Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Take Me Riding in the Car-Car

I first fell in love in the backseat of a black Buick Roadmaster convertible circa 1950. Miss Buick was shiny, curvaceous, and had a toothsome grin—and I could stretch out along her smooth upholstery and watch the sky whoosh over my head as we streamed along the roads on her spinning whitewalls. Dad loved her too, but in ways I didn’t understand—she was the symbol of post-war prosperity, and apparently she was lovely to drive, something I experienced many years later in my sporty Nissan with the sunroof—the thrill of mobility and control in the open air.
I don’t remember what Dad drove after the Buick, but I remember the green wood-paneled Ford station wagon, loaded to it’s gills with family and camping gear, that carried us on journeys throughout the West. Dad and Mom traded off driving the long distances and we three kids sat on the bench seat in back, playing I Spy or cards, or just gazing out the windows. I hated when I had to sit in the middle because the hump of the drive shaft made it uncomfortable. But the utter exhilaration of traveling across the ever-unfolding land, made even that worth it. I remember how it sounded to hear the rush of the wind flooding through the open windows and feel it on my face. When we stopped, I could still hear the roar in my ears, feel the tingle on my cheeks. “I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder, racing in the wind and the feeling that I'm under!” I wonder how I ever combed the knots out of my hair.
Our family car trips probably started in 1959, but the first record I have is in 1960, the year I received a Brownie camera. I have fading black and white photos of Bubbles the pilot whale, jumping from a giant salt-water tank for fish held by a trainer decked out in a white sailor suit, complete with the black tie and white cloth hat, at Marineland of the Pacific, Palos Verdes.
Bubbles the Pilot Whale
It was the following car-trip that marked the second time I fell in love. This time not with the car but with the travel. Still 1960, and later in the summertime, we packed up and toured the pristine forests around Crater Lake, looped up to Wyoming to see Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, then dropped back into California through Virginia City, Nevada. I loved the bubbling mud pots, the sulfuric stink, and the live bears of Yellowstone; this was the real deal—so much better than Yogi and Boo Boo. The majesty of the Tetons awed me, but the most memorable single image I have of this trip is of Bear Lake, Idaho. A turquoise set into the chaparral of high desert. By now my photos are in color, but no photo can compare to my remembered glimpse of this little lake.

For the next several years, we car-tripped to the California Missions, to Death Valley, to Disneyland, to the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair—I’m holding my “Eye of the Needle Certificate” that certifies, I Ana Manwaring, “has dined in the sky high merry-go-round restaurant at the top of the Space Needle.” Shot through the steel railings enclosing the observation deck, my photos show the landscape of the fair spread a dizzy-ing 520 feet below. On that trip I fell in love once again—in Victoria B.C. at the Buchart Gardens. Now, give me a car to drive and a garden to visit, and I’m in Heaven.
What is it about our cars that we love so much—the potential for adventure or the promise of freedom? Have you ever counted the number of love songs written about cars and the road? I’m a woman of means by no means, Queen of the road! And how regal I’ve felt, passing by the golden Gateway Arch on my first transcontinental “progression” in a ‘57 Chevy, and later, navigating my ‘69 VW pop-top camper, tricked out with air shocks and red leather Cadillac “thrones,” on the back roads of Mexico and Belize.           

The era of long car trips may be coming to a close, but you can still hear me humming  “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure in whatever comes our way,” even if gas is over $4 a gallon, the windows are up and the adventure takes place in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain.
Is that my Prius I hear revving its hybrid motor?
Brrrm brm brm brm brm brm brrrm.

Don't miss A Salute to American Grafffiti in Petaluma May 19th

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Reverible Skirt and Shoes to Match

 In 2012 the Petaluma Post ran this article, but changes have occurred since then:
1) Sisters Consignment Couture: Clothing, Accessories, and Custom Designed Art Handpicked for Quality & Artfully Chosen has moved over to Santa Rosa from the City of Sonoma

2) Laura McHale Holland has published the sequel to her award winning memoir, Resilient Ruin.

Over the years we’ve shopped for many a new outfit and attended many more readings, but that night at Sisters I went to heaven—a literary reading in my favorite clothing store where I was a featured reader. It still doesn’t get better than that.

To ramp up the entertainment value that night, my friend Linda O, the queen of thrift shop couture, Mary T, our retired Petaluma Unity minister and scarf expert, fashion forward Diane, now retired director of the Adobe Christian Preschool, and I met for a glass of Zin and dinner at the Red Grape famous for its margherita pizzas and just around the corner from Sisters former location. They say the best thing about the Red Grape, besides the efficient service, is that you always run into someone you know and we ran into another of the featured readers, Kenwood writer, Jean Wong. The stars were out that night!

The program, brainchild of Cotati writer Laura McHaleHolland, author of Reversible Skirt, a silver medal winner in the 2011 Readers Favorite book awards and Chris Johnson, owner of Sisters Consignment Couture, was the second in a series of events emceed by Laura, featuring stories and poetry celebrating the rich theme of sisterhood.

If you’ve ever shopped in Sisters, you might be wondering where Chris put the twenty-some attendees—the new shop is more spacious. Like the store itself, it’s a little bit of magic. Chris manifested an eclectic collection of boudoir chairs, vintage looking vanity stools, counter stools, lawn chairs and I sat on the stepping stool. The bulging racks of brightly colored clothes and the displayed outfits accessorized with Chris’s latest finds from San Francisco Gift Mart—then ruffled scarves with fabric roses attached in Spring pastels—surrounded the event, and made me think of days spent with my sister and cousins pawing through trunks of Gaga’s old clothes under the eves on the third floor at my grandparents’ house.

Sisters Consignment Couture is now located at 2700 Yulupa Ave, Ste. 6, Santa Rosa, www.sonomaconsignment.com. is the Bohemians’s Best of The North Bay 2011 and 2012 winner for Best Consignment Shop. A consignment store lover and shopper all her life, Chris dreamed of her own store after moving to Sonoma. She left her corporate job in San Francisco and early in 2007 she opened. Sisters was born out of a love for her own three sisters, as well as a strong belief in the sisterly bond that women form in their relationships, whether biologically related or not.

And Chris’s belief played out as Laura read a moving scene from Reversible Skirt where she and her two sisters talk about their mother’s death for the first time. Jean read from a memoir about friendship lost and reconciled. I shared poems written for my sister, dying of multiple myeloma. I noticed a few damp cheeks during the wine and chocolate intermission. But the evening wasn’t all heart-wrenching tearjerkers. Several readers signed up for the “open mic” and we heard a wonderful piece by fellow Redwood Writer Brenda Bellinger, and a happy tribute to her sister read by Diane.

 Shopping in Sisters has the feel of shopping in your best friend’s closet—only with more options, more style and a really helpful staff of fashion consultants. “Look at this cute blouse!” “That bag is just your color.” “What do you think girls? Is it me?” I asked Chris if she gets tired of women’s indecision and deliberations, and she said “No. I love shopping with women.” It shows too. She and her staff have strong style-sense and can apply that to helping shoppers find the perfect look. I’ve never been steered wrong. In fact, the first time I shopped in Sisters, several years ago, I picked some flouncy disaster. Chris didn’t mince words, “That doesn’t work for you. Let me find something that will.” And she did. I’ve been coming back ever since.

The new store is crammed with spring selections of all descriptions. Lots of red was featured around Valentine’s Day—I barely made it past a pair of open-toed, lipstick red sling-backs with skyscraper high heels, too high for me, but the perfect shoes to pair with that ’40s look jersey Ann Taylor skirt I love, but—YAY— has gotten too big. If it fit, it would be perfect to wear to the next literary event, if I had the right shoes. Linda O suggests the skirt finds a new life in someone else’s closet—maybe the closet of the lucky girl who can balance in those 4” red heels.

She’s right. Life flows better if we clear out the clothes stagnating in our closets—the garments not worn in a year or more. I try to circulate my wardrobe through several local shops. I do most of my buying in Sisters. For me, Sisters carries the best selection of clothes, jewelry and accessories in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain, and the consignment process is easy and organized. I drop off my garments and receive an email the next day with a list of what Chris has accepted and the selling price. I can check my sales on-line anytime.

Since Sisters offers a buyer incentive plan, I’m thinking of stopping by for that dreamy sage and lavender Alberta Ferretti dress on the couture rack. It’s my size, and I’ve got ten percent of the price already credited to my account. Maybe I can wear it to the next literary evening with
Laura McHale Holland when she reads from Resillient Ruin. I have several new sister poems to read. (one may be found in Laura's Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology.) You’ll recognize me; I’ll be the well-dressed poet sitting on a step stool.

Please support local writers and local boutiques!


2700 Yulupa Ave, Ste. 6
Santa Rosa CA 95405
Store Hours:
Mon-Sat 11-7
Sunday 12-6

Friday, February 10, 2017

Kill the Love Handles Before They Kill You

The New Year may be settling into the Shadow of Sonoma Mountain, but remnants of the old year linger. Dry, naked trees tilt forlorn and forgotten along street curbs—late for recycling; icicle lights drip off rooftops in the February sun; credit balances spike; even the crumbs of cake and cheese still lurk in the back of the refrigerator. Changing one’s reality, the plan for January, is harder than I thought. Ghosts of the old reality are tenacious and hang on, especially around my middle. And my middle was one of the perceptions I’d planned to change. Do I dare use the “D” word?
I worry. My expanding middle-aged middle, not at all benefited by Linda O’s supremely decadent rum cake, doesn’t appear to understand that I’m working hard to see it differently—not as a slab of flab that makes me look my age, ruining my opportunities to wear bathing suits, but as a hard-earned trophy of a life lived to the fullest. Ha! I’d rather not see it at all. But this is the conundrum, isn’t it? The more we focus on the things we don’t want, the more we have them. I read somewhere that you can love yourself into size ten—if you love yourself enough. I apparently only love myself size 12, and it may be a 14 after Valentine’s Day.
Some people manage to love themselves size 10’s worth even when they’re in 3x. I admire these folk. Their views of themselves aren’t hung up on outward appearance and society pressure, although society is actually shifting its perception of beauty and accepting rather padded flesh in place of the decades old twig image—ok, not Victoria’s Angels—but look at the proud losers on the Weight Watchers ads. There ain’t a skinny Minnie in the bunch. Uh-oh. Was that a snarky comment? It’s that attitude that needs to change. I’ve got it in my head that my Rubenesque shape is undesirable, rather than seeing the opportunities to wear muumuus and Ren Fair costumes. I love sweats. I should be happy.

            Part of my problem is that I’ve been reading up on belly fat and dread diseases. It’s hard to love the middle when the middle is telling me it’s the onset of Type 2 diabetes. We had a little scare recently in my family, but the doctor insisted that through a sensible diet and exercise, the diagnosed prediabetes could be reversed. My family member cut out sugar in all its insidious forms and in a couple months, has shed the bulge, controlled his blood sugar and looks just fabulous, dahling. I’m down with eating sensible meals and exercising—I joined the gym last February after that rich Valentine’s dinner—but giving up sugar? No wine? No chocolate? What about fruit? Is there a perception change I can make within myself that causes me to shun sugar? Maybe I can have my dentist pull my sweet tooth.
Belly fat, or central obesity, is linked to Type 2 diabetes, as we all know, but did you also know that it’s linked to heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis? Preliminary studies indicate that people with high body fat have less bone mass and weaker bones, according to studies reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
 Let’s not even think about what all this extra weight does to our knees. My friends and I have reached the age where we begin to replace moving parts. Maybe a trimmer waist would stave off the titanium joints. Or, another thought, maybe titanium joints would turn me into Supercrone! I might save the world from evil, one word at a time, throughout my dotage. If I could learn to flap my rolls, I’d soar—now there’s an image. Ok, I won’t appear in public wearing the “Super” suit. I promise.
 I watched Dr. Phil’s show once. Lucky me, it was the day he brought in an expert on pot-bellies to discuss the connections between belly fat and diseases then invited obese audience members onto the stage to pick up and display slabs of pure fat comparable to the flab around their own middles. Five pounds of fat is just gross!        
That’s not all, folks. Belly fat is connected to Alzheimer’s Disease, the disease I fear most. Here’s the frightening 4-1-1: mid-life obesity has been associated with dementia. A U.S. study reported in the  Annals of Neurology, examined over 700 adults and found evidence to suggest higher volumes of visceral fat—the fat Dr. Phil displayed from inside the body that packs around your organs and wreaks havoc—were associated with smaller brain volumes and increased risk of dementia. Alzheimer's Disease and abdominal obesity has a strong correlation and, with metabolic factors added in, the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease was even higher, an almost 10-fold increase risk (Wikipedia).

I’m scared. I have trouble remembering words now. How will I save the world if I can’t remember I’m a writer? “Named must your fear be before banish it you can,” Yoda reminds me. And the name is change; it’s the hard work I need to do: the new habits I need to form, the old habits and thought processes I need to dump to create a new perception of myself. Supercrone doesn’t sit around popping bonbons into her mouth all day in front of Dr. Phil’s show. Nor does she worry about dieting. She isn’t deprived of the food she loves, she’s empowered by the strength, energy, cognitive ability, ease of movement, ability to sleep well, and, yes, her leaner silhouette (not just her end of the day shadow, either), possibly in a bathing suit.            

 On Valentine’s Day, when David and I are beckoned by dessert at The Wild Goat Bistro we’ll see just what scares me more: giving up sugar or adding to my waist. After all, love handles kill!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Resolve and Persevere in the New Year

I opened one eye and peered into the shadowy disarray of my bedroom. January First glared back at me, its filmy blue eye fixing me in a reproachful stare. I grabbed the comforter and dragged it over my head in hopes of shutting out that telltale eye. No good! I felt myself melting to a protoplasmic mush—amorphous, undefined. I hadn’t made any resolutions. Maybe I could just sleep all year.

            Resolution: /ˌrɛzhttp://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.pngəˈluhttp://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.pngʃən/ http://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/g/d/dictionary_questionbutton_default.gif [rez-uh-loo-shuhhttp://sp.dictionary.com/dictstatic/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.pngn]   n.    3. the act of resolving or determining upon an             action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.
 resolve, determination, perseverance, tenacity; strength, fortitude.

After I got out of bed, I researched the tradition of New Year’s resolutions in hopes of coming up with ideas. Reputedly, the Babylonians made resolutions as early as 4000 B.C., but their New Year began on March 23rd and the celebration went on for eleven days. After all that partying, their resolutions probably sounded something like, “I’ll never drink again.”

January 1 became the beginning of the New Year in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar developed a calendar that would more accurately reflect the seasons than previous calendars. January was named after the mythical figure of Janus, whose two faces symbolized beginnings and endings.

The Romans celebrated the New Year by making resolutions, a common one being to seek forgiveness from enemies. At midnight on December 31, they imagined Janus looking back at the old year and forward to the new (probably with the same vulture eye that woke me up Sunday morning.) I’m betting that first January must have been strange with the 45 B.C. New Year baby still in diapers when the next one was born. Those early Romans loved their parties, but I bet they resolved to quit tinkering with the calendar.

New Year’s resolution making is big business here in the good ole’ US of A. Google it and you’ll get 1.2 million + results, including a Top Ten:

1.              Spend more time with friends and family
2.              Find time for a fitness program
3.              Lose weight
4.              Quit Smoking
5.              Enjoy life more
6.              Quit drinking
7.              Get out of debt
8.              Learn something new
9.              Help others
10.           Get organized

But even with guidelines, I’m still stumped. There’s no point in setting unobtainable goals—I tried that four years ago. My first resolution was to lose twenty-five pounds. I joined Weight Watchers in January with my BFF (hold on a sec, I have to pull my 94% fat free popcorn out of the microwave) and started tracking every morsel that crossed my lips. Woo-hoo! Worked great! I’d lost fifteen pounds by April, but three weddings, a cruise, and too many holiday parties later, well…you probably get the picture.

The next year my resolution  was to organize my office, but I’m more disorganized now—in two places. The clutter in my home office piled so high, I moved my writing to the studio above the barn, leaving the clutter in the house to nag me every time I passed. Let's not talk about the studio after three years!

Experts say that setting measurable goals is more realistic than say, “I resolve to lose weight.” Describing resolutions in specific terms and breaking down lager goals into smaller, easily achieved challenges—“I’ll weigh-in every Friday at 10”—promotes success. Those same experts stress that finding alternatives for habitual behaviors (exchanging a little nookie for the desserts?) will help me stick to my resolutions. But the most important thing is to choose resolutions that really mean something personally, even if they aren’t in the Top Ten—like blogging regularly, submitting stories for publication, or finding a literary agent.

But 2016 wasn’t all failure for me—I can be proud, walk tall. I lost another eight pounds, worked out every week and kept the weight off during the holidays.  I actually do see friends and enjoy life more. And maybe during those work-outs I'll determine a course of action for making my 2017 a happy and prosperous year.  Yeah, and the New Year’s baby will finally go down for her nap.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cheese Whizz

You probably saw The Bucket List some years ago, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freemen. I took my mother who was eighty-three at the time and we both thought it was the best idea we’d heard in ages—making a list of everything we want to do before we die and then doing them.
 My list is long and includes what my husband calls an eclectic mix of the merely improbable to downright insane ideas. Like being invited to be the guest writer on the Late Show. “Maybe,” David says, “a reason to publish your novels.” Like living in Venice for a year. “I’d rather live in Florence.” Like starting an olive orchard and curing my own olives. “Do you have thirty years?” And like bungee jumping. “My wife is crazy.” 

Okay, maybe I won’t land on late night TV, or cultivate olives, but I could go bungee jumping! And certainly I can grow orchids, participate in one of the “you solve it” mystery weekends at a bed and breakfast, and raise chickens for eggs. “That will be animal ‘wifery,’ cuz I ain’t doin it,” my husband points out.

I’m about to cross off one of my “do before I die” wishes: learn how to make cheese. Later this month I’m registered in their Beginning Cheese Class at The Beverage People in Santa Rosa, www.thebeveragepeople.com. I’m going to learn how to cut curds, drain whey, and operate a cheese press. According to instructor Nancy Vineyard, we’re going to make a soft ripening cheese, a hard cheese, a quick cheese and a fresh cheese. But the best part is, we’re going to eat cheese, and eat more cheese paired with wine. How udderly Sonoma County—oops, bad pun—disqualified from the Late Show!

From ModernFarmer.com

These days cheese is a really big deal in Petaluma. I’m getting the feeling that if you want to fit in around here, you’ll know something about artisanal cheeses, their makers, and their pairings. What I wonder is, do I need to add, “learn to milk a goat” to my list? I’ve suggested keeping goats for weed control, but David is emphatic when he shouts “No!” But in the spirit of being Petaluman hip, I’ve done a little research into our cheese. Did you know that Cow Girl Creamery headquartere din the in Petaluma for awhile, or that the Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Farm, www.springhillcheese.com, now owns the historic 1913 Petaluma Creamery on Western? Try their retail shop for artisanal cheeses including (my favorite) Quark, ricotta, white cheddar, and Jack. I love their fresh curds for mozzarella. The Creamery also serves old-fashioned milkshakes and fresh breads from Lombardi’s Bakery. www.cowgirlcreamery.com
I've been told the ice cream is to die for.

 My mouth is hankering after cheese! It’s the writing—makes me hungry. If I weren’t on deadline, I’d grab my BFF, call for an appointment, and run out to watch the goats being milked at Achadinha Cheese Co., an artisanal goat cheese dairy and creamery about three miles out of town. If you haven’t tried their Capricious, the farm’s signature aged goat cheese, you haven’t tried cheese. Buy it directly through the farm or try Petaluma Market, and serve it with a full-bodied Merlot. I found Capricious recipes at the website, www.achadinha.com.

That spring morning was mild and warm, the green hills showed patches of gold over White’s Hill, and a dozen of my fellow eleven-year-old Scouts packed into cars for a trip to The Cheese Factory. We pursued a merit badge (one of the two I earned) about food products raised or produced in the area and were to make displays and reports about our experiences later.
I don’t remember the reports, and I do remember how the lights in the factory gleamed off the silver equipment and how the workers wore rubber aprons and white paper hats. The room smelled funny—not like sour milk, but earthy like mushrooms. I can’t remember anything about how the cheese was made, but we had a picnic by the pond and the mallard ducks loved our bologna sandwiches. I fell in love with the buttery, nuttery tang of the Camembert we sampled. Mom may have been sorry she organized that trip—no more American Cheese—it was camembert and bologna with a wilted leaf of Iceberg lettuce on Wonder bread for me! 

Maybe I’ll learn how to make it at my class, at least triple cream Brie. And even if I don’t actually know how to make award winning cheeses, when I arrive at the fifth annual Artisan Cheese Festival hosted by the Sheraton Hotel Sonoma County on March 18th through 20th, I’m going to cross another thing off my bucket list and talk with dairy farmers, cheese makers, chefs, and “foodies” like a real cheese whiz. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pivot Point

I see a woman in a brightly patterned dress with a calf-length hemline and big shoulders, a business owner of the 80s—accounting. Someone who had been busy for a long time but who really hadn’t done much. A great world lurked outside her door and she was determined to experience it.

1987 dawned for me over the San Rafael Canal. I’d traded in my rented Sausalito houseboat for a free berth on my then boyfriend’s not-quite-built 42’ steel-hulled Bruce Roberts design sailboat. A serious relationship, along with the purchase of my Isuzu Trooper II late in ’86 sparked my move. Although the Trooper marked a milestone in my life—the first new car I ever bought—I now had a car payment.

On a nice day, living on the water beat all. I loved watching the birds, the other boats, and the flotsam passing by on the currents of the tide. I loved the rock and roll of the hull in the water and the tang of salt-laced petrol in the air. But it wasn’t always a nice day, and the winter of ’87 proved cold, damp and cramped on the Flying Penguin.

We moored at the end of a dock between the derelict Holiday Magic building, a defunct multi-level marketing cosmetics company needing some of its own lipstick, and a seedy apartment complex. To get to the boat we had to cross through the apartment building’s pool area or take a narrow, overgrown walkway around Holiday Magic. Not long after moving in, we heard a drunken row between a couple from the apartments. Believing I was a respectable businesswoman—even if a bit off-beat—I peeked out of a porthole and was mortified to realize the drunk was someone I’d dated years before. I avoided the apartment building after that, but when I tripped over an unsavory man sleeping on the dark, secluded path, I knew the bohemian dream was over. I started saving up to move.

Like my personal year, the year-at-large also suffered climate swings—on the one hand, it was a sunny day. The Dow closed twice at record-breaking highs; Aretha Franklin was the first woman artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Klaus Barbie went on trial for his war crimes. On the other hand, a grey drizzle pervaded the culture: President Regan kicked off the Iran-Contra Affair, world population hit 5 billion people, and the first Palestinian Intifada began. But Aretha got her r-e-s-p-e-c-t, and I decided to find out what that meant for me.

By the summer solstice, at the same time the Petaluma Post was laboring to launch into broad daylight, and the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act was passed—the first of its kind in the world—we were packing out of our temporary sub-let for three weeks in Australia, compliments of the sale of the Flying Penguin and my devoted sailboat-less boyfriend. I’d signed the lease on an under-construction houseboat and stored my worldly goods, ready to retrieve when I got back from down under. But arriving home, the floors weren’t built yet, and we became nomads, camping out in my boyfriend’s mother’s RV. I recall sleeping in Homestead Valley under the spreading canopy of an old valley oak.

Even though I moved the fashionable shoulder-padded wardrobe (and my iron and ironing board) out of the closet in my office to my brand new two-story, two-bedroom floating home on Main Dock, that new topaz Trooper in the parking lot constantly tempted me to adventure. And everywhere radios played I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2’s #1 hit.

But I anchored in, harmonizing with the rhythm of tides, work, and life in my hip houseboat community as the planets converged in the sky over Mt. Tam and Richardson Bay. So when the boyfriend started lip-sync-ing, “yo no soy marinero, soy capitan, soy capitan,” to La Bamba, and started shopping for another sailboat, I stepped up my Spanish language studies. The stock market had a Black Monday in October, but I scoured the surplus store for Trooper-camping gear, preparing for our imminent camping trip to Baja.

As the tide went out at the end of the year, my world opened like an oyster. I think of ’87 as my pivotal year—the year I jumped into adventure with both feet. I knew by then I was going to write a book set in Mexico, and I needed to know more than double entry bookkeeping and classroom Spanish to do it. I needed to see whales breeching, to discover hot springs, to track armies of boojum cactus to the sea, to swim with the manta rays, to know the color of the horizon where the Mexican sky meets the Sea of Cortez, and I really needed to practice my Spanish. Late in the year we drove down to Mulagé and camped on the beach at Bahía Conceptíon for two weeks. But it was obvious to me that I was going to need a lot more experiences to write my book than drinking Pacifico in the warm Sea of Cortez tethered to my sunshade.

It’s taken many years and many trips to gain that experience. Like the Post, I launched this project 25+ years ago and I’m still at it in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain.

I found a hot spring at Bahía de Concepción

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I Was a Teen-aged Undercover Writer

My mother loves everything I write; she’s my greatest supporter. She chortles; she guffaws; she giggles over my columns. She ooohs over a bright image and ahhhs over every tightly crafted phrase I read to her. Mom turns pensive, wistful even, when I write a story from my past—our shared past. “Is that what happened?” she asks. “Well, it’s what I remember, Mom,” I tell her.  And it’s her, “That’s so wonderful!” that shores me up for the next assignment.
            This was not always the case. I began my writing career as a pre-teen, imitating the trashy stories I read in True Confessions magazine, clandestinely by flashlight under my covers after “lights out.” I read wonderfully awful stories like My Father Sold Me, Marked for Scandal, When a Girl Goes to Prison, and my favorite,
I Was a Teen-aged Drug Addict, which I read in 1963 or 1964 in eighth grade.
            The stories I wrote were far more seemly. As an early teen, I just didn’t have the tawdry experience to imbue my sad tales with salacious thrills. Not that a lack of skid row experience stopped my writing. I wrote about girls my age in sticky situations with mean stepsisters, pushy boyfriends, motorcycle gangs (I’ve always feared motorcycles), or turn-coat best friends and usually a “prince charming” Dad-type figure coming to the rescue—pre-runners to the modern genre of Chick-lit.
            It wasn’t important that my stories didn’t steam off the pages of my notebook. I had something to say, and my mother wasn’t going to like it! Hence, I hid all my drafts between my mattress and the box spring—way deep in the middle where no one could possibly discover my cache. Not even when the sheets were changed, something I was taking care of by then—as well as ironing Dad’s shirts—but that’s another story.
            Imagine my thirteen-year-old surprise as I slammed through the back door after school one day, and Mom shrilled, “What do you mean by this?” wagging my precious notebook in my face.
            “What do you mean, ‘what do you mean’?” I prided myself on scintillating dialog.
            She latched onto my arm and guided me to the nearest cane-seated chair at the oak table and produced a copy of True Confessions from behind the notebook and slapped it down onto the table. “What is this?”  
            I sat head bowed and mumbled, “Stories.”
            “Did you think you could get away with…”
            I tuned-out. It was always best to do what my siblings later termed fogging, with my mother. Blah blah blah, she blathered. I don’t remember now what the punishment was for reading True Confessions, aside from confiscating the magazines, but I do remember the punishment for writing. Mom became my editor. She edited each piece of my “fairy confessions.”
            Mom was a tough editor from the old school—that school that taught English grammar and spelling, which was,  “not the school you attended, obviously. How do you think you’ll write if you can’t spell?”
            “I’ll get an editor,” I replied with a pithy comeback.
            “You better learn how to diagram a sentence if you want to write one.”
            There still is no comeback to that jibe.
            And talk about killing your darlings, Mom didn’t so much carve out the weak phrases with one of my dad’s medical scalpels, as amputate my poor stories at the neck with his circular saw feom the garage. “Who’s your audience?” she asked.
            Then she dropped the magazine into the blazing incinerator in the yard over by the fence. She may as well have tossed in my masterpieces, too. I metaphorically watched my writing career drift lazily out into the sky, a little ash-flurry framed by Mt. Tam., looming across the Ross Valley.
            After the shock and anger wore off, I felt only shame. I was a bad writer! My mother said so. I stopped writing short stories and learned how to hide my True Confessions magazines better.
            But writing is like an itch that won’t be ignored. I’ve taken to heart those early literary criticisms: identify my audience, vary my sentence patterns, write in an active voice, and since I’ve come to Petaluma, where every other citizen is a writer, I’ve gone public. 
            I never did learn to spell or diagram a sentence, but Mom doesn’t notice. She’s too caught up in the story. When I write something really awful, she doesn’t see it. I ball it up into a wad and toss it into the woodstove (not on Spare-the-Air days) to watch the ashes of my literary failure blow over Sonoma Mountain.