business I invoice or sign contracts with the expectation of payment within a certain time frame. I routinely keep between fifteen and twenty pieces out to markets and as a result those five payments all happened to hit at once. And that’s because my pipeline is always full. That fullness results in a pretty steady flow of payments and is a model for every writer to follow. It also helps to keep a ratio of about 60/40 of submissions that pay on acceptance and those that pay on publication. I offer these tips.

  1. The “evergreens” – Keep track of these and keep the rights to them. I have a whole backlog of once sold essays, kid’s crafts, poems and fillers that I re-visit regularly to see where I can make a second or even third sale. I know of at least one writer who sold a non-fiction piece five times garnering him over nine thousand dollars tallied out over several years. He hit it big on the “green.”
  2. Quick Sales – We all have these. There are editors who have become fans of your work and will take a good percentage of what you write. You know what they want and with a little diligence you can keep your submissions fresh, timely and directed at the readers who probably like your style, too.
  3. Branch out – Challenge yourself. Have you secretly penned a killer idea for a greeting card or written a witty limerick, but never did anything with them? Of course you were just fooling around or blowing off steam and probably nobody would want them. Right? Well, get over whatever’s messing up your thinking like that and find a market for them. You may think that if you can’t go full tilt in some area of writing that it’s never going to amount to much. But I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. I’ve sold dozens of poems and some greeting cards and the nice little checks that arrive as a result are great ego boosters. So what if it’s only bread and butter money – it spends.
  4. Think Big – Several months ago I submitted an essay to an in-flight magazine that pays a dollar a word. Deep down I know my chances are slim for publication, but deeper down I’m proud of myself for getting that puppy out. I’ve flown this airline many times and I wrote to the eclectic mix of passengers I’ve observed and interacted with over the years. I think many of them will love the essay if only I can get the nod from the editor. Rumor has it that stories and article published in in-flights are real plums. Try starting at the top payers and work down. Might as well have a few fat ones in the pipeline and hope for the best. I’ve already got a second market in mind should that editor pass.

Never let a good piece of writing sit for long. Get it into your pipeline as soon as it’s polished. And I hope for you a five check week, too!

Image: Free Digital Photos

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Last night we took a side street as we left the ball field. We were on our way to get ice cream, that honored summertime ritual, and as we moved slowly down the street I began to notice them. Porches. The one that triggered my imagination was small, the house was old, a two story affair probably built in the 40’s. A man sat in a high backed rocking chair while some family members milled around in the yard. Their front door was open and I could see the stairs leading to the upper level. A surpising private peek.

It was nice to see people outside after our long icky spring. It was nice to realize that people still sit on front porches of an evening. Very Norman Rockwell-esque. I smiled at the man who probably knew lots of cars would be leaving the ball field just then. Maybe he was porch sitting and looking forward to the “people parade.” He smiled back at me. 

The next few houses had no porch activity and the one after those had a very cluttered look. Front porch as extra storage area. Yup, understand that. I glanced around as we passed and noticed this home also had a back porch, stacked high with fire wood. Wow, that’ll be nice and dry when the cold weather is upon us again.

My favorite kind of porch is one that wraps halfway around the house. You know, the one where you can put your Aunt Tilly’s beautiful old white wicker set and serve lotus blossom tea in the afternoon. Your friends show up in flowered dresses and beribboned leghorn hats loaded with gossip in full anticipation of lively conversation and your best cookies. Scarlett O’Hara would approve.

Our front porch has been reduced by more than half thanks to an ice storm that came through a few winters ago. That’s a picture of it up there. We hired out to have it repaired and it’s small now, but pretty. I set a pot of flowers out there all summer and try to keep it swept. I suppose there’s room for one chair but since we live out of the back of the house that’s not likely to happen. Still, I like the way it sort of guards the front door.

I went shopping with a friend yesterday and she told me she bought new cushions for her porch furniture. She has a nice front porch and a covered area out back, too. People who live in Cape Cod style houses don’t have front porches. Ranch style houses built in the 50’s and 60’s sometimes have a small covered area at the entrance. Doesn’t really qualify as a porch, I’m thinking. City porches are called “stoops.” That’s where you sat when it was just too blamed hot to be inside. I’m sorry for people who don’t have porches.

But perhaps we could shoot for a porch mentality whether we have one or not. A place of quiet contemplation or a good chin wag with a neighbor. The very best place for watching the world go by or rocking a baby. The place to plop down rain boots and umbrellas and get out of the storm or where children can be out of the house but not too far away.

Yeah, anyplace like that would do. Don’t you think?

PS: Sam’s team won!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Beloved Voices

Quite often on a rainy Sunday afternoon we’ll ask the kids to come for supper. Yesterday was such a day. I had two jars of homemade spaghetti sauce left from last summer’s bounty and it was as good a day as any to finish it off. And our granddaughter’s Rookie ball game had been cancelled so food at Grandma’s seemed needful.

I was zipping around the kitchen getting the ingredients ready for the garlic bread when I heard the front door “pop” open and the thud of little feet. The pop sound comes from the old wooden door and the thud from the Rookie ball player, Melodi’s, feet. She was beside me, grinning, in about two seconds. The rest of them came in the back door and soon the kitchen buzzed with beloved voices. As though we hadn’t seen each other in years, kinda nice. We had the evening ahead of us.

Important matters discussed before dinner included, “What’s in this cheese dip, seafood?” and my confession, “Grandma ran out of Ovaltine. How about some chocolate syrup in milk?” This was greeted with a speculative nod, but acknowledged as an adequate substitute, three cups later. Pictures of the new playhouse, purple, that Daddy built and Grandpa helped move an hour ago were viewed on Mom’s camera. Quite the builder is our son, Carl. And on it went until the spaghetti water boiled.

Not much was said during dinner and no one was surprised when Sierra, two, escaped her chair and scooted beneath the table to giggle at all the feet tucked under. A true little kid sound if ever there was one. Her big sister was done next and the two of them ran into the living room to color and watch Dora. Ah, the sound of silence – for about three minutes and then more giggling and “singing” if you can believe it. I’ve recently taught them Take Me Out to the Ballgame with emphasis on “root, root, root for the home team” with fist pumping and fingers flying at the “one, two, three strikes you’re OUT!”  All sung in at the top of their lungs.

As I began to clear the table, husband and son started in with the stories. Because of the horrific tornadoes in Texas the topic was storms and the ones we’ve suffered here in the Northeast. “I remember I was about fifteen . . .” or some such coming from hubby. The murmur of their voices and the occasional burst of astonishment at the sheer memory of two foot waves on Kinderhook Lake was oddly comforting to me. I was reminded of that beautiful, brief, lull at the dinner table when I was a kid. Dad told his old stories then, too. We asked him questions – eager to know more about the good old days. Quite an education.

Then a kind of melancholy came over me. What would I do without these beloved voices all around me? And not just from family, important as they are. What about friends? Won’t the day come when those voices will fall on my ears no more? Time, like an ever rolling stream, soon bears us all away. That old hymn rang so true just then. I won’t hear my Mom’s voice or Dad’s anymore. When my husband had a nasty turn in his health a year or so ago, his normal, rich voice was quieted. Worry and fear trumped everything for both of us. What a relief when he began joking with the nurses!

Suddenly the high pitched screech of two little girls came howling through the pantry, breaking into my reverie. But in the nicest possible way – pierced eardrums aside. I smiled as their mother shushed them partly because I know there are little voices that mothers and grandmothers can’t hear. Illness or death has stilled them. I know there are hearts grieving because a laugh, a quirky turn of phrase, or a whispered sentiment will no longer be heard here on earth.

So I clattered about, finishing the table clearing, dropping my own recollections of past storms into the conversation as I grabbed the leftover garlic bread from the middle of the table. And I thanked God that I have these beloved voices around me – for now.

Whatever would life be without them?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Little Challenges

So guess who’s in charge of the menu for the upcoming family reunion? Yup, Grandma Food – that would be me. Somehow I’ve merited the “good cook” label and was tapped. But that’s okay; I've accepted the challenge of keeping 30+ people well fed for the week. Then I found out that one of my nieces is Vegan. Hmmm. And her mother doesn’t care for seafood. Okay – crank up the challenge a notch. Oh – and the reunion is in Oregon and I live in New York. Another brick on the pile – but that’s still okay. I’m not panicky – yet.

Another challenge I’m facing is a five minute talk at an upcoming Mavens of Mayhem meeting. That’s the local chapter of Sisters in Crime, a mystery writer’s association. My subject – Sue Grafton. I’ve read a few of her alphabet series mysteries, but know little about her. I’m about to find out, I guess, and I hope I don’t blow it. Public speaking is not my thing, but I suppose if I become a wildly popular author myself I’ll have to work on that challenge, too. Yeesh.

Challenge number three is our ding dang yard. Except it’s not just a yard, its acres. We own four and have to maintain three as the other acre is in the woods across the road. But, oh my goodness, what a job to keep it all. Weeds, gunk from the trees (hundreds of them it seems), a crumbling patio, chipmunks that dig up and eat flower bulbs and are faster than the speed of light. I could go on. It’s a bit much.

But . . .

I found a recipe for a raisin cake in a church cookbook that a friend gave to me a few Christmases ago. It’s got no animal products in it at all! Yay! I’ll call it a raisin breakfast cake and serve it up in the morning with the scrambled eggs, ham/sausage/bacon, and coffee. Something for everyone. I’ll have plenty of fruits and cereals, veggies and lemonade on hand, too. The niece will be happy and so will I.

The vice prez of our Mavens chapter will be sending me her excellent notes on Grafton and I’ll be able to pretty much read what’s in front of me with an occasional off the wal . . . cuff remark. Five minutes isn’t much to ask. That was the timeframe I was allowed for the television spot I had last December and I survived that. If I can only keep the wisecracks to a minimum I should be okay.

I’ve vowed to take one small section of the yard at a time and give it my all. Make that pretty and then choose the next piece. Weed the garden every three days (yeah – that’s what I’ll do). Or let most of the weeds alone. Pretend they lend a “country feeling” to the place. And most of all enjoy the piece of land we’ve been given to tend. A gift really, sort of like Aleve, which I’ll need lots of this summer.

I know there are many people with Big life challenges. My heart goes out to them. But sometimes looking at the little ones makes us more able to feel a conqueror. Don’t we all need that?

Image: Evgeni Dinev                                                                        Free Ditital Photos

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why Rituals Are Important

Yesterday, Mother’s Day, as we sat waiting in the restaurant, the subject of rituals came up. Real unexpected like. The catalyst was the blessing of a cross that one of the moms mentioned taking place at church that morning. A small tete-a-tete (head to head) occurred between a devout doubter and this mom. Hmm. It got me thinking.

Here’s one dictionary definition of the word:  A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.
This makes me think of baptism, bar / bat mitzvah, graduation, various kinds of “pinnings” and so much more, some of which I’ve participated in. The “prescribed order” is usually one of long standing and few of us had input at the setting up of these rituals, but we go for them anyway. Why?

Bonding – Through the instruction that goes before the ritual we learn about all the other times and other people who have been through this. We learn the why of the ritual. We are encouraged to love that why. Take baptism, for instance. You may argue about when it should be done, but you can’t deny that it occurs worldwide and has brought millions into God’s fold. For centuries. One common ritual that bonds, with water and the Word, a large chunk of humanity. How awesome is that?

Initiation – A ritual has consequences that we sometimes cannot understand until some other scenario or conversation opens our eyes. Like, “You were thirteen when you first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show? So was I!!!” Okay, you now know that you are not alone and are a part of a society of wonder where all things are honored and shared in relation to that one movie. Because you’ve gone through this initiation, so to speak, you have something in common with this other human in front of you. And if you don’t think there are ritual aspects to seeing Rocky, well, just go see it.

Vowing – A ritual seals an idea or belief. Take weddings for example. The prescribed order may vary but the basics remain, including a vow to another person. That vow shows the importance of that idea or belief not only to the “vowers”, but to society as a whole. It shows that we are serious about making and keeping promises to each other. It involves trust and loyalty, faithfulness and love and employs witnesses to add gravity to those vows. When these things are held in reverence, the general welfare of everyone is promoted. Really.

Ridicule – Whoa! Hit you upside the head with that one, huh? I use the word because of the ridicule that sometimes erupts from those who feel no need of ritual. And so I’d like to stretch the definition to include other things. Like running. At a certain time, using certain equipment or attire, in a prescribed order, with even (if you will) a vow of sorts. The purpose of the running ritual? To be initiated into the circle of “the fit.” The vow is to health and well being and I applaud it. But at the same time I’d like some respect for what I hold dear, too. It’s not too much to ask. A smile and a nod would do.

So, diatribe over. Mother’s day is past for a while. More rituals are coming up, though. I’d love to know about the ones you hold dear.

Image: sippakorn                                                                            Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Gleaning Writer

I’ve always been an avid reader, but since I’ve become an author, I read differently. Now I don’t just read, I glean. Like some kind of medieval peasant, I pick at words, phrases and concepts as though they were bits of fallen fruit there for my taking. Now, mind you, gleaning is not stealing. Oh no, it’s more like hundreds of little “ah ha!” moments all scattered about in my favorite author’s works and what I find there helps me over the humps as I’m struggling, hammer and tongs, with my own work. Let me give you some examples.

Humor – Boy, do I love doing funny! And nobody does funny for me quite like Janet Evanovich. When I finished reading my first Stephanie Plum novel, I came to the sudden realization that there was at least one author out there whose sense of crazy was as serious as my own. Her creator let Stephanie do wacko stuff like accidentally blow up cars, burn down funeral homes, take her Grandma Mazur along on a bounty hunt and have two gorgeous men (Oh, Ranger) vying for her affection. And Stephanie always manages, with the marginal assistance of her sidekick Lula, to solve a crime in the bargain. What’s not to love?

Characterization – Elizabeth George cannot write fast enough for me. I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything she’s ever written. I’ve learned many things from her, but most of all she’s taught me what it means to build, layer by layer, trait by trait, characters worthy of adoration. In fact, if you blindfolded me and set me in a cold interrogation room in a London police station, I’d know the exact instant that Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley walked into the room. I’d know if he had Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers or his wife, Helen, with him, too. Why? Because Ms. George has made them real people for me, the kind you can hear and smell, become enraged at or pine for, empathize with, sense and know. In that knowing, then, I’ve come to understand that my own characters must have layers that include virtues, regular battles with the dark side of their own humanity, and flaws—even flaws my readers will dislike. As an example, take Lynley’s sergeant, Barbara Havers. Besides being a darn good investigator, responsible with her mother and tenderhearted towards children, Barbara is also overweight and a bit of a frump in her manner of dress. These last two are not exactly character flaws, but still, I see myself in this way at times, and thus I’ve bonded with this character big time. I’ve even given my own amateur sleuth, Minnie Markwood, a weight problem, though she dresses rather better than either Barbara or me.

Dead Guys – Uh, Authors of the Past – What author do you know who hasn’t learned something from Mark Twain? I mean, the guy was such a genius, if you’d never seen him, you might have thought he was a woman. Well, almost. I recently re-read Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and oh, the language. Not anything like what we sometimes rely upon these days to deliver a story, but colorful and in a class all it’s own. True, you don’t hear anyone called a “blame fool” anymore, nor do we expect many or our readers to know what a “chaw of tobacco” is, but I’ll bet you a dead cat in a gunnysack we could all ratchet up the color in our own writing by studying Mr. Twain. Read this tidbit from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to get a good feel of what I mean. In it, Aunt Sally has been looking high and low for the shirt Huck and his friend Tom have stolen from her clothesline. From her tone of voice and her cross words, Huck is certain he’s been caught out.

“My heart fell down amongst my lungs and livers and things, and a hard piece of corn-crust started down my throat after it and got met on the road with a cough, and was shot across the table, and took one of the children in the eye and curled him up like a fishing worm . . .” 

Has the man put a picture in your head, or what? I adore Mark Twain. He’s first among the long gone authors I admire. Charles Dickens is a close second and then comes Robert Louis Stevenson whose “A Child’s Garden of Verses” is my absolute favorite book of poetry.

So, fellow writers, who do you read and glean from? C’mon, fess up. Without realizing it you’ve probably incorporated some of their ways into your own. And if you do realize it – even better. You’re on a path taken by millions of excellent writers and you can count yourself among them.

Keep the faith. Keep writing.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ping the Wonder Fish

I was kind of hoping they’d forget to stop back at the ping pong game on their way out of the fair. One of the visiting granddaughters was a pretty good shot and had won a goldfish around Labor Day – last year. County fairs aren’t really their thing, but they tagged along with us and Ta Da! had won the prize that now sits on the dining room table.

“What should we call him?” I asked.

“Ping!” Lillie said without hesitation.


“Yeah, we won him playing ping pong,” she said with a “duh” look on her face, one eyebrow arched.

I laughed. “Okay, then, Ping it is.”

Ping’s home is a fish bowl. One of several I had leftover from a wedding reception. We cleaned it up, put some dollar store crushed stone and seashells in the bottom and plopped Ping into the water. Then we decided he needed a place to hide so I found an old shot glass and put that in there, too. Oh – and a pretty blue marble.  

Last month the girls were here again and I thought it would be fun to go and buy a friend for Ping. Yeah – call the new fish Pong. You saw that coming, didn’t you? So we piled into the car and headed for Wal-Mart where we soon found out they’d discontinued selling fish. Not to worry, Pet World was only a road over so we went there next.

Wow, a whole wall of fish. Excellent. We ducked and bobbed looking at all sorts of interesting sizes and colors. Best of all the prices which began at thirteen cents all the way up to thirty eight cents each, for the goldfish anyway. I was in bargain heaven.

“Can I help you?”

We turned to find a perky young woman smiling inquiringly at us. “We’d like a goldfish,” I said. “We have one now and . . .”

“What do you keep it in?” she asked.

“Um – a regular goldfish bowl. Round, glass. “

“Oh, we don’t recommend those bowls anymore. Every goldfish needs twelve gallons of water. They can grow to be six inches long.” She spread her fingers so I’d know just how long that was.

“Maybe we need something bigger, then,” I said as she led us around the corner to the fish tanks which started at twenty one bucks for the smallest. Plastic. Kind of cheap looking. Not bargain heaven anymore. Of course there were others – of course.

Perky did a pretty good Vanna White along the top shelf as she extolled the virtues of the various methods of housing fish. Gosh, we could buy air thingys, toys, filters. Quite an array. So - I could buy a thirty eight cent goldfish and keep him and Ping in a twenty five dollar tank - if I went cheap. Hmm.

“I only wanted a second fish as a friend for the one we’ve got,” I said. “You know, so he won’t be so lonely.” My enthusiasm for a second fish was dying fast.

“Oh, goldfish don’t get lonely,” Perky said with conviction. “They prefer to live alone.”

That did it. “I don’t think we’re interested,” I said with conviction. Then I rounded up the two younger granddaughters who were off looking at the Guinea pigs.

On the way out of the store I could see Elaina’s wheels turning. She’s the oldest granddaughter who stood beside me as we got our goldfish lesson.

“I wonder how all those fish could live in those tanks on the wall. There had to be at least fifty in each one,” I said. 

“Yeah, that's what I was thinking. They didn’t have twelve gallons each. But maybe the tanks were aerated.”

“Maybe,” I said. “And how does she know goldfish don’t get lonely?”

On the way home we talked about fish in the wild and how they’d survived, some in a lot less water than twelve gallons per fish.

Later I Googled a bit and discovered that in Great Britain and China gold fish bowls have been outlawed under their animal cruelty laws. Yeesh. I could almost feel the FFP (Fending For Fish) cameras hoping to catch me abusing Ping.

All this zipped through my mind as I cleaned Ping’s “prison” this morning. He’s a happy little fish in case you’re in China or Great Britain reading this. If you used to make gold fish bowls for a living, I’m sorry for you. But know this – sometimes you just can’t believe what people and the experts tell you. Ping is fed twice a day and I clean his bowl every three or four days. I even bought him a plastic seaweed so he has a second place to hide. I tap on the glass as I sprinkle his food and he comes hurrying to the surface. I think he loves me. Sometimes I sing to him. Sick – I know.

If you have a goldfish from the fair and your love has kept him alive let me know. We can swap wonder fish stories. Right now I think I need more caffeine.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ms. Maple

First of all, let me say, I’m not a tree hugger. Trees for me are a bane and a blessing. A bane because we have so many of them on our property and a blessing because of the maples. I also know that trees are a renewable resource and good people are making sure that trees are planted everywhere, every day, somewhere on earth. For beauty, shade, and yes, profit. Good for them. I chuckle because yesterday I was ripping out maple tree shoots with abandon. They grow like weeds if you let them.

So, why am I going on about trees? Because of one. The one I took this picture of yesterday while playing outside with two of our granddaughters. It sits a bit crookedly on a spot just up the rise from our back door. It’s huge and probably has at least fifty years on me. The base of the trunk swirls as though it was twisted by wind and weather on its way to the sky. It reminds me of the bottom of a ladies skirt. Yeah, like she’s dancing with a divine partner and her skirt is proclaiming her joy in the music.

And then there’s her arms. When our first grandchild was born we bought one of those yellow and red swings that need hanging from something – like the branch of a tree. So up hubby went on a ladder to assault one sturdy limb with ten inch bolts. And she took it. Then yesterday when Melodi and Sierra had turns in the red chair, I looked up. The branch had grown in girth and the wound of those bolts had healed right around them. Somehow I don’t think the laughter of many children beneath her colossal umbrella is offensive to her at all. No, like any good mother, the tree has accepted that wound and not held it against them.

The critters love Ms. Maple. Squirrels daily leap from neighboring trees and scamper down the massive trunk trying to beat the crows to the treats I’ve spread beneath the boughs. The crows land much higher and call to each other, “Breakfast!” as I scurry back into the house hoping no one will see me in my jammies and old blue bathrobe. On occasion a Cooper ’s hawk will land on a low branch with an eye toward one or two of the smaller birds that fly down when the crows and squirrels are done. It's hoping to make a meal of one of them. I did witness the execution of a dove once. Those hawks are swift and deadly.

One year dear husband came into the living room where I’d just taken the last bite of lunch. He crooked his finger, “Come here.” I followed him outside. “Listen.” I did. A steady low hum was coming from somewhere – the maple tree. “Look at that,” he said. “What do you think that is?” Turns out it wasn’t just a hum, it was buzzing bees. A huge mass of them were gathering just about mid-trunk where there’s a hollow perfect for a swarm to spend the summer. And that’s what they did. Gives me the shivers when I think about it. But the tree took that, too. I like to think some powerful pollination of local fields and flowers took place because of those bees. Sure hope so ‘cuz I wouldn’t let the kids use the swing that summer.

Come fall Ms. Maple changes her dusty green gown for one of red and gold. She doesn't wear it long for soon it slides down her gracious limbs and lands to carpet the earth. I get out the rake and load the trailer. Some years we make a Sunday afternoon of it with all the kids in attendance. The leaves are hauled and piled further up the hill with all the others from the yard and turn to unbelievably rich compost in a year or two. Last evening we spread some of it back under this maple whose soil is regularly washed away because of the angle at which it grows. We give back to her as she has given to us.

Okay, I’m not a tree hugger, but I’d make an exception for this one. Wouldn’t you?