Sidetracks: the Metal Season


The strangest items remind you of things now missing from your life. When you come across them, they carry you down byways of memory lane.

I forgot I’d kept a few melted & broken tips of drill bits I used to repair — chop off the bad, regrind new tips. Even after so many years, the damaged tips fascinate me. Speed and feed are terms anyone who works with machines knows, and these tips show one of the things happens when speed and/or feed is badly wrong. With the possible exception of destruct testing, this doesn’t occur without operator error, be it inattentiveness, inexperience, altered consciousness, bad math, or…

Yet there’s an eerie and violent beauty in the textures and color changes. Even today, the force and heat required to cause such metallic distortions still amaze me.

They marked the ending of a defining life season. Though I still enjoy machining as a hobby, it’s not quite the same. The machine shops where these came from passed into history, but the effect they had on me remains.


Pen & Pencil Junky

Revisiting old posts as the rush of life slows down a bit and grants me more time for writing and artwork — for creating. New posts to come, but older posts help me back in the blogging mindset.

Journeys of the Clayfoot

Confession: I am a pen-aholic and sometimes (often) a pen klepto. I haven’t found a local chapter of Pens Anonymous, but I’m not so sure I’d go anyway. I love pens. I don’t want to give them up.
They aren’t high tech, but using them is satisfying in a way a computer keyboard or touchpad isn’t. A few of my favorites have been with me for over 30 years and refilled repeatedly. And the dip pens – all I need is ink (purchased or homemade) and a suitable container, although the bamboo ones benefit from an occasional touch-up with fine abrasive.

But pens aren’t my only weakness. There’s something enthralling about the humble pencil, too.
The wood settles into the permanent concavity on the side of my middle finger as I poise the point above paper. The graphite encased in the wood varies in hardness and darkness, from the very…

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Warning: Not for the Squeamish

Oooops! happen to everyone.

Sometimes, you don’t see the actual beginning of an event chain. You stumble into a chain-in-progress, and the outcome depends on what you do in your portion of the links.

I took the dogs outside to potty. The girls got down to business immediately, but the boy made a beeline for the truck.  He kept circling it, sniffing, but his huge nose was stuck up in the air rather than scenting at ground level.

Huh. Time to investigate.

A dead rabbit sprawled on the windshield. I’m an attentive driver. I’m pretty sure I would’ve noticed a rabbit splatting the driver’s side windshield like an oversized bug. A pair of disposable gloves later, I solved the mystery. (I’m not squeamish, but this did make me a bit queasy.)

A small feather stuck to partially identifiable viscera. An owl had used the hood of the truck as a dining room and the windshield as the table.

With nowhere to bury it, the sad little corpse was wrapped in a plastic bag, slid into a funeral urn (one of many empty coffee cans), and double-bagged to go in the trash. Somehow (gosh, how did that happen?), it went directly into the bin without making it into a larger trash bag. It fell to the bottom.  It wedged in the interior molding for the trash truck lift arms. It remained there after the disposal company made its rounds.

Over the next week, it ripened in the humid heat of a Midwest summer.


(Maybe leaving the lid off the dogs’ poop scoop bucket would’ve sweetened the localized miasma. Maybe not.)

My hubby (my knight in shining armor whose nose is actually more sensitive than mine) spared me the pry-it-loose-and-bag-it detail.

We come to each other’s rescue from our Oooops! moments.

Our standard We won’t do that again! doesn’t apply to creative, new Oooops!


A Little Life, A Little Mystery

Hard to believe she’s been gone a year. I still miss this precious fur-girl.
Every. Single. Day.

Journeys of the Clayfoot

This isn’t a eulogy–not really–although it’s about a fur-friend who’s gone now. It’s ruminations and memories about a cat who shared her life with me and my husband for over 17 years.

I love cats but I was never a cat person. I always had more dogs than cats in my life, so it never occurred to me they might not be teachable. To me, cats were a bit like odd, special-needs dogs who simply required extra patience.

Folks at the pound thought the kitten was 7 weeks old, but when I brought her home, she didn’t know how to eat well. The vet guessed closer to 5 weeks. My husband was…not really afraid of cats but wary of them. All those claws as well as teeth. From the beginning, though, Phoebe was incredibly gentle with him. She’d walk across my lap–this is Mom, I pin-dance with joy, with…

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Books Made of Paper

My heart will always prefer physical books, whether paperback or hard cover.

Planetary Defense Command

3books25In the future…

My granddaughter hops onto my lap, and once again I say a silent prayer of thanks for the medical technology which let me live long enough to know her.

I pick up a paperback book from the table beside my chair. “Would you like to see something from back when Grandpa was a young man?”

She giggles. “You’ve always been Grandpa. You weren’t young.”

“Yes, yes, I was. Here, this was one of my books.” I hand it to her.

She holds it in front of her with both hands and speaks, “table of contents.” When nothing happens, she shakes it and addresses it again, “T…O…C”. She passes it back to me. “It’s broken.”

I flip it open and show her the pages. “The words are ink printed on paper.”

She runs her fingers over the paper. “How do you put a new story on it?”


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Not Quite Otaku

The world of anime is a fairly recent discovery for me, so this is timely!

Through Alien Eyes

Scrolling through Pinterest the other week I came across a comment about Disney Productions’ influence on anime. At the risk of offending and hurting some people’s tender feelings, I have to disagree. It’s actually the other way around.

See, I liked anime before it became popular or well known in the States. In fact, I’m the one that introduced (read..corrupted) my kids to Japanese cartoons. Back in the days when all we had were Hanna-Barbera cartoons and the same dumb backdrop repeated ad nauseam, Japanese fare was a shining star in an otherwise black night. Not only were the graphics incredible (some resembled actual photographs long before Disney came on the scene), anime featured strong plots and crisp dialogue, not to mention intriguing characters who somehow managed to grow and develop. Sure there were character stereotypes and facial styles were reused in different series, but for the most part no…

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Mechanica: Book Review

I love retellings of old fairy tales that are more than simply old tales with updated clothing.


Mechanica, by Betsy Cornwell, is a young adult steampunk retelling of the Cinderella tale.   Mechanica, like other modern fairy tale adaptations (Wicked, Maleficent, Frozen) present a strong female character in Nicolette, who is derisively named “Mechanica” by her stepsisters. Like other versions of the Cinderella tale, the mother dies, the father remarries, and then he dies and Nicolette is left in the hands of her stepmother. The “steps” treat her as a servant and abuse her until she is able to escape and live the life she dreamed about through her long years of misery. There are several variations in this narrative, including the addition of steampunk creations that make this a vivid and memorable tale.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 3.15.36 PM

Many modern fairytale retellings have deliberately removed themselves from the traditional framework of the older tales in order to create a different social message.. So it is not unusual for a…

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How Bad Is 82%?

So many worlds, so little time to explore them all!

Gringa of the Barrio

Did the gringa’s dear readers hear the news? The Earth’s report card has arrived and, well, it doesn’t seem to be all that bad. It’s a “B”, after all, 82%. That’s the grade the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory gave our lovely planet. What, exactly, does that mean?

By using what the laboratory calls the “habitability index”, our planet was graded on the likelihood of supporting life. It rated an 82%. The same guidelines used to determine the habitability of life on other exoplanets throughout the vast cosmos was applied to Earth and she got a “B”. Among these guidelines are factors like: atmospheric pressure, terrain, existence of water, etc.

The funny thing is that if we didn’t live here already, and sent out a probe to conduct an analysis of our planet according to this habitability index, we wouldn’t think the planet was inhabited or capable of sustaining…

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Sort of Review: On Being a Rat and Other Observations, by Chila Woychik

The book is propped next to my computer. A charming rat peers over the rumpled paper sign it holds bearing the book’s title: On Being A Rat And Other Observations. In the lower corner, the author’s name, Chila Woychik, is in red against a cheese yellow background. The cover was later changed to a more muted color scheme, no less charming in a ratty way, but I still like the bright original cover best.

Inside the cover, my name is listed with others for editorial assistance as well as for the illustrations; and it’s mentioned in the dedication. This particular book has a brief, handwritten note to me from Chila. When she wrote it, she had no way of knowing she dated it on my parent’s wedding anniversary. This very special book became unintentionally but personally, poignantly special.

I have to admit I was dubious when asked to edit On Being a Rat. I don’t usually read autobiographical works, creative or otherwise. But the first section I saw (and each one thereafter)—WOW! Just WOW! What a rare gem!

One of the things that captivated me most about On Being a Rat was Chila’s willingness to bare her soul, to be utterly transparent and vulnerable in her honesty. Honesty is a rare commodity in this present age; truth and honesty don’t always mean the same thing. Too often, all you see is the public mask— in …Rat, it’s totally “mask off”.

Another thing is the sheer beauty and creativity in the language Chila uses. Nothing obscure or convoluted, nothing so lofty that a reader can’t follow, but nonetheless powerful and thought-provoking even in the flashes of humor. Stark and lovely!

Her imagery is solid and logical even when she makes unexpected comparisons and observations. If one of her poems or lyrical passages were a photograph, the angle may be unusual, the focal point uncommon (or even bizarre); but the image is sharp enough that no one can say, “Well, there’s something on photo paper but I sure can’t tell what it is.” She writes with a razor.

She takes an uncommon genre, the lyric essay, to a new level that’s fierce and friendly, thoughtful and profoundly creative. On Being a Rat is a wonderful treasure to be read and reread with fresh discoveries awaiting the reader each time.

But there’s a bit more about what’s been called “the Rat book” or OBAR. For one thing, it’s shown me that creative nonfiction, the lyrical essay, is not dull autobiography or self-indulgent whining about life. It’s an art form with foundations in essay, memoir, and poetry. Content and structure combine with attention to poetic flow of words and sentences. Fiction writer that I am, I can’t help but feel the prickle of challenge — could I write this personally, this well? I don’t know, but I have doubt. I’m not certain I could override my reluctance to be so vulnerable on the page.  Still, I’m inspired to try.

One other especially delightful thing about OBAR: After the initial straight-through reading, I found I can open it at any section without becoming a context castaway. Treasures abound even on a single page — a unique phrasing, a pinpoint metaphor, an illuminating observation. Some pages are chatty, as though Chila’s sitting across a café table from me. With each chapter I read, I come away thinking This one is my favorite chapter —until I pick the Rat book up again and read something that challenges how I think about writing or nature or… Then I think This one — more favorite than my last favorite. Or reading in a different mood This one’s my favorite today.

OBAR is a masterpiece on multiple levels, worth studying, worth learning from. Section by section, page by page, the whole book has taken its place among my favorites.