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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

My kids made this from a project they found online. The spider is made from an extra large Chinese lantern - we bought a white one and spray painted it black - and a medium size Black Chinese lantern. They also made a couple of changes - my daughter changed the eyes to scary ones and we couldn't find the Fun Fringe for the legs. So instead we used two strands of the thickest crochet yarn we could find and twisted them together.
Here's the link to the original project:

I already have a blog about these aliens. They take more time to make so it would be a good project for next year.

The structure of the witches is made from PVC pipe, think of a scarecrow with joints. I bought black frocks from the Goodwill store and made simple capes from a Simplicity pattern. The masks, gloves, hats and wigs were bought from Walgreens. I had to pin the wigs to the masks and the hats to both. The heads are made from plastic gallon milk jugs. I placed each one on top of a protruding PVC pipe and squished them in strategic places.

I bought the skeletons from the Oriental trading Company several years ago. They have held up well in the wind and rain, although they can no longer stand. I always help secure them by wiring them to a support stake that you would use for a plant.

I found baby clothes in a second hand shop and ripped them strategically; I sewed the bridal dress out of simple material and the veil as well. You are going for the illusion - the costumes don't have to be perfect. The top hat I stapled together from black foam, and the vaudeville hat and boa was purchased from Michael's.

This year I added musical instruments bought from Diddams. They sell them as party favors for a rock'n roll birthday. Then I took some discarded Styrofoam, cut them into mini tombstones and added jazz epitaphs. I always play New Orleans Jazz on Halloween. Our monsters love to party!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Witches Don't Cower


 Ten Things I Learned From My (inner) Witch

1.   Witches don't cower

2.   Let no one rule you 

3.   Cats are family 

4.   Guard against evil

5.   Create your own magic

6.   Cast your spells wisely  

7.   Everyone has a dark side

8.   Witches grow more powerful with age

9.    Glean wisdom from the night

10.  The sky is wide open - don't be afraid to fly



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Bird Named Bob

A Bird Named Bob And His Wooden Egg

Based on a true story . .

Once there was a bird named Bob who wanted a mate
But the female flamingos thought him unfit for a date.   

"He's stupid! He's slow! His feathers have no sheen
 He's certainly not father material they'd scream."     

So poor Bob, though he preened, stretched his neck and each wing
The gals still ignored him, or worse they implored him,
"Give up your romancing - don't bother to sing."

"Stupid bird brains," thought Bob "flamingos honk, they don't sing
Your insults to me don't mean a thing.
I know I'm not clever but I'm smarter than you
What's more I can build the best nest in the zoo!"

So Bob began scooping and packing and gluing
Mud into a mound, one foot high, one foot round.
Then he scooped a small hollow right out of the top
Placed his feet, fluffed his feathers, and settled down with a plop. 

There he sat, and he waited, and waited all day
But hard as he tried, no egg could he lay.

The males shook their heads, the gals snorted and jeered
A zookeeper watching said, "Well, this is weird.
I pity that bird who sits on his own
I'll give him an egg, so he won't be alone."

"Bob"s laid an egg! How can this be?"
The flock gathered round and jostled to see.
"No problem," Bob honked," It was easy to do
 In fact the next time, I think I'll do two!"

Now here is the sad part - Bob's egg was a toy
And after a while, it began to annoy.
"This shell will not crack, not even a nick
I've been a good father, it must be the chick."

So Bob walked away and promptly forgot
But readers I beg you, do not be distraught.
One bird had been watching and she was a smart one
"That male is a keeper, he's one loyal dude.
Next year he can have me, if I'm in the mood."

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Intangibles - Missing in Action

If you think that crabs just eat algae, or bacteria, tiny crustaceans or mollusks, you are wrong. Crabs actually eat human intangibles - bona fides that are missing in action. For instance, if you peer closely you might see the ly that is missing from Apple's "Think different" campaign. It is lying on the crab's left. Next to that is another ly, the one that is missing from the phrase, "Drive safe." Hidden under the seaweed to his right is the phrase, "You're welcome," which is the proper answer to "Thank you."

I've always wondered where those things went, those intangibles that should exist but somehow missed their chance. Did they disappear? Were they swallowed? Did they blow away like a puff of smoke? But now I know the answer - they washed to the ocean then floated down - like the detritus of our best intentions - to the sea floor to be eaten by crabs.

Look up! Floating down to us is a joke that fell flat, and over there is the missing compliment - fished for, but not reeled in. Oh there's one that's hard to see, a singer's perfectly pitched note! And here's one that's most elusive - eye contact with a texting teenager! And what are we standing on? Some crabs are nibbling at our toes; let's step away. Oh wow, we were standing on a huge pile of children's wasted playtime - wiped out by screen time. What a shame . . .

Can you see any more intangible "bona fides" that I missed? Please comment below - I'm sure there are many. :-)

Friday, June 13, 2014

On the Wings of a Falcon

"Those are the children who died," she said, pointing to the sky.

I looked up, "You mean that flock of gulls?"

"They are white falcons," she said. "They are enchanted and must stay that way until the spell is broken."

I looked down at her, not sure whether to smile, but her little face was solemn. "What happened to them?"

"While they were napping in their cribs or in their beds, she came through the window on a shaft of sunlight."

"Who did?"

"Cruel Fate. Then she touched each one between the eyes and said, You shall have cancer, and You shall have cancer, and You shall have cancer, and you shall be mine."

Did she realize what she was saying to me? I looked at her for some kind of hint, but my little companion walked on quietly, the breeze lifting her long hair.

"Then what?" I prompted.

"They got cancer," she said simply.

"All at the same time?"

"No," she turned to me surprised, "some right away, some years later and some while they were in their mommy's tummy."

"But how can that be - if they were napping?"

"Don't you know? Cruel Fate is a witch and she can do these kind of things."

She stooped down to examine a piece of shell and I gazed out over the estuary, imagining the witch who had killed my son. "Is this a story someone told you?"

"No." She looked up at me and smiled. "I just know it." She stood up and we continued walking, hand in hand.

"But if they are children who died, why are they now falcons?"

"Because Cruel Fate has a sister and she came in right behind."

"On the same beam of light?"

"No, on the breeze, then she whispered in each child's ear."
She stopped again to show me a flower, then ran ahead to look at something else.

"Wait!" I called. I hurried to catch up with her. "What did she whisper?"


"The sister!"

"Oh her. She kissed each cheek and whispered, You shall escape on the wings of a falcon but only a blanket of tears will break the spell."

I felt my eyes well up, so I turned away.

“Look at those ducks,” she laughed, “they have babies!"

We counted the ducklings, and watched the fog roll in. Then she told me she was hungry. "We'll turn back,"I said. "It's almost dinner time."

She seemed to have forgotten her story so I prompted her again. "But how exactly is the spell broken?"

"Their parent's tears catch up with them in the mist." She pointed, "Look! There are the falcons again!"

Far away, I saw the falcons flying into the fog. "What will happen to them?" I asked.

"The fog will wrap around them like a blanket and the children's spirits will be free."

"Where will they go?"

Once again she looked at me with surprise. "I don't know."

"But will they be alright?"

"Of course they'll be alright! The witch has lost."

"And what was the name of the sister, the one who came in on the breeze?"

"I'm not sure, but I think her name was Hope."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Della The Duck

Della the duck was a beautiful sight
From her soft downy breast to her tail feathers white.

Oh! She was darling. Oh! She was sweet.
She could sweep a poor drake right off of his feet.

With a waddle ‘come hither’ and a shake of her tail
She’d lure the males in, every time, without fail.

But one day she met her match in Old Bill
Who said he cared nothing for feathers and frill.
I want a duck with some brains in her head!
Who entices with intellect, only then will I wed!

The challenge was on
A question was posed
Bill asked, Are ducks real,
Or is life just supposed?

If we all swim in circles,
Pond life but a dream,
How can we exist?
Do you see what I mean?

I quack therefore I am!
Della replied with some glee.
Now quit your pontificating
Come marry me!

Bill rushed to her side
His heart all a twaddle
They married right quick
Two shakes and a waddle.

And so they lived happily
Della Duck and Old Bill
Quipping and quacking
With style and skill.

Note: "I think therefore I am," philosophical quote from Rene Descartes.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Kids Grow Up

Kids grow up, of course they do, but I bet to most parents it still comes as a shock. I know it has to me. What happened to that little toddler who's hand I'd hold as we walked to the park, me singing  While Strolling Through the Park One Day, him dutifully joining in on the, Ahhhhh...

Or the baby girl who would continue to nurse as I ran after her brother, one hand outstretched to catch him if he fell?

They've grown so fast. And when I found out the city was going to tear out the old play structures and replace them with something new, I grabbed my camera and we ran to the park, taking photos at all our favorite spots. It struck me hard that my kids had grown out of the play area around the same time they were going to tear it down.

A few days later, when the city had enclosed the play area behind a protective fence, I peered through in the drizzling rain, tearing up as I remembered how my children played when they were small. The scene could have been right out of a corny movie.

But I'm lucky to have those memories, and so lucky to have my kids by my side right now, growing older and more wonderful each day. I wouldn't go back, I just had to say goodbye.

Epilogue: The new play structures they're bringing in are really cool. One of them is a huge lizard that I can already imagine kids climbing on and embracing, little arms around its neck.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The River

I am proud to present a guest writer - my son - age 12 - who has written a poem emulating the style of the poet Sandra Cisneros and her poem, Four Skinny Trees.  He chose to compare his sister to a river and he writes in her voice. Anyone who knows his sister, knows he is spot on.

The River

      It is the only one that shares my energy. I am the only one that shares theirs. A babbling brook that sings to everyone and everything around it. One that sweeps you off your feet. That flares up if it hits a problem, refusing to calm down and wash away. From the trail we can hear it, but others just move on and ignore the joy.
      Its energy is its weapon. It wears through everything, and displays tremendous power. It surges forth and tears down rock and cuts a channel through and never quits its motion.
      Let it forget its reason for being, and it would dry up and slip away like raindrops in a desert. Move, move, move rivers say when I sleep. They power me. When I am too tired and sad to keep moving, when I am a slow slug against so many beetles, then it is I look at streams. When there is too much stuff to deal with. One that surges forth despite those that slow it down. One that moves and does not forget to move. One whose only reason is to move and sing.

My daughter came up with the line, when I am a slow slug against so many beetles. :-)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Showing Off

Blue Footed Boobys, Kauai

"Would you look at him, showing off again."
"He is rather impressive."
"Oh hell, anyone could do that. I could do that!"
"Well, why don't you then?"
"I would, but I'm pretty tired -gathering all that nesting material for you."
"Hmph, I bet."
"What's he always coming around here for anyway? Have you been making eyes at him?"
"Of course not! But a girl can look can't she, as you've always said when those chicks go flocking by. I've seen them clacking their little beaks at you."
"Oh that's not true. I never give them a second look, sweetie."
"Hmph. Well anyway, I wasn't really admiring that guy's wing span, I was wishing he'd get out of our territory. I'm trying to nest here!"
"Next time he comes by, I'll chase him away for you. I'll show him. Thinks he can fly around here spreading his tail feathers. .  He's got another think coming!"
"That's right honey; you tell him! We've got a nest to build and I have some eggs to lay . . "
"But won't you miss seeing him?"
"Nope. I've got all the man I need, right here in you."
"Oh sweetie, it's only ever been you. Plus, you're going to be the mother of our chicks! What more could a bird want?"
"Oh honey - I love you."
"I love you too." (mutual head and beak rub).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Let Me Sleep!

Why does that little mermaid keep looking at me? She's blowing bubbles and splashing her tail. Can't she see I'm trying to sleep here? Oh - you want to play do you? Well, now's not the time for play, now is the time for sleep! Tonight I will feed and I need all the energy I can get to catch those slippery fish! Yes, I know you're cute, yes, I know it would be fun, but not now little mermaid. When? Oh very well, tonight we'll play. I'll frolic with you under a full moon sky. We'll swoop and dive among the phosphorescent blue, we'll blow bubbles at the crabs and hide and seek among the kelp. We'll squirm among the squid and harass the hapless herring. But until then, little mermaid, slip silently away and LET ME SLEEP!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Gathering of Crows

      God wasn’t watching, so the little girl was murdered and her spirit wandered, lost and cold. The light was sent down, the beautiful white light of unconditional love, but the little spirit did not recognize it and shied away. The light followed for a while, like a mother calling with outstretched arms, but each time the spirit fled, until the light grew weary and dimmed with sorrow.
      Then the spirit was left in the gloaming and she flew softly on, following shadows that whispered, “Come. Hide with us.” They led her to a forest of tall trees with boughs gnarled and bent. Then the shadows swarmed and twisted around the little spirit, driving her into the tangled branches where ghosts sighed like dry leaves in the wind, crying, “Despair, oh despair!”
      But people on earth prayed for the little girl’s soul and finally the angels heard. Down they swooped to find the forgotten child, singing to stir the shadows and racing among the trees. But the netherworld feeds on lost souls and fought back, sending black water that oozed from beneath the forest floor. “Little spirit,” crooned the rising lake, “sink into my warmth; I will press upon your swirling misery and drown you into me.” And the crying spirit began to slide, though her hands gripped still the bending branches.
     Then the angels, rushing to God, said, “You must help us for we cannot find her.” And God, in his desperation, called in the crows. They flew in on ponderous wings, a swelling rank of raucous noise, and people everywhere wondered at their movements. Then this gathering of crows spiraled down into the darkness, driving away the ghosts and pecking back the shadows. They lunged and dove at the rising lake until it fled in rivulets along the ground; then nothing was left but the trees. The crows turned their gleaming eyes upon them and the netherworld trembled in its nakedness.
     Three crows flew down and plucked the startled spirit from withering branches. Carrying her on their wings, they bore her along as easily as a dandelion upon the wind. Soothed by the clacks of their hoarse lullaby, the little spirit placed her arms around the neck of one and relaxed into its ebony plumage.
     She awoke to the sound of triumphant cawing. Lifting her head, she saw a white radiance welcoming them home, and this time the little spirit wasn’t frightened. This time, she smiled.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Give You Joy - a little rant

There's a line in a book called, The Letter Of Marque* by Patrick O'Brian, where one captain congratulates the promotion of another by saying, "Give you joy with all my heart, William!" What a wonderful expression! The book takes place in the early 1800s, so I don't think there's much chance of the expression coming back, but wouldn't it be great if it did. Then instead of saying, "Congratulations," or "I'm happy for you," or even, "How wonderful for you," you could wish that person joy.

One of the reason's I like the expression, Give you joy, is that it's clearly about the other person, not yourself; which brings me to one of my pet peeves, answering a "Thank you," with a "No problem." Once when my senior citizen Dad heard someone say "No problem," he said, "Well I know it's not a problem.." :-)  I'm tempted to say that sometimes, but I know the person saying, "no problem," actually means well. So why does it bother me? Because the expression, "No problem" is directed back at yourself, i.e. 'That's okay because it wasn't a problem for me." Whereas, answering "You're welcome," is directed back to the other person, i.e. 'You deserve this; you are appreciated." In other words, it's about you, not me.

Businesses with good customer service usually train their employees to answer, "You're welcome," instead of "No problem." Once when our family went to Disneyland (known for their exceptional customer service), we decided, just for fun, to count the number of times we heard an employee say, "no problem." Out of a full day, we only heard one, said by a very nice busboy (bus-man). Everyone else answered, "You're welcome."

Why is this important? Because not only do good manners make other people feel good, they also  reflect well on yourself. So thanks for listening to my little rant - I hope it wasn't a problem for you. Give you joy.

*The Letter Of Marque by Patrick O'Brian
Copyright 1988 William Collins & Co. Ltd.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Smaug - A Destiny Lost

Dragon's Mouth Spring, Yellowstone Park

SPOILER ALERTS  for both The Hobbit and Beowulf

"Beowulf's dragon, if one really wishes to criticize, is not to be blamed for being a dragon, but rather for not being dragon enough, plain pure fairy-story dragon." So wrote J.R.R. Tolkien in his 1936 lecture entitled, "Beowulf: The Monsters And The Critics." Tolkien attempted to rectify this in his book The Hobbit, by reducing the dragon as an overarching symbol of fate to that of a mere fairy tale monster. Granted, Tolkien was writing the book for children, but if he'd known how popular his now classic would be with adults as well as children, I wonder if he would have changed the characterization quite so much.

Tolkien was a scholar of the Old English poem Beowulf, written sometime between 700 and 1000 A.D., drawing on its influence to create the fictitious world of Middle-earth and the dragon character of Smaug. This essay will not discuss Middle-earth but will instead focus on Smaug.

 Dragons have existed in folklore for centuries. They were usually characterized as ferocious worms with a poisonous bite and (rarely) fiery breath. Some were winged, but most were not.  All of them, the Western ones that is, were symbols of evil, and in Christian countries - the Devil. None of them were depicted as guardians of treasure, except for the dragon in Beowulf. This is important because in Beowulf, the dragon becomes not just a symbol of evil, but a symbol of destiny, or as Tolkien said in his lecture, the theme of "the inevitable victory of death."

In the poem, Beowulf - a Scandinavian prince - proves himself a worthy hero by defeating first the monster Grendel, then Grendel's mother. Beowulf becomes a leader of the people and rules in peace for 50 years, until the dragon awakes.

The dragon has been dormant for 300 years, guarding a hoard of "riches of a high-born race."* We soon realize that the dragon is more than a simple monster when we learn that the treasure does not represent greed, but the hopes and aspirations of a bygone race. An unknown man who was the last of his kind, buried the riches in a stone vaulted barrow (burial mound) and said these words, "Now, earth, hold what earls once held and heroes can no more; it was mined from you first by honourable men . . I am left with nobody to bear a sword or burnish plated goblets, put a sheen on the cup. The companies have departed . . No trembling harp, no tuned timber, no tumbling hawk swerving through the hall, no swift horse pawing the courtyard. Pillage and slaughter have emptied the earth of entire peoples." The dragon in Beowulf is not just guarding a treasure, he is suppressing an ancient heritage. 

It is true that the Beowulf dragon is described as "driven to hunt out hoards under ground, to guard heathen gold through age-long vigils, though to little avail," but we also learn that Beowulf is "destined to face the end of his days in this mortal world; as was the dragon, for all his long leasehold on the treasure." Their fate is tied together. The dragon is much more than a monster.

In contrast, Tolkien treats the "long-forgotten gold"** in The Hobbit not as an historical and cultural legacy of the dwarfs, but more as a symbol of the dwarfs greed, the "desire of the hearts of dwarves." So it follows that when we first hear of Smaug, we learn that dragons are purely monsters, driven by greed. They "steal gold and jewels . . wherever they can find them; and they guard their plunder as long as they live and never enjoy a brass ring of it." There is no hint of mortal destiny entwined with that of the dragon; indeed, the dwarfs never confront the dragon at all.

In Beowulf, the "veteran king sat down on the cliff-top. . .sensing his death. His fate hovered near, unknowable but certain: it would soon claim his coffered soul, part life from limb. . " Beowulf's doom is foreshadowed, making the unnamed dragon much more frightening than Tolkien's dragon. Smaug, though he's capable of carrying away "people, especially maidens, to eat,"** may be evil, but he is not represented to us as fate, an "overseer of men."*

By emphasizing treasure not as the grief of a lost people but as mere jewels; by focusing on the greediness of both the dwarfs and the dragon; and by making the demise of Smaug happen by a person other than the dwarfs, I believe Tolkien missed an opportunity to re-create an epic character, one that would forever intertwine the name of Smaug with Destiny.

*All Beowulf quotes from Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, copyright 2000, W.W. Norton & Company
** All Tolkien quotes from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, copyright 1937