Monday, December 14, 2015

At Dawn We Schlept

It was dark when I left home at 6 AM for the University Park Church of Christ 12 miles away. I was  picking up two women, guests of our town's WinterShelter program. Local congregations take turns hosting homeless men and women for one week each from the first week of December through mid-March. The guests get a warm place to sleep. They receive a hot meal in the evening and a cold breakfast in the morning before leaving the shelter for the day at 7 AM. 

Some congregations have enough room to house both men and women during their week, but most have space for just men or just women. During the current two-week period, no Laurel congregation has been able to take the women, so volunteers have been driving the women to a church in the Hyattsville area every evening and bringing them back to Laurel in the morning. 

Shelter numbers have been down lately because of the unseasonably warm weather. Warm weather also means carefree driving, with no worries about ice or snow. With Christmas music on the radio, hot coffee in my travel mug and Christmas lights on houses along the way, it was a pleasant drive. Approaching the University of Maryland, I saw 2 dozen sparkling green pistons pumping up and down in the darkness. What kind of Christmas lights were these? Turned out to be a university track team running in place at the curb, waiting for the light to change on heavily-travelled US Route One, which cuts through the campus. The shiny tape on their running shoes created the illusion of sparkles. 

At the church, three women--not two--needed rides to Laurel. The newcomer explained that she had dropped out of the shelter for the past few nights. When the shelter moved to the next church on Sunday, she lost track of her belongings. All her clean work clothes were in one bag and Christmas gifts for her six grandchildren were in another. With any luck, the bags will have been taken to First Methodist, where the men are staying this week, and she'll get them back with nothing missing. 

Passing the University of Maryland, she said she'd love to go back to the food-service job she'd once gotten there "after Obama was elected." "I love serving people," she said. She lost the job when the university let go a dozen of the most recently-hired employees to save money. Another woman commented on all the bars lining Route One. "Too many kids in there, when they should be studying," she said. "My son drinks too much," said the third. 'He has his kids every other weekend. I hope he doesn't drive them around when he's drunk. I tell him, 'Do your drinking down in the basement and stay home.'"

A car with a blasting radio pulled up beside us at a light. The conversation turned to the teen-age boys who were shot when some guy got mad because their car radio was too loud. The next topic was the shootings in San Bernadino. "What kind of woman would leave her baby with the grandma and go out and shoot people like that?" asked one. Another said, "My dad says, 'The lawyers were trying to say he was a good man. But he had all those bullets and pipe bombs. Don't sound like no kind of good man to me.'"

I left them at McDonald's and went home to read the paper. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Between This Book and Me

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cannot say I liked this book, but I gave it four stars because of the narrative, which just carries you along.  It reminded me of things I'd rather forget, things I know that I'd rather not think about. I know, from reading and seeing the news, something of what he's talking about and I understand why he is afraid for his son.  He talks about Prince George's County, Maryland, and that's very close to home. In fact, it is home. He talks about the killing of Prince Jones by a PG County police officer who had followed him to northern Virginia. I remember that. Less than a mile from our house, a young black man ran over a PG County policeman with his car. He was taken to jail, where he allegedly hung himself in his cell. The camera that monitors the prisoners was not working the night he died. Or so they said. The State's Attorney, a black man, said there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute anyone. Well, maybe so, but it looked like just another coverup. The book jacket said that Coates offers a "transcendent vision for moving forward." If it was there, I think I missed it.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Shakespeare's Restless World

Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty ObjectsShakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects by Neil MacGregor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author captures an era by presenting his reader with twenty objects from Shakespeare's world, ranging from the gaudy to the gory. You learn about the savage persecution of England's Roman Catholics, that it was treason to wonder out loud who would replace Queen Elizabeth after her death and that the smoke from tobacco, an import from the New World, was thought to ward off the plague.  Each chapter stands by itself, so the reader can pick out the object that interests him most and read about that. Chapter Twenty is as good a place to start as any. "Shakespeare Goes Global" describes how close the world came to not having any copies of Shakespeare's plays, and also how a copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare sustained the prisoners--including Nelson Mandela-- in South Africa's notorious Robben Island prison.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Christmas Tree Hell

Our daughter and I always go on at least one shopping expedition when the family is down at the beach. We leave the men at home.

Our daughter knows where she wants to go and what she wants to get. "We'll stop at the seashell place first. Most of their stuff is really tacky, but they have great shells and I want to get one to replace the one that Mabel chewed up." (Mabel is their big lovable runaway mutt.)

The seashell place was pretty tacky.  Plaques, glassware, seashell jewelry, knick-knacks galore, ribald seashore humor on some of the stuff. The odor of scented candles was well nigh overwhelming.  I was happy to leave. A row of resigned-looking men occupied the benches on the porch, waiting, waiting.

"So now I guess we're going to 'Christmas Tree Hell'?" I asked.

"Christmas Tree Hill",  she corrected.

Christmas Tree Hill was a bit more upscale. The humor was subtler. The merchandise pricier. The candles emitted the quiet holiday scents of bayberry and cinnamon. I bought a "Lang 2016 American Cat Calendar" and two dishtowels embroidered with pinecones for a December silent auction that I know is coming up.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland

Hope: A Memoir of Survival in ClevelandHope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book because my husband got it for his birthday and also because he's from Cleveland, the location of the house of horrors, where three young women--Amanda, Gina and Michelle-- were held captive for a decade. The book is based largely on Amanda's diaries and Gina's recollections. The young women tell how their jailer, Ariel Castro, tried to control every aspect of their lives, They paint his portrait in true and unflattering colors.

Amanda and Gina emerged unbroken from the house on Seymour Avenue. Their love of life and their senses of humor were intact. They were ready to move on. Their captor, on the other hand, killed himself after a  few months in custody, unable to endure the thought of spending the rest of his life in prison. Ariel comes off as a narcissistic control freak who saw himself as a victim.  Yes, he beat his common-law wife nearly to death, but it was her fault for always complaining about nothing. Yes, he robbed the girls of their youth and freedom, but it was their fault for trusting him enough to get into his car. Yes, ten years was a long time to spend under lock and key, but it was the fault of the police and the FBI for being too stupid to find them sooner. Yes, he had sex with them repeatedly whenever he wished, but it was not rape. It was “consensual.” He saw himself as “normal, but sick.” He described himself as “coldhearted,” admitting that he lacked empathy and compassion. He clearly enjoyed tormenting the girls by arbitrarily revoking the few pathetic privileges he granted them. Yet this sociopath adored Jocelyn, the baby girl he fathered. Even Amanda, the baby’s mother, had to admit that he treated his little girl well. As Jocelyn reached school age, however, she began asking embarrassing questions that her father couldn't answer. Amanda finally realized that Ariel would never let them go, despite vague promises. She once lost an almost perfect chance to escape and deeply regretted it. The next time an opportunity arose, she choked back her fear and seized it.  Best wishes to her, Jocelyn, Gina and Michelle for many wonderful years to come.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd  Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't wait for the movie. There was much to enjoy in this book, yet I don't think I want to read any other Hardy novels. His style is preachy, teachy and tiresome. In creative writing classes, would-be authors are advised to "show, not tell." Well, Hardy tells. And tells. And tells. So I learned a few fun facts about shepherding and farming in 19th century England, was forced to look up the meanings Greek and Latin words and phrases, and had to guess in what way "Greenhill was the Nijni Novgorod of South Wessex." Underneath all the verbiage and filler, he had a pretty good love-triangle storyline simmering away. That's why I can't wait for the movie.

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An Intervention

We had to call this a "beauty intervention" because the word "bath" would have set off the alarm.  As it was, Dilly acted as if we were trying to drown her. We invited her into a tub of warm water. The water was no higher than her ankles, but she thrashed and jumped and fled for refuge under the Joe Pye weed. What an ordeal for man and beast. 

Why must dogs roll in unspeakable, smelly muck?  We went to the cabin this past weekend. On two successive days,  Dilly came back from a romp in the woods smelling just awful. Spot-cleaning didn't do the trick. When we got back to Laurel, she was still redolent of something horrid. So she had to have an "intervention." 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Please, Mr. Postman

Edward Hopper's "Summertime" (1943)

Our younger daughter spent most of 1994 in Colorado.  She was 28 years old.  She went to Colorado to learn more about life. She had been living with a boyfriend for several years and perhaps she wanted to gain some perspective on their relationship from a distance. I really don't know. 

She spent this past spring sorting through her notebooks and papers, getting ready to a move to northern Virginia with her husband (no, he is not the boyfriend of 1994) and two children. Being a creative soul, she likes to keep things that might prove useful in future collages or stories or who-knows-what. Sorting through her stuff, she found this card she received from me while she was in Colorado. It had a "pome" I wrote for her, inspired by the picture.

I imagined her waiting for a letter from "John", who was then living in Ocean City, on what we Marylanders call "the Eastern Shore." I call it a "pome" because it's kind of silly, with lame plays on words. She and her boyfriend were both fans of Lou Reed. I had to ask her who Lou Reed was and so she played me a recording. Forgive me, but I did not think the man could sing. 


Hope rising like the sun,
She waits by the morning door. 
Perhaps they will come today--
The long-awaited words 
From the Eastern Shore.

She waits
A long, long time,
A long, long longing time.
Perhaps he will come today,
Bringing the long-awaited words
From the Eastern Shore.

A letter not addressed to her,
But promised none the less.
A long, long letter
That she longs to read.
(Lou Reed would like
To read it, too,
But the promise was not
Made to him.)

Doubt stirs the curtains of her mind
Like the morning breeze.
Perhaps they will not come today,
Those long-awaited words,
And so hope dies of a day,
But it will rise again with tomorrow's sun. 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

STUMPHENGE: One Week to Go!

A tribe of elves has been at work on STUMPHENGE near our house in Laurel, MD. They are hauling massive wooden stumps on sledges over a great distance. No one knows why they have undertaken this monumental project, but their idea is to have it finished by the Summer Solstice, which is one week from tomorrow. Apparently, their project has something to do with seasons, crops and stuff.

Just one of the three workers' villages lying close to Stumphenge. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I keep hearing about this guy named Step Ladder who is mixed up in the world soccer association mess.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Not American

Our daughter takes her dry-cleaning to a shop run by two very friendly Korean ladies in their sixties. They get right to the point, asking such questions as, “How come you not have two baby?”

They asked this question about three years ago, before Becky and her husband adopted a baby girl.  Their son, who would have been about four at the time, might have come in with her that day. Becky said, “I’m 47. I’m not going to have another baby.”

“You think you too old? You not too old. She (pointing to her co-worker) have baby when she 47, so still you can do.”

Becky mumbled something pleasantly non-commital and left.

The next time she went in, the lady said, “Her baby here today. You can see. She fine.”
She called the “baby”, who was in a back room of the shop, to come out. A pretty young woman of about 20 appeared.  She smiled, said hello and returned to the back room.

The lady said, “So now maybe you have baby.” Then she turned to her friend. “She not American,” she remarked.

Hearing this, Becky objected, “But I am American. What else could I be?”

“You not look American,” the shop keeper stated firmly. She turned to her friend. “She not look American you think?”

“Yes, not look American,” agreed the other.

“So what am I then?” asked Becky.

The two considered her for a moment. “Polski,” said one. The other nodded in agreement.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Laurel's Main Street Festival 21 Years Ago

Laurel has held its Main Street Festival on the second Saturday of May for more than 30 years. At 7 AM, the street is closed to traffic. Vendors start setting up their booths.  At 9 AM, the parade starts.

Our church is at Sixth and Main Street. Every year we have games for kids, a crafts booth and a book sale. This year I worked at the book sale.

Our younger daughter is going through stuff at their house, getting ready to move. She found a letter I wrote to her 21 years ago while she was living in Colorado. In the letter, I mentioned the Main Street Festival:

"Phil and Margaret and Margaret's friend, G., showed up at about 2, when Margaret was supposed to work (running one of the kids' games). They all wore "Stop the Stadium" buttons. They brought one for me. I said I was no longer opposed to the stadium. I had had a change of heart. When I arrived at the festival early in the morning, I'd caught the end of the parade. They had saved the best for last: the Redskinettes!  How brave they were to come out on such a cold and rainy day in those skimpy costumes, which were now plastered to their shapely little bodies. The Redskins band was there too. When they struck up "Hail to the Redskins," my heart and my resistance melted. The stadium might not be so bad. In fact, it would be wonderful. I wondered how long it would take me to learn to play the clarinet." 

I wasn't really in favor of the stadium. Our streets were congested enough as it was.  The Laurel Clergy Association opposed the stadium because people going home after church would get caught up in heavy stadium traffic. The owners of the Redskins endeared themselves to no one when they said, "Well, just change the time you have church." Eventually, the Redskins built a stadium in Landover, slowing traffic on I-495 ("the Beltway")  to a crawl on game days.

How times have changed. Although the question about where to build the stadium was settled long ago, a new controversy has arisen over changing the team's name. I'm also somewhat amused by my reference to the "shapely little bodies." What was I really saying about the Redskinettes, I ask myself. I think I was putting them down. Back then, I saw them as airheaded bimbos. After watching a TV series recently on tryouts for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, I changed my mind. I now see these women as real athletes who take their dancing seriously. Sure, the cheerleaders are mostly about NFL big business--the costumes, the big hair, the loss of a place on the squad because your short legs don't look right in the tall boots--but the tears of the losers are real, and, for the record, some of the winners are rather plain when you see them up close.

The Festival has also changed. The food, for instance. Now you can get Pad Thai and falafel, which  few of us had ever tasted in 1994. The merchandise in the craft booths has also changed over time. Beany Babies are out; knock-off apparel for pricey American Girl dolls is in. This year, for the first time, a group of Amish rented a booth and were selling handcrafted wooden items. Several women, wearing long, black aprons and little white caps,  came in to use our restroom and stayed for awhile to browse the books. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Our little cat died at the end of April. Her designated birthday was January 1, 2004, so she enjoyed just 6 of her allotted 9 lives.

Enjoy them she did. We got her in 2007 after Mom's ancient cat, "Sadie the Lady," died. At first,  Mom insisted, "I don't want another cat." A few months later, she said,"I think I want another cat." So we began looking at second-hand cats. We visited a cat sanctuary, where the home owner sheltered at least 20 homeless cats. "How many do you have?" I asked. "I have no idea" was the reply. None of the candidates passed muster. Wrong color. Wrong fur. Wrong face. Too big. Too active. Too old. Too young. She fell in love with a tiny tuxedo kitten, but decided that he was "too wild."

"I'm not putting Arlo through that, " she said. Arlo was our aging beagle.

We went home catless.

Mom eventually settled on an older tuxedo. A cat-rescue person brought Samantha and Georgie to our house. Although Samantha was too timid to come out of  her carrier, Georgie ventured right out, boldly exploring every corner of Mom's "apartment" as if to say, "Yes, this will do just fine."

She was a lovely, affectionate cat. Every afternoon she and Mom took a nap. When Mom sat in her chair at other times, Georgie often curled up on her lap. She was such a sweet cat that the teen-aged cat-sitter who fed her when we were away spent nearly an hour a few hours before she died, just sitting with her and tenderly stroking her soft fur.

 Mom always said, "No one loves animals like me. Phil and Cynthia like animals, but they do not love them and they don't know how to take care of them."

What do you do when you're 99 and afraid of dying and leaving your orphaned baby to inadequate foster parents? Mom's initial idea was to meet up with Georgie outside the Pearly Gates. "When I die, I want you to have Georgie put to sleep," Mom told our daughter, Margaret. "Cynthia will just shut her up in my apartment and I can't stand the thought of it."

After Margaret declined to send Georgie across the Rainbow Bridge, Mom turned to Pat. Pat was a friendly woman who loved animals and old people. She often visited Mom just to chat. Mom painted such a grim picture of Georgie's future that Pat readily agreed to take her after Mom died. I didn't know about these arrangements until Mom's memorial gathering at our house, when Pat asked, "When do you want me to pick up Georgie?"

Mom died in December, 2008. Despite her misgivings, Georgie had a pretty tolerable life with Phil and me. She enjoyed the run of the house, where she discovered and claimed several prime bird-watching windows. She batted toy mice around the family room.  She joined us on the couch for Netflix movies. She dined on all varieties of Fancy Feast. Her fake leopard-skin bed was warmed by a heat duct. Her shots were up to date and she had regular dental visits.

When our new puppy, Dilly, arrived last September, Georgie welcomed her with a swat on the rump. After that, it was hiss and make-up. There were daily sparring matches, which usually ended with Georgie dashing out of the room. She never stayed away for long. They might resume their quarrel when she returned or they just might cuddle up together on the couch.

Georgie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in January, 2014. Surgery bought her 15 good months and Dilly filled those months with fun.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This magnificent book is a novel about the human spirit, how it lives and how it dies.   It’s about World War II, and the mad attempt to build a railroad through Thailand in the service of the Japanese emperor. The British said such a railroad could never be built, but the Japanese said, “We will do it because we are endowed with the Japanese spirit.” And they did it, with the help of methamphetamine and 3000 laborers and Australian prisoners of war, many of whom died from starvation, disease or brutality. Years after returning to Australia, the protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, realizes that “to have been part of a Pharonic slave system that had at its apex a divine sun king led him to understand unreality as the greatest force in life.” Helping to build the Death Railroad wasn’t the only unreality in Dorrigo’s life. He sensed that the death of his spirit began in Thailand, where he felt compelled to play the role of the heroic camp doctor. After the war, he continued to live up to the expectations of others. He married a society woman he was never sure he loved. He fathered three children, but they remained strangers to him while he poured his energy into his career and the distracting pursuit of pleasure. He lost himself somewhere along the way.  The novel takes its title from a travelogue written in haiku by a 17th-century Japanese Buddhist named Basho, who took a long journey through Japan’s deep north to experience the beauty of this remote area and to sound the depths of his own spirit.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Gifted Dreamers

Some people are experts at realizing all kinds of benefits from their dreams. The Bible tells stories of people who eluded danger because they heeded an angel's warning that came to them in a dream. These days we hear of people who go to sleep mulling over a problem and wake up with a solution.

Sad to say, I must not be one of those gifted dreamers.  Last September I  bought two pairs of earrings for our daughters at a little shop in Danville, OH. The older daughter received her pair at her birthday celebration in November. The younger one had no time for her birthday get-together in mid-Decmber, so the celebration was postponed until the last weekend in January. In the meantime, I somehow lost her set of earrings. When I looked for them in my "gift closet" the day before we all went out to dinner, they were not to be found. 

So I explained the situation to our daughter and gave her $20. If I find the earrings, you'll  have to give the twenty back, I said.  Ha ha, she said.

Last night I dreamed about the lost earrings. My inner Wise Woman advised me to look in the tall plastic waste basket in which I keep rolls of wrapping paper in the gift closet.  Of course! Why hadn't I thought of that? The earrings probably fell off the shelf into the basket.

Only they weren't there. So much for my inner Wise Woman. Maybe they'd fallen in my husband's messy bucket of aquarium supplies, which he keeps in the gift closet. Nope, not in there either. However, back behind the sleeping bags I found a special issue ("Guide to Self-Reliance and Country Skills") of Mother Earth News, still in its "Books-a-Million" bag. I'd bought it in 2013 to include in a gift basket for the church auction,   As the day of the auction drew nigh, I looked high and low for the missing magazine. Then, as now, my inner Wise Woman was no help at all. I finally went out and bought a second copy.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why I Am Mad at Blogspot

I feel like kicking someone. Someone named Blogspot, if I can find him or her.

I guess Blogspot is too good to be true. It's free. You can post any ol' drivel you want and Blogspot never flashes you a pop-up that asks, "Are you sure you want put this out there?" Instead, it accepts your work without comment and archives it so you can return to your favorite posts again and again.  I should know. I'm my biggest fan. I reread posts I wrote five or six years ago and laugh and laugh. Damn, I'm good!

Recently, I wanted to share a post I wrote in 2007 about the folly of having daily Bible reading in the public schools and making everyone recite the Lord's Prayer, whether they believed in Jesus or not.  I looked for this post, and it was gone. Along with two poems, "Arrowheads" and "WinterHaven." Plus a half dozen haiku and my mini-novella, Fatal Errors. I am not a prolific writer, but these verses and that silly story were my babies and now they are gone.

My bad, Blogspot, for trusting you.

Maybe there's a way to fix this, but I have no idea where to start. We're on our own here. The Help Desk is a users' forum, so most of us are stumbling around in the dark.