On The Road to Shambala


With a joyful heart and spicy, wicked grin for planting the earworm of the Three Dog Night classic in your mind, let me tell you where my body, mind and spirit wandered from four o’clock in the morning on Thursday to this Sunday afternoon. Let me help you get your bearings in the “Land Beyond your Imagination” – or where I live in my mind. I am a hopeless, shameless romantic that will occasionally ooze angst. I believe in the Power of Love to overcome all but the most Evil, and perhaps at that to have a fighting chance. I am also dealing with the aftereffects of a nasty cerebral vascular event which tends to make my life play out in vignettes of wonder strung along with tears and laughter.

Love is love is love and should be celebrated and held as Holy no matter how it manifests amongst consenting individuals of legal age. When I learned of the GRL Retreat being held this October, AND that not only would some of the individuals of like mind would be there but my favorite authors as well, it became like the Sacred Quest to attend. Fearlessly and courageously I cleared the mental chess board to ‘make this happen’ in spite of financial, physical and emotional limits. What I failed to consider, no toss that; what I denied even existed was the possibility of my short term memory loss manifesting adventure where I did not need it!

I was so proud that I’d made flight arrangements AND arranged for a rental car. I was going to do this like an adult! Did I LOOK at those reservations closely? Was I aware that I was shorting myself of re-coop time from travel? Did I know I was travelling before the chickens were awake BOTH ways and would miss the closing breakfast? Aww Hell, no!

Amy Lane is an author hiding her Goddess nature well, and as her birthday was close to the event, I packed a gift and card for her along with the books that literally saved my life for autographs. I packed clothes for cold weather, I packed clothes for hot weather. I packed shoes (which upon unpacking, I FORGOT I brought!) I packed all my electronic toys, and by the time I was done, I needed a wagon train with pack mules. Alas and alack, TSA doesn’t allow those on flights. Ok, time to reconsider and re-pack. Ummm, rethought and ended up packing even more. This wasn’t working. Finally, 8 hours before flight time I managed to get it together enough to have a reasonably bulky, but two item burden to schlep….and a purse….and a cane! Oh I was ‘Stylin’ – not!

packing list two

It was off the plane, onto a bus which took me to the rental agency and then into my chosen chariot for the weekend, a 2014 Kia Soul….but I did look lustfully and longingly at the Chrysler minivan as my evil heart had alternative plans flying around. I’d agreed to pick up another FB friend at Union Station whose train would arrive after my flight. This was not to happen simply because a.) The trains do not run on time and b.) Chicago depends on parking fees to pay its debts – simply outrageous! Looking at the maps on Google, my quest appeared to be quite easy. Allow me to interject here that while I have a snazzy Android style phone, the damned thing lost its mind AND it’s voice simultaneously at soon as I landed at O’Hare. Let us also interject that Chicago in its’ eternal wisdom of metropolitan angst decided to re-arrange ALL of the access roads, highways and byways with which one navigates any mass transportation area. I managed to get myself lost TWICE in the span of 4 hours despite having the latest in electronic navigation equipment via cellular device. Some would call it “creative ineptitude” – I prefer to term it as “The Tolkien Effect” – I was not lost, I was merely wandering with a purpose, because I eventually got to where I needed to go. Not without unnecessary drama, and I’m sure that there’s a certain member of Chicago’s finest who will NEVER forget the creative epithets that I have given him gratis for life in describing my cell-phone-that-doubles-as-a-flotation-device.

curse bubble

When I arrived, 4 hours AFTER I arrived, I was in no emotional state to do more than find a cool corner and quiver like nervous dessert (think jello) but I stowed the nervous breakdown for a later date and managed to get myself registered and responsibly present for book-stamping duty. Even though I missed the Swag Room and the Newbie Meeting, thus began the lovely adventure that ended all too soon but was marked by meeting Facebook friends and some new faces. Those I was in awe of: Shira Anthony, Rhys Ford, Amy Lane, Sara York, Ariel Tachna, Cherie Noel and Angel Martinez. Folks that I will share heartspace with forever: Dana Piazzi, Tame Anna, LE Franks, Kazy Reed, LM Somerton, Christy Duke, Kris Gray, JP Bowie, Tim Brehme and so many more that I simply cannot remember names. Allow me to take this moment to drop a deep curtsy of respect to the event organizers – you’ve earned a respite from incarnation as anything less than a pampered adored demi-deity for the next term of Eternity.angel-halo

The biggest development of sheer surprise to me? I sang karaoke without needing copious amounts of pharmacopeia to do so! That was ME – without Zoloft or Klonopin, (I’d brought them with in case I needed to return to the regimen I’d so carefully weaned off of…) and I remember just letting GO. Wow. Niki Massey and I did breakfast together….after schlepping the ¼ mile jaunt down the hallway that reminded me of the labyrinthine passages of a bad sci-fi movie. It was the only negative to a fantastic 4 day adventure that passed as a blur – the eternal jaunts back and forth and having to school the gnat brain into consideration of “things future needed”…(gnat brain barely speaks English on GOOD days. The cold weather and the fireplace gather pit was a welcome refuge that allowed me to enter into conversation as I was able to without an inner nervous breakdown/freak out.

Speaking of which, LM Somerton – honey, you were an angelic intervention when I was on the edge of implosion/panic attack. There simply not enough words to express the gratitude I feel for you being there when the press of the crowd was about to send me screaming off into the shadows. (Turns out that missing that particular highlight was a good thing….after the crush of the crowd, the temptation of alcohol would have been too great…Ya’ just never know when the Goddess will use you for emergency purposes!)

Lessons learned for the next gathering of my beloved, eternally adopted Tribe:

  • Bring your OWN pillows. Trusting others for your sleep comfort is foolhardy.
  • Pack simple basic outfits, not entire changes of wardrobe. Thou art not a clotheshorse.
  • Make room for every comfortable pair of shoes you usually schlep around in. Pack them.
  • Jammies trump t-shirts in cold weather.
  • Remember to send up good prayers for roomies with the patience of a saint – (LOVE YOU, Kris!)
  • There will simply never be enough time, hugs, smiles or tears when you spend time with the weirdos, misfits, and miscreants you call Tribe. That simple seed of Love will grow in my heart forever.
  • Find the courage to go outside your comfort zone – you’re amongst your people!
  •  HUGS. Give them, get them, seek them out. It’s how we stay sane.

Finally, I came home with a secret, glowing happy sheltered in my heart….Amy said my crochet was ‘Beautiful work’…..! I saw her fingerless gloves and was totally in AWE….Thank you, my new beloved adopted peoples, my Tribe!!!

PS: “Unicorn shifters? Ouch!”

unicorn funny

Countdown to Chaos

Next week, I will be boarding a plane for the first time in 6 years to fly out of the State. I’m not going with anyone, and I won’t know anyone once I get there. Normally, this would be driving me to the point of insanity, but there’s this meme that has been going around and I think it pretty well sums up the wisdom that my heart knows but my head hasn’t been sold on. It says: “When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with cries of “Me Too!” be sure to cherish them. Because those weirdos are your tribe.”

Chaos image

The heart of my inner little kid is all excited – for her this is Yule, the 4th of July and an early birthday present all wrapped up in one event. The inner grown up is trying to calm her with the memes of “Don’t get too excited, you’ll just be presenting an opportunity for disappointment.” The inner teenager – too cool for school, the usual smart-mouthed but wise “Tribe, girl. This is Tribe.” The whole of me is terrified that I’ll forget to pack underwear, socks, camisoles, clothes warm enough – the climate here is easy – you wear a string bikini and a parka at all times and change out as needed. Shoes, must remember to pack shoes. Please Goddess, my brain is back on the hamster wheel.

What I love most about GRL?? I’m a total and complete innocent – this will be my first. However, since I first read some of the attending author’s works and then chatted them on Facebook, I’ve felt as if I fell back into the arms of a long-lost family with all its quirks, faults, and frailties. Could it be? Have I come Home?

To defray expenses, I went on to a well-known discount airfare site, without sufficient training to navigate the vicious jungle of bargain basement prices. As a result, I’m going to not only miss the farewell breakfast, but I have to get up at the butt-crack of dawn BOTH ways. I will now state for the record, that I am not a morning person. I count myself and my day successful if I managed not to bite someone’s head off due to insufficient caffeination. The leeway given to potential Chaos is a portal that I really don’t want to see.

I will have a roomie that I’ve never met in person, however it seems that we have enough in common to set a place for her at our dinner table at least a dozen times a year and exchange holiday correspondence. All my family members are encouraging me to “expand my bubble” and “For gosh sakes’ Mom, get out of the sticks and see some folks! It’s bad enough you talk to farm animals and stray pets!” To which I will respond, “Hey, I communicate with others online. Remember you kids thought I needed to ‘get with it’ and get a Facebook account?”

Ok, I have the laundry all together for packing and preparation, various needs and sundries are in the primary stages of stowage. I still need to locate a couple pair of shoes….and oh look, my friend just signed on maybe I can ask her about restaurants in the area….Sigh, this is such a case for “direct supervision” before I hurt myself….I’m going to go find that large Danish mountain of a man that I married and get some before I so some additional strange research on cat’s tongue’s and sneezing (out of BOTH ends) that ends up with the domestic stock of pets hightailing it for the brush.

My Angel

Alberta's hand

Ok, Ana…..my precious friend; I rise to your challenge and give you the following.

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s it was considered acceptable for middle class women to have black domestic help in the form of a nanny/housekeeper. Yes, my family had one, but there was a relationship there that went far, far beyond a ‘hired help’ status.

You see, my beloved great-grandfather made himself ‘persona non-grata’ in a neighboring state because of his habit of acquiring black persons either trapped in an indentured servitude contract or not allowed to be released into parole because no one would hire them. He’d release/acquire/buy out their contract, bring them across the State lines and free them to go on their own. A good many of them followed him to settle on his land, become sharecroppers or find employment that allowed them to buy their own piece of the American Dream. Because of this practice, we never went looking too hard to find help if we needed in home nursing care, housekeeping assistance, etc. There was always a community within gossip distance that was nearby.

When my middle brother was born in the middle of a June heat spell that withered cotton on the plant, Alvesta, our cook/housekeeper took one look at the squalling auburn haired baby and announced, “He’s gonna have trouble with his lungs. He was born too hot.” Sure enough, her words rang true and the smell of menthol and the wisps of the steam treatments infiltrated the small frame house I would come to visit twice a month. As he grew past babyhood, Alvesta told my momma, “It’s time you let little miss meet her baby brother. Or she’s gonna grow up a stranger to her own blood.” At nearly 4 ½ years of age, I came to stay with my momma and daddy; no longer in danger of my own lungs or kidneys collapsing, thanks to Alvesta’s cousin, Alberta taking care of me with my Nana and Papaw’s oversight.

Within a few months, momma and daddy bought a home of their own; it was halfway between being in town and being on the road to ‘the sticks’ as my momma would call it. The heat of that summer producing a hurricane that decided to make it into Central Texas to challenge the integrity of trees, roads and families – we lost the smaller house because of the storm damage….and Alvesta to a stroke.

I grieved in the only way a child knows, my little brother becoming a target of any item I had in my hand if I saw him. One morning, my backside sore from a spanking because yet again I waylaid into the boy child, a familiar voice called to me. “Fey child, you comin’ for your breakfast or you gonna sleep the night away?” It was the voice of Alberta, the calm and steady hands that had wiped away tears, the broad lap that held me while I learned to shell peas, the warmth that had rocked me to sleep when the pain from ear infections left me restless and unable to rest.

Baby brother was forgotten, and I even left my houseshoes and robe at the foot of my bed, forgotten in my rush to see if the voice I heard was a figment of dream. There she stood, one hand on her hip the other stirring the oatmeal made thick and spicy with clove and cinnamon; my personal angel with the dark caramel skin. I think I nearly knocked her over in the flying tackle hug I gave her, my nose almost at waist height. “Ok, baby girl. Slow down. Your mama called me and I needed the job to finish my schooling. Speaking of which, they been letting you grow wild. You’re gonna sit with me this morning and we’re gonna start learnin’ you to read. After all, isn’t that why you ran away?”

I blinked at her in near shock. How did she know that I ran away on the local school bus because I wanted to go to school? Did she also know that I refused to give my name to any one at the police station until my Nana came to claim me with a panicked mother?

A wise, sweet smile nearly split her face in two as she looked at me. “I knew you were gonna give these city folks grief untold, Fey baby. Smart little girls like you need love, and guidance and lots of learning to keep you from doing the Devil’s own mischief. Now here, sit down.” I did, and she served me a huge bowl of creamy spicy goodness in a crockery bowl with butter and sugar.

When I went to go put my bowl in the sink, Alberta quickly grabbed one of my hands to get my attention and announced, “You are going to go get yourself dressed. I need you right back in here after you’ve brushed your teeth, brushed your hair and put some shoes on those bare feet. No flip flops. Sneakers. We’re going to be doing schoolwork and you need to dress for the job.”

I remember being so serious about ‘getting it right’ – I brushed my teeth, I put on my favorite clean t-shirt (it had bunnies on it) and my corduroy pants that made whispering noises as I walked. I even remembered to put on socks before grabbing my sneakers. “Miss Alberta?” I called from the bedroom. “Yes, Fey baby?” “I don’t know how to tie my shoes.”

“Well, come on with yourself. We might as well start this right.”

We did start it right, because I still remember the stories of Jeremiah and the prophets, Joseph and his brothers (she picked that one out after a particularly bad fight with my little brother), and then Ruth. I learned to read sitting in her lap, out of her worn black Bible. I never knew that she was taking night classes for her Master’s degree in education. I never knew that she realized I had dysgraphia and taught me numerous tricks to overcome the problem. What I did know and have long realized is that Alberta was my own personal angel who taught me that education was a precious gift, shared best between kindred souls who understood each other beyond all the bounds that human ignorance can create.

I was in third grade when she matriculated with her Master’s degree. I was crushed when she told me she’d be leaving to go ‘up North’ to marry and to teach. After all these years, somewhere in my heart I know that she’s aware that but for her Grace and Goodness, I’d have been more than just a troubled child who needed her gift. Wherever you are Alberta, Thank you – and I love you.

Autumn’s Light


It’s late September – I’ve just noticed the calendar – I mean really looked at it in a way that says the year is almost gone. The crepe myrtle outside my office window are still confused and blooming when late July and all of August is their time for glory. The Chinese tallow trees are still green, but here and there some of their leaves are dipped in crimson contrast. There’s a bit of a subtle golden sheen to the grasses, and every now and then a chilly wind comes from nowhere. Just a few inches off the soil, this cold shallow breath of winter nags at me.

I am beginning to understand why they call this the “autumn” of Life; after the children are grown and gone, but all the noise and effects of their presence lie in shards of silence everywhere you look. Like unraked leaves soon to be shed by seasonally confused trees, it’s a time to pause. I’ve never cared for a “Hold” button, but now I’m beginning to see why they are so integral to a marriage, a career and a lifetime. We all need time to see in depth what really was, beyond all the pretense of being family, beyond the hurry of other people’s schedules, beyond our own insane expectations.

Time to “clear the closets” in all manner of speaking. I’ve also realized in many ways that I’m taking an inventory of my own personal feelings within human relationships as I prepare to make other changes in our later years. Words, phrases, the little things that we do for one another take on a deeper, richer meaning. He’s always been more than “husband” – he is my lifemate, he is my beloved, he is my companion through the roughest storms any couple can handle and still stay together. Promises that we made to one another on a foggy April morning almost a quarter century ago have become more, as have we. I realize that I am more than “wife” to him, and have been for a very long time. We had learned to complete one another’s sentences, I can buy him graphic t-shirts that he adores because I know and adore all his quirks. He reads what I write, often before I’ve completed the creation.

In all of this he holds me. He gathers me up into the shelter of his taller, wider self to remind me, “You know I love you, never forget this. You are not alone.” When I despair of the words that I need to complete the landscape of intent, he quiets my sobs by saying, “You are my beloved. What you need is right there, and right here, too. Go and do this. You know you can.”

Sometimes I think that we do ourselves a huge disservice by painting romance as all hearts and flowers and long contented sighs. It is so much more than the deep kisses and gentle caress of one lover’s hand on the other’s skin. We need to remind ourselves that there are shared spirits and emotions; that somewhere in the building of a relationship there is a compromise that occurs. We need to be reminded that even the best of us can go from asset to asshat in 2.3 seconds given the right coercion.

I miss the long friendships that I had with other women. Thanks to the economic upheaval of 2008, my last ‘bestie’ lost her home, her business and nearly her mind. This was the sort of relationship that women need – someone who knows where ‘all the bodies are buried’ because she helped you dig the hole. You know each other’s tastes, you have a history together, and when the worst comes you allow each other the grace, place and space to grieve. When the best comes around, you protect her back in case some jealous ass wants to steal her time in the spotlight.

Finally, the children begin to have lives and histories all their own that they weave in incredible color and texture and joy right in front of you. You see where they are going to make a colossal, intractable knot and despite warnings and the itch to take the threads from their hands, you let them. You also observe as they take threads and influences from their beloveds and friends and incorporate this into their lives as well. What was just a tapestry becomes a work of art all on its own with an inner light and a symphonic soundtrack that dances in the eyes of all around.

My inner landscape is beginning to echo the outer one now, standing on the verge of a seasonal change. The first storms that herald the turning of the Great Wheel have passed, and as I take the mental broom to the sidewalks and patios of my inner house, the outer home settles into Autumn’s Light. Let there be joy in the contentment of finding a place in lengthening shadows and deepening twilight.

So be it.

Quiet Lives of Desperation

Three guesses about what I spent my afternoon watching. Oh Hell, I can’t keep anyone in suspense – which is why I buy Yule gifts at the last minute. I used to claim that it was because I spent so much time finding the perfect gift. Bullshit. Pure and utter bullshit. I simply can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they see what I just had a gut-felt feeling would rock their world the instant it was in their hands.

The husband and I were broke newlyweds of 4 years when “Good Will Hunting” debuted at the theatre. We had three kids, one with the genetic birth defect of PKU and her metabolic needs required weekly trips to a San Antonio hospital to make sure I was “getting it right” with blood tests and frequent adjustments to her diet. Had we been able to afford seeing the movie, perhaps my venture into writing would have occurred earlier and I wouldn’t have had to spend a week in ICU and two months learning to walk without appearing inebriated.

Let’s start with a fairy tale, then. It will start with the frightening little kernel of Truth Robin Williams stated as Sean Maguire when he’s telling Will that he could do anything freakin’ thing he wanted to – “No, you were born with it. So don’t cop out behind “I didn’t ask for this”.

As all good fairy tales begin – Once upon a time, there were twins. Born in the middle of the nastiest coldest sleet storm you can imagine. They were also six weeks premature in an era where preemies just didn’t have good odds of survival. It wouldn’t have mattered to the mother of these children. After all, she didn’t marry the sire of her kids. He was Mormon and a good Southern Baptist girl didn’t do that sort of thing. Then again, neither did she get knocked up on her first Spring Break fling from college. So she lied to the grocery delivery boy after some serious seduction on her part and bada-bing bada-bam, the 4th generation of a Founding Family failed to handle the legacy and instead married a butcher’s apprentice.

The twins, you ask? Ah, yes. One little girl with curly red hair and a little over 4 pounds, one little boy, with dark hair like his momma at about 5 pounds. Neither had good chances of survival, and the attending physician told the anxious husband “Don’t get too attached to the little girl. She’s far too fragile to last the week.” Surprisingly, the little girl did last the week, and the next one and so on until after two months they were told to “come and get her, she’s quite capable of taking on the world now.” Only, they didn’t take their daughter home. No, they took her to the husband’s grandparents in a far flung rural area where the only advances beyond electricity were regular postal delivery and automobiles. They left her there, with aging individuals that had done their share of raising children, 13 to be exact. What energy did they have left for another? Oh, of course the little boy would stay in town. Better access to doctors and all, and he was the heir, right?

Fast forward 18 months, and the spring of that year was delayed by cold and windy weather. The little girl got to see her twin brother about once a month, sometimes twice. They delighted in each other, but the little girl was clearly an instigator if there was trouble to be found, gotten into, and created. She stood up and by virtue of being able to jostle the playpen by sheer tenacity, she was able to reach both the lipstick (Ruby Red) and the dusting powder (My Sin.) It was time to explore creativity with her brother as a canvas, and then herself. This display of mischief was captured by a relative with a camera and the resulting photo would surface many years later after all the lies began to unravel. In the meantime, it meant a bath for both in a house poorly heated, and by a mother who was more about appearance than care or concern for her offspring. After all, she was about to give birth to another child, it was about time that the girl went back to her country home. Then, there was that nagging cough that the little boy had developed. It was the last time the little girl would see her twin, ever.

Time to jump ahead a couple of more years. The little boy had died with complications of pneumonia and the little girl didn’t see her parents for over a year. “It’s far too hard on her mother to see this child when the other didn’t make it. He was such a healthy child, too!” But the little girl didn’t understand the emotional distance, she didn’t know exactly what was missing, and it was just easier to stay with Nanny and Papaw. The farm was her world; the gentle chuckling of the chickens, the earthy smell of the cattle, the warmth of being on the broad mule’s back when Papaw plowed up the garden for Nanny, standing behind Papaw’s shoulder on the rides into town once a month to “take care of business.” It was an easier existence than having to stand still in a starched pinafore and black patent leather shoes and “be good.” Being barefoot in a simple cotton sackcloth shift, having her unruly curls braided into pigtails, and squishing her toes in the warm dirt while looking for the first of the ripe cherry tomatoes was a better fate than anything anywhere else could offer.

All too soon, the big brown leather suitcase came out of the dark recesses of attic and when Nanny opened it up, there was a tiny wristband from the hospital, a small pink receiving blanket and 3 neatly folded tiny diapers. A tear escaped from Nanny’s eye and the little girl didn’t understand why her Nanny’s eye leaked. Papaw gruffly mumbled, “Come on woman, let’s get this done and over with. It’s not like she can go to school out here.” All the little girl’s clothing and possessions were being packed and when Nanny went into the bathroom to get the small toothbrush, the little girl grabbed a small stuffed lamb from the belongings so carefully arranged in the suitcase. Her small sneakered feet took her to the living room where she handed the lamb to her Papaw. “Here Papaw. You said that Nanny always would need a lamb to look after. Give her mine, please.” She turned and went back into the small bedroom she’d always known as hers to help her Nanny finish.

That was when the night terrors began. Every time the little girl saw the suitcase, she’d start crying. When she cried, the spankings, the whippings would start. So she learned to cry silently; to sit up in the horrible metal crib and smell the night air through the zinc screening on the window and sob in silence. She had a younger relative that would often show up and bully her by taking her clothes to wear them, even though he was a boy. She misjudged the ominous click of the gas floor heater and suddenly flames were melting her tiny feet to the metal grid because he’d stolen her slippers and dared her to come get them. Two weeks alone in a hospital burn unit with only nurses to see to her cries because, the husband was too busy working to support his family and the wife was too emotionally fragile to see a child of hers in this setting. There was also the matter of a younger sibling, who was often sick and screaming.

It was there that the little girl heard classical music; her godfather brought her an album and a child’s phonograph to listen to it in her room. The little girl soon learned that it was better to sit still and listen to “Scheherazade.” She could sleep, she could dream happy dreams, and she could heal. When she got home, another album joined the first, and strains of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” could be heard echoing down the hall. Her godfather and her grandmother began to take the little girl to symphonic presentations, much to the jealous dismay of her mother. Soon, all the little girl wanted to do was go to school so she could read and learn all about the music she was hearing, the stories that the music told. She even ran away one bright September morning to get on a school bus that was picking up other neighborhood children. However, 6:30 was really very early to an excited young lady and she fell asleep before they ever made it to the school. Upon being discovered by a bus driver and escorted to the police station to hopefully be reunited with her parents, the little girl steadfastly refused to give her name, her address or any other information that would help in the process.

Eventually, a panicked grandmother verbally sparred with her old school mate, the current Police Chief, and the little girl was returned to her home; but not without some string pulling that resulted in a placement in a private school. Even that day would have some distinct consequence, as the little girl had to be tested for placement. While she couldn’t yet write her name, she could effectively draw a man, anatomically correct of course, but with a hat to keep his ears from sunburn. The docent and school administrator had to walk away from the little girl for a moment to keep from laughing, so serious was the child about the addition of a fedora to her rendering. So, into the first grade went a child 5 ½ years old, but with a wisdom far older about her.

First grade flew by and so did the opportunity to continue in private school. The little girl overheard the heated arguments that resulted in her going to a public school for second grade, but she had to be “tested” again. Again, it was a sultry summer day when she was walked into the nearby elementary school, all her paperwork presented and then the testing commenced. She looked up as she’d completed the last question and saw the others still working. Her confusion must have garnered the attention of the proctor, because a tall blonde lady came and took her small hand into a much larger, cooler one and they walked out of the room with her completed paper. There was a softly spoken conversation and she was told she could go home, they’d be calling her mother later. It was frightening, but she would walk home alone for the first time in her young life. True, it was only a block, but at 6 ½ the world is a pretty big place. She would soon get used to walking home alone; and by then she would learn to love the solitary nature of each step.

Soon, the third grade came around, there was a heated controversy going on about “new math” and how it was going to cripple some children because they simply wouldn’t be able to make the transition from the older methods. German measles was also going around and this time there simply wasn’t a vaccine for this form of the virus. Both the little girl and her younger brother were stricken with the disease and both ended up spending two miserable weeks in a darkened room as the virus had “spread to their eyes” and there was a danger of going blind. Other children in their neighborhood had contracted the disease and one of the neighbor’s children was in the hospital fighting for his life. Three weeks later, short one neighborhood child and 15 days of valuable lesson time, the little girl returned to her classroom. She’d never really liked her teacher, sensing that the woman had favorites, and then overhearing her say “Well, wouldn’t you know that the white trash would survive?” An inner fear that this woman was not going to help her catch up with the lessons she’d missed began to grow and was well founded when she wasn’t promoted to the fourth grade with her classmates.

The teasing and gossip would begin, and it was simply better to turn inwards and read. The little girl, skinny from illness, began to take on some height which resulted in an awkward gawkiness. It was just better to curl up in a corner of the library and read rather than attempt to play kickball or four-square or hopscotch. The librarian appreciated the assistance in re-shelving books, and re-filing reference cards. Things at home turned darker, however and now a young lady beginning to bloom into a young woman at the young age of 9 began to hide her library books. However, there was yet another sibling joining the already crowded nest, and sometimes library books were forgotten in the mad scramble of the mornings. When the late notices began to show up in the mail box, the beatings commenced. When the young lady brought home books for a book report, she had to ask the teacher for a written assignment stating such, else face the inevitable belt whipping.

Somewhere in all of the blur of elementary school, all the children were set down with Stanford Binet IQ tests. It was just another test, the young lady thought; never even comprehending that this would change her life from “get by” to “unbearable” when her parents were contacted by the school. “We don’t have the capability to educate her properly,” her parents were told. “We can’t afford to send her to private school,” came the reply. What had been just a “deal with the child until we can marry her off” attitude, changed overnight to “how do we deal with the freak?” Then came the joys of a Yule where all her dreams of being a scientist came true with a small German microscope, a huge chemistry set, and a telescope all showing up under the Tannenbaum. There was so much to see, to observe, the sheer joy of making a “wet mount” slide and then sharing her finds with anyone she could coerce into looking thru the small oculus. So what if her grandmother was permanently sickened by the sight of chicken fat enlarged 200 times under the lens?

Santa had also brought a bicycle and it was a joy and a danger because the young lady’s mind would wander frequently while riding, thus ensuring many cuts and scrapes along the way. Other neighborhood children would gather in wheeled packs and thus conquer the adjoining streets and driveways on daily rides. Of course, shortening the distance by “cutting across” the corner lawn was a given, but so also was the anger of the lawn’s owner and Mrs. Baum was very likely to take her complaint directly to a parent. The resultant disciplinary correction inspired the creation of smoke bomb with the chemistry set that would ultimately blow a 3 x 4 foot hole in the bedroom wall of the young lady. This explosion ended the gifting of any additional scientific equipment for fear of curiosity levelling the dwelling by flood, fire or some other mishap.

The remainder of her education would pass fairly unremarkably save for the constant impediment of chronic depression. When she would ask for direction, or guidance with where her education should go, there was the stand-by answer of “oh, you’re so bright you can do anything” with never an interest taken to see where her heart might lie, what might make her sigh in the joy of completion. Somewhere in high school, an English literature teacher took an interest and challenged her to write a screenplay for a 5 minute movie. Something ignited and a joy burst forth. While the end result was a cheesy Grade B science fiction 8mm creation, that it was done and a small figment of a germ of an idea sat in the dark shadows of a heart.

It would be a dream denied not because of the young lady’s wishes, but because of parents too self-absorbed to guide their child beyond what was “expected of a young female after high school.” They’d never noticed that she’d turned her back on religion after a playmate’s grandfather molested both of them before either was 12. They’d not given much credence to a letter sent to them by the school counselor stating that their daughter had earned no less than 5 scholarships and would they please consider making an appointment for college placement?

When the young lady brought home all the paperwork from her counselor, her ‘father’ sneered and challenged, “You don’t have the guts to get your education the way I did. You and all your pot smokin’ friends are too lazy to even consider the military.” Something inside the young lady snapped; she’d worked damned hard to master Spanish classical guitar, 6 and 12 string, and spent endless hours researching the correct translations of Chaucer. Lazy? Then, there was her mother who told her that the “most correct path” for her to follow would be for her to attend a junior college and then transfer to the local university to obtain a teaching degree. A correct path? Whatever happened to “you’re so smart you can do anything you put your mind to?”

This young lady instead went to a recruiting office, with a signed age waiver and raised her right hand. Nothing prepared her for basic training, but then nothing prepared them for her intelligence when it came to radio communications. Somewhere in the marching and drill, between the rifle range and personal defense lessons the bookworm found her voice and her spine. Nothing prepared her for the politics and personal gamesmanship that the military foisted upon its cadre, however; she opted to leave when she made an issue of a misplaced hand on her thigh, and the resulting career backslap would have had her on a mountaintop listening to alpine goats take a piss.

All of her training and credentials amounted to nothing on the civilian market when she came back home; it was by happy chance that she landed a technician spot in a naval laboratory….until the funding was cut and she was facing eviction from her first small apartment. This young lady sat in the quiet of her own dining area and thought…numbers had always been difficult for her, but basic maths were nothing. Her grandmother had told her that folks would always need someone to keep their books straight, and she could at least do that. Thus began 30 plus years of taking care of other people’s money, credit cards, bills, and insurance. The dream of writing thus deferred again; sometimes it couldn’t be silenced and came out in strange little poems written in a journal or a diary. Or sometimes in a ballad or two when a guitar found its way back into her hands. Then came an accident, and accidental addiction to the pain pills…and just as quickly, the young lady found a resolution to the addiction, but the pain remained.

The years stretched out; three then four marriages failed and as a single mother, the daily grind for survival and sobriety outpaced her inner muse. Until, one night she fell off the tailgate of a U-Haul truck while helping a friend move. She hamstrung both ankles in the accident, and a sober friend took her to the ER and thence to a couch with a nearby monitor and keyboard attached to a dial-up modem and a BBS bulletin board. There, the young lady met the one, the one who would be there for her through two more babies and 20 years of marriage. He would also be there for her when her old nemesis depression came back with a vengeance and a new angle of horror known as PTSD. Then, in the long shadows of an October afternoon, after a particularly fractious phone call with the insurance company, she would stand up and a blood vessel that had formed a deadly bubble in her brain would burst. He would find her unresponsive and unconscious after coming home because ‘something didn’t feel right.’

Everything she had every taken for granted would be gone within 3 days of bleeding within her skull. Gone was the near instantaneous recall of minutiae required for her job, gone was her sense of balance, gone too was the surety that she could just “move on” when she found her way back from conquering the re-awakened demons of depression. After 10 days in the hospital, she was home – to nothing. She was on total bed rest until they could do a “follow-up” CT scan to determine the nature of a tumor discovered in her stay. Somewhere in the drab grey dullness a friend put a series of books in her hands to read and something stirred to life, something long denied stood up and said “No. Not this time.” Then, her beloved echoed the same words that her heart had been saying. “No. Not this time.”

Behind the eyes of every writer, there is a simple trigger; a switch, if you will. It takes us from those “quiet lives of desperation” that used to echo around me in every morning’s traffic, to a life spent describing the moment that a simple dragonfly landed within the landscape of my inner eye, and I want to share that moment with you. The little girl, the young lady, the single mother of this narrative was me. The story is still unfolding, but like Matt Damon’s character, I have learned my lesson about denying what you love and who you are. Hello, I am a writer.

Nugget – the opening chapter

Shortly after the death of our little dog Sterling, I found myself sliding down into the Abyss once again. Even though at best our relationship was one of cuss words and willful disobedience, Sterling was one of those four-legged critters that managed to worm his obstinate way into your heart….and chew up your best slippers at the same time. He was a creature of bad habits and worse body odor, requiring a bath at least three times a week to keep from smelling like the goat shit he loved to roll in, was convinced that the kitchen trash can was his own special diner and that the best self-entertainment was to sneak up behind a sleeping cat and bark furiously at nothing. Did I mention that he thought my panties were a gourmet treat?

Sterling Argente’ came into our lives in a serendipitous moment of crossed paths. The family was cleaned up and dressed reasonably well; it was New Year’s Eve and my birthday dinner. This has become a very special and happy treat for me and it memorializes those family members who are precious to me. We were picking up the youngest child from her friends when I see this small gray shadow at her feet. “What’s THAT?” I asked her. “Oh, it’s just a dog. Someone dumped it in this neighborhood thinking everyone here has money and they’ll take it in. It’s been hanging around about a month and the dog catcher can’t find it when he comes out.”

It was drizzling rain, freezing cold and that animal was shivering under its matted fur. “Nope. That ain’t gonna happen, see if you can pick it up and give it to me.” The youngest child reached down, scooped down and picked up the small animal; the dog was a surprised as I was to find itself in the arms of a human being. Despite being dressed for a fancy dinner, I snuggled him close and we made the quick turnaround back to the house. A clean towel, a bowls of food and water with a promise to return and Sterling was settled in the bathroom for the evening.

What followed was the battle of the wills regarding grooming, (he wasn’t huge fan) a thorough medical exam, (he had two cracked ribs and a phobia of loud voices), and repeated dips, shavings for fleas and rolling in barnyard animal dung. We really never figured that peculiarity out, what we did figure out was that he was a Schnoodle – a so-called designer dog, about 5 or 6, was going blind and maybe a bit confused due to what appeared to be repeated beatings. After removing three teeth, Sterling began to get some of his old spark back and became a feisty contender for love, affection and a proud master of cat-herding – sort of. Of course, Toby, our huge ginger tom, curled up next to him one frosty morning in February, and we knew that the herding was just a form of tag, the charade was busted. We had to keep Sterling close to the house because he tended to wander if he found any lack of integrity in the fencing, he would be out.

There was never a moment that he felt overawed by big black George, the 180 pound Anatolian Shepherd. In fact, it was cute to watch the two of them play, George being ever so careful not to crush his new little buddy. If Sterling got too eager or too rough, George would lie down and put a saucer sized paw on Sterling as a warning.

June thunderstorms tend to wreak havoc on trees, fencing, roofing and anything not exactly sturdy enough to stand up to the 60 mile an hour straight line winds. Sure enough, one came up when we were out grocery shopping and it was strong enough that it blew the doors open on the house. We’d known that we had rain coming and had put Sterling in the house; George in his giant kennel. If there was to be thunder, Sterling had access to a nice dark closet with a thick towel in a storage crate. We never dreamed that both French doors would nearly be blown off their hinges, as well as about 300 feet of fence being blown over. Sterling, of course, bolted out of the house in panic. Over the next two days, we had sightings of him but couldn’t catch him. I left kibble and water out and we nearly caught him twice. The third and final time, I learned that bacon is a wonder panacea with small frightened dogs. Again, Sterling had managed to find sheep dung to roll in and this time we almost shaved him naked so matted was his short curly coat.

He was home and back up to his usual mischief. In fact, I got so pissed at him with one incident, I ‘dog-shamed’ him with a placard. He’d gotten into the kitchen garbage again, (I think he was almost monkey-like with his paws and opening doors!) and when I took his prized possession of a hotdog wrapper away from him, Sterling promptly went over to my recliner and pooped in front of it!

We thought we had all the fencing fixed, so when he whined and pleaded to be outside with George, we let him go play with his giant buddy. It was inevitable that he would find some sort of dung to roll in back in the farther pastures, so I pulled the grooming equipment and the shampoo into the kitchen in anticipation of the next day’s use. The late afternoon was warm and pleasant; when I looked outside, George and Sterling were laid out on the cool expanse of the back deck. Later that evening, I spied George through the kitchen window making his way thru the tall grasses of the far pasture and knew that he and Sterling were headed to the waters of the creek at the back of the property. Tomorrow, both of them would have a bath, I thought; and finished dinner’s preparation.

Dinner was over, the dishes and all the prep cookware were soaking, it was time to call the boys in. Both were down at the creek and with the heat, there was no calling them back; I could hear them happily splashing. With a sigh, I kissed the other half goodbye as he left for his overnight shift, and left bowls of kibble out for George and Sterling. Like kids, they’d be ravenous après’ swim.

I went on to bed, and before I knew it there was a gentle rocking on my shoulder. The beloved was home from work, and dawn was approaching; but the look on his face told me something was wrong. “Honey?” I inquired. “Babe, Sterling got out of the fencing somehow. I found him this morning in the middle of the road. I only hope it was quick.” There was a moment of shock and then a flood of sorrow.

Sterling was gone. We buried him in the garden he used to chase the cats into, under a rambling Don Juan rose and next to the Chablis grapes I’d given up on ever growing. It wasn’t the same – his muted old man growl was missing, the clicking of his nails on the wooden floor, even George was moping. I wasn’t prepared to hit the emotional slide into shadow, either. The beloved and the daughter urged me to look at adopting or rescuing another dog. I wasn’t sure that I could make that kind of an empathetic investment again. After all, the daughter would soon be leaving to go back to college and I wanted the peace and quiet to write and think.

The nagging from the others in our circle began, and was added to by the husband and the daughters. “Ok, I’ll look.” It kept them at bay, for a while. “You really need a pocket pooch,” the mate insisted, “One that you can carry in a bag and take with you everywhere.”

“Ahem. Dearest. I am not that kind of a woman.”

“Mom, you need a companion.”

“I have George and 6 cats. My companion card is pretty full.”

“You can’t have George in the house! The last time he knocked over everything his tail could reach, as well as tipped over the couch AND the recliner!”

“Ahem. Did you forget the cats?”

“Mom, on a good day you might be able to find one, maybe two to come sit on your lap. Violet and Spot hunt the doves, Phred likes to sit on the roof, Toby is out in the barn, Luce-purr is usually under the house and Lucky is always out catching rabbits. When they DO come in you get all upset about cat fur on your keyboard! Do I need to remind you about Phred knocking EVERYTHING off of the altar last week and destroying your alabaster offering bowl?”

“Sigh. I give up.”

Thus, my search for another small furry critter to add to the colorful menagerie began. I looked at the rescues and their current inventory. Nope. We braved the heat and the humidity to look at the local pound and ASPCA. Nope. So, I started looking online. I found a breeder of Yorkshire terriers in San Antonio and inquired if she’d had any pet quality animals or returns. She told me that she’d retired her male stud and he was available for a small transfer fee of $150. Hmmmm…something was buzzing around me like a suspicious bee, but I asked for a picture of the animal.

She sent the picture via e-mail and something told me to “GO get him, and get him NOW.” Ok, I’ve learned my lesson over the years – this was one of those gut-level directives you don’t ignore. I told her that I would take the retired stud and made the arrangements to meet her. The trip would have been uneventful, but that traffic was insane; my daughter and I were looking at each other in wonder. Then I realized we were within shouting distance of the 4th of July – oh joy – JUST what a small dog could tolerate – Not! Oh yes, the driving directions via Google? Not their best effort, in fact my directionally challenged husband could have arrived there better.

So, we arrive. First alarm bell tips off – she wants to meet with us in her front yard. She explains that “she is in the process of moving and the house is in Chaos.” Ok. I can understand, but the little bells in my gut are still chiming. She takes us to where she has lawn chairs set up and then goes back to bring the dog out to me. The daughter stands by me and I sit; the door opens and she comes back out with the dog. He looks terrified of her AND of me. Something inside me says, “Be still, be welcoming, be gentle.” So, I take him from her and look into his terrified gaze.

“Do you want me to be your mommy?” I ask. Something inside this little dog melted, and despite his fear, he stopped shaking and was more of a “just get me out of here” attitude. I handed him over to my daughter to finish the financial transaction and he melted into her arms as well. The breeder was telling me that he was not a “cuddly” Yorkie. Oh yeah, like I could see that, (insert sarcasm font here.) I asked for his papers, and his vet records. “Oh, I’ll mail them to you. Everything is all in a turmoil in the house. If you text me your address, I’ll send them to you.” I was going to put up a fuss, but the little dog kept looking at me with such a pitiful plea, that I told my daughter to put him in the carrier and we’ll just go.

Before we left, she tried to put another puppy in our hands, a 6 week old female. Nope. I felt for the puppy, but I wasn’t going to hand over $750.00 for a puppy that was sired by the male I now own and had no papers on. We couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

Well, we stopped for a quick bite of lunch and to see if our little one, known to us now as Nugget, needed to potty before the long trip home. He was sick, all over the inside of the carrier and all over himself. It appeared that someone had fed him a hamburger before we’d arrived. I called the breeder to let her know that I was going to need those vet records immediately. She asked if I was going to bring him back. (Are you insane, woman?) Not a care for the animal, just wanted to know if I wanted my money back. Second alarm bell was going off. No, I wanted his records and within a week.

We must have stopped no less than four times on the way home to allow him to throw up, try to get him to drink some water and clean him up. No way was I about to put him back in the carrier, he was going to be held, fussed over and taken care of with loving hands. We get home and George just about has a happy dancy-paws fit he’s so excited to have a little buddy again. Nugget, on the other hand, wets himself. Well, when you’re all of 4 ½ pounds and a 180 pound giant wants to make kissy-face, it’s easy to understand a bit of hesitation. George is confused and looks askance of me. I tell him, “Just wait, our new baby is a little bit sick and a whole lot scared right now. He’ll be out here playing with you eventually.”

Ummm, not exactly. Over the next week, we determine that Nugget has never been outside of a kennel in his life. Never once walked on grass or for matter peed or pooped outside. He’s terrified of turf and dirt. Doesn’t walk on a leash well, either. Ok, more and more of the misrepresentations of this animal are coming forward. I chat about it with other rescue friends who can do a bit of checking and before you know it, there is a suggestion that I make an anonymous report. Back yard breeders are rather illegal and it appears that Nugget was retired from stud service because he became cantankerous.

At the vet visit we discovered that he had burn marks on his neck under his chin from an electronic bark collar. His feet were splayed due to being in a cage constantly, and one of his paws sustained a strain injury (untreated) from where it’d been caught (it appeared) in the kennel grid. Happily, he had no dental problems, just a long road to learn to be our beloved. So far, we’ve got him on training pads for potty purposes and he’s slowly getting used to ‘gargantuan’ George. We’ve managed to get him to eat something other than table scraps, and healthier dog appropriate. (Ok, I do slip him a bit of chicken now and then, but I’m Mama – I can spoil him!)

The unexpected end result of our little adventure is that I had to shut down a Facebook account for multiple reasons, but the tipping point is that one of the threatening messages that I received was from someone associated with Nugget’s breeder. Everything is copacetic now; but there was a 24 hour period that I was ready with a 10 gauge, a huge dog and a whole lot of righteous anger should anyone attempt to infiltrate our home. This is why Nugget’s story was delayed and everything was quiet. But, now you know….and I have a new cuddle buddy/furry shadow. Even the cats like him!

The Chrysalis Opens….

…and a new baby author is born. Well, yes and no. I’ve been writing for some time; certainly since the husband and I launched a Teaching Grove in Central Texas. This is my first foray into fiction, but the non-fiction part of me will always be sitting there – just waiting to put her two cents worth into the conversation!

What’s to come? A murder mystery that spans late childhood to late teens for a young man who finds his love and his passion only to have his love taken cruelly and his passion becomes his tool for retribution. Sea Snails in West Texas? It can happen….

After that? Hmm….so what if you were taking your breakfast tea and a member of the Shining Court smashed into the window just outside where you were seated? What if you accidentally shipped him all over the Globe to bless your friends with?

Next? Ahh…..We are only now beginning to learn the hologram within our genetic codex. What if Earth were the repository/living library for all lifeforms within our Milky Way?

This is just the beginning….and I am JAZZED! Hope to hear from all of you as these projects and others are re-born with me.

As Always,

Gentle Hugs!