Leon Russell, RIP

Leon Russell went to the big piano bench in the sky last night. When Zippy told me the news, I felt deflated. But I didn’t realize how hard his death had hit me until I put on “A Song for You.” I couldn’t finish listening because the grief was too intense.

Leon Russell was a singer-songwriter who created music I was ALWAYS thrilled to hear whether it came on the radio, popped up on an iPod shuffle, or was background music in a shopping mall. I never wanted to tune him out. Leon Russell’s music made me smile, made me feel, and inspired me to sing along. His voice was unusual, his phrasing could trip me up, and his piano playing made me want to dance.


These two albums reside in my record cabinet. I don’t remember when I bought the Best Of, but have a very clear memory of buying Looking Back. I’d spent the day at the beach and was in the neighborhood supermarket in West Los Angeles when I passed a bin of deeply discounted albums. (I remembered this being a cut-out, but when I pulled it out of my cabinet just now, I was surprised to see there are no notches in the cardboard). This particular Leon Russell record was being sold for about $2, and I snatched it up. Any Leon Russell is great Leon Russell, right? He could sing the phone book and I’d listen.

Well, I got home and discovered that Looking Back was purely instrumental. Leon didn’t even sing! Not only that, Leon didn’t play the piano! On Looking Back, Leon played the harpsichord!

I have to admit I didn’t listen to that album a whole lot over the years (and I doubt any radio stations ever played cuts from it), but I’m still glad I bought it. That record represents an enduring memory from my time in LA. Also? It’s fun to think of Leon now playing in that super-band in the sky, shredding on his harpsichord while Leonard Cohen plays piano.

Thank you for all the music, Leon.
Rest in peace.




Freewheelin’ Bob nabs the Nobel

As has been documented here over the years, I’m a long-time Dylan fan, so wasn’t completely surprised when it was announced today that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Although, as I said in an email to a friend, I do wonder whether Bob should’ve been disqualified from consideration due to his Victoria’s Secret commercial years ago.)

Bob Dylan in November 1963 (Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Bob Dylan in November 1963 (Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Nonetheless, this year the committee chose to honor Bob Dylan’s work which, on a personal note, feels very fitting because Zebu is studying in Sweden right now. The award also feels fitting because of one Dylan song in particular that tragically never, ever goes out of style. For “Masters of War” alone, I’m good with Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Masters of War
Written by Bob Dylan

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

© 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

Amelia, is that you?

This morning I took my exercise and yoga routine to the basement in order to escape the cacophonous roofers. As I did a quad stretch next to the support post, something caught my eye:

My first thought was that those initials were etched by Alex E., one of Zebu’s best friends throughout childhood. But then it hit me: Amelia Earhart!

Because look what else I found just inches from those inititals:

That’s clearly either a flight route or maybe even a rough sketch of Howland Island where Amelia was headed on that fateful flight. Do you know what this means? I’ve uncovered a clue that could help solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance!

Wow! Who knew what was in store when I woke up this morning?!

(Okay, okay. Cut me some slack. I’m suffering the effects of WAY too much loud noise. The hammers are echoing in my head.)




All our exploring

Just finished a Skype session with Zebu who is in Sweden. He’s been there about ten days now and feeling more settled, especially after getting this issue resolved. I carried the laptop around the house so he could see the dogs and cats in their various poses of slumber and he told us of his many adventures.

The son who demanded I hold him for the first year of his life now eats breakfast paste from a tube and purposely gets lost in an unfamiliar city.

Who knew?

Marcel curled up next to my weight bench that's covered with the T-shirt Zebu designed for his 6th birthday.

Marcel curled up next to my weight bench that’s covered with the T-shirt Zebu designed for his 6th birthday.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
~  T. S. Eliot


This may or may not be evidence

Zebu has completed two years of college and is getting ready to study abroad for the next year. He just finished sorting through an accumulation of notebooks, folders, and binders filled with paper from high school and the last two years.

He came across personal notes that made him cringe, Calculus test scores he’d rather forget, and class notes from his all-time favorite class so far, a Latin American history course.

Here’s something I rescued from the recycle pile:
Zebu vocab notes

He believes it’s from a high school English class and as he held it out for me to see he said:

“This may or may not be evidence of me cheating on a vocab test.
I honestly don’t remember.”

Know what?
I honestly don’t care.

Gaining perspective is a beautiful thing.



Young girls dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming cover

I finally read Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING and here are some quick thoughts:

  • This book is lovely and absolutely lived up to its well-deserved buzz and multiple awards.
  • While Ms. Woodson and I are the same age, our childhoods were vastly different. She was a brown girl dreaming in South Carolina and Brooklyn while I was a pale girl who did the majority of my childhood dreaming in rural Wisconsin.
  • On the surface, there were some very big differences in our experiences. Hers included:

Institutionalized prejudice
Big city life
Loving grandparents and extended family

  • Despite those differences, much of Woodson’s story elicited memories so real I could feel, smell, and taste them while others echoed in my head and heart.

Sly & the Family Stone
Crissy dolls with their adjustable hair
“Tingalayo,” the song about a little donkey I remember from my elementary music class
Bubble Yum
Candy cigarettes
The Funky Chicken
Scooby Doo
Best friends
Summer vacation
Listening quietly while grownups spoke
Feeling deeply for those we loved
Struggling to find our voices, our places

Good literature is supposed to help us better understand others and ourselves. BROWN GIRL DREAMING bridged the divide to do exactly that.


Clean Windows, Gloria Swanson, and Me

I’ve come to the startling realization that when life gets particularly difficult, I sometimes cope by washing windows. (Full disclosure: I also cope via cookies, beer, and Netflix.) I just spent the last few hours washing interior and exterior windows plus screens, and I actually enjoyed it. Just me, a clean rag, a bowl of vinegar-water, and a stack of newspaper.

Big deal, right?

It is kind of a big deal. See, when I was growing up it seemed I was always washing windows (and lemon-oiling the paneling and vacuuming the basement stairs and . . .) The combination of a slightly obsessive-compulsive mother and a house full of windows made for many, many hours scrubbing at fingerprints and smudges and whatever else my brothers stuck on the glass, and I resented the chore. The Wisconsin humidity made it impossible for the windows to dry correctly and I was forever battling streaks so that window washing was more often a rage-inducer than a coping strategy.

Now I’m an adult living in oh-so-dry Colorado, and washing windows is almost a zen activity. The windows dry quickly and mostly streak-free! It’s me deciding when to wash windows, not my mother! Plus, clean windows make bird and squirrel watching so much more enjoyable!

Also? These days I don’t have to worry about anyone mistaking a clean sliding glass door for an open sliding glass door. When my sons were little, Wildebeest chased Zebu through the house right after I’d washed windows and poor Zebu hit that glass door so hard he bounced back several feet as blood poured from his nose. I heard the impact all the way down in the basement. (Full disclosure: at that point in my life I probably used the incident as an excuse for letting the windows stay dirty for a good long while.)

But I’ve since adopted a new attitude. And for the time being (at least until the cats and dogs smudge them), I have clean windows and a calmer spirit.

Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen

Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen

” My mother and I could always look out the same window without ever seeing the same thing.”  ~ Gloria Swanson

David Bowie: Kook Extraordinaire


I just listened to HUNKY DORY while lifting weights.
That might seem an odd choice for pumping iron,
but I’ve lifted to that album many times.
As I posted back in 2007,
HUNKY DORY is one of my desert island picks.
I’ve loved it ever since high school when I’d close myself
off in my room and play both sides.

Today might be the first time I cried while listening.
Kooks got to me first.

And if you ever have to go to school
Remember how they messed up this old fool
Don’t pick fights with the bullies or the cads
‘Cause I’m not much cop at punching
Other people’s Dads
And if the homework brings you down
Then we’ll throw it on the fire
And take the car downtown

Will you stay in our Lovers’ Story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you
Soon you’ll grow so take a chance
With a couple of Kooks
Hung up on romancing

And then Quicksand really brought the tears.

I’m not a prophet or a stone age man
Just a mortal with potential of a superman
I’m living on
I’m tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien
Can’t take my eyes from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith
If I don’t explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it
Or, the next Bardot
I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought
And I ain’t got the power anymore.

Don’t believe in yourself
Don’t deceive with belief
Knowledge comes with death’s release

However, as Wildebeest said this morning:
“I never met him, but I don’t think he’d want us to be all mopey.”
Wildebeest listened to lots of Let’s Dance today.

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues

And finally, here’s my favorite tribute I came across today:

RIP Mr. Bowie.

There’s Clutter and Then There’s This

Earlier this week I took a Decluttering class. It was a two-part class and for the second session we were supposed to bring a cluttered drawer, box, or bin to work on during class. It was so very hard to choose just one clutter-filled receptacle from my home, but I ended up taking a drawer that’d been underneath our air hockey table for the past five (at least) years. I ended up dumping/donating 90% of the clutter, and also found this (click to enlarge):
Fletcher and Harlan homemade game 014

I’m not entirely sure what it’s called, but this is a game Wildebeest and Zebu created many years ago. Complete with Maps
Fletcher and Harlan homemade game 011Fletcher and Harlan homemade game 010

Fletcher and Harlan homemade game 004






Fletcher and Harlan homemade game 006






and Power Cards
Fletcher and Harlan homemade game 003








I’m holding onto this game. I know, I know. But would you be able to part with The God of All Ninjas? I thought not.

Remembering Levon Helm

I grew up listening to The Band.
My parents had one of those huge cabinet stereos
that they’d hooked up to our intercom system
so music played throughout the house.

I washed dishes to The Band,
tanned outside on the deck,
lemon-oiled paneling and washed windows to their music.
I spent hours in my room, studying the album covers and liner notes
as I listened to the stories-in-songs they sang while trading verses and
marveled at the many instruments they played and the sounds they created.

These were the soundtracks for much of my childhood:


Rick Danko
Levon Helm
Garth Hudson
Richard Manuel
Robbie Robertson

I knew their names and faces.
And I loved them even more when I found out they’d been
Bob Dylan’s back-up band before becoming The Band.
(Dylan painted the cover art for Music From Big Pink)

I spent my fourteenth birthday at home during a snowstorm
in Wisconsin while they played their very last concert together
in San Francisco. I was heartbroken I couldn’t be there with them
and their many friends: Bob Dylan (see#23), Joni Mitchell, The Staples,
Neil Young, EmmyLou Harris, etc.  But I’ve watched that concert
“rockumentary” (see #24),
 many times since.

In the spring of 1985, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel
played a small club somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.
My friend, Scott E., and I went, lining up at the door well before the show
so we’d get good seats. We were front row. No Levon and no Robbie, but it
was still remarkable basking in the music and memories.

Richard died the following spring.
Rick died in 1999.
And today, we lost Levon Helm.

Levon was the drummer but he also sang some of their most famous songs.
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Up On Cripple Creek. And not-so-
famous Ophelia. When I was pregnant, I made a mix tape of songs for my labor soundtrack. I wanted music so familiar to me I wouldn’t need to expend any energy on
thinking or processing the songs. I wanted to be able to sing every single word
without hesitation. The Weight was one such song.

But right now, as I mourn the passing of yet another member of The Band,
I offer you Levon singing All La Glory.

Thank you for all the beautiful music, Levon.
Wherever you are, I hope you’re still smiling and laying down the beat.

Wordless Wednesday: The Pogo Edition


(Okay, a few words: Churchy and Albert are characters from the Pogo comic strip  
and they're what my brother and I played with way back when. These and other characters
came in boxes of Biz Laundry Detergent but we no longer have the originals so I bought
these guys on ebay and made them little vests just like the old days.)


Wildebeest Scores!


Aside from babysitting neighbor kids in our tiny rural Wisconsin community,
my first paying job was at the nearby canning factory.
I was a Visual Inspector.

Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

From 6pm – 2am,

I stood alongside a moving conveyor belt
that was covered with peas.
Wielding a long suction hose to remove undesirables:
clumps of weeds,
little green pea-sized berries that were "poisonous."

Sometimes I sucked up bits of frog.
I also worked the corn pack which was slightly less monotonous
because I was the break person who relieved other workers.
Sometimes I worked at the roller belts carrying the ears of corn
where I grabbed the ones with rotted ends and inserted them into a grinder 
before throwing the newly spruced-up ear back onto the belt.
And sometimes I used a big paddle to shove ears of corn onto the
sorting belts.
Before you get all envious, please know that corn splatter isn’t great for the complexion.
I just got home from dropping Wildebeest off at his new job.
His very first job.
He’s an actor at Casa Bonita.
Saturday was his first day of training 
in which he learned to fire the guns 
and sword fight.
He has lines to memorize.
He gets to chase a gorilla with a big net.
Someday he might be a cliff diver.
The kid’s happy.
And his skin looks great.

My Top 70 for Bob Dylan’s Birthday

Bob Dylan turned 70 years old today and in honor of his birthday, I’m sharing 70 Dylan-related memories:

1) I joined the Columbia Record Club when I was a kid and bought lots of early Dylan records for not much money (because he was a Columbia artist), eventually defaulted on my membership and then had a collection agency after me until they figured out I was a minor and they couldn’t touch me.

2) I kept a harmonica in my car to practice while stuck in L.A. rush hour traffic but never advanced beyond basic discordance.

3) When I was a kid, I took over the care of my younger brother’s gerbils and renamed them Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.

4) After having trash and beer thrown at me for singing and dancing during a Dylan concert in Orange County, CA (otherwise known as Behind the Orange Curtain), I vowed never to attend another concert in the OC, a promise I kept.

5) I once dreamed of ex-wife Sara Dylan and woke up really indignant about Bob treating her so poorly.

6) I used to work for a man who shared a rabbi with Bob Dylan, and contemplated staking out the temple for a sneak peek.

7) I had a class at CSU-Northridge with a young man who was friends with one of Dylan’s sons (Jakob?) and who used to hang out with the son and listen to Blonde on Blonde, an album my classmate described as “Okay.”

8) When I was a high school freshman, I gave a speech on Bob Dylan; the teacher was thrilled but the other kids could not have cared less.

9) The first time I ever saw Dylan in concert my seat was behind the stage but Dylan turned and played to us so it was a great experience.

10) My parents allowed me to miss a day of school to get those tickets.

11) Maybe because I’m not a fan of organized religion, I’ve never been offended by Dylan’s swings between Judaism and Christianity and back again.

12) I’ve logged a lot of miles on my treadmill running to Highway 61 Revisited (although “Ballad of a Thin Man” kinda takes the pep out of my step).

13) I listened to Street Legal the other night for old time’s sake but had to quit after a few songs because it made me miss best friend S (who loved the album) too much; I especially wished he was still alive so I could point out the album is highly overwrought.

14) At the last minute, I bought a single ticket to see Dylan at the L.A. Forum and got a pretty decent seat but after he played a couple songs, he said he wouldn’t continue until the seats in front were filled so I rushed the stage and spent the rest of the night a few feet from the stage.

15) I also went alone to see Dylan at the Filmore in Denver and made friends with some people who, for years afterward, invited me to their birthday parties.

16) I named my cat Isis.

17) I bought my copy of Desire at the JC Penney in Portage, Wisconsin, and took it back because the record skipped.

18) Literary agent Edward Necarsulmer IV is a huge Dylan fan and I used to think that meant we were destined to be agent and client, but I’ve since deduced that is not true.

19) Wildebeest loves nothing more than to disparage Bob and his rhyming ways.

20) When I was in high school, Doonesbury included a series of strips featuring Dylan and I taped those strips inside my locker door but was so eager to vacate the premises on the last day of school, I left them behind.

21) Zippy used to quietly pooh-pooh Dylan’s talent but now recognizes his channeling-from-beyond genius.

22) Let’s face it: Joan Baez has aged much more gracefully than Dylan.

23) I was sad on my birthday, November 25, 1976, because I knew Dylan was playing at The Band’s final concert at the Winterland, San Francisco, while I was in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, watching a blizzard out the window.

24) I later went to a matinee showing of Scorsese’s documentary of that concert (The Last Waltz) and smoked cigarettes in the nearly empty theater. I know!

25) Sometimes waiting for Dylan tickets was more fun than the actual concert (see #4), even when I burned my ankle on a motorcycle muffler getting a ride across the immense parking lot to the port-a-potty.

26) There are few more dull or predictable discussions than those focused on the quality of Dylan’s voice.

27) I think the Rolling Stone panel missed the boat by not putting more Planet Waves songs in its top 70 list.

28) I used to be in a critique group with Dylan’s lighting guy who went into instant panic, covering his ears and yelling, “I don’t want to know!” when I mentioned a friend with a bootleg tape.

29) I once spent about three hours trying to get through on a call-in show to ask Dylan who’s saying “Yes!” in these “Isis” lyrics:
“You gonna stay?”
“If you want me to.”
(See, it’s not clear if it’s “If you want me to, yes!” or “Yes!” as in “I want you to stay.”)

30) It’s safe to say that over the years I’ve driven some people away with my Dylan fascination.

31) A former boyfriend didn’t believe I knew all the words to “Isis” but after I performed it for him, complete with gestures, he had a (short-lived) light of respect in his eyes.

32) Zebu had the chance to see Dylan at Red Rocks a few years back but didn’t have much fun because (1) there was a thick cloud of pot smoke in the crowd and (2) he couldn’t recognize any of the songs.

33) The first novel I wrote has an incredibly original storyline about a teenage girl who loves Dylan but is teased by friends and classmates for that love.

34) My critique-lighting-guy friend invited me to sit at the light board during a Dylan concert but I declined because it was soon after September 11 and I couldn’t face being in a crowded venue right then.

35) In 1982, my sister and I went to PEACE SUNDAY in the Rose Bowl to hear Dylan and Baez (among many) but the concert was sold out so we stood next to chain-link fence while guy inside licked his hand-stamp and pressed it on my hand so I could then lick and pass along stamp to my sister.

36) I’m one of two people I know who saw the looong and oh-so-confusing Renaldo and Clara (and the other person is the guy who went with me).

37) Zippy and I watched the Dylan flick, Hearts of Fire, which is one of the worst movies made. Ever.

38) However, trust me when I say Dylan’s pantry scene from the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in which “Alias” reads aloud the labels on canned vegetables is hysterical.

39) Early on in our relationship, Zippy said the soundtrack to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was his favorite Dylan album because it was mostly instrumentals (see #21).

40) I strongly disagree with Keith Richards’ statement about Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” being better suited to a solo than the duet with Johnny Cash.

41) When I try to imitate Dylan I always end up sounding like Joan Baez imitating Dylan on her version of “Simple Twist of Fate” which means it’s really me doing Baez doing Dylan.

42) A long time ago I told a friend if Dylan ever did a commercial, I’d take all my Dylan albums into the street and destroy them but here I am post-Victoria’s Secret and Bob-knows-what-else, and my albums are intact.

43) I went to the record store the day Empire Burlesque was released to buy it and another customer commented on how refreshing it was to see someone so loyal to an artist, but in retrospect, I have to question that loyalty because the album has some definite clunkers.

44) I once called information to get Bob’s home phone number.

45) I never feel like I’m in the mood to listen to “The Time’s They Are A-Changin,’” but then I hear it and am blown away all over again.

46) Sometime in the last decade, Dylan was on the Grammy’s singing a song that everyone later ridiculed as being unintelligible but within a couple mumbles I identified it as “Masters of War.”

47) When I was a teen, Dylan was scheduled to be on Soundstage and I talked to my parents ahead of time about watching it when it came on late that night, but in a fit of absolute bullshit parenting, they didn’t let me.

48) My father-in-law named his dog “Dillon” after the Gunsmoke character but in my mind’s eye whenever I said his name, it was “Dylan.”

49) I was always of the opinion that music class ruined “Blowin’ in the Wind” for a lot of young people much the same way The Scarlet Letter was ruined by high school English classes until a friend told me “Blowin’ in the Wind” holds a special place in his heart due to learning all the words in Sunday School.

50) Way back when in Wisconsin, I listened to Dylan’s early song, “Highway 51” but, being the spatially-challenged person I am, didn’t make the connection with the Hwy 51 running past my hometown.

51) If not for Bob Dylan, I’m not sure I’d know Woody Guthrie’s work (or Arlo’s!), or Phil Ochs or Dave van Ronk.

52) I’m not usually a fan of “greatest hits” compilations but if not for Dylan’sGreatest Hits Vol 2, I wouldn’t know one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”

53) It was hard times when I lived in a tiny North Hollywood apartment but I remember smiling in the dark as I listened to Bob’s laugh when he messed up the opening to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.”

54) Wildebeest just stuck his head in the room to see what I’m working on and when I told him he said, “70? That’s a lot of memories. You really love Bob Dylan, I think Bob Dylan’s a goober.”

55) A friend and I went to the Dylan/Grateful Dead concert at Anaheim Stadium and I swear Jerry’s guitar solo on “All Along the Watchtower” was so incredible it flustered Bob into singing the same chorus twice (but I seem to be the only one who noticed).

56) I have another friend who won’t ever let me forget that on the day of a general admission Dylan concert at the Filmore in Denver, I “forced her out of the car on Colfax” because of road work and detours so she could get in line while I looked for a place to park, and then we ended up arriving at the line at the same time.

57) We were about halfway back on the floor during that show with the misfortune of standing behind a basketball team, but then “Cold Irons Bound” started and I danced and didn’t care about limited visibility.

58) When Wildebeest was a baby he’d calm when listening to Blood on the Tracks except for “Idiot Wind;” he really disliked that song.

59) Wildebeest and Zebu just told me something I can neither confirm nor deny: when they were little and would screw around at the dinner table, I’d get pissed off and send them downstairs while I cleaned up the kitchen, “Tombstone Blues” blasting (“I’m in the kitchen with the tombstone blues”).

60) All I can say in my defense is “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”

61) Actress Jenna Elfman reportedly lost her virginity while listening to “Lay Lady Lay” but I can’t listen to Dylan while having sex because, for me, there’s no tuning him out; I can’t write while he’s playing, either.

62) Hard Rain is a phenomenal live album, and don’t even try talking to me about the distortion and poor sound quality.

63) If it weren’t for the Rolling Thunder Revue, I wouldn’t know about T-Bone Burnett and Mick Ronson and Ronee Blakley and Scarlet Rivera.

64) Come to think of it, I started reading Crawdaddy magazine in hopes of finding a mention of Dylan, and was introduced to all sorts of musicians along the way.

65) From the very start my attraction to Dylan had as much to do with his use of language as the music and while I never mastered the guitar or harmonica or singing, or anything even remotely musical, I consider him a huge influence.

66) I still haven’t landed in Publisher’s Marketplace but it’s cool Bob’s gotten deals for turning songs into picture books; however, it’ll be hard to take if he sells a middle-grade before me.

67) I can’t remember ever putting on a Bob Dylan record and deciding it wasn’t what I wanted to hear; no matter the mood, it’s always a good time for a little Dylan.

68) And with his catalog, a little Dylan can easily turn into a marathon listening session.

69) So many people were outraged when he went electric and, in their minds, turned his back on “the movement,” but Dylan’s Dylan no matter whether he’s singing about a miner or a clueless reporter or the exquisite pain of a breaking heart.

70) When I listen to Joan Baez sing about Dylan in “Diamonds and Rust,” I want to weep for her lost love but then “Winds of the Old Days” plays and I’m in awe of her graciousness:
“singer or savior, it was his to choose
which of us knows what was his to lose”

Bob Dylan and Me


Next week, Bob Dylan turns 70 years old.

When Bob turned 50, I bought a bottle of champagne and watched Don’t Look Back 
(after calling the Anchorage video store days ahead to put a hold on a copy only to find 

out from the baffled clerk there was no huge demand), and toasted Dylan’s health and continued genius.

This time around, Rolling Stone is throwing the party.
The current issue includes a list of his 70 greatest songs (as decided by a panel)
along with some commentary from various singer/songwriters.

It’s an interesting list, in part because the enormity of Dylan’s song catalog boggles the mind.
How to choose?

My mother texted me the other night (yes, she’s 81 and she texts!)
to tell me she was reading Rolling Stone and to ask which was my favorite song.

I said I couldn’t choose just one but that "Hurricane" was the song that caught my attention
when I was 13 years-old, and that I bought the 45 and then wrote out all the lyrics.
The song’s so long it was both Side A and Side B, and somewhere around here I have
those sheets of notebook paper with the hand-printed lyrics.
It was a long process and I remember sitting next to my record player, 
lifting the needle to replay parts so I’d catch every word.

"Pistol shots ring out in a barroom night . . ."

Years later when I lived in North Hollywood in a funky old house converted to a triplex,
my artist-downstairs-neighbor was working on a collage and invited me to make one, too.

I went up to my tiny apartment and gathered the Dylan scrapbook I’d created when younger.

Over the years, this collage has hung on various walls in the places I’ve lived,
and more than one person has looked at it and asked, "Who’s the big black dude?"

That’s Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the boxer who was wrongfully accused of murder,
and the subject of "Hurricane."
I cut that photo of him from the sleeve for the 45.
Dylan brought a lot of attention to the case and many years later Rubin Carter 
was released from prison where he sat "like Buddha in a ten-foot cell."
"Hurricane" is just one of many, many awe-inspiring songs 
that happened to mark the the beginning of my fascination with Dylan.
The man from Hibbing, Minnesota, caught my ear with a song calling out for justice, 
and kept me listening all these years.
Even when I couldn’t understand what the hell he was saying.

Can’t You Smell That Smell?


Somewhere in my vast collection of old photographs,

there’s a picture of my brother and his high school girl friend
sitting in crimson high-backed upholstered chairs.
On our lawn.
My mother had put a chicken in a pot of water and left it on the stove.
All night.
Our house reeked.
So badly that I missed two or three days of school in order to clean.
Furniture on the lawn to air out.
Cupboards emptied and scrubbed down.
Dishes washed because when the stench is bad enough, dishes can absorb it.
I couldn’t stand high school so was happy to be home.
It was springtime in Wisconsin and a friend skipped school one day to help me out,
and I still remember our lunchtime break and how we laughed as the warm sunshine washed over us.
"Give me rays! Give me rays!"
Cut to last night.
Zippy, Wildebeest, and Zebu went out for dinner but I chose to stay home.
I emptied a bag of frozen broccoli into the steamer
and left the room to check something on the computer.
                                                                                                        © Tracy Abell 2011

This is the pot after it soaked outside all night.

The house doesn’t smell all that bad right now and we didn’t have to move furniture.
I did, however, spend a lot of time walking through the house, spritzing the air with vinegar and water. 
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this episode is why I felt compelled to eat the broccoli.
Next time (and I’m sure there will be a next time), I’m tossing the broccoli.
Maybe I’ll just open all the windows and go out for ice cream.

Agnes and Bob . . . Again


AGNES by Tony Cochran

When I was younger and colossally more naive,
I called Information in hopes of getting Bob’s number in Malibu.

Clearly, my efforts would’ve been better spent on 
forging a friendship with Agnes.




I have a friend who once told me how to cure an earworm
(defined as "a tune that is stuck in one’s head, especially as unwanted or repetitive.")
She said to call up someone, sing the song snippet into the phone, 
and then hang up.

Earworm Transfer!

For the past several days, 
I’ve had the medley of songs
from the Teresa Brewer compilation album
advertised on television in the 70s 

Over and over and over again,
I keep singing snippets of these songs.

Because I’m suffering multiple earworms,
I’m going to try a new approach to Earworm Transfer.


Put another nickel in,
in the nickelodeon.

I don’t want a ricochet romance,
I don’t want a ricochet love,
if you’re careless with your kisses,
find another turtle dove.

Wouldn’t any body care to meet a 
sweet old-fashioned girl?

I’ve been jilted.

Bo Weevil, Bo Weevil,
where you been all day?

"Til I waltz again with you,
let no other hold your charms.

The funny thing is,
I watched very little television growing up.
The TV was mostly locked away
but at the whim of my father, 
would occasionally reappear.

I remember being so, so happy to watch
"Gilligan’s Island" after school.
I’m betting the Teresa Brewer commercial played then.

It’s about thirty-five years later,
and I sing the songs in the exact order they played in the commercial.

Talk about the power of advertising.


Reading Banned Books


It’s my turn at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors,
and I’ve posted My Childhood, My Reading List, an exploration
of banned books I have loved.

I hope you can stop by.

Wishing everyone a glorious autumnal weekend!

                                                                                                                                          Image from Morguefile.com

Middle-Grade Blog Launch!


I don’t know how I would’ve made it through childhood without books.
I’m the fourth of five children, and don’t have memories of picture books and lap reading,
maybe because life was hectic and it didn’t happen often.

But I do remember reading books by myself, some of them over and over.
Independent reading was a gift,
and I took advantage of it.
Every day.

In my room,
on the bed or floor,
on the couch,
in a tree,
back of the car,
in a tent,
on the school bus,
curled up on the window seat,
at the kitchen table.
Reading, always.

Books got me through.
They still do.
Which is why I’m so proud to be part of the group
From the Mixed-Up Files . . . of Middle-Grade Authors.
(Special thanks to Elissa Cruz for the idea and organization!)

Today is our launch and I hope you’ll go check out the new site.
You might win free books in our first giveaway,
but at the very least I hope you’ll relive your own middle-grade reading memories.

Thankful Thursday: The Little Brother Edition


As I searched for photos to use in this week’s birthday tribute to my big brother,
I came across all sorts of other fun childhood photos.

Exhibit A:

So, today I am thankful for:

My little brother, Stephen,
who was a good sport and not only played dress-up with me
but also mugged for the camera
and made me laugh,
and, perhaps most importantly,
helped me refine my daring fashion sense.


Happy Birthday, Big Brother!

Today is my brother’s 50th birthday.
He was my best friend when we were little.

We sledded together, whooping each time we went over one of our jumps and got air.
We crawled on our bellies in the woods, wearing ammo pouches sewn by our sister and clutching guns made of scrap wood.
We swam in the lake for hours at a time, bouncing on a tractor inner tube and playing tag along the shore.
We filled the horse trough with cold spring water and used his stopwatch to see who could sit submerged the longest.
We paddled his canoe along the shoreline and encountered the biggest, scariest carp in the history of the world.
We slept outside in the tent (until the screech owl started screeching).

I had a fearlessness back then,
and I definitely reveled in the moment.
Due in large part to my brother.

Thanks for always pushing me to jump and climb higher and reach farther, Peter.
I cherish our memories, and you.

Wishing you a coming year filled with joy and love and loads of laughter.
Happy birthday, big brother.

Confession time


Way back when in high school I tried out for the basketball team.
Despite being one of the tallest girls in the school and quite athletic,
I didn’t make the cut.
(Did I mention I also had a bit of an attitude and a big mouth?)  

(This is the 2006 Canadian team)

So instead of basketball, I curled for two seasons.
And guess what?
I was really good.
I got to be the skip.
The skip tells the others where to throw their stones 
and when to sweep.

In other words, I got to boss people around.

I like to point that out whenever I hear someone dissing shuffle board on ice.


Remembering S

Today is the 17th anniversary of S’s death.
S was one of the funniest, most obnoxious people I’ve ever known.
He could make me laugh and laugh,
even when I didn’t want to give him that satisfaction.

But S was also fiercely loyal.

I went through a rough time when I was eighteen.
I’d just finished my freshmen year of college
and wasn’t sure where to go from there.

One particularly difficult night
there was a lot of drama
involving an apartment lease and some so-called friends,
and I just needed to get away.

I called a cab and S left the group to come with me.
But it wasn’t until we were somewhere in the boondocks outside Madison
that we realized we didn’t have much money.

After a somewhat panicked, whispered consultation
we asked the driver to stop.
We gave the confused man all the money we had and got out.
Then S and I walked.

I don’t remember all the remaining details
but I know there was swearing.
And laughter.
Followed by more swearing and laughter.

But at no point was there finger-pointing, blame, guilt or shame.
S was my friend.
My best friend.
He knew I was already hurting enough.

The next day, though,
there was undoubtedly hell-to-pay.

S could only rein it in for so long.

Why I’ve Always Loved Pippi

kellyrfineman got me thinking about books I loved as a child.  She’s currently going through some old favorites, identifying those positive story elements that might shape and inform her own writing projects.  

As I read her posts, I wondered if I could remember why I connected with certain books.  Some of those books and the person I was as I read them, feel so long ago and far away.  Those connections feel faint.

Except for one character who stands out:  Pippi Longstocking.

And this excerpt from Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren says it all:

The arithmetic lesson was interrupted by Captain Longstocking, who came to announce that he and the whole crew and all the Kurrekurredutts were going off to another island for a couple of days to hunt wild boar.  Captain Longstocking was in the mood for some fresh boar steak.  The Kurrekurredutt women were also to go along, to scare out the boar with wild cries.  That meant that the children would be staying behind alone on the island.

"I hope you won’t be sad because of this?" said Captain Longstocking.

"I’ll give you three guesses," said Pippi.  "The day I hear that some children are sad because they have to take care of themselves without grownups, that day I’ll learn the whole pluttification table backward, I’ll swear to that."

That pigtailed, free spirit made me laugh then, and she makes me laugh now.  All hail Pippi!