Sunday, December 28, 2014

a collaboration on snow; a walk by the sea

To have snow on my face right now.
To see it on my shoulders, my arms.
To see each footprint of every creature, every breath of wind.
To hear the silence of the snowfall.
To smell its cool, damp freshness.
To feel it give way underfoot, to hear its crunch.

To see it pick out every branch, define it, enhance it, perhaps even burden it, until it is shaken off, or brushed off, or pushed off by sun or wind or rain or more snow, or a passing critter.

To see it soften a landscape, draw a new one.

To hear it slide off the roof, hit the ground with a resounding thud.
To watch it and the sun and the breeze create icicles
and to listen to those icicles
as they drip,

To wake in the middle of the night and it is so quiet you can hear it in its silence, you can hear the snow falling even as it makes no sound, the snow, drifting down in a world so soft and cold it is hard to imagine yet there you huddle snug and warm in the middle of it.

To fall back into a bank of snow, feel it catch you, give slightly, hold you, hold your impression.

To scoop up a handful, form it into a ball, throw it. Try to hit that tree over there. Miss wildly.

To shovel a path for yourself and your dog and to watch your cat disappear as he steps gingerly around that bank of snow.

To see moonlight reflected on fields of snow.

To stand still, to let it swirl around you.

To feel each flake, soft as a breathe, as it lands on your cheek.

To go out on a clear, still morning after a storm to see what nature has done. To see the swirls and dips and folds and flat planes and impressions and layers and improbable obstacles and to know it has nothing to do with you, cares nothing for you, but is a gift, nonetheless, sometimes of dubious origin, to be sure, for who would give such a gift? A gift of beauty but hardship.

To listen to the intense quiet until a tree pops in the cold.

To catch in the corner of your eye a swirl of snow leaping from the crest of a drift, dancing ever higher, ever higher through the air.

To feel the soft magic of snow as I did seeing this photo
taken by Abbey Palmer, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,
“ … 3 pm, the day before the solstice.”

I walk and feel the warmth of sun on my shoulders.

On my face a breeze of ocean air, light, fresh, damp, alluring.

The ocean swells and crests and breaks and curls and rolls and climbs the shore and recedes, over and over, always in motion, always movement, the waves sometimes orderly, arriving with pattern, cresting and rippling shut like a clunky zipper north to south, each wave, time after time, and sometimes the waves are disorderly, zippers opening and closing every which way then clashing, smacking together, shooting up water like geysers, like dancers in a mosh pit, and sometimes a wave is rolling out, down the slight slope of the shore, back to the ocean, and it meets a wave rolling in and there is confusion. The water roils. The water moves. Constantly. Pulled and shaped by wind and tides and, for me, the unknown.

The roar and rumble, the seethe and the lull, constant.

The light on a clear blue day is harsh. The sun spills light and the ocean shoots back sparks. All is blue with glares of pale gold and yellow.

The light with clouds, with a haze of fog, is fantastic. All colors arise from the ocean to rest on its surface, seemingly grey, but more a mosaic of blues and oranges and pinks and reds and purples and lilac and greys and every color. Like the sky. The grey sky full of light and color.

Some days the wind blows hard across the tops of the waves releasing tall, curling plumes of spray. As the plumes reach ever higher the wave becomes twice its size and the air becomes ever fresher, ever more exhilarating.

It is like watching the flame of a fire.

I walk and my footprints join others, bare feet tiny and large, patterned shoeprints, the paws of dogs, all rounded, circles within circles, crossing and criss-crossing precise, twiggy trails of shorebirds. And the ocean leaves its mark along the shore with rivulets and streams that trail like seaweed and tiny pools that gather and encircle pebbles and shells. I walk along, the ocean laps at my feet.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

wander as you wonder: in 3/4 time

One day I asked my mother what she wanted for Christmas.

“Peace and quiet,” she said.

One year she got a bike for Christmas.

Another day I mentioned that Christmas was right around the corner.

“Oh, I don’t think that will affect me much,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll do much.” She smiled, just a little. “I’ll coast on my memories.”

“What are your memories?” I asked.

She paused. “Oh, I suppose we believed in Santa Claus. I suppose you kids got excited.”

I’ll Be Home For Christmas played softly in the background. Diana Krall sounded all wistful and jazzy.

My sister, or maybe it was her husband, found a box of old Christmas stuff in their shed. Oddball items such as a red and gold skirt for a tree and a couple of black steel candleholders, one like a lantern and one in a spiral, resembling a tree, both adorned with plastic greenery and little red and gold balls and such. There is a group of small, wooden, Disney-like creatures made in Japan with wire springs for necks so their heads bounce and jive. Some hold an instrument and their paint is peeling. One—it looks like Goofy or maybe Pluto—is missing an ear and yes, I do believe a dog ate that. Some waxy red candles are slightly bent and misshapen, and there’s a plastic Santa in a sleigh pulled by six plastic reindeer. Remnants of Christmas past, the Christmas we grew up with, now jumbled and stored in odd and various plastic bags in an old cardboard box in this shed in California. Except for having lost their tattered tissue paper wrappings, these ornaments, these trinkets, and this floppy cardboard box—well, not so very different from last century.

In 1978, we shoveled snow for Christmas.

This is, of course, a season and a holiday when too much is made of so much of everything. Too much is made of family and harmony and togetherness and peace and snow and a warm hearth; popcorn, snowmen, gifts, gifts, gifts and giving and good will and feasts and chocolate and cookies and lights and parties and parties and good friends; good cheer, fake snow, snow, puppies in Santa hats. Merry merry and joyous and happy, and happy, and happy. Unless you are unhappy. Where’s the mistletoe? And sweet black licorice? Where’s the sweet black licorice? Have some! It can feel, all at once, like a sham and a burden and it can feel, all at once, like a truth and a blessing.

Who needs eight reindeer when six will do?

Open your heart, loosen your reins, sing a song, consider the glory. Bells are ringing. Throw in a manger, a wise man, a dreidel, a menorah, a “Silent Night” and give a nod to Kwanzaa. Behold the winter solstice. (Hallelujah.) Here comes Santa, and here comes baby Jesus. Travel, stay home, drink too much or drink too little. Follow a star. Watch movies, sleep late, get up early. Listen to music, go to church, dance, crack nuts. Ponder. What it means. Stop and ponder what it means.

Rock on, Goofy.

Josie and I went to the beach. We delivered packages to the post office then stopped at a beach we stop at just once in a while, but someday I will write about this beach because there is a beautiful mosaic as you enter the parking lot and later as you walk you encounter an interesting statue of a mermaid. The beach is a cove protected by various breakwaters and at first you walk along heading south and then curve and head west. The beach is clean—less flotsam and jetsam rolling in perhaps because of the breakwaters. The waves roll gentle and long and curving and a few people walk along, and dogs, and birds. This is a cool day in the low 60s with broad stretches of clouds and a gentle breeze.

After our walk we head back to the van passing a plank bridge that leads to a plank walk that is a pier. Josie runs down it, turns left, turns right, no one is on the pier, he investigates, a fish jumps. A gull stands guard atop a pylon keeping a close eye. I think of the men I have loved and realize I still love them, each and every one. They are not many, mind you, hardly a handful, but why think of it? I wonder. Maybe it’s like when a new version of an old song gets stuck in your head.

I call Josie. He runs over, hops in the van, we head home.

With love from Josie, Elliott, and me.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

heaven and fireworks: so glad you’re here

A friend led me to a New York Times article about the Pope saying something about all dogs going to heaven. At first I thought this was some sort of made-up smash-up between high-falutin’ journalism, holier-than-thou religion, and Hollywood, but then I clicked through and found it was for real. You may have heard about it. There’s nothing quite so good as a good dog-and-Pope story.

I don't know this dog. I filched the photo from the NBC news story
linked to above. There the photo shows up with this attribution:


As you know, I don’t usually write about current events or get much into what everyone else is talking about, and I might not even be writing about this except for the Pope “ … Citing biblical passages that assert that animals not only go to heaven, but get along with one another when they get there … ”

Now, if you look at the current version of the Times article, you will wonder what the heck I am talking about because that part about getting along in heaven has been deleted. I am glad I captured it before the Times got the story straight, because it’s the part that made me think about two pets of mine, Goldie and Queenie, who never got along. Perhaps now that they are in heaven, the story is different. Goldie is a cat; Queenie is a dog. Which reminds me of a Smothers Brothers song.

A bit later that day the sun shone through the slats in the blinds in the living room leaving long bars of sunlight on the rug. Elliott was stretched out, soaking up as much light and warmth as possible. I forget why I came into the room, but Josie followed me, and when I sat on the floor to pet Elliott, Josie sat too and soon he was splayed out, flat on his belly, legs stretched fore and aft. As I stroked Elliott he rolled over, and so then did Josie roll over, too, onto his back, stretching his back legs farther, farther, toward Elliott, who now stretched forward with his front legs, batting lightly with his paws at Josie’s ever-waggin’ tail, as if trying to catch it, and then grabbing playfully at Josie’s back paws.

Elliott and Josie on another day.

These two are getting along fine, and it occurred to me that maybe it is all this sunshine. Maybe they think this is heaven.

Elliott and Josie, again.

Josie’s mouth is too small to fit around a regular-size tennis ball, so a while back I bought him the smaller tennis balls made just for little dogs. Now Elliott plays with these balls, too. Josie shares, seems to shrug his little shoulders as if to say okay, Elliott, now you play with this ball, I’ve got old Chippie over here to worry about and chase and chew on … And Elliott bats the ball around then falls on his side, grabs it with his front paws, pummels it with his back paws. Sometimes Elliott will watch as Josie chases the ball, grabs it in his mouth, makes a joyous leap, runs back to me with the ball held high, and we do it all over again until suddenly Elliott dashes across the room in front of Josie and Josie skitters and changes course, chasing Elliott, and sometimes it ends abruptly and Josie comes running back to me with the ball and sometimes it accelerates and there is mad dashing all around the house, the ball forgotten.

When I sit, Josie sits next to me, and from the start, from way back in June when Josie arrived, this put Elliott off—he no longer sat with me, not with Josie there. Now Elliott is back. He moves in, Josie may have to re-situate a little, and soon I’m covered with dog and cat fur. Sometimes Elliott ends up half sitting on Josie. Sometimes Josie licks Elliott’s ears. Sometimes Elliott lightly touches Josie’s nose and face. I am not sure I completely trust Elliott in this—I remember his expressions of disgust when Josie showed up, his refusal to play, and I remember long before then how he used to plop down on the floor next to Buster and then Buster, at that point rather blind and deaf and often disoriented, would trip over Elliott and Elliott knew this would happen and he seemed to get a good kick out of it.

Now Buster is in heaven. And in the year and then some between Buster and Josie it seemed to me that Elliott was happy to be the only one, to be the only pet, and I told everyone that, but now, stretched out on the floor in bars of sunlight right next to Josie, it seems to me that Elliott is quite happy to be one of two.

Elliott and Josie, still.

Loud booms alerted us to the start of the fireworks. Josie flew to the front window, barking. He continued to bark even as we went outside. He barked and barked until the fireworks stopped.

Fireworks through the front window.

The harbor is having its Christmas party. During the day we walked through the festivities. I always tell people that Josie is a sissy, kind of a momma’s boy, but maybe I am wrong. Josie was not afraid of the whirling, twirling, blinking carnival rides. He was not afraid of the children, the babes in strollers, the adults, the old folks, or even the chihuahua in the Santa suit. He was not afraid of the carolers in Victorian garb or the fake snow, the soap bubbles flying through the air and the kids chasing them.

Later, in the evening, during the parade of boats, when all the boats were lit up and cruising and playing funky music, Josie was not afraid of walking through the crowd of kids and teens and parents and grandparents and little dogs and big dogs all along the sidewalk, along the marina, laughing, playing, drinking, eating, talking; and he was not afraid of the helicopter that flew by with Santa’s red-and-white blinking sleigh right below it. Josie and I walked and walked and got turned around in a dark and quiet boat yard and still he was not afraid.

When I first met Josie, he was afraid to leave the shelter and walk with me. That’s how it seemed. And there are still times when he seems afraid of one particular person or another. But maybe it is something else. I mean, how can a little dog who barks at fireworks and who makes a friend of Elliott be thought of as anything but brave?

Whether dogs go to heaven or not, well, who knows. I’m just glad that Josie is here with me, right now. Heaven can wait.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

what was I thinking?: a pea-picklin’ diary

Well, I’m not sure I can do this. Stop this journal. Make it only about the beeswax. Maybe there should be more beeswax here, now and again, and maybe all this personal stuff just confuses potential customers (not to mention others!), but not to do this? Not to do what I’m doing right now? I love doing what I’m doing right now.

Perhaps this is withdrawal or quitter’s remorse or something. What happened is this: I was searching for a document, my lip balm labels document, to take to a Staples or somewhere to have the labels printed on the full-page label stock I have (then I cut out each little label with scissors because that is the cockamamie way I do things), and I couldn’t find the document, but finally I did, and I was putting it on the little gizmo thing I think is called a zip drive to take to the Staples or wherever, and there’s all sorts of things on this little gizmo drive, and I got curious about “14624,” an image file, no doubt a picture of the cabin I left back in the U.P., and I kept ignoring it, but then finally, opened it.


I started crying.

That’s the cabin—my house—soon after I bought it. And there’s Buster on the porch.

Later the mail arrived. Every day here I get mail. Five days out of six it’s ads. Then, on the sixth day, who knows. But today it was a Bed Bath & Beyond circular with a huge advertisement for state-shaped cutting boards. Pictured were Texas, California, and Michigan. But wait—that’s only part of Michigan. The lower part.

Hullo. Why not chop off the Texas Panhandle?
Which part of California shall we delete?

Did you know that Michigan consists of two separate peninsulas? One is called the “lower” peninsula and one is called the “upper” peninsula. Each of these peninsulas then has more peninsulas—the Keweenaw, the Leelanau, the Thumb, the Garden—but that’s another story. The peninsula pictured in this ad is the lower. The Upper Peninsula (we like to capitalize it) may contain about 30 per cent of the state’s land, but it only has about 3 per cent of its population, so, occasionally, it is left off maps, including one documented case that involved an elementary school textbook that was being used in, now wait a minute, the Upper Peninsula.

Maybe you’re familiar with the U.P., but maybe not. Look at a map. (Go on, I dare you.) The U.P. is that crooked finger hooking off the top of Wisconsin. It doesn’t even touch lower Michigan. (They are connected, however, by a huge, scary bridge.) Now, if I were making a cutting board in the shape of the state of Michigan, I would include the whole state. So the cutting board would come in two parts. Kind of a nice deal when you think about it. What I wouldn’t do is just shrug and say what the heck, that’s too complicated.

It’s raining. Really raining. It started raining last night and it has been raining all day. It’s raining, it’s pouring, it’s divine. Lights are on and even the heat is on. I almost didn’t go out—on the radio talk of mudslides and floods and spin-outs and all those things that happen when a place that seldom gets rain suddenly gets rain, a flood of rain, all at once, made me hesitant. But, what, I don’t know rain? Josie and I went out, drove to the post office, and all we ran into were raindrops and puddles and those huge crazy dried-up palm fronds that fall from the sky.

This palm frond was in the middle of the road before
someone moved it.

At first I thought this thing-that-fell-from-a-palm-tree looked
like a crime scene, but now I think it looks like a reindeer.

There’s this thing called a barranca behind where I live. It is a concrete gully that leads to the ocean. If it ends at the ocean, I do not know where it starts. If it starts at the ocean, I do not know where it ends.

You see what I mean.

I do know that the water level in the barranca goes up and down with the tides. Sometimes there is no water (low tide); other times there is a few feet or more (high tide). Whatever the tide, there are often ducks in the barranca. This morning there were a number of mallards and these other guys, I’m not sure what they are—do you know?

Unidentified birds in the barranca which is, obviously,
protected by a chain link fence.

The mallards were just messing about in the water (I think). The other guys—maybe Pacific Coast Slime Eaters?—were nibbling green slime off the wall. Anyway, meanwhile, Bed Bath & Beyond found the Upper Peninsula and made a cutting board out of it. Bless them.

Mallards in the barranca.

Seriously, why would I stop doing this?

There’s a trolley that runs through town and it’s free and it stops nearby, well, maybe almost a mile once I think about it, but, it seems nearby (is closer as the crows and gulls fly) and I hear the driver clanging the bell sometimes when I am in the kitchen or bathroom or bedroom, clang clang, and I’ve wanted to ride the trolley—take it from here to downtown or from here out to the ocean and the ice cream place out there by the ocean—ever since I found out about it, which was pretty soon after I got here, so maybe two or so months ago. Dogs are welcome on the trolley, so I thought wow, Josie and I will do that, one day real soon, we’ll check out that trolley. But we never did. Until today. I took the trolley downtown. Josie stayed home. There was this big street fair downtown (and late this afternoon something called a “wine walk” and then this evening they make it snow, somehow, and it’s all very exciting, I hear, but I don’t know what that’s all about, anyway, I decided to skip the wine and snow), and dogs were welcome at the street fair (I estimate small dogs in attendance outnumbered large dogs something like sixty-three to one with medium-sized dogs numbering about five), but I left Josie home because I thought I’d go in some resale shops—Ventura is the Crown Jewel City of Thrift Stores—to see if I couldn’t find a white sheet or cloth of some sort for three or four dollars that I would then put under the tree I plan to get—my first Christmas tree in years—because I want a tree for the scent. The pine scent. You see, I walked out of a grocery store one day recently and right there were some Christmas trees for sale and the scent—the scent of the woods and the pine and the tar and the north and I could even imagine snow falling and just someplace else altogether—well, it stopped me cold. I stood there breathing deep. So thankful. And another day at a stoplight we were next to a truck pulling a flatbed trailer full of wire-bound fir trees stacked on their sides one on top of the other and Josie started growling and barking. The trees were on his side of the road and the window was down as it always is when we are at a stoplight and he wants to sniff and see where we are. Where we’re going. Josie growled and barked at this load of Christmas trees. I have plenty of room for a tree and I’ll get a string of lights and make some ornaments and the scent will be pine, beeswax, and, maybe, even, I hope, eucalyptus. And cinnamon. And we’ll play some Christmas songs and it will be Josie and Elliott’s first Christmas and first Christmas tree and hallelujah.

Maybe I’ll order those rib tips from Hecky’s, have them shipped.

I found a white sheet for $2.95.

And there goes the trolley, clang clang.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

getting back to beeswax

Over the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed orders from three of my regular wholesale customers back in Michigan. First was the Marquette Food Co-op. My relationship with them started in the spring of 2010. I stopped by the store with a few of the beeswax candles I was making and they gave them a try. The second was The Eyrie, a store in Ypsilanti, Michigan, that found me through Etsy early in 2013. And the third was Dr. Ben-Ami, a psychiatrist with a practice in Southfield. I met her at a farmers market in Marquette in 2012. She bought some lip balm, placed an order for more, and each year now she orders four dozen or more tubes to sell at her practice.

Hearing from all these folks in Michigan, I got a bit nostalgic. And it made me think about my strong customer base there some 2,000 miles away. And how it made such a difference getting started in this business with that direct feedback from folks at the co-op, at the farmers market. It helped me to focus and to grow.

This past week I joined an online collective of handmade shops. The process of picking a few photos to represent my product and coming up with some new text to describe what I do also, in the end, brought me to focus. Of course I put photos and text on Etsy all the time, but this was different. Artizan Made is run by Rachel Biel, a woman I know from our days as co-workers back in the 1990s. I had to send my photos and text to Rachel to put on the site, and at one point I had got together most of what she needed but lacked the description of what I do. She told me: Don’t overthink it. Which was exactly what I was doing. Not to mention overwriting. You would not believe the piece I had going, was honing to within an inch of its life. It was all about writing and beeswax and this fantastic similarity between the two. Did you know that me pulling words from my brain is exactly like a honeybee pulling pieces of beeswax from her gut?


Have you not heard about waxing poetic?

Found the right words yet, Mabel?

And they say that living alone in the woods is what makes one nutty.

One day long ago when I washed and dried old hive frames.

OK. What is it that I do? I make beeswax candles. Plus, a few ornaments, a little lip balm ...

While I was busy fussing with words,
Rachel created this banner image for me for the Artizan Made site.

Rachel and I continued to email through the week. It wasn’t all business, but a lot was, and she ended up taking me back to a time when I did a lot more stuff with beeswax, like making collages and hand-molding snowmen with autumn leaves and giving them names like “The Fall Guy.” Not all these experiments sold so well (I still have the Michael Jackson snowman), but they were fun. And the blog I kept back then was fun. And informative. It stayed focused on the beeswax.

Not a bad idea.

The upshot is there are going to be some changes to this Web site.

I’m taking it back to the beeswax.

I’m giving it back to the candles and ornaments and lip balm and collages and funky yellow snowmen.

Michael "Beeswax" Jackson.

It may take a while, this process, so bear with me if you’re stumbling across this space unawares and it seems in disarray or a little kooky. The changes will not be made all at once, but as I get to it, making a tuck here, letting out a little there, and there will be no Big Reveal, rather, a slow transformation.

Back to the beeswax.

If you are here because you enjoy reading my weekly journal posts, thank you. Perhaps I’ll continue writing about all that other stuff in some new space, somewhere else.

You see, both these bees and me,
we're creating a home ...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

disjointed stories of ribs and cats and why not, huh?

The other day walking down a sidewalk, Josie in the lead at the end of his leash, a man walks toward us, an older man, a gentleman, tall, wearing roomy, black pants and a maroon jacket, the jacket open and swinging a bit from broad shoulders. He has a lilting gait punctuated by a black cane. The man looks at Josie, smiles broadly, his face full-featured and loose as if always ready to stretch into a smile, a frown, a scowl, a question mark, any of a thousand things at the slightest provocation. Josie often brings forth a smile and I expect next this man to say “What a cute dog!” or “What a cutie!” or “Aren’t you cute?!” because that is often what people say after they smile, but then, as we are passing, what this man says is, “Why not, huh?” And he says it with such a soft chuckle it is as if the words are flowing across pebbles in a stream.

We awoke to the sound of “miaow.” Then again, louder, “MIAOW.” Elliott, at the foot of the bed, raised his head. Josie, under the covers, stirred.


Elliott is off the bed like a shot, out of the room. Josie stirs and wriggles his way up from the covers, paws at my neck, my hair, licks my face. I roll over, push him away.

“Miaow, MIAOW.”

It is 3:31 a.m.

I get up, go out on the deck, and the stars are bright. The miaows become yowls, the yowling and growling two cats do prior to a fight, like the Jets and the Sharks singing Sondheim. It seems they are over there, the cats, in the neighborhood beyond the wall, maybe near the gate to the barranca, the concrete gully that separates the neighborhoods, so I go back inside, back to bed, and soon the yowling and growling and miaowing stops and so Elliott comes back to bed, wants under the covers, snuggles fore while Josie, already, is snuggled aft.

It takes a while to get back to sleep. In the morning Elliott does not go out, just hunkers down this side of the patio door, looking out.

Four weeks after the surgery to mend her broken hip, I find my mom in the physical therapy room where she is standing between two parallel bars, her head down, her hands with a tight grip on the wooden bars. Her wheelchair is behind her and a physical therapist, a man in dark blue scrubs, is in front of her, coaxing her along, encouraging her, telling her what to do. To say she is standing may be a bit generous, but she is nearly upright and with the combined strength of all four limbs she is, indeed, momentarily supporting herself. I come in from behind and am told to walk around, to get in front of her, to let her see me, and so I do that and she is told to look up so she does and she sees me and Josie (I am holding Josie) and she smiles. It seems as if for a moment she relaxes, stands easily. Then the struggle returns and she finally tells the physical therapist she is done and she sits in the wheelchair. I stand next to her and she pets Josie and the physical therapist pets Josie and I can tell Josie would rather he did not. Later, when I put Josie down, he growls at the guy in blue scrubs. And later, when I tell my mom that it was great that she was standing, she says, “Why? I’ve been standing all my life.”

I had a craving for rib tips, and it reminded me of when I was in Las Vegas earlier this year, and Louis and his daughter and son-in-law and I went to a barbecue restaurant and I was thinking of rib tips, then, too, but they weren’t on the menu, but tri-tip was and I’d never heard of that but somehow I came to think maybe tri-tip is what I am thinking of, not rib tips, so I ordered it and it was not what I was remembering at all, tri-tip was not rib tips, and it seems so obvious now, of course, but there it is.

I used to get rib tips at Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston, Illinois, and I can well remember the Styrofoam container loaded with those rib tips smothered in barbecue sauce, the thick potato fries. and the bread, the wonderful slabs of white bread that soaked up all the luscious, dark, reddish brown sauce. It was a mess. It was wonderful. It sat like a brick in the stomach for days. I didn’t get this meal too often, but I remember I did get it once during a time when I was a vegetarian. I ate the tips and fries and sopped up the sauce with the bread down at the beach, along Lake Michigan.

I searched online and couldn’t find rib tips in Ventura so I stopped at a grocery store ending up with a turkey bacon avocado sandwich on a sourdough roll, a bag of sweet potato chips, and The New York Times. I checked out through the express lane and when the checker passed the Times over the scanner she said something about it being The New York Times, huh, and checking the weather back East. I smiled vaguely, said something like yes, and she asked if I were from there, back East, and I said no, I’m from Michigan, and the guy behind me in line said something like oh, what part of Michigan? So I said the Upper Peninsula of and he said oh, my ex-wife was from the Upper Peninsula. Said he knew it well. The lakes, the rivers, the waterfalls. It’s beautiful there, he said, or something like that. And I agreed, beautiful there, or something like that. I was not paying much attention. I was kind of caught up in a reverie of home.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ocean blue / ocean grey / cats and dogs / another day / beeswax

A cloudy morning, relatively cool so heading out on the morning mosey with flannel shirt no sunglasses. First we meet two pups whom we’ve met before and a ruckus of barking ensues—not Josie, but them, two little dogs with curls. One gets pulled back down a driveway but soon breaks free, comes running toward us, and Josie does not care, seems to know it’s all in good fun, and it is, but soon, anyway, we are on our way.

We head down one lane, make a broad turn, head up another. Up ahead are two or three people and a cat. We’ve seen a few cats here in the neighborhood, a black and white one down near us and a few tabbies like Elliott here and there, though none quite like Elliott, the size of Elliott, this one up ahead just another Elliott-wanna-be but only halfway there. This cat dances toward us on a diagonal arching its back as some cats do, puffing out its fur as some cats do, running on tippy-toes and angling strangely, now, intently, directly at us as some cats do … but not too many.

Poor Josie, all anticipation, pulling me along, tail wagging, heading straight into this cat.

This cat who stops directly in front of Josie all arched, poofed, and tippy-toed. Josie leans in and the cat swiftly raises a paw, slashes downward on Josie’s nose. There’s a squeal and a hiss and a little ado and then the cat scurries sideways down a driveway behind a car and is gone. Josie looks around, bewildered, I guess, and an ordinary man walks by, says something like “goodness gracious,” and I see no blood so we carry on.

Spending a day in beeswax, making ornaments and candles, thinking and musing. Another cloudy day in the 60s. Thinking a bit about that big snowstorm back in the U.P. and the early cold that came with it, feeling a bit of nostalgia and longing for the watching of the storm, for the watching of the snowfall, for the feel of the cold and its freshness and its bite, a bit of wistful romance thinking about a fire catching hold in the woodstove and its warmth pouring out, filling the room, but alas, in reality, a cold floor.

The ocean on a cloudy day is different from the ocean on a sunny day. It is the same ocean, no doubt, the same seawater, the same fish, the same rocks, sand, shells, birds, surfers, and boats, but it looks different on a cloudy day. More ominous, maybe more what it is, slightly treacherous, but just as beautiful, just less welcoming, more like Maine, maybe, and less like California, though California is certainly much more than this one little spot.

I like the ocean on a cloudy day and so does Josie. He runs in wide circles, just plum happy to be running in wide circles, chasing a shore bird now and then, and we both particularly liked the orange and black one with the long bill, maybe it was a short-billed dowitcher? Who knows. It seemed singular, but there are so many different sandpipers, not the least of which is the least sandpiper. I love their long bills and legs and the way they stand so still then scurry upright, as if proud, along the water’s edge, the water’s edge always changing. There are layers: the shorebirds, the surfers, the pelicans, the boats. Surfers bobbing on waves, ducking into waves, riding waves, cutting forward and back and falling head first and falling butt first. Pelicans fly low just above the water in formations of five or three or seven and on a cloudy day they are dark and look like warplanes. Beyond them the fishing boats, going out, coming in, and the boats are designed for work, steel-grey and white and black with wires and ropes and masts and lines and the front end—I am not nautical—is big and bulky and the middle squishes down to nothing and then the back end may be dragging a big tub or something—they are workhorses, you can tell, and they move resolutely through grey water glossed here and there with gold.

Josie runs in wide circles away from me and back, happy as a pup can be. The short-billed dowitcher or whatever it is takes flight, circles round, lands, sticks its long bill into the sand, pulls out food, something from where the ocean has been.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

beeswax, drought, a flood, a sunset, fatty whiskers

The smell lingers in my nostrils. Whether it is dust or mold or asbestos or mildew or what or all of the above, it is there, has physicality, feels like dust or spores or something growing inside my nostrils. I can smell it and I have a slight headache and I was only in the store for about 10, maybe 15 minutes, and that was 15 or 20 minutes ago.

This is the store where I chose to sell my beeswax candles this holiday season landing here as I did in this new port on the Pacific.

Of course I continue to sell online and have a few wholesale outlets but this place, The December Store & More, was to be my first slightly more interactive outlet in my new, temporary locale. And now it’s a mess—there was a guy in a hazmat suit—and the smell of dust and mold and asbestos and mildew and whatever it is lingers up in my nose and psyche.

Here’s what happened: An inch of rain fell a couple of Friday nights ago—the first rain in months in these here parts—and the store’s roof caved in. I stopped in last Sunday and there was the ceiling hanging down over one big corner of the store and all the stuff—all the things people had made and sewed and crafted and stitched and hewn and painted and decorated and … oh, you know these artsy-craftsy types—was pushed together all a-jumble in the middle of the store and the far away side, far away from the crumbling ceiling tiles and dangling strips of metal.

Some folks lost everything.

Other folks, like me, lost nothing. Potential sales, maybe. Since I had not yet signed my contract with the store nor paid my November rent (it’s a rent-your-own-space-type thing), and since at that moment I was suffering emotional weakness due to other matters, I just stood there and gaped. I may have sat down. A small group of robust others bustled about dealing with it. I walked away questioning whether I should really join in this venture. It seemed, in a strictly business sense, right then, like an iffy prospect. I mean, the roof had just caved in. Because of one inch of rain.

A couple of days later the irony took hold, got the better of me. A store in a drought-stricken area suffering from flood damage due to—dare I say it?—one inch of rain? Seriously, would I pass up that story?

So I officially joined The December Store and a few days later the store closed. (Remember that guy in the hazmat suit?) In a couple of weeks the store may reopen. But, who knows.

These gals were there, in the store window. They saw the whole thing.
The rain pouring down. The roof caving in. The flood.
But they don’t know nothin’, either.

So this holiday season I will focus on the Etsy shop, list a few new items, hope for the best. As always, hope for the best.

Beeswax in beads and baskets.

The Other Day
The other day I sat with my mom. She was sleeping. She was asleep when I walked into her room. She was asleep on her bed under a maroon blanket. The sun was beginning to shine through her window. It was warm. The window has two layers of curtains. I drew the sheer curtains across the window and partially closed the opaque curtains. My mom was on her back, her head slightly turned to one side, and I was moving the chair over to that side when she awoke. Her eyes opened. She said, “Leslie.”

“Hi, Mom.”

Josie growled. A young woman was walking down the hall toward the room with a pile of mail. As she approached she smiled and held out one envelope. I took the envelope, thanked her. The envelope was addressed by hand, a “Get Well” card, I assumed, to my mom, so I sat down, opened it, and read out loud the card’s greeting as well as the accompanying note. My mom said, “That’s nice.”

Josie got on my lap, stretched over to sniff my mom. I told my mom that the name she had given Josie the last time we were there had stuck, was a big hit, and I asked if she remembered the name. She said no, so I told her: Fatty Whiskers. Her face broke into a smile and she chuckled.

Soon she was asleep. Josie and I sat in the chair, he growling softly now and then, whenever the person with the squeaky shoes walked by, but then Old Squeaky Shoes disappeared. It became very quiet and peaceful.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

breaking down change, five: Home (sweet) Home

Josie and I started our morning walk like every morning, with him off his leash nosing around the fountain. The fountain is in the middle of a green, clipped lawn in the middle of the cul-de-sac we now live on. Every morning Josie likes to nose around the lawn, its curb, the brick wall of the fountain. Throughout the day this little island at the end of our asphalt lane is much-visited by other little dogs, on leashes, walkers in tow, and any number of seagulls.

This little gull stopped by with his laundry.

The dogs, of course, do business on the island, and Josie’s morning perusal of the area can well be likened to one sticking one’s nose in the Wall Street Journal or Twitter, poking around for news, hoping to get all the poop on what’s a-happenin’. And, akin to Twitter, Josie will leave his own little messages and barbs before looking up, getting on with his day. He stands still while I attach his leash to his harness. We mosey on down the lane.

One morning, Elliott followed.

It was a little over three weeks ago that Elliott left his temporary home here in California to rejoin his family (that’s Josie and me) here in our temporary home here in California. The first week home, Elliott stayed in the house or on the deck. The deck has a railing with just one low crossbar, so early on my brother-in-law attached some lightweight garden fencing to the lower two-thirds of the railing so Josie would not, in some strange spasm, maybe to chase a bird or a lizard, leap off the deck. Now this fencing also held Elliott in. The door to the deck is usually open as here it is mostly warm and never rains. There are many birds to watch. Elliott seemed content with the situation.

great blue heron in palm tree
See that great blue heron up there in the palm tree?

Two weeks ago, Elliott found a spot where he could easily push the garden fencing away from the deck, enough to slip down and out. At first I tried to stop this behavior, but what was I thinking? Elliott had found a way out, wanted out, and the idea of playing any more games with anyone seemed futile and ridiculous so Elliott had his way. Go forth and be free. I was pretty sure he would not go far.

The deck looks out over a small yard, a decent-sized patch of lawn lined on one side with a brick wall and bushes, on another our home, and on another the neighbor’s driveway and small shed. The yard is a trapezium and the very short side, anchored with a palm tree and small garden, lines up along the street, the cul-de-sac. Although it is quiet where we live, there is enough random activity and noise popping up here and there every now and again that Elliott is a bit cowed. He is not used to living where there are trucks and cars and people and dogs going by. He is not familiar with gardeners and leaf blowers. Deer and coyote and wolf and the like, now those he knows.

Behold the cul-de-sac.

I did not expect Elliott to follow Josie and me on our morning mosey. But on this morning, while Josie was busy with the Fountain Island News, I watched Elliott nosing around in the little garden in front our home. As Josie and I headed out, occasionally I looked back at Elliott to make sure he was staying put, and he was, but then he wasn’t. When Josie and I were about four or five homes down the lane, Elliott began walking slowly after us. I quickened our pace, thinking Elliott would fall too far behind and give up. I took a picture of some crows because that is what I had been thinking of writing about, all the birds here in this park, the crows and gulls and the blue heron in the palm tree and how one morning the crows were chasing a small hawk, but now here was Elliott still trailing after us. Something he really should not be doing.

So Josie and I turned back.

We ran into Elliott in front of a home with a nice front porch and there was this guy on the porch and when Elliott and Josie met he said oh, they’re buddies. Elliott scooted away, up the short walk of the home opposite, where the Person Who Does Not Like Dogs lives, and this was a drag because then Josie and I had to chase him without really chasing him, so as not to create any more of a ruckus, and since in this place where we now live one home’s front walk is right up against the next one’s driveway, Elliott is now in someone’s driveway and I’m not sure if he’s going to go farther down the driveway putting all three of us right outside the windows of two homes of people we don’t know and it’s like really early in the morning and of course there’s still this guy in his robe on the porch right across the street, and how I love Elliott, he just pivoted and ran back out into the street, the lane, and headed home and Josie and I followed and then close to home I let go of Josie’s leash so he could more properly chase Elliott and resolve this thing.

Elliott ran into our driveway, tail high. Josie followed. Josie pooped then on the pebbles of my neighbor’s little side yard, and I chased Elliott to the back of the drive where he could circle around the back of the house and into the yard and, with any luck, get up on the deck and stay there. I picked up the poop and Josie and I started out once again on our morning mosey.

Where I live now is this: A 55+ mobile home park in southern California. In the park, there are 309 mobile homes. Not that they are actually mobile. They are, indeed, stationary. But every once in a while one sells and gets yanked out and a new model comes in. So, in a way, mobile.

mobile home
There goes half of one right now.

But quiet. After my mom’s nursing home (and I’ve given up trying to think of what else to call it), I think it is the quietest place within miles and miles.

This guy doesn’t talk much.

So yes. I live now in a 55+ mobile home park. I thought I couldn’t write about it, and there’s a lot of hocus-pocus and tomfoolery involved with that, but if I can’t write about where I live, well, that amount of change I cannot handle. I live in someone else’s house, pay for the privilege, and with most of the agreement being verbal it has been, let me tell you, somewhat messy. Maybe now things are settling down. I have thought that several times in the past month and a half.

mobile home park
A rare morning mosey with clouds.

It has been nearly 25 years since I lived anywhere but in my own home. And for the first time in many years—about ten, actually—I am living near my mother, spending time with her on a regular basis. In her past ten years she has lost much if not all of her independence. In the past month and a half I have lost, perhaps, just a little of mine. Not much. Not much at all. Hardly worth mentioning. And of course I could take my independence back, any time. Any time I choose.

But sometimes I think choices are too hard. Decisions to make—too hard. I second-guess myself all the time, think I make bad choices, and I think it’s too hard, being on my own, doing all this, all this, on my own. But we all should be so lucky. Yes, we all should be so lucky.

A game of dog-and-cat, part one.

The other night it rained.

A game of dog-and-cat, part two.

And it reminded me of home.

Monday, October 27, 2014

breaking down change, four: Chaos

Even though I have learned that life is better when focusing on one thing at a time, it is appropriate that now at five o’clock this morning I am writing while watching Game 5 of the World Series. Bumgarner is throwing strikes; I am looking up “channel” in the dictionary. The camera lingers on James Shields—I can’t help but wonder if when he was a baby his mother didn’t pick him up by his ears.

When one moves of course things can be unsettled for a bit.

But chaos is a different matter.


Using the word “chaos” may be a bit of hyperbole, but to say my time so far here in California has been a bit chaotic is not.

All is relative. Trying to break down the change, the differences, the chaos by elements and events was a good idea; then elements and events took over. In their midst it was nearly impossible to see anything clearly. Things just swirled.

This is the first World Series I have watched in a number of years. I watch each game the morning after, skip the commercials and maybe an inning or two here and there. I may be rooting for Kansas City, but I have no allegiance to the team. If KC does not win, San Francisco will, and that will be fine. It is each game that interests me.

Hunter Pence is at bat. He is a bit scary. The bat flies out of his hands, sails across the infield. In an instant it flies, lands, rolls, stops. Pence has struck out. The next batter comes to the plate.

Kansas City came to the Series with a blinding streak of wins. They had what is called momentum.


What I am finding this morning is that I cannot do these two things at once. Cannot do either well. In California there is something that feels near a demand that you pay attention to me, to it, to whatever it is, and respond and respond appropriately now and this minute and there are always a number of these demanding things, these things demanding your attention, your attention all at once, and there are a lot of people talking and, seriously, so little being said. To cut through it all, to pay attention to that which is important, to discern what is important, to focus on that one thing that might most need or benefit from your attention … well, that is the challenge.

It is not like a bat flying through the air and coming to rest peacefully on the infield and the game carrying on without a hitch.

It is more like a wave on the ocean catching you up in it, grabbing you, pulling you under. I started thinking that yesterday morning—or maybe it was Saturday. The thing about the wave. When you are caught by a wave, when you are being tumbled head over heels by tons of crashing water, you don’t fight it. You can’t fight it. But you must get out of it. If you don’t get out of it you drown. You know this, you feel this, and it is damn scary.

A couple of nights ago the ocean’s waves were crashing so loudly I could not sleep. This was the same night I was being pummeled by a wave that had, I guess, finally broken, crashed down on me, was just tossing me about like I was just so much seaweed or, better yet, a limp dead fish. I had been searching for a way clear of this huge wave—it had been building and coming right at me for weeks—but now it was tumbling me about and I was still searching for a way clear and the real ocean was crashing and it was all so loud. So I wrote.
I sit here alone tonight after a long day and think there has to be something, someone, with more meaning. More meaning than the noise of “be happy” and “be joyous.” And I know there is. I know there is. One of the raps against southern California is that the people here are shallow, and the fact is some of the people are. Some of the people are. I have landed in such a noisy place. Such a noisy place. And I am having trouble finding quiet. The only place I might find quiet tonight is right here, in the act of writing. Please, do not mistake what I am doing. This is not “journaling.” “Journaling” is noise. Writing is quiet. But I will write nonsense because I am tired. It feels as tired as I have ever been. My mother might say “This too shall pass” as I said to her one day, a day or two ago, but then she answered with something like “I don’t know … ” What is it about southern California that just makes me want to run screaming … ? Head for the hills. Run quiet. It is the kind of place that makes me think I could live quite happily all alone out there in the woods somewhere … maybe far away somewhere. What I really want to know is: What makes me think I can live here? Because something did make me think I could live here. Now I’m just not so sure. Yes, here I am, but have you ever felt like you were being squeezed out? Drowned out? And all you really want is to be able to hear yourself think without someone telling you to be … Pile on the noise. Just pile on the noise. I can’t discern any meaning.
The next day I gave up.

Late in the afternoon the wind picked up and I realized the noise the night before had been the wind rustling the stiff dry leaves of the palm trees. It is not the soft rustling of autumns past. It is the harsh rustling of palms.

So you stop fighting, you let the wave pass, you come up for air. I liked the analogy.


Yesterday I visited my mom in her new room at the place where she has lived in one level of care or another for nearly eight years. She started out quite independently with her own apartment. Now she is, for the time being, in the wing with the most intensive care. She spent most of the week in the hospital, had a rod placed in her hip to hold the broken pieces together, could not move without pain, pain which, when it was at its worst, was so apparent in her face, the way her face crumpled. But yesterday there was no crumpling. There was a smile or too. There was something akin to idle conversation. There was an admonition to get Josie off the bed because maybe we didn’t want to get started on that. And when an aide needed to re-position her and warned there might be pain my mom simply said, “Oh. Well. This too shall pass.” And unlike the hospital, where there was near constant noise and where people seemed to come and go on no apparent schedule and there would be little or no familiarity and sometimes people even came in the room with erroneous information and things got tense … well. Yesterday was different. Yesterday was better. Yesterday was quieter.

Being here on the southern coast of California, I wanted there to be a perfect analogy between getting caught up in chaos and being tumbled about by a wave, and I wanted it to be true this idea that to get out of either one should not fight but go with it, let it pass. So on the way home I stopped at Rincon, a curve of shore and ocean well-known for surfing that is about halfway between where I am living now and where my mom is living now. To get to Rincon you pull off the highway, park, walk down a path of dirt and sand, a long slope that hugs the highway, the ever-present freeway, and then suddenly leaves it behind. You turn and step down and enter this world of what seems like Gidget and Moondoggie but it’s real life and there’s ocean and sun and sky and kids and old folks and families and couples and singles and surfers and surfers and surfers and dogs and music and gulls and pelicans and funky shacks and rocks and sand and water. Sea water and waves. We walk along, Josie and I. Surfers wear wet suits—are clad mostly in what looks like black rubber—and carry big boards. I stop one and ask what it is like to get wiped out by a wave, and then how do you get out of it? I anticipated an answer that would give me exactly what I needed, but what I got was surfer lingo. Say what? We worked on understanding one another. He kept talking about getting to “the channel,” saying that after the wave tumbles you (yeah, you have to go with it) and then something about letting the second wave pass (there is always a second wave), then you have to “get to the channel.” My mind was grasping for what the heck he meant. I thought of the Channel Islands which you can see most days right out there in the ocean and for some reason I can’t fathom I thought of this pier out there in the distance. Neither made sense. Finally, I asked: What do you mean by “channel”? It is the part of the wave, he says, that is not breaking.


And now in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series San Francisco is leading KC 5-0. I have hoped that the Series would go its full seven games. So I would have all these games to watch. No matter what else is happening.