The Scariest Things in my Neighborhood

Demons have frozen the Photo app on my iPhone and so I can’t share all the pictures I took of the ghouls and goblins in my neighborhood. But believe me, if I could show them all to you, you’d never be able to sleep at night!

Beware — The Ghost of the Golf Widow! We have at least one in the neighborhood. Above is Joe, the Ninety-Nine Hole Golfer. Apparently the Golf Widow heard that he left his wife every weekend to putt around with his old Frat buddies; left his wife to tote water to the kids’ soccer games alone and unaided; left his wife to weed the garden, do the shopping and deal with the temper tantrums. And so one day, Joe mysteriously dropped dead at age forty-five and now his bones stand as a stark reminder to all golf fiends.

Now if Clyde and Fergus actually played those banjos it might make for a very scary Farmer’s Market Pumpkin Patch, don’t you think? Nah.

As for haunted houses, we have only one probability. This bungalow which has been abandoned for about two years.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it was abandoned because it was haunted. I used to walk past when it was occupied and it seemed like a happy little place. I think the people who bought it (for a million dollars!) are probably waiting on … waiting on … waiting on building permits! Now that’s … scary!

Have a Happy Halloween!

Spaceship Garden #ThursdayDoors

The other day I had coffee with a very dear friend in the nearby town of Berkeley California, which has a plethora of unusual and interesting doors. Unfortunately, I was driving and driving in a college town requires one’s complete attention … particularly while classes are in session. Students on their way to class rarely pay attention to crosswalks or street lights or cars. And those on some sort of wheelie jig are the worse. And so for my doorscursion I had to concentrate on the neighborhood around the iconic coffee shop where we met.

Can you see the UFO and the Spaceman standing over it?

The Spaceship garden sat in front of this proud Victorian.

Which, although well taken care of, was largely hidden by overgrown vegetation. As were many of the houses in the area. On the corner was this lending library.

It was probably built by a model railroader, don’t you think? Look at the attention to detail!

My friend … Charlie is his name … is about to embark on a grand adventure. He’s pulling up roots in the Bay Area and moving to Maine. To a small town in Maine.

Charlie is first class photographer who has written a couple of truly gorgeous coffee table books. He’s also involved in the Seed Saver and Build Back Better – Farms movements. On his way across country he plans to visit many like-minded folks.

I’m hoping that he’ll shared his experiences via this blog. Sort of like my friend Carol did during her horseback trek across the Aussie Outback.

Check out other Thursday Doors at Dan’s place.

Paper Bags and Masses

Today would have been my friend Carol’s birthday and we would have taken a long walk together up at Inspiration Point and then parted. Always sadly for she was battling breast cancer. This piece was written during one of her remissions. At the time she shared it with me, I thought it too tainted by anger because I really didn’t understand. I still don’t but it’s so beautifully written, I thought in honor of her birthday, it should be shared.

Carol Teltschick

WHEN I TOLD MY FAMILY I had cancer, my Aunt Laney was the only one who wasn’t shocked. I was the healthy one of the family, the one who cycled up mountains, went trekking in strange places and ate my fruits and vegetables. But my aunt had had a dream.
“What was it?” I asked. She hesitated, then pronounced the word sick—carefully, as if it saying it aloud might choke her, and making me understand that in her dream, I had died.
Well, I did not want to say the dastardly word aloud anymore than she did. So we moved on, away from the word death in the superstitious way that cancer teaches; bumbling, stumbling and blathering our way toward anything that might offer safer ground. I was a rank newbie but learning fast—sorting through the lore, myth, statistics, options, and attitudes—still believing that I was somehow going to take charge of the situation. And stay positive!
In the following months I learned more. Much more. I was taught to look upon the results of deforming surgery as “my health,” then sent on my merry way to the chemo lounge, where I learned what it feels like to be systemically and methodically poisoned for a period of four months. These were brutal experiences that rendered me, on most days, psychically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically helpless. Incapable of normal conversation, I rarely spoke to anyone but my husband (who couldn’t talk either) and a few select family members. On one of my good days, my aunt called to say she had been to a Cancer Walk, and had lit a candle for me. I pictured something tall, tapered and elegant, shedding light in the darkened alcove of a church with stained glass windows. I was just beginning to smell the incense when she explained that the Cancer Walk had been held at the local high school stadium of her small rural town, and that instead of flickering in a quiet alcove, the candles had lined a quarter mile track normally used for sports. There were thousands of them, each one burning inside a paper bag with someone’s name handwritten on it. On one of those bags—one among the thousands—my aunt had written my name.
After that, her sister, an ex-nun, recruited a whole convent of Dominicans to pray masses for me.
“Thank you,” I said to my Aunt. “Thank you so much.” At least I think that’s what I said. My mouth was dry and my mind, slipping in and out of the purple-y-pink muck of Chemo Land. If my brain had been working better, I might have said that candles represent hope, and that I was lucky to have a whole convent of nuns on my side. But the thick-tongued “thank you” was all I could muster.
Eventually, my fog-swamped brain became curious about the practice of lighting candles in paper bags and I went online to find out more. More is a pathetically inadequate word for the plethora of Cancer Walk websites and ceremonies you can find online. They are as ubiquitous as blockbuster movies, replete with colorful pictures and bizarrely festive narratives. Here’s how a Cancer Walk works: First you have the Survivors, walking around the track as best they can—hatted, handkerchief’d, wigged, bald, lash-less, brow-less and lucky to be alive. Next come family members and friends, supporting and applauding the courage and stamina of their Survivors. The grand finale is a ceremony of candles, each one set aflame within the confines of a white paper bag. The paper bags struck me as weird—and a serious a fire hazard, but then I figured they probably had some special Cancer Fire Trucks parked nearby, and far be it from me to spoil the jolly times.

However, then I learned that paper bags are “remembrances” of “those who had lost the battle,” people who were “no longer surviving”—which is to say, dead—and the jolly times were over.
Did my aunt know something I didn’t? Something I refused to admit? Because anyone can see that at a Cancer Walk, there are always a lot more paper bags than walkers. So maybe those masses had been Requiem Masses, and I was … now wait a minute … From somewhere in the murk of my drug-riddled body, a weedy little voice began to wail: I am not dead. Not dead. Please do not let me be dead.
Couldn’t they see how hard I was working at all this? Hadn’t they noticed all the things I had bargained off, trading body parts and abilities for the mere possibility of regaining my health? And now you’re going to tell me that I died anyway, so messed up on drugs that I didn’t even notice? No. Because if that’s the way it is, I can chuck this positive attitude in a millisecond, baby, and get rip roaring mad— volcanically angry in a way heretofore unexpressed by person, animal, thing, inanimate, living, dead.

[From here she goes into a rant about the medical establishment which I’m happy to share. It’s well researched but written in anger.]

People who have cancer live in a different world than those who do not. It is a Little Shop of Horrors that none of us ever intended to visit; the kind of place that renders us helplessness with statistics we cannot change, and sucks us into depressing forms of logic. If 40,000 women must die of breast cancer this year, and I pray to get well, am I asking another to die in my place?
And we know that when we die, we must be shushed from the minds of Survivors and cancer innocents alike. Because thinking about all those dead people—perhaps even imagining over a half million bodies in one big pile, converging in some gigantic encampment like penguins flocking to the South Pole in a massive act of death instead of mating—is not something anyone can sustain for very long.
Recently, though, I had to thank my aunt again. Because now that I made it through the treatments, thereby immediately qualifying myself for promotion to the status of Survivor, I realize that the candle and the masses were indeed remembrances. The old me—that energetic person with the athletic body and the fearless mind—is dead. I have no choice now but to bury her, grieve her and try to move on, to whatever destiny has in store for this new Survivor-me. She is a woman I do not yet know, or believe in. But I will give her everything I possibly can, and do my best with whatever she can give me in return.
So thank you, Aunt, for the masses and the candle—I understand that I am but a humble glimmer, one among millions, all hoping for the chance to live a healthy life. And I understand that, while my own experiences were horrible, others suffer more. Their souls visit me as I fall asleep; so debilitated, or so dead, they can no longer speak for themselves. I wrote this for them.

#ThursdayDoors: A long labor of love

My son was fourteen when we moved into this house. He was a shy and awkward fourteen year old, tall and skinny … not thin … skinny. And he wore braces. I had just married a man who was the complete opposite of his father. Husband Number One wore tailored suits and monogrammed shirts and if he needed to hang a picture, he hired someone to do it for him. The only time Joel ever wore a suit and tie was to give his daughters away and that’s only because they insisted. And he owns about every sort of power tool you can buy.

Joel’s workshop

We’d only been in the house for a year when I suggested that a semi-secluded flat patch in our backyard would make an excellent spot for a tea garden. I pictured a small, perhaps prefab, writing shed and a Koi pond. Nothing special; just a place to escape to. And then my father got involved. He had just retired from teaching mechanical engineering and needed a project. I suspect he also wanted to get to know my husband a bit better.

My son had been having a hard time finding a job for that summer and so Joel put him to work. First, he cleared the existing patch of weeds and bushes and then he rebuilt a crumbling retaining wall. Meanwhile my father began visiting with his sketches in hand.

First came the foundation. I tried to help by dragging concrete bags down the hill … but my primary responsibility was to keep my shopaholic step-mom busy. My father absolutely despised shopping.

By the end of that first summer Cameron was still a skinny lad but he had started to buff up. He entered the next year of school with curly, sun-bleached hair and a surfer’s tan. Needless to say, he actually began to have fun at school.

No backing down now!

Because we were both still working, the tea house took over three years to finish. The framework and roof took perhaps the longest time.

My father liked to joke that in an earthquake the tea house would hold up better than our house!
Almost done

We finally finished the summer that my son left for college. By then he knew enough about construction to get a job at a hardware store. There he quickly became the go-to expert on Simpson Strong Ties which made him very proud. He also starting spending his summers working for Habitat for Humanity.

The other day I found my father’s original sketches and sent them out to Cameron. He and his wife both work in downtown Manhattan but they’ve bought a piece of property two hours north of the city where they hope to build a house. Like the tea house, I imagine theirs will be a long labor of love. At least, I hope so.

Autumn #ThursdayDoors

Believe it or not, this is a screen door. Not just any old screen door but one that is virtually impossible to break into. Plus, can you see the person beyond the steel reinforced screen?

If you’re lucky, once you get beyond this door she’ll show you some of her wonderful quilt work.

Can you see the lighthouse swatch that inspired her design and colors?

She has an amazing quilting room with, what looked like, thousands of swatches and two industrial strength sewing machines that scared the life out of me because I flunked sewing in Home Econ. If I were to write a story ala Stephen King, it would star a demonically possessed Singer Sewing Machine — complete with evil pedals. And the evil thimbles and spools! My friend keeps the devil from her door by creating soft and cuddly quilts and pillow cases for children in foster care. She’s amazing!

If you can convince her to show you her garden, here is the marvelous mural on her back garden wall.

There is a sad story behind this mural. The lady who painted it had just lost a child and my friend had just lost her mother. But together they worked through their grief and this mural is a testimonial to both of them.

The other side of the mural.

And … I came home with some homegrown tomatoes from her garden. A great day. Check out other doors at Dan Anton’s place.

I’ll try again

A couple of days ago I complained that WordPress had eaten my post but not the images I’d uploaded for the post.

We finally got some rain, not enough to put a dent in our drought but enough to slow many of the wildfires burning west and north of here.

Many of you were nice enough to try to shed some light on what might have happened.

  • Hugh, from Hugh’s News and Views, suggested that the post was in quarantine pending a review by WordPress. Hugh’s a brilliant guy who knows just about everything about blogging but I didn’t write anything nasty enough to be censored. However, I checked and guess what? What he meant (which I misinterpreted) is that, if your site has been infected by malware, it will be quarantined until the malware is snuffed. Generally you will receive an email if this happens but not always. Especially if you have multiple email addresses like I do. So, thanks once again Hugh!
  • A few bloggers suggested that I may not have saved the post before publishing it. That could well have been true.
  • Yvonne at Priorhouse told me to turn on two factor log in asap. An excellent idea!
  • Anon, blogging over at Anonymole – apocryphal alligators, suggested that I had two versions of the post open and saved the wrong draft. Also possible. I’m generally doing two things at once.

But instead of guessing, I have put a question into the Happiness Engineers. Thanks everyone for your help!

Kitty posing next to a collage done by a friend of mine named Craig DelGaudio He cuts ads out of magazines and pastes them on torn pieces of cardboard and then he singes the edges. Kitty is definitely in need of a new cat condo, isn’t he?
Kitty posing next to another piece of art. A train trestle for Joel’s model train layout. This piece took him all summer to assemble. He’s very meticulous about some things. Not everything — like his bathroom, sigh.

Okay guys, I’ve saved this post three times! So I’ll add one last thing – an image gallery of my friend’s artwork for your amusement. My favorite collage is Pep up your parts! What do you think it was an ad for?

Pressing publish and hoping I’m not sending y’all a blank post.