Tag Archives: family

#BookReview: Calico Lane by Judy Kiehart #amreading

Writers are readers. We were readers long before we became writers, and reading is a habit we can’t break. It is a habit that broadens minds and introduces us to new worlds.

magicOr, in some cases, as in the book I am focusing on today, it takes us back to the world we thought we left behind.

I read in every genre. Memoirs were high on my mother’s reading list, so I borrowed them off her shelf and read them too. The way people think and view their life experiences fascinates me. I enjoy the contrast of the turning points in their lives, juxtaposing them with what I see as the rather mundane moments of mine.

So now, let’s get down to the book, Calico Lane.

But first, the Blurb:

Calico Lane by Judy KiehartHow do we survive when who we are is not the person our family expects us to be?

Judy Kiehart’s Calico Lane deals with universal themes of family, acceptance, faith, and love; it is a memoir of confusion and muddled thoughts that slowly untangle as a sturdy heritage endures.

In a small Pennsylvania town, a neighborhood called The Lane is surrounded by dense woods, creeks, and rutted mining tracks. Not even the rumored child-eating spiders inside an old structure scare Judy. What frightens the ten-year-old is that someone may discover her secret.
Set in a time before sexual identity became a household phrase, Judy develops confusing emotions for an older girl, and, year after year, girl after girl, the feelings continue. Judy’s friends want to kiss the boys. No one talks about girls kissing girls. Over time she fears her emotions are not typical, and if continued, will bring shame to her family and the town’s Russian Orthodox Church. But harboring a secret is paralyzing.

Armed with an affable sense of humor and her mother’s housekeeping principle, “everything in its place and a place for everything,” Judy begins a life of pretense; after all, the best way to survive being different is to hide the truth, isn’t it?

My Review:

Calico Lane is a gentle journey into the troubles and confusions of knowing you are different from your friends in a truly fundamental way. Judy’s struggle to maintain the strong family ties that sustained her early childhood and still negotiate the troubled seas of her teenage years is endearing.

The world she paints for us is both comforting and terrifying in many ways, familiar to anyone who grew up in a strict religious/cultural tradition.

We all can relate to the fear of losing your parents’ love over something you can’t change. I was born just after Judy Kiehart, and while we were raised in widely different parts of the US, many of our experiences, both in school and out of it, were similar. We both grew up in families with strong religious and cultural traditions, beneath the intense spotlight of the post-WWII focus on visible morality.

We of the lower middle class were happy, prosperous, and above all, we always looked morally good no matter what really happened behind closed doors. We faithfully attended church in our respective denominations every week and participated in all the activities that went along with it.

Family secrets were kept from the children. We were raised with the firm belief that heterosexuality was the only sexuality—you were a woman or a man and, of course, heterosexual.

If you were different, you kept that secret, or you could be jailed, brutally beaten, or even killed. You, or even your family, could lose their jobs. There was no blurring of the lines, no gender identity other than male or female, and who you were allowed to love was defined by strict laws that didn’t allow for any other way of life.

My best friend in school was gay, a secret I kept for him until he came out after the Stonewall riots. This is why I found Judy Kiehart’s memoir of growing up knowing she was attracted to girls and not boys so interesting. It brought me closer to an understanding of my friend’s struggle.

I grew up in a Lutheran family, so many of my family’s traditions differed from Judy’s Russian Orthodox background. But the outward, visible values of middle-class America that she grew up with were the same as mine.

The book flows as if she is sitting with you, sharing her story over a cup of coffee. I highly recommend this memoir to anyone who loves a good story about good people.

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About Judy Kiehart:

Judy Kiehart head shotJudy’s writing achievements include two one-act plays that paced among the top three winners in national competitions and were staged in Colorado in 2005 and 2015. She was commissioned to write a ninety-minute program for Stage Left Theater in Salida for the 2010 winter holiday season. She describes herself as a glass-half-full, gay Christian and enjoys traveling—whether exploring faraway places or nearby towns. Judy and her wife managed a real estate appraisal business for eighteen years in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and following retirement, relocated to Olympia.

An excerpt from Calico Lane was a semifinalist in the 2021 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Competition.

You can find her at:

www.judykiehart.com

www.facebook.com/judy.kiehart

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22166296.Judy_Kiehart

Purchase Calico Lane at:

https://Amazon.com/dp/0578340836

or at Browsers in downtown Olympia

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Road Trip to Human Frailty #foodie

This last weekend we drove 100 miles north to the town of Snohomish to visit our oldest daughter and her family. We left our house early to avoid the worst of traffic, so we made it two hours.

road tripLeah and Tom have no spare bedrooms until the remodel is done. So, we stayed at the Snohomish Inn, two blocks away. It’s an older place but clean.

The first thing we did on arriving in Snohomish was to go with our daughter to our favorite lunch place, Grilla Bites. They have a fantastic menu with various vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore foods.

Every diner has a lot of choices in soups and sandwiches, so no one should go home hungry. I certainly didn’t.

Then we went back to the daughter’s house and watched 2 movies I hadn’t yet seen but wanted to. Pixar’s Coco and Soul—I loved them both. The storylines were uplifting and thought-provoking, brilliant storytelling, and brilliant voice acting.

And food?  OhMaGosh!

Thanks to my son-in-law, Tom, I seriously overate this weekend. Tom’s hobby is cooking fancy, restaurant-quality foods for us, and he outdid himself. He made a deep-fried chicken fillet and poutine for the omnivores, and a lovely meal for me, with plenty of his amazing homemade French fries. (Chips to you in the UK.)

Whether for the lone vegan (me) or the omnivores, everything was plated beautifully and tasted even better.

Tom's avocado Toast for the vegan mother-in-lawSunday morning began with the best avocado toast I’ve ever had. Everyone who knows me has heard how much I love that particular dish. Tom’s version is incredibly simple: a good bread, toasted and topped with mashed avocado, chopped walnuts sprinkled over the top, and a teensy drizzle of honey. It sounds odd, but wow. That was a divine, filling breakfast. The picture I took doesn’t do it justice.

After leaving Snohomish, we stopped in Bothell to visit our younger son. We met for lunch at the Beardslee Public House. They had several tasty-looking options for me, but the vegan Benedict was my choice. Even though I don’t do hollandaise sauce, I didn’t miss it because the charred avocado, spinach, and tomato were grilled perfectly. Paired with the pub’s signature russet potato hash, it was delicious.

So, while I didn’t get much writing done, we had a great weekend.

One of the good things about living here in the Pacific Northwest is the number of restaurants that also provide a variety of plant-based options for diners of all persuasions. I especially appreciate those chefs who care about all the people who might enter their premises. They don’t lump gluten-free and vegan into one carelessly planned, slightly bland, punishment meal.

Taste is a primary sensory experience, as is texture. I’m vegan, but every person has foods they will or won’t eat. They have good logical reasons behind those choices. Some people are strictly kosher, and others are halal. Others are vegetarian, and still others are omnivores. Every culture has standards of cleanliness and what food is fit for consumption–something you can work into your worldbuilding.

We can’t judge others by our standards, even though that is a time-honored human frailty. My son-in-law loves me, and he gets it. A simple dish like avocado toast goes a long way toward making me a happy diner!

So, what other human frailties did I deal with this week? I’ve been using Excel since 1993 and it still finds ways to aggravate me.

Somehow, Excel got crazy with the word “of” in my World of Neveyah glossary (covering 7 books). It replaced every instance of “of” in column D with random words drawn from the explanations in Column C. Two hours wasted, laughing and trying to straighten it out. Fortunately, it was only fifty or so words out of over 400.

Every time I ran across a new blooper, it cracked me up.

I have no idea how such a weird merge happened, but it was hilarious. It has to be some inadvertent thing I did when pasting a new section into it. I somehow merged column C and column D when I right-clicked to paste the new page of words and meanings. Unaware of that, I sorted the page alphabetically, which mixed the wonky errors all through the entire list.

It’s straightened out now, but it the fact it was only the word “of” that was replaced made me laugh so hard my husband thought I was nuts. See the screenshot below–every time I see this image, I can’t help laughing.

screenshot of Excel stupidnessAnd as a final twist to the craziness–we were finally getting ready for sleep in our hotel room, both of us tired but feeling good about our day. All our toiletries were in a small, dark zipper-bag.

I can only say from personal experience – hydrocortisone cream does not make a good toothpaste.

That is all I have to say on that subject.

And so my friends, may you eat well, write what you feel passion for, and laugh every chance you can.

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Hair and there #amwriting

I began reading a new book while I was traveling over the weekend. It came with a lot of hype from the big bookseller in the sky: “the book grown-up Harry Potter fans can’t put down.” So far, I’m not finding it anywhere near as engrossing as Harry Potter. What with all the propaganda, my expectations are probably too high. I’m going to keep reading because it’s not completely deadly—it’s just not “all that and more.”

Also, I am beta reading for a friend out in Wyoming, and I must say, his book is quite good.

Formatting on my new book has had some false starts and hiccups, but that’s the life of an indie. I’m going to go to Draft2Digital from now on for eBook and mobi formatting. I saw that they also offer paper book formatting (at no cost) in all the same sizes that Create Space used to offer, so I will let you know how that goes and how it looks.

Work continues on both novels and several short stories. My creative brain is working again, joy of joys. I think I had a hard case of the “Post NaNoWriMo Brain Freeze” that others have talked about, but I had never experienced before.

Last week was a busy week for me. I drove 3 hours north to Snohomish, where my oldest daughter lives. She is a hair stylist with her own business at Fresh Salon and Spa. Salons like that provide all the necessary furnishings and amenities for a high end salon, by renting space to several licensed cosmetologists who each own their own business.

Each stylist pays a monthly rent to the shop’s owner, which helps her cover the utilities and other onsite costs for owning and operating such a large, upscale salon. By leasing chairs, the owner has motivated stylists at her shop whose clients bring in many new customers.

Leah has all the normal costs of owning and operating a small business. She purchases her own supplies and is responsible for paying both state and federal taxes on her earnings, as does any small business owner. By “renting a chair” at Fresh, she has the benefit of a receptionist, a good location, high end décor, and a much lower overhead than if she bought her own building.

Plus, it’s an exceedingly pleasant place to work.

Now the reason I bring this up is … you guessed it: hair.

When I was a worker bee in Corporate America, I kept my hair short and businesslike. It grows so fast that I had to get it cut every six weeks to keep it in shape.

When I retired, I quit worrying about it. Now I only cut it when it is so long that it’s annoying.

Which it has been, lately.

The last time I cut my hair was in 2017, and we cut twelve inches off.

This time, we cut fourteen inches off. And this time, I donated my hair to Wigs for Kids, a non-profit organization that donates wigs to children who have lost their hair due to burns, or cancer, or any number of traumatic, life altering events.

It was an involved process, as the picture shows, but we followed the instructions exactly so that what we donate will be usable when it arrives there.

My head feels five pounds lighter, and my heart feels good because I know a child will have a better day when they receive their wig.

But enough about my hair—let’s talk babysitting!

On Friday, Leah and I dressed in full combat gear and took on the tribe while my youngest daughter and her husband had a well-deserved weekend away without their three, exceptionally creative, sons.

Leah’s 13-year-old son helped as much as he could by trying to get them tired out, but the 7-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old—let’s just say we had a wild time wrangling small, rambunctious boys.

My hearing is starting to return, so it’s all good.

I love babysitting, but it’s so much easier when Leah and Logan are there to do the real work. (I laugh, but it’s true—my best skills as a grandma are snuggling clean, well-fed children and watching cartoons.)

So, the weekend was spent lightening the load on my head, playing with grandchildren, and generally having a great time. I watched many episodes of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and Oddbods. Nothing but fine arts and entertainment!

Overall, the high point of the weekend was waking up to having my nose “booped” at 3 a.m. by a wide-awake one-year old who wanted to play.

So we did.

Life doesn’t get any better than that.

 

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Update on Works in Progress #amwriting

I hope you had a happy Easter weekend, celebrating the advent of spring your way. We share five children, and they all have children, so warm weather and the addition of extended family made for a great family party on Saturday. Unfortunately, our poor abused vacuum cleaner died the final death before we were finished preparing for the party and there was no time to get a new one.

Near the front door, beneath the growing pile of cast off shoes, bags, and backpacks, lay an expanse of unvacuumed carpet. Strangely, no one seemed to notice.

By three in the afternoon, my kitchen was loaded with every kind of food imaginable, and the party was in full swing. While the younger children involuntarily were held captive indoors behind closed drapes, the teenagers hid well over a hundred plastic eggs. Each was filled with cash, toys, and candy.

Somehow, in the process, the rod holding up my front drapes was pulled loose from the wall. It still hangs there, like everyone’s drunken uncle…precariously positioned and slightly askew.

Thunder shook my suburban neighborhood when we released the captives and the front door burst open. Tender shoots of green lawn met a grisly fate as the mob of crazed grandchildren descended on our yard.

High drama unfolded as toddlers fell and scraped their knees and older children took advantage of their distraction. Oh, the carnage!

At around seven PM, the last car left the driveway. We geared up in hazmat suits and began the cleanup—sans vacuum cleaner.

However, I’m a pro. My husband and I are both suffering from back injuries, so in the aftermath, we were forced to be creative. Who needs a stinkin’ vacuum cleaner? My broom works on the carpet, and I have developed mad skills with my new tool of choice—the reach extender.

It’s amazing the things you can do with long-handled grabbers. They make excellent tools to extricate candy wrappers from the shrubbery and retrieve the few eggs that were overlooked in the stampede. Being able to grab the toy cars and plastic farm animals out from under the porch is a real plus.

Inside the house, wide-spread devastation made negotiating the hallway to the bathroom difficult for travelers in a hurry. Muffled cursing was heard as sock-footed old people stepped on abandoned Legos.

I’m talented—I can pick up the merest fragment of potato chip from under a bed with my long handled grabber, without crushing it. This tool, properly wielded, works on every kind of debris—lint, broken crayons, Legos, Polly Pocket purses, Barbie shoes, and half-eaten Cadbury eggs.

You can lean on it when you need propping up.

We dug a path and cleaned the kitchen before going to bed. But by noon on Sunday, the cleanup had been completed, and the toy room was once again a place of moderate order.

Speaking of order, I have ordered a new, sturdier vacuum cleaner, and peace reigns once again here at Casa del Jasperson.

Now that the madness of the family Easter rumble is over, I will continue working on my three projects. I have just finished a large editing job for a client but now will get back to work on several smaller editing jobs.

I am still working on the final revisions for Julian Lackland and intend to have him ready for publication by mid-July. This book is both the final installment in the Billy’s Revenge series and was the original book that the series grew out of. It has been unpublished for seven years and during that time, it has been re-written, expanded, and edited properly. It is about to go to the beta readers.

I am also nearing completion of the first draft of a new book set in Neveyah, the Tower of Bones world. For me, in the first draft of any work, long or short, writing the transition scenes between events are difficult to imagine.

I think of them as “just” moments: adjust and justify. That sort of thinking takes a bit of mind-wandering, so while I ponder ways to move my characters gracefully from disaster to disaster, I work on other projects.

Writing keeps me busy, but the grandchildren are a never-ending source of entertainment for me.


Credits and Attributions:

Shmuser at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:36 inch reach extender.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:36_inch_reach_extender.jpg&oldid=307417600  (accessed April 21, 2019).

 

 

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Giving Thanks

Here in the US, our annual mid-fall feast of Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November. Things are a bit weird here in good old USA right now, as most of the world knows. Nevertheless, I have many blessings to be thankful for, and being able to provide a wonderful meal for my family is certainly not the least of them.

I am cooking for the family this year. I cook a turkey, even though I am vegan. But I also prepare a Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry en Croute holiday roast. It’s plant-based protein, delicious, smells amazing while it cooks, and is divine with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Regardless of the protein we choose, I always feel like the side dishes are the best part of the meal. I always go a little wild on the vegan cheese tray. Miyoko’s Kitchen makes the most amazing spreadable cheese, and it’s all plant-based. It’s quite expensive, but for a special occasion, it is so worth it.

I don’t even bother to make the icky green bean casserole that no one eats, but everyone makes anyway. Other than that, I am making all the usual sides and have included the links to the recipes below:

Roasted Ruby Sweet Potatoes

Maple and Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cranberry sauce

Vegan Cranberry Pecan Stuffing

Vegan Pumpkin Pie recipe

Vegan Gluten Free Gravy recipe

Vegan Mashed Potatoes recipe

Miyoko’s Kitchen|Artisan Cultured Vegan Cheese

Fruit Salad

Green Salad

We will have plenty of pies and sweets and lots of savory finger foods. So, today I am doing the prep, getting a lot of the cooking out of the way. I have bread to bake, and even though I have a feast to prepare, I will get my daily wordcount by using the small increments of downtime while things are cooking.

That is how I cook any big holiday dinner for my extended family—I start prepping food two days ahead, and by writing whenever I have a ten or fifteen minute pause in the preparations, I don’t fall behind.

This also allows me to enjoy my family on Thanksgiving Day because most of the work is already done.

After all, it may be a national holiday here in the US, but it’s still NaNoWriMo, and while I have officially “won” as of the 20th, getting that badge for updating every day is my next goal, and doesn’t happen until the last day of the month. Besides, I haven’t written all the stories on my list of prompts yet, although I have made good headway in creating my backlog of short stories.

On Friday, my husband and I will rest up, enjoy leftovers, and think about decorating the outside of the house for Christmas.

This world can be a hard place for some people to live. I am fortunate to be safe and well-fed, luxuries I thank God for every day. Where ever you are in this big world, I hope you have plenty to give thanks for.

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Thoughts on the Advent of Autumn #amwriting

I’ve mentioned before that I love the changing of the seasons. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the colors of our native big-leaf maples and alders are beginning to paint the landscape in shades of yellow and gold, dotted with pops of red sumac and scarlet vine-maples.

In the higher hills of the lowlands and up in the Cascades, the gold of our native larches is astonishing to those who’ve never seen a deciduous conifer. It can seem like an entire forest has died. But they’re only getting ready to sleep through the winter, the way bears, maples, and cottonwoods do.

I’ve always been awed by the majesty of the autumn forest here in my part of the world.

The sky is also changing. The days are growing shorter and the rains of the monsoon months approach. The long dry spell has ended, and rain has returned to us.

In November, the gray overcast skies linger unending, eternal. My friends and I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. But just as I am feeling desperately sorry for myself, the clouds will part to reveal a patch of blue so beautiful my eyes hurt. I have to dig out my sunglasses to shield my weak, Northwesterner’s eyes from the radiance of the great yellow orb.

We who have grown up in the long dark winters have little tolerance for such brilliance. But we’re always ready to discuss our never-ending quest for cheap sunglasses. We adore those accessories that are so much more than a fashion statement.

As my previous posts have said, these are the writing weeks, the mad dash to finish the first draft of my work in progress, and my preparations for NaNoWriMo. Stockpiling staple groceries, perusing my recipe file for crock-pot meals—comfort food is on my mind at this time of year.

After all, food was love in the family I grew up in, and our favorite comfort foods make the winter seem warmer. The time we spend at the table sharing the evening meal is inviolable—no TV, just quiet music and conversation. This is our time to reconnect, to rebuild the ties of love and family that bind us.

Autumn’s glory will linger for a brief few weeks. The rainy season will come, turning unraked leaves to sodden, moldy messes waiting for the winds of November to send them flying from yard to yard. I will watch from my front room window and admire the leafy ballet.

Once the leaves are gone, evening and morning will still bring color, but it will be the sky that has the dominant role. At that time of year, the sun, low on the southern horizon, reflects on the clouds, turning them every shade of pink, gold, red, purple, and even a gray so dark it’s black.

Sporadically juxtaposed against that riot of cloud-color will be patches of poignant blue. It’s a color that makes my heart ache for spring, makes me yearn for sunshine and warmth.

I have prepared the back porch for winter, abandoned my favorite thinking place. The cushions are put away and the chairs are pulled to the center where they will stay dry except in the heaviest wind-driven rains.

Since spring is a full six months away, and the weather is fairly nice today, I will uncover a chair and sit on the back porch and write about a world where the sun is shining, and birds are singing.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Thomas Worthington Whittredge – Woods of Ashokan.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Thomas_Worthington_Whittredge_-_Woods_of_Ashokan.jpg&oldid=296638658 (accessed September 13, 2018).

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#flashfictionfriday: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

For much of my childhood, my grandmother, Ethel, lived with us. She had the biggest influence on how I view my life as a woman.

Born in 1909, she had always been a staid, working-class housewife who “knew her place,” which was not what most people would have considered it.

Convinced that men couldn’t think their way of a room with doors nailed open, she expected they would keep their noses out of “women’s business.” That left her free to get on with the real work that kept her world running smoothly.

For more than ninety years, Grandma Ethel was an intrepid cleaner of all things soiled. Woe to the child who brought mud in on their shoes, or the man who thought he could sit down to dinner unwashed and wearing dirty work-clothes. Woe to anyone who sassed grandma—she had an Edwardian view of discipline.

Mothers and daughters don’t always get along. Grandma Ethel and my mother had a rocky relationship, rife with resentment (some justifiable) on my mother’s part and confused indignation on my grandmother’s.

I was often at odds with my mother, who until she defied Dad and went back to work in 1973, was the quintessential post WWII angry housewife. I embodied everything she despised about my generation, and she was articulate in expressing herself.

My grandmother, on the other hand, quietly despaired of my ever finding a dependable man, but believed I did my best and that was all that mattered.

The core of the strife between my mother and me boiled down to our radically different values and domestic styles. I grew up in the 1960s and had made a number of poorly planned relationship decisions that hadn’t worked out as well as I thought they would.

In the 1980s, I was the sole provider for my family, with three part-time jobs to hold down and no child support. Sunday was the only day I had for housekeeping. While the house looked great on Sunday night, by Friday it had become a disaster. I was married, but my ex-spouse’s role as stepdad and husband was like that of an ugly art piece given to you by a good friend. It takes up space on the shelf, and you keep it because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But it contributes nothing to the ambiance of the room, and you cringe whenever you dust it.

Surprisingly, despite the domestic free-for-all in my home, my staunchest supporter and greatest ally in the struggle with my mother was Grandma Ethel.

She was always there for me, a quiet force of nature. I could count on her to pick a spot and just begin tidying. She made it a game the kids enjoyed.

As she got older, Grandma lost her ability to taste food, and she stopped cooking, relying mostly on frozen TV dinners. She took the bus to Woolworth’s every morning, ordering toast and coffee in the coffee shop for her breakfast, and then treating herself by purchasing a small bag of menthol cough drops, thinking they were candy. She had a peculiar habit of sitting beside the fountain in the mall after she left the store, peeling the wrappers off each cough drop, leaving the wrappers in the Mall trash can. Once peeled, she put the drops back in their bag and put them in her purse.

She did this because “it saves time later.” Every afternoon, she sat in her chair reading a Louis L’Amour novel, listening to the radio and enjoying her “candy.”

Whenever we visited Grandma Ethel, my kids dreaded being offered a piece of “candy,” but they accepted it politely and thanked her. Once we were in the car and on the way home, the truth would spill out in that frank way children have, but I was proud of them—they loved her enough to be kind.

On Fridays, my mother bowled with a woman who worked at Woolworth’s. She told Mama that Grandma was known at Woolworth’s as “the cough drop lady” and mentioned Grandma’s habit of wrapper-peeling, saying it was “sweet.” Mama, of course, was horrified and embarrassed, and not very kind about it.

In her golden years, Grandma developed another fun habit. She listened to the local radio station all day, getting the news and singing along with every oldie or Top 40 hit of the 1980s. She knew all the words.

“Like a Virgin.”

“Billie Jean.”

“I Wanna Dance with Somebody.

Grandma knew and sang along with them all, but she adored Bobby McFerrin. In her last years, when she couldn’t remember anything else, she still sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and danced in the kitchen with my ex-husband’s red long-johns.

When she hit the age of about eighty-five, she lost that fire, that thinly veiled resentment of all things male that had kept her going for so many years.

By then I was a single mother again and determined to remain that way. During her final year, Grandma was my closest friend and companion.

She had become vague and was often unsure what day it was or where we were going. She’d always had a sneaky sense of humor, but she became both shocking and hilarious, saying what she really thought without thinking first, quite loudly. She did whatever she felt like on the spur of the moment.

I lost a friend when Grandma passed away. But by then, my mother and I had come to an uneasy truce and were actually forging a friendship of sorts.

Did I mention my mother was extremely competitive? “Competitive” is a weak word when describing how my mother viewed any game or contest. She outlived both Grandma and my dad, which meant she had won, and which was all that mattered.

She “loosened up a bit” too, as she approached sixty-five. Mama began having an occasional cocktail at lunch.

Occasionally, every day.

Margaritas.

By 1990 Mama thought Cheech and Chong were a riot and loved the Rolling Stones, Mick the Stick in particular. 1989’s Steel Wheels was her favorite Stones album, and there was a time right after my dad died that if you went anywhere with her, you listened to Mick and the boys… over… and over.

The 1990s were her decade, musically. She loved U2, and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Music blasting, Mama drove her Aerostar like every road was a racetrack, and she was determined to win at any cost. Pedal to the metal, yellow lights mean “step on it and hang on to your hat.”

Mama loved jewelry, nice clothes, Mexico, and going on Caribbean cruises. She played cards twice a week with her girlfriends. She and my Aunt Lillian went to the casino once a week and played the slots like pros. At seventy-two, Mama found an awesome boyfriend and was in love for the first time in her life.

Once she turned eighty, she really began to have fun. When it came to restaurants and hotels, Mama expected a lot and usually got it. Waiters and cabana boys adored Mama because she looked far younger than her age, was an outrageous flirt, and tipped extremely well.

So now I’m the senior grandma–a responsibility I’m determined to fill well. With five adult children in our blended family to appall, I’m really looking forward to my golden years—I’ve earned them.

I’m not sure I can live up to the glorious examples set by my grandmother and my mother, but I’m an author so I should be able to come up with something suitably fun. I figure I have about fifteen years to work up an awesome shtick to trot out in my dotage.

In the meantime, I never forget the two women whose unique personalities and work ethics made me who I am. My motto is Don’t Worry, Be Happy and always tip well.


Credits and Attributions:

Three Women on board a Ship, ca. 1930 by Australian National Maritime Museum on The Commons, Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Sam Hood, photographer (1872-1953) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: The Vegan Road Trip

tacos and burritosI had planned to be out of town this week, babysitting one of the youngest of my grandchildren (13 months old), but alas! The four-year-old has a cold, and Grandma is not interested in having another bout of pleurisy — last fall’s episode was enough, thank you very much.

It’s a busy week, here at La Casa Del Jasperson. On Tuesday we will hosting a guest for a few days, an adult granddaughter who will be up from Los Angeles for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

For me, traveling out of town for any overnight stay involves a lot of logistics, as I am vegan.  My daughters aren’t vegan, but all three have been in the past and know I’m not difficult to cook for. Bake me a potato, offer me some guacamole to dress it up, and finish it off with a salad dressed with oil and vinegar, and I’m a happy camper.

I know it seems odd to many people, but being vegan means I eat nothing that came from an animal. No cheese, no meat, no eggs. People immediately think “how complicated!” but it’s not complicated at all. It’s simply a diet that celebrates vegetables and grains and all the many ways to eat them. Vegans consume nothing from animals, vegetarians may or may not eat dairy or eggs.

So, what do I eat and how do I flavor it? Beans, rice, any vegetable, or grain. I do like certain tempeh dishes, as tempeh is made from soybeans, but differs from tofu (which I love for curries) in that it is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh has ‘tooth.’ As in everything, how you marinate the protein, tofu or tempeh, before you cook it is what will make it tasty, whereas just plain tofu or tempeh is too bland. That blandness is that is what gives them the bad reputation among new vegetarians who don’t understand how to prepare them.

A great source of simple recipes for creating flavorful tofu and tempeh can be found at Veg Girl Rd .Com.

But you don’t have to cook these things for me. I’m happy with rice and veggies.

Flavor for gravies, pilafs, and soups comes from vegetable broth. There are two ways to get good rich flavor using vegetable broth, but my go-to store bought product for use at home is the reliable kitchen staple, Better Than Bouillion Vegetable Base. Otherwise, I make my own veggie broth base, using the recipe I found here: Homemade Vegetable Soup Base. It’s quick and simple, and is one of those shortcuts to great flavor that I regularly employ.

Other than that, I eat regular vegetables, just sautéed in olive (or any other organic vegetable oil) rather than in butter, which comes from cows. I use almond milk or coconut milk,  Tofutti brand Better Than Sour Cream, and also their Better Than Cream Cheese, two dairy-free and delicious products. I also use an egg-free mayonnaise, Veganaise, which tastes just like Best Foods Mayonnaise (Hellman’s if you are from the East Coast) but is made with no animal products.

bread machineThe great thing about being vegan is how little it costs to eat well. Going sans meat is the lazy person’s dream diet. It’s amazing how quickly you can get a meal on the table, and when you are making beans from scratch, the crockpot is your best friend. I even make my own bread from several different recipes using my bread machine, which takes less than five minutes to assemble the ingredients. It hardest part for me is remembering to push the button to start baking. (I laugh, but it is a problem.)

I would far rather spend my time writing than cooking, but meals in our household are celebrated. Our time at the table is where we come together and talk about the day and things that are important to us, and good food makes our mealtime cozy and comforting.

So, in honor of that family tradition, I offer one hour a day to the cooking gods, and try to be as creative as the fresh vegetables in the grocery store will allow. On the housekeeping front, I may spend 20 minutes a day tidying the house (or not), but the rest of the day is mine to do as I want, which is writing or reading. And, since I don’t spend a lot of time cooking for me, I don’t expect anyone else to either.

Portland, Oregon is paradise for vegans and vegetarians. The city and  surrounding suburbs are full of restaurants catering to those of us who are of the vegan persuasion, and so this road trip will be both full of family events and delicious.

Food is central to a region’s culture, and the West Coast, Portland and Seattle in particular, are great places for vegans and vegetarians to travel and dine when on the road. Fortunately for me, this area is where I do most of my traveling.

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Filed under Vegan, writing

#epilepsy: Life in the Fast Lane

Albert Bierstadt - Autumn Landscape PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Albert Bierstadt – Autumn Landscape PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

We have two adult children with epilepsy. Both were adults when they had their first seizures, with no prior warning signs.

Our daughter’s first serious seizure was at the age of 29. She has only been hospitalized once with serious injuries, and her medication controls her seizures well. She doesn’t like that she has it, but it doesn’t rule her life, and only rarely causes her trouble.

For our son, it hasn’t been that easy. He was 32 when he began having seizures. He has had more difficulty with his, both in accepting it and in getting it under control. Since the first major seizure, he has woken up in the hospital with serious injuries many times, not knowing how he got there.

Two weeks ago, our son had a breakthrough seizure and fell in a concrete parking lot, fracturing his skull. He had a severe concussion, an epidural hematoma, and lost a liter of blood.

This son is a software engineer and an entrepreneur. He was employed by Amazon for ten years, and was well compensated during his tenure there. He had just started his own company, writing software. He was completely focused on this, and was working 12 to 16 hour days, and getting little sleep, which is very bad for him.

But being who he is, he didn’t realize he was courting disaster.

We live two hours south of where this son lives. We got the phone call at 4:30 pm and threw our clothes into suitcases. Running out the door, we called a hotel near the hospital, and made the nerve-wracking trip up Interstate 5 to Redmond, Washington.

During the harrowing journey north, we discussed his possible long-term care, wondering how he could survive such a terrible injury with his intellect intact, wondering how we could care for him if his motor skills were too severely compromised.

But in a four-hour surgery, a wonderful neurosurgeon not only saved his life, but saved his quality of life. He emerged from the experience with no brain damage, and no loss of motor skills.

Our son’s head-injury was the same sort of thing that killed actors Ben Woolf and  Natasha Richardson. When you look at the way head head-injuries can kill otherwise healthy people, our son’s recovery is a miracle for which we are grateful.

Something intriguing happened with this incident. Our son has embraced life in a way he never has before. He woke up from the surgery in an incredibly different frame of mind.

Instead of wondering why this wretched condition has happened to him and focusing on the negativity of his situation, he is now looking at his life and appreciating it in a way he had not really done before.

When he left the hospital this time, his epilepsy was just something he has to deal with sometimes, and the rest of the time his life is good. His spirits are high and his recovery has been nothing short of miraculous.

If you couldn’t see the large wound on his head and the long, curving line of  stitches, reminiscent of a baseball seam in the way the long scar curves around his temple, you would never know he had undergone brain surgery only 12 days ago.

He is full of energy and ambition, and though he does tire easily, he will soon be back on track and moving forward with his current project which he intends to have on the market before January.

Sometimes, we find ourselves going for a spin in the blender of life. We never know what will happen next, and we have no control over how life affects us. But through all of this, the community of our friends supported us, and faith carried us through the dark hours when we didn’t know what his future would be.

There is so much worse out there–things that make this epilepsy thing pale in comparison. We are praying for a dear friend in Australia whose young daughter is fighting for her life, dealing with terrible complications of flu-b, necrotizing myositis. Her prognosis is grave, and  I know her parents are living in that land of fear and disbelief that I lived in for 24 hours.

We are supporting another friend here in the US, who is undergoing yet another surgery for kidney stones. What we have been through was scary, no doubt about it, but thanks to a wonderful neurosurgeon, it was nothing in the face of these ongoing life and death battles.

Epilepsy is a bitch, but it doesn’t have to rule our lives. Seizure incidents are inconvenient, and yes, we know they will occur when we least expect them. They can and will have a seriously negative impact on us. We know that the next time may not have such a good outcome but we can’t let fear ruin the joy and beauty that we have today.

The real news is not that our children have epilepsy–it is what happens the rest of the time.

We have five adult children with great careers and bright futures, two of whom also happen to have epilepsy.

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Filed under Epilepsy, Humor, Uncategorized, writing

Gratitude

Billy Blackwell performing live at Wade's Place, Aug 24-2014

Billy Blackwell performing live at Wade’s Place, Aug 24-2014

Over the weekend we attended a large function where there was a live band. It consisted of five people, three of whom are very dear to me: my ex-husband, Darryl, on guitar, my younger brother Robert on bass, and my stepson, Billy (who is the child of my heart), on drums.

It never ceases to amaze me how much of an influence music has been in the life of my family, over many generations.

This tie binds us and has sometimes cut us apart, but in the end it always brings us back together.

Family is so much thicker than blood.  Gratitude is too.

Robert (Mad Dog) Johnson performing live at Wade's Place, Aug. 24, 2014

Robert (Mad Dog) Johnson performing live at Wade’s Place, Aug. 24, 2014

We are a close unit, bound by love and children.  Music is the common thread that runs through our lives–two horn players, one sax player, two drummers, three guitarists, three keyboardists–four working musicians and everyone else singing harmony–music is the core of our life, and a new generation is learning at their knees.

I loved this weekend.

The air held the peculiar quality of serenity that is unique to Black Lake-the lake of my childhood home.  The crowd loved  the music they played. Children ran wild and the food was fabulous–even the vegan found something delicious to enjoy!

Darryl Riffero performing live at Wade's Place, Aug. 24, 2014

Darryl Riffero performing live at Wade’s Place, Aug. 24, 2014

Seeing these three men, none of them blood related to each other, but all of them family and close as brothers, made me once again realize how much I have to be grateful for. Each has faced and overcome demons that would have killed a lesser man, and they are stronger for it.

Happiness and love of life fill their music, and it is beautiful to me.

My blessings are many, and I count them every day.

 

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Filed under Adventure, blogging, Fantasy, Literature, Music, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing