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February 28, 2007

A Poet of 20 Carats

alexhoop2.jpg Four days before this past Christmas, I went to my friend Alex’s memorial service. She died on December 17th after a three-and-a-half year battle with eye melanoma, and after living for two years longer than her doctors expected. A large hoop with ribbons dangling from it dazzled in the sunny doorway of the Glade Church, in Blacksburg, where Alex had been an active member and where the memorial service took place. The minister spoke from the pulpit wearing a vestment adorned with butterflies. A large round mosaic that Alex had made with the word JOY in the center hung above the altar instead of the traditional crucifixion cross.

Sitting in the pew beside my close friend Alwyn, taking in the scene, I understood how Alex, a feminist and artist, had been drawn to the church, described in a hand-out as “a caring faith community, open and affirming in the free church tradition where worship and diversity is celebrated.”

Alwyn, who first met Alex through their mutual animal rights activisim, squeezed my hand during the eulogy as the minister was sharing Alex’s thoughts on death. Because she knew she was facing a premature death, Alex prepared the words she wanted to leave us all with. “Don’t think of me as dead,” the minister related Alex saying, “Think of me as making room for someone else to be born, like someone made room for me.” I reached up to my neck and ran my fingertips along the turquoise and jade gemstone necklace that Alex had made and gifted to me.

She was a realistic and brave person who rarely spoke about the toll that fighting cancer had on her. So when her husband, Paul, read her most recent poem about her struggle, Alwyn and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes. The poem, “The Balance Gets Tipped,” begins: I had not known which way to yearn … Was I to move toward life … Or towards death?

Paul continued reading … This morning I knew certainly … I curled my toes like a ballerina … I shook off the pain, sweat and shallow breathing of the night … I got a look in my eye … Like a horse that is going to bolt … While brushing my teeth … I took a few dance steps … Ready to fight for my life … I descended down the stairs … bent on breakfast. Alex was not the type to brood for too long. She was upbeat and always interested in learning what life had to teach.

alexjoy.jpg After the church service, everyone adjoined to a room for refreshments. There, while nibbling on cheese and crackers, I counted a dozen other necklaces that Alex had made hanging from the necks of other women. I asked about the hoop of ribbons, and Paul explained that Alex, always the artist, had requested the last week of her life that an array of colorful scarves be draped around her bedside, the bed she was confined to in the study of her home where family, friends, and hospice volunteers gathered to visit and care for her. She died before her wish could be fulfilled, so friends made something beautiful they knew she would approve of to hang in the church. On the ribbons people wrote their last words to Alex, along with blessings and condolences for her family.

Before leaving the church that day Paul and I promised each other that we would put together a booklet of Alex’s poetry in time for an art show the following month in her honor. I agreed to type the poems and email them back to Paul so that he and Alex’s daughter could print and bind them.

A few weeks later, I received from Paul two notebooks full of Alex’s handwritten poetry. Many of the older poems had appeared in the Museletter, a Floyd community forum, and I was familiar with them. I was particularly interested in the ones written in the last few years of her life that I hadn’t read because I was hoping to get some insight into how she managed to cope with the fight she endured.

I am permanently shut out of the pool of human normalcy … where most people splash unconsciously … All my joy in seeing this creation … is pinned on my one remaining eye … She revealed in a poem titled, “One Eye Shy.”

As she went on to describe how easy it was to lose her eye, in and out of surgery in a couple of hours, but how hard it was to get used to, I wondered why I never really looked at her prosthetic eye as we sat across from each other playing Scrabble. She seemed whole and not disabled to me.

I was newly shocked thirty times a day … By my halved vision … And the possibility of recurrence … It was like ogling the sword of Damocles … Inside the building … Wherever I moved … It followed … she wrote.

Choosing which poems to include in the collection and then typing them felt like being in Alex’s presence. Like her paintings, sculpture, and fiber art, her poetry strikes a balance between reverence and playfulness and inspires me to strive to do the same. With titles that include “How I Got on My High Horse and Never Got Off,” and “A Mother Daughter Memo,” her poems highlight the sense of humor she had, her love of animals, nature, and family.

In a poem called “A Poet of 20 Carats,” Alex’s description of a poet’s words as rare diamonds is reminiscent of the poetic ability that she possessed herself.

Ready to dazzle … Priceless, yet within reach … Formed under pressure … and …Bequeathed to the next generation, her poems are like those diamonds, and like the gemstone nuggets she used in the jewelry she made. Created to stand the test of time, Alex’s words radiate out, inviting others to enjoy their value and the insightful impressions they make.

Note that appeared in the most recent Museletter along with one of Alex’s poems : Alex was a past sister member of Floyd Woman’s Circle community. She passed away December 17th 2006 after a brave 3 ½ year battle with cancer. A Memorial Art Show featuring her multi-media art and the art of others is currently showing at the church she belonged to, the Glade Church in Blacksburg through March 25th. A booklet of Alex’s poetry is available for sale in Floyd at the New Mountain Mercantile, the proceeds of which will go to the Church Building Fund. You can also make a donation to the church fund in Alex’s name at 1600 Glade Rd, Blacksburg, VA 24060 or contact Colleen for a copy at credman@swva.net.

February 27, 2007

Paradise Globe

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The whole time I was in Cedar Key I felt like I was at the bottom of a snow globe. The birds flew up near the ceiling, and the clouds rolled across the width of it like snow falling and stacking. In the evening I sat at the edge of the bay’s shore where the tides tilted in and out and watched as a fat contented sun slipped off a shelf of clouds. It broke on the top of a tree-lined horizon, spilling a flood of orange light. Then in one subtle shift, as if someone holding paradise in their hands had gently tapped it, darkness descended in a hush.

February 25, 2007

Floyd’s Spoken Word Wakes Up!

brigittepoem.jpg Two stand-up comics, two children, one poet performing to the Indigo Girls singing Bob Dylan on a boom box, and another reading while standing on a chair made for a wild night at the Café Del Sol’s Spoken Word Open Mic. A total of twelve performed to a full house. At one point Sally, the café owner had to borrow chairs from the Winter Sun Hall to accommodate the overflowing numbers.

Sally, the master of ceremonies, opened the evening with a humorous re-write of the Beatles song “A Day in the Life.” After explaining how she read in the Floyd Press that the spoken word night was rescheduled because the café was closed for a week’s vacation, when they actually had been closed to work on the place, she sang, “ I cleaned the floors today…oh boy … see how the shiiiiine…”
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Regular readers Greg, Rosemary, Mara, Colleen, and Brigitte were joined by Bekah who came from Radford and performed her signature poem “Rebelution,” and Lezlie who was in town visiting from Louisa County and performed a spontaneous improvisational poem about Romeo and Juliet. Brigitte’s daughter sang and then recited her poem about frost. Mara’s daughter Kyla sang a beautiful song that she had worked on with her music teacher, Kari, who was in the audience.

Ever since Bekah read a poem last summer while standing on a chair, I’ve wanted to do the same. I had just the poem that would work, but it was an old one that I initially couldn’t find … Everything’s going up … the prices … the stakes … the cancer rates …

I found it that very day, and when I saw that Bekah was back, I knew I had to do it. The ozone hole is growing … violent crime is rising … the greenhouse effect is warming … the temperature is climbing …
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It’s called the Wake-up Call and was performed by Jayn, Katherine, and I back in the days of Women of the 7th Veil, a poetry improv troupe we started. Everything’s building up … the population … the pressure … the city skyscraper ...

I think maybe we performed it standing on chairs back then, but I can’t remember for sure. Cholesterol … traffic … the arms race … the pace!

I started out sitting, followed by standing, and ended up on top of a nearby chair. We better get up too … wake up …stand up … speak up …and grow up …

Before it all goes up in smoke …
“And I am on a chair!” I concluded and later wondered if I should have invited the audience to stand on theirs.
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If the crowd wasn’t standing on their chairs for my reading, they were falling out of them laughing while Mrs. Pickle, our last performer, did her stand-up comedy routine.

After a short intermission, giving some of the most innocent ones in the room the option to leave early, Mrs. Pickle, an elderly church going character who recently lost her husband, took to the mic. What began as a little Mrs. Pickle chat led to a hilarious uproar, as she related her latest adventures in the never-too-late world of sex experimentation.
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All blushing aside, the comedian behind the purveyor of passion paraphernalia, known as Mrs. Pickle, delivered a top notch performance with well written jokes, good timing and an ability to ad-lib and interact with the expressive audience.

Next month, the third Saturday Spoken Word night falls on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. I think everyone should put on some green and come out to share pint with the neighborhood poets and bards.

Photos: 1. Brigitte reads poetry to her daughters. 2. Leslie serenades. 3. Colleen stands up. 4. Mrs. Pickle tickles our funny bone. 5. The crowd responds. Read more about Floyd's Spoken Word night HERE. Scroll down.

February 24, 2007

Fly By

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1. Discipline
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2. Isolation
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3. Culture Clash
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4. Air force
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5. Off Duty

Post note: All the above photos were taken during our recent vacation in Cedar Key, Florida. The last one is called the “honeymoon hotel” by the locals.

February 23, 2007

On the Dotted Line ...

joshsignsll.jpg As of yesterday, my Asheville Potter son who loves the Red Sox is the proud owner of a green folder full of papers with lawyer “language” that says he owns 1.8 acres of land in Madison County, North Carolina. He bought the land from a man named Rob, an artist who appreciates Josh’s art, who lives on adjoining land, and who has gone out of his way to offer guidance to Josh and help make this a reality.

“Was Rob there?” I asked.

“Yes, he brought me some eggs and then when the lawyer left the room we stole some pens,” Josh answered.

Spoken like a true Floyd boy.

Post note: Josh will soon begin construction of a pottery studio and kiln with the Windgate Fellowship money he was awarded. Currently, he’s living on Rachel and Annabelle’s sun porch while renovating what he calls “The Yacht," an Airstream trailer which he’ll live in during construction. You can see some of Josh’s work HERE and read more HERE.

February 22, 2007

13 Thursday Thaw

13treelimbs.jpg 1. We left the white sandy beaches of Florida for a solid floor of ice and empty birdfeeders in Floyd.

2. Because Virginia falls somewhere in between being a southern and a northern state and our winter weather can’t decide whether to rain or snow, we are prone to have ice storms.

3. I can tell by the condition of the ice cream in my freezer that our power wasn’t out for as long as the rest of Floyd County. The number of tree branches in my yard that came down because they couldn’t withstand the weight of the ice tells me that the storm was a pretty bad one.

4. Joe and I watched the Grammy’s in the RV park clubhouse in front of a roaring fire. Here’s what one reporter said about the Dixie Chick’s sweeping win: It appeared that 2007's Grammy voters were in a mood to send a political message in support of freedom of expression as the Dixie Chicks swept the Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year awards for their album Taking the Long Way and the song "Not Ready to Make Nice.”

5. Not only has Former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” been nominated for an Academy Award, Gore has been nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work educating people about global warming.

6. Sometimes speaking truth to power is rewarded in the end. I hope the weak-willed Democrats who voted to give Bush a blank check to invade Iraq are paying attention.

7. I don’t know who came up with the myth that storks deliver babies, but after being in Cedar Key and seeing storks and pelicans up close, I think it makes more sense that pelicans should deliver babies since they have a pouch to carry them in.

8. The only reading I managed to get done while on vacation was from restaurant place mats, tourist guides, and interpretive trail signs.

9. Everyone on the Love-link – our family group email that started when my brother Dan was sick – is playing THIS, “Superman Returns” a frustrating and fun game. Apparently, my eight year old nephew, Patrick, is out-scoring everyone with record breaking highs.

10. This is what I said about my relationship with Patrick in a past blog post: We both enjoy the goofy, the gooey, and the giddy.

11. I love those opportune typos, or "Floydian Slips" as we call them in Floyd. I just re-read an email that I wrote to Alex’s husband Paul in which I call the Glade Church that Alex belonged to “Glad Church.” I think that fits since the church is based in celebrating the arts and feminism.

12. Mrs. Pickle, the purveyor of passion paraphernalia for women who I blogged about last month will be doing stand-up comedy at the Café Del Sol’s Spoken Word Open Mic this Saturday. She wants to be a “super hero to women all over the world,” she told me recently in an email.

13. If you’re no good at the Superman game, try THIS one, compliments of Sherry.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here. Enjoy the warmer weather!

February 21, 2007

Here’s the Thing

manatereflect.jpgIn the past month I’ve been to two doctors and have had four drugs prescribed, all of which I have declined to take.

A New Year brought a new array of symptoms on top of the ones related to Chronic Fatigue that I’ve been managing for years. The worst new symptom had me worried about my heart when angina-like pain woke me at night more than once. The first doctor suspected acid reflux and, although I didn’t have any heartburn, when I put all my combined symptoms together, I agreed. But I declined the little purple pill, and opted for a round of pro-biotics, enzymes, and aloe vera with good results so far.

When my blood work came back and it was discovered that my cholesterol had suddenly shot up 100 points, I was offered at statan drug to lower it, along with an anti-depressant, just to see if I’d feel better on one. The doctor, to her credit, was interested in ruling out things that might be responsible for my long term Chronic Fatigue symptoms. Once she discovered that my thyroid tests were not completely normal (I told her they wouldn’t be) due to the antibodies I make against my thyroid, she referred me to an endocrinologist.

I was treated for hyper-thyroid in 1994, so seeing an endocrinologist wasn’t new to me. While on medication (PTU) then to block the production of thyroid hormone, my fatigue was greatly relieved, but as soon as I went off it my symptoms came back. That endocrinologist had no suggestions for improving the way I felt once my thyroid levels returned to the normal range (even though I was still making anti-bodies).

Okay, so now it turns out that my thyroid levels are on the low side. They’re not low enough to treat, I was told, but “they may be too low for you,” the new endocrinologist told me, as he was comparing my current levels to those of a few years ago. Then he suggested I go on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)! HRT is something I had no intention of using even before the recent findings on the risks involved with taking it came out. If I had dramatic symptoms that I thought could be helped by it, I’d consider it, but I don’t and I haven’t.

Thirty-five years of troubling symptoms that don’t fit in standard disease category is a lot of baggage to carry into a doctor’s office. Each doctor has to start from square one. Most of my symptoms aren’t new to me, but as a new patient, I sometimes feel like some doctors think I was born yesterday. If I could just transmit everything I’ve learned and tried over the years, we might be able to get on the same page, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I wasn’t sure that I was getting through to the doctor that I was a low-maintenance patient, one who wasn’t interested in the treadmill run-around of taking medicines with possible side effects sometimes worse than the symptoms they’re supposed to be treating, so I told him.

“I’ve had most of my CFS symptoms since I was in mid 20’s,” I said. “And I’ve been taking Don Quai to balance my hormone levels and it’s been working fine.”

When he made light of an alternative therapy to improve adrenal function to an intern who was also in the room, I said, “The people who try alternative therapies are those who haven’t been helped by the mainstream medicine. And if the treatments bring relief, why not?”

According to “Solved the Riddle of Illness,” a book by Dr. Stephen Langer about the relationship between thyroid disease and many other diseases, I fit the profile of someone with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimito’s is an autoimmune disorder that can cause the thyroid to go hyper or hypo at different times of life. I wondered why the doctor didn’t suggest trying a low dose of thyroid hormone (something that has no risk) instead of HRT (something that does). But it wasn’t until I got home and pulled out “Solved The Riddle of Illness” (I wish it really was that easy), a book that I read many years ago, that I discovered all the new symptoms – slowed digestion, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, and even the spike in cholesterol – could be related to low functioning thyroid.

When it was time to leave the treatment room, I picked up my coat and pocketbook and followed the doctor out, walking down the wrong way through the hallway. “You’re going the wrong way,” he pointed out.

“Oh, I have dyslexia too. Do you have a pill for that?” I joked.

He laughed, but I could see that he also seemed to be pondering what pill he could suggest.

February 20, 2007

A Line to the Goddess

blackmaddonall.jpgDear Goddess of the spreading starry skies … whose shawl is the northern lights … and whose shoes are the polar ice floes …. Lead us ever in circles … Don’t stop dancing with us … Should disastrous death try to cut in … like an asteroid tapping on your shoulder … keep whirling … We don’t mind if our toes get stepped on … We’re having the time of our lives … ~ Excerpt from “A Line to the Goddess,” a poem by Alex Wind.

My friend and Scrabble partner Alex, who died this past December of eye melanoma, was an only child; a daughter who had one daughter of her own, and one granddaughter. Alex was revolutionized in the presence of a Black Madonna with Child on a trip to Poland in the 1990’s, and she incorporated the experience in her art. For her Master’s in Fine Arts Thesis, she sculpted a life-size Black Madonna with child, which was on display at the opening of her memorial art show this past weekend at the Glade Church in Blacksburg. alexcollageblackmaddona.jpg

My Floyd friends, Katherine and Jayn, who have studied with the Machi (female shamans) of Chile, opened the show with a kultrun drumming and a four directions blessing. Alex’s husband, Paul, and I read selections of her poetry from the poetry booklet we worked on together, and then the chapel floor was opened up for the sharing of Alex stories, which highlighted her sense of humor, her love of animals, family, and art.

Even though Alex’s relationship with her own mother was less than ideal, the bonds between mother and child were an ongoing theme in her life and her art. The last thing I did before leaving the art show was to give Alex’s daughter, Chandra, a big hug. I whispered in her ear a reminder that her mother was as close as the very DNA she carries inside her body.

But I understand that Chandra is not likely to be comforted by the thought of such things at this early stage in her grieving. I remember after my brothers Jim and Dan died whenever someone would make a comment about them being “in a better place,” I’d think, “Where? Can you show me?” Even though I wasn’t convinced they were in a better place, I appreciated every effort, no matter how awkward, that each person made to acknowledge the loss I felt. Their caring intention transcended any words that were used. kjcoll.jpg

In the end, I was the one who was comforted but what I said to Chandra, because of what she said to me in return. After acknowledging that she still feels inconsolable, she said, “I’ve been so much more aware of and thankful for my daughter since losing my mother.”

I know Alex would be comforted to know that the love she had for her daughter will be passed on, and that her granddaughter, who seems to have inherited her grandmother’s artistic flair, will be cherished.

Photos: 1. Alex’s Black Madonna and Child sculpture. 2. One in a series of Black Madonna collage prints that Alex did and which are now on show at the Glade Church in Blacksburg. 3. Colleen, Katherine, and Jayn at Alex’s Memorial Art show.

February 19, 2007

Vultures and Dead Jellyfish

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By the time we arrived in Manatee Springs, Florida, about an hour north of Cedar Key, the weather had changed and it was cold enough that I had to wear gloves to hold my camera. I couldn’t get a shot of the manatees because only their noses came out of the 70 degree crystal spring water. I had better luck photographing a heron that was stalking its next meal.
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The gangs of vultures that also inhabited the state park were more than willing to pose. At night they gathered together and roosted in the trees by the hundreds. During the day, they brazenly mulled about as if they were at a convention.
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The people who created the interpretive signs on the long walkway out to the river have a good sense of humor. One sign warns against contracting squirrelitis, the feeding of wild animals. There's a mirror attached to the sign to show who is most likely to catch the disease.
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We noticed about ten German campers and met some of their owners who were on a 5 month tour of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. One German woman expressed, in broken English, her horror at the poverty she saw while touring through Mexico, as witnessed by all the dead dogs they came across. Her husband, who had lived through WWII, was keen to talk politics with us. They had recently come from a rodeo and were uncomfortable with the nationalistic display that included public prayer and much flag waving.
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After 5 days camping along the Gulf of Mexico in Cedar Key, Florida, Joe told me he had a Valentine’s Day surprise for me. By the end of the day we were standing on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Ameilla Island. “The real ocean!” I squealed with delight.
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By then I was wearing my down parka. The beach was littered with thousands of dead jellyfish! Apparently, jellyfish have a very short lifespan and they wash up like that every year. “It stinks pretty bad for a few days,” the ranger said when I asked him about it.
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We were still in Florida, but it was cold. By the end of our walk on the beach, I was calling Joe “Kenny,” the South Park cartoon character who can’t talk because his jacket is zipped up over his mouth. It was as if we were preparing ourselves for the icy cold weather we knew we’d come home to. We decided to pamper ourselves after a week of camping. We ate at the “Gourmet Gourmet,” got a motel room, and watched the movie “Dirty Dancing” all the way through for the first time.

February 17, 2007

The Seashells of Pencil Factory Island

kayakfeet.jpg“Little Mary Fagan went to town one day. She went to the pencil factory to get her little pay.” ~ Line from a ballad displayed at The Cedar Key Historical Museum. A Mary Fagan was listed on the Atensa Otie grave marker list from the late 1800s.

The first thing we saw upon landing our kayak on Atensa Otie Island, about a mile off the coast of Cedar Key, was a dead animal in the sand. Joe thought it was a raccoon, but I thought it too thin to be a raccoon and guessed it to be a coyote. The mystery was solved when a second animal resembling the first one strolled out of the woods while we were collecting shells and sniffed around our kayak looking for food. It was a scraggly, thin, and hunched over raccoon that had no fear of people. After one of the birdwatchers on the island told us it was rabid, we made sure to stay clear and kept an eye out for it while we stretched out on a blanket near the shore to watch the dolphins swim.

I’ve been having a hard time remembering the name “Atensa Otie,” which means “Cedar Island” in Timucuauan – the language of the area’s early Native Americans – so I’ve been calling it “the pencil factory island.” Following a long army history, in the late 1800’s the island was home to a pencil factory and had 297 residents living on it. After a hurricane destroyed most of the homes and the cedar trees used to make the pencils were depleted, the island changed hands a few times. More recently, it was slated for modern development, but conservationists objected and won. In 1998 it was designated a Nature Preserve.
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The sand on Atensa Otie Island is as white as confectionary sugar. There’s a broke-down remnant of a brick foundation from the factory still there and a cemetery with memorable antiquated headstones. But what I’ll remember most about our Atensa Otie Island trip is the seashells, perfectly formed and plentiful; the kind I grew up thinking you could hold to your ear and hear the ocean.

I have to admit that I’m greedy for seashells. When we landed back on Cedar Key I spread the ones that I had collected in my knapsack onto the sand. While I was in the camper getting the camera that I was too nervous to take in the kayak, my shells drew the attention of some children on the beach. When I passed Joe on my way back to the shore he let me know that he had told some children they could each choose a shell to keep. I picked up my step, imagining a flock of children hovering around my bounty. But when I was reunited with the shell treasure, I saw that there were only three children interested in the collection. Each child was happy as a clam with the shell they picked to bring home. So was I.

February 16, 2007

More Fun in Cedar Key

clubhouse.jpgIt was fun to have company over at the campground. Liz, Willow, and Gina drove by to scope out the place for a possible future family reunion site. Gina and Liz got hooked on the half-done puzzle that was spread out on a card table in the clubhouse. Joe and I ate breakfast in front of the fireplace while talking to Willow.

With our arms full of parting gifts – a container of homemade yogurt, a jar of homemade kumquat jam, some homemade blackberry wine, and fresh strawberries – we said our goodbyes to Willie, Gina, Liz, and Willow the night before. But just as we were about to head out the door, Gina remembered, “Oh, do you want to go to yoga with us in the morning?” she asked.

Joe went. I didn’t.
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After yoga and breakfast, and before the clubhouse puzzle was solved, we all drove over to a secluded Cedar Key side street overlooking the marshes to watch two eagle fledglings in their nest. Pat and Tom pulled up in their golf cart with a tripod and set a telescope on it. Looking through it, the young birds looked so big that when one turned and stood up, I shouted out in amazement, “He’s looking right at me!”

Willow found a baby horseshoe crab and her brother Willie told us how the horseshoe crab blood is used for some kind of medical treatment. “Did you know that they have blue blood?” I asked. The prehistoric creatures, which are more related to spiders than to crabs, lived in the Bay in Hull, Massachusetts, where I grew up. When we were kids, we closely examined the dead ones that the tide washed up. shellgrave.jpg

A tour of the Cedar Key Cemetery was next on the schedule. It may have been the most creative cemetery I have seen. Some gravesites were covered in clam shells in the shape of the top of a casket. Several sites had brightly painted benches next to the headstones for loved ones to sit on. Colorful flags and wind socks flew, and yard statues (such as a donkey) were generously displayed.

I loved the way the Spanish moss draped hauntingly from the tree branches, and the bright white sand looked other-worldly. It felt soft on our bare feet as we tip toed and stepped gently from grave to grave. keygrave.jpg

After a while, we all went our separate ways for lunch without saying any formal goodbyes this time. It’s a small town and so far we kept running into each other without making plans to.

“Maybe we’ll see you at Community Valentine Party tonight,” I shouted.

“Or up at the museum for the telescope stargazing,” someone answered.

February 15, 2007

13 on Cedar Key

13read.jpg1. Most overheard words spoken by Colleen in Cedar Key: “That house could use a little pink paint.”

2. According to the placemat at the Seabreeze Restaurant, Cedar Key is known as “The Oasis in time.” According to the Cedar Key Historical Museum brochure, which I read on Valentine’s Day, there’s a small key near Cedar Key that’s called “Kiss me Quick.”

3. Watching the pelicans roosting on the dock from the restaurant window while eating mullet fish, I noticed that when they bend their necks back to stretch, the length of it, their beak, and pouch forms a long vertical line and makes them look like more like a Venus fly trap plant than a bird.

4. In March of 2006 we were camping on Hunting Island in South Carolina and I said this on my 13 Thursday that week: Pelicans look like cartoon characters to me, and when they crash down into the water to catch fish, it looks like slapstick.

5. Cedar Key Mullet fish jumping in and out of the water like large skipping stones make me laugh and also look like cartoon characters.

6. While strolling along the shore, I walked under a kite string. “Is it bad luck to walk under a kite?” I asked its owner. “No, it’s good luck,” he told me.

7. My friend who moved to Cedar Key from Floyd has a 6 foot tall plant that looks like a giant aloe-vera in her front yard. It’s actually called an Agave and is used to make Tequila.

8. She has another plant in her backyard called a Spanish bayonet. It has razor sharp long stiff leaves that end in a dangerous point. “A plant that acts like a watchdog?” I asked. “Some people plant them under their bedroom windows for just that reason,” she answered.
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9. This photo I took of two pelicans facing each other and resembling a heart is my official Valentine’s Day greeting to everyone.

10. While driving to Cedar Key, Joe and I were listening to a radio news story about Afghanistan’s poppy crop. The newscaster kept saying “poppy crop,” and after saying it several times, I could have sworn she was saying “poppy cock.”

11. Unlike in rural Floyd County, when they say “a cow and her calf” in these parts of Florida they usually mean a manatee and her baby.

12. Picking up a wireless connection at a campground is a lot like finding a cell phone signal. I was told that there was no wireless connection on the grounds, but on the fifth day I got a useable signal in the clubhouse. The next day I couldn’t repeat it unless I stood in the middle of the room and held the computer out and up nearly over my head, as if I was offering a sacrifice to the computer gods.

13. After saying that “I’ve been all over tarnation looking for a wireless connection,” I realized that I grew up hearing the expression “all over tarnation” but I never really knew what it meant. Once I looked all over tarnation and eventually found a wireless signal, I looked up the word tarnation. See what it means HERE.

Post note: Thirteen Thursday headquarters is HERE. View more 13's HERE.

February 13, 2007

Fantasy Island

cartawning2.jpgThe two things I see the most of in Cedar Key that I wasn’t expecting are the palm tree berries strewn all over sidewalks and the golf carts. The carts go about 20 miles an hour and are the preferred mode of in-town transportation for many Islanders. Everyone personalizes their carts with stickers, flags or awnings, and some even name them. The one at the campground parked next to the fuchsia and peach colored office building is decorated with pink flowers and says “Hootchie Mama” on the side.

Our island bike rides have been frequently interrupted for me to stop and take photos of` golf carts. When we came across one made to look like an old car, we parked our bikes and got a better look. I only got in it because the owners came along and encouraged me to.

While peddling up and down side streets and noting “for sale signs” in front of houses and lots, we began to fantasize Cedar Key living for ourselves. But I cautioned Joe, “I don’t want to get too attached.” Knowing that I’m already torn between two places, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Floyd and the Massachusetts peninsula I grew up on, I wondered how I could manage being split in thirds. golfcartcar2.jpg

The cozy pastel painted cottages with screened in porches and old trees in their yards impress me more than some of the newly built larger homes. The island keeps its charm because there are hardly any high rise condos lining the coast. The few that do exist are on the low side of high rise and fit tastefully in with the island atmosphere.

Peddling out of the city limits, I was thinking about the laid back feel of the island when we ran into our old Floyd neighbor, Pat, headed for the grocery store in her golf cart. I can barely get used to seeing her in Cedar Key and seeing her tooling around in a golf cart really stretches my sense of reality.

She pulled over to chat. “Don’t you feel like you’re in another world here?” I asked her.

“I feel like I’m living in a storybook,” she answered.

“And I’m already picking out colors of paint for our house,” I joked.

Post note: Later I saw Pat again in the golf cart with fishing poles sticking out of the back. She and her husband were heading to the pier for some fishing. I was sitting on a patch of grass in the back of the Park Street motel picking up wireless. “It’s a small world here on the island!” I shouted out to them.

February 12, 2007

Today I Stopped to Smell the Roses

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Today I stopped to smell the roses that were sprawled along a white picket fence..
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I walked through a pink door into a store that sells books and has a wireless internet connection.
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I did not go fishing.
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Today I sat on a purple bench to write this down.
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I learned that palm trees drop berries.

Post note: Scroll down to read more about our Cedar Key vacation.

February 11, 2007

Paradise Dreamed

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“I feel like I’m arriving in a dream sequence, like I’ve been here before in my dream life,” I said to Joe after we had been in Cedar Key, Florida, for all of five minutes. We were checking into a fuchsia colored camp office. A man in hip boots was dumping oyster shells from buckets onto the drive-way and spreading them out like we would spread gravel on ours. Breathing in the salty sea air, I felt at home, and as though we had be transported in time, dropped off onto a quaint island fishing village where something magical was about to happen..
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The mullet fish at Annie’s Café was fresh and the weather was warm enough to sit on the deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. We hadn’t told either of the two former Floyd Countian couples who now live in Cedar Key that we were planning to visit. The café waitress, who knew one of the couples, Pat and Tom, brought us a phone book so we could call. They weren’t home, but we left a message.
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The Gulf that surrounds Cedar Key looks more like a bay than an ocean. The sand is bright white and egrets, ibis, and herons outnumber the gulls in some places. Walking barefoot with Joe along the shore after lunch with shells jiggling in my jacket pocket, a truck hauling a boat pulled up beside us. It was Pat and Tom! The looks on their faces were priceless.
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Then it was old home week in front of Willie and Gina's place, the second former Floyd County couple, where we had all convened. When I hopped out of Tom’s truck, my friend Willow’s jaw dropped. She and her mom, Liz (also a longtime friend), were also visiting from Floyd, but none of us had any idea the others would be here. It was a spontaneous rendezvous line-up that probably wouldn’t have happened if we had tried to plan it.
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We admired Willie’s antique bike collection and shucked some fresh oysters in the front yard, catching up. Some were drinking beer while others sipped tea. Gina showed me around, pointing out her banana, fig, and pomegranate trees. The sun slipped down low and my bare feet got cold. Someone offered to lend us one of the bikes, but we had our own. We made plans for a ride the next day to explore the rest of the island.

Post note: Terri from Island Writer also lives here in Cedar Key. We hope to meet up with her as when she gets back from her book signing journey.

Photos: 1. Hibiscus flower. 2. Bath house at campground. 3. Gulf birds 4. Floydians in Cedar Key. 5. Willow, Colleen, and Liz catching up.

February 9, 2007

Window Shopping for Spring

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1. The first sign of spring we saw on our south bound road trip was in Statesville, North Carolina, when we had to detour off Interstate 77 for an accident and drove by a house with a front yard full of purple crocuses.
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2. We were driving slow enough at that point that I rolled the truck window down and snapped a picture of it and the fountain in the middle of the lake next to it.
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3. By the time I spotted the next sign, a first-sighting of a pink house, I had become aware that the truck windows were down and I wasn’t cold, a big change from the frigid temperatures we left behind in the Virginia Mountains.
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4. The sky looked like a gallery of hanging clouds, or a school of great whites in a sea of watercolor blue. The black truck in front of us had a license plate that read “Summer,” as if it was a guarantee that by tomorrow the weather would be even warmer.

February 7, 2007

I Love 13 Thursday

XO13.jpg 1. I just sent an email to a friend and ended it with: I’m up to my white streak with packing for our trip to Florida. Because we’ll be in the camper, we take everything, even the kitchen sink!

2. I said to my husband last night, “It’s cold with a capitol F! You can fill in any adjective or expletive that you choose.”

3. The temperatures have been so F-rigid that my teeth that are sensitive to cold have been acting up.

4. I woke up wondering: If you went to Las Vegas to gamble and you were losing big, would you cut your losses or keep borrowing more from the bank and your family members to try to dig yourself out of the hole?

5. And then: What gave Bush the right to gamble our money and our youth on such a risky bet in Iraq in the first place?

6. When my son Dylan was 6 years old he said, “If they come and say you have to go to war, I’ll say ‘why don’t you?’"

7. Do spammers ever get weekends off? Do they really think we’re going to fall for their phony flattery?

8. It takes me twice as long to write for business as it does to write for fun, which is why I try to make fun my business and my business fun.

9. I’ve always thought it would be a fun job to make-up the words and sayings for candy hearts, or come up with names for colors of paint.

10. How come when my computer slows up I’m even more inclined to start clicking to escape the slow-up, which makes the thing go even slower?!

11. In last week’s list I mentioned the January Peace March in DC. Since then, I found a good short video of the day’s event. It's a mix of clips and/or interviews with an Iraqi Vet, a mayor, a couple of congressmen and women, and a few big name movie stars and starts HERE.

12. Have you ever noticed that LOVE, SOLVES, EVOLVE, REVOLVE, and RESOLVE are basically variations of the same word, as if there is a grand agreement that love solves and evolves us.

13. Make your own candy heart message HERE.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here.

February 6, 2007

February Porch Vacation is Cancelled

ma%27sporch2.jpg The February Porch Vacation is cancelled until further notice or until we can reschedule it to a warmer climate.

Post Notes: November porch vacation is HERE. January porch vacation is HERE. We got snow but not that much. The photo is of my mother’s porch on the coast of Hull, Massachusetts.

February 5, 2007

Sticks and Stones

altars.jpgSome people bring home stray puppies. I bring home rocks. Over the years I’ve collected river rocks, lava rocks, Virginia quartz, pink and green flecked granite from New England, blue and orange stones from the shores of Oregon, and more. I like rocks, but I’m even more drawn to seashells. My interest in shells began while growing up in Hull, Massachusetts, a small peninsula along the South Shore of Boston, and it grew with my travels as an adult. My current collection includes shells from the Caribbean Islands to England and Ireland and places in between.

I like to hike trails and walk along beaches. When I do, I have to remind myself to look up because my inclination is to keep my eyes down towards the ground, and then to fill my pockets with things I find there. When Joe and I go off with the camper there’s space beyond pockets or the back seat of my car for collecting. I remember the scene, either from a movie or TV show, in which Lucille Ball is traveling out west in an Airstream, and she collects so many souvenir boulders that the motor home can’t budge from under the weight. The memory of it helps keep my habit in check. angelshellxx.jpg

Once, while in St. Croix, Joe and I came across a beach so full of conch shells that we first thought it was litter strewn across the couple of miles of sand. My suitcase on the trip home from that vacation was about twice as heavy as it was when we arrived.

Throughout my house I have little altars to display my foraged treasures. When I go on vacation I like to bring home natural souvenirs that I can show to the children in my life (or that’s the excuse I use), like cotton plants from South Carolina, pine nuts and juniper from the Southwest, pressed aspen leaves from Colorado, or shamrocks from Ireland.

I’m constantly picking up gnarly driftwood and finding bird nests that I can’t resist. I have turtle shells, a hornet’s nest, some dried roses, and a dead sunflower spread out on one bookcase. Pinecones, bark, and a patch of green moss sit on another. All the vases in my house are filled with dried flower arrangements that I’ve collected from the woods, open fields, and my garden. I once made a mobile out of seagull feathers. The one that hangs from my living room window now is made from driftwood, shells, and bones. redbesm.jpg

Collecting goes against my tendency to dislike material clutter. I don’t like nick-nacks because I consider them just more things that have to be dusted. But I find it much easier to occasionally dust of a conch or nautilus shell than to dust something I might buy from a store. I marvel admiringly at my wild treasure as I dust, like other women might admire a collection of jewelry.

February 4, 2007

Go Fish

llbigfishj3jpg.jpg My brother John figured in “The Jim and Dan Stories,” the book I wrote about growing up as one of nine children in Hull, Massachusetts, and the deaths’ of two of my brothers in 2001. John was the one who added to our family’s plumbing problems when he was a kid and he tried to flush a potato down the toilet after using part of it for pop-gun ammunition. He didn’t want to get in trouble for wasting food and thought the toilet would be a good place to hide it. Later, he was referred to in the book as the "black sheep fisherman rogue" who always has a good story to tell. The following is a magazine story written about the Fish Company John works for in Minneapolis, in which he figures in as the central character. And I mean character.

For an altogether different experience, get yourself over to Captain’s Select in North Minneapolis.

When I stop in, a timid-looking young couple stands in what might be called the vestibule of the building, adjacent to a typically disheveled business office.

“How do we go about purchasing the seafood?” the woman asks.

“Just tell me what you want!” The brusque grizzled east coast voice is John Redman, who tells me he’s not the owner, “just the guy who does everything.”

“We don’t do retail as a rule, but I’m not gonna turn down a dollah!” I’m not gonna tell ya I won’t sell to ya!” He shows the couple a stock list, making note of the live lobsters, and tells me I can take a look at the facility if I want. I stop to ask the couple what they are looking for, and they tell me conch. “Seventeen dollahs for a little quartah-pound block, Redman tells them. “Very expensive right now.” I’m going to ask the couple more about this conch business, but Redman is already striding quickly towards the butchering area.

“Come on, hon!” He’s yelling over his shoulder, and I spring into actions the way I do when working under a maniacal chef. He means now. So I follow obediently.

An employee is hosing down butchering tables, and soapy water washes against my exposed flip-flopped toes. I feel a rush of shame for my footwear choice.

“We have the freshest fish in town, because you’re gonna see it filleted right in front of you.” He brings me into the coolers and shows me impeccably packed and iced whole fish and oysters, and the live lobster tanks. He brings me into the freezer and points out a box of fish heads headed for a Chinese restaurant.

“We’re the only country that wastes,” says Redman. “We eat 25 percent of the fish and throw the rest away. Other countries, they’re using the bones to make toothpicks! They’re using the skins to make pants!” He laughs at himself.

Just then my flip flop snaps. I’m standing one-footed, trying to fix it.

“What, did your foot freeze to the flooah?!” It did. He’s laughing, and he’s long-striding back to work.

“Thanks for stopping by, hon!” and he’s gone.

Post Notes: For the complete potato pop gun story and other plumbing miseries, read "A Flood of Old Memories" HERE. For another big fish story with a photo of John, go HERE.

February 3, 2007

Keeping Track

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1. At the crossroads
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2. Living lightly on the earth
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3. Now you see it
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4. Now you don't

Post note: On my walk to the mailbox on Thursday, I documented the much anticipated inch of snow we got, which was gone by the next day. The face pot in the tree is one made by Josh, my Asheville potter son. It likes to have the last laugh.

February 2, 2007

Moonlighting

k%27stable2.jpgStill rough, but shot with light when polished and cut by an audience and set by publication. The poet can build a meandering path to insight like glimpses through the trees to a lake in sunlight. ~ From “A Poet of 20 Carats” by Alex Wind

As soon as I cleaned my kitchen table from cutting, pasting, and laying out this month’s Museletter (Floyd’s longtime homespun newsletter), a new project began to spread out. I’m sorting through my friend Alex’s poetry for a collection, which will be included in an upcoming art show in her honor.

I met Alex nearly 20 years ago at a woman’s circle. She attended a poetry workshop I presented at Woman’s Wellness Week, a retreat held in the Indian Valley part of Floyd County. Inspired, she got hooked on writing poetry from that workshop, she would later tell me.

We drifted apart, but came together again a couple of years ago, after I learned that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We enjoyed a Scrabble game once a month, or whenever she could schedule a game around her cancer therapy and her travel plans. Traveling became an expression of her decision to fully LIVE every moment she had left, and she lived large, traveling to Iceland and Greece last year with her husband.

Alex died this past December. Over the course of her life she expressed her art in many mediums, such as painting and making jewelry. For her fine arts master's thesis she produced a black Madonna and Child that incorporated her creative skills in mosaics, crochet, sculpture, and fabric. She was also a talented poet.

While it feels strange to be leafing through Alex’s personal poetry journal, mostly I feel honored to have been asked to do so by her husband. Reading her handwritten poems and typing them has been a reminder of what attracted me to her in the first place. I knew, but I now I know on a deeper level that Alex loved animals (especially horses), was a feminist, was in love with her husband, had a sense of humor, was a loving mother to her daughter and a thoughtful, caring human being.

Coincidently, there’s also a project spread out on my friend Kathleen’s table. At least there was when I was over there on Wednesday. Kathleen, Mara, and I have been going through Elliot’s poetry in preparation for a chapbook in his honor. Elliot, who was a member of the writer’s workshop we each belong to, passed away in November of 2005.

I can’t think any better way to spend my time than on these two labors of love.

Post Notes:
The photo is of Mara shuffling through Elliot’s poetry spread out on Kathleen’s kitchen table. The title Moonlighting comes from what I’ve been telling my husband I’m doing when I go upstairs to the computer at night when I should be off duty and type Alex’s poems with the moon shining in my window. HERE is Roanoke Times story about Alex and her art.

February 1, 2007

13 Thursday: Start Here

13%20ticket.jpg 1. Do you know any of THESE bloggers? The last time I looked when I found it on Pearl’s blog I could pick out about seven that I knew.

2.THIS (via Susan) might blow your mind. It’s a glimpse into autistic woman’s inner world, providing insight into autism unlike anything I’ve seen before. You have to watch the whole thing for the mind blowing part to take effect.

3. Scroll down a few photos HERE to see the next generation of Scrabble players I might have to face someday.

4. One of the books I frequently read out loud to my sons when they were little was “Tikitikitembonosarembo,” about a Chinese boy with a name so long that when he fell into a well he almost died because his brother who went to get help couldn’t get his name out fast enough. I had entirely forgotten about the book until my eldest son, Josh, left a message on my answering machine last week in which he recited: “Tikitikitembonosarembo.”

5. I googled it and found the full name of the Chinese boy, which at one time both Josh and I had memorized: “Tikitikitembonosarembocharibariruchipiperipembo.” I called him back and left the longer name on his answering machine.

6. Apparently THIS guy wanted to change his name, so he posted an online contest for the best name suggestions. One of the suggestions was Tikitikitembonosarembocharibariruchi piperipembo, which is how I came to rediscover it.

7. The winning name in the contest was “Sunshine Megatron,” and the guy has posted the legal document showing the change.

8. My husband got me a wonderful birthday present even though my birthday isn’t until May. I had seen a TV ad with Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris for a “Total Gym,” a resistant training set up that can fold up and be easily be stored. I was interested in having one but decided against it because it cost $1,000. He found the same one in Walmart for $200.

9. I was recently attempting to type the word DANCE in an email subject line, but it came out DNA by mistake, so I changed it to DANCE IS IN MY DNA. THIS proves it.

10. I’ve been moonlighting, typing someone else’s poems late at night with the full moon shining in my window. More on that tomorrow.

11. The pouring of tea is like the conversation that comes after the contemplation of the steeping. The darker the steeping the more deeply the meaning of taste.

12. Did you know that the made-up word Supercalifragilistic was once involved in a legal dispute, that Prince had a song called Superfunkycalifragisexy, and that The Sun newspaper in 2000 had a headline that read "Super Caley go Ballistic, Celtic are Atrocious" following a famous upset in the Scottish Cup?

13. I wonder if THIS Scrabble area rug comes with tiles.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here. UPDATE: Pearl tells me that the woman with autism in the video described in #2 has a blog, HERE.