A tale of three cacti

Zippy and I ran on the trails this morning, and when we reached the top of one uphill slog we paused to stretch. I noticed a colorful cactus off the trail in the approximate spot where we’d seen a beautiful blooming cactus last April and so stepped closer to see whether that cactus was in flower again.

Wrong and wrong again.

The cactus that caught my eye this morning was nothing like the one from last spring. Instead, it was a prickly pear that looked something like this:

But even worse was that as I went off-trail I didn’t look where I was stepping and by the time I returned to the trail my shoes were loaded with yet another kind of cactus. These were like tiny footballs with two-inch-long spines.** And as I pulled them from my shoes I learned that one spine had embedded itself in my ankle. Yeah, so that was cool. But I got it and all the rest of them out and started running back down the trail. Stinging pain be damned.

Alas, those little football cacti were a gift that kept on giving. About a mile later I stuck my hand in my pocket and experienced a whole other kind of ouch. Turns out I’d gotten a bunch of tiny spines in my fingers when removing the footballs from my shoes.

But you know what? It was still a good run.

** I just realized that the post I linked to above contains a photo of my shoe with a, wait for it . . .tiny spiny football cactus. So apparently I’m bound and determined not to learn from my mistakes.

As this crow flies

I’m programmed to believe it’s best to take the shortest route between Point A and Point B. Why waste time, right? Get where I want to be as quickly as possible. To do otherwise is proof I’m lost and confused.  I’m hyper-sensitive to that judgment because I have a horrible sense of direction and spend a fair amount of time feeling disoriented. I’ve literally pulled over and cried in frustration when my brain couldn’t sort out where I was headed. Even when I get somewhere without mishap, I frequently berate myself for taking a longer route than necessary.

3893 resize01

Why? The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And anyone who takes a longer route is someone who’s doing it wrong.

That’s an unhelpful way of thinking and is particularly dangerous in terms of my writing journey. And yet, those thoughts pop in my head. Right now I’m wondering how I could’ve written three drafts of my manuscript without recognizing a key problem. How did I not know?! What is wrong with me?!

Well, nothing’s wrong with me. It’s called the writing process. I’ve been here before and I’ll be here again. Guaranteed.

Today I celebrate side roads, scenic detours, and fourth drafts.

Day 6: Things I learned in Stockholm

An elevator (aka lift), is identifiable by a silent HISS:

This is a Western Jackdaw (image from pexels.com because those taken on my phone are poor quality). We kept hearing and catching glimpses of the bird yesterday, but weren’t sure what it was. Now we know. A Western Jackdaw!

It’s possible to walk a whole lotta dogs without any muss or fuss:

The National Library of Sweden has very nice toilets that are FREE to the public, plus nice statuary next to the entrance/exit:

Zebu, Zippy, and a very chill woman.

The last thing I learned? It’s WAY easier to take photos with my camera and download them to my laptop than to transfer between phone and computer . . .


Twofer Tuesday: Tulip edition

Today’s post is brought to you by people who no longer live here. The first tulip was planted by former neighbors, but not when we were gardening side-by-side. Rather, they did one of their infamous “drive-by plantings” when we weren’t looking, and gifted us some miniature tulips.

The next tulip is a senior citizen and was planted by the former owners of our house. Next month, we’ll have lived here 20 years.

That red flower is a lesson in being beautifully tenacious.


Bunny Monday


When we were together in Florida last October, sister Katie spotted this Marsh Rabbit sitting next to the water in Kapok Park. No big deal, right? Just a bunny hanging out.


You know why? Because other residents of Kapok Park include these:


When I look at this photo, JAWS music plays in my head. (And yes, I know this is an alligator and not a shark.)

So, it’s actually a very big deal to be a small rabbit chillin’ in that habitat. And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here: the environment is treacherous for that Marsh Rabbit, but she survives by being vigilant and standing her ground.

On this Bunny Monday and going forward, I aspire to do the same.




Bunny Monday

This is what I saw out the window this morning, a bunny at rest. A symbol of calm in the universe.bunny-at-rest

And then as the bunny hopped to another position, I noticed this:torn-ear

I guess that’s to be expected.

Because nobody goes through life without a scar.
Carol Burnett


Mail drama

Too tired to go into all the details, but will say that I truly do appreciate the employees at my local post office. It’s a whole new experience trying to mail something to another country. Throughout the lengthy transaction (itemized Customs Form, I’m looking at you!), the postal employee was patient. I messed up a number of things and she set everything right.

I’ve long been a fan of the people doing that vital work and today want to publicly salute everyone at the United States Postal Service. Thank you for your service.

United State Postal Serevice logo

There are major efforts being made to dismantle Social Security, the public schools, the post office – anything that benefits the population has to be dismantled. Efforts against the U.S. Postal Service are particularly surreal.
~  Noam Chomsky

I’m with you, Noam.


Fight or flight at the library

I’m at the library again, doing my best impression of The Little Engine that Could. My study carrel is in the quiet section that is liberally decorated with these signs:

About an hour ago, a man had a conversation on his phone within spitting distance of one of those signs. Several people glanced around as if to say, “What the hell?” but no one did anything. Including me. I figured we all deserve one free pass and that was his. Well, the dude started up another phone conversation. So I channeled my inner Pete Seeger who once said, “If there’s something wrong, speak up!” (and yes, I do realize that Pete was talking bigger issues than cell phone etiquette.)

I stood quietly by the man’s carrel as he continued to talk. And the longer he talked and refused to acknowledge me standing there, the more uncomfortable I felt. But I stayed put and when he hung up, I held out the sign and politely said something like, “I wanted to remind you about this.” He finally looked at me and his faux surprise at seeing the sign was laughable, but he did say, “Oh, okay.”

And that was it.

I’m taking the time to blog about this because I couldn’t believe how much adrenaline was pumping through my system after that interaction. I felt physically ill because of one polite conversation regarding cell phone usage, and I’d like to figure out why.

At this point, the only thing I know for sure is this:

Pete Seeger quotation





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.



Give me adorable, STAT!

I’m a big fan of Craigslist and have used it to buy and sell and give away all sorts of stuff. I’ve had some annoying experiences (I’m looking at you, SAGA OF GIVING AWAY THE FREE ARTIFICIAL CHRISTMAS TREE), but nothing too bad.

This morning Zippy figured out that the PayPal deposit Zebu received for the laptop he was about to ship out of state was fraudulent. When the guy texted Zebu to follow up on the scheduled shipment, Zebu informed him that we knew it was a scam. The guy tried to bluff his way out of it and Zebu ignored him. A couple hours later Zebu received another text: the guy said he was alerting the FBI. (Obviously, Zebu needs to block that number.)

Instead of jumping in the car for a road trip to Missouri to beat the guy’s ass, I’m gonna look at these three.








Do unto others

Yesterday I posted some photos of myself along with a few words about my uneasy relationship with cameras aimed my way. Less than 24 hours later, I took out my camera and pointed it at Zoey.
Zoey at rest

Zoey doesn’t like her picture taken, either. I know this and yet I sometimes try to coax her into looking my way. She’s a big-hearted dog who wants to please me so she usually complies.
Zoey with faraway gaze

But only up to a certain point. Then she lets me know I’ll have to settle for blurred images.
Zoey has enough

Oh, my Sweet Zotato. Thank you for not sinking your teeth into the pushy photographer.





PSA: How to peel an orange

I’ve been writing today so, of course, I’ve also done a fair amount of wandering into the kitchen to see what was happening in the food department. A few minutes ago I spotted a lone orange in the fruit bowl and picked it up with the intention of eating it slowly so as to procrastinate as long as possible promote healthy digestion. But then I realized it was one of those oranges. You know, an orange with that thin kind of rind that’s so difficult to remove you end up with a high percentage of orange still attached to the peel and/or because of aggressive peeling you end up gouging out chunks of orange with your thumbs? I know you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I put the orange back in the bowl and remarked to Zebu that I didn’t have the enthusiasm to mess with the peel. To which Zebu replied, “Roll it.”

Roll it?

Yes, people. Roll those oranges!

Note there are no thumb gouges in this specimen.

Note there are no thumb gouges in this specimen.

I rolled that orange on the table for about thirty seconds and then proceeded to remove the rind in one piece! It’s a freaking fruit miracle! This experience has expanded my world view to the extent that I will no longer avoid thin-peeled oranges. Because of what I learned today, I will face ALL citrus fruits with confidence.

When I told Zebu I was going to share this information as a Public Service Announcement he replied, “I think everyone already knows this, Mom.”

It’s probably true. I didn’t learn about apple slicers until Wildebeest was in kindergarten and one of the other moms used that awesome tool during a class party. (Confession: I also got really excited about that fruit technique.)

So maybe you already know how to roll. If that’s so, congratulations! But if not, then please go forth and roll those oranges!




Butting Heads

Zippy and I are back home after helping Wildebeest get settled in his place. He’d sublet for a couple years to some friends who, while nice young men, are not the tidiest people. To be clear, Wildebeest is not all that tidy, either. However, he was disgusted by some of the mess his friends left behind. But the key word here is “some.” All sorts of stuff that elicited an eew from me didn’t trouble Wildebeest all that much. Or Zippy, for that matter.

My son and my mate have a much higher grime tolerance than me. On the Tidiness Spectrum, I’m closer to one end and the menfolk in my life are nearer the other. So for the last few days I tried hard to reconcile their places on the spectrum with my own. Was I always gracious and tolerant of our different outlooks? No. Did I maintain my cool and refrain from shrieking things like “How do you not see that this bathroom tile is in serious need of scrubbing?!” Um, no. Did we get angry with each other? Yes.

Head-butting did ensue.file000627435113

There were moments when it felt as if Wildebeest and I were reenacting scenes from his childhood. He and I have always triggered reactions in each other, and this week we fell back into some of those patterns. But. There was progress. This time around I disengaged and put down the sponge. Literally. I did very little cleaning and instead focused on the basic tasks I’d offered: painting and steam-cleaning. And then Zippy and I packed up, told Wildebeest we loved him, and drove home.

Where we arrived to find Zebu contentedly sitting ankle-deep in the dog and cat hair that had accumulated while we were gone.



Adopting the Mandela and Roseannadanna perspective


After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.         ~ Nelson Mandela

Or, in the words of another great humanitarian:
“Well, Jane, it just goes to show you, it’s always something — if it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”  ~ Roseanne Roseannadanna

Ain’t that the truth.











Thankful Thursday: I Get to Be a Writer

Lately I’ve been reminded how fortunate I am to have the sanctuary of a fictionalizing brain. When life gets tough and it feels as if the sun’s never coming back, it’s such a gift to be able to escape into my head. I can think about my characters, their challenges and triumphs, and the endless possibilties for telling their stories. I get to picture them in their homes and schools. I’m privy to their emotions and conversations, and experience awe each time a character reveals her true self to me. That magic never gets old.

I am thankful for the secret lives and stories I carry in my head throughout the mundane and most challenging moments of my life. My fictionalizing brain is my secret weapon.

Good thing no one can see inside my head, though. That stuff probably looks a little scary.

A perfect representation of me and my process. Even the axe.

A perfect representation of me and my process. Including the axe.


No Regrets

On Saturday we held a life celebration for my father-in-law.

I’d written something to be shared, printing it out in a large font to make it easier for the family friend who was facilitating the event to read: (Memory to share at Stu’s celebration)

I was teary as soon as I walked into the meeting hall, so when the facilitator asked if I wanted him to read my piece or if I preferred to do it myself, I hesitated. I didn’t want to regret not speaking, but I also did not want to fall apart in front of a roomful of people. We agreed to hold off on that decision until the time came.

The ceremony began and I had already accumulated a pile of damp tissues when my nine-year-old niece came up to the podium. Her father brought over a chair for her to stand on so she could reach the microphone, and then she took a deep breath before proceeding to read the thank-you letter she and her two sisters had written for their grandfather. The words she spoke were beautiful and funny and heartfelt, and I cried some more (as did Wildebeest, Zebu, and Zippy).

When she stepped down to a spontaneous round of applause, the facilitator turned to me. Without hesitation I stood, telling him that if my niece could be brave, so could I.

I’d like to say that I read my words in a clear, steady voice and that I maintained eye contact with the audience. I’d also like to say that all the family members caught my inside jokes and laughed. But that’s not how it went. However, I didn’t melt into a complete puddle and I did make it through what I intended to say. Thanks to a petite nine-year-old girl who showed me the way.

Life’s too short for regrets.
Zinnia for Stu

En Garde!

It’s felt like one challenge after another this year, and I’m starting to think I should’ve busted out the protective gear months ago. Something like this or this:

I like the idea of being able to lunge and parry with something sharp and stabby, but that heavier sword looks pretty good right now, too. Whack.

On the other hand, it’s probably a major hassle to go pee when wearing all that stuff. Maybe I should settle for this in 2015:


Eyes Forward, Fully Engaged

Sometimes as an act of self-preservation I have to turn my back on all the craziness in the world and focus solely on my needs. I block out most everything going on around me in order to nourish my body and spirit.
Assorted birds 021And then when I’m ready to re-enter the fray, I try to hold onto this kind of mindset:

Colin Wright quoteOkay, going forth now . . .

Three Blossoms, Three Perspectives

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”                                   ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Flowers from front garden 021

“The age I’m at now, you go from being a young girl to suddenly you blossom into a woman. You ripen, you know? And then you start to rot.”  ~ Liv Tyler

Flowers from front garden 033

“People think that their world will get smaller as they get older. My experience is just the opposite. Your senses become more acute. You start to blossom.”                                                                                                           ~Yoko Ono

Flowers from front garden 005

No Longer

As I perused my photos, hoping to pluck an image or two from the obscurity of my hard drive, I came across a couple unsettling pics.

Years after this ash tree was photographed, it was attacked by an unidentified blight and is no longer in our garden.

(Just realized that the neighbor’s crab apple tree in the background was also cut down. Not to mention that the snow is also long-gone. HAHAHA!   Ahem.) Then there’s this selfie for a passport photo from a “few” years back:

tracy self-portrait passport photos 015Those glasses, the dangling jewelry, the barely-gray hair . . . no longer. The only constant is my deer-in-the-headlights expression whenever a camera’s aimed at me.

The more things change, . . .

. . . the more they stay the same. (Or, for the Francophiles: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose)

I’ve written before about elder son’s (Wildebeest) penchant for doing things the hard and harder way. I didn’t exactly believe that that rock-headed character trait would disappear as he got older, but I admit to thinking it would, um, soften. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.


I really do have to laugh, though, because when I needed an image for this post, I opened a photo file and clicked at random. This is what appeared:

Dreadlock attempt (hey, that's a great name for a band!)

Dreadlock Attempt (hey, that’s a great name for a band!)

Rather than believing that the Universe is peeing-its-pants-laughing at me, I choose to believe the Universe has my back.

Thankful Thursday: The Happiness Edition

Yesterday was tough for a variety of reasons, but I didn’t realize how much of a toll it was taking until late last night when I was practically giddy with happiness. What happened?  

I received a follow-up phone call from Wildebeest who earlier in the day had expressed major angst and panic about a college assignment. He called back to explain how he’d managed to turn SS Catastrophe around and emerge victorious. As we talked, Wildebeest’s insights into his earlier behaviors and reactions, and my efforts to disengage from his panic, made me feel as if a heavy weight had been lifted. It was one of those Gold Star Parenting Moments.

Right after that call Zippy and I went to the high school to watch Zebu play his last home basketball game. He’s a senior this year and it’s been a disappointing season for him. He was seriously injured during a pre-season conditioning workout and ended up in the hospital for three days with a lacerated liver, and then couldn’t play for eight weeks. By the time he came back, his confidence was low and he never really hit his stride. But I’ve been mightily impressed with how he’s carried himself throughout those disappointments, and so was especially thrilled for him last night when he played his best game of the year. Talking with a relaxed and happy post-game Zebu felt like an absolute gift.

So that’s how my emotionally difficult day ended on a giddy note. As we got ready for bed, I repeatedly told Zippy how much better I felt; I was like an awestruck little kid taking out a shiny new toy to inspect over and over. I couldn’t stop staring at the Happy.

We all make our own happiness in this life, I can’t create it for my children and they aren’t responsible for mine, but it sure feels good when those positive feelings overlap and we’re all basking in the glow.

Batman session 2 001