An Obession Called Horse

From the time I can remember I wanted a horse. It was my request for birthdays, Christmas, and every occasion when a gift was offered. In my earliest years, we lived in a city, Wichita, Kansas. No place to put a horse. The pelt of my Dad’s old paint horse Knobby was slung over a folded rollaway bed we had in the basement and I’d climb up on Knobby’s pelt with the head of a broom stuck in the fold of the bed, a rope for reins and pretend I was riding the range.  Later we moved to the suburbs of Bellevue Washington – still no place for a horse and Knobby’s pelt didn’t even make the trip.

When I was little my father promised he would get me a horse – someday. He bought me a dog in the meantime. My mother was animal-phobic and didn’t like any four-legged but tolerated the dog, a boxer named Rocky. I was given riding lessons and horses were rented for me to ride at stables and arenas but for the entire time I lived with my parents, nary a living horse of my own. I had plastic and ceramic statues of horses, read books about horses and horse magazines, played with farm sets with horses; pretended I had a horse in our garage that I groomed daily. I lived in hope that a horse would materialize if I kept the faith. But alas, no horse happened. Then my teen years erupted, and my obsession changed to Elvis, music, and boys. I still took riding lessons, but the glow was off the dream of owning a horse.

In the spring of 1967, my dad called and said he had a horse for me. A real horse. I was married with an eight-month-old daughter. We lived on the edge of town on an acre or so and we did have a little room for a little horse. Lucky me, it was a little horse. Periodically the State of Washington would round up wild Palouse ponies and put them up for auction to manage the wild herds. The Buick car dealer purchased some as giveaways with their new cars. My dad was buddies with our local Buick dealer. His friend told him about the giveaway and my dad immediately went down to buy a new car and voilà I got a horse. He had Brandy delivered to our house and we quickly put up a fence to keep him on the back acre of property.

Brandy was feral but I knew with time and love he could be a good riding horse for our daughter. I set about breaking him to saddle. It was slow and bumpy, but we got along pretty well. Then I found out I was pregnant again. Done was the riding. Fortunately, Brandy was a gentle sweet-natured fellow, so training continued. He followed me around like a big dog and I was able to continue working with him. I was confident enough in him to put our daughter on his back and lead him around the yard. A thrill for her. But I knew we couldn’t keep him. We were moving to a new house for our growing family and had to find a home for him. I put notices in the paper and called around, but no takers. Then I called a riding stable that gave lessons to kids. They came out to meet him and agreed he would be perfect for their beginning riders. Brandy found a new home.

Dad fulfilled his promise to me. Little did we know he would be dead in less than a year from a sudden explosive heart attack. Thank you, Dad, for my horse.

Happy Mother’s Day

Being a mother is a tricky business and there are no operating manuals to tell us how to do it. It’s seat-of-the-pants, learn-as-you-go with each child presenting a different set of idiosyncrasies and personal preferences. It is the single most important title I’ve ever had in my life and the job I love the best. I was privileged to be a stay-at-home mom to my three kiddos (now all in their 50s).  I will follow that statement up with how eternally tired I felt having all the little ones within four years. I’m amazed that mothers of twins, triplets, etc. can survive. There were days when I wondered if I’d EVER not be washing diapers. Yes, that is how long ago I had little ones. Disposables were just beginning to become the fashion, but they were ill-fitting. I had a diaper service for the first few months of each baby but after that, I was on my own. I ADORE babies and toddlers so I was in heaven – a kind of sleep deprived euphoria. There were days when my husband would come home from work and I’d still be in my nightgown never having a minute to take a shower and get dressed.  It was a three ring circus for many many years. I loved watching them learn, watching their personalities develop, watching their joy as they came to know the world around them. I would have been happy having twelve babies, but my husband said three was enough. He worked hard to support our little brood. Those were my glory days. Then they grew up. I still love them all to pieces as wonderful independent, self-sufficient, adults, but their childhoods are the diamonds and gold in my treasure chest of memories – even if somewhat blured by my lack of sleep.

I didn’t appreciate my mother until I became an older adult and could understand her. She was not the mother I thought I needed or wanted. She and I had very different world views and clashed often as I grew up. She was a dedicated career woman, and I don’t think she particularly wanted to be a mother. My father came home from WWII with a fierce need to have a family. I was raised by a series of nannies most of my youth. To her credit, Mom hired sweet, nurturing women, but I yearned for a mother who stayed home as all my friends had. She needed the challenge and feedback from the adult business world. She was a classy lady, very smart, and actually excelled at two jobs – her career plus that of being a wife and mother. She did both at a very high level and much better than I would have been able to do. She was widowed at the age of forty-nine. My brother was fourteen and she had to be mother, father, and head of the family through his teen years. I’m sure those years were very difficult. I was married with a young family of my own by then. Mom continued working a full-time job that she loved until she was seventy-five. She never complained and always expressed a positive outlook.

She and I were able to heal our relationship when she was in her 60s and I in my 30s. We took a trip to Europe together and got to know one another on an adult level as we traveled from country to country. One of our stops in Italy, was the Vatican. As we walked through St. Peter’s Square, a pigeon flew overhead and pooped on Mom’s head.  Locals told us It was a good luck sign. Decades later and a few weeks after she died, I saw the movie Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane. In the movie, a bird flew over and pooped on the heroine’s head. I laughed so hard and thought, ‘Oh, Mom must see this. She’ll get a big kick out of it.’ When the movie was over, I had a strong desire to call her and tell her I’d take her to the show. Suddenly I realized she wasn’t here anymore. I felt my heart crack, tears welled up. A memory we shared was now only mine. I miss her and I am so grateful we had her last twenty plus years to strengthen our relationship. Some children and parents don’t have that blessing of connection. Thank you, Mom, for being you and a strong role model. I love you.

Children are our legacy and the reason we are put on this earth.  Happy Mother’s Day.

Nostalgia and The Ironing Board

We are having new carpet put in our bedroom and walk-in closet in two days. This necessitates a spring cleaning of sorts as we have to relocate all the furniture and clothing before carpet can be taken out and replaced. I discovered in the dark back corner of my closet, the ironing board. Not an ironing board but THE ironing board.

I’m of the opinion that if clothing is not wash-and-wear or permanent press it should not belong to us. It is immediately put into a bag and rehomed to a place more suitable – a place where someone likes to iron. In this day when ripped and wrinkled are fashion statements, I am old school – no rips and a modicum of wrinkles. I am not old school enough, however, to iron clothes. I’m a great fan of plissé, crinkle fabrics.

I was eleven when I was pressed (pun intended) into service as the family ironer. Mother ironed Everything from our clothing to sheets and towels – even my Dad’s boxers and undershirts were pressed and folded. She taught me the fine art and it became my Saturday morning task.

THE ironing board came to my house after Mom died. I knew I would probably never use it, but it is older than I, had been in the family eighty-odd years and it felt disrespectful to toss it out. It is wooden with a faded blue gingham padded cover. Those covers were changed often because Mom didn’t like to have scorch marks on them. It is retired now as all good servants should be and has not seen the light of day since 2003.

As an adult, I would tease Mom that she lived in a Doris Day movie in her head. I swear that if you looked into the closets of Ms. Day’s movie set it would look exactly like Mom’s. Her shelves were neat with towels arranged in color-coordinated harmony and stacked from large to small. Dishes too had their own particular symmetry on their shelves.  Her clothes closet was organized in order of seasons, then by type (dresses, skirts, shirts, blouses, pants, etc.) then by color. Organize and accomplish were her favorite words.

Didn’t have roses for pic but you get the idea

Mind you she was a full-time career woman until she was seventy-five and she ran our household like her office – precise and orderly. She managed to work all day after making breakfast for her husband and two kids and lunches for school. When she came home, she fixed dinner for all. She laid out my outfits for the following day. Her evenings were spent paying bills, or mending, or ironing and prepping to start all over again the next day. After we bought a TV in 1952, she might spend an hour watching it with the family, but she was always doing a little chore at the same time.

Once THE ironing board became a prop for my dad who loved to think creatively. Mom had talked of buying a steam iron – a relatively new appliance for the modern home in the 1950s. Before the steam iron, Mom would dampen Dad’s freshly laundered shirts (they were washed in a machine, then hung on a line outside to dry), roll them like fat sausages, and put them in the fridge to await ironing. She also used a coke bottle fitted with a sprinkle top that was filled with water to dampen clothes as she ironed them. The steam iron circumvented that process. As a surprise, Dad bought one. Very early on her birthday morning, he set up THE ironing board in the dining room with a pair of his boxers over the end, a vase of two dozen red roses, and the new steam iron on it. He rarely got up before her, so he had to be very sneaky. He got me up to watch.  We waited in the kitchen, and he snapped a photo when she saw her birthday gift. She burst out laughing, a rare thing for her and a happy memory for me.


Painting by
Sally Rosenbaum

An accessory to being a writer is being a reader. The love of words, whether my own or those of others I admire, is part of the suit I inhabit in the world. I have a library of over 1,000 volumes, hardback and paperback, most in my writing room/library/cat boudoir. There are books in every room of the house. My husband claims every horizontal surface has books on it. I have read most, reread many. Some are on my To Be Read list that I acquired at too-good-to-miss sales at the library and elsewhere. I wonder at times if my library is a subliminal guarantee of eternity as in, I cannot die until I’ve read every book I own. I don’t think so, but it has crossed my mind.

My husband, a man of action not a reader, has come to terms with the love-me-love-my-books attitude and helped transport boxes and boxes from one abode to another over the years. He does not understand the obsession. “Why keep a book you already read?” is his repeated refrain. “Because I love them” is my reply. Even if I don’t reread an entire book, I go back to visit characters or scenes I like. I use books as reference or inspiration when I write. My books have sticky notes and penciled notes in them.

I made a promise (lightly made but mostly kept) to stop adding to the library when I discovered Kindle and Audible. Now I have over 600 Kindle books and nearly the same number of audiobooks that don’t have to be moved in boxes. Two-for-one offers and Kindle free are my downfall. I discovered the digital checkout system, Libby, at the public library and use it for book club books I don’t have and don’t want to purchase. I read two or three books concurrently. The three most recent are Trinity by Leon Uris, Since Then by Sheila Bender, and Lessons in Chemistry (audio) by Bonnie Garmus. Love them all.

I discovered, because of GoodReads, another place to hoard books. It is my “Want to Read” list that feels nearly as satisfactory as a TBR list. I read a review or see books my friends read and put them on the WTR list. It’s free and doesn’t take up space in my home.

a corner of the library
A corner of the library

Once, several years ago, I decided to organize my library and get rid of books I didn’t NEED. I took every volume off my shelves and put them in the middle of the room in stacks by category. My grandson, then about four, wandered into the room where dozens of stacks reached heights nearly to his shoulder. “Wow, Grandma, you must have a million books”.  I, with the coldness of a butcher, put piles of books to be discarded in a corner of the room. Then I asked my best buddies to come over to pick through and take the ones they wanted. We packed up the remainders and I had them take them to the library or Bookman’s or Good Will or wherever they chose. I knew if I took them, I’d end up bringing a few (or many) back because I’d rethink my attachment. I don’t miss them, and I don’t think I repurchased any of them. I didn’t keep a list. My library is again disorganized because I fail to put books back in their assigned place (even with the best intention). Maybe it’s time for reorganization and purge?

Truth and Facts

Today I read a moving blog post about a friendship. The author wrote about her friend with the truth of memory, not necessarily the facts.  Raising the Dead ‹ BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog ‹ Reader —  I read another insightful blog post about current political turmoil in France. Out My Window ‹ Reader — Somehow those two posts melded, although completely different in intent, and made me think about my reality and my memories.

To me facts are incontrovertible, they may be proven false later, but they are the concrete reality that can be proven at this point in time. Facts are objective, the absolute of what we know now through all our senses. Truth is subjective. It is the reality of facts filtered through our experience. We are all human and, as humans, subject to our own prejudices and emotional knowledge. Truth is facts of the heart, our day-to-day understanding of what is going on around us. As memoir writers it is important, on your journey to the truth, not to let facts be stumbling stones. While facts may be important they are not the sum total of the experience or the lessons you learn along the way.

I have a friend, a brilliant sculptor, who exhibits regularly at art shows around the country. I’ve watched her, in an hour or two, turn big lumps of clay into miniature animals – wolves, horses – so realistic that you expect them to move toward you at any moment. A magical experience. Many years ago, I traveled with her to an art exhibition in Montana that included her work. During our time there meeting artists and enjoying the art world, we had an on-and-off weeklong discussion on religion. What is the soul, what is spirit, can God be proven, etc? The discussion continued as we packed up and left Great Falls. I was driving her van. Somewhere along the highway, we passed a gas station where a large dog was sitting close to the edge of the road. We are both dog lovers.

I interrupted our discussion with “What kind of dog was that?” as we zoomed by.

“Dog?” she replied, “What dog?”

“The one we just passed,” I answered.

“We didn’t pass a dog, we just went by a Circle K,” she said.

“Ah, you didn’t see the dog, but it was there.”

“You’re making it up to change the subject.”

At the next turnable place, I maneuvered the van across lanes of the lightly traveled highway in a most illegal U-turn and headed to the gas station possibly five miles back, hoping the dog hadn’t been run over or run away. Sure enough, the dog was still sitting by the road.

“There,” says I, “that dog.”

“Oh, I guess I didn’t see it. It looks like a shepherd mix to me.”

“And that was my point,” I said returning to our discussion about belief. “Your reality is that the dog didn’t exist because you didn’t experience it.  Your truth is different from my truth. My truth could be based on an illusion or on my five senses, but it is my truth. It is what I know to be true and the same goes for you. Had I not turned the van around, we would have totally different memories of the same experience.”

What would my essay be today if the dog left, disappearing around the side of the building or into its owner’s car? It would be of a dog I swear I saw but then disappeared and her story would be of a crazy friend who made a U-turn in the middle of a highway to show her a phantom dog. Both would be true.

I write fiction primarily. Fiction contains elements of a writer’s truth. To my many memoir writing friends I want to say, write YOUR truth. There are no video or audio recordings of your day-to-day activities or relationships and the memories they engender. Your memory IS the recording and it IS filtered through your experience. Write what is in your heart because that is the truth and that is more important and much more interesting than all the facts listed in order as years evolve. Don’t let the fears of others block your truth. They cannot convey your story and should not arbitrate it. They are bit players, you are the star. What you learned is of value to those who are not able to express their story in words. Your truth may inspire or may help someone, even in your family, understand their world better. Write your story as it is for you. Don’t wait to let someone else tell it because it will then only be your story filtered through their experience, their story of you. Be Brave.

Our book Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets includes essays from each author’s truth as well as fiction short stories and poetry.

Grandma’s Cabbage Casserole or How to Cook Creatively

I read a blog post recently about old family recipes and it reminded me of one of my favorites. My mother’s mother was a plain cook, but a good cook. She made simple things delicious. One of her recipes was published in a cookbook at the senior living community where she and my grandfather lived in the 60s. I laughed when I read it. Fortunately, I watched her make it many times, so I knew the results of the magic she employed. The recipe is “one head of cabbage, butter, milk, soda crackers, salt, pepper, bake 350 for 45 to 60 minutes”. That was the entire recipe called Cabbage Casserole. No quantities, no explanation of process. If I hadn’t observed her, I would be flummoxed by the lack of description and probably would not try it. I served it on many occasions to people who claim to hate cabbage, and all found it delicious.

I am a seat-of-the-pants or whatever’s-in-the-fridge cook. I only use recipes as inspiration to launch my own inventions. That can be really good or sensationally bad. I’ve had my husband say, ‘oh this is so good, I hope you make it again’. The answer is ‘probably not’ because I’m not actually sure how I made it in the first place. Nothing is ever made the same way twice. A little of this, a dash of that, a smidge of whatever. I don’t write it down as I create it. I’ve tried to make notes but have not been successful in the effort. On the other hand, he has looked up from the first bite or two and indicated with facial expressions that my creativity missed its mark, and it would be best to forget that experiment. He needs no words.

I’m crazy enough to serve guests my one-time-only dishes and, so far, have not poisoned anyone or had them refuse a repeat invitation. I truly know no other way to cook. I may start with the best of intentions to follow a recipe but somewhere along the way find I need to add or subtract something, usually add. It’s a compulsion I cannot deny.

Back to grandma’s cabbage. I like it BECAUSE it doesn’t have a lot of information. I know the destination and I know the road by heart. It gives me lots of room to create without feeling I’ve done an injustice to the spirit of the dish. I sometimes add cheese, sometimes ham, sometimes bacon crumbles, sometimes even chopped broccoli or shredded carrot. It all works.

If you are interested, I will give you more information. Use a well-buttered 13 x 9 baking dish. Shred a head of cabbage (or any vegetable you want to add, in whatever quantity you want – I discourage diced tomatoes or squash, however). Crush a sleeve of soda crackers (maybe two sleeves depending on your taste). Layer half of the cabbage, then a few pats of butter spaced across the cabbage, then half of the crushed soda crackers, salt (not much needed and can be eliminated because of the salted crackers), and pepper (again to taste) and repeat for two luscious layers. I have been known to add some of those French fried onions from the can to the top layer of crackers. Pour enough milk (sometimes with cream added) over the entire casserole until the level of milk is a little more than halfway up the side of the dish. Bake in 350° oven for 45 to 60 minutes – yes, that’s a big discrepancy but that’s what I do. It won’t be ruined by baking an hour and sometimes the veggies are a little crunchy at 45 minutes. If you add protein like cheese or ham, that can be a separate layer under the cracker layer. I bake it a little longer with those additions. I’ve thought of cooked chicken as a possibility, but my taste buds say no; but do it YOUR way.

I hope I’ve written all the steps.  If it works for you, let me know. If it doesn’t, I must have missed something because it always works.

Furby, in history

Our daughter visited recently from Seattle. It has been over two years since we were together. Although we speak and see each other at least once a week via Duo, nothing replaces the warmth of a hug. Memories bubbled up as we talked of day-to-day experiences, lives in motion.

One such memory was of a trip Shari and I made in September 1999 – wow, before the turn of the century. It brought to mind the universal hubbub about the impact of Y2K. It was THE topic everywhere we went. How would it affect computer systems thereby creating chaos in finance, hospitals, governments, and on and on? Here we are twenty-three years later bumbling through totally different worldwide cataclysmic issues that will become memories in another quarter of a century. Living through history. Thousands of people worked vigorously to make the smooth transition as Shari and I blithely enjoyed our travels in Europe, occasionally pondering if the world as we knew it would still exist on January 1, 2000.

Fun memories of that trip by far supersede the worries of a world in turmoil. One such memory is of our Furby. It was the sort of A-I fad of the time, an alien-looking, hamster-sized toy that spoke in its own language and “acquired” our language as you talked with it. We stayed with friends in Wiltshire, England just a few miles up the hill from Stonehenge. Yes, we visited the four-thousand-year-old Neolithic monument to man’s ingenuity and were awed by the power that emanated from there.  Who knows what historical events colored those day-to-day lives? That’s another story. It was at their home where we met the then trendy sensation, Furby. Gail and Brian introduced us. We had a lively evening of discussion with a well-trained Furby and I was smitten. Upon our return to London, I immediately went to Harrod’s to purchase our little friend. Shari and I spent an evening talking to Furby. He told us his name, but it escapes my over-stuffed file drawer of recollection. What remains, however, is the startled reaction of the Parisian cab driver when Furby spoke up spontaneously from the depths of my carry-on bag nestled next to me in the backseat of his taxi.

We were being driven from Charles de Galle airport to our small hotel on Rue Augereau near the Eiffel Tower. Shari and I both had rudimentary French from school, so we figured between us we’d get along just fine during our visit in France. We did not expect Furby to be part of any conversation. At a stop light, Furby decided to join our halting discourse with the cab driver. It uttered some words of Furbish mixed with English in its little voice. The cab driver’s head swiveled in a snap to look at us. He said (in French of course) “Who’s that? I picked up two ladies at the airport. When did we get another passenger?” I hurried to pull Furby from my bag to show him it was a toy because I couldn’t find the words in my basic vocabulary to describe it. He continued to drive but kept a close eye on us from his rear-view mirror. Furby made a few more remarks as I fumbled to turn him off. When we arrived at the hotel, I handed the toy to the driver and explained as best I could what it was. Then we laughed but I’m sure it is a memory he retained. We all survived Y2K and Furby resides on a shelf as a reminder of that trip. He hasn’t spoken a word in nearly twenty-two years.

Old Mesquite

Outside my library window       

Nascent bright green leaves, softly wave.

An elaborate contrast against

The rugged black bark of old Mesquite

Whose arms stretch out to embrace Spring

In long feathery finery.

Rising in the near distance against

The perfect blue sky

Behind old Mesquite

Pusch Ridge presents itself.

It will disappear in a few weeks as

Mesquite becomes denser,

A screen and shade against the

Slowly increasing heat

of Summer sun.

Dwarf Chaste Tree,

Little sister to old Mesquite,

Sits under his protective arms

Shyly showing her tightly leafed buds

In tiny clumps,

Inviting Spring’s release.

Toe Compatibility

It seems a small thing. The care of those strange-looking, very necessary appendages, feet.

It was not on our minds when, at ages eighteen and nineteen, we rushed off in the heat of lust and starry-eyed optimism to elope. Toe compatibility. Now as senior citizens, after decades of marriage, it is a point of discussion.

My husband and I indulge ourselves in the luxury of monthly pedicures. Years ago we were gifted His and Hers Pedicures by a friend.  I think it was a joke gift to see if my husband would do it. We tried it out. Oh my. The soothing feeling of having tired feet and legs massaged is like lying on a warm beach with ocean waves caressing your legs, an hour in heaven. We were hooked. It took a few appointments to find the right nail tech/massage therapist for each of us, but we came upon perfect matches and have stuck with them for years. Amy is my lady and Kathy takes excellent care of my husband’s feet. He has beautiful feet, like very large baby feet, soft and clear. Kathy points out his feet could be models. He wears socks and shoes always. My feet, in contrast, are gnarly. Because I have bunions, I go barefoot unless leaving the house and then I usually wear sandals exposing my feet to the elements. Poor Amy must use the cheese grater tool to peel the callouses off mine.

I have my nails painted but he eschews such frippery. The ladies try nearly every time to talk him into adding color causing laughter all around.  His treatment is done before mine, so he walks next door to Starbucks and buys a mocha that he brings back to share as my nails dry. After our appointment, we are relaxed and feel pampered.

It sounds perfect but…the incompatibility comes because my nails grow quickly so I’m ready for a trim every four weeks; his grow slowly and he can go seven or eight weeks. I know I could trim my nails myself as I used to do, but I’m spoiled. We compromise because we like to go together. My nails are usually long enough to climb trees by the time we go in and my heels are akin to horse hooves. My husband needs a light trim. Who would have dreamed that a simple self-care task would become an issue for monthly discussion?


Writing. Something I am doing almost all the time. Even in my dreams. I may not be physically committing words to paper but, in my head, stories are being created, or poems, or current events noted. At some time during the day, I try to find a space to scribe those thought forms with the symbols we call words.  

Every year a new list of words is published by a variety of sources including Oxford House and Webster. Last year ‘staycation’, ‘metaverse’, and ‘shrinkflation’ were offered in the listing of new terms. They were words I understood and may use. I’m particularly fond of ‘badassery’. Other words like ‘finfluencer’ (a financial influencer), ‘crunk’ (full of energy), and ‘ASMR’ (autonomous sensory meridian response) will probably never enter my lexicon of jargon.

I love to play with words, so welcome the expansion. However, I’ve noticed that some old words are being abandoned or profoundly changed. Some very nice old words at that. As our culture changes so do the words to describe it. One prime example is ‘gay’ used today to indicate a homosexual male and in the past to describe a happy, carefree feeling. ‘Literally’ used to mean something actually happening now but has been converted to a word of emphasis such as a ‘literal’ smash hit.

I believe the world is a sadder place without ‘nizzled’ (slightly intoxicated), ‘chuffy’ (haughty, puffed up), and ‘quixotic’ (absurdly romantic). I made myself a promise to discover some great old words and apply them in my next story.

A book I discovered last year is Dreyer’s English, an Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. Great word ‘utterly’. Mr. Dreyer has taken Strunk and White, the absolute bible of English grammar, to a whole new level. While the little tome of Misters Strunk and White is in my portable writing folder at all times, I prefer to look things up in Dreyer’s bigger book that sits on my desk. He always has a good story to go along with the lesson. Anytime I can laugh as I learn, I learn much better.

Happy wordsmithing to all.