Month: June 2014

Westercon July 3-6 Salt Lake City

I’ll be at Westercon this weekend. I’ll be there mostly as support crew for Howard and Kiki, so I expect that if you want to find me and say hello, the dealer’s room is the best bet. Please do stop by. I’ll have Hold on to Your Horses, Strength of Wild Horses and my Cobble Stones books for sale. We’ll also have Howard’s books and Kiki’s art.

I do have a few times where I’ll be on panels.

Thurs 4pm Deer Valley I&II
Schmoozing 101: Making the most of your convention experiences.
Mary Robinette Kowal, Sandra Tayler, Dave Doering.
I’ve been part of a similar panel with Mary before and I’ll bet this one is worth your time.

Fri 10am Salon A
Writing Assistants: What do they do and when do you need one?
Sandra Tayler, Isaac Stewart, Peter Ahlstrom, Chersti Nieveen.
I know all of these people and they know their stuff. It should be a good discussion.

POSSIBLE Friday 2:30 Salon B&C
Women in Fantasy Art
J. Zoe Frasure, Keliana Tayler, Emily Sorensen
Keliana was told that I’m on this panel too, but I haven’t seen that reflected on a printed program. It looks like an interesting discussion whether or not I’m part of it.

Friday 5:30pm Salon B&C
Sparks in the Blood: Insights from a creative family.
Howard Tayler, Sandra Tayler, Keliana Tayler
They’ve put three Taylers on one panel and given us an hour to talk. If we do this right you’ll laugh (a lot), you’ll cry (maybe, just a little), and you’ll learn something useful. Hope you join us.

Saturday 2:30pm Salon A
Writing Children and Juvenile Characters: From Classics to Today
Sandra Tayler, Mikey Brooks, Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury
I get to talk about writing for this panel, which makes me happy.

Summarizing the Vacation

“So how was your vacation?”
It is a question to which I really should have an answer. I usually start by saying “Good.” because on the whole that is true. When everything is averaged out it was a good trip. If I’m feeling more honest or whimsical I’ll say “Hard to summarize.” This is also true, because the trip had three distinct stages and each one could fill an entire conversation. Often I’ll follow up with a few highlights, things I think will interest the other person. Because I’m almost always in a small-talk sort of conversation and if I try to really unpack my trip experiences I’ll be like that person who sits down and makes everyone look at slides until they’re bored to tears. I don’t want to be that person, so I keep it short and bright.

Yes parts of my vacation were dark and difficult, but only because of the emotional baggage I packed along with me. Leaving my house, Howard, my responsibilities, for two weeks was deeply unsettling to parts of my psyche. As a result I had odd anxiety reactions on the drive, frequent difficulty sleeping, and restless dreams. Of the many benefits from this vacation I think the biggest is that I have just demonstrated to that piece of my brain that I can leave for an extended period of time and it will not result in disaster. Howard is fine. Comics got made. Kiki shipped the packages. Nothing else turned into a crisis. This is good. Had there been a crisis, I’m sure we would have managed it. Instead I had to manage that part of my brain which was certain that crisis must be imminent and kept randomly flooding me with jolts of adrenaline which I then had to calm down from.

The only reason I planned this extended trip was because of my parent’s fiftieth anniversary and giving them space to go on a trip was the best gift I could think of. I would never have scheduled things this way otherwise. Now the experience is giving back to me, because I can picture an extended trip not ending in disaster. I couldn’t before. Any thing of the sort was auto-filed in the “not possible” bin. And perhaps in years previous it truly wasn’t possible. The emotional work I’ve done to sort out my anxiety is reaping benefits. Add in Howard’s anti-depressants and the work we’ve done together to identify and recalibrate family patterns, and many things become possible which would have been miserable before.

Of course we have so many things scheduled for the rest of the year that this new knowledge will have to lay idle for a while. Next year is not quite so full. Yet.

My vacation was good. I learned things about myself. I got to see beauty. I put my toes in the ocean and wore out my legs with walking. I went wallowing in nostalgia. I spent time with my Grandma. I gave time to my parents so they could vacation. I reconnected with family and friends. I spent time with my kids. It was a good trip. I’m glad to be home.

Over the River and Through The Woods

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.
I sang the phrase to my kids as we headed east from Marysville, California on I-70. The road still feels familiar to me, though I haven’t seen it in a decade. I traveled it multiple times each summer throughout my childhood as our family went to visit Grandma’s house. The words really fit our journey as the road winds up a canyon complete with trestle bridges over the river,

three tunnels,

and lots of woods.

Sometimes the woods are broken up by impressive rocks.

It is a stunning drive. I highly recommend it, but be prepared for winding roads next to precipitous drops. Also pick a day with nice weather. In bad weather the road can be downright terrifying.

As we drove I subjected my kids to nostalgic stories. I think they half listened, but speaking the stories mattered to me, so I talked. We were adding two hours of driving to our trip home in order to stop by and see my Grandma’s house. I’ve felt a longing to see it in the past few years.
It is a strange little house tucked into a tall pine forest.

Who ever built it, used local materials and much love in it’s construction. It is created with a combination of local rock, pine logs, concrete, and clapboards. The roof is made out of sheets of airplane metal. There isn’t anything standard about this house.

I can see the love that went into creating it. There are small details everywhere. I know the love that went into maintaining it. Grandpa was always fixing things and making things better. It was their shared project and they had many a lively argument about how things ought to be done. Or rather, Grandma filled the air with words while Grandpa pretended he couldn’t hear her because he’d “lost” his hearing aid again. Then Grandpa would fix things how he thought they ought to be done.

Right now nobody lives in the house. It is watched over by a neighbor except during the times when my parents bring Grandma up to stay for a bit. Grandma can’t stay by herself anymore, not safely. I’m sad to see the place empty. Grandma loves it still. My siblings and I love it too. It is a place of memories. I remember the giant garden they used to grow.

That high in the mountains there is only a short growing season, but Grandma and Grandpa managed. They even coaxed a peach tree into bearing fruit though their neighbors said it couldn’t be done.
Here is that same garden plot today.

I was pleased to see that Grandpa’s rock wall was still standing.

It’s been there for a very long time.

We didn’t get to go inside. Grandma has the only key and she doesn’t like people going inside when she is not there. Part of me felt strange driving two hours out of my way just so I could spend thirty minutes crunching through dried leaves to look at the exterior of a house and take pictures. Stories spilled out of my mouth as I walked with my kids. I would point to things and tell them how those things used to be. In my eye “how it used to be” is so clear.

Pretty sure my kids just saw the things as they are.

Grandma keeps talking about selling the house and land. She knows she’s not taking care of it, but letting go is hard and the effort necessary to make it ready for sale is beyond her. My parents will sell it after she’s gone and we will all grieve. We all love the house, but none of us want to live there. It is in a tiny town with few jobs available and the house itself is problematic in a dozen ways. The rooms are oddly shaped. It is all constructed under the assumption that the primary heat source would be a wood burning chimney in the center. That never worked well, so now there is a wood burning stove and a smattering of built-in electric heaters.

One year my parents brought Grandma up in the spring to discover mushrooms growing in the front room carpet from a leak in the roof. They called a guy to come fix it, he took a look and quoted a really high number. My parents gulped and agreed to pay it. Then the guy started working for an hour and said “never mind. It can’t be done.” and left. They finally found someone else willing to do a completely non-standard patch job. I doubt a single thing in that house is up to current safety codes. Yet there is a piece of my heart that looks around and says “surely this can be saved and made beautiful again.”

It will likely be purchased by someone who wants the land and who will tear down the house and the garage behind it. So I took pictures, many pictures. When the time comes, I’ll help clear out the contents and I’ll take even more pictures. Because someday when I drive over the river and through the woods, Grandmother’s house won’t be there anymore.

Remembering What I was Doing

The first day home after a trip involves a lot of drifting around and trying to remember where I left off. I’m also spending time processing what has changed. I was only gone two weeks, so you wouldn’t think there would be much, but a neighbor took out a large tree next to our driveway and that changes the look of the house every time I approach. Howard and Kiki rearranged the front room while I was gone to make space for the drawing table that used to live at Dragon’s Keep. We’re all still assessing how it works. Weeds sprang up in all of the garden beds while I was elsewhere. Weeds do that. The pantry and fridge have different food in them. So I’m making note of things I ought to buy and new things to incorporate into meals.

I also spent a good portion of the day with my accounting software. I try to do the accounting every week and so to miss two weeks in a row makes me antsy. Piece by piece I began to pick up the strands of my life and remember how they go. Next week will be a convention week, with Howard, Kiki, and I trundling off to Salt Lake for Westercon. I’ll be splitting my time between convention events and the kids at home.

The other portions of my day were spent petting the cat, who is apparently glad to see me, or needs reassurance that I still accept her, or something. I also walked around on our back deck, noting the places where the boards have gone wiggly. While we were gone, on board broke through, making it clear that some of the hidden support beams have begun to rot. Repair would require complete disassembly, at which point we’d have better luck just building an entire new one. We haven’t the money for that, so we’ll take it apart and see what is underneath. It’ll be a time capsule of mud and dryer lint. (The dryer vents is in the crawlspace under the deck as is the hose nozzle. Not the most brilliant of arrangements and likely the reason we’ve got rotting support beams.)

Even though I’m trying to figure out where I’m at, everything feels right. I’m in my house with my people. The air feels like home and so do the plants and trees. Tomorrow I attempt to resume a normal schedule by claiming my Saturday morning gardening time. Sunday is a day of rest. I also have a short list of catch-up chores including additional blog posts I want to write before all the California thoughts are packed up and put away.

It is good to be home.

My California

I imagine that people who have never visited California picture it as beaches and palm trees. California = beaches and palm trees. It is true that the state has an abundance of both when compared to most of the rest of the world, but for me those are not the things which make the place feel like California. I suspect that every person who has visited there will have their own list and those lists will vary greatly depending on which part of the state they went to and what interests them. I lived in California for the first eighteen years of my life and this is a photo tour of my California.

The first thing I wish I could share is not photographable. It is the feeling of the air. I can sense the ocean in the humidity and mildness of the air even in the parts which are hot and dry. It is like a blanket, mostly comforting though occasionally stifling. When you get within a few miles of the ocean you can smell it and taste it in the air too, but further inland it just gives a feel to the air that is gone once you cross the Sierra Nevada mountains. That air makes me want to wear light clothes and put on sandals, even if I’m there in January.

Of course we must start with a palm tree. They definitely feature in my California.

But for me palm trees probably mean something different than most of the world. This particular palm sits in the middle of the next-door neighbor’s lawn. It used to be much shorter and there used to be two of them. They were constantly full of the sound of cooing pigeons, burbling, nesting, flapping as they flew in and out. I know my neighbor thought of them as a huge nuisance, but I liked them. There were other birds too. Sometimes we’d find baby birds that had fallen out of the nest and attempt to save them. It never worked well, but we tried. One year a pair of kestrals decided that the palm was a good nesting place. We got to watch them teaching the fledglings. The neighbor kids caught some of the fledglings and kept them in a cage for a few days before they were informed that holding birds of prey is illegal. The parents came and retrieved the fledgelings as soon as they were freed. But the coolest of all was the pair of barn owls who lived up there, one per tree. We’d see them fly out in the evenings and sometimes heard them. We sometimes searched for, and found, their owl pellets on the ground. I loved knowing that owls lived in the palm next door.

So for me a palm tree is a bird sanctuary. I love them for that, though they are, sadly, not easy to climb. Some time in the past fifteen years squirrels moved into the neighborhood and took over the palm tree. This did not please my neighbor, who put a metal sheath around the trunk to keep them out. So now the squirrels nest everywhere else instead. Once chased out, the pigeons have not come back. The palm tree is quiet now.

While I’m talking about trees, this is a pepper tree.

You see them all around the bay area (surrounding San Francisco bay.) They’re like willow trees in that the branches droop and trail. This one has been trimmed. By preference the branches will trail all the way to the ground. We had two of these next door as well. I loved the spicy smell of the leaves, it was particularly sharp when they were crushed. This meant that pepper tree leaves were part of many childhood potions. As pepper trees age, they hollow out in the middle. Old ones become something of a hazard because they split open or branches fall off. We knew that one of them was hollow because it was filled with a beehive. We called it the Bee Tree and stayed away from it. I have many bee tree stories, but that would be too long a digression for this tour.

This same neighbor (she had all the interesting plants) had cactus.

There were century plants, prickly pear, and that tall one. We used to go pick spines off the cactus for part of our games and she used to scold us and tell us not to. About four years ago one of her century plants finally sent up a tall spike and bloomed. Supposedly they only do that once per century, so I guess the cacti had been there for a while.

Further out than my neighbors yard, I have fond memories of these juniper bushes.

They have the weirdest looking berries.

People always complained when we picked things off their decorative plants. So we only picked a very few when they weren’t looking.

In our front yard we had a bed full of ivy just like this.

I think someone planted it picturing it climbing up the brick of the house. Instead it wanted to take over the ground. We didn’t like the ivy much, but the big snails who lived in it were pretty cool. We liked them. I think my parents finally got rid of the ivy on their third major eradication effort. The stuff was hard to kill.

The neighbor across the street had a bottlebrush plant.

She was a second mother to me and didn’t mind when we picked stuff in her yard.

So now it sounds like I spent my entire childhood filching plant matter from the neighbors and making potions with it, which is possibly true. Also I can see that this tour perpetuates the idea that California is filled with green and growing things. It is, so long as humans are willing to throw water around. The untended areas all look like this.

Rolling hills of yellow dry grass. (That row of trees in front is human planted.) It is lovely when seen from a distance, particularly when the wind makes the grass wave. It is also a significant fire risk, so most of the hills have fire breaks mown across them. There are also scraggly trees.

Here is an example of more natural landscape.

The trees in this photo are big because there is an aroyo right behind them. Aroyo = stream, many things in California have Spanish-based names because of the settlement history of the state.

You can see some of that influence in the architecture.

There are lots of buildings featuring stucco and slate roofs. Those clay tiles work great for managing rain, they’re awful anywhere it freezes.

This next building I have always loved. It is a feature of my home town.

I don’t know the history of the building. I’ve never even been inside. I’m not Catholic and I feel shy about asking to tour someone else’s sacred space. Maybe someday. I understand they have beautiful stained glass windows. Sometimes I got to glimpse them from outside if the interior was lit after dark.

While I’m touring man made things:

Yes it is a mailbox, but this one is my neighborhood mailbox. I walked past it every day as I walked home from elementary school. I remember the day one kid put a dead mouse inside it and hid to see if the mail lady would scream. Then he was told he’d committed a federal crime. He was terrified the police would get him so he ran away. I’ve noticed that California has lot of neighborhood mailboxes. Utah does not and I miss them. I know I can leave letters out in my personal mailbox at the end of my driveway, but somehow that feels less official than taking a short walk and dropping a letter into a tardis-blue box. (Are they bigger on the inside? Do the letters travel through time and space to reach their destination? I like mailboxes.)

I suspect the difference has to do with the fact that most California houses have mail slots on the house rather than mailboxes near the street. It is a solution to a problem. I see other solutions to other problems everywhere, the landscaping of houses for instance.

Those rocks are not a gravel drive. They are small river stones in place of a lawn. Many yards do this, have spot plants with decorative rocks or pavement. Utah is all lawns, which is somewhat silly in a high desert, but we have a huge watershed to support them I guess. Also that round tree, they are everywhere. I don’t know what they are, but the round shape is created by periodically shearing off all of the branches until you have a trunk with two or three large branches off of it. Then the tree freaks out and grows long whippy branches off of the branch stumps. It is not my favorite treatment of trees. Though the leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow in autumn and they’re great for leaf jumping.

Here is another example of California landscaping.

This yard has looked exactly the same since I was seven years old. Sadly the yard across the street removed their little decorative wishing well. They probably got tired of kids sneaking into their yard to toss things in it. Not that I know anyone who would do that. Ahem.

This landscaping was new to me, but I really like it.

They put some effort into creating a lovely scene rather than just throwing down rocks and calling it good. They’re going to spend the next 10-15 years trying to keep kids from wandering off with all those lovely blue rocks.

I could probably keep going describing the California I knew growing up. Each memory I write trails a dozen more in its wake. Instead I leave you this.

It’s a bird on a telephone wire. There are poles and wires everywhere, at least in my home neighborhood. In more modern developments they probably buried the wires. Or maybe they can’t due to earthquakes. I just know that as a teenage birdwatcher I spent a lot of time staring at birds sitting on wires. This one is a mockingbird. They don’t live in Utah and I miss them. California has lots more birds in more varieties than Utah. I miss that too. But I particularly miss listening to mockingbirds outside my window. I wish I could convince them that Utah is a nice place to live.

I visited with a friend while I was in California. She caught me looking up at a palm tree and swinging my be-sandaled foot.
“You miss California! You should move back here.”
I do miss some of it, but not all of it. I’m glad to visit, but it isn’t home anymore. I can tell, because I go to California and write a tourist-type post pointing out all the interesting things. I’m not sure I could do the same for Utah. We have interesting things, they feel normal for me and I hardly notice them anymore. California is nice to visit, but Utah is home.

We are home

Home home home home home home home home.
It is not poetry, but it is what my heart is singing today.

Feeding the Children

The amount of insistence I place on my kids coming to the table quickly and eating politely is directly proportional to the amount of effort I put into making the meal. This is neither a good nor a bad thing. It is simply useful information. Low effort meals mean I’m less emotionally invested in the reaction to the meal. There is value in both the effort-ful family dinner and the fix-it-for-yourself free range evenings. Our family should probably work toward having more focused meals and less free range. Balance is good.

I would probably feel differently about this if the act of preparing meals and feeding children was inherently rewarding to me. My grandmother expresses love through cooking and feeding. In contrast, I would be quite happy if we could finally come up with those Jetson-style meal replacement pills so that I only had to fix food when I felt like it. This undoubtedly explains why I’m willing to stock the freezer with Hot Pockets, which are the closest thing I’ve found to those Jetson meals. There are times I enjoy cooking, but mostly it is a thing I have to do rather than something I want to do. I’m very glad that my kids are old enough to fix for themselves rather than always needing me to do it. I do harbor some guilt and worry that I’m letting them form terrible eating habits, but I suspect they’re happier free-ranging than they would be having a mother who provided three meals a day with a side-order of resentment.

When I get home, I plan to create a schedule where each of the kids is in charge of fixing the food one day per week. I suspect that it will suffer the fate of most of my similar plans. It will work for awhile and then fall apart. Then I’ll scrape up the pieces, add in knowledge of what worked and what didn’t, to create a new iteration of The Dinner Plan. After years of similar iterations we have a functioning dish washing schedule. We’re due for a new iteration of the chore schedule, so adding a dinner schedule already fits with established family patterns. There will be moaning and groaning when I unveil it. That too is according to established family patterns.

Another thing I’ve noticed about dinner, when the kids help fix it, they’re more likely to eat it. Also they’re less likely to spurn food when they’ve had the experience of cooking something and having a sibling complain about it. It will take parental effort to get the ball rolling, but it is likely to be effort well spent.

Grandma’s Patterns

My Grandma is ninety four years old. She’s still pretty sharp. She tracks the hours in the day and days of the week. She keeps track of who ate breakfast and who did not and then will try to get the non-breakfast-eating folks to eat an early lunch. She takes care of herself, but she is heavily dependent on contextual reminders and daily patterns to help her remember what she needs to do. The sun goes down, that means it is time to close the drapes. Six o’clock is dinner time, which means five o’clock is time to start cooking dinner. She has breakfast with one cup of coffee made exactly the same way and drunk, not out of the coffee mug, but out of a small bowl. The patterns of her life wore deep grooves into her mind and now she depends on those grooves to keep on track.

There are times when the grooves lead her astray. The other day she was counting how many places to set for dinner. I told her six, but that didn’t match what she thought. She knew that Sandra has four kids and that we were also feeding herself and my youngest brother. She also knew that my oldest daughter had already gone home, but somehow couldn’t subtract that daughter from the count of my children when figuring how many plates we needed. We talked it through three times before Grandma said “Okay. I’ll believe you.” It was an acknowledgement that she doesn’t always know what is going on around her. I’ve seen her make many of those while I’ve been here. Another example was when the power went out one morning. Grandma was convinced that someone had deliberately turned it off and not told us. “Why would they do that? They ought to tell us.” She also was convinced that we could find information about the outage in the newspaper which had arrived before the outage. For most of her life the newspaper was the place to go for announcements and information. I’d explain why that wouldn’t work and that the outage was an accident. She’d nod and accept the information, but ten minutes later she’d notice that the power was out and we’d be back at the beginning of the same groove and have to run through the same conversation again.

My Grandma grew up in the south and lived the prime of her life in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. These were the decades when the patterns of her life were set. I see this in the patterns she lives now. She gets up in the morning and, unless I’m already moving and fixing breakfast, she’ll start planning and cooking breakfast for everyone. Because it is a mother’s (and grandmother’s) job to feed the children even if those children are adults and fully capable of fending for themselves. She routinely fixes plates of food for my brother and my dad, because that is what women do. If I don’t clean up the dishes right away, she’ll start doing it. I’ve been working to find a balance, because I must not take away all her usefulness. That is not good for her. But neither is it good for a ninety-four year old woman who can’t keep her balance without a walker to be fixing food for a completely healthy forty year old woman who has energy to spare. The easiest compromise is for Grandma to sit in her chair and give me instructions while I fix the food. When Grandma can see that the job is being done according to the proper pattern, she is content to let some one else do the actual moving around.

“We need to have some bread with this.” Grandma says. I would not have added bread to the main dish and three side dishes we’ve already put on the table. But I don’t argue. It isn’t worth the energy to push against that particular groove. All dinners must have side dishes and bread, so I put them on the table rather than spend all of dinner having conversations about how we really ought to have bread with this. If it were very important that we not have bread, I would push against that groove. If I pushed often enough on the same point, Grandma would learn to alter her patterns. But her patterns are her lifelines, I’m reluctant to take any of them away from her unless it truly matters. Most things don’t.

last night at dinner I found myself hopping out of my chair every few minutes so that Grandma would not. I ended up sitting down to eat last. I’d cooked the meal, then I cleaned up after the meal. As I did, I realized that if I were staying more than five days I would have to push against some of those grooves. Because this is how there is generational transmission of sexist life patterns.

There are some things about the patterns that are good. My family would benefit from more regular meal times with a greater variety of home-cooked food on the table. Living around Grandma’s patterns would help me accomplish that. But there is no reason for me to hop out of my chair and dish up food for a sixteen year old who is fully capable of wielding a spoon. Grandma thought I should
“Aren’t you going to fix a plate for your boy?” she asked.
“No, he’s standing right there and he can serve himself.”
“Mothers should always serve for their kids. My mother had seven kids and she always served us. Even when we was grown.” Grandma grumbled, but then let the subject drop.
So, I guess I do push on some of the grooves a little, but the longer I stay here, the more I find myself falling in with them to save energy. Grandma is still strong even when she is genial and willing to acknowledge how often she gets confused.

My parents return later tonight and I’ll hand back the job of caring for Grandma. I’ll be very glad to return to my own life and patterns, but I’m also glad for this chance I got to spend time caring for Grandma. It was great being a kid and having Grandma cook for me. Now I get to cook for her and that feels like a full circle of love. Perhaps the memory of this trip will help me as I attempt to establish more regular meal times at home. Though my efforts will be focused on making sure that all the people in my house take turns with the preparing and cleaning up.

Sycamore Grove

I knew this park. I ran cross country loops in it. I remembered many trips here as a child. So when I saw the lines painted on the pavement say 0.0mi in the direction we were going and 2.5mi in the opposite direction, I thought it indicated a loop. I remembered wrong. This is a park trail with a pick up and a drop off. We were nearly at the far end of the park when we figured it out and turned to come back. So we went twice the distance planned, but I’m not really sorry.

“What is at this park?” the kids asked me as we were driving over.
“Trees and a walking trail.” I answered.
“Sycamore trees?” Link asked.
“Well, the name is misleading, mostly there are other kinds of trees.”
“Can I run on the grass?” Gleek said.
“It doesn’t have grass. At least not green grass. It has some yellow grass and some dirt.”
“Sounds boring.” Patch said.
I thought about it. Yes Sycamore Grove is boring. Half the trips there as a kid started with me wondering why we had come to this place of scraggly trees and dry prairie grass. I’d always figured it out by the time we left. If there was water in the arroyo, I figured it out sooner. If not, then it took a little longer.
“It might be boring.” I said, “But I think you’ll like it.”

So we began to walk. I mentioned that I’d run cross country races along this trail. Naturally this prompted Gleek and Patch to have a race. Patch won by quite a large margin, which made Gleek mad. She hasn’t been as active this past year and her body has changed shape. She was surprised that he outdistanced her. She huffed off down the path far ahead of us, angry. I hoped she would walk it out rather than maintaining her early-teen snit. She did. The last of her anger went away when we found the snake.

He was a beautiful California Kingsnake, about three feet long. We didn’t know what kind of snake he was until we looked him up later, so I declined to let the kids pick him up. They were sad, because he really was beautiful. Instead we watched him until he disappeared into the grass on the far side of the path.

We saw a western bluebird, woodpecker nests, the snake, several stinkbugs standing on their heads, a swallowtail kite hovering to look for prey, active ant hills, a cottontail rabbit, and a host of smaller birds. Then there was the turkey momma.

Who tried to lead us away from her babies.

We made our way back, footsore and tired. But all the kids agree that it was worth seeing. We were the last ones out of the park because of my miscalculation with the trails. The ranger was waiting to close the gate behind us.

I hope that some year we can come back to Sycamore Grove when there isn’t a drought. I’d love to share pollywog catching with my kids too. For today, this was good enough.


The longer I stay in my home town, the more people I think of that I’d like to spend an hour talking to. I’d tucked the memories of all of these people into a back corner of my mind. They were hugely important during my growing up years, but I went far away–in age, need, and physical distance. One thing I’ve learned about friendship is that even if I am not actively friends with someone now, that does not devalue the friendship that was. Yet being here in my parents’ house opens all those stored memories. I start wondering about these people who mattered so much to me in my prior life. The thing is that to truly re-examine all these dusty relationships, I’d need more time. I’d need several hours of visiting time for each person and then I’d need alone time to process before being ready to be social again (introvert here.) There are at least a dozen people I can think of off of the top of my head. Each of them matters, but I do not want to spend another two weeks away from home. So what I’ll do instead is visit with one or two people that I’ve kept in touch with through the years. And I’ll pack the rest of the memories away and go back to my life.

I did make one very important visit. I stopped in to see my Grandpa.

He wasn’t really there. I’m certain he has better things to do than to hang out in some mausoleum. But it is a place I can go to think of him. I was going to bring a flower, but Grandpa wasn’t much of a flower guy. Instead I brought him a piece of wood, some nails, and utility scissors. He was a man who took things apart, made things, and fixed things. He’s better remembered with tools than with flowers.

Link went with me. I invited all three kids, but Link was the one who decided to go. After I arranged my things in that silly narrow vase that they put out for memorial offerings, I noticed that Link had tears in his eyes. Something about the place, the solemness of it, and seeing me put tools out for my Grandpa, touched him. He realized that I continue to bear great love for this man that Link only met as a baby. I told Link a story or two, a brief summary of who my Grandpa was to me. Link is now interested in seeing the house that my Grandparents shared. It is sort of on the way home, but it would add three hours to our travel time, which is already long. I’ll have to decide if additional visiting is worth the extended trip. I’d love to visit the house too. I’m certain additional memories are stored there.

We came home and sat down to visit with my Grandma. She’s already got a reserved spot next to Grandpa, but I’m in no hurry for her to occupy it. I’ve written about my Grandma before. She is less focused than she was four years ago. Since then she’s broken her hip, recovered, and acquired a walker. Mostly her thoughts circle around making sure everyone gets enough food, checking the mail, and watching out the window to tell me that the folks across the street who’ve torn up their yard are doing it wrong. Sometimes her thoughts do wander through memories. Then I get to hear fragments of stories and I catch them as they go past. Today something reminded her of the house fire which happened the year I was a freshman in college. Grandma and Grandpa watching my two younger sisters when the fire happened. Grandma mentioned seeing the fire in the front room and mentioned how scary it was. “I kept telling that man to break the glass and get the fire, but he wasn’t doing it. They put that stupid mask on my face. Then they made me go to the hospital. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I wanted to stay and tell those firemen what to do. But they made me go.” I suspect they only succeeded in making her go because Grandpa needed to go to. They were treated for smoke inhalation, but were fine. Then the next sentence we were back to talking about fatigue and whether she had time for a nap before dinner.

I’ve done so much visiting this trip. I’ve seen places and people. I’ve sorted through memories. Tomorrow I’m going to raid my mother’s boxes of photos to see if I can find some duplicates to take home with me. I don’t have that many pictures of myself as a child. For every visit I’ve accomplished on this trip, there are ten more that I’d like to do. I have to choose and I choose going home, because visiting is nice, but home is better.