"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Monday, December 5, 2016

Joseph's Promise, A Christmas Story

The donkey’s small hoof clinked against a stone, sending a puff of dust over the man’s wooden sandals as he trudged the well-traveled ridge route to the small Jewish village of Bethlehem, his ancestral home. His thoughts wandered as far afield as his journey. He was not a wealthy man, even though his line claimed ancestry to the House of David—and through him, to another ancestor, Solomon—but his carpentry trade was adequate to support a growing family, thanks be to God.   
On the donkey’s back, a girl swayed from side-to-side, one hand clinging to the veil covering her dark hair. Her head sagged and she closed her eyes for a moment. Seventy miles, the journey, and so near the time of her delivery. The month-long journey had provided little time to rest, and few trees to shelter them from the full sun. When the donkey stumbled, the girl groaned, quickly biting her lip to check the sound. 
Her husband, Joseph, clenched the lead rope with a white-knuckle grip. He paused to brush a pebble from his sandal and straightened, scanning the trail for bandits or wild dogs. Satisfied that no danger threatened, he glanced at the setting sun and urged the donkey on. His ears caught the slight, almost inconsequential sound of his wife’s distress and his lips tightened in agony. “What is it, Little Mother?”
The girl offered a timid smile in response. “Husband, it is nothing. A tiny pain. God eases my burden.”
 Joseph growled his displeasure into the cowl of his cloak. “Wife, you should not be here. The Romans are cruel to demand this journey. I would have spared you this.” His husky voice barely concealed his displeasure, but he would not burden her with his fears. His thoughts returned to their predicament and he paled. “A tiny pain, you say?” He moved to stand beside her, concern in the lines that marked his face from years of desert living. Many years older than his young bride, he felt as insignificant as a grain of sand when he judged his worth against hers and the child she carried. The thought consumed him, night and day: Yahweh would never forgive him if anything happened on this difficult journey. That she suffered because of a Roman tyrant’s census to count Jewish heads filled him with despair. He lifted his hand to touch hers, but withdrew when he saw her eyes flutter closed. “Tell me what I should do,” he pleaded.
The girl, Mary, released her hold on the donkey to cradle his face between her hands. She buried her fingers in his thick, untrimmed beard, now tangled and filthy from dust and sweat, and Joseph felt the tension ease from his weary muscles. Her face held a look of gentle acceptance that made his fear seem inconsequential. It was impossible to fret when her quiet faith sustained them.
“You have done so much,” she murmured. “Yahweh is pleased with you, my husband.
Joseph returned to the trail, filled with resolve.
From behind, the jingling of bells and a shouted warning caused him to quickly tug his donkey to the side of the road. A caravan of camels trotted past, carrying strange-looking men in rich clothing. Their features marked them as foreigners, with their dark skin and almond-shaped eyes. Each was dressed distinctly, with turbans and long, flowing robes spun, it was said, by silk worms in the distant East. Even the camels were garbed in tassels and bells, with thick padded saddles trimmed in gold and magenta, colors that he had seen only in the Temple on the holiest of days. A supply caravan trailed behind, fifty camels led by servants in finely woven livery.  Joseph kept his eyes downcast as the soft grunts and dust clouds filled the air. Even Mary seemed entranced at the splendor.    
“Princes of the East,” he whispered. “I wonder what brings them to Judah?”
The mounted foreigners shared the trail without the pageantry and rudeness of other high officials that Joseph had encountered on this trip. More like scholars than soldiers, he observed.
Soon they were alone again. Many of the travelers had stopped to make camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem, five miles back, but Joseph hurried on. No matter that Mary tried to hide her pains, his mother-in-law, Anne, had told him what to expect and he knew that his wife’s time was near. As they had prepared to leave, Joachim, his father-in-law, pressed his hand with a deep, penetrating look of anguish for his daughter. He had wanted to share the secret the angel had brought, but a stern frown from his young wife reminded him of the angel’s warning of secrecy.  No one must know, not even Mary’s parents, the precious burden that their daughter carried.
“I should walk a bit and give the poor donkey a rest,” Mary offered.
“Keep your seat, Little Mother. His burden is nothing—like a single orange blossom. He doesn’t even know you are along.” Joseph’s gentle tone rang with humor.
“A single blossom? You have walked too long in the heat, my husband. I feel as laden as an orange tree ready for harvest.”
They shared gentle laughter. Mary took a tighter hold on the donkey’s stubby mane as the narrow trail opened onto a rocky field planted in olive groves. Ahead, scattered campfires twinkled in the distance.
Bethlehem,” Joseph murmured. Although the city of his birth, it had been many years since he had returned. In the clearness of the desert air the town seemed a stone’s throw away, but he had spent his life in the desert and he was not deceived. The hour would be late when they arrived, but he knew that Yahweh would provide a place for them. Still, a great stone would be rolled from his mind when he had Mary settled in a comfortable kahn; an inn provided for strangers would provide privacy and a midwife to attend the birth. He would sacrifice his cloak to the innkeeper as payment for his wife’s comfort, his beautiful cloak, its four blue tassels, one on each corner, stitched by his wife in preparation for this journey. This was what he had decided.
“I will find an inn,” he vowed, half to himself. His hand moved along the donkey’s neck and captured Mary’s small fingers. So young, he thought. So pure. So good. She had never once complained on this journey, even as she had accepted the shame and gossip that she suffered in Nazareth when her pregnancy became known. True, they had been engaged, considered as good as married in the Jewish way, but even he had doubted her. He shook his head to clear the torment, recalling the days and weeks of anguish he had spent wondering at Mary’s unexplained pregnancy when he had never laid with her. It was not until Yahweh sent the angel Gabriel to explain and to seek his          cooperation, that he was able to believe his Mary again.
When she returned from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, a journey of nearly a hundred miles, Mary, in her customary way, had seen his sorrow. There was nothing to forgive, she had insisted.
Although they had spoken of the matter, he had labored in his carpentry shop, trying with every pounding of his hammer to make sense of this matter. He spent long hours on his knees each night pleading to Yahweh for understanding while Mary slept alone in her small alcove. He prayed to be worthy to raise this unborn child who was his stepson, even though he was, himself, unworthy. He had descended from Solomon, who had sinned. Mary held the greater claim, descended from Nathan, who had not sinned. He prayed that he would be strong and worthy.       
As though she read his mind, Mary spoke. “A woman’s pain is like making a sacrifice at the Temple. It is my thanksgiving for the gift that Yahweh will bestow on us. I am glad to offer it—the pain.”
“Little Mother, it is obvious why Yahweh chose you from all time to carry His child.” As always, Joseph felt his knees weaken at the task he had been given. “He will provide a room for the birth,” he repeated.
The town had settled into sleep when the exhausted donkey limped down the cobblestone path. At the first inn, Joseph halted and knocked on a solid plank door. After several minutes a man appeared, his night garb illuminated by an olive-oil lamp in his hand.
“We have no room. Let a man sleep. Look about you. Do you think you’re the only travelers tonight with the need of a room?”
Joseph had pulled his cloak from his shoulders, in preparation for the exhange. Now he stood uncertainly, feeling the strain of disbelief that this could be happening. “But my wife. . . she is—”
The door slammed, rattling the lintel and the frame before Joseph could finish, and he turned back toward Mary, his eyes downcast in shame.
“Husband, you must not mind him.”
Joseph shook his head, feeling like a fool. He had never stayed at an inn before, had only heard tales from others of how to conduct himself. Of course the night was late and the inn keepers were sleeping. But surely Yahweh would provide a suitable place for His own son. Joseph must find it.
Turning to the next inn, he knocked again.
Down the small street he continued, knocking and being turned away from the khans where travelers overflowed into the crowded streets. No one wanted to hear about his pregnant wife. At the last inn, Joseph knocked louder than before. A shutter opened from above and a tired voice called down, “No room. Can’t you see the lamps are out? Go away.” Joseph stood, silent and troubled in the dark street. The innkeeper paused behind the half-closed shutter. He saw Mary and called, “Wait a moment.” Joseph heard the heavy bolt sliding in its holder and he knew that he had found a room. The innkeeper emerged and his eyes swept over Mary, who dozed atop the donkey. “Your wife is in late days.”
“Yes, we need a room. She will deliver soon. This is a special baby.” Joseph could say no more. His heart was thumping against his chest. Please, let it be here, he silently prayed. 
“I’m sorry. I have no room for even one small woman. If I did, I would give it to you. But there is a place. . . if you’re not particular. It’s warm and clean. And private.” The innkeeper glanced again at Mary.
“We’ll take it. Anything.” Joseph glanced about, hoping for a private home.
“There’s a small stable, a cave where I keep my animals. At the edge of town . . . over there.” The innkeeper pointed. “Use it with my blessing, and may Yahweh be with you.”
Mary woke to hear this last. “Yahweh is with us, always. It is good, husband. A stable. Let us go see.”
Joseph walked for several steps until he was out of the hearing of the innkeeper, who had already disappeared inside. He slung his cloak back over his shoulders, secretly glad for the warmth on this chilly night, but his ears still stung with the words of the innkeeper. “This is what Yahweh wants for his child? To be born in a stable? This child should be born in the richest house in the city. In the Temple, itself. We should go forth and present our situation to the people. Surely someone has been directed to give up their home for the birth of this God-child. A stable?” His voice was angry. There had been so little direction from the angel. No one had forewarned him of this journey, or his role in caring for the child. What was he to do? Surely Yahweh would be angered if he, Joseph of the House of David, could find nothing better than a stable among the lowest animals for His son. Tears of frustration gathered in his weary eyes. Not for Yahweh’s child, a stable. Never.
“Let us go and see. Do not worry, Husband.”
His heart filled with grief, Joseph silently led the donkey down the narrow street in the direction the innkeeper had pointed.
The stable was not hard to find. A group of men had camped nearby and their campfire lit the small enclosure burrowed into the limestone hill. Joseph halted, hopelessness stealing his speech.
“Shalom, pilgrim. Will you join us for a drink?” one of the rowdy men called, offering his chalice with a swagger.
Joseph shook his head and met the man’s gaze with a weary reply. “I think not. We must be on our way.”
The man glanced at Mary and scrambled to his feet. He stared for a long moment then half-turned toward where the others lay laughing and drinking on their cloaks and bed rolls.
“Come, let us leave our camp for these travelers. They have more need of it than we do.” Amid groans and complaints, he gathered their things and hurried his group away, their drunken sounds disappearing into the darkness.  
Joseph looked around. The cave was warm and sheltered from the night air and the animals lent a musky, not unwelcome aroma. Against his will, he decided to make camp. At least until he could locate a kinsman with a room to share. In their haste, the men had left a gourd filled with water, and the remains of a bird still sizzling on the fire spit. Silently, he helped Mary from the donkey and into the stable. Fresh forage was piled at one end, out of reach of an ass, and an ox quietly chewing its cud. To one side an empty feed crib lay overturned on the ground. Joseph straightened it and returned to unpack their bedding and supplies.
Mary drank water from the gourd. Wordlessly, they dined on the remains of the bird, the sheaves of unleavened bread that she kept wrapped in a linen cloth, and a few dates and figs they had purchased that day from a vendor near Jerusalem. Then Mary lay back to rest.
“Husband?” She murmured in a sleepy, sated voice.
“My spirit rejoices here. Do you feel it?”
“Yes, Little Mother, I feel it. Perhaps Yahweh wants us to rest here until someone offers their house. Some midwife, perhaps. We will wait here and see.” He turned to frown at the few lights that flickered in the darkened town while he chewed thoughtfully on a date.
Mary’s groan interrupted his silence. “Joseph. . . it is time.”
He struggled to his feet, looking frantically about for someone to assist in this most important birth. He was a clumsy carpenter, good with a hammer and adz, but not with his precious Mary’s birthing. In their village, the women assisted in the births. “I will go for help.”
Mary’s face was pale and exhausted, but filled with resolve. “Husband, there is no time. You will help me. Remember the angel Gabriel? All will go well, my husband. Yahweh chose you to be my midwife.”
Despite the chilliness of the night, sweat beaded his brow and dripped into his eyes. His hands trembled from fear. Thoughts tumbled over each other until, finally, he allowed himself to speak what was foremost on his mind. “You and I have not been together as man and wife. I have never seen you. . . in that way. You are a modest woman. A woman chosen by God. How am I to assist in such a . . . personal matter?”
“Husband . . . ask Yahweh to guide your hands. He will hear your prayers this night of all nights. He is with us in all ways.”
Mary’s quiet confidence seeped into his blood and he rushed to retrieve the rags she had packed for this hour, and the gourd of water waiting near the fire. He spread fresh straw for her bed and after that there was nothing for him to do but wait and pray.
Mary endured the pain of childbirth with peaceful acceptance while angels warmed the room with their fluttering wings.
Finally, trembling at the miracle he witnessed, Joseph gently placed a baby boy in her arms.   
The cave was lit with a glow more powerful than the mere oil lamp he carried. Joseph marveled at the aura of light that came from the Child, from its tiny naked body that Mary now worked to swaddle.
“Let me help you with that, Little Mother.” His huge, calloused hands seemed to have a will of their own as he quietly sponged the baby with warm oil then helped to wrap the swaddling cloth about the baby’s perfect limbs.
Mary watched her baby’s tiny arms thrashing as she secured the wrapping cloth. “My soul magnifies the Creator who has given me His son. Emmanuel. The angel said we were to name him Emmanuel. Oh, truly, Yahweh honors me with this precious gift.”
Mary’s weariness, her gladness lent softness to her face. Joseph, watching, felt great love for her. “Sleep now, Little Mother.” He smiled. “At last I can truly call you that.”
The hour was late when Joseph slipped outside to stir the fire, careful that no wild dogs hovered in the shadows. Inside, the ox softly lowed and moved against the side of the cave, its sweet animal scent mixing with that of the straw. Overhead, something drew his eyes up and he saw a star shining with blinding intensity against the blackness of the sky, until the star’s tail seemed to descend into the very cave itself—surely a sign from the Heavens that this was the most special of all nights.
In the distance, a caravan of camels advanced, illuminated by the star’s light. Behind them, lowly shepherds approached, struggling under the load of half-grown lambs they carried. Joseph stiffened and reached for the stout walking stick that accompanied him on this journey, for protection against wild animals and robbers. He retreated back inside the cave and stood protectively alongside his family while the caravan approached.
In the moments that he waited for the visitors, God’s presence filled the cave and he released his firm grip on his staff. Confidence swelled inside him, and humility. He prayed silently, a promise to serve in whatever humble manner was required of a carpenter poor in goods, but richer than the kings and wise men that were approaching.
Maybe the foreigners understood, for their servants carried ornate chests filled with gifts for the baby.  
Mary’s steadying voice assured him that she, too, felt the change. “It is good, husband. All of this.” She shifted her veil to cover her hair, careful that she was modest in all manner, but she spared no thought for her own vanity. “Who are they, Joseph?”    
Joseph shook his head. Important travelers, he thought. “Princes from the East. Magi,” he said aloud. 
He waited as they approached, and his greeting was firm and sure. “Shalom, my noble guests. You are welcome on this night of nights.” We have nothing to offer, he thought. And then he turned to where his guests were bowing to the child lying in the clean hay lining the feed crib. His eyes filled with tears and his hand gripped his staff while resolve filled his blood and the skies filled with the hosannas of the angels.
Tonight a king is born in a stable. He shook his head, dazed at the night’s events, for the ways of Yahweh were too wondrous to ponder. He was but a simple carpenter, a middle-aged man with little education. Why the Creator would choose the humble life that he, Joseph, could offer His son filled him with confusion. He gazed at his little family and his heart burst with love for mother and child.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Caldron and the Six Gallon Soup

In our house, turkey soup is the best part of the Thanksgiving dinner. We overbuy the turkey, planning a savory Sunday night soup supper. The scent of simmering broth, the laughter of playing board games and stories are part of the celebration.   

On Sunday night, the refrigerator was still stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers, including the picked-over, neglected carcass of a 22-24 pound turkey. That’s when my son pushed his mother-in-law and me into his kitchen with a request for us to make soup. 

He had a six-gallon pot of water simmering. Looking back, we should have just dumped out half the water. But we would have missed all the fun. Instead, Lisa and I looked at each other, both unwilling to make the first complaint about the newly-married couple we share.  

We pulled open the refrigerator and started opening vegetable bins. “Complexity,” I said. “That’s the key. Is there any sausage?” No pork products, it turned out, but she found an unopened packet of store-bought springs of savory, oregano—and a handful of other herbs that smelled like they belonged—so we chopped them into bits and tossed them into the witches’ cauldron. We found a jar of Trader Joe’s gluey chicken broth concentrate and added it. Emptied the vegetable bin of every carrot, celery and onion, including a potato that had somehow escaped the mashed potato pot. Chopped, they sank to the bottom of the tank like guppies. We gingerly shook seasonings until our wrists were sore, then we peeled off the lids and measured into our palms, filled with the élan of TV chefs.

We were giggling when we paused to taste it.  Watery, weak and vapid. Our reputations were on the line so we formed a plan to divide and conquer. We ladled enough to fill a 6-quart pot and concentrated on making soup in the smaller pot. The remaining gallons we would call broth.  

We emptied a package of chicken flavored rice into the pot. Found a jar of turkey salt and seasonings intended to season an outdoor turkey pot. Lisa added a handful while I gaped. She found a jar of garlic and I tossed it in, along with every seasoning we could find on the shelf. Tasted it again. Closer, but not soup yet.

In went the leftover turkey gravy, the Italian soup someone had carried home from a deli. By now the carcass we fished out of the broth had cooled and we started pulling turkey off the bones--scraps that didn't seem as plentiful when added to the pot. We opened closets, hunted through shelves and added to the pot with conspiratorial gleams. There was safety in our abandon; if it didn’t work out, we could blame the other. I recall a partial box of pasta, a pepper grinder whirring away, the last of the baked stuffing disappearing into the pot. A can of garbanzo beans for protein. Anything to thicken and flavor. And suddenly it was soup.

We summoned the newlyweds and they pronounced it “Perfect.” These are two kids who critique restaurant food on a regular basis. We glowed. 

We filled three quart jars with soup and filled a big crock pot for my daughter-in-law to take to work. I tossed the rest into the caldron. It was ready, too. But the fun was over. The dishes were piling up and everyone had disappeared. I filled five (5) gallon-size ziplock baggies, double-bagged for safety, and someone carried them to the freezer. The rest moistened dog food for four dogs that night.

My son was thrilled, and the look on his face was priceless. Best, the Mother-in-Laws forged a friendship that only comes with battle experience. SCORE!       

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Salinan Tribe of Maria Inés

The Salinan Tribe of California’s Central Coast was determined to have gone extinct by the Census of 1930. But descendants of the tribe survived and are now in the process of applying for tribal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hundreds of pounds of documentary information was shipped to Washington DC, arriving at a critical period of federal budget slashing. They are still awaiting Federal recognition.

The Salinan Tribe is recognized by the State of California. It is one of the tribes included in the writing at the bottom of a California State Park Commemorative Seal

Sociologists estimate that 3,000 Salinans inhabited land in the Salinas River Valley in 1770 when Junipero Serra and the first Catholic padres, Spanish military and immigrant families arrived by edict of the Bourbon king Charles III. Today the Salinan Tribal Council  has 371 certified baseroll members with 400 more waiting to be added after Federal recognition, with 80% still living in their traditional territory.

How can a tribe disappear? Genocide, killed off by the Catholic Church? Yes, the Catholic Church must claim partial responsibility. But the truth is more complicated. My novel, Maria Inés attempts to shed light in a way that will remain in the heart after the last page.   

The past stretches in surprising ways. It fills the present and it forms the future, changing the way that we interpret events of the past. In my research of early California, In the process of creating a new state, California legislators had to consider the lawlessness of disgruntled 49’ers who, having abandoned the hope of hitting a rich strike in the gold country, had spread out across California to steal, burn, loot and rape the native Indian population as well as the descendants of citizens who had lived in California for generations. In their deliberations, the lawmakers created laws that made it illegal to kill these citizens. But they did not include Indians in the early laws that prohibited killing of Spanish or Mexican residents of California. A law prohibiting the killing of Indians was not passed until 1948.

The political climate was poisonous to the native peoples. A belief in the God-given right of whites to claim the riches of California led to a blind eye on the part of Yanqui lawmakers and eventually an informal policy of eradication of the native people. Those who survived did so by passing as Mexicans, Chileans, even Hawaiians.

On a personal note

My husband’s uncle, John Roza, is the son of an Azorean dairy farmer who managed ranches in the ’20s and ’30s for Louis Sinsheimer, the mayor of San Luis Obispo. John was in his late 80s when he told me a story that underscores the attitudes that lingered far into the 20th century.

Many years earlier he had met an old man who claimed that when he was 12 and his brother was 10, they used to take their rifle out in the sagebrush in San Miguel and shoot running Indians for target practice. He didn’t remember how many they killed, maybe 5 or 6. He wasn’t proud of it. John was born in 1918; he thought the man had been born in the mid 1880s. Which meant that before the turn of the century, people were still shooting Indians for target practice.

A woman I met at Mission San Miguel remembers her mother and a neighbor sitting at the kitchen table, quietly discussing an Indian couple who had lived naked in the tules of the Salinas River, in 1901. 

My interest in the Salinans began when I moved into a small community, in 1959. One of my new classmates looked to be Indian. I was curious, so I asked. He claimed that he was Mexican, but his tone was nervous and I knew he was hiding something. It wasn’t until I began to understand the nuances, as an adult, that I understood that he had been told to hide his heritage. Coincidentally, it was during this time that I first heard the work “digger.” Members called themselves Mission Indians, but for years outsiders called them “Diggers.”

Salinans married Mexicans and whites, and assumed the identity of their spouse. They hid their Indian heritage to protect their families, at first from death, later from bias and taunting. It was small wonder they didn’t fill in the little box on the 1930 Census card marked, “Indian.”  

Now they are reclaiming their heritage. There are three groups of Salinan: San Antonio, San Miguel and Playano. The first two are associated with the Missions that were built on their tribal lands. The Playanos lived on the west side of the Santa Lucia Range, along the narrow shelf of the Pacific Ocean. Twice each year, on June 21 and December 21, they celebrate the Solstices at Le Sa Mo, Morro Rock, where they believe their ancestors swam to shore as fish, grew legs and walked onto the land.

Maria Inés, my historical western novel (Five Star Publishing, a division of Gale/Cengage Learning) follows a Salinan girl born at Mission San Miguel through the political intrigues and greed of the Spanish, Mexican and Yanqui conquests of California. She struggles for survival while she reclaims her family, her faith and her ancestral identity. Fans call it "a moving must-read for fans of the Old West and of Native American history." Read the first chapter at Maria Ines . 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

50 Rules to Live By

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. When choosing which path to take, pray for direction.
4. Be a daychanger. Make a difference everyday.
5. Learn to live on less than you earn.
6. You are not just your job.
7. Your job will not take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and 
parents will stay in touch.
8. Pay off your credit cards every month.
9. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
10. Grieve for others. Send a sympathy card or make a call.
11. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
12. Chocolate and pets aren’t everyone’s thing. And that’s OK.
13. Make up with the living so you’ll have no regrets.
14. Other people’s success doesn’t reflect your ability.
15. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
16. Cleansing breaths calm the mind.
17. Hoarding is fear behavior. Share your excess.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. Sixty is a great time to start your next great adventure.
20. Determination can accomplish anything. Be tenacious.
21. Splurge on yourself today. Burn the candles, use the nice pillow cases,
wear the fancy lingerie.
22. Over prepare, then relax and take life as it comes.
23. Be zany. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. Plan for the future, live in the moment, learn from the past.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five years, will this matter?"
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything. And tell them so.
29. Spend your life developing your talents.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. You will have “arrived” when you find your authentic self.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. Pay attention to the grace moments.
35. Growing old beats the alternative.
36. Your children get only one childhood.
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's,
we'd we’d grab ours back.
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
41. Recognize excellence every time you experience it.
42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
43. Nobody cares if you’re fast. Be thorough.
44.Cast your pebbles so they make a ripple in the pond.
45. Write something every day.
46.Television and internet aren’t real life.
47. Help someone on their journey.
48. Keep your living space clean and organized.
49. Allow time for meditation and prayer.
50. Everyone does the best they can.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Introducing Maria Ines, Western Historical Novel

My western historical novel, Maria Ines, will be released October 19, 2016 by Five Star Publishing, an imprint of Gale Cengage Learning. This is a well-developed story of a California Mission tribe in the Time of the Troubles following Spanish, Mexican and Yanqui control of California. Maria Ines is an Indian girl born under Padre Serra's cross at Mission San Miguel de Arcángel, who witnesses the political intrigue and greed of  invaders who plunder California, destroying everything she loves. She struggles to survive while she reclaims her family, her faith and her ancestral identity.                                                                               
Five Star Publishing calls it "A moving must-read for fans of the Old West and of Native Americans's legendary history." (Excerpt used with permission of Five Star Publishing.)                                                                                                                          

Alta California
September, 1818

Chapter One

The fury of the storm seemed to be a warning. The few who still called themselves the People of the Oaks whispered that the flooding was the gods’ anger because they had left their villages and their traditional ways to dwell among the padres at Mission San Miguel Arcángel. But others argued not. For them the rain was a blessing from the true God.
“Let the rains come,” a young woman prayed as she lay waiting for her next birthing pain. “Let us be safe this night.” She was a neophyte, a baptized Indian with a name given to her by the padres and she felt afraid in this new place. But no travelers would arrive seeking hospitality in this weather. Tonight El Camino Real was flooded, the thin wagon track that followed the rivers and valleys from the border of New Spain, north to the Missions of Alta California. “Let the rains come,” she repeated. “Let our fields and our hearts be renewed.” 
Her heart was one with the forces raging outside her walls, ancient winds whipping through the olive grove, ripping off branches and pitching them into the north wall of the dormitory. The sound of singers and cantors in the nearby church were muted as whorls of rain lashed the clay-tiled roofs, windows, and rough-hewn doors.  
Alfonsa lay inside the adobe room assigned to her husband, Domingo. Restlessly, she stirred in her birthing bed, feeling its sturdy willow frame flex beneath her. A fragrant layer of pine needles sent out a sweet fragrance, sap freed by a layer of heated rocks in the trench beneath her. She breathed deeply and her mind saw the forest where, a few days earlier, she had walked from sunrise to sunset to gather pine boughs. Domingo had built the bed in the way of her ancestors to please her, a deep rectangular trench dug into in the hard-packed adobe floor holding five rocks still hot from the fire. His mother bound the frame with woven tule grass to protect the skin from the heat. Alfonsa now rested safely above the half-buried stones and waited.
“It is good, ’mingo,” she whispered, and her heart swelled with gratitude. She longed to tell him this, but he was not present. His mother had chased him from the room because the old taboos did not allow him to take part in the birth. The two were both at evening service, along with every other neophyte, and she was alone.
A basket of pine nuts lay nearby, a gift he had brought so she would have strength for her ordeal. She glanced at the basket, but her body was filled with anticipation, not hunger—a thing her husband would not understand because his belly was never full, even after he had taken his meal. Alone but unafraid, she bit down on an olive twig to blunt her moan from the world outside. “The rain is God’s gift,” she whispered through cracked lips. “Our prayers are heard.”
Another pain engulfed her. She shut her eyes, bit into the twig, and tried to hold onto yesterday’s memory when Padre Juan Martin had stood in the courtyard, his hands raised to the sky as a warm breeze wafted his robe like the wings of a dove. Strong and fervent, his voice swelled to the cloudless sky as he led his people in prayer for rain. Rain so that there would be more wheat in the fields and vegetables in the gardens. Food for the escolte, the Spanish soldiers protecting the Mission. Food for the padres and their guests. Grain to trade to the other Missions and to send to the governor for taxes. And if there was any left, food for the neophytes, for her and her baby soon to be born.
The summer heat had been intense, the rain sparse, but the Spanish Governor de Solá had levied extra taxes in the form of wine and cattle hides. Many workers died in the latest round of hunger and typhoid, leaving fewer to gather the crops. She did not complain like some of the others who groused under their breath about the six hours of labor required of them—even though the padres worked as hard as any of them—but drought made things harder. Her belly, big with baby, made drawing water difficult; carrying the burden basket pulled down her shoulders and strained her back with the pressure of the strap. This is why she knew God had sent the rain for her, and just in time.
Aiiiyaah.” Another pain, this one harder. Her lips moved in the prayer of the Holy Mother who had given birth in a room no bigger than her own. Alfonsa swallowed her sob. “Hail Mary, mother of God . . .” She repeated the prayer that brought her strength in trial. Surely the Holy Virgin had shown courage at the birth of her son. New life comes—blessing and pain.
Across the room, the shadowy figure of an old woman swayed in prayer. Not the Latin chant of the padres and the choir, but in rhythm with the ancient people: prayers to the sun, moon, rain, golden eagle, as they had been prayed in the village of the spirit woman’s childhood. Tonight, fire shadows danced on the wall. From a standing position, her old body swayed back and forth, translucent in the light of the flickering firelight, her ancient bones limber from a lifetime of sitting upon the earth. With almost every sway her forehead brushed the wall in front of her, allowing crushed limestone from the wall to mottle in the deep furrows of her forehead. Streaks of white caught in the strands of her hair, making her seem even grayer than the day she arrived. Her hair was long then, but she had singed it short with firebrands to show she mourned the loss of the old ways.
“Grandmother,” Alfonsa whispered, “you’ve come.” NenE’—the name the people called the mother of her mother. NenE’, the storyteller. In her dream, Grandmother told about T’e Lxo, the thunder. T’e Lxo roared from the sky in a dance with the lightning, and afterwards it was here, over this chosen valley and over her people, the stars would spread their blanket when the world was washed clean and the streams refilled.
Back and forth the old woman rocked. Brish Brish. Alfonsa knew she imagined it, so soft a sound, so soft a color, yet both stirred something deep inside her, a feeling that the old ways would never totally disappear. Grandmother was only here in spirit. She would be no help with the coming baby, but someone would arrive—maybe sooner, maybe later—when the common prayers in the church ended and the final meal of the day had been distributed.   
A knotted rosary lay limp in Alfonsa’s hand. Domingo had left her to her labor, but she listened for his footstep. Did not Saint Joseph wipe Mary’s brow at the birthing of their son? Ride the contraction as a wave, the older mothers told her. But what did that mean?
Outside, the huge bells tolled against the crashing of the storm. Lightning flashed nearby, filling her room while thunder soon followed. A strong gust of wind blew through the cracks around the door, cooling her skin. Smoke stung her eyes as the intrusive wind fingered the fire in the corner.
She returned her gaze to Grandmother, who stood motionless, listening to the song of the wind. Did the wind tell the old one that her granddaughter would have a blessed and strong grandchild? In the woman’s wrinkled face and sad eyes, strange secrets remained hidden from human understanding. Grandmother would know the meaning of the images that came during Alfonsa’s own sleep, strange words that woke her when she cried out, sometimes with a few human words, but sometimes with the words of otherworld spirits. She wondered about the spirit world the elders no longer talked of, but it would do no good to ask. When she was a child she had questioned Padre Juan Cabot about them and he said the dead do not come back to the living. She left it at that. Padre should know these things, yet the belief did not leave her.
She felt the power of the river carrying her and her unborn child. In a moment of release from fierce pain, Alfonsa raised her arms. “My people,” she sighed.
Another vision, one in which she gazed down from the starry blanket into the valley. She saw her people by the river, milling among their huts of tule grass bundled together with bark strips. So small, so simple. She found herself wailing in her dreaming. “Why can’t I bring my baby into this world in a hut like my grandmother’s? In my people’s village? With the smell of grass and bark. With the songs of my people. Under the stars as T’e Lxo shouts from the sky.”
Grandmother continued to rock on her toes and Alfonsa understood what was deep inside the old one’s heart—fear. Fear for the baby about to be born.
 “God help us,” she whispered, her throat dry.
She managed a swallow of water from her drinking vessel, an abalone shell carried from the sandy beaches to the west. Suddenly the pungent scent of burning sage chased the sour smell of sweat and rancid grease from the tight, closed room. For this she was grateful, but not for the pagan smoke that would bring the wrath of Padre Martin upon them. She rose on her elbow and tried to fan the air away before the scent embedded itself in her hair and her skin.
“No, Grandmother, you must not. Padre says these things are of the devil. Superstition. You mustn’t.” Before she could prevent it, the old shadow woman managed to smudge her belly and her breasts, up to her chin with the black soot, her chants summoning the ancient spirits to provide for a strong baby, a safe birth. Spirits the old woman summoned were powerful. Alfonsa felt her body relaxing under the sweet cleansing. A moment later Grandmother’s spirit faded and the room was empty.
A small sound issued from the doorway. It was Oxwe’t, the mother of her husband, returning from the church. The shadowy image of Grandmother faded into darkness and the room was empty again except for the two of them. The new arrival wrinkled her nose and glanced around. A faint smile flickered over her customary frown.
Alfonsa felt the need to talk.
Oxwe’t, this room is built with skill and hard work. Your son honors us with his devotion.” As she expected, the woman slipped to the floor without speaking. Domingo had explained to the padres that no Yokut woman would speak to her son’s wife, not even if they passed in the field, but his pleading was dismissed like a mosquito’s buzz. Padre claimed the old taboos were pagan. God required a man’s wife to care for his aging mother.
His mother made a bed in the corner of the small room and said nothing unless her son asked a question of her.
The scent of sage filled the small room with promise. One after another, several families had lived in this room and baptized it with their odors, their greases, sicknesses and deaths. The odors lingered after the families departed. She was happy with the sage that now cleansed her nostrils, willing to risk discovery of the pagan ritual.
Soon her trial would be over and Domingo would be at her side. He worked full days in the burning sun, forming adobe tiles and bricks. On each, he marked a small “x,” his own mark before the clay dried. Many others worked with him so that in the summer season several thousand “x” tiles piled up in the courtyard. He used some of his handiwork to build tight adobe rooms like the one Padre had given them to use.
Once the baby comes, I will scrub this room, she vowed. With wild soap and lime it will be made new again, just as the ones Domingo builds now.
A new cramp gripped her and she allowed her thoughts to flow into her calm place. Mercifully, she drifted into darkness.
When she awoke, the weight of the storm had broken. Outside, a clay tile torn loose in the wind dropped onto the ground—most likely a weak tile made by one of the others; her husband’s tiles were strong as the oak limbs they were formed on. As strong as God, whose will must be obeyed.
Moments later she felt pressure building between her legs and raised her head, her body rigid. The pain was increasing, and with it the pressure to push. At her keening sob, one of the neophyte women rushed in. She bent and saw the dark place where the baby pressed. She turned toward the door and called, “Ayeeee. It is time.”
Señora Marcia, the wife of one of the soldiers, slipped into the room, her crisp black skirt crackling against the quick tap-taps of her leather shoes.  A neophyte woman followed carrying a cooking basket of steaming water with a hot rock inside, which her practiced hands swirled to keep the red-hot rock from burning through the basket.
Yes, it was time. She felt the child slipping from inside her. In her dream, white mist covered the canyon, a bright and swirling whirlpool. Her spirit wanted to enter, but the mewling made her hesitate, a sound so faint that she wasn’t sure her ears could be trusted. She opened her eyes and saw hands cradling a tiny bundle. Boy or girl it didn’t matter, only that she hold it before the angels came to take it to Heaven, for surely it was too tiny to live.
The baby’s cry was pitiful, the bleating of a goat. She felt an ache of another kind when she heard Señora whisper, “Bring the Padre.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Rosemary Clooney's "This Ole House" in a New Light

I was six years old when I heard Rosemary Clooney belting out "This Ole House."  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNgOUxtOUNQ  I thought it was wonderful. An esoteric, humorous idea that could never happen to me because my father had built us a brand new house.

               This ole House is feeling creaky, this ole house is getting old. 
               This ole house lets in the wind, this old house lets in the cold.

Bette Midler sings a new version that lacks the guts of the original, or the soul of Tennessee Ernie Ford, but when is a cover song ever as good as the original? It’s an Americana standard.

I never thought that one day that ole house would be a metaphor for my body.

I realized it last week while I was on my therapeutic masseuse’s table, being kneaded and elbowed. Every week I return to endure her torture, and every time, I rise more buoyant than the week before.

She’s also a life coach and she tries to sneak in suggestions, but I’m never sure an unmarried girl in her 20s has answers for my life. Well, maybe a few. At her suggestion I added shea butter to my skin regimen, mixed with a few drops of essential oil. And there’s the homework. Every week I have a couple of take-away changes that I implement.

But—really! Comparing my  aging body to an old house? If my husband dared make the comparison he would be in trouble.

But think about it—pipes get rusty. They wear out and leak. Screws get loose. Snow on the roof and all that it implies. Wood gets dry and squeaks. Doors and windows get tight and need a little lubrication. Heating and cooling problems. Faded paint. Couldn’t the list just go on and on?

The lessons I learn on the massage table are that a body doesn’t have to live in pain--or even discomfort. A lot of chronic things are fixable, as long as I can throw money at them. After all, a classic made in the 40s or 50s is overdo for a remodel.

My masseuse would agree.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Into the Desert

This week, in a sudden impulse I pulled into a BMW dealership and took a test drive in a 2014 BMW 288i.

“Drive it faster,” the salesman implored from the passenger seat. “See how great this baby corners.”

I didn’t know salesmen still called cars “babies.” This guy didn’t even know my last name. He didn’t know if I had a driver’s license because he hadn’t asked to see it. But he was willing to put his life in my hands? He was right—it was a total rush. Not sure I’ll ever feel the same about a car.

That night, the six-o’clock news was all about the new “smart cars.” Maybe it was the timing. I thought about the thrill of rear-wheel preferential cornering. I remembered the soar of the tachometer in the BMW when I shifted into Sport mode. I thought about turning all that over to a robot while I sat in the front seat doing what? Knitting? Reading?

My sister longs to have a robot. She can’t wait until she has a computer girlfriend to fetch a glass of water, answer the door, vacuum her floors. and laugh at her jokes.

“What would happen if your robot fell in love with your smart car?” I joked. “Thelma-roid and Louise-bot. They would hit you over the head and stuff you in the trunk. The robot would help herself to your favorite shoes and your mother’s pearls. They would dump you in the desert somewhere on their way to Mexico where they would live happily ever after with your car and your money.”

We laughed, but the tang of possibilities lay heavy in the air.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lady in a Red Dress

Warning—this blog is purely superficial. In a world filled with bad news, here's a whimsical discussion about the power of a red dress.   

Forget about the “Little Black Dress." Try a red dress and watch what happens. When female news commentators wear red, they seem smarter, more believable. Energetic. Their skin tone pops with vitality. Apparently I’m not the only rougeophile. I did a Google search and found 224 songs with "Red" in the title. Not all dresses—that would be a . . .lot . . .of . . dress songs.  

 My infatuation started a night in the early 70s when I watched Bobbie Gentry in an "NBC Special", singing “’Fancy”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORfoK5Ap0FA  Loved that song. She strutted her stuff across the stage in a skintight dress cut clear up to her hips. One strut and she had me hooked on the power of red. Then there is Chris De Burgh, “Lady in Red”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC1C4g8YOA4

Color Me Beautiful claims that everyone can wear red, if they choose the right base tone. Cherry, strawberry, reds with blue tones, reds with orange tones—there is a shade for everyone. For me it’s cherry. Back in the day, I had a red knit maternity dress and it made me feel gorgeous without my realizing that I looked like a peeled watermelon. 

So yesterday I pulled out my favorite red dress. It’s 15 years old. I keep it around because we have history together. In 2001, I went down to Zihuantanejo in late April. It was raining when I left home so I packed polyester—specifically, black polyester. I walked to the front of the plane, first in line. A stewardess opened the exit door and heat and humidity hit me like a dodgeball kick to the chest. By the time I made it to my writer’s retreat house I was sweating like a proverbial porkchop. What was a girl to do? I went shopping. Bought a red cotton dress and a straw hat with a long yellow scarf. The dress was loose, unstructured cotton that bled onto everything it touched, but that’s another story. Love that dress. Wear it with a concho belt. Wear it with heels or barefoot. One of those dresses that makes my skin tone pop.

So yesterday I wore it to town. And I made an observation. People talked to me. But why? Was it because I was more approachable? Or were people responding because I looked interesting and vital? At church, people smiled and introduced themselves. At the grocery store, a 99-year-old man started telling me that he’d already outlived his wife and kids. Pretty soon he was telling me about his big house on the river and the amount he pays in property taxes (a whole lot) while his hands shook with palsy. He said he hasn’t been dangerous for the last 20 years. I couldn’t be sure, but I think he was hitting on me!

Then a guy younger than me asked if I had a recipe for cole slaw dressing. He chatted while we searched for bottled slaw dressing. After a long minute I suggested he wing it—mayonnaise, sugar and lemon.

The grocery checker pulled out a prized “friends and family” coupon good for 20% off everything in the store. A homeless guy outside wanted to help unload my groceries. Thanks, but I have it. Have a nice day. Here, have an apple.

So was it me or was it the red dress? Hard to tell. My advice—try it. Next time you wear red, do your own research. Lady. . .in. . .reeeed.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Legal Pot and Pandora's Box

Yesterday I posted on Facebook about my first hilarious visit to one of the completely legal marijuana dispensaries that are sprouting up all over my state of Oregon. Truth was, it wasn’t really my idea. Friends from California had dropped by. In our exuberance to see the sights, we happened into Oregon’s newest delight.  

I posted about my virginal exposure to the demon “weed” and we all had a good laugh. Friends “liked” the post and virtually high-fived me for finally taking the plunge Then I received a note from a friend who is married to an extremely gifted artist who suffers from Schizophrenia. Her note reminded me of the consequences that people suffering from mental illness (diagnosed or not) can suffer from after exposure to even one joint. I recalled friends who started smoking pot in the 60s and 70s and dropped out of society, derailed onto a side track, never to regain steam for the journey. (Bad pun, but you get my point.)

My friend took a breath and let me have it straight. She said that I had missed the point of her book, Tales of the Titmouse (https://www/goodreads,com/author/show/3142285.PamBarrett)

She wrote a fine book, with PG-13 sensitivity, about her journey in the drug world of the 70s, her personal use of marijuana, life as a drug mule, survivor of a drug overdose and miraculous deliverance. She reminded me that attitudes like mine are confusing because even though Oregon has legalized it, the US Government has not. Her book is a finely-written argument that any drug has consequences, not all of them readily apparent. On a side note: It’s a valuable tool to help drug addicts and their loved ones.

She reminded me that marijuana is still a drug, one that can lead to future addiction, and that THC can still cause many people to have a bad trip. For people with a family history of mental illness or depression, the cannabinoid receptors in marijuana can trigger a reaction. Although marijuana helps for some health issues, unlike other drugs, it has not been studied in America. People are self-medicating without considering the side effects. Some people won’t know they are at risk until they try it, and for some the addiction will be too strong. She has a point. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s benign.

Back in the 60s we didn’t think pot was a big deal; people sitting around, partying, getting high. But THC levels were drastically lower than they are today. “Back in the day”, I never really tried pot, maybe a puff or two, but my friend Pam stuck around long enough to see the consequences of her choices. She saw friends die or disappear into the jungle, never to be heard from again. She made enemies and had to flee for her life. Reading my glib “endorsement” brought back all of the pain.

Full disclosure, I bought a little sack of cocoa laced with marijuana, but I haven’t opened it yet. In the back of my mind I’m afraid of opening Pandora’s Box. The sack is still sealed. It’ll keep until I think through the next step.

Monday, June 6, 2016

What I Know About Being 60-Something

When I was younger, I thought age came in only two flavors—you were old or you were young. I preferred young. I dreaded being—old. But I’ve discovered some things I wish someone had told me when I was 40.

The sixties (not talking about the 1960s—the hippie, Beach Boy, maryjane toke years, ) talking about the years between 59 and 70. I haven’t experienced so much growth and change since I was a teenager.

These are the years where the decisions we made in our 40's reap consequences—for good or bad. When I was 40 I thought the consequences were immediate—divorce or stay together, your kids go to college or they don’t, you get to go to Europe (or Alaska or Hawaii) or you don’t. I didn’t realize that what you put into your mouth at 40 stays in your body like a simmering volcano, waiting to erupt when you reach 60. Ditto, the conversations you have with your husband, the disposable income you tuck away, the amount of exercising or couch potatoing you do.

The early 60's seems to be a gateway. People die of heart attacks, have strokes and cancer. They die on golf courses in greater numbers. I thought it was my imagination, or my unlucky choice of friends, but my doctor told me that if I live to 70 I’ll probably live to 90. Wow. Not sure I want to, but that’s another story.

Here’s what I know about being 60-something:

Sixty comes in like a lamb. You and your husband are those happy people in cruise line and Viagra commercials—smiling at the camera like you have a secret. Smiling with your own teeth and hair, wearing sexy shoes and real make-up. You think nothing of driving into “The City” to take in a show. Midnight and wine are your friends. So is your chin. In good lighting you could pass for 48. And you do.  

By 68 you start to see life as an assembly line. Some of your family and friends are dropping off. People who rode the conveyer belt on the last loop aren’t there anymore. You start to wonder if it’s your turn for the packing box.

You start making a mental “Bucket List” that includes unfinished novels, a collection of short stories from all the stories you’ve written. You start giving things away—advice, clothes, a little cash to your children (as long as they don’t call saying they’re in jail in Mexico.) You start reading about senior abuse. You make a medical end-of-life plan—just in case. You go elk hunting, walk part of the Pacific Crest Trail, learn to fish, learn to play the piano. You buy the luxury car you always wanted because it may be your last.

You notice that the clothes and shoes you’re drawn to in stores aren’t that comfortable. You make some unwise fashion decisions and reality starts to dawn. You find an excellent assisted living facility for your mother. You go through her closets and you keep a few pieces of her clothing that you always liked—and you hang them in your own closet. You wear the muumuu a week later. It becomes a staple.

Your brain starts to get really smart. You’re a whiz at Sudoku and Scrabble. You hang onto candidates' policies and can’t understand why everyone doesn’t vote. You see both sides of the issues—either that or you become radically one-sided. You read prostate statistics. Take an over-55 driving course—and ace it. You record TV shows because you don’t need 90% of the stuff they sell in commercials. The most important phone calls start with, “Hello . . .Grandma?”            
Listening to your friends complain about their mates gives you a headache. So do a lot of things that you decide to cut out of your life. Church becomes personal, the journey more spiritual, people more lovable. You share meals at restaurants and over-tip out of guilt. You post photos of your grand-kids on the refrigerator and Skype them on Sunday afternoons, and spend long weekends at soccer games and gymnastic try-outs. You play with the grand-kids because their parents are too busy working—and too serious about life. You eat ice cream sundaes. You play.

You make plans for the next ten years but you live every day in the moment.