The first time I had the opportunity to go to Europe, I brought back lots of pictures. Everyone agreed that every other picture was great. No one liked the pictures of my finger, which is a bit of a camera hog (plus it never smiles). But what they objected to were all of the pictures of doors. “You went to Europe, and you took pictures of doors!”


I happen to like doors. So much hinges on them: they let us in from the cold and welcome us home, they hide our secrets, they keep us out and force us to find another way.  In honor of 2012, the new door into our future, here are a few of those photos and what they taught me.


Sometimes you have to knock. It can be intimidating.



Sometimes a small path leads to a big door.




Sometimes the door will already be open. Go in.




Sometimes you have to go further in, to search for the right door.




Sometimes the most beautiful door is barred. It often holds dead men’s bones. You will find a better door.




Sometimes the door that looks the least promising leads you home.




Sometimes the best door is the one that leads you out.




Sometimes the door is so narrow, only the soul can squeeze through.



Sometimes you have to choose. One door leads to another, so you will probably never go back to the other one. It’s okay.




Sometimes the smaller door will get you to the same place as the bigger one.



Sometimes inside and outside the door are equally pleasant. Enjoy your wait.



May you find a welcome mat at door 2012.

Great gerbils, love, awards!


If you look closely at my hands, you’ll see I have time all over them. In order to get it off, I sit in the recliner, rocking and making anagrams of Versatile Blogger. The post title is an anagrammatically correct version of Versatile Blogger. Although it works as a statement, I couldn’t find any evidence on Google that gerbils love awards, so I added the commas, and rather like the expression, “Great gerbils!” I hope you don’t mind me calling you “love.”


Three kind, talented, and versatile bloggers nominated me this month for Versatile Blogger: Detrimentally Disgruntled, Chicken Nuggets and Elmo, and Riatarded. That anyone reads my blog, much less enjoys it, continually surprises and delights me.


Since I received this award once before, I am only going to highlight those who nominated me. Detrimentally Disgruntled draws delightfully for her droll stories, Chicken Nuggets and Elmo provides parenting pointers in prose, and Riatarded writes and rants well about reality and things she reads. You will enjoy each one. None of them are compulsive alliterators, in case you were wondering.



Detrimentally Disgruntled also included me for a Liebster award. I’m thinking of adopting her. And, although “A weird blaster” is anagrammatically correct for Liebster Award, I wasn’t happy with it. I can imagine someone saying, “Web raids later,” to mean they will Google something when they have time, but I will leave it up to you to come up with something more interesting. From Liebster Blog, I came up with “Le Big Lobster,” which would make a nice name for a French seafood restaurant or a blog.


This last award has rules:

  • Thank the blogger (see above) who bestowed the award.
  • Pass it on to five other bloggers, who must have fewer than 200 followers.
  • Notify the nominees.
  • Display the award on your blog.

The hardest part is picking only five bloggers. The second hardest part is figuring out who has fewer than 200 followers.


  • Bluebird Blvd. – an eclectic collection of words, music, poetry, drawings, and good writing (she also owns a small mint for coining new words and phrases)
  • Just Add Attitude – a lovely Irish woman who introduces you to her world through words and pictures while keeping both feet on the ground in her lovely ballet flats
  • Words from my Soul – a writer in Papua New Guinea who writes with a broken heart about violence against women and children (bring tissue)
  • The Painter Lady – an artist who writes about life, books, spirituality, and history


There are plenty more, and I have plans to share them with you in the coming year.





Great gerbils, would you look at the time!  I’m off now on some web raids, looking for love and lobster. Just kidding about the love. I’ve got plenty of that from you.

Thanks for the encouragement, WordPress


How WordPress encourages those who write literary questions

Above is the new format WordPress uses to encourage you after you publish on your blog. Just like your mother, it’s there to tell you that you are awesome but you need to set some goals, oh, and you forgot to add these tags, but I’m not surprised really, you’re just like your father.

The best part, of course, is the quotation under your new goal, put there to motivate you. See the one in the picture above: “Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.”  This was said to the author, Scott B., who has 13,686 friends but only 13 words. But not all pithy little sayings from WordPress are like that. For instance, this is what  WordPress said to me yesterday after I posted:  “That’s not writing at all, that’s typing.”

The quote is from Truman Capote, who said it about Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road, which chronicled Kerouac’s road trips with other members of the Beat generation. Truman was not invited, so he stayed home and  wrote bestsellers like Breakfast at Tiffany’s  and In Cold Blood.

Famous typist, Jack Kerouac (Photo by Palumbo via Wikipedia)

You have to understand  that Truman grew up without a first name (his parents borrowed the neighbor’s last name, Truman, and made him use that), so he may have been jealous about Kerouac having two first names: Jean-Louis. Since Kerouac was also a poet, he chose the nickname Jack, because it rhymes with his last name. Most people don’t know this, but I know all this literary stuff because I studied some literature in college.

Since Capote was only 5’3”, his ego couldn’t squeeze into his body, so it became his bodyguard and liked to get drunk and talk trash about other writers. Writers like Jack Kerouac, who had his own problems with fame and alcohol, but still managed to get his own Wikipedia page.

Now, am I making some kind of comparison and saying WordPress is short? Based on its font size, yes. Am I saying it has an overly large ego? No, just an overly large logo. I have no idea if it gets drunk, but I wonder sometimes when I read Freshly Hammered Pressed. It certainly talks trash about typists like me, who have their own problems that unfortunately have nothing to do with fame or alcohol.

Apparently, WordPress reads my blog and isn’t afraid to give me its opinion. I can hardly wait to see what it has to say to me when I publish this post.

Familiarity and its offspring – part 2


Familiar breeds

The adage, familiarity breeds contempt, is generally used to mean that once you get to know someone well, you begin to find things about the person that you dislike, which leads to fault-finding, and the next thing you know, you are on the exit ramp to contempt. It is a very short trip sometimes. I have nothing to rant about that.

Yesterday, I ranted about the increasing sense of informality in post-modern life that leads to contempt for the courtesy and respect we need to keep society civilized. In a culture’s curriculum, Manners 101 is the class where you learn to keep your hands in your lap, instead of around someone’s neck. It should be a prerequisite for Intro to Society.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. The decline into barbarity is growing, not only because familiarity breeds contempt, but (and I hope you are sitting for this insight) because familiarity breeds.

That’s where all those babies are coming from, people: familiarity. It means “undue intimacy.” Look it up. And undue means “excessive.” According to U.N. estimates, we have 7 billion people on this planet, and as we speak, a lot of them are getting familiar.

If you enjoy that kind of excess, you can watch familiarity breed in real-time here.

For those of you who are mathematically inclined (I’ll give you a moment to straighten up), you will both enjoy and understand the following formula that explains the population growth:





▪   N is current population

▪   T is the current year

▪   C = (1.86±0.01)•1011

▪   T0 = 2007±1

‪τ = 42±1

This, of course, can be simplified thus:

F = BB


  • F is familiarity
  • BB is billions of babies

Are you as concerned as I am? You should be. Finding a parking spot is going to get a lot harder, and there are going to be a lot more people who don’t know what to do with their hands.

(NOTE: This neck-breaking news would not be possible without Wikipedia, which posted that first formula by Russian physicist Sergei Kapista, which spellcheck first insisted should be Quipster, and then insisted that quipster should be hipster. He sounds very cool. The simplified formula came from me, in case you were wondering.)

Familiarity and its offspring


Then seat yourself

The sign as you enter the restaurant says, “Wait to be seated.” So we waited last night until the young hostess appeared. She asked if we would mind using a booth and then pointed behind us and said, “Over there, it’s the only one open. You’ll figure it out.” I suppose I should have been flattered that she believed a woman my age recognized what an empty booth looked like and wouldn’t accidently sit in some gentleman’s lap and complain about the lumpy cushions. After we sat down, my brother, who is ten years younger, suggested we trip her the next time she walked by. When she asked why, he would say, “You’ll figure it out.” He refrained.

Then our nice young waiter brought me some bruschetta chicken that looked like it had crawled onto the plate by itself and collapsed just at the edge from all that effort. “It kinda slid on the plate on the way over, but it’s okay; it’s still good,” he explained, but without the punctuation. The little icicles of cheese dripping slowly over the edge of the plate gave it a somewhat festive look, but Christmas is over, so it didn’t make me feel jolly.

The restaurant, named after a piece of fruit and some insects, serves average food at average prices to average people, so I wasn’t expecting to be greeted in French or have a personal sommelier. But it was so informal that I expected I would be asked to take my plate to the kitchen and wipe the table before I left. If I wanted to be treated like that, I would have stayed at home.

When my children were small, we didn’t want them to call adults by their first name without using a Mr. for men and Miss for women. It’s a Southern thing. When we lived in Japan, and one of the children used Miss in front of a married woman’s first name, the woman patiently explained to that child that Miss was only used for unmarried women. The woman was American, but she was not from the South, so it may have sounded strange. Eventually, she warmed up to it and grew to like it.

I like it, too. Formality is the fence around my house. It’s not so high that you can’t see over it, but it’s there. On the gate is my name: my full name. If the gate’s unlocked, you can ring the bell or knock on the front door. I’ll invite you in; I’m on the friendly side. Get to know me well enough, and I’ll tell you to just open the gate, and if the door to the house is open, walk in and make yourself at home.

But if you have never once been around the block, and then climb over my fence, barge into my house and help yourself to my food or my chocolate and talk to me like we go to junior high school together, we are gonna have words, and it will not be purty. You can run, but you cannot hide ’cause I have a broom, and I know how to ride it. When I catch you, you had better be prepared to call me  ma’am.

This is a rant.

(Photo on loan from:

What are you looking for?


Imagine even shorter bangs!

I have gotten up early my whole life, except for my teenaged years when I ran marathons in my sleep and didn’t wake up until I finished. As an early morning child, after finishing my sugar-laden cereal, I could explore drawers and closets without anyone asking, “What are you looking for?” This is the kind of unanswerable question that grownups ask curious children. Imagine walking through the woods admiring the trees, and as you bend down to look at a mushroom, someone asks you, “What are looking for?” The answer is nothing, everything, I’ll know when I find it, or maybe, you are asking the wrong question.


Most of life is hidden, and just as the birdwatcher needs time and patience to see the birds beneath the canopy of trees, so the child needs space to explore her world, including drawers and closets, the repositories of grownups’ secrets.


Looking through places in the house became a habit. In the mornings, I could go through most of the house, but not the bedrooms, at least not the only bedroom of real interest: my parents’ room. Entrance into that room required an invitation, and if occupied, a knock.


But parents are not always at home and big sisters have better things to do than follow little sister around. I must have been in second grade when I sneaked into my parents’ bedroom. In the small drawer next to where Mother kept her underwear, I found a picture of a tiger I had colored in school. I had pressed down on the crayons, so the vivid yellowish-brown eyes glowed from the orange and black-striped creature that stood among the green, yellow-green, light green, and turquoise leaves. Seeing it there secreted in her drawer was like coming face to face with a real tiger, one of my own creation, which now lived in this unexplored place.  I felt happy that she would keep the colors that flowed out of me.


In that same drawer, I found a small envelope with her name written on it in textbook-perfect cursive letters.  Inside were short, brown hair clippings, not more than a tablespoon worth. They were mine.


One day during craft time in first grade, my best friend, Donna, leaned over and said, “I can see your bangs growing.” Her words both thrilled me and alarmed me. Donna could see the tiny hairs, still alive at the roots, pushing into the world, threatening my eyes.


Cutting your own hair was forbidden in our house, but nothing had ever been said about having friends cut your hair.


Our teacher was busy helping L.D. wash his hands, which he had painstakingly covered with the paste he had developed a craving for. Donna held the blunt-nosed scissors and clipped quickly.  In those days, teachers had eyes in the back of their head; at the second clip, she turned around and looked directly at Donna and me. Just like a game of Swing the Statue, we froze, Donna keeping the scissor hand suspended in the air, waiting for the teacher to come over and touch us to unfreeze us.


Instead, she said, “Come here girls.”


A moment earlier I had been enthralled at Donna’s powers of observation and her willingness to help me.  The look on our teacher’s face and her tone of voice shook my confidence in my friend.


“Scissors are for cutting paper, Donna,” she said.


Donna started crying.  Everyone in the room quieted down and looked at us. We were facing Mrs. Severe, so they could see only the teacher’s solemn face and the shaking shoulders of Donna as she cried.  Mrs. Severe reached into her desk and pulled out a small envelope. She walked over to the small tables where we sat, gathered up my hair clippings, and put them inside the envelope.


“I’m going to call your mother tonight to make sure she gets these.”  Then she went to the shelf where we kept our lunch boxes, opened the metal clasp, and put the envelope inside.


And she did call. Mother got out her haircutting scissors and evened out Donna’s work, leaving me only about an inch of bangs. Above my freckled nose loomed a white forehead, best hidden. The short hairs looked like the edge of a failed crew cut.


Mother had kept that envelope and the picture of my tiger. She was not very affectionate toward me, but here in this hidden, intimate place she kept parts of me. I opened her perfume jar and inhaled her sweet smell and loved her, secretly, like she loved me.


Don’t call me Baby if you’re not going to buy me something


All alone on Christmas Day

Hi, people. This is yearstricken’s computer; you can call me Baby. That’s what she calls me. “Where’s my Baby?”  “Don’t touch my Baby.”  “Baby needs Apple juice – where’s the cord?”


Every day she sits in that rocking recliner with her coffee. Back and forth, back and forth just like a politician’s opinion but she doesn’t get huge donations from corporations to do it. She drives me crazy, and she’s a fast driver. (You guys know she’s bonkers, right? When she says, “I’m going crazy; anyone want to go with me?” she isn’t kidding.) So she sits and writes her little blog and makes her little points and you know what? She couldn’t do it without my help. But, you know what else? She didn’t buy me a single thing for Christmas!!


Last night, on Christmas Eve, they opened presents. That’s just wrong, six ways to Cleveland and back. I mean, as sure as steam rollers and toilet paper roll over, presents should be opened on Christmas morning. She had some fancy excuse about having family over, and then that family could sleep in on Christmas morning. Yeah, right, Miss I-got-a-new-coffee-pot-for-Christmas-smarty-pants blogger. The only one who thought of me was her brother, and you know what he got me? A patch cable that says it’s for PC-to-PC connections. Like I’m gonna hook up with some PC. I’m a Mac, for Christmas’ sake!


The worst part is her smart little iPhone that talks way too much. It got a brand-new leather case. Ring, ring it says all day long, which is phonish for  “Hold me! Hold me!” I’d like to slap it. You should see the two of them together. She holds it up to her ear and says the most inane things, and then it whispers nothings, allegedly sweet but probably also inane, in her ear.


So, Barely Christmas, y’all. It wasn’t merry for me, but don’t worry about me and my daily bouts with seasickness from that incessant rocking.  I’m the one who keeps all her files, and although she’s got a lot on me, trust me, I’ve got a lot more on her.



Nailing down love and Christmas


Stand up picture frame with buttons by Mac. No nails necessary. (Cool photo taken by my brother.)

This year my husband bought a big Frasier fir for our Christmas tree. In fact, if the angel on top wasn’t so busy praying, she could reach her hand up and touch the ceiling.

Two weeks ago, the grandchild came to help decorate. The little one especially liked the lower, right side of the tree and put about a third of the ornaments there. I kept encouraging the child to branch out and decorate in other places, but a favorite part of the tree is a favorite part of the tree, grandma.

Later that evening, I noticed that several of the ornaments looked unhappy. The clay star kept poking the seashell angel, who couldn’t see because the candlestick was in the way. One of the origami angels had turned her back on both the snowman and the candy cane to pout because she was stuck way in the back. When I saw that the wooden reindeer was preparing to leap off the tree, I intervened. Nothing saddens me more than suicidal Christmas ornaments.

After putting everyone in their place as I am won’t to do, I settled into my rocking recliner as my husband reclined on the couch to “rest his eyes,” as in: Did you have a nice nap? I wasn’t sleeping. Well, you were snoring. No, I was just resting my eyes. The tree stood in the corner, not snoring, and suddenly leaned forward as if it had something to say to me. Then in a perfect imitation of my husband, it reclined on the floor in front of me, resting its lights.

My husband may be sixty, but he can still leap like a young man. He pulled the tree up and leaned it into the corner while I cleaned up the mess. We only lost one ornament, a glittery little heart that shattered, much like my little heart when I was a child and my sister broke my arm. You can read about it here . (Hi sis, and Merry Christmas.)

Thankfully, the lights pulled out of the wall socket when the tree fell because most of the water in the tree holder splashed out onto the carpet.

Husband blamed it on the cheap, piece-of-junk tree holder, so we hurried over to a big box store to find a not-a-piece-of-junk one. (Manufacturers, you are missing a large group of consumers out there by not putting “This is NOT a piece of junk” on your products.) We bought one that looked sturdy, but because you can never be too sure or too safe, after we got the tree situated in the new container, my husband nailed the tree stand to the floor. Through the carpet.

This is not the first time he has put nails in the carpet. The floors in the back bedroom squeak and to make them stop channeling mice, he drilled in special screws with break-off tops. They would not be silenced.

The tree, however, continues to stand, bearing lights and memories of Christmases past, minus that tiny heart, because when my husband says stand, he means stand, and if you don’t, he will nail you to the floor, Mr. Christmas Tree.

Now you know why I love that man. Thirty-one years ago this month, he nailed me to his heart, and I’ve been standing here beside him ever since, a little less glittery than when we started, but bearing a thousand memories of our lives together.

Merry Christmas, everyone. By reading, commenting, sharing, writing, and making me laugh and cry, you have given me many more memories to decorate my life.

(If you want to read more about trees and their kindnesses, see the post at youknewwhatimeant.)

I am not Tippi Hedren


No, I don't want to carry on. I said I wanted carrion.



I want to tell a story about my father, but the crows won’t let me. I have to talk about them first.


When we lived in Tokyo, we shared the neighborhood with crows. Early risers, they would sit on wires, rooftops, or fences, watching us sideways in that way that birds do, the entire eye black, with no white part to indicate if their gaze had shifted and they had stopped watching you. Alerted by internal calendars and clocks telling them which days the wet garbage would appear, they chatted and argued until we brought out the vinyl bags stuffed with rotten food and placed them on the curb.


As soon as the morning offerings were laid out and we humans went back to making our breakfasts and scolding our children, who were sure to be late to school unless they woke up right now, the crows hopped down to the street or sat atop a bag and began ripping it open.  After pulling out as much garbage as possible and strewing it across the street like an open buffet, they began sampling. Occasionally a housewife would fly out of the house in her flip-flops to shoo them away, sweep up the mess, and re-bag it. More than one crow must have wondered why we put the food out in the first place if we didn’t want them to have it.


In some neighborhoods people nailed blue netting to a wall or telephone post and then placed the garbage bags underneath. Undaunted, the crows would poke around or through the netting and manage to pull part of a bag out from under the blue ban.  One of our neighbors hung an effigy of a crow near the collection area for a while because crows have a natural abhorrence of going near one of their dead.  The neighbor took it down after a short time. I think it may have been more unsettling to the humans than the crows.


In the summer, gangs of crows would meet around sunrise. Since there is no daylight savings time in Japan, that meant as early as 4:00 in the morning. Summers are hot and humid and few people have air conditioning in their bedrooms. Many sleep with very little clothing on (this is all hearsay), no covers or top sheets, and with just a fan blowing warm air across their damp bodies. Windows gape open, anxious to solicit  the slightest breeze.  Even from a distance the crows are loud, but when they are nearby, you cannot sleep through the noise.


I was, and still am, halfway afraid of the crows. In the park where I walked, they often lined the railing near the river and wouldn’t fly away even though they were within arm’s reach.  Now and then, one of them would set off a chorus of caws, not unlike the harsh laughter you may have heard in junior high school. The ones on the ground would hop a few paces, cock their heads, and stare. I never stared back. I know better: I’ve seen Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds.”  The movie did not cause my fear as much as uncrack it. Locking eyes with birds in black trench coats, who are the size of a small dog but have sharp beaks and talons unnerved me. I felt incapable of deciphering what they were thinking, and yet believed that they could easily read my thoughts. The thoughts that said, “I am not Tippi Hedren. Do I look like a movie star? No, right? Please don’t stab me or scratch me. Oh, look. Over there! Garbage and vermin!”


Crow terror reached its peak in the spring. During nesting time, crows brood. In both senses of that word. They want to be left alone, and you are bothering them with your walking about like you own the neighborhood. Why are you walking about when you could be at home making garbage? So sometimes they fly straight at you, flapping their enormous wings, or jabbing at you with their hard, pointy mouths.


Most people don’t enjoy this kind of thing, and develop rational fears of crows. I know some of them.


One of my Japanese friends told me how a crow harassed her husband as he walked down a city street in Tokyo. In the crow’s opinion, the man had no business being there and should have known better, so it repeatedly flew over his head and pecked at him. I thought it might be because he looked like he was already henpecked, but she thought it had something to do with the bald spot on his head. In her theory, the crow looked down, saw the shock of hair surrounding that shiny circle on his scalp and mistakenly thought her husband was trying to carry an egg away.


That’s why I had to write about crows today. My father had a bald spot just like that on the back of his head. And one of these days, I’m going to tell you a story about that.


(Photo on loan from:

Double exposure


Double exposure: two lives in one world

Mother loved to read historical romances. She would find them at the Goodwill for ten cents apiece and bring home a stack. On almost every cover, a handsome, rugged-looking man held a beautiful woman in his arms. Sometimes the man wore a Civil War uniform and held a woman in a billowing dress. Other times he wore a royal crown and cape while he embraced his queen. Ripped bodices were optional.The historcial context varied, but the story never did: the search for love ended in someone’s arms.


She often sat on the gray couch in the living room to read. One summer day, I sat on the arm of the couch by her while she drank her can of beer and read. It must have been a day like the one in this photo. She was wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse. I could see the blue spider veins in her thighs as she stretched her legs out on the coffee table.


I started reading the last words of each sentence to amuse myself and wanted to say something to her about it, but I didn’t want to disturb her. So I would read some of the words, then wait and listen for the soft slur of her finger on the paper as she turned the pages. I looked at her profile, her beautiful nose, straight and softly rounded at the tip; her lashes thick with mascara; and her lips, parted as if ready to sip from either her beer or her book; and I wondered if she even knew I was there.


Immersed in her book, she had no idea that I was  reading the words with her. Her books, I thought,  must hold some secret, one that she needed to be reminded of over and over, one embrace after another.


For the first time that I remember, I understood that we were completely separate beings, sharing the same space, our thoughts known only to ourselves. She knew nothing about the things my sister and I whispered while we were in bed at night, the forbidden sugar that I put on my cereal before anyone else awoke, and my fear of losing people. These and thousands of other thoughts belonged only to me. As I leaned on her arm and felt her warm skin next to mine, I realized that she, too, must have whispered things in the night to my father and done things in secret that no one else knew of besides her. Inside her head another world existed, one that I knew nothing about, that I would probably never know anything about.


I felt like I had just awoken from a deep sleep in a strange room, not knowing exactly where I was. Everyone lived a hidden life, unknown to anyone else, and words were all that we had to find one another. We stumbled in the dark, calling out, searching for the other, reaching out, always reaching out. And sometimes, if only in books, we found solace in someone’s embrace.


My head felt light and I wondered if I would fall off the couch. I leaned over, kissed mother on her forehead, and went outside into the sunshine looking for an adventure before the end of my childhood summer.