#ThursdayDoors China Camp

Here is my contribution to Norm 2.0’s #ThursdayDoors event:


From  China Camp where in the 1800s, a group of fisherman pulled shrimp from the marshes along the San Pablo Bay, dried them, and shipped them off to China in boxes like this:


Here are some more pictures of China Camp:


The cabin


The Dock

Sadly the fishermen were forced out of business in the early 1900s and so now it is a portal to the past and a popular picnic spot.


Art left on a picnic table at China Camp

Our Lone Dove

A couple of days ago I chased away the grey cat who belongs down the street but not soon enough. If I’d only decided to stretch a minute earlier I might have saved him but I didn’t and so now the widower is gone. 

IMG_3262I found this guy lying on the concrete patio near where I’d chased away the cat. At first I thought he was a goner but as I drew closer he started flopping about in a vain attempt to fly. His wing looked crooked and he couldn’t stand. His pinprick eyes pleaded with me – don’t leave me here, easy pickings for whatever predator might happen by. So I ran inside, found a shoe box, laid a piece of soft linen in the bottom and rousted Joel from his sudoku. He’s the animal person. Oh, I love animals but I don’t know how to handle them like he does. He gulped, donned his garden gloves and then followed me out to where the dove still awaited a painful ending. Luckily I knew – from years of field trip carpooling – about the wild animal hospital near us and so, after a quick phone call, off we went.


Pamphlet urging people to keep cats inside

At the hospital a soft-hearted volunteer took our dear friend into the examination room and asked us to sign in. The walls of the lobby were filled with stories about other animals who’d been brought in and rehabilitated, giving us hope, although it was hard to imagine a bird with a cast on his leg.  When she returned I asked why we’d been asked to sign in and she explained that “our” bird had been given the number next to our name so if we called in they could tell us how he was doing.  She also said his hopes were slim. We haven’t called in.

Did you know that mourning doves are monogamous? Not only that but legend has it that once a mourning dove’s mate dies, he will not take another.  Kind of hard to believe, isn’t it?   Well, here’s my story:  

Many, many years ago – so many that I’ve lost track – we decided to built a teahouse on a lower meadow where only weeds grew.  It took a long, long time because we were working full time, raising children, and trying to see some of the world while we were still relatively young and so it was a weekend only project further winnowed by family visits and the like.


Seriously over-architected roof of the teahouse

It was also a family affair; my father architected the elaborate roof, my teenage son buffed up during the summer months  by hauling blocks and concrete down the hill for the foundation, and Joel, of course,acted as financier and project coordinator. They would work together all day often squabbling over the how-tos and then after supper fall asleep on the old blue couch (which even then had seen better days) while watching British mysteries and drinking red wine.


Two Doves, by Connemoira

On calm evenings hawks glide over the teahouse, silent killing machines whose shadows give warning to the songbirds. I love to watch them but always grieve for who will provide their dinner.  On one such evening Joel decided to finish off a few things down at the teahouse.  He didn’t notice that Mr. and Mrs. Dove, a lovely couple who’d visited us routinely in the past, had followed him down, probably because they knew he generally carried bird seed and peanuts in his pocket.  

TeahouseWith a screech that set his hair on end a hawk – talons drawn, sharpened and already dripping with blood – buzzed  his head and grabbed Mrs. Dove by her long slender neck.  She didn’t stand a chance.  

After that  Mr. Dove held vigil in the oak near our deck. Always a welcome visitor, a mannerly gent among the raucous jays, chickadees and wood peckers. We will miss him.



Meet Shelley Sackier, author, blogger, pilot and whiskey drinker

Today I’m delighted to welcome Shelley Sackier, creator of the always entertaining blog – Peak Perspective – and author of the upcoming teen novel DEAR OPL.

Shelley Sackier author photo3JTT: Hey Shelley – thanks for being here!  First of all, how did you come up with the title Peak Perspective?

SS: The blog title and tagline (Peak Perspective: trying to see above the fog.) was born of both sight and wordplay. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m surrounded by mountains, and living on top of one gives me a spectacular view, except when it doesn’t. Some days I’m fogged in, occasionally I’m above the cloud base, but most days, the scene is truly breathtaking and allows me a view of three counties. As I’m always staring out one window or another for a moment of inspiration, rare is the day when something remarkable does not flit across my field of vision. It’s a little like living on the live set of a National Geographic special filmed by the Weather Bruichladdic viewChannel. Some days are truly spectacular. Some days are scary. A couple have made me think that it might be time to start doing bladder strengthening exercises.

JTT: Please send me a copy of those bladder strengthening exercises ’cause I need ’em.  With those spectacular views there must be a lot of artists living in your part of the world however your illustrator, Robin Gott (who I just adore), lives in Essex England. How did you find him?  

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Cartoon courtesy of Robin Gott

SS: I love the fact that Rob and I live in separate countries and have worked together for a few years but have never met. There’s something so remarkably “today’s business world” about that. We were introduced years ago and had almost worked together on a different project. The blog venture just sort of spilled out of that serendipitous past.

Robin is one of those incredibly multi-talented folks whose craft spills over into myriad dimensions. Animation, acting, drawing, writing. His work is prolific and I feel so fortunate to have this time to be creative with him. I’ve discovered what it feels like to work with someone whose brain will likely be preserved for science.

However long the blogging business keeps us artistically woven together, I can think of so many other missions I’d like the two of us to take a crack at. Time will tell. Fingers are crossed. Pencils are sharpened.

JTT:  Blogging does provide us with some interesting bed fellows doesn’t it?  Well, ”bed fellows”isn’t exactly the right term.  Collaborators?  Gads, that’s not much better… (help me troops!)

Haggis in glasses

Haggis of Peak Perspective

Speaking of blogging, I’ve been in awe of your blog for a long time.  I wonder if you’d mind sharing some blogging tips and tricks (or is it top secret)?  When did you start?  How did you build your incredibly supportive audience? 

SS: Well, firstly, thank you for saying so. That’s the hope of so many writers. Tips and tricks? I think, as with so many things in life, you have to be willing to stick your neck out and embrace vulnerability. And even more importantly, you have to be willing to fail. I’ve gotten pretty good at kicking myself out of safe mode, skinning both knees, and then moving on. There’s so much to learn when you make mistakes. Being careful does not make a terribly exciting life. And I crave challenge. And chocolate. I’m not sure which I devour more.

Also, it might be extraordinarily helpful to have a roadmap—a story grid of a sort. Why are you blogging? Is it to share wedding photos? A trip to Dubai? Your time in the slammer? It helps to understand what the end goal is.

My blogging exploits began strictly to develop a skill I thought I needed improvement with—churning out about 1000 words on demand. Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay, finish the laundry. When you devote attention to something every day, bit by bit the challenge begins to feel increasingly more comfortable. Welcome to the new normal.

Jonathan Sackier Blue Ridge Mountains VirginiaAnd building the supportive audience comes from caring about what people have to say. There are so many wildly interesting people on our planet, each with a distinctive voice, and I find it’s like a funky orchestral hot mess when I engage with everyone. It’s a huge time commitment, and I’m not looking forward to the approaching day when I’ll have to back off because of other writing commitments—ones from people who are actually paying me to produce work for them, but I’m hoping to have at least created a community of people who can carry on the conversation if I’m not there and who have made worthy friendships simply from having had my blog site been their playground.

JTT: “Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay,” AMEN!  However, you did manage to finish DEAR OPL while building your audience.  Congrats on that major accomplishment.  You deserve chocolate, lots of chocolate.  However, I know from reading DEAR OPL (and your blog) that keeping our food safe, nutritious, and delicious are important issues for you.  I don’t want to spoil the plot for potential readers but the main character, Opl,achieves some amazing things while battling a common bugaboo for many of us growing up:  a negative self image.  At first, I have to admit I thought the mother was cruel – always making a big issue of Opl’s understandable weight gain (I mean, she had just lost her father!) but by the end you managed to make the mother sympathetic.  I think it had to do with Opl’s growing awareness that staying healthy need not be an arduous task. Was personal experience a motivation for writing DEAR OPL?

SS: I’ve had food issues for as long as I can recall, but not of the same type as Opl. Working in the entertainment industry, one gets judged every which way but Sunday. It was brutal. Costumes were measured and remeasured on a regular schedule. If you lost a pound of sweat during a show from exertion, and your waistband had a half an inch worth of give in it, it was immediately sewed shut. I survived for years believing that fat was an enemy and that tinned peas and Cream of Wheat was my culinary lot in life. This was horrifically rough for someone who grew up in a family full of caterers, butchers and chefs. I loved food, but was always being deprived of it because of the fearful sweeping top to bottom gaze of an unforgiving producer or director.

I was determined to raise kids with the idea of nutrition as the motivating factor for meal planning and food education, and didn’t want to create battles over what we put into our mouths. I knew that as my kids grew more independent I’d lose a lot of sway over what they’d be choosing to eat. I knew that layering information in small bite-sized chunks, and also walking the talk would be important components of whether or not they’d remember what I’d said, and did as I advised. Most importantly, indulging in food they knew I’d cringe at was a given, but I hoped that they’d pay attention to the correlation between what they ate and how they felt afterward. I know the pressures teens feel when trying to fit in with their friends, and that sometimes food issues become friendship issues. In my mind, I believed they’d make diet related decisions based on things other than what the crowd was doing. They learned to love good food, and cooking it themselves has been an ongoing joyful discovery.

JTT: You’re absolutely right – making decisions about what to eat based on how you will feel afterwards is far wiser than going along with the crowd but it is a hard lesson for many teens to learn. On your blog you’re doing an excellent job of what marketeers call “building your platform” and so I’m fairly confident this next question will be an easy one for you to answer, please describe Dear Opl’s ideal reader?  Who are you talking to?  What do you hope your readers take away from the book?

IMG_0694SS: DEAR OPL’s reading base is 9 to 13 year-olds, but I’m hoping to attract kids who may be in a similar situation as Opl—those who feel like they are either losing the battle with weight, or who feel they can’t stop eating junk food, but mostly kids who are desperately looking for a bit of direction. People don’t realize how much help is available and often give up before they’ve even begun.

My hope is that Opl will be able to communicate that there is no “magic pill,” and that change can happen in small ways that have a ripple effect result. If we expect to shift the habits of a lifetime, it requires education, support, patience and faith that you’re doing the right thing. (And a big dose of self-forgiveness when you don’t.) I feel that all too often we’re told by marketers to expect a miracle effect with their slick headline promises and a mind-blowingly easy overnight success. I’m hoping to impart some savviness.

JTT:  You’re absolutely right – kids are bombarded by “lose weight overnight” ploys which are nothing by quackery.  It’s horrible.  Speaking of horrible, now onto the uncomfortable revelations part of the interview (just pretend I’m Barbara Walters).  You’re a pilot and whiskey drinker, is that correct?  Were you also abducted by aliens like other famous whiskey-drinking pilot drinkers, i.e., Harrison Ford? Please describe some close encounters of the third kind you’ve had while soaring through the clouds.

SS: Really? Ford was abducted?

JTT:  Whoops, sorry.  I was actually thinking of the drunken pilot from the movie thThe Fourth of July who saves the world from aliens somewhat in retaliation for having been abducted by them. 

SS:  Well, flying and whisky have been a significant part of my life. Although, never at the same time for obvious reasons.

When I was first learning to fly, in order to gather up the courage to do solo night flying (which is incredibly different than daytime flying — you’ve got nothing but a Lite-Brite board beneath you), I’d belt out the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Arc while doing finals and preparing to land the aircraft. You have to acquire a fair amount of knowledge to fly and land an airplane, and a teensy bit more if you’re hoping to reuse it. But you also have to have an element of faith. 

Also, having an old codger for a flying examiner was a lucky thing. I think he realized as I was taking my final physical flight exam that I was still too timid with the aircraft. He took the controls and shouted, “You’ve got to manhandle this beast, lass! And you’ve got to know its limitations.” He then proceeded to pull the plane up into a stall and let her do a falling leaf pattern for about twenty seconds before recovering the aircraft. Kept telling me, “She ain’t gonna break!”


Flying at night

I think that was about as close to an extra-terrestrial experience as I’ve ever had, as I was fairly sure I’d not live to walk on our planet again.

JTT:  I love that story! My father was a pilot – he loved to get me into his little Cessna and do loop-de-loos! Okay, here’s your chance for revenge, what embarrassing question would you like to ask me?

SS: You see, this is where I’m struggling, Jan. I can find absolutely no dirt on you. You are one of the most impressive humans I’ve come to know. Your work with the Make a Wish foundation, your advocacy for at risk foster children, your books, your blog, your terrific writing … yeah, I got nothin’.

But maybe I’ll ask the question readers are probably wondering: how is it that you can get so much done in one lifetime?

JTT: How sweet of you but perhaps I should have given you my ex-husband’s phone number!  

Whenever I hear the theme song from Raiders, I’ll think of you soaring across the skies! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and best wishes for the release!  


DEAR OPL’s back cover

DEAR OPL is available for pre-ordering on Amazon here.  The official release date is August 4, 2015.  Here’s my review:

DEAR OPL is an honest look at a problem facing many young teens: negative self-image brought on by weight gain.  It is also the story of a family trying to move ahead after a catastrophic loss.  Young OPL (who left the “A” off her name in order to lose weight – LOL!) has a talent that surprises her classmates and gives her an outlet for the ongoing frustrations of teen life.  She can blog!  In fact, she rapidly becomes a blogging superhero as “Dear Opl” dispelling advice to her peers with an abundance of sass and wit.   But she doesn’t just make a difference in her own life, she reaches out and makes a difference in the lives of others. 

 No update on the letters from Sweden – but as soon as I find someone to translate, I’ll let you all know!

Letters in Swedish . . . author unknown

After taking a break to ponder the delights of gibberish, I’m back to pulling skeletons out of the family dirty laundry hamper.  Perhaps I’ll find an even more illustrious ancestor than Deacon Samuel Chapin!  What do you think?Letter_0004

This is one of fourteen letters which were written in the late 1800s to my great grandmother, Nellie Nelson, from someone in Sweden (supposedly . . . we do not have the envelopes to prove this fact).  Nellie died after many years of ill health when her daughter (my gram) was only fifteen years old. After her mother’s death, Gram’s father, who must have been a dour old poop, refused to translate them for her.  He refused to even tell her who they were from.  His stance was “good riddance to old rubbish” and apparently Sweden and every thing Swedish and every one of their Swedish family and friends were old rubbish. Letter_0011

The only clues I have are the notes in my grandmother’s handwriting on the top of a couple of the letters, conjuring up the heartbreaking image of a young girl kneeling beside her mother’s deathbed hoping to learn something about her heritage. Probably while her father was out of earshot.   Letter_0007

Although she had little idea what was in them, Gram cherished these letters her entire life as my mother does now. Today they are very brittle, falling apart in my fingers as I put them on the scanner.  Paper that old should probably be handled by an expert and not someone as klutzy as me but time is of the essence, at any point they could be lost or turn to dust.  


The one above seems to be in a different hand, meaning that more than one person sent Nellie Nelson a birthday wish or wrote to tell her of family events.  However, the only thing I can glean from these fossils is that Nellie’s real name was Pettrunella Johansson (no wonder she went by “Nellie”). What will happen when I do find someone to translate them?  Do I really want to know the secrets they contain or do I want to assume they were filled with cherished stories from the old country?

Making Scents of Gibberish

IMG_0680I know you’ve all been dying to hear the result of my gibberish project (yeah, right!), however it’s summer and mother, who is now living with us, needed underwear and a haircut and since she’s no longer driving, well, you get the picture.  

This morning I did finally manage a few chore-less moments to sit down and revisit my squiggles and doodles and here’s what I came up with:

SalvadorYup, apparently this guy haunts my “trying-not-to-think” mind!  Well, there’s room for at least two of us in there. Here’s my story:  

Salvador and the Chocolate Witching Wind

cloudA wind unlike any other, so powerful that birds gave up trying to fly, forced young Salvador to take a different route home from Abuela’s cottage.  Instead of tearing through  fields of sunflowers, over the hill and down, he followed the  Garbanzo River as it wound through town, past bakeries and candy stores whose chocolatey delights always waylaid the wistful lad.  He wrapped a scarf around his face thus protecting his nostrils from danger for it would not do to be late for lunch.  Would not do at all.  The thought of Papa’s mustache, sharpened to a razor point, twitching close to his eye as he received a lecture in punctuality made him shiver.  No, he could not be late.  You see, Salvador intended to be a watchmaker and thus needed those eyes!

thAs he passed  Pablo’s Cantina, church bells began ringing. Twelve times they cried. Is it midday, he thought, then I am late!  The usual senors looked up from their usual positions assessing their usual day:  There goes crazy Salvador with a scarf over his face like a bandit. What next?  A starfish in his eye?

Young Salvador’s imagination was the shame of the family, often causing Mama to lament he’d inherited Great Uncle Loopy’s “diarrhea of the mind.” Thus when he spotted the church and the clock read only ten after eleven,  he assumed the worst.  Not that Friar Francisco had gotten drunk  and attended to his duties early but that a mighty cyclone followed the awful wind and soon the river would rise and flood the town with hippos in search of chocolate and elephants whose trumpets full of sand would bury the town.  He ran th-1toward the church, knowing he would be safe high in the steeple, however, as he did, the wind stole his scarf, twirling it through the air until finally wrapping it over the face of the already melting clock.  Chocolate, chocolate – I must have chocolate, he thought. Ah the wicked Chocolate Witching Wind!

Okay – please tell me you guys did better with your gibberish projects!


The Gibberish Project

Amanda over at one of my favorite blogs,  The Sarcastic Muse, threw down a gauntlet yesterday, basically saying:  Don’t toss your gibberish in the trash.  Keep it.  Review it the next day and perhaps, surprise surprise, it will – like an oyster – reveal a pearl.  (see below for instructions)

As you guys have probably guessed, this is exactly the kind of challenge I find impossible to resist. So here’s my gibberish notebook.  It doesn’t have lines because I believe a gibberish notebook should have doodles and I don’t doodle well between the lines:


As you can see, my debut effort resulted in a battle with my stomach which I clearly lost.  But undeterred I will try again tomorrow or perhaps I’ll try to make sense of the above gibberish or perhaps I’ll just doodle some more!

Instructions stolen from the Sarcastic Muse: 
  1. Get into your “happy writer zen” mode.
  2. Grab your favorite writing tool and some blank or lined paper.
  3. Just write– write whatever pops into your head.
  4. Now the important step: PUT NO THOUGHT INTO WHAT YOU ARE WRITING.
  5. Allow your stream of consciousness unconsciousness to flow uninhibited across the page(s).
  6. Once the brain dump is complete, do a quick read through.
  7. Make a screwed up face.
  8. Say out loud “What the heck is that about?” (or just laugh out loud as though you are about to be committed).
  9. Put away what you have just written and don’t look at it.
  10. Once 24 hours has passed, put on your writer’s hat.
  11. Pull out the written gibberish from the day before.
  12. Read and dissect what you wrote.
  13. Start to glean little treasures from what you have journaled.
  14. If you can’t pull anything coherent from the gibberish, follow steps 10-13 again until something viable comes to light (this may take several tries).

Want to join me?  Oh, do say yes!

Bobbins, Shuttles and Shekels


My only claim to fame! Looks like a jolly fellow, doesn’t he?

My great-granduncle Henry had a wife who spent most of her later life in museums and churches transcribing documents.   Her intent was to prove a link back to Henry’s famous ancestor, Deacon Samuel Chapin, one of the founders of Springfield Mass. However because Chapin arrived in this country in 1635 and fathered seven wildly fertile children, the family tree is split into a thousand tributaries. Still Henry’s wife persisted. It was an endeavor that took her all over New England and even across the pond to St. John Baptist Church in Paignton, England which houses Chapin family records dating back to the 1500s .


Family history written in 1910 by Marie Jameson

Once she completed her investigation she sat down to write an account of the family history. The problem is, she was a genteel lady of her times, devoutly religious and intent on writing a glorious account of the family that would make us all proud.  For this reason certain not so glorious moments were carefully wrapped in delicate lace and sweetened with lavender, such as this account of my great-great-great grandfather, Samuel Jameson.     

Permit me to say one thing: he was a man of strong intellect and reasoning powers: but few men had such a memory: he could repeat any passage of Scripture you might mention.    

Wonderful! Sounds like another jolly fellow to hang out with!  However, reading on we learn that this scripture spouting dude went south “for his health” leaving his wife and four children to fend for themselves:

Note:  Mrs. Samuel Jameson became housekeeper for Dr. Lucius Wright of Westfield, working for her home and from time to time the Dr gave her money for what clothes she needed, in lieu of wages.  The children were placed in homes and had to work for their board and living. Mrs, Jameson died in the Dr. Wright’s home.

Hebrew Skehel courtesy of Bing images

I don’t know why this detail is in a note.  Perhaps so we won’t think unkindly of one of our noble ancestors.  Who knows.  

On the next page she details the fate of the poor children of Mrs. Samuel Jameson:  Philander (what a name, hey?) became a manufacturer of bobbins and shuttles* who married – what else? – a dressmaker!  Samuel Jr went west in search of gold and was never heard from again. Abiezer married Mahala Chapin, evidently in an attempt to improve the gene pool.  Lastly there was poor Calvin.  After being “mustered” and then injured in the Civil War he became a collector of rare coins, including: “a Hebrew shekel of a very high antiquity and 2 cent English pieces of the years 1001 and 1098.”  Who knows what happened to those rare IMG_0677family gems?  At this point she’d reached Abiezer, my great-great grandfather, and thus proven the connection between the Jamesons and Chapins.  Hurrah! My claim to fame has been validated. 

Despite my sarcasm, it is a truly wonderful document, even if the interesting and telling sections are housed in notes.

* bobbins and shuttles = parts of a sewing machine

**muster = to call the troops to action