Saturday, May 27, 2006

Relative wars

There is no war bloodier or more devastating. Not Iraq. Not he war on drugs. Not even the war to end all wars or the war on terrorism.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has been warring with her brother's wife. The battles are brief and passionate in a quiet way. The battlefield is seldom littered with bodies, only egos. The goal is one upmanship. Tonight back in a little town in SW Ohio, my mother won a decisive victory. This is the winning entry.

Over the years, my aunt has had lots of ammunition with her five kids (4 girls, 1 boy) from band contests and first chair musicians to big fancy weddings with hired bands, bartenders and halls at Masonic and Shrine temples. All of my aunts children have been ascendant at one time or another.

On our side, there have been weddings in yards under marquee tents and small home churches and the occasional promotion at work, the small victories of my two sisters and brother.

And then there is me.

I have been trotted out for all kinds of awards, local, regional and national, from elementary through high school for writing and acting and singing and good grades. Newspaper clippings of me with presidents and governors and presidential hopefuls have been carefully preserved and brought out to counter new volleys from the enemy camp. I was on television before the birth of VCRs and DVD players able to record the moment for posterity and be shown over and over again like the home movies my parents bring out from time to time to embarrass their children and bore friends, relatives and acquaintances. Nationally syndicated articles and profiles and articles in newspapers and magazines have only renewed amiable hostilities. Then there is tonight's overwhelming victory.

Mom wanted extra copies of one of the anthologies in which my writing appears, suitably autographed and dedicated to said aunt and uncle. I know how Mom hovered expectantly while my aunt read the story on page 161. "This is really wonderful. Jackie wrote this?"


"She's been published?"

"Yes," my mother says, drawing first blood.

"She gets paid for her writing?"

"Yes." Gloating is obvious at this point as Mom drives the point home. "And that is only one of her books."


All my aunt can do is accept her defeat graciously. "Thank Jackie for the book."

All the trips to Europe, vacation homes scattered over Ohio and the condo in Florida, the fancy weddings with their expensive price tags and bragging rights, the designer inspired gowns and free flowing wine, the promotions at work and wine tastings, even their stock portfolio earnings and all the bragging rights and one upmanship over the years are little more than hollow victories with the life span of a May fly. Mom has tangible and lasting evidence that she has won the decisive and final victory because all the other accomplishments are but memories. My books will last and are available in bookstores around the country. One of the books won a major award and that, too, will last.

Mom fairly crowed on the phone when she called after my aunt and uncle left. I hear it in her voice. My unorthodox lifestyle, my wanderings, the way I fly in the face of convention and her displeasure are all forgiven because of her victory today. How do I feel about it?

I don't write for anyone's bragging rights. I write because it's who I am and have always been. I'm proud of what I have accomplished but I am as proud of finishing the PPRAA newsletter ahead of schedule as I am of those books and the ones about to be published in the next two years. I would be just as proud as if I had no family and sprang forth a fully grown writer from beneath a rock in the desert. It's not about victories or bragging rights, it's about telling a story that touches one other person's emotions. But even had I touched no one I consider myself a success because I am doing what I want to do, what excites me and makes me happy -- I write.

But I don't write children's books...

After fending off a seeker of chaos and friction to enliven his relationship with his leader, I spent the next two days working on the PPRAA newsletter. I finished it last night about 7 PM and sent it out into the void. The printer emailed back and said the newsletter would be printed and ready for pickup on Tuesday, or possibly Wednesday, which means it will be in the hands of the club membership almost two weeks before the meeting. Am I good or what? I finally figured out a strategy that works.

As soon as I receive the articles, minutes, whatever I begin slotting them into their respective pages, pruning here, editing there, generally shifting, retooling and reformatting as I get the rest of the articles and news items, so that I don't have to spend an entire evening or day putting it all together. I use the template I set up and work from there. This month the results are obvious -- the newsletter is done well in advance of my personal deadline of the 1st of each month. That should keep my detractors and the whiners out of my hair. I refuse to think about what else they might use to cause me grief. I'm far too pleased with myself right now.

I talked to MJ last night and he was in rare form. At first he sounded like ten miles of really bad gravel back roads (he smokes -- not good for the voice) after a hard rain and a blizzard of epic proportions. As we talked, his voice smoothed out. I'm certain the laughter helped. He asked if we could just talk and not do the interview thing until Sunday after his recording session and I agreed. I enjoy talking with him and he said he enjoys talking with me.

The first night we started the interview he was being silly and asked me what I was wearing. I told him - nothing but a T-shirt. It was true. It's usually the case with me. I wear just enough to keep the neighbors from claiming indecent exposure when I walk by the undraped windows. I live alone and George, the resident ghost, doesn't mind. He sees me naked sweaty, wet and dry all the time and he hasn't complained once. The question has become a part of our conversation and the first question MJ asks when he calls -- to get it out of the way. Last night I turned the tables on him and asked what he was wearing. I actually heard him blush, but he told me anyway.

Over the past few weeks MJ and I have become friendly and we both look forward to our conversations. We talk about everything and anything. No subject is taboo, although I'm certain some people would consider some of the subject matter more than a little risque'. We don't care. We're both unconventional types. So, it was with a light sigh of regret we ended our call at 1 AM. He had to catch an early plane this morning and I suppose I needed the rest, although I didn't go to sleep right away. Too wound up.

Now that MJ and I have spent so much time getting to know one another I wonder what we'll do when we spend time together when he gets here next month. We'll have to come up with something, although watching Laura here and sharing a meal or two have been discussed. I guess we'll figure it out.

I'm in writing mode these days but I haven't given any serious thought to writing children's books -- until a couple days ago. Two stories have been circling my mind like hunting hawks intent on prey. One is a story about the three chiefs who guard the pass into Fraser Valley where I used to live. The three chiefs are three forms in bas relief on the mountain face that look like Indian chiefs to me and they look down over the pass into the valley. The other story is about wishes and who we see when we look in the mirror.

The odd thing about all this writing fervor is having images pop up in my mind's eye, illustrations for the books that would turn them from adult stories, or even YA, into children's stories. I have painted or drawn in years and I have never illustrated a book of any kind, but still the images persist and persist in taking on such specific color and form that I itch to capture them on paper. I have to do more research and put some tools together in order to do the work, but the feeling is strong that the story and the pictures go together and they need to come from me.

Then again, it could just be an attack of vanity.

I have a full weekend planned but the open windows with their breath of sunlit warmth and cool breezes that carry the voices and happiness of life outside these walls is overwhelmingly intoxicated. I have much to do this weekend but the subtle winds tickle the hair at the nape of my neck and urge me to come play, enticing me with the scent of food, the infectious laughter of people passing in the streets below and the promise of the raucous abandoned celebration of life and living. Children giggling and racing through the deep green of the grassy park, dancing to the music of approaching summer is nearly impossible to ignore and I would have to have a harpy's heart not to want to join the summery throng. Duty, discipline and work tap out a tattoo of responsibility and being an adult but it fades into the background as the swirling strains of a flute or calliope drift ever closer calling to the grasshopper in this determined ant. Curiosity taunts me and I feel my resolve weakening. I have all night when the summer sun and playful breezes have gone to sleep and the moon rises in a star spangled sky to work. Aaah, summer you are a cruel lover to tease me so.

Friday, May 26, 2006


I spent most of last evening after I finished work putting together the PPRAA newsletter. It's like an intricate double-sided jigsaw with some stationary pieces I cannot move, around which I have to slot interesting (hopefully) articles and news bytes. The deadline for submissions was yesterday at 5 PM, but I was hit with a flurry of articles and news items long before that. I still have some backlog from last month I need to publish this issue (must make a note about that) and the usual miscellany. I am limited to twelve pages because of postage costs, which makes my job that much more difficult. I know. I signed up for this abuse. Now I will spend five more evenings editing and rewriting and shifting text and pictures and playing with fonts to make sure everything gets in and isn't impossible for older hams with less than perfect eyesight to see. Fun, fun, as the Evil One always says. All my life is not as much fun as this. Sometimes it's boring... grocery shopping (which reminds me there is now pineapple sherbet in the freezer for those meltdown moments) and painting the rest of the woodwork ONE MORE TIME to cover the baby poop yellow-tan-brown-ick and cleaning the kitchen and putting away the mountain of books I got from the library two days ago that is now spread all over my new sofa and moving the printer out of the living room and into the bedroom where I spend most of my time because there's more sunshine and light and comfort (my bed is a great place to work on my laptop and softer when I faint from exhaustion) and the laundry (I have plenty of underwear but I've run out of towels) and planting flowers and seeds to grow flowers and herbs and...

Well, you get the idea.

Add to that getting back on track with the PIC-EL course and project so I can have some ham radio run and my plate and life are very full.

Did I forget to mention that I will also spend this holiday weekend typing operative reports and discharge summaries and cutting down my wardrobe of pants because they're getting too big and baggy? Yes, the wardrobe cutting -- and sewing -- will be done by hand since my sewing machine is in OHIO!

Not to self: Must go back to Ohio and get paintings, books, bakeware and sewing machine. Must rent truck and find someone to help me drive scare aging parents to death by towing car behind truck. That will be my good deed for the day.

At least the deck and stairs to Nel's apartment turned out beautifully. It's sturdy, functional and very lovely. Nel told me I can bring my laptop and lounge on the deck when she's at work. Aah, the prospect of sunshine and fresh air and shorts and no shoes and ... utter and complete bliss. Life is good.

MJ is calling tonight from Florida after his last show and I need to make my breakfast (coconut milk, strawberries, chocolate soy protein and banana. I should probably take a shower with the one remaining towel, wash my hair and put on some clothes that I will be desperate to tear off when those meltdown moments hit, but I think I'll stay right here in bed with my laptop, a book and the fan chilling my exposed and unclothed flesh before I face the day. I deserve it.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

They just don't get it

Yesterday when I came back from the eye doctor I was talking to Philip, the guy who's building the new deck and stairs to Nel's apartment and redoing the front porch, about having to pay for a full exam even though my eyes had been examined six months ago. I was a little upset about having to pay $99 just to be able to use daily lenses instead of the extended wear. "You're not old enough to need your eyes checked every six months," Philip said. I laughed. "Sweetie, I'm older than you," I replied. (The day before he told me he was 47.) He scratched his grizzled chin (he hadn't shaved that day) and smiled an ingenuous smile. "You aren't." I smiled. "You couldn't be." My smile got bigger.

"Philip, I'm 51 as of last February."

He gaped at me, his mouth hanging open. "No way." He was stunned. "1955. You figure it out." His eyes glazed over as he did the math. "You don't look anywhere near that old."

I get such a kick out of situations like that. Whether it's someone younger or older than I am, it's fun to see the look on their faces when I tell them my age.

I'm not vain about my age (I am vain about my hands) and I take great delight in telling people my age. I'm as proud of my age now as I was when I was six or ten or sixteen. When I was nine my triumphant moment came when I revealed I wasn't sixteen or seventeen, but nine-and-a-half years old. I was flattered to be thought older and more mature.

It's funny about how things have flip-flopped, being thought older when I was younger and younger now I'm older. I don't look so young I get carded -- except when it's the policy for everyone to be carded -- and I'm satisfied (most of the time) with the way I look.

In so many ways, it is difficult to realize I am actually 51. My mother certainly doesn't remember my age. Yesterday she told me I couldn't be that old. She thought I was still 50 -- or even younger -- but her problem has to do with memory loss. Sunday night she called in a bit of a panic because she hadn't talked to me all week. She didn't remember talking to me Monday or Tuesday or Thursday or Friday. That's one fact of getting older I'm not looking forward to at all.

In my family, I have been the one to break the barriers, reaching the milestones first: 16, 18, 21, 25, 30, 40, 50. This November my sister Carol will join me on this side of the middle years hump and turn 50. I'm sure she's as excited about turning 50 as she was to turn 40.

Fifty or fifteen, time is passing by at a frightening rate. Just last year I was anxious to turn 18 and move out of my parents' house and be on my own. Twenty-one, a major milestone, passed without a second glance because I was busy with two children and a husband. At twenty-five, work and divorce and three children consumed my life, leaving me no time to celebrate the arrival of my first quarter century of life. Thirty and forty flew by unremarked by anyone but me. Fifty was spent with friends at a movie, followed by a night of dining and ice cream and laughter and fun.

It took me most of my life to figure out that life was precious and should be enjoyed as if each moment was the last. I spent the first 43 years living for everyone but me. I have spent the last eight enjoying life and seeing some of the country. When you get right down to it, there's really no surprise about me looking younger than 51 because I didn't really start living until eight years ago. I stopped living my life when I was a teenager when I put my dreams and my desires and my life on hold. When you get right down to it, I'm barely into my twenties and I have a lot of living to do, living for myself and realizing the dreams and desires I put in storage decades ago.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hung over

Since Philip, the guy who is rebuilding the deck and stairs to Nel's apartment, has been unable to muffle or silence his circular saw, I decided to go to the movies yesterday to see the long awaited The Da Vinci Code and I was not disappointed. The movie is definitely better than Dan Brown's book by miles. Brown's book was good, but simplistic and a bit short on characterization. That's where Ron Howard's direction and actors like Tom Hanks and Ian McKellan, not to mention Paul Betanny and Audrey Tautou, make the whole thing come alive. The best part of Howard's contribution to the movie is in the history that illustrates the story, like revenants through which the characters walk almost as if caught in the tides of time. Howard's innovative concept makes the movie shine and really come alive.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Brown's book, but it is an uncomplicated quick read in spite of the puzzles and clues like bread crumbs along the trail (most of which are far too easy to pick up). There is so much more I could say to praise the movie but the proof is definitely in the pudding. Go see this visual banquet for yourself. I cannot wait until it is out on DVD. I want to own this one.

On the way home I stopped at Mountain Mama's to stock up on organic frozen fruit, peanut butter, shampoo and a tuna, smoked cheddar and veggie wrap. Okay, so I gave in and got a piece of coconut pie and two pieces of pecan spice cake (one of which I used to bribe Philip to keep the noise down so I can work -- you have no idea how difficult it is to hear doctors dictating even with the windows closed when the saw screams as it chews up the wood). I also got some bananas and they're calling to me now to cut one up, add some frozen black cherries and soy powder and water to make my breakfast, so I'll wrap this up quickly.

Once home I ate my dinner/supper, chatted with Nel for a minute and then put another coat of paint on the woodwork. I am so excited with how the painting turned out. The woodwork is the color of a dinner mint (the soft pillow kind that melt when they touch your tongue) with just that hint of green that picks up the color of the walls in a shimmer of white and sunlight, brightening the whole living room. I can't wait until it's done and I can enjoy the finished product. I will, however, have to get out the rosemary paint and touch up around the edges of the woodwork. Whoever plastered these walls was obviously drunk or high because there isn't a single plumb surface anywhere and no straight lines. In some places there is a half inch of wood above the plastered surface, some places nearly an inch, in others barely a sliver of wood, and some places (I don't know how they did it) the wood is rounded and so is the plaster where wood and plaster meet.

Sometimes I wish I hadn't started this project but all the work and frustration is worth the finished result, something that is becoming more and more obvious as I paint. I wish I had more time, but I can only manage an hour or two a night since I still have so much work to do with writing, dictation, editing, books to review, etc. I'm not complaining, just sayin'.

Okay, I've written enough for now. I need to get my fruit, soy powder and water mixed so I can have breakfast, take a shower and head for the optometrist's office to be fitted for daily wear lenses. Good thing I have another check coming next week or I wouldn't be able to get through until next payday. At least next payday will be enough money to pay off the microwave and living room tables so all I'll have left is the soft, chaise and laptop to pay off. That will considerably lessen the financial burden and give me a little breathing room for a while. One more check and then a week's vacation in Estes Park with hams and good friends, with a short stopover in Golden to pick up my new painting. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Another day, another $4.62

It's cold and dark and one minute I'm roasting, the next I'm freezing. Father Time has caught up with Mother Nature. They're battling it out and I get to be the battlefield. Lovely.

It is nearly impossible to keep cool and comfortable with the windows closed and the windows need to be closed so I can almost hear the dictations through the scream of the saw tearing through wood out back. The landlady hired someone to rebuild (after he tore down) the stairs and deck to Nel's apartment and the porch out front. Luckily for me he isn't doing both at the same time. When the noise was impossibly loud and didn't sound likely to stop any time soon, I stopped working and decided to spend a few hours painting. My muscles are protesting since I painted so long I could barely raise my right arm or extend it when I did manage to raise it. At least the woodwork is looking much better and the first coat almost hid the baby crap milky brown-yellow-pink-tan that is all over the woodwork and doors right now. The second coat left a lovely faint green tint to the white woodwork and everything looks cleaner and lighter and much brighter now. I can hardly wait to start stenciling, although I am a bit nervous about spending hours on the ladder. I'll get over it, but contemplating it is almost worse than the shuddering protest my legs and body are making right now. There are worse things -- like living with this baby crap colored woodwork.

Don't get me wrong. I love my apartment, but I want things to reflect my taste and look cleaner and brighter and a little more colorful. This is the first time I've lived anywhere I could decide what colors everything should be and make it happen instead of living with whatever drunken, mentally defective, tower climbing, gun toting, color impaired and unimaginative decorating nightmare was presented. I won't even mention the bland and chalk whites that dominated the nightmares.

I don't paint or draw much any more -- don't have the time -- so this is my opportunity to be creative and daring and have some fun. And now that I have the printer synched and loaded onto the laptop I can print out a Wedgewood blue plate to take to the paint department to be matched so I can begin on the bedroom. Once the walls are done, I will be able to cover the horrid woodwork with a faintly blue tinted white that will reflect the light and the Colorado blue sky and move on to the bathroom. I'm actually thinking of doing a full stencil in there to mimic tile, and maybe even a Moroccan mosaic or possibly an ancient Greek Mediterranean theme, but I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, I'll finish what I've started and keep the music on while I stretch and work my muscles to the beat of being able to change my environs and look forward to finding just the right ceiling fan for the bedroom since the landlady said she was willing to pay for whatever I chose -- as long as it was nice. Casablanca fans, here I come.

I'll shut up now.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


At last I have some respite from the heat and misery of hot flashes -- sherbet.

I spent the night either tossing the covers off or burrowing into them with the fan on and a bottle of water on the night stand that was soon gone. And don't forget the frequent trips to the bathroom to continue draining the Hindenburg in between reading, tossing, turning, fighting covers, and watching the latest episode of Doctor Who I downloaded onto my beautiful laptop.

I consulted with the landlady on the way home from the grocery store laden with $1 half gallons of sherbet about my soy toxicity versus menopause question and she informed me it was menopause and I should stop fooling myself. "Welcome to my world," she said with a diabolical grin while she told me about her passage through the change. She also told me a single glass of soy milk cooled her thermostat problems but I explained I had been drinking the equivalent of seven glasses of soy milk every morning, liberally blended with fruit, and the symptoms started two days before. I was hoping for soy toxicity (and I'm still hoping so I have taken my morning soy and fruit shake off the menu today) but had a sneaking suspicion she was right. Menopause. Nowhere can I find mention of water retention and problems concentrating as symptoms of soy toxicity. I can't even find hot flashes or head exploding from heat in the symptoms. I have to face the truth. Father Time is battling Mother Nature and he's winning. Dirty old man!

It isn't that I have any use for my remaining once functional but now sputtering ovary, except to help a hermaphroditic friend by allowing her to implant some of my eggs in her newly reconstructed female parts to allow her to bear a child, but is my ovary and my hedge against hormone replacement therapy and a host of other problems: going crazy like my mother, making friends and loved ones fear the hell spawned demon female in the clutches of raging and moaning whores (hormones for the uninitiated) and hair sprouting and flourishing on parts of my body long devoid of wiry black hairs in need of a good mowing. I like my voice the way it is and I even enjoy the remaining plump womanly curves of hips and breasts. Honest, I do.

However, the truth is as plain as my butt that follows me at a distance of a long city block that the change is upon me.

Just keep that in mind when my moaning whores are sputtering their last gasps and I'm railing incoherently at anything and everything. Somewhere in the midst of all this storm and fury my logical, sensible and funny self is still here hiding until the weather breaks and the sun shines down on a changed me.

Time for more sherbet.

That is all. Disperse.