Archive for February, 2013

The animal shelter story

February 28, 2013

I had thought moving to California would end my JonBenet-obsessed sleepless nights.

It didn’t work. I would fall asleep, but every noise sent me running into the kids’ rooms.

I decided we needed a dog. I decided a dog would have saved JonBenet.

My husband was skeptical. “You hate dogs,” he reminded me with that voice he uses on the children.

I explained that if we could get a dog that doesn’t beg, jump on people, sniff crotches, lick or smell like a dog I would be fine.

He explained that what I wanted was a cat.

I did some research on breeds, (and by ‘I,’ I mean ‘the newsroom’s research librarian.’) It turned out a husky was a good breed for me.

I found a litter in the classifieds and merged onto the freeway. I was getting excited about a little puppy I could hold in my hand, with fuzz on his ears and a fat belly.

About 10 minutes into my drive I had a thought. I should have peeked at the animal shelter first. Back to town I went.

The person behind the desk lit up. They got a husky puppy in yesterday. Let’s go see.

She led me past a row of little concrete cells with bad dogs in them, barking at me and jumping up on the bars. At the end I could see a darling little fuzzy dog sitting politely, looking longingly. I didn’t want it.

This dog, in sitting position, was almost to my thighs. I had already had the vision of my new dog squirming in my hand.

I was embarrassed to reject her recommendation out of hand, so I thought I would pat its head and say ‘good pup’ and go. She said, “I’ll take him out so you can spend some time with him in the playyard.”

I wanted to say, ‘You don’t need to open the kennel.’

She fumbled with the keys at the playyard gate. I stood behind her waiting for this to be over so I could go get my hand puppy. The big puppy was sitting calmly next to me.

He scooted closer to my leg subtly, like he was sneaking it. Then he leaned his body until his shoulder and head were against my knee. I was softening.

Then, without lifting his head, he looked up at me. The only things he moved were his eyebrows and my cold heart.

“You don’t need to open the gate,” I finally said, but not for the same reason I’d wanted to at the start.

They must have pegged me as dog-ignorant right off the bat, because he’s not a husky. He’s an Akita mix.

But he doesn’t jump, lick, beg, sniff crotches or smell like a dog.

I like him better than my cat.

Link to photos



February 27, 2013

One summer a few years back my husband followed in my footsteps. He spent a summer semester in Mexico.

He did it to learn Spanish, though, not to chase some hot guy.

In Cuernavaca he lived with a wonderful family, whom I have since met. The son is now living in Costa Mesa. The mom of this family has come out to visit several times, and is out visiting now.

We last saw her in August, when we went to Long Beach to see them both. The son was competing in an archery tournament.

During a break in the shooting the son took my son to a target and let him try out the bow and arrow. The mom waved my daughter and me away from the field to keep her company while she smoked a cigarette.

Her cigarettes had come from Mexico. They were Marlboros, but they didn’t look like the Marlboros sold here. The bottom half of every side of the box had bold black letters saying ‘This will kill you.’

It said this in English.

We chatted, the three of us, about how much she likes Disneyland and how hot it was on the archery field. Mostly we were talking in Spanish, and my daughter couldn’t follow.

Then she addressed my daughter directly.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” she looked somberly at my daughter’s face and pointed with her smoking cigarette to the area where our chairs were, “over there.”

I burst out laughing.

“Really,” she defended. “They will make you leave.”

Aye caramba.

The special day class

February 26, 2013

Here’s how I learned the hard way to be careful which sub jobs I accepted, during that awful year I waited to get back into the newsroom.

Usually the Web site lists the teacher, grade range and subject. When it’s a two- or three-hour job it just says ‘IEP.’ This is secret code for ‘meeting.’

When I get to the office I have to ask what grade or subject I’m teaching. I also have to ask where the bathroom is. Otherwise they just hand me keys and say ‘F-7 is over there.’

In this case, the office employee (I don’t know what they’re called; I only know I will never use the ‘secretary’ word again,) said there was a variety of grades. “It’s a special day class,” she said.

This turned out to be secret code for ‘Children with extreme emotional or behavior disorders.’ But at this point in the story I didn’t know that.

I got to the room and saw a teacher, an aide, a Braille instructor and 20 assorted special children who were not behaving predictably.

I soiled my underpants.

The teacher said, “When I go, tell them to partner up and quiz each other with these telling-time cards. Have them get in a line at 1:45 and walk them to the bus.” She left.

The aide grabbed her coat too. This was not going to be good. She introduced me to the class, then said something to effect of, “They can’t tell time, or partner up or work independently in any way. Bye.”

The Braille instructor took the blind girl into a little room and closed the door.

I stood in front of the children and had many articulate thoughts of panic. What I said was, “Um.”

I pulled out the telling-time cards. A boy in the front row walked over and took them from me. He pulled one out and sat on the rest. This was exciting because he had evidently sat in water at recess. He put the other card in his mouth.

I didn’t know what to do.

I had brought children’s books with me. I didn’t suspect they would sit and listen, but I guessed it would pass some time with the trying. It went better than I had hoped. It was a visually miraculous book about color, and they got to see colors change through layered transparencies.

They were fascinated. I was brilliant. I’m Super Sub. Give me a cape.

Next I offered to teach them a song. The first song that popped into my head was “The Little Green Frog.” This was a tragic idea.

It starts out “Ah-ump went the little green frog,” with a tongue sticking out and popping back in on the “Ah-ump.” Little kids love it.

I got as far as the word ‘little’ when all hell broke lose. 

A child in the center of the room stood up and pulled on his hair with both hands. He was yelling, “I’m angry! I’m so angry!”

I went there, squatted in front of his desk and asked him to tell me what he was feeling.

“I’m so angry!” he was almost sobbing at this point, pulling hard on his hair.

“Can you tell me why you’re feeling angry?” I tried to sound soothing and calm. I was not feeling calm.

“Because you’re crazy!” he yelled. Then he ran out the door.

In isolation this would have been bad, but when he had first stood up, two other children got out of their seats — one chasing the other with a rolled up paper in laps around the cluster of desks. Bad I could have handled. This was beyond bad.

When Angry Boy ran out the door three other children ran out after him. Once outside, they scattered and hid.

I had to leave the room unattended while I corralled them. This took about until the end of the day.

I was late getting them headed toward the bus, and they were in no kind of line. I didn’t care. I was walking toward the bus and in a general way they were kind of following me.

My biggest accomplishment that day was waiting until I was in the car to cry.

I called my husband as I drove to pick up my children from their schools and told him the whole thing, blow by blow.

He had the gall to laugh heartily throughout the telling.

“Honey?” he finally said. Good, here comes my sympathy.

“Will you tell me that story again tonight? I loved it.”


The Devil?

February 25, 2013

We’re a Texas-Hold-‘Em family. I’ve been playing with a group from my newsroom for years, and my children each started playing with us at about age 10.

When my daughter was 11 she and I participated in a charity tournament at my mom’s church.

There were 41 players, who were allowed to purchase more chips when they got knocked out.

Everytime she sat at a table she took all the chips there. She cleared out three tables before my league’s leader, Scotchie, labeled her The Devil.

By the time she was at the final table it was her official nickname.

She took first place. Scotchie took second. Another from our league, who had just played in the World Series of Poker, came in third.

Almost a year later Scotchie organized a heads-up tournament for our league. This means instead of sitting at a table of players, all games are one on one until only one is left standing.

I outlasted about half of the players before my daughter eliminated me. From there she sat down against Scotchie’s brother.

Scotchie came up behind her and teased, “Look out for this one, she’s The Devil.”

“I’m not afraid of her,” Scotchie’s brother was all smiles. These boys taught her everything she knows.

She rolled her eyes and dealt out three cards face up — 6, 6 and 6.

Scotchie’s brother’s smile dropped. “Maybe I’m a little afraid.”

He folded.

The lump in my breast

February 24, 2013

One of  my favorite girlfriends just told me she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It’s Stage 0, which is good news, but I know good news like that isn’t as calming as logic would suggest. When you’re faced with losing a breast, it’s hard to see the cup as half full.

A few years ago I was in a hotel six hours from home when I found a lump. My husband was home. Both kids were on the hotel bed playing video games.

I had barely settled into the bathtub when I felt it. My mother had had breast cancer. I went from zero to panic with one touch.

We were in Sacramento for an academic competition, which means we were with a group from the school.

As calmly as I could, I hollered for the kids to run across the hall and get my girlfriend. To their credit, they didn’t say anything about the bizarreness of my asking them to bring my friend to join me while I had a bath.

By the time she came in I was wrapped in my robe, sitting on the toilet. I was hysterical and couldn’t get the words, “I found a lump in my breast” out.

One of the other girls in our gaggle had had breast cancer twice. We knew this danger was real.

I pulled my robe aside to expose my breast and put her hand on the spot. I was breathing like a machine gun and my eyes were beginning to swell.

She ran out of the room to get one of the other moms, who’s an OB/GYN.

My poor kids must have been crazy with speculation. ‘It’s nothing, kids, just a little bathroom party,’ I would have said, if I could have said. ‘Got any of those blowy horns?’

Our doctor friend was comforting. She said the soreness and the jumpiness of the mass ruled out cancer. She told me not to worry.

I worried. For Pete’s sake I could see it. And it felt hot, but maybe that’s because I wouldn’t stop rubbing it.

I didn’t sleep that night. I thought of all the things I want to do before I die. I thought of every person who might attend my funeral.

Even knowing my lump didn’t fit the cancer-lump profile, I was afraid. I was terrified of the small chance I would hear I had cancer.

I thought of our friend, who heard it twice. She was at the beach when she felt her lump, and must have felt like this. Worse, her fears were validated. I lay there realizing I hadn’t imagined her going through this frantic dizziness. Wow, my mother went through this. And worse.

Now another friend is going through it. And worse.

My doctor girlfriend was right. I had a biopsy that confirmed it was nothing but the flotsam of my breast — milk duct tissue or some such. I felt like a drama queen.

My girlfriend who was just diagnosed caught it early through a routine mammogram.

I’m helpless to ease her anxiety. The best I can do is be her bosom buddy.

The Playboy story

February 24, 2013

Headlines say Seth Rogan will be on the cover of Playboy magazine. He will be the eighth man to do this.

I’m excited about this headline, not because I like Seth Rogan, but because I have a Playboy magazine story.

When My Oldest Friend and I were about 11 we were on our town’s tree-lined, Main Street-type strip. We were in the corner drug store. It was an old-fashioned store, not like the corporate chains you see today.

The store’s side facing our cozy downtown was window from floor to ceiling. There was a magazine stand that ran along this.

At her suggestion we spread open Playboy magazines all along the display rack facing the window and ran out of the store.

Good times.

Pulp Fiction

February 22, 2013

Last night we watched Pulp Fiction again.

I had made a best-movies-of-all-time list years ago, and my son’s been working his way through it. He agrees with my taste. Pulp Fiction is number 4. Finally we decided he was mature enough to watch it.

There’s a scene where John Travolta’s character is buying drugs, and The Tornadoes’ ‘Bustin’ Surfboards’ is playing. This was the first surf song to get national airplay.

The Tornadoes are from my town. My Uncle Chauncey used to jam with them. The lead guy, Gerald Sanders, is my uncle’s BFF.

When the movie producers came knocking, they wanted the orignal vinyl recording of the song. Gerald didn’t have one.

My mom did.

When Gerald came knocking, she didn’t want to give it up. He promised to have it back before she could say blueberry pie.

He didn’t. What you hear in that movie is my mama’s stolen 45.

If you’re reading, Gerald, give it back. Pretty please, with sugar on top….

Update: This story is not accurate. Please read the comments for a correction from Uncle Chauncey himself.

My memory

February 21, 2013

My grama used to ask me, “Did you see Oprah yesterday?”

I told her I didn’t watch that show, but she always asked, so I started recording it.

The first episode I watched shocked me.

There was a woman who could tell you how she celebrated every birthday, what she wore every Halloween and who all of her teachers were in school. Can’t everybody do that? I can totally do that.

They threw dates of major headlines at her. My daughter walked into the kitchen to find me sitting on a stool, yelling at the TV. “Lennon was shot. The space shuttle exploded. Baby Jessica fell in a well.” I could play this all day. I was having a blast.

Then this woman started to speaking to me. She said she was lonely. No one else shared her memories.

She said she wanted to forget. Me too. I take baths instead of showers so I can prop up a book, because if I shower I will stand there remembering. I will remember every disappointment, insult and fearful moment of my life.

This is also why I don’t go running.

Ok, that’s not why I don’t go running. But it would be if running were easy.

This Oprah guest who talked about feeling alone made me feel less alone — but more like a freak. I had no idea I was a freak. It’s a good thing I watched.

The next day I was eager to discuss it. I picked up Nana from her Scrabble club. “Did you see Oprah yesterday?”

“No,” she said.

The ski trip story

February 20, 2013

My kids are gone tonight with their school ski clubs. They’re great snowboarders. They didn’t get it from me.

Two cool guys, both named Steve, invited my high school best friend and me skiing once.

We were excited. We bought outfits. We looked great.

It turns out, this is not the important part of preparing for a ski trip.

It was still dark when the boys picked us up. We bopped in our seats to the Beastie Boys all the way up the mountain, flirting, laughing, looking great.

The Steves got on the lift in front of us. Our plan was to watch what they did and copy it.

First they glided off the lift. They unbent their knees and stood. Got it.

We had less finesse. Our skis tangled together and we were lucky to fall in a heap clean of the lift chair.

I don’t know if our inexperience was evident at that point, but I know we were no longer looking great.

The jig was up quickly enough, though, because we couldn’t get up. In fact, the lift attendant had to scoot us out of harm’s way by the armpits.

After lots of humiliating sliding we came to be upright. It didn’t last.

It was dusk when we got to the bottom of the mountain. We got there through a combination of sitting on the skis and gripping the fence we discovered abutting part of the trail.

Occasionally the Steves would call  to us from overhead as they ascended for another run. There was nowhere to hide from them.

We didn’t do any bopping on the drive home, but half of us did a lot of laughing.

Copy editor catch

February 19, 2013

In Boulder we ran a factbox in the sports section called ‘How the Women Fared.’ It had basketball scores.

My eyes were usually the last ones on the paper before they went to print, because I hand carried the pasted-up page to the camera.

Last-minute items like sport scores are always typed in a rush. We have to get this stuff done in time to get it printed in time to get it delivered by sunrise, but games run late and throw us in all into a panic. Elections do the same thing.

So you can imagine how easy it would be to hit that ‘T’ next to the ‘R’ and type ‘How the Women Farted.’

It’s great to save the day.

My son’s tumors

February 18, 2013

This morning I have to take my boy to the doctor for a physical. This is a requirement for high school athletic teams.

We have a long history of doctor visits, this boy and I.

I’m a little nervous telling this story. The experience was tedious and stressful. The story may be so too. I’ll do my best.

When my baby was 2 he had a CAT scan because he had bulges on his temples. We were told it was nothing to worry about.

When he was 5 one side grew noticably bigger than the other. We had moved from Colorado to California, and I was pushing the doctor.

“If it makes you feel better, we’ll order an MRI.” The doctor seemed certain it was just a case of children’s growing disproportionately.

My son was afraid of the MRI. Weeks went by waiting for appointments. Then we would come home without having had the imaging. He wouldn’t get on the machine. Sedation didn’t work on him. I was falling apart.

On the third try we went to UCLA Medical Center. A nurse named Julie Lopez put him in a swivel chair and kicked it into a spin, talking casually to him about little boy things. She took away his fear. She was magic.

After an agonizing 10 days the results came in. Our doctor asked me to come in. I begged him to tell me on the phone.

I was alone in my hallway when I heard, “Your son has at least three tumors in his head. Two of them are outside of his skull. The others are intracranial.”

I’m ashamed to admit I felt a little relief. They had identified the cause of the deformity. They could fix it now.

Children at school were being cruel to him. He seemed strong enough to handle it, but I wasn’t.

This was early December, a couple of weeks before his 6th birthday. We didn’t know how to tell him. We took him and his friends to Disneyland as a salve to all our emotions.

This was followed by months of “We’ll know what’s wrong with him after….” There was an x-ray and another CAT scan before the doctor threw his hands up and said he needed a biopsy. “That will be the definitive diagnosis tool,” he said.

The insurance company said no biopsy. We fought. It was long and painful. We won, and we got to go to UCLA, where the magic people work.

My son’s biopsy was on a Monday in July. It was supposed to be two hours. It was six. There were extra layers of inpenetrable stuff on his skull the surgeon couldn’t drill through.

The tumors were drawing the bone into them in spicules.

We would have a diagnosis by Wednesday.

On Friday morning the surgeon told me they still didn’t know what my son has. The biopsy wasn’t revealing. Doctors in Europe were being consulted. No one has seen anything like this.

On Saturday morning my grandfather had a heart attack and died.

At some point the doctors gave up and named the condition after my son. The good news is that the tumors were benign. The bad news is that they couldn’t tell me what would happen.

In a year they would remove the extracranial ones, but they didn’t think they could get inside my son’s skull to get at the others. At least he would look normal.

I have to live with knowing that for a moment in that hallway I felt relief.

link to photos

My mom cracks me up

February 17, 2013

One afternoon my mom and I were shopping at a big mall out of town. I was doing the pee pee dance.
“I gotta pee in the worst way,” I said.
“Hanging upside down?”
Yeah, that’s what I needed — laughter.

How I came to work at the college

February 16, 2013

Here’s the story I promised last week.

After high school I worked as a stunt hula-hooper. I played a character — Chantilly Lace — at a ’50s-themed restaurant.

With hoops awhirl I danced, jumped, dropped to my knees and stood. I held a tray of beers over my head and crossed the room without going around a bench and table but over them.

I was a waitress, singer, jitterbugger and comedienne. My coworkers had names like Jughead, Moondoggie and Boom Boom.

Part of my job description was to be outrageous. For instance, I was once spraying whipped cream on a guy’s sundae, (the sundae was ‘female,’ which meant without nuts,) when he said something rude to his date. I turned the nozzle on his face and earned a $200 tip.

My customers would be mid-order and I would tell them to ‘cool their jets cuz my dogs were barking.’ I would nudge them to make room in their booth and prop my saddle shoes on their table. While I rested, I would refresh my lipstick in the reflection of their napkin holder. They ate it up, my rudeness.

A month after I got fired for giving my friends free food I was in a fast-food line behind an unfamiliar man.

“You’re Chantilly Lace!” I got that alot. “Remember me? I gave you a $100 tip.”

I had learned to pretend these people stood out. “Of course! You made my week.”

He was the officer manager at a local college. He couldn’t help himself. He beamed over his bag of chicken nuggets and offered me a job.

Grampa’s jacket

February 15, 2013

I can’t find my grandfather’s jacket.

It’s an ugly, dirty jacket that’s too big for me. I look like a bag lady in it.

When I was 12 I had a flu I’ll remember forever. On the first day of it, my grandparents were over for dinner. I was balled up on the couch with chills.

Grampa crouched by me, kissed my forehead and took off his jacket. My eyes were closed, but I remember feeling him drape it over me. It was warm from him — a curing, comforting warmth. I haven’t found that same relief from fever chills since.

Decades later, he kept Tootsie Rolls in the pockets for my children. He always had them there. I imagine him filling those pockets before he left the house.

My children were 4 and 6 when he died of an early morning heart attack.

He used to call my daughter ‘The Baby.’ He must have been having delusions in his last moments, because right before he died he said, ‘The Baby’s bringing me cookies.’

She’s 17; I still call her The Baby.

And I’m hysterical, because I can’t find the jacket.

I’m not over it

February 15, 2013

This morning, by way of dangerous driving on my part and lots of luck from the cosmos, my son was on time for school. He had been out late at a badminton game and overslept some.

I’m no stranger to this. I treated my high school tardy office like homeroom.

But one semester I took an introduction-to-law class I was motivated by. I was motivated to attend, study, do homework and be punctual.

The cosmos did not support me.

During this particular semester, the city underwent construction, which hopscotched its projects in synchronicity with my desperate and changing route to school. The street I took to avoid the road closures was inevitably unfortunate. I was running into class seconds after the bell everyday.

Here’s the thing: I was running in prepared. For the most part, I had thrown the honors classes in the wind in favor of shooting pool at the local bowling alley, but this class had me home at night reading the text, and up in the morning primping for high school. This was the one that was getting me back on campus.

And I was trying to get there on time, which was new for me.

On the day of our first big test I slipped into my seat in the back corner, right inside the door. I was out of breath, but the bell was still sounding. The teacher counted out the exams and handed them to the first person in each row for passing back.

My row was short one.

I raised my hand. I was all smiles. I was ready for this test.

Mr. Wheelock asked me to step outside the room with him. I was to go back in for my backpack, leave and never come back.


I own a lot of irresponsibility. My mistakes were my fault, and I passed up plenty of offerings from the cosmos. This event, though, I’m bitter about.

I’ve chewed on it for 20 years, and can’t figure out what I could have done differently. I was leaving early, changing my route, planning ahead. I couldn’t get there.

Added to the loss of the class was the humiliation of walking back in that silent room for my things.

The cosmos has a sense of humor. Mr. Wheelock appears to be the only teacher I had who is still at the high school, where I’m now subbing as a Spanish teacher. We have the same planning period, and cross paths in the hall outside the bathroom every day.

I don’t say hi.

The lasagne story

February 14, 2013

Tonight in honor of Valentine’s Day I am making tomato soup with parmesan cream. It’s a beautiful red soup, in which you put a circle of cream dollops. Drag a knife through them and you have a ring of white hearts in your bowl.

No matter what I make, it won’t be as memorable as my first Valentine’s dinner with my husband. This dinner has become family legend.

I was a college student, and I didn’t have much experience cooking.

My mama, however, is a miracle in the kitchen, so by phone she led me through making a lasagne. She gave me her secret recipe.

My boyfriend and I had been together for almost 11 months.

When he got to my apartment he was met with candlelight and the smell of toasting garlic bread. Vivaldi was in the cassette player. My legs were shaved.

That lasagne was the best tasting meal in the history of good-tasting meals. My day of toil was pulsing with reward. I was both sexy and domestic. We were in love.

I was imagining how we would clink our glasses and slow dance. I was totally high on the romance of it all.

Then my boyfriend went to the oven to get another piece of lasagne. The pan was hot. He dropped it on the floor. Food was everywhere.

There went the rewards of my toil. My date was angry.

We pull this story out periodically, because my husband forgives us our mistakes, but when he makes one, we duck and cover.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned to put the food on the dinner table.

My sister’s story

February 13, 2013

Today is my ‘sister’s’ birthday. In her honor, I’m telling one of her stories.

She lives in Hawaii. She used to work at a resort helping the rich and famous get fit.

Among the people whose bodies she’s toned are Oprah Winfrey and Maria Shriver. She says they’re humble and kind.

But one night in the restaurant area she ran into Tiger Woods. He was having dinner with a woman. My sister asked if she could take a picture.

He was outraged. She was apologetic. She didn’t take the picture.

But now the whole family knows, and we make a face when we say his name.

Now you know too.

Take that, Woods.

The revenge on the ex-boyfriend story

February 12, 2013

My son just broke up with a girlfriend. She took it badly. Now her friends are warning him to look out.

I had a boyfriend in high school named Sean who had to look out.

Sean dumped me for one of my best girlfriends. I hadn’t been excited about this guy, but my pride was bruised.

He gave her crabs.

This was not my revenge.

Shortly afterward, I ran into Sean at a party. As I walked by, I caught him unawares with a fist to the gut. This was not my revenge either.

My revenge was writing this, and posting it around the high school:

Some you hit, and some you throw.

Some you kick and watch them go.

Some you pong, and some you ping.

Some are tethered on a string.

Some you miss, and some you catch,

But some are Sean’s, and those you scratch.

Sean has crabs. Pass it on.

My dad used to say…

February 11, 2013

Today one of my students was complaining, “It’s too hot in here.”

I told her, “My daddy used to say, ‘It’s not hot; you’re hot.”

Know my my dad says now? It’s hot in here.

How I came to learn Spanish

February 9, 2013

I once was a long-term substitute in a Spanish class. I can speak the language pretty well, but most of the words surprise me by sight. I often say, “Is that what that word looks like? I would have spelled it completely differently.”

This is because I have never studied the language.

When I was 19 I worked in the office of a college. How I came to work in that office is a whole story in itself. I will tell it soon.

One afternoon the Hot Guy I had been trying to figure out how to meet walked in to ask for an application packet for a semester in Mexico.

“I’m going on that,” I said. I had never heard of this program.

I went to my mom and gave her one of the packets to sign. She didn’t even lift a brow, which makes me wonder how she stood me.

She said, “It says you have to be able to speak Spanish. You checked ‘Yes.’ ”

“I’ll figure it out by June. I took French in junior high.”

She signed the form and wrote a check. It was mid-March.

How cool is this? I called my grama to tell her about my upcoming trip, and by bedtime my grandparents, two of their friends and I had plane tickets for spring break in Mexico — a 10-day crash course on location.

My grandparents both spoke Spanish fluently. This is how they communicated when they didn’t want their kids to know what they were saying.

We went to Mexico City, San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque.

We saw ancient pyramids recently discovered underneath forests, with hidden sarcophagi. We hitched a ride to a village on a sideless VW bus, and when we got there we met a woman making tortillas on the ground and children who had never seen sunglasses. At night we ate fresh blueberry pancakes from a vendor with a griddle on wheels outside a cathedral.

I learned Spanish by hanging out with children trying to sell me little things they made. I taught them some songs, and they taught some to me.

Before I left, I gave a little girl my sunglasses.

By June I spoke broken Spanish, but I could make myself understood. I was able to survive living with a family and attending the university there.

I dumped the Hot Guy after a week for the Smart Guy. That’s another story too.

link to photos

The safe story

February 8, 2013

I’m writing in the middle of the night. I just got home from dealing a poker championship tournament in my other house.

A couple of years ago we did a major remodel there. The first step in that long process was to empty out the massive laundry room.

The laundry room in that house was ridiculous. It was so big we turned it into the family room. It had had a walk-in pantry, two large closets, three tub-style sinks and lots of empty space.

As roomy as it was, they still had an ironing board that tucked into the wall. We had a dining table in there, for Pete’s sake.

There was no logic. The kitchen was tiny. Both had ugly wall-to-wall carpeting.

While emptying the closets, my husband stood in one for the first time. He said, “Honey, the floor feels different in here.” He started pulling up the installed carpet.

“Oh my God, there’s a false floor.”

I perked up at this. Two owners ago, a police officer and his wife lived in that house. He was a repo man or narcotics officer, we can’t remember exactly. What we know for sure is he was killed on duty. The wife let it go into foreclosure. Maybe something was hidden there she didn’t know about.

Bingo. Under the false floor, there was a safe. It was shiny and blue.

The week we had to wait for an appointment with a safe cracker was agony. Finally he came on a Wednesday at 2 p.m. My husband had left work early. I was videotaping.

By 2:15 people were calling, but I had no news. They guy was struggling with it. He said he had never had such a hard time opening a safe. “Whoever bought this one really didn’t want anyone at his stuff.”

Good gory hurry up.

He cursed and drilled violently. I was panicking, “Don’t break my new jewelry!”

My husband said to brace myself. It could be drugs, cash, guns or graphic photos. It could be a small body.

My uncle suggested we sell it unopened on eBay. I thought this was brilliant, but I’m a slave to my curiosity.

At 3:30 p.m. we were still getting calls from family, friends, and the parents of our kids’ friends. Our kids, then in fifth and seventh grades, had announced our find. My husband was furious.

Finally, at 5, it opened. I had run out of videotape. My husband was angry with the kids. The safe cracker had hurt his finger. Everybody was crabby.

We found we were the owners of a souvenir program from “Gone With the Wind,” and an old newspaper announcing Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It was a second run edition. According to the Internet, the whole booty was worth about $70.

The safe cracker cost $200.

link to photos

The stairway-door story

February 7, 2013

One of the girls in my high school clique used to say, “That’s my dream house” when we drove by an old haunted-looking thing with a turret and broken windows.

She said she would fix it up and put a carousel horse in the picture window of the turret.

Skip 20-plus years later to tonight, when her husband gave me my first tour of it. It’s a dream house for sure.

My son said, “I’m jealous you have a door to the stairs.”

The old house I grew up in had a door at the bottom of the stairs. It had a jiggly aluminum doorknob, and locked with a turn of a knob on the downstairs side.

Between our ghosts and attempted break-ins my mom and I were skittitsh girls.

One afternoon we walked in the house and saw and heard the knob turning. My mom ran up to it and turned the lock. As we ran out of the house we heard it rattling violently. Someone was trying to get out.

We were only three blocks from the police station and on the same street, so we drove there. We ran in in a panic.

Within minutes three patrol cars, lights aflash, were in the driveway of my house. They entered the house with their backs to the walls. Their guns were drawn.

They got in position around the stairway door, nodded to one another and opened it slowly.

My cat got off his hind legs, took his paws off the doorknob and ran out.


The shower

February 6, 2013

Today it rained. It was the heavy, wind-driven rain that draws people to the windows to stare.

It was the kind of day that has me running for a hot bath, cocoa, a novel and a fire.

My most memorable rain storm was on a summer night in Boulder. We lived on the busy passage that linked the Flatiron mountains to the town. With the exception of one snow day on which I trudged knee-deep up the center of it, it bore the most traffic in town.

On the night of this story, the rain was coming down like they describe in tall tales, and I knelt backward on the couch watching it in the headlights of cars coming down off the mountain.

In my peripheral vision I could see my husband watch it for a minute from the open front door, which was on the side of the house, facing the dark driveway. There were many trees lining the driveway, and it gave the illusion we were set farther back from the busy street. We were right up against the busy street.

He closed the door, went upstairs to the bathroom, and came right back out with a bottle of shampoo and a towel.

“Might as well conserve water,” he said. Then he flipped off the light, stripped naked, went out the door and showered in the driveway.

What would we have done?

February 5, 2013

My Oldest Friend and I had a lot of summer afternoons to fill.

Sometimes we would hop on the banana seats of our little bikes and ride to the library or the park. Mine was pink and had strawberries on it. Hers was blue with white paisleys.

Other times we would tie the wagon to the back of a bike, and one of us would pull the other to the library or park.

There was naught but the library or park to visit, if we didn’t have money for the corner store where the candy lived.

There was even handlebar riding. There were never helmets.

At some point in the voyage, one of us would usually say, ‘What would you do if . . . ?’

‘. . . I fell off; I got hit by a car; I suddenly died.’

I don’t remember what our answers were. I only remember being happy that we both wondered the same things.

The habanero story

February 4, 2013

Tonight’s story is my husband’s choice.

When we lived in Boulder, there was a gaggle of college boys  — who were old enough to be called men but not mature enough — who were our friends. They all lived in our house on and off, and were like uncles to our babies.

One afternoon we were having a barbecue and Matt brought out a bag of habanero peppers. These are the hottest peppers in the world.

These stupid boys ate those peppers.

Once one of them ate one, they each in turn tried to look more macho.

The barbecue ended fairly early, and it was an ugly night for most.

Our buddy Tug had had his preschool-age son that weekend. The morning after, he was delivering the boy to his mother when the boy was trying to form the story in his mind to report back home.

“Dad, what were those things you were eating last night?”

“Not now, honey.”

Repeat as necessary.

Finally Tug tried to answer. He got “Haba-” out before he puked on the steering wheel.

Tug was the most macho.

The butter story

February 3, 2013

Tonight as a dinner side dish we had rosemary-lemon bread, which I had made from scratch. I used rosemary and lemons that we grew in the yard, and had set the dough by the heater before bed last night for 18 hours of rising.

My husband joked, “If you really loved us, you’d have churned the butter fresh.”

I once tried this.

When I was about 10 my mom and I bought cream for this purpose. It was going to be great fun. We put it in jars, put on a Chubby Checker album and went sock-foot onto the hardwood floors to shake it up Twist-dancin’-style.

We shook and we shook and we shook. It didn’t turn into butter.

My mom said, “No problem. We can add sugar to it and we’ll have whipped cream.”

So we did, but we didn’t. Guess what happened after it sat in the fridge. It hardened into butter. Sugary butter.

It was awful on garlic bread.


February 2, 2013

Recently I went to Disneyland with my mom and grama, because my daughter was performing there. Fun fact: My daughter spotted Orlando Bloom in line for Grizzly River Run, and then to her surprise he was seated with her on the ride.

My daughter’s marching band kicked off the parade. She was right in the center of the front rank, and I had to cry a little bit as they went by.

She’s still itty-bitty, but at least she’s allowed on the rides now.

In 1999 we took all my son’s friends to the park to celebrate his 7th birthday. My daughter had turned 5 the week before, and was a wee 3 feet, 3.75 inches.

This little girl loved to be sped, scared and startled, but she didn’t meet the height requirements for the exciting rides.

Disneyland insists you reach 40 inches to ride Star Tours. Now, I understand not wanting to put a wisp of a child in a Space Mountain seat, but Star Tours is basically a movie. The ride is the illusion of movement.

It broke my heart for her to stand waiting at the entrance, watching younger children run excitedly toward their place at the end of the line.

She never complained once that day, but when I turned back and looked at her, she was watching the boys at my side in line,  and I saw tears in her eyes.

She would have done me a favor to whine and stomp.

She was so close to reaching the requirement, I was cursing myself for not teasing her hair. You wouldn’t have fit a slice of cheese between her head and the bottom of Mickey’s glove. My husband tried to persuade the attendant to let her through. No go.

But halfway through the wait, a tiny hand slipped into mine, and I looked down into a huge smile.

“Daddy put folded park maps in my shoes,” she whispered.

My husband had seen a new attendant start her shift and took action.

The force was with us.

link to photos


February 1, 2013

Something painful and humiliating happened to me.

I don’t want to talk about it.