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May 31, 2005

Somebody Upstairs Likes Him

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Elvis Presley...No, it's my dad in Germany during WWII...

These days my dad spends his time playing the lottery, whistling down grocery store aisles, or patronizing the local video store. I like to brag that he has more movie videos than a video store does, and when I told him he should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for his collection (to which he has started to add DVDs), he answered, “I just want the pain, not the fame.” Everyone knows to leave him alone on Tuesdays. That’s the day he copies videos in one of his designated rooms that looks like a TV studio. He has several scissors and lots of tape spread out on his cluttered desk, ready for his favorite part of the Tuesday ritual, making his own video jacket covers using his prized “color copier.” He loves to have the latest movies to give to his kids when they come to visit, guaranteeing his popularity, as if he had to try to do that. ~ the excerpt that got cut from "Let Me Clue You In" (Read the completed essay here).

Let Me Clue You in about My Father

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The following is the essay I wrote about my father, which aired on WVTF Public Radio for Memorial Day on Friday, May 27. The radio station cut this version slightly to fit in their 3 minute format. I had intended to post the old black and white photo of my dad in Germany during WWII (and I'm sure he would prefer that one in which he does look like Elvis Presley), but I wasn't able to upload it. I'll try again later.

In a family photograph of my father, taken in Germany at the end of WWII, he’s standing in his army uniform holding a blonde German child in his arms. Her hair is parted down the middle, pulled tightly into two braids. She looks happy. When I was a little girl, I formed an opinion about that photograph. Regardless of the fact that I hadn’t been born when it was taken, I wondered why he was holding her when he should have been holding me…or one of my brothers or sisters at least. We all agreed that my dad was handsome and looked like Elvis Presley back then.

He was an artillery soldier in Patton’s army, and he always maintained that the only reason he survived the war was because of the big cannon-like gun he stood behind. Standing behind his “Long Tom,” surviving the war when so many didn’t, is probably where his trademark saying began: “Somebody upstairs must like me.”

When he joined the army with 3 of his brothers, he was 19 years old and would later describe it like this: “We thought we were going to a football game.” However, his rudest awakening about war wasn’t the deadly combat he witnessed and participated in. What he saw at the end of the war when his regiment liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp changed him forever, causing him to suffer from what is known today as “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” “I can’t believe that human beings are capable of such things” he would say about the holocaust, while shaking his head back and forth, with tears in his eyes.

My dad, Robert Leo Redman, was the youngest of 11, born in South Boston, Massachusetts, and raised in North Quincy in a strict Irish Catholic home. After the war, and for most of his adult life, he struggled with alcoholism. In spite of this struggle, he supported his nine children and wife as a lifelong ironworker, and, when we were old enough to understand, he made sure we were educated to know that alcoholism is a disease, a disease of the soul, he believed.

Although my dad never made it past the 10th grade, because he joined the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCCs) to help support his family during the depression, he’s one of the smartest men I know. He eventually got his GED and passed with very high scores. But it isn’t his book knowledge that I remember the most. My dad taught us some of life’s deeper truths, like the fact that bullies act tough because they actually feel small inside. He also gave us practical advice, such as, “Don’t use vanity license plates or bumper stickers on your car, because cops can tag you easier that way.” He had a lot of experience avoiding cops, and it wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that, realizing I had nothing to hide, I was comfortable enough to boldly spell LET IT BE on my license plate and even risk a bumper sticker.

Robert, who was known as Bebe when he was young, was the first one to cry during a sad movie and the first one ready with a kiss for no reason, or a wet “raspberry” that we would promptly wipe off. He went around the house singing songs from the 40s or reciting nursery rhymes that no one else in our neighborhood seemed to know. (I think he made half of them up.) He was, in his own words, “an operator,” which I understood as a reference to his street smarts. And he had the lingo to prove it. For my dad a beautiful woman was always “a hot tomato,” people who didn’t know what they were talking about were “blowing smoke,” “hatchi katchi” meant “fooling around,” and so did “hot to trot.” He wasn’t bigoted, except maybe against homely girls in favor of the pretty ones. And he never tried to hide the fact that the reason he tuned in to TV football was to watch the cheerleaders at half-time.

But we feared my dad’s wrath as much as we enjoyed his playfulness. Another of his trademark sayings that all his kids remember was, “I WANT THIS PLACE LOOKING LIKE A MILLION BUCKS BY THE TIME YOUR MOTHER GETS HOME…OR HEADS ARE GONNA ROLL.” The stress of raising so many kids on a working class salary and the burden of his emotional wounds were taking their toll. By this time he was looking more like Jackie Gleason and sounding like him too.

This year my dad turned 80. After seeing him for years in his blue collar work clothes, it’s funny to see him in shorts and knee socks, a Hawaiian shirt, his red suspenders, topped off with his favorite WWII veterans cap. He doesn’t wear his false teeth because he can’t whistle when he wears them, he’s says. He’s almost as short as his grandfather, Patrick Bergin from County Tipperary, who was said to be part elf. My dad isn’t too happy about turning 80. He refers to himself as an “old geezer.” The last time he was visiting me in my home on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I tried to cheer him up by asking, “But Dad, what about all the wisdom that comes with age?” “Let me clue you in,” he answered with a laugh, “It’s like a rocky boat.”

We mostly see my dad’s playful side now. He’s been sober for the last 25 years and can usually be found in his favorite living room chair with the TV remote control in his hand. The little kids still flock around him (somehow knowing he’s just a big kid). He still draws a crowd at weddings when he dances the jitterbug with my mother. He’s still sentimental, and after seeing each one of his 10 siblings pass on, and two of his sons, he has earned the right to be.

Where I come from, my dad would be described as “a character.” What else can you call a man who has nicknames for everyone, like mine, which is “Colly Wolly Wolf?” What can you say about a man who can’t contain his awe of life and continually has to ask his kids, “Are you real?” as though he can’t believe we came from him.

My dad is as real as it gets. His gift to life is being himself. And although we lost a part of him before we were born, somewhere in Germany during the war, what he gave us was colorful, forgiving, comical, and very quotable. And this is the story that will go on long after “somebody upstairs” finally claims him.

May 30, 2005

A Winning Streak


On the night of the day that my essay aired on WVTF public radio, I participated in a poetry slam at The London Underground in Blacksburg and won $100!

Initially, I was leery about reading my poetry in such a smoky, chaotic atmosphere where rowdy guys holding onto mugs of beer seemed to be waiting for the dartboards to be available again. But it turned out to be the most receptive crowd I’ve ever read to. It was my scrabble poem (posted below) that cinched my first place win, a $100 gift certificate from The Easy Chair Bookstore, the hosts of the evening’s event. The crowd went wild when I read it. They were primed and more than ready for some innuendo and comic relief.

I also sold a copy of my poetry book, Muses Like Moonlight. Since the scrabble poem wasn’t included in that collection, the woman buying the book asked me to handwrite it out for her. I was happy to oblige and still excited from my win, especially considering that I wasn’t even aware that we were competing for a prize, until I received it.

From a smoky bar in Blacksburg, I hope you can read my writing…I signed on the inside of the back cover, at the end of the scribbled out scrabble poem.

Later in the weekend, I actually did play scrabble with a group from my writers’ workshop. It was a foursome. Three women and one (lucky) man. I came in third. Does this mean my winning streak is over?

Scrabble Lover

I go outside my marriage
for an occasional game of scrabble
because my husband rarely plays
and if he does he gives up early
leaving me unsatisfied

Most of my partners are women
we huddle in restaurant booths
sneak in a quickie at a social event
carry dictionaries in our cars

I refuse to play in cyberspace
across from mechanical screens
no physical contact
with the smooth lettered tiles
no sound of them stirring in their bag

My husband and I see other people
while I play scrabble he plays golf
when I’m on the verge…of a triple word score
he’s looking for partners to make up a foursome
while I pursue a Q to go with my U
he’s putting his ball in a hole

May 29, 2005

Hull is on the Map

Biz Stone, tech-nik, blogger, and author of “Who Let the Blogs Out,” hung out at Nantasket Beach, the beach of my hometown peninsula, Hull, Massachusetts. In the first chapter of his book, while describing how he and a friend started the web hosting site, “Xanga,” Stone writes: “We hung out after school, we went to Nantasket Beach on weekends. We spent a summer demolishing houses with shovels. Don’t ask.”

That was not the first time I was reading a book and got a complete surprise when the author mentioned my hometown. “Change of Heart,” by Claire Sylvia, is a fascinating memoir about a woman who received a heart transplant and then began to feel that she took on the dreams and memories of her donor who died in a motorcycle accident. So fascinating was the premise – that the heart is much more than an organ that pumps – it was used as the basis for a movie, “Return to Me,” starring Minnie Driver and David Duchovony.

“When I acquired a new heart, I also acquired a new rhythm, new impulses, new knowledge, and new questions,” Sylvia wrote. I was enthralled with the idea and immersed in reading the story when she shocked me by casually revealing that she was living in Hull for the summer.

Hull is definitely a place on the map. It’s where the summer home once owned by John F. Kennedy’s mother’s family is still standing. JFK’s older brother was born in Hull, and JFK himself, as a Congressman, spoke at the dedication of The Memorial School in 1948, the school that was to later be my and my sibling’s elementary school.

At one time, Hull was known for its amusement park, Paragon Park, which featured what was once purported to be the largest roller coaster in the world. Also once a part of Hull was the Surf Ballroom where Sonny and Cher and other popular entertainers performed, and where my siblings and I learned to do dances with names like the Boolagoo and The Philly.

Most recently, Hull was on the map again, for being the home of “Napster” headquarters, the renowned online music service that originally featured peer to peer file sharing and has since relocated to California. Hull was described by Joseph Mann, author of “All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning’s Napster,” as “blue collar Hull,” and… “a 350 year old fishing town halfway back to Boston from the Cape.”

I remember Hull for its clams and horseshoe crabs, its neighborhood games of relieve-eo, the tower at Fort Revere, and the great views of Boston Lighthouse. Apparently, Hull will be remembered by some for being home and/or hangout to computer hackers and programmers.

Maybe in a future post I’ll tell you about running into Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler while shopping in Hingham, the next small town over from Hull.

May 28, 2005

This Time Last Year

Redman and Mitchell family, Hull Village Reunion, 2004

This time last year, I was in Massachusetts attending the Hull Village Reunion, which was held on Memorial Day, right after the town parade. The reunion was conceived and planned by Betty Ann, the daughter of the funeral parlor limousine driver who drove for my brother’s funerals in 2001.

Two years after my brother’s back-to-back deaths, I published a book, which chronicles my brother’s last few weeks and their deaths, along with the first 6 months of our family’s devastating grief. Woven into the account are stories of growing up together as a family of 11 in Hull Village during the 50s and 60s.

Betty Ann, who also grew up in Hull Village, read the book and was so touched by it, that she contacted me and eventually suggested a book signing/reunion.

Below is the account of that momentous day, which brought together 150-200 old friends, was written about by The Boston Globe, and was aired in part on the Hull cable TV station. The account was written for my community via the pages of The Museletter, a local forum I co-edit, and for my website. The photo is of Betty Ann’s family and mine and appeared in the Hull Times.

The day started with a message from my brother Dan (who died in August 2001) from a dream that the organizer of the Village Reunion, Betty Ann (Mitchell) Doherty, had. I joked that she "channels Dan" for me because it wasn't the first time she had a dream like this: I was running up past the cemetery along the bay when I noticed a truck with REDMAN on the side of it parked in a parking lot. It was Danny sitting in the truck, talking on the phone. I said to whoever I was with, "Oh, that's Danny probably talking to Colleen about who will be at the reunion."

I sat at a table to sign books, under a tent that was decorated with flags and red-white-and-blue balloons. It was Memorial Day after all, a day for remembering the dead. Across from me was my husband, Joe, wearing his HULL sweatshirt that he got at the Wellspring Thrift Shop on our first day in town because it was cold and we hadn't packed enough warm clothes. He was setting up a camera to film the event.

I didn't sit for long. I was soon jumping up to greet old friends, running around to pose for pictures, and putting people together who didn't recognize each other. The Hull Times newspaper tells it like this: Old Home Week…Members of the Mitchell and Redman families were among the 47 families - between 150 and 200 people strong - who came to take part in the Hull Village reunion.

But I did sign a lot of books. Although I sold a handful of my poetry books, Muses Like Moonlight, I mostly sold The Jim and Dan Stories: A Journey of Grief and Faith because many of the stories took place in Hull and most at the reunion knew Jim and Dan. I actually had people waiting for their turn to get a book. My first customer of the day was Joe C, a Hull icon with developmental disabilities who roams the beach with his metal detector looking for coins. "I found a ring today!" he told me. Joe used to help out with the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) drill team that many of us at the reunion once belonged to some 40 years ago.

A couple of people bought 3 or 4 books. I remember saying, "They're $13 each. Figure out what that comes to…and tell me what I owe you for change…I can't concentrate enough to do math today!" I said to someone else about the frantic pace of events, "I feel like a chicken with my head cut off," but when I later viewed the video, some of which was shown on the Hull Cable TV Network, I didn't look that bad. I learned a lot from that video.

I learned that Mrs. Delaney, a former Hull Village mother of 9, came all the way from Florida to attend the reunion, and that Mrs. Connelly, also a former Village mom of 9, came all the way from Georgia. There was Dan's friend, Chuckie Lacentra, pointing to the tennis courts while re-telling the story of how he got hurt there and still has the scar on his hand, and Ricky Ruscansky, another friend of Dan's, relating the rules to the game "Relieve-eo," a game we were all once familiar with. On the tape you can hear Frank Currell, an old friend of my brother Jim's (Jim died in July 2001), saying, "Your brother Jimmy was fanatical about whatever sport he loved at the time. One summer we played darts everyday. Jimmy had to play everyday…"

The ice-cream truck came, ringing its bell. I looked over and saw my mom and dad sitting in lawn chairs and eating ice cream. Kids were playing in the field and Oldies music was blaring from the old brick-red fire station where we used to put on our ice skates as kids and sometimes go in to get warm. Pinball games at The Villa, church at St. Mary's of the Bay, makeshift skateboards down fort hill, hard balls and soft balls that sometimes broke windows, and getting in trouble for getting home after the streetlights went on were all bits of conversations thrown into the mix.

Hull is where your story begins…are the words on the needlepoint pillow that Betty Ann made for me, words that aptly describe the feeling of the day. The Hull Times reporter was there to document this new part of the story by taking a picture of the Redmans and Mitchells together; two big Hull Village families brought together by the book. Mr. Mitchell, who drove the funeral parlor limousine for both my brother's funerals, was "like the father of the Village," Dan had said on the ride to the cemetery to bury Jim.

The Librarian of the Hull Village Library, where The Jim and Dan Stories can be purchased or checked-out, stopped by to let us know he had opened the library for out of town visitors. Considering this one-of-a-kind library, built in the late 1800s as a home, it's no surprise that folks would want to reminisce there. The Fort Revere Tower was open for us too.

Somewhere in-between greeting Mrs. Mecurio, who ran the small village store that is gone now, and trying to eat a few bites of cheese for lunch, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Kellem surprised me with a visit. Her appearance brought squeals and hugs and a crowd of old students who gathered around her. I wasn't the only one who thought she was the best teacher in our school. (Mrs. Kellem is the "good teacher" referred to in my poem "The Zen of Winter Poetry" from Muses Like Moonlight.)

It was about this time that someone pulled out a Hull High Yearbook to see how much we had changed. Then came my childhood pink "ponytail diary," which figured in The Jim and Dan Stories and was good for a few more good hoots.

The reunion started at 10 am, after the town parade, and ended at 4 pm, with me sitting in a rocking chair on the Mitchell's front porch. The Mitchell house was a landmark in the Village when I was growing up. I knew who they were, of course, but because I didn't know them well, I don't think I actually spoke to any of them. Who would have thought when I walked by the Mitchell's house as a girl, with my schoolbooks held in front of me, that I would be sitting on their front porch now, seeing the Village from a whole new perspective? And who says you can't go home again?

May 27, 2005

I Wish Cotton Was a Monkey

Last week when my son was en-route to come home for a wedding, he left a message on my answering machine in response to my request, “Leave your 3 wishes after the magical beep.”

As one of his 3 wishes, he stated, “I wish cotton was a monkey.”

Intrigued by the wish, I didn’t erase it, and finally I remembered to ask him (via an e-mail) to explain. Here’s what he answered:

"It’s a line from the old 'Little Rascals' TV show, from the episode where Buckwheat gets a magic lamp. He rubs it and makes two wishes. He says, 'I wish I had a watermelon…I wish I had a watermelon…' and then, 'I wish Cotton (another Little Rascal character) was a monkey…I wish Cotton was a monkey.' Then, a monkey that escaped from the zoo comes on the scene and everyone thinks it is Cotton.”

Old school funny, is what my son calls it. As he explained his unusual wish (which was really Buckwheat’s), I remembered watching the episode as a little girl, and even then it was “an old show.” I guess my son had seen the re-runs of the re-runs of The Little Rascals.

I’ve gotten some other new wishes, via my answering machine genie…a new car, peace on earth, and etc. My own current wish is this: I wish my kitchen would clean itself.

There’s still time to leave your own 3 wishes…

Post Note: My essay about my dad as a WWII Vet, "Let Me Clue You In," aired today on Public Radio. It is read by me and can be listened to by going to www.wvtf.org/news.htm

May 26, 2005

A Way with Lingo

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“Road hard and put away wet”
is a new phrase I learned from my son – the Asheville potter who loves the Red Sox – when he was in town recently for a wedding. The rain held off until the vows were exchanged and then it came down in buckets, and we headed for the tents, which is where this photo of my husband and me was taken.

My son has a way with lingo. In his world, “flagship” means top notch, “flash kicks” are nice shoes, and “lid” is the way he would say “hat.” But one of the most original new words that my son and his “peeps” (people…as in friends) use is “mashie,” which refers to an Asheville alcoholic panhandler type.

“Why mashie?” I asked him, knowing that his lingo usually had some loose logic. “The first thing the mashie says to you before he goes off on a rant is, 'Mashie a queshion?' he explained.

Currently, my son is backpacking in the wild west English countryside, scouting for master potter mentors and such, which makes me want to ask, “Who’s road hard and put away wet now?” ~ Thinking of you, Josh. xomom.

Got any new lingo to share?

Post Note: WVTF public radio will be airing my essay (the well cut version) "Let Me Clue you in," written about my father as a WWII vet, on Friday May 27th at 6:55 a.m. and then again at 8:55 a.m. - immediately following the civil war series. For regional listeners that’s 89.1 in Roanoke; 89.5 in Lynchburg; 88.5 in Charlottesville; 89.3 & 89.7 in Charlottesville, Waynesboro & Staunton; and 91.9 in Marion, Wytheville, Galax & Abingdon. I’ll be posting the essay in the week following the broadcast.

May 25, 2005

Bon Appetit

As a writer, my blog gives me the opportunity to break down my body of work into digestible bite size pieces. About a week’s worth of posts will fit on one page at any given time. I think of them like I think about a 7 course meal. I like to have a variety of short and long entries highlighted with a photo or two…a quote here... a link there…and a poem for those who have room for dessert. Sometimes a post is meant as an appetizer to whet one’s palette for a future main course and often the entries (knowingly or not) are loosely related or compliment each other in some way. After preparing and serving up my own offerings, I frequently go to someone else’s site to see what they’ve been cooking up.

And today we have a leftover…because it fits with the menu:

How a poem is like cake

Don’t use a mix
or stale ingredients

Don’t look in the oven
too much when it’s cooking
or eat too much at one sitting

Don’t over-sweeten
or over-stir

A baker and a poet
are both concerned with flavor

It’s all about consistency
and knowing when it’s done

May 24, 2005

Writing: A Driving Force

Sometimes I think the moon is my muse, or is it the moon that brings the muse out in me? I can write without the muse, but it’s like using a hose to water my garden when it really needs a soaking rain ~ From Muses Like Moonlight by Colleen.

I’ve discovered that driving to Christiansburg a few times a month for the bigger city items not found in the small town is a wonderful way to stimulate writing. I now have a regular writer’s pit stop. By the time I pull over at the Riner Food Center, half way between Floyd and Christiansburg, I’m tense with the weight of words, as though I’ve been holding my breath. Once there, parked between The First National Bank and The Buffalo Store, I let it all out onto notebook paper. Whew.

Today, I was thinking about my brother Jim. When his daughter was a baby and he couldn’t get her to stop crying, he buckled her up in the car seat and took her for a drive around town. It usually worked like a charm, he told me.

What is it about getting out on the open road that seems to clear your head? It reminds me of how I make great doodles only when I’m talking on the phone or otherwise having a conversation. If I were to face a blank piece of paper and told to just make a doodle, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Similarly, it’s hard to write with a blank screen or paper in front of you. This is what I said about writing in my book “The Jim and Dan Stories”...

Writing doesn’t happen when I sit down with an empty piece of paper or at a blank computer screen to do it. It happens all day in my head, usually while I’m doing something else. And it won’t happen if I don’t take down those notes. If you don’t record your phone messages or write them down, chances are, you’ll forget them, especially if you’re getting a lot.

Writing does happen when I sit down with an empty piece of paper or at a blank computer screen and mix what happens there, on the spur of the moment, with the notes that I’ve already taken. If one exists without the other, writing doesn’t usually happen for me. The secret to writing a book, I think it’s this: Take good notes and write often enough that it starts to accumulate. But there is also an alignment that has to take place, when you match ability and willingness to do the work with the way that has opened to do it.

There is a craft to writing, but it won’t get you far if it’s not preceded by inspiration, also known as “the muse.” The muse can be elusive if approached directly, and in my life, it’s hard to know if the muse is driving me or if I’m driving the muse. I wonder, when I drive to Christiansburg, am I taking a temperamental muse for a ride, the way my brother drove his fussy baby around to help her settle down?

May 23, 2005

The Grammar Doctor

People at my Writers’ Workshop want to know why I haven’t been bringing any work for them to critique. They probably think I haven’t been writing, but the opposite is true. I’m writing more and faster than ever, but our circle only meets twice a month. Therein lies the problem.

Although 3 out of 8 of us in the group are bloggers, there’s still some confusion as to what a blog actually is. Some of my attempts at explanations have recently included:

It’s nothing like an email. You don’t zip it out as fast as you think it, spelling errors and all. It’s not like a personal paper journal. Although good writing is always personal, you don’t post what you don’t want to be published. It’s not a self-indulgent to-do-list diary, or if it is it, it better be interesting and well written if you care at all about developing a readership. And finally, if you have the time to read a section of the newspaper or a magazine article on a subject that interests you, then you have the time to read a blog, if you want to.

Most bloggers spend time working on their written posts…but not 2 weeks. And if I did have a blog entry left un-posted for over 2 weeks that I brought to the group for review, it probably wouldn’t be taken serious as a writing form. Will blog writing ever be viewed as something more than a journal entry, just a degree away from an email? I suspect I would get more credit if I said “I’m writing my memoirs” (not in chapters but in posts), rather than admit to other writers that I’m blogging.

It’s not that I don’t still need workshop critique, it’s more that my writing friends aren’t available when the majority of my writing questions come up. It occurred to me recently that what I really need is tech support for grammar. Imagine being able to log onto a grammar site at a moment’s notice, enter a problem sentence or a paragraph and then receive instant editing? Back in the day of typewriters and white-out, a spell-check probably seemed like science fiction.

The physical interactions of writers working together will never be obsolete, but an online Grammar Doctor, a 1-800 grammar line, or even a PBS Writer’s Workshop show would all be welcomed options and helpful to writers in a pinch.

May 22, 2005

All right with Gahd

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My brother Dan and I both learned to pronounce our R’s, the way I, who dislikes punctuation, have had to learn to use commas and periods, although I still lapse into dashes…and dots. When in the South or when writing a book, one wants to be understood. ~ From Pahk the Cah in Hahvad Yahd, “The Jim and Dan Stories” by Colleen

Even though my sons are fully grown, when my eldest was about to hitchhike from his home in Asheville, North Carolina, to where I live in Floyd, Virginia, I felt a twinge of motherly protectiveness.

The mother: “Do you have any mace? How about a swiss army knife? Do you carry one…just in case?
The son: “Mum, I’m fine. I’m alright with G-ah-d.”
The mother: “With who?”

Firstly, we are not a traditionally religious family and so his comment caught me off guard…but then he said it with a southern accent, one that he was so comfortable with that he didn’t understand why I would question the way he said "God."

I should explain that I was born in Massachusetts. My 2 sons were born in Texas. My son’s father was born in England and their step father is from Washington DC. Even though we’ve been living in Virginia since 1987, none of us have southern accents, except for my youngest son who hung out with local kids in high school and picked up the drawl, which I’m well used to now. But now my older son apparently has an accent too.

After a few exchanges, he finally understood what I was getting at when I asked, “You’re alright with who?”

The son: “Why, how do you say it?”
The mother: “I say G-aw-d, but don’t go by me and my Boston accent. Most people say “God.” Josh, you’ve been in Asheville too long! You have a southern accent!

Currently, my son is in England for the month, visiting his father’s side of the family, scouting out master potters in the country for a possible future apprenticeship, and picking up yet another accent, I suppose.

May 21, 2005

Better Than the Nature Channel

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After planting summer squash and mounding up potatoes, I went inside for my favorite breakfast – two farm fresh soft boiled eggs on half of a sprouted wheat bagel with plenty of butter. After eating, I was about to get on with my next task when I happened to look out my kitchen window and see a large turkey vulture and a black crow in my yard. So I got my cup of tea and pulled up a chair to watch.

Our dog Jazzy (pictured above) had killed a rabbit that morning and left it to rot. I figured the vulture and crow were negotiating for the meat. The vulture had the lion’s share and was trying to pull it into the woods, stopping every few seconds to look around or to nibble. The crow was nibbling too, on a smaller piece. Then it called out to other crows and flew up into the tree to wait.

Now the vulture had to reassess its plan. It stopped pulling and began eating as though time was running out, nervously looking around with each bite. How much can a vulture eat in one sitting? How long will the crows wait? I wondered. But nature won’t be put on pause and I had to get back to earning my own keep.

Update: An hour later, after checking the scene and thinking, “Oh the wonders of country living, right in my own backyard…” now there are 4 vultures waiting in line!

May 20, 2005

Three Wishes

There was a time when people would call me just to hear my latest answering machine message. The agency I worked for did not agree that my messages were entertaining. They wanted something more formal and informative. But I’m no longer doing full time foster care, so I’ve recently resumed my answering machine mischief.

My latest message simply says: Leave your 3 wishes after the magical beep. And these are some wishes from callers this past week:

~ From the Harvest Moon Food Store: I wish the price of your green tea that just came in didn’t go up by $3, but it did.

~ From my husband: I wish I was driving your car instead of the truck (see below post). I’m on my way to Blacksburg now.

~ Owner of the Café de Sol: I wish the Floyd Writers’ Circle would come to a spoken word night here.

~ My son from the road while hitchhiking from Asheville to Floyd: I wish I had a ride from Blountville, Tennessee, to Christiansburg, Virginia.

~ My husband again, who is of Irish descent, sang: I wish I was in Carrickfergus for a night in Ballygrand…I would swim the deepest ocean…only for a night in Ballygrand…But the sea is wide and I can’t swim over…and neither have I but wings to fly…

But the most common message left by callers this past week was: I wish you’d call me back.

Feel free to leave your own 3 wishes or your favorite answering machine message…

May 19, 2005

Two White Trucks

My husband’s job as a counselor has taken him out of town for trainings on two occasions recently. He takes my car – a black Honda CRV with the license plate that says L3T IT B – because it gets better gas mileage and is more comfortable on long trips than either of his trucks.

Enter the 2 white trucks that I’m left to drive when my husband has my car. I call them “The Odd Couple” and I wouldn’t want to be married to either one.

The older one is small. It doesn’t tend to start the first time you try. The driver’s door doesn’t close all the way and the whole vehicle rattles when you drive it. The other is a big rig for hauling our camper. It’s newer and reliable, but because it’s diesel, it’s smelly and loud, and not a bargain to fill up with gas anymore. One has no power steering and is like riding a wild bull, trying to get it to go where you want. In the other, the steering is loose, so loose that I feel I’m ice skating on gravel, up and down the back roads.

There is no lesser of two evils when I’m forced to choose which one to drive, so I alternate. I try to stay on the back roads and not drive at night. But sometimes I have to or want to. When I went to the workshop on “taking oral histories" last week, I drove the small truck. There was still plenty of daylight, but when it was time to go home, it was dark. Would the truck even start? I soon realized that I didn’t know where the headlight switch was. It took five full minutes of panic to find it.

On another occasion, I drove the big truck to a potluck dinner in honor of a friend who was moving. Holding on for dear life, I held my breath as I maneuvered the one lane dirt road that led from my house to my neighbor’s farm. And no matter where I parked, once I got there, the truck stuck out. Towards the end of this evening, my husband showed up, just off the road from Richmond. Everyone was happy to see him (especially me).

Can you guess which vehicle I drove home that night?

Post note: This is my first entry, thus far, that I might be inclined to hide from my husband, what with me dissing his trucks and all.

May 18, 2005

The Wedding

josh hitchhiker.png

I managed to burn a pot of vegetables before heading out to the weekend wedding. So now I smell like burnt carrots instead of lemon verbena (the scent of the soap I bathed with).

After a few choice curse words and setting the pot outside on the stone walkway to cool, I began to get dressed into something colorful, something from Floyd’s “Winter Sun Outlet Store.” But wait… Where is my husband?

I called his cell phone. He didn’t pick up, so I left a message: “I thought you were going to the landfill (2 hours ago). I guess you’re not going to the wedding. I suppose I’ll drive over to Katherine’s house and go with her,” I said while looking out the window. “No wait… My car isn’t here either.”

My son’s truck recently broke down. He had hitchhiked from Ashville to Floyd in order to go to the same wedding. The bride is a family friend and a former girlfriend of my son’s. I forgot that I let him use my car to attend a brunch at the farm up the road, where he was anxious to see some old friends.

Fifteen minutes before it was time to leave for the 2:00 nuptials, my husband and son both showed up, at which time chaos ensued. There were people eating food out of pans with their hands, people borrowing other people’s clothes, someone was cutting themselves while shaving, and everyone wanted to use the bathroom at the same time. (My friend Katherine who has 5 sons would later say when I told her this, ‘What people?! What? All three of you?!’)

The stress leading up to the wedding washed away once we arrived and immersed ourselves in the lush outdoor setting at “The Pond House,” where I had gone on a retreat last fall. A long runway aisle of white fabric ran alongside Easter Creek and led to a Mountain Laurel archway. At the end of the archway was a waterfall.

Waiting for the ceremony to start, everyone was becoming tense, looking up at the dark clouds that had moved in and were now hanging overhead. Eventually, the bride, looking like a vision, came down the aisle with her father and the service began. The crowd watched, intently quiet, until the bride and groom each said “I do” just as thunder clapped loudly in the background.

The couple kissed and headed back down the aisle, not a moment too soon. When they reached the end, the rain came pouring down. Everyone picked up their chair and ran for cover under the tents that were decked out with lights alongside the pond, where the band was warming up and the feast would soon begin.

Everything happens in its own time and sometimes just in the nick of it.

May 17, 2005

Happy Birthday To Ya

birthday cake.png

Maybe age is a clock to wake us from dreaming…Or maybe it is the dream…Like counting the number of pages in a book…when we should be reading the story...

I like to paint my toenails on my birthday. It’s usually just the right time to start wearing sandals, to put up the window screens and set out the ant traps. I mark my birthday by what flowers are blooming on May 17th. Lilacs in Massachusetts. In Virginia it’s Irises.

I lie about my age, usually by only a year, because I need a little leeway to get used to the number attached to my persona that my culture won’t let me forget.

We’re all hung up on age, like we’re hung up on time. We count things down to the nano second. I suspect that our ancestors weren’t so obsessive. They looked at the sky, and they knew the difference between morning, noon, afternoon, and night. Traditionally, Native Americans didn’t count their age. Neither did the Irish. And when they came to this country and it was socially accepted to count “birthdays” many of them lied, as my beloved and now deceased Irish aunt’s death certificates attest to.

Most of my friends don’t know exactly how old I am. So when I came out of the closet and read the following poem at the Pine Tavern Open Mic a few of years ago, some mouths dropped open.

After my on-stage confession about my age, I went back to lying. I like to keep my friends slightly confused.

A poem I wrote in my early 20’s goes like this:
I was born in Quincy in 1950
My father was in the Navy
and my mother was pretty

Are you doing the math in your head yet?
Here, want a pencil?

I lie about my age
like I save chocolate to eat later
like I don’t get a tattoo
don’t fill in “caucasian”
on a job application
or even want a job

Have you seen the new Saturday Night Live skit
with Molly Shannon in red polyester pants
pulled up around her breasts?
Big purse, Big hair (probably a wig)
She proudly announces, “I’M FIFTY!”
Then she kicks and does a split
(continue on next page)

How come older woman aren’t considered debonair?
And can you think of a male term for “old hag”?
How come men in their 60’s in Hollywood movies
are usually paired up with young chicks?

I’m writing this poem while I’m still 49
It’s called a loophole, a safety net
But it’s almost my birthday so I’ll make a wish
that we all stop keeping score
in a game where old people lose

How come age isn’t like art or poetry?
How come it’s hard cold facts?
A labeled box that never fits
A branded number that follows your name
And just when you get use to it - it changes!

The first time I heard about “The Change of Life”
was when Mrs. Coveny wandered in our yard
and splashed in our wading pool fully clothed
“What does it mean?” I asked my mother
Something that happens when your 50

In high school the year 2000
sounded like science fiction
But I did the math and then announced
“Yeah, I’ll probably still be around
but I’ll be so old!”

Age is a strange orbit spinning on its axis
We know it’s moving but we can’t feel it
Then we arrive and ask “How did we get here?”
Do I have to be 50? Am I really?

I remember the invention of panty hose
more than the moon walk
and electric curlers more than computers
Before that it was garter belts
and sleeping on coke cans

I always thought 50 was my Aunt Gertie
bobby pins and elastic waist pants
But what do I know?
I was raised on sitcoms and the generation gap
What do I know?
I haven’t even had my first hot flash or mid-life crisis

My father used to say
that my mother was like wine
better with age
We laughed and said
“Don’t trust anyone over 30”
What did we know?!

“50 years old” sounds so final
So let’s just say “I’m 50 rotations around the sun”

I’m not cured of lying
or secretly counting
I need glasses to read
but not to see the girl within
myself and other women

I have to write lists
of “things not to forget”
but those are just details not meanings

Turning 50 feels like second puberty
only this time I’m aware of it
and taking good notes

A poem I wrote when I turned 50’s goes like this:
I was born in Quincy in 1950
Daughter of Bebe and Babsy
Child of the 60’s
Niece of Gertie

I’m the mother of young men
in the year 2000!
Loving partner to my true husband
and true to myself
What more could I ask for?

Maybe age is a clock to wake us from dreaming
Or maybe it is the dream
Like counting the number of pages in a book
when we should be reading the story

May 16, 2005

Can You See Me Now?

The meter is ticking... When asked by a fellow blogger if my stats had gone up after Loose Leaf was listed in the Roanoke Times "Blogging in Southwest Virginia" list, and after my friend, Fragments Fred, who was also listed, told me his had gone up, I had to admit that I didn’t know anything about blog stats and that it was time to learn more about them. So I did some investigation; then I picked Fred’s brain a little, which resulted in a brand new stat counter on my site effective as of last Wednesday.

I don’t think there’s any going back, once one has a site meter or a stat counter, but I also think it’s a mixed blessing, one that makes me ask, “Is anything off the record?” It’s helpful and sometimes a kick to know where your blog hits are coming from, anywhere from as far away as Egypt, Turkey, and Switzerland to Canada and Mexico in the first couple of days, I discovered. But it also makes me feel a little bit snoopy.

On the other hand, I also feel slightly exposed. While a stat counter can’t tell you who has visited your site (Thankfully. That’s more than I can handle knowing), it can, in most cases, tell you what country and city they’re from, what link they were referred to your site by, how long they stay logged on, and how many pages they looked at. Through stat counts, a blogger can discover that she may have what is referred to as “lurkers,” people who spend a lot of time on her site but don’t leave comments.

I also found out through my research (Who Links Here?) that some of the comments I’ve left on other people’s sites have turned up on google and other searches engines. While I realize that my blog entries are on the record, I don’t think of my comments as such. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a subversive streak in me. Will my blogging habits come back and haunt me someday?

Mostly the stat counter is useful and fun, and the most fun part of it is that I got to call my Asheville potter son – who loves the Red Sox and likes to use the word “stats” at least a few times a day – to say, “I’ve got stats!” I also wanted to report that two people found my site by googling his name! Who knew?!

May 15, 2005

A Small World

I attended a workshop on “taking oral histories” sponsored by Floyd’s “Old Church Gallery” this past Thursday night. At one point during the program, the presenter said something to the effect of: ‘You might be one of those people who starts writing the story before it’s finished happening, one who lives more for the story than for the actual event.’

I laughed and nodded my head knowingly, because I recognized myself in his statements. Then, remembering the message on a T-shirt I saw posted on “Dooce,” I glanced over to a friend from my writers’ workshop and mouthed the words: “I’m Blogging This.”

About 20 people participated in the workshop. During the break, we ate macaroons and pretzels, at which time a fair-haired acquaintance approached me and said, “I understand that you were first published at the age of 11 with a letter that said, ‘Dear Abby, How can I get rid of freckles?’ What I want to know is, what was her answer?”

After getting over the initial shock that she knew that much about me, and then remembering she was recalling one of my trademark sayings that could have been read in several different publications, I tried to answer. But first, I had to confess that my memory is spotty and that as a child I was known to have “pipe dreams.”

I began, “I can’t guarantee that she answered me. I know I wrote the letter, but I didn’t read the newspaper at that age on any regular basis. So how would I even know if it got published? The point was more that even at that young age, I recognized the power of my own voice and the written word. But…I vaguely remember…I think the answer had something to do with a lemon,” I guessed.

“Yes! That’s it! That was the answer!” she exclaimed, and then continued. “I don’t remember your letter, but I read Dear Abby regularly as a young girl, and I remember that answer.” She went on to recount how she had tried using lemons to get rid of her own freckles. It was cold, sticky, and stinging, she remembered. Also, it didn’t work. We both laughed at the unlikely connection we had, reading ‘Dear Abby,’ and knowing firsthand that some young girls don’t like having freckles.

May 14, 2005

The Boot

parkway boot.png
Don’t get me wrong. I really do love my husband…

The boot is from LL Bean. It’s all-leather, waterproof, and not clunky. It’s good for hiking as well as city walking and can be worn with pants or a skirt if need be. It’s almost 10 years old, and at the time of purchase, it costs about $70.

I love my boots, but they’re getting old, and LL Bean doesn’t carry them anymore. I’ve spent the last couple of years looking for a replacement for this all-purpose comfortable boot. Unfortunately, functional waterproof footwear is geared towards men, and the little that is available for women is high-tech and specific. Why is it we’re encouraged to change our shoes for every kind of activity? It’s good for the shoe business, I suppose, but not for my cluttered closet. And I don’t want to travel with half a dozen pairs of shoes.

Why is it every time I find a product I like and then later try to buy another one, it’s not available anymore? It’s a good thing we’re not as fickle with our mates as we are with what we wear, and it’s good that our mates don’t wear out as fast as our boots do. Fortunately, most of us prefer the tried and true over the new (and supposed) improved. I wish manufacturers would understand that.

If anyone has a tip on a comfortable waterproof walking boot, let me know. I really do love my boots.

May 13, 2005

Not the Mailman

Today I got an escort while driving down Woods Gap Road by a young deer that didn’t know any better. Acting more like a rabbit, and not that much bigger than a large one, it zigzagged on the road before settling down onto a straight path directly in front of my car. I figured it was so young that maybe it hadn’t seen a car before. I was glad I had avoided hitting it.

After the fawn finally ducked back into the woods, I passed by the house that belonged to the family whose car I did hit, once. This is more the point of the story and a one I’ve been thinking about since Michele posed the question weeks ago on her blog: “What are your driving pet peeves?”

A few years ago, I was coming home from town in my old Honda Accord, driving behind an even older car that was traveling at a snail’s pace. We were about to approach a house where some new folks were moving in. The man driving in front of me was oddly placed, sitting on the right side of his car. Maybe he was a postman or had a car from Europe where the steering wheel is on the right side.

There was no blinker signaling a left turn, but the car began to veer left, heading for a mailbox, I thought. Many people out here in the country drive up to their mailboxes to collect their mail. I pulled up to pass on the right, anxious to be rid of the pokey driver (I know it’s against the law, but he was going so slow and the laws on Floyd’s back roads are hardly adhered to). Suddenly, the car made a wide turn to the right. It was too late. I hit it.

With adrenaline coursing through my veins, I got out of my car to see the damage I had done. I was shocked when I saw a skinny young boy, not more than 9 years old, open the door on the right side of the car I had just hit. Where did he come from? It took a few seconds to register that he had obviously been the one driving and was too small to be seen from behind. (I told you the laws governing country road driving are loose.)

I lost a hub cap, and the boy’s mother came out and yelled at him. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t yell at the man who let him drive(not the postman or from England). The dent I caused was minor and even if it wasn’t what were they going to do, call the police and report that their 9 year old boy was driving?

To this day, I pass by the scene of the accident almost on a daily basis. It’s just part of my route to town. I can’t help but look for the boy (and my hubcap). Sometimes he’s out in the yard. For some reason, we don’t wave, but I can’t help but notice that he’s much taller these days. Moral: Don't always believe what you see.

Post Note: I was reminded by a reader that today is Friday the 13th. Sean at http://seans.typad.com asks: Are you triskaidekaphobic? Thanks for the vocabulary lesson, Sean.

May 12, 2005

Talking to My Irises

birthday iris.png

(AKA: Why is my face on a billboard?!)
The first time I saw an Iris flower, I was probably 7 years old. It was growing on the side of a big old abandoned house that was destined to be torn down by the time I was a teenager. I thought it was an orchid. It was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen, and so unlikely to be growing next to a house that all the kids in my Hull Village neighborhood thought was haunted.

Years ago, I read somewhere that talking to your plants helps them to grow. At that time, I was reading a variety of metaphysical fare, such as “The Aquarian Conspiracy” by Marilyn Ferguson. And so, the idea of plants responding to the human voice only seemed to confirm what I was already coming to accept, that there’s more going on in this world than what we can actually see. I have since fallen away from metaphysical studies – where science and spirit meet – although I still hold an interest in such things.

I have to confess to those who read my recent post “Brunch at Tupelo Honey,” in which I announce that blogging has cured me of shopping, that I actually did buy one item before leaving Asheville, North Carolina, where I was visiting my eldest son. It was a book, of course (who can resist buying at least one book in Asheville’s wonderfully independent bookstore called Malaprops?).

The book is titled “The Hidden Messages in Water” and was written by Dr. Masaru Emoto. At first, flipping through the pages, I thought it was full of snowflake photographs. I love snowflakes and would like to learn more about them, which is why I was drawn to the book. But it wasn’t about snowflakes. It was about how water responds to human intention and particularly to the spoken word.

According to Dr. Emoto (whose work was presented in the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?!), speaking kind, encouraging, or prayerful words to natural water causes it to respond by forming beautiful symmetrical crystallized patterns. If you speak harshly to the same water, the crystals don’t form. In one exercise the author, who uses a high speed camera and microscope in a very cold room, photographed the changing expression of water as it responded to the words “Let’s do it,” and then to “Do it.” Apparently, the forces of nature don’t respond well to commands of force because “Do it” produced a flat, dull image; whereas “Let’s do it” resulted in brilliant snowflake patterns.

The implications that water responds to the human voice is enormous. If water responds to kindness, what doesn’t?

When my family and I moved into our log home on the Blue Ridge Parkway over 10 years ago, we inherited several beds of perennials, one being a large outcropping of purple iris. Over the years, the May blooming irises have petered out. I can now count the ones that bloom on one hand. Too little sun? Do they need fertilizer? Or are they just reaching the end of their lifespan?

I don’t know what’s got into the Iris, but on my morning walks in the garden, I’ve taken to talking to them gently, telling them how beautiful they are. Is that what the birds are doing in the spring, singing the flowers into bloom?

About the photo: I looked through my photo albums and this is the only picture I could find of an iris. The picture is way bigger than I intended to post (my computer skills have been on an uphill learning curve) and was taken on my birthday in 1997. I cropped my husband out because he was making a goofy face (and was also wearing an iris in his hair). I bet you want to see it now. This year I’ll make sure to photograph the 5 brave Iris flowers that have decided to bloom. I think it will help their self-esteem and encourage more to follow suit.

Blogette Award

"Loose Leaf" is in the running for a Blogette Award, “a publicly-chosen award for the best female-oriented weblog/website/journal.” The contest runs from May 1st to June 25th and there is a prize$ involved. I first heard about the Blogette at Blogcruiser, and then again at Being Me. I shamelessly nominated myself (yes, you can do that), more with the expectation to meet other women bloggers than to win. I also wanted to introduce my “still so new” site to others. I’m slowly making my way down the list of nominated entries and there are some fine blogs in the mix to read. If you like "Loose Leaf" and want to vote for it, go here. Scroll down the alphabetical list and click on “Loose Leaf,” just like Dorothy clicked her ruby red slippers together to find her way home. Don’t forget to check out some of the other nominated blogs while your there.

May 11, 2005

Have You Seen the Moon?

I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it. ~ Albert Einstein

A Fingernail of Moon

A fingernail moon
painted silver
has landed upright
in a wide-mouth bowl

Clipped close from the darkness
the moon is filed down
to a delicate sliver
of smiling light

An 80% water and 20% mineral proportion is about the same in the elements of the earth’s surface as in human beings. Our body fluids respond to the lunar tide cycles especially those of the new and full moon, and may result in neuromuscular irritability or excitement, depending on the individual. ~ From “Moon Moon” by Ann Kent

May 10, 2005

House Devours Bread Truck


I was sitting on the porch of the North Star Day Program (a facility for people with developmental disabilities) across the street from the house in the photo when we heard the crash. Soon after, a man came running down the sidewalk from a nearby house to offer help, or so we thought. It turned out that the man was the driver. He had fallen out of the truck. The truck then careened down the hill, driving itself, until the house got in its way and stopped it. It helps to know that it was a bread truck, open on the driver’s side the way UPS trucks often are. But even knowing that, it’s hard to grasp how someone could fall out. No one was hurt, but everyone was amazed. The driver was concerned about getting fired from his job.

An alternative title to this entry could be: Why I like Non-fiction. Although I understand that truths can be told through fiction and that non-fiction is filtered through personal perception, I am generally drawn towards reading memoirs, biographies and history. I like poetry, humor, and essays that draw from real life because life is so much stranger than fiction. Let’s face it, life is funny, and I like that we never know what’s going to happen next.

May 9, 2005

The Company I Keep

At Oddfella’s Cantina this past Friday night, the music was Irish and the special was halibut. We were a table of 9, about half women, half men, ranging in age from 25 to 65. I passed a notebook around the table for a new take on “10 Things I’ve Done That You Probably Haven’t.” The question posed was “Name One Thing You’ve Done That I Probably Haven’t.” Below are the answers that were given (one being mine):

~ I pet and fed an eel in a fresh water stream in Papua New Guinea that emptied into the sea.
~ Adventuring in college, I crawled through a 100 ft. tunnel in a cave on my stomach that was so narrow and small that I could not lift my shoulder while dragging myself through.
~ I prayed at the Wailing Wall and had a Mexican date me just cause I was a red-head.
~ I wrote 50 songs
~ I participated in a peyote ceremony with the Northern Cheyenne in Montana.
~ I walked at treetop level on a walkway in a temperate rain forest in Australia.
~ I rode at full gallop on a mountain pony at 11,000 feet in the Andes without holding on.
~ I birthed 5 sons at home, the first two being twins!
~ One cold winter, it warmed up enough that I ice skated naked on a frozen pond.
Feel free to add one of yours...

May 8, 2005

Flower Power


The Boasting Crocus
woke us in spring
The dandelions are next
ready for roaring

Walking back from the mailbox yesterday morning, after spending more time on the computer than I intended to, I had a revelation: The border (in this case a fence) between my neighbor’s property and mine is like the difference between New York’s Niagara Falls and the ones in Canada. (For those of you who haven’t been there, and at least in 1978 when I saw them, there is a distinct difference between the US and the Canadian falls areas. The Canadian side has more flowers, is more landscaped and well kept.)

By looking at the leaves collected on my side of the fence and the lack of them on his side, I have to deduce that my neighbor rakes leaves or uses a leaf blower. I rake leaves too, but only in the spring and only to dig out my flower gardens. Eventually leaves break down on their own.

My neighbor doesn’t seem to have many dandelions in his grass either. Dandelions out in the country, where we’ve never gotten a single trick-or-treater because we’re so far off the road and where I can't see my neighbors' houses and they can't see mine, don’t bother me (unless they start taking over my vegetable garden). I keep thinking about the medicinal properties in the dandelion root, all that iron, although, I haven’t yet found the time to harvest a single one.

I usually tell myself and others that I lose complete control of my vegetable garden somewhere in July and especially if I’ve been gone a week or two on vacation. But the sad truth is I never had control. And I don’t now. There are too many reasons not to mulch or weed; too wet, too dry, too cold, no time. Even so, my garden produces a lot of food and I spend more time on it than I do my (can I use the word lawn here?)…yard.

Right now our riding lawnmower is broken (isn’t it almost always the case?) and my sister Kathy is coming from Massachusetts to visit, which is why I’m particularly tuned into to how nice my neighbor’s property looks, compared to mine. I’m happy for him that his yard looks so nice. I don’t know how he does it. He has 15 acres to mow, I only have 3. I bet he doesn’t have a blog distracting him from his chores. He probably doesn’t even have a computer.

P.S. Happy Mother's Day to my mother who I know is out working in her garden.

May 7, 2005

What’s a Blog?

Legend has it that Peter Merholz coined the word “blog” when he published a side note to his website in the spring of 1999. “I’ve decided to pronounce the word ‘weblog’ as ‘wee-blog.’ Or ‘blog’ for short.” Today the word blog is in the Oxford English Dictionary. ~ From “Who Let the Blogs Out” by Biz Stone

I’m still trying to explain what a blog is to the people in my life.

To my mother who doesn’t own a computer:

Me: (over the phone) Ma, if you picked up a magazine and saw an article titled “Where I’m From” by Colleen Redman, you’d gladly read it, right? Well, a blog is the same thing, only you read it on the computer. You’d be surprised how many people get their information from computers today.
She: (still confused) “I really like that “Where I’m From” poem you wrote and sent to us.”

To the Floyd librarian, as I’m checking out a book called “Who Let the Blogs Out.”

She: Have you ever read a blog?
Me: (laugh) Yes, I have one.
She: (surprised) Isn’t it tedious? There are so many.
Me: You find the ones that interest you. For example, mine’s a writer’s journal, so other writers might find it interesting... You would probably like Fred’s, Doug’s, or mine because we often write about Floyd.

Driving home I continue to explain blogs to the librarian (and even to myself), ruminating the subject over in my mind:

Me: (knowing she’s a gardener) If you pick up a gardening magazine, you’ll get your standard gardening articles. You’ll browse through and find one that’s relevant to you. And what if, after you read it, you could instantly ask the author questions? If it was written on a blog, you could do that. A good gardening blog might offer knowledge and advice, along with insight into the author and some background information, all presented in a personal way. You could share resources and gardening links and look at posted photos of end results. Before you know it, you could be communicating with a whole community of gardeners from all over the country or even the world.

When I was researching new studies and treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I got the best information from message boards. I went directly to the source, the people who have CFS. Not only did they offer me support and cutting edge information, they knew who the best doctors were, what worked and what didn’t. The message board people had no vested interests to protect, and so shared information freely and without motive. Bloggers are free agents as well. Biz Stone, the author of the library book I checked out, rightly calls blogging “peer to peer publishing.” A blog is a writer’s publication that cuts out the middle men.

Me: (still explaining) Now replace the word gardening with anything else you might be interested in, home schooling, sports, technology, art, at home mothering…you name it. Type the word of your interest and the word “blog” into a search engine and see what you can find.

Post to note: “Blog” might be in the dictionary now, but my spell check hasn’t heard the news.

May 6, 2005

The Shadows

shadows 2.png
I’m a mandala in your eye
a sunflower dancing
on black scrying mirror
where the sun and moon are lovers

I’ve always felt that the world of reflections was more interesting than the literal world, in the same way that physical reality seems to be the watered down version of my imagination. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been fascinated with shadows (particularly those made by the moon, which is really sunlight, reflected). I would gaze at mirror images of trees and clouds in a still pond and wonder which world was real. Why is it that we consider physical matter to be more real than shadows, reflections, or dreams?

It’s no wonder that taking shadow shots is my favorite way to capture self-portraits. In this one, my husband is included. It was taken at St. Augustine Beach in Florida during one of our winter camp-on-the-beach trips. I was reading “The Complete Fairy Tales” by George McDonald at the time. McDonald wrote for the psyche in contrast to Victorian superficiality in the 1800s. He was a peer of Lewis Carroll and an inspiration to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Below is an excerpt from a McDonald fairy tale called “The Shadows.” The shadows of men, and women, and their children - as opposed to those of “chairs and tables, and pokers and tongs” - are confronting the king, whom they have been stalking. Keep in mind that fairytales, like myths, are lies that tell the truth:

“Sire, began the Shadow, “our very existence is in danger. The various sorts of artificial light, both in houses and in men, women, and children, threaten to end our being. The use and the disposition of gaslights, especially high in the centres, blind the eyes by which alone we can be perceived. We are all but banished from towns. We are driven into villages and lonely houses, chiefly of farm-houses, out of which, even our friends the fairies are fast disappearing. We therefore petition our king, by the power of his art, to restore us to our rights in the house itself, and in the hearts of the inhabitants.”

“But,” said the king, “you frighten the children.”

“Very seldom, your majesty; and then only for their good…” the Shadow answered.

Henry Havelock Ellis says: “Dreams are real as long as they last, can we say anymore about life?”

May 5, 2005

30 Seconds of Fame

I received an unexpected phone call from my husband yesterday morning. He was calling to report that someone had seen me on the local nightly news. No, I wasn’t pulled over for an overdue inspection sticker or for writing poetry while driving. It seems that WDBJ-7 was doing a news report on regional blogs and mine was included in the report, or at least, as my husband retells it, my blog title and photo flashed on the TV screen, proving once again that blog connections work in the most mysterious ways.

I tried to find out more about the story at the WDBJ website and wasn’t able to. But my search led me to the Roanoke Times “Columnists” page. Here I discovered my photo on a sidebar with a caption that read “Featured Blog.” Wow, did I win something? Nobody told me.

I knew that my blog was included in the Roanoke Time’s “Blogging in Southwest Virginia” list, along with my fellow Floyd bloggers, Fred First and Doug Thompson, and handful of others from Roanoke and Blacksburg. But to be featured on another page was a total surprise. I figure The Roanoke Times blog list is where the TV station got the lowdown on Loose Leaf.

How cool is that? And hey, how come those news people haven’t left me any comments?

3:00 P.M. Post note: I just figured out what I won; a spot on Roanoke Time's online front page. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, it says: Blog: Home alone, with weary head screwed on right By Colleen Redman, in reference to recent posts.

May 4, 2005

United Muffler Music Appreciation

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I got an inspection sticker for my car today. When I arrived at the United Muffler shop in Floyd yesterday morning there was a line of cars with expired April stickers waiting to be inspected. My sticker had expired too, but the mechanic wasn’t available until the afternoon. So I made an appointment for 4:30 and got a “get out of jail free” business card. “If you get pulled over by the cops show them this card and tell them you have an appointment,” he said.

I have a special fondness for Floyd’s United Muffler. It’s where I was when I first discovered that I actually do like country music. I had been living in Virginia for about 15 years at the time. Originally from Massachusetts, not liking country music was part of my identity, so it was quite a revelation when I discovered that I did.

I was waiting on a new muffler when it happened. The Country Music Channel (CMT) was on TV showing music videos. Song after song gave me shivers, made me tear-up, smile, or feel like dancing. It was a refreshing change from rap music, I thought, and I especially liked the original use of lyrics. I didn’t actually go out and buy country music CDs after that (until the Dixie Chicks came along), but I found myself tuning in to the country music channels while driving in my car, for a change of pace.

Right here should be the end of this little story. But I had to go back. My car failed to pass inspection! It was because of a burned out “3rd brake light” bulb, which sounds about as useful as a $2 bill. I had to slink home with a prominently posted “no ghost/ghostbusters” type sticker on my car, and then slink back the next morning while trying not to be noticed.

There’s no longer a TV in the United Muffler waiting corner (it’s too small to call a waiting room), but all was not lost because I had to finish the interview with U2 that I had been reading in “Spin Magazine” the day before.

After reading, I turned to a page titled “Top 40 Best Albums of the Year.” Boy, am I out of touch. With band names like My Chemical Romance, Secret Machines, Snow Patrol, and Comets on Fire, I had only “heard of” 9 bands out of 40 on the list. My odds were even worse on the 10 best current albums list. I didn’t recognize one band. I found myself checking the date on the magazine to make sure the issue was of this decade, or not a hoax. Then I looked around for something familiar, like “The Rolling Stone” magazine maybe.

It took me 15 years to like country music and 2 days to get my new sticker. I’m good till May 06. But maybe my taste in music is outdated.

May 3, 2005

Parking Lot Poetry

Driving down route 8 to Christiansburg yesterday, I had to pull over at the Riner gas station because my mind was turned on like a faucet and I needed a notebook to catch it. My husband would like me to dictate my thoughts into a recorder. He thinks that would be safer than to scribble notes while I’m driving. But he is an auditory learner, and I’m kinesthetic, I tell him. I’m like Isaac Asimov who said, “Writing to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

I don’t need gas. Don’t need to go the bathroom. I need a notebook. So, I’m standing in a line of people with their arms full of six-packs, cigarettes, and snacks. I look out of place, waiting to pay, holding a single purple notebook, as though I had made a special trip for it.

I forgo the bag – not going to hide my habit – and rush back to the car like a crazy poet caught out in public without a notebook, dealing with an unpredictable and irresistible muse.


I cruise the Thesaurus
to pick up words
for an intercourse
of language

to loosen the Muse’s inhibitions
for a poem’s strong desire
to be written

~ From Muses Like Moonlight

May 2, 2005

Don’t Try This At Home

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Screwing one’s head on right

I’ve been dealing with something in the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome family for the past 25 years, although, you would hardly know it. I can do everything anyone else can, just less of it. I get “sensory overload” if I don’t carefully space out my activities, and if I overdo it and get in a deficit, I don’t bounce back quickly.

I recently said to my husband, after a particularly busy day, “I just can’t think straight!” The next morning I woke up with my first ever experience of VERTIGO. It reminded me of the time I paid $35 to ride on a glass bottom boat in the Florida Keys, only to get seasick and throw-up.

Fortunately, vertigo is more treatable than Chronic Fatigue, or tinnititus, which I also have to a small degree – or should I say “decibel.” The most common cause of vertigo is from crystallized calcium deposits in the inner ear canal. Prescribed exercises to dislodge the deposits have a high success rate; although when I do them, I feel like the guy in the above photo.

The photo came from my son. I convinced him to give it to me because I liked it so much. I wanted to take some similar shots myself, and I knew I wouldn’t remember the poses without the photo to remind me. Little did I know what personal significance the image would take on.

It’s been a week since vertigo knocked me for a loop. It’s improved, but hasn’t gone away. Even so, it didn’t stop me from dancing to my favorite local band, Foundation Stone, in town this weekend (although I wouldn’t attempt contra dancing now). At the dance, a girlfriend approached me, offering tissue paper to plug into my ears, which I accepted for the first time.

At a certain age loud music sounds louder, our eyes can’t read fine print, and some people become dizzy with vertigo, which makes me wonder and have to ask, “Didn’t we drink alcohol when we were young to feel like just like this?”

May 1, 2005

I’m Retired!

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Semi-retired, that is. And I have the RV ("The Star Trek Enterprise") to prove it.

In truth, I’m not old enough or wealthy enough to retire, but after raising two sons, who are out on their own now, and then doing full-time foster care for adults with disabilities for the past 8 years, my husband and I are finally “Home Alone,” officially, as of today.

Mothering was the highlight of my life, and I’ve been grateful for purposeful work that has provided me with a good income, but there is no empty nest syndrome going on here, and I feel like a kid busting out from the confinement of public school.

I do plan to keep my foster care license and do respite care for other providers, and my husband still has a full-time job (thank you very much). He keeps telling everyone, “She’s going to write full-time now.”

“No! Don’t say that,” I plead with him. “I can’t stand the pressure!”

Reaching this point has got me thinking about all the jobs I’ve had in the past. Even with my dislike of “9 to 5 jobs” that interrupt real life, I’ve had a pretty colorful work history. Including, in order of appearance and not counting the occasional payment for writing; I’ve been a downtown Boston boutique clerk, a nightshift nurse’s aide, a factory worker painting fire alarms, a day care teacher, a jeweler, a Grateful Dead vendor, a night watchman, and foster care provider.

But now I’m retired! And my new goal in life is to camp along beaches and drop shells into a jar at the end of the day, the way others drop in loose change.

"When nothing happens for a long time, people begin to assume that nothing ever happens. But, sooner or later, something always happens." ~Steven Lagavulin