Wind and Peppermint

It’s just after midnight, and if the moon isn’t quite full it’s so close to it that it’s not worth it to quibble. From our bedroom, I text my husband in his upstairs office/man-cave. “I’m bored,” I type. “Wanna make out?”

“I’m all sniffly,” he texts back. “Sniffly and blechy. It wouldn’t be fun for you.”

“True,” I respond. After a beat, I rapid fire another message. “Want some peppermint tea? Meet me in the kitchen in five minutes.”

“Sure,” he says.

Hands Holding a Mug of Tea or CoffeeI leave our bedroom, escorted by a posse of pooches who all want to do their nighttime business. I pause to fill our electric kettle and turn it on, and then I open the sliding door that leads to the back yard.

As the dogs rush past me into the moonlight night, a gust of wind washes over me. It isn’t particularly hot in the house – we don’t have heat or a/c running – but that blast of fresh air is as cooling, as invigorating as the salt spray I used to feel when we played on the jetty at Sandy Hook, or stood at the end of the Ocean Grove pier. It only lacks that salty, coastal tang, to be the perfect breeze.

My husband comes into the kitchen just as the kettle finishes boiling. “Pour the water, would you?” I ask him, and I hear him doing just that.

Me? I’m still standing in the doorway, drinking in the wind, watching the trees get tossed back and forth, listening to the different pitches of the jingling dog-tags on the animals and the metal wind chimes hanging inside the house, and out.

I feel his warmth as he comes to stand behind me. “Enjoying the wind?”

“I love this weather,” I tell him, even though he knows I live for storms and blustery days. “It’s going to be 85 tomorrow. I’m not ready for summer.”

“Ugh, me either.”

We stand there a while, and then he brings the dogs inside and beds them down, and I carry our mugs to the table. “Bring the honey, please?” I request, “And a little dish for our teabags?”

The sliding door remains open, just far enough that the wind can flirt with us, but the dogs who aren’t in bed can’t wander back out. (Max doesn’t like to come inside at night.)

Fuzzy and sit at the kitchen table, sipping peppermint tea and letting the wind keep us company while we chat about nothing for a few minutes. Then he gets up. “I left a program running,” he says. He takes his half-finished mug of tea with him, but he kisses me before he leaves.

As for me, I stay at the kitchen table, surrounded by the soft sounds of the night, spinning stories on my laptop.

 

Image Copyright: dedivan1923 / 123RF Stock Photo

Dinner Music

I wrote this after a trip back east in 2009, but if I posted it then, it got lost in an archive save, because I don’t have it anywhere. I found it when I was looking for a piece of flash-fiction to edit into something else, and decided to post it anyway.  Aunt Molly, mentioned in the piece, died in 2015 at the age of 105.


The comforting burbling of a percolating coffee pot is the bass note to a symphony played by silver, ceramic, and porcelain softly clinking against each other. It’s the kind of sound most people would never notice, but in an Italian family, the dining table isn’t just where food is spread, but where all the good conversation happens, and conversations like that don’t exist without coffee and pastry – cheesecake is preferred, but a crumb cake will do.

Last month, I spent eight days on the east coast, first at my aunt’s wedding, which occurred in a rambling old, cold summer house in Amagansett, NY, and then in and around a small fishing village in New Jersey, which was once mainly populated by summer folk as well, though now most of the homes are occupied year-round.

In both places, while there was singing to be heard, and various forms of recorded music as well, the melodies that mattered were those created as we sipped endless cups of coffee, nibbled on a broad array of desserts (including crumb cake), and chattered into the wee hours of the morning, picking up threads of conversations that had been dropped decades before, or simply starting new ones.

In an Italian-American family, all the good stuff happens after dinner, when the food has been cleared away, and dessert has largely dwindled to a few crumbs. As a child, I would have been sent to bed before any of the really dishy conversation, but I have fond memories of hunkering down on the red-carpeted steps of my grandmother’s house, hiding behind the tall hutch that was set against the staircase, listening to the mix of English spoken in a New Jersey Neopolitan accent and Italian uttered in short phrases and single words, that nevertheless managed to convey images of sunny hillsides, deep red wine, and round, ripe tomatoes.

I remember my grandfather’s voice, belting from the diaphragm as he told a story, or corrected someone else’s version of a tale, or merely laughed. I remember my grandmother referring to my older cousins, as well as my mother and her siblings, as scooch (pest) or scocciamento (pain in the ass – pr. scooch-a-mende), or merely referring to someone as a “miserable wretch.” I remember laughter, always laughter, even on the saddest days. The concept of laughter through tears might have been mentioned in the movie Steel Magnolias, but Italian-American women live it on a daily basis.

As I grew older, I was allowed to have a seat at the after-dinner table – to play my part in the “Coffee Klatsch Cantata,” as it were. I remember rousing games of Canasta and Scrabble, and I also remember hearing stories about relatives who often were only names to me, or faces in faded photographs.

Being back in New Jersey wasn’t just visiting, it was, in many senses, going home. My grandparents may no longer be on this Earth, but my great-aunt Molly is ninety-nine and a half years old, and still remembers every story, every relative, every connection. Sure, she can’t walk any more, but she still smells of Taboo perfume and rice pudding, is always impeccably dressed, and if she falls asleep in her easy chair listening to the Italian-language news on TV that’s okay, because if you put her at the kitchen table and hand her a cup of coffee, she’ll instantly be bright-eyed, alert, and ready to trade memory for memory until the last crumb of cake is gone, and the percolator has grown cold.

As much as the folk music and show tunes I still sing, this is the music I grew up with. The harmonies made not by strings and percussion, but by the rise and fall of voices in conversation while food is being shared around a kitchen table.

Thoughts from the Bath

My usual Saturday evening ritual, at least in cool weather, is to soak in the tub while listening to Selected Shorts on NPR. (I know. I live a wild life.) I use the time to just relax, away from smartphones and computer screens. Sometimes one of the dogs will join me in the bathroom, splashed on the floor like a puddle of breathing fur, but most of the time the current pack all congregates on my bed, as if they’re guarding me from whatever might come through the bedroom and into my bathroom.

So far, their vigilance has paid off, and only my husband has ever come into the room. I’m sure they feel very smug about their track record.

Sometimes in the bath, I plot out the stories I’m working on.

Often, I read.

Last night, however, as I soaked in lavender-scented water and formed castles out of the mounds of bubbles, I let my mind wander and ended up with a stream-of-consciousness that was part life commentary and part idle musing.

It went something like this:

I really need a pedicure. It’s been over a month since I had my toenails done, and hey, this purple polish has pretty good staying power, but really, purple in December? I want to make that chocolate gingerbread again, the one we put the peppermint schnapps frosting on, and I can’t remember where I put the recipe. I just realized; it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t yet used my Christmas mugs. This weird warm weather is freaking me out. I’m so tired of mosquitoes. I promised Deb I’d shoot a picture of her book somewhere in my house. Is that a thing now? I didn’t ask any of my friends to take pictures with my book. Should I have done that. Oh, hey, that quantum relationship thing I wrote for Medium needs to be in the next book; everyone seemed to really like it. What day is tomorrow in MusicAdvent? Oh, right, it began on the first so tomorrow’s the 20th. What letter are we on? Oh, right T. We’re on T. T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t. Oh! that scene in Easy A just popped into my brain.

You get the idea.

Holidailies 2015

 

Big Dogs and Big Storms

You know that line in A Visit from St. Nicholas? The one about dry leaves flying before a hurricane? I always thought it felt out of place in what was, otherwise, a sweet and fluffy poem, but today that line is echoing through my head, as leaves are being blown about outside my house.

There’s definitely a storm brewing, but whether my part of the DFW metroplex will get any measurable rain is still a toss-up. Most of the time, the fact that our little corridor of I-20 seems to live in a sort of weather-proof bubble is a good thing. A couple of years ago, when tornadoes were hitting all around us, my neighborhood didn’t even lose power.

Stalking Maximus

Be very quiet; Max is stalking something.

Sometimes though, like today, I want the storm. We had crisp, cold weather until about a week ago, and then everything crept back into the 70s, which is fine, I suppose, except that it’s  December, we’re twelve days from Christmas Eve, and we still have mosquitoes.

I actually have air conditioning turned on.

Also, rain and fog make all the Christmas lights look pretty – enhancing the sparkle factor. Not that I’ve finished decorating. In truth, I’ve barely begun, and the recent weather is a big part of that. (Finishing my first book, and getting it ready to put on Amazon is another part of that, but that post has already been written.)

I’m not the only one feeling a bit off-kilter because of the weather. Max and Teddy, my two biggest dogs, have been acting kind of spooked since last night. They’re asking for extra attention, being overly clingy (even for them) and then bouncing off to chase each other around the house and yard as if they have to burn off every ounce of energy that they have right this very minute.

Watching big dogs play can be kind of intense. They slam into each other with all the force of football players, and there is much gnashing of teeth and swiping of claws.

Curious Ted

Teddy is always a bit perplexed.

They growl and roooooo! They dance around each other like prize fighters looking for the perfect opportunity to jab or cross, and then they back off, tails wagging, as if to say, “Aww, shucks, I was only playing.”

After a heavy play session, Teddy, who is four years younger and 20 pounds heavier than Max, will go to his brother and lick his ears, as if to say, “I may have bigger paws and sharper teeth, but you’re still my big brother.”

Max turned seven a few days ago, and his age is starting to show a little. The black parts of his face are bearing more and more flecks of white hair, and his stamina is fading a little bit. Of course, he’s always been a bit of a couch potato, sprawling his spotted legs over the arms of chairs, or letting them dangle off the sofa. Ted is more a hunker-down-on-the-floor kind of dog, as if he knows his soft, black fur will pick up every single bit of dust.

One thing both of these big boys have in common is that they never go too long without coming to my side, poking a wet nose into my hand, offering a callow paw to shake, and then heading off to romp again.

The leaves are flying.

The dogs are rough-housing happily.

A storm is brewing.

And I can’t wait for it to come.

Holidailies 2015

Buy this Book: The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales From The (Holiday) Tub

The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the (Holiday) Tub

File this under shameless self promotion.

I haven’t posted an entry here in two days, because I’ve been busy editing my book.

MY BOOK

I’ve been part of Holidailies for over a decade now (this is my eleventh year), and I’ve amassed quite a lot of holiday-related content, many of which were designated ‘best of…’ in their years of publication.

You could cull through all of my archives (a decade of archives) to find the best ones, but why, when you can buy my book?

Just in time for Christmas (or Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, whatever – it’s kind of Christmassy though, because that’s my winter holiday of choice) comes The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales From the (Holiday) Tub, and it’s available from Amazon either in paperback or for your kindle.

Here, have a very brief excerpt.

I used to walk my dog, a poodle mix named Taffy, through the packed powder in Georgetown, CO, and then flagrantly disobey my mother’s rules (and common sense), by taking her down near the frigid waters of Clear Creek, to the place behind the post office where the bank was climbable and the sandbars that were islands in the summer became mini-glaciers in the winter.

It was in the curve of that creek that my friends and I would spend hours pretending to be arctic explorers, while Taffy played the alternate parts of either a sled dog or a polar bear.

Afterwards, we’d trudge home (because trudging is really the only way you walk through snow), and I’d de-mat her paws, and we’d cuddle by the fire, while I drank cocoa with tiny marshmallows.

(Somewhat ironically, while people can get the paperback by Monday with Prime shipping, I won’t receive my author copies til after Christmas.)

Holidailies 2015

Never Let Your Bath Water Get Too Cold

Mermaid in Tub Every Saturday night, once the days are cool enough and the sky gets dark early enough, I have an appointment with my bathtub.

I light candles, use scented bubbles, bring a glass of tea, or wine, or just cool water and a book, and I soak for about forty minutes. A self-described bathtub mermaid, I feel like my entire spirit is quenched by my ritual bubble baths. (In summer, I’m in the pool almost every day.)

I don’t exactly bathe alone.

I have  standing date, you see, with NPR’s show Selected Shorts, in which actors from stage and screen read short stories. Because I prefer fiction to non-fiction, I actually like Selected Shorts better than The Moth, even though I’ve always kind of wanted to be part of a storytelling group.

My bath habit is more than just something I enjoy. It’s a form of meditation for me. It’s a way for me to recharge my creative juices at the same time that I’m letting a clay masque rejuvenate my skin. It’s the one place where I feel like time can stop and my brain, which is constantly spinning, can rest.

I’m really bad at sleeping, but I’m great at taking baths.

I’ve missed my Saturday date for two weeks in a row now. Thanksgiving weekend, we had a guest-puppy with explosive poo issues, and his crate was in my bathroom. Then we had ants for a week, a result of a lot of rain, and over this weekend I was ill (I’m still dealing with this stupid cold/sinus thing) and too miserable to even consider soaking in the tub.

I’ve resolved that this coming Saturday, I’m having my bubble bath no matter who is in my house or what is going on in the world.

After all, even bathtub mermaids their limits.

Holidailies 2015

Bolero

1984. The Winter Olympics. British ice dancers Torvill and Dean nearly melt the ice with their passionate performance to Ravel’s Bolero. It makes ice dancing sexy. It takes the world by storm.

I was thirteen, watching the Olympics with my mother. We both love ice skating, and used to make televised ice shows into appointment viewing. Once I was old enough to have a real income, treating Mom to skating shows at the Shark Tank in San Jose became a tradition. One year, we even had seats on the ice.

1986, my junior year of high school. I’m sitting in my Humanities class watching a video of Zubin Mehta conducting Bolero. He’s wearing rehearsal clothes. Black, I think. A t-shirt or a turtleneck. Or maybe it’s just a blazer. A classmate (whose name I won’t mention because it’d be wrong to name-drop during Holidailies) says aloud what I’ve been thinking: Conductors are so sexy.

2002. I’m flipping channels and a half-remembered video is playing on PBS. I saw it once when I was much younger. Dinosaurs marching to extinction to the familiar Ravel composition. Bolero.

2014.  I’m in my mother’s rental house in Mexico, the one across the street from the house they were building –  the one they moved into in May.  The wind is high and I am watching hawks circle the cardon cactus, their circles looping higher and higher as the currents change. I’m starting a new story for a fiction community I belong to. My inspiration comes from the hawks and the music from my ipad: Bolero.

2015. I bought a guitar for my birthday, but all year I’ve also been falling back in love with my cello. I decide to challenge myself. #MusicAdvent wants an alphabetical list this year.  I decide to see how many of my choices will feature the cello.  Today is Day 2.

I choose Bolero.
Played by 4 cellists.

Poem: Monday, 4:05 PM

The reflection of the sun on the water
Is sending ghostly ripples of light
Across my windowpane,
As if I’m being visited by the visual echo of wind,
Or an aurora borealis known only to me.

A cursory glance at the pool
Shows no waves,
No movement at all from the water,
And the trees are not blowing with vigor,
But breathing gentle sighs
As their branches lift and fall
In arboreal shrugs.

In a few minutes,
The sun will sink behind the treeline.
The water will be cool and dead-looking
Instead of sunlit and alive,
And the essence of wind drawn in light
Will be gone from my view.

For now, though,
I’m content to sit here
And watch the wavy lines
Sketch temporary patterns on the glass.

It should be painfully obvious from this piece why I rarely attempt poetry. This is posted unedited, as I originally wrote it on 24 November 2008

Preferably Smooth (Gotham fanfic (microfic))

We had no internet all day yesterday, so I wrote offline and in between whiny phone calls to AT&T. Note: if you want actual help from AT&T, skip their phone tree entirely and use Twitter. Their Twitter team kicks ass.

Here, have a tiny bit of fan fiction.



 

Disclaimer: I don’t own Gotham. I’m not sure I’d want to. But it’s an interesting place to visit from time to time.


 

Fear comes in the oddest forms.

Sometimes it comes in your subordinate looking at you with her dark brown eyes, the ones that pierce your soul, and can no doubt read every single wrong you’ve done.

Sometimes it comes in the form of a gun, pointed at your head, or words hurled at your feet, each a declaration of its own kind: I’ll do anything to take you down.

Sometimes it comes in the near miss of a car zooming past as you step off the curb, or in a phone call you answer in the middle of the night, the voice on the other end of the line filtered beyond recognition.

And sometimes, one time, fear is waiting for you in your own darkened kitchen.

Surprisingly, it’s not the mook holding your bodyguard’s head, blood from the severed neck dripping on the cold tile.

No, the true form of fear, the form you never expect to make you shiver, to make your hands sweat and your breath catch in your throat…that form is wrapped in a dapper suit, and speaks to you in a voice as dusty as the top of the cabinet he’s leaning against.

“Do you have any peanut butter?”


 

Notes: I met Robin Lord Taylor at Dallas Fan-Expo last summer; he’s the sweetest person ever, as well as being kind and accessible. His line in Commissioner Loeb’s kitchen in the season two opener was delivered with JUST the right blend of menace and innocence…something only he can do. I had to do something with it.

 

Medical

A day of ups and downs – mostly downs.
Both of my husband’s parents are in hospitals today – separate hospitals, for separate reasons.
Both are facing the kinds of questions no one really wants to answer, but everyone has to.

Binge-watching episodes of ER is oddly cathartic at times like this.
Actually binge-watching ER is comforting for a lot of reasons, and like The West Wing I like having it on for background noise while I’m writing.

I like the pace of it.
The dialogue.
The rhythm.

If life were a medical drama, Alex Kingston and Anthony Edwards would rule hospitals.