February 19, 2018

Greetings from Wit’s End

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I’ve got a Shakespearean drama going on over here that’s only appreciable to a cat lover. I’ve got this kitten I called Hamlet because Hamlet is one of my favorite characters in literature even though or maybe because he is a load of trouble. So is the kitten. He’s seven months old and still gives me suspicious looks that ask, “Did you kill my father and marry my mother?” In fact he looks at everyone who comes in the house that way.  Except men. He seems to trust men.

He spends a lot of time behind a curtain. The baseboard heat is below this particular window so he sits in a little warmth shadow. I can see his outline. Occasionally he peeks cautiously out. For those who don’t know the play, Hamlet, there is a fair amount of hiding behind curtains—arras—and listening to soliloquies and conversations. It gets everyone into trouble.

So far he gets along beautifully with the kitten who came with him: Laertes. In the play, Hamlet and Laertes are great friends until they kill each other. That has yet to happen and I’m hoping it doesn’t.

If it does, it’s more likely Artemis, the 14 year old goddess of the hunt cat, will be the perpetrator. She’s been quite hostile in the six months I’ve had the kittens but she’s coming round. I came home the other day and all three were curled up together on the couch. As soon as they saw me they shot apart like shrapnel and Artemis hissed at Laertes. I need to start hiding behind curtains to learn the inside story. Also something only appreciable to a cat lover.

Hamlet came to me with an auto-immune condition called stomatitis, which is expensive to treat. The vet suggested we keep him comfortable and see if his immune system caught up to him as he grew. I have hopes that a nurturing environment and good food will be better for his immune system than the streets of Yakima where he had been trapped.

His first few trips to the vet have been documented in this blog. We made our fourth trip a week ago and a merry dance it was.  Tricking him into the cat carrier was now completely out of the question. This time I lured him into the bathroom with his favorite cat treat (Churu, which I think is Thai for “tube of goo”) and closed the door so it was just the two of us. I let him lick the creamy stuff off my finger until he’d eaten the entire tube.

I put on gloves and got hold of his scruff. He twisted away and dove into a cat bed that had been his safe space when he first became part of the household.  I reached in and pulled him out. I was stuffing him into the cat carrier when he wrenched himself away, clawed my face, took out the ceramic soap dish and a glass tea light holder and went back to what is now his ironic space. I pulled him out again and succeeded in getting him into the car carrier. We were both breathing hard and one of us was hissing. I’m not sure which one.

Once I got the cat carrier zipped up I tended to the blood dripping down both sides of my face. The scratches were still wet and red when we got to the vet. Hamlet glowered and hissed from the carrier and I was the hero of the waiting room. Well, sort of. Maybe it was pity.

It was a good appointment. His gums looked better. But he had lost weight. He’s a skinny little thing to start with and didn’t have any weight he could afford to lose. I stopped at All the Best Pet Care on the way home and asked for recommendations for never-fail cat food for finicky eaters. I bought small cans of four different meals and more tubes of Churu.

Nope. Not this either.

Ceding the ground

He tucked right into Tiki After Dark chicken and quail egg. It really had a small cooked egg in it.  A little later he went for BFF chicken and turkey in gravy. The next day he ate Lotus chicken stew and BFF chicken and lamb in gravy. My main concern was making sure Hamlet got most of whatever was being served. The other two will eat anything anywhere anytime. They tend to pace like street thugs around Hamlet when he trying to eat. He gets nervous and cedes his ground.

By the third day, Monday, he was turning away from everything. He wouldn’t eat AvoDerm chicken chunks entrée in gravy, an early favorite. He wouldn’t eat tuna water. He wouldn’t eat Gerber Baby No 2 chicken and chicken gravy which used to be my secret weapon. All he would eat was Churu so I fed him Churu off my finger every two hours while Laertes wasn’t looking or smelling and that was a difficult op to pull off.

My friend Susan brought me some Royal Canin kitten food. I asked her to give it to Hamlet. Susan ooed and gooed and put a pinch of kibble on the floor. Hamlet scarfed it up and Susan gave him another pinch. She fed him all morning while we water painted. That afternoon I bought a bag of Royal Canin kitten kibble. Hamlet wouldn’t eat it.

I bought a few cans of “kitten instinctive small chicken slices in gravy.” They were a huge hit on Tuesday but by Wednesday Hamlet was refusing everything again. Back to the Churu with which I started dolloping some of the expensive chicken dinners he was pushing away. He licked off the Churu and walked contemptuously away from the meal.

Now during the day all over my house– anywhere Hamlet once previously ate– sit little tapas bowl with spoonful’s of different gelatinous looking goulashes. After a certain point even the other two won’t eat the stuff. In the evening I scoop money down the garbage disposal. This is my life now. For the time being, small chicken slices in gravy and Churu are in charge.




February 11, 2018

My Big Losing Streak

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I’ve just come through a spate of losing things. At least I hope I’ve come through it because it’s been disorienting. I have always had a sharp memory and bloodhound’s talent for finding things, particularly if those things have sugar in them.

The first casualty was a music book. It’s a collection of songs, many of them introduced to me by students, that I have come to love. “Along the Road” (Anna D), “Home” (Eileen), “Why They Call it Falling (Deborah), “Lay Down Your Head” (Jennie), “Jubilee” (Can’t Remember). I have “Desperado” written out in two different keys and “Dimming of the Day” in three. Twenty-one songs, at last count, in a book I bound on a Comb-bind. It has a black plastic spine, which was what I was looking for the day I couldn’t find it.

Another of my admirable qualities besides my memory and ability to suss out sugar is that I always return things to the same place. There’s a place for my comb-bound book of favorite songs and when I’m not using it, it’s always there. In the second drawer of a file cabinet of music under Popular. When I couldn’t find it one day, I kept going back to the second drawer of the file cabinet, relentlessly looking under Popular. It didn’t materialize. I looked through the entire filing cabinet of music. I pulled out every comb-bound book from my two book cases of music. Nothing.

I e-mailed my voice students to see if one of them had walked off with it by mistake. I wouldn’t have loaned it. Nothing.

I checked my files for individual students—what I call their dossiers—half a dozen times and finally found the music book filed backwards. I couldn’t see the spiral binding. The book was where it shouldn’t have been because I have the admirable if tedious quality of returning things to their allotted place.

I blame the cat.

Next was the Case of the Missing Keys: My neighbor Bill has been gone a lot in the past several months. He went for one of his impossibly outdoorsy, athletic trips in November and I tended to his cat, Suli. On the day he came home, I couldn’t find his house key, the one I have safely kept and guarded for five years. I had already served and abased myself before the cat so there was no immediate urgency with the keys.

Before Bill went to Tasmania at Christmas to visit his daughter, he made me a new key. I put it on a bright red key chain and managed to hold onto it. Two and a half weeks ago he went to Tanzania. (Try to keep up.) A week into this trip, I lost the bright red key chain which was holding not only the house key but the mailbox key and I had yet to pick up any of his mail.

I searched for the keys even as I imagined mail overflowing the box and Suli in the house clawing open Doritos. I turned my house and car upside down. I went through the garbage and the recycle. I turned over layers of mulch in the garden by my front door. Finally I texted Bill’s son Christoph in Walla Walla (Go, Whitman) to ask where the hidden key was. Once inside Bill’s house, I sorted through a kitchen drawer for small keys. I took seven of them down the alley to the mailbox and tried them until I got the mail box open.

I felt it my duty to replace the keys I had lost so I took the spare mail key and the hidden key to a lock and key place where I casually passed them across the counter and asked for duplicates even though the house key has DO NOT DUPLICATE on it. The locksmith asked me if it was my house key. I said yes. As I left with two new keys I mused that I am in a demographic that’s considered harmless, not to say invisible: a white woman and middle-aged with gray hair. I could get away with so much more than I do.

Shortly after I calmed down from the key freak-out, my college roommate Debi came for a few days. Her sojourn warrants a whole other blog post because having a house guest is the height of distraction for an introvert who lives alone. I might have expected to lose any number of things during her visit. Yet in the middle of an evening of whisky, reminiscences and laughter, I glimpsed my red key chain hanging with the laser pointer in the place where only the laser pointer should be. The keys, the keys, oh beautiful keys!

The down side being that I feel crazy. Why would I hang the keys where I have never put them before and not remember? Or even more damning, how could a week and a half go by without my entertaining the cats with the laser pointer? Bad human.

Debi is now home in Walla Walla. Bill has returned from his world travels. My music is where I can find it. The key on the red key chain is back in the key drawer. All’s right with the world for now.

Alzheimer's diseaseCats

January 18, 2018

Signs of Life

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Even though I can barely take the news any longer, I’ve gotten into a self-perpetuating loop of being unable to look away; I keep checking the headlines. It’s trauma. It’s the kid (me) who didn’t want to leave the house because she was afraid of what might happen in her absence. It’s the cat who won’t go in the other room and chase a bug when the vacuum is on. It has to crouch in a doorway and watch. I am in a world that I don’t understand anymore. It’s hard to read the signs.

I’ve been thinking about signs. Not like signs of the End Times, though god knows they bear some watching. Signs like the one I see every time I walk by a house on the other side of the cemetery. It’s one of those Hooterville homes with disabled cars and old toilets on the parking strip. Junk everywhere. They run a yard sale all summer long, trying to get rid of their greasy stuff.

They also have cats. Quite a lot of them if the sampling visible from the street is a marker. Anyway most days they put out a hand-lettered sandwich board: Honk if cats don’t move. I muse about that when I walk past. What does it mean?   Honk and the cats will then move? Honk so we’ll come out and make the cats move? Honk means the cats can’t move and we’ll come out and scrape them off the road? I don’t feel like asking.

My neighborhood branch library has a genius for unintelligible signs. For months I walked past a sign near the front door that read “Strollers block our counter.” Strollers were grouped next to the sign. The counter, i.e. the reference desk, was still a good 20 feet away.

I asked a librarian what the sign meant. It turns out that near the front door and occasionally blocked by strollers is a device that detects and counts people as they walk into the library. I asked if their sign was accomplishing their intended ends. The next time I walked into the library the sign read: “Don’t leave strollers in this area.”

Emboldened by that accomplishment, I took on the enigmatic sign in the women’s rest room: “Please use paper towels appropriately.” Full marks for politeness but what on earth were women doing with paper towels that weren’t “appropriate?” Turns out they were teenage girls and they were plastering the walls and sinks with wet paper towels undeterred by a sign about appropriateness. I commented on that at the front desk. I don’t know what happened but the sign came down and I use the women’s room at my own house.

They appreciate my helpful suggestions at my branch library.

The Four Spoons Café usually has something clever and entertaining on their marquee. The month before the 2016 election it read “Vote for Trump Nov 28.” For those a little slow on the uptake and/or to insult your intelligence, I’ll point out that the election was Nov 8. After the election the sign read “Have an unpresidented year.” I’ll second that in so far as I’m capable.

In December All Present hosted a singalong at the Alzheimer’s Café, which meets once a month at Taproot Theater’s Stage Door Café.  As we were getting assembled I noticed a poster on a table. It looked like 18 candles glowing in different colored bowls.

Up close, I saw that the candle lights were actually faces of people, many of whom I know, who were living with dementia. The colored bowls were handmade signs they held against their bodies. The title of the poster was Living with memory loss in our own words. The faces were beaming. The signs were colorful:

It is frightening.

I can’t remember.

Please be patient with us.

We’re still here.

Don’t we laugh a lot!

I now have one of those posters on my front door. The faces still glow like lit candles. My friends with dementia will never understand how much wisdom and meaning and pleasure they give to me and to this crazy world. Maybe just enough to keep us all in balance.




January 6, 2018

Update on the Boys of Elsinore

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A couple of feral kittens came to stay with me in September. Let me rephrase that in a more responsible way: I adopted a couple of feral kittens and while in full control of my faculties, brought them into the nice geriatric climate of my home where I live with Artemis, a 13 year old cat. After four months I can state that I have ruined Artemis’ golden years and I have several times wanted to check myself into a cage at Seattle Area Feline Rescue and let the kittens have run of the house.

It actually hasn’t been that bad. Laertes, after a month, became a joyful, leaping, affectionate and purring ball of orange fur. He fetches and brings back little fuzzy balls, drops them near me and sits politely, waiting for me to flick them across the room. Periodically I get a yardstick and scoop 15 or 20 of them from under the stove and the couch. He thinks the yardstick is great fun, too. He’s easily picked up, likes to be petted and cossetted, licks (me) a little more than I enjoy, and likes to put his face close to mine. He actually reaches for me, which I find utterly endearing. So I’m keeping him.

Hamlet has been more of a challenge but it should be stated at once that I am keeping him, too, if for no other reason than I named him Hamlet. I cannot return a kitten named after one of my favorite characters in literature. He continues to be a Hamlet: suspicious and fearful. He watches me cuddle Laertes and Artemis as though he might be interested in joining but experience has taught him otherwise—not unlike me and cruise ships. He looks at visitors as if silently suspecting: “Did you kill my father and marry my mother?”

We’ve made some progress. I got him to the vet for his first appointment in early December. This turned out to be quite a production. Weeks before, I brought the cat carrier into the front room and left it sitting open. After a few days I tossed in a cat treat. After a week, I tossed treats all the way to the back. When it was time to betray him by closing the cage door, he was taken completely by surprise and I felt like a Judas, which I was.

At the vet I learned Hamlet had a condition called stomatitis, which is like gingivitis, only on steroids. His poor little gums were red and inflamed. The gold standard treatment for stomatitis is to have all the teeth pulled. Yikes! And it’s expensive. Yikes on steroids!

There are other less extreme things to do but they involve stringent home dental care, something that isn’t happening any time soon unless you count Greenies. For those who don’t know, Greenies are a popular cat treat touted as having dental benefits–I guess they do scrub away at the plaque—and Hamlet loves them. The vet gave Hamlet a steroid and an antibiotic shot to temporarily calm things down and we were on our way.

Once home and I let Hamlet out of the carrier, I actually never expected to see him again. I thought he might hide behind an arras, only emerging at night to eat whatever food was left in a dish. But within a few hours he was doing something he had never done: pushing against my hand and letting me pet him.

A week before Christmas, I heard him sucking on something and noticed a foul-smelling saliva. When he wasn’t worrying it, a tooth hung outside his mouth. I made a vet appointment for the day after Christmas. Time for Operation Quisling: tricking him back in the carrier.

It was more complicated this time. I threw in the cat treat. Ooh, salmon chunks. Hamlet sat at the door to the carrier and watched me until I disappeared around a corner. He nipped in, grabbed the treat and nipped out. After a few days of this practice, I threw in the treat and retreated to where he could see me but was reassured that he could move in and out faster than I could get to the carrier and close the door. We progressed to my tossing in the treat and walking nonchalantly past the carrier while he was inside. During the week before Christmas it seems like entire days were taken up with this activity.

Come time to leave for the vet appointment I knew I had only one chance to close the door on Hamlet. I flubbed it. He dashed out, I grabbed him, he slipped away. Then I did something quite ill-advised: I chased him. I chased him up the stairs into the loft, closing the door behind me. I chased him into every corner of the loft, down the stairs, up the stairs, back down the stairs where I cornered the terrified little guy who won the battle by biting, clawing and drawing a great deal of blood.

I left him cowering behind the drier while I retreated, hysterical, into the bathroom for alcohol, Neosporin and Band-Aids. I was upset with myself, crying so that I couldn’t see the Band-Aids and dripping blood all over the bathroom.

During this time I also had charge of my neighbor Bill’s cat, Suli. I had let her out earlier in the day and I chose this vulnerable moment to go across the street and let her back inside and maybe get a little cat love for myself. The long and the short of it—and generally speaking Suli never needs much provocation—was that she bit me quite hard, bruising my arm and leaving little teeth marks.

For the next 24 hours I didn’t talk to or look at a cat. I fed them perfunctorily and otherwise ignored them. I hated them all. They were all dead to me. By the next day, Hamlet was pushing up against me again, wanting me to pet him, even reaching for me like Laertes does.

The errant tooth had by now fallen out and was probably down the side of the couch but Hamlet still needed a booster and his rabies shot. Time to launch Operation Benedict Arnold.

I resumed lobbing treats into the cat carrier. Surprisingly this was the easiest Op. We made our appointment and the outlook on Hamlet’s gums is perhaps a little better than first thought. By the end of the day he was curled up on my lap for the first time. I am in the running for Cat Owner of the Year, even if I am a three-time traitor.


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December 31, 2017

What I Did On My Holiday

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On this last day of a moody year, I think it would be a good exercise for me to review all the good things about the spin cycle of the last month, otherwise known as the holiday season.

The holidays begin in October when I start the fall quarter of the OK Chorale and All Present. We’re singing “Deck the Hall” before Halloween.

October is the month I finish making the liqueur I sell at the Dibble House Holiday Sale. I drag out my big jars of raspberry and currant infused vodka. I strain my patience and the berries at the same time. I make a sugar syrup, stir everything together and pour most of the liquid into bottles I have been collecting all year. The remainder of sticky, red liqueur I wipe off the floor, the counters, the walls, my fingers, the soles of my shoes and door knobs as far away as the house across the street.

If that isn’t enough trouble, I used to make a different label for each jar, writing on old scraps of watercolor paintings: “Northwest Berry Liqueur. organic raspberries, organic currants, organic sugar, cheap vodka.” But this year I made a label from a favorite watercolor and had my guy Vince at Fed-Ex make me a bunch of gummed labels. That gave me more time to wipe up excess liqueur that had belatedly and mysteriously gotten smeared on the mirror in the bedroom and inside the medicine cabinet.

Artemis contemplates her existence (One of my favorite watercolors)

But I digress. Back to all the good things of the past season: The holiday is fully airborne the day after Thanksgiving with the Dibble House Holiday Sale. This tradition is about 25 years old and a lot of us do it year after year so it’s always a reunion. We set up during the day and the “preview” is that evening. The sale runs all weekend but what makes the preview different is the wine. Also I play the piano amidst effusive thanks and very few tips. There’s a warm and festive atmosphere and lots of memories from years past.

The day after the preview, the OK Chorale sang at what I refer to as the Monkey Lighting at the Phinney Neighborhood Center but I believe its official name is the Glow Cone lighting. The PNA is just down the street from the Woodland Park Zoo, which was the inspiration to light the long stretch from Phinney and 50th all the way to Greenwood and 87th with lighted monkey figures. The big light-off happens at the Phinney Air Raid tower (yes, you read that correctly) on Thanksgiving weekend.  The Chorale has been the entertainment for the past four years. By the Monkey Lighting we are still in rehearsals so we sing whatever we can manage without dropping our music. Four years ago at out debut gig, it was 13 degrees outside. The next two years it poured rain. This year it was a beautiful clear cold night on which to die happy.

Two weeks later we sang at the Green Lake Pathway of Lights, which we called The Luminaries until it was pointed out (by my friend Nina, rhymes with Dinah) that luminaries are people and the pathway of 3000 lighted candles are luminarias. For at least fifteen years we have sung at the aqua theater at the south west corner of the lake but this year, for some reason, we were scheduled outside the Community Center.  The parking was even more insane than across the lake when they open up the soccer field parking. I always hate the getting there but once we are on stage and singing, it is magical, especially on another cold, bright evening.

The week before Christmas, The OK Chorale and All Present, my song circle for people with memory loss, join forces and sing a concert. By this time in the season I would much prefer to stay home in my pajamas, eat potato chips and watch stupid television for a week straight but as with the Luminarias, once I get to the concert and get past everyone needing to tell me about their experience in high school glee club and the time they sang with Dickens carolers in Duluth, I thoroughly enjoy myself. We had a huge audience. When everyone joined in the singing at the end, it sounded like I had a whole cathedral of people behind me.

Of all the warm, nostalgic and happy experiences, the one that shines most brightly was what happened after this particular concert. One of our long-time altos did not sing this quarter because she was heavily into chemo therapy for a particularly vicious cancer. A dozen of us (and a quorum, thanks to Chris who held the tenor section) planted ourselves in her living room, gave her a music book and together we sang our program.

When I set up this engagement, Shelley had at first declined, saying, “I would probably cry all the way through.”

“And what would be the problem with that?” I asked. “We’ll all be doing the same thing.”

I know I cried. Shelley has a magnificent grand piano and I love playing it but I could hardly see the music through my tears. At the end when we sang “Auld Lang Syne,” I put my arms around one of our sopranos who is in a difficult patch and very nearly sobbed down her back.

It’s been such a difficult year for so many of us. The holiday as it approached seemed like just another difficult thing to get through. (And quite often for musicians, it is. We work hard so you can have nostalgic experiences. Sorry, I had to say it.) But singing at Shelley’s house, a little private audience for someone we love, whose absence doesn’t bear thinking of, was the center that still holds.


December 30, 2017

A Tale Told By an Idiot


Has a Windows Help Desk notification ever interrupted your computer work and/or game of Solitaire? It descends like the Second Coming with beeps and sirens and flashes. It tells you your identity has been stolen and your bank account is in the process of being emptied. It’s alarming and to one whose mind has been numbed by political news and compulsive games of Mahjongg, it’s seductive.

Why am I using second person present? I should be using first person past because I got thoroughly snookered the other night. I will now lead you into the virtual darkness and tell you what happened.

First there were the bells and whistles, the dire notification and the directive to call an 800 number. I know this is not how Microsoft operates but maybe it was a little too subtle for me at that hour of the evening. I called the number.

I got a voice with a thick middle-eastern accent that said he was Joel Lambert. He gave me an address in Virginia and an employee number. I wrote it all down. “Joel” told me that he could correct the damage that had been done to my computer and my identity. I was hyperventilating at the point I went with “Joel” to a conferencing website where I summarily handed him my computer hard drive.

I watched my computer flash before me while we proceeded to the next phase of the scam: the payment. It was going to cost me $500 for him to get my identity back not to mention all the money that was even now being drained from my bank accounts. I balked at this. Why was Microsoft charging me? After all it was their firewall that was breached. He answered with a flurry of obfuscation and repetitions of the words Windows and Help Desk.

Then he wanted my bank information. I said I wasn’t comfortable with that and furthermore I wasn’t sure about him. (All this while my files were being rifled.) He put an elaborate directory of Help Desk employees on the screen and found his listing. I wouldn’t give him my bank information but I said I would send a check the next day to the address in Virginia. Finally he said to leave the computer on for the next few hours and to not do any on-line banking or pay any bills for the next 24 hours.

As I write this I see about ten markers that should have tipped me off. I have to say it looked very Micro-softy. That’s probably all I have to say in my defense except that in the spirit of the current political climate of irresponsibility, it’s the fault of the Cheeto in the White House.

I left my computer wide open and running and went over to talk to Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything. By the time I finished, she was curled up in fetal position in a corner of the sofa in her plaid room. She came out of her swoon, walked me back to my house and turned off the computer. Fifteen minutes later my phone rang. A number in Virginia. “Joel.” I put the phone on speaker.

“You turned off your computer.”

“Yes, you’re not legitimate.”

“But you turned off your computer.”

“You’re a scam.”

“Did you notice that I gave you a Virginia address and I am calling you from Virginia?”

Gwen and I looked at each other and burst out laughing at the same time. I don’t think Joel was amused. I wished I had thought to tell him that Virginia was in Tampa.

“You turned off your computer. There’s a problem.”

I hung up.

The next day I took my computer to my guys at Seattle Laptop and let them open it. When I told them I felt like idiot, they said this happens all the time.

Dan, the reigning angel at Seattle Laptop, told me that his wife once got a call from someone who told her that her computer was infected. She handed the phone to Dan who responded with vexation.

“Oh no. You’re probably right, tho. I haven’t been paying enough attention. I’ve been spending all my time at your house doing your wife!”

Another story involved a response to a scammer who called with an alert about Microsoft Windows.

“Your windows have a virus.” (Or some such garbled syntax)

“I don’t think so. I just got new windows. You’re too late”

Long pause. “This is about Windows.” (That’s always the way. When stumped, consult the checklist and start over.)

“Maybe you’d be willing to come out and clean my new windows.”

“Your computer! Your computer Windows!”

It would be a kind of fun party game to take turns being the frustrated scammer and the obtuse customer.

The end of the story is that I got my computer all scrubbed and re-set to factory conditions and that was a month ago and I am still unpacking and putting things away. And if you are ever such an idiot as I was, Seattle Laptop is the place to go.



December 15, 2017

Deconstructing Carols

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I’ve been feeling a little wassail drunk with music this season. I usually look forward to it and don’t mind the iterations of Hark, the Herald Angel and his pals like Round John Virgin. After all, it’s only for a month out of the year, two and half if you’re a musician. The Chorale started rehearsing late October and we added the holiday songs to All Present in mid-November. I was sick of them before Halloween.

In All Present I have a cushy job: I sit at the piano, play an accompaniment, turn a page and play another. If I am feeling sociable, I do a little patter with the front people: Susan, The Other Susan and now Gail. If I’m still half asleep or feeling Grinchy, I just sit there and play.

To distract myself during this blessed holy season, I’ve been fiddling around with the accompaniments, trying out runs and flourishes and varying the rhythms in the bass. When I get tired of that I sing some of the old versions we substituted as kids. Like “God rest ye merry, Gentlemen although you’re not too bright.” When my mother heard me sing that she gave me a look that suggested I had blown my nose on Luke chapter 2 of her Bible.

Two of my piano students (Anna and Julia who now sometimes introduce me as their aunt because I objected to them calling me their “old piano teacher”) taught me these words to “O Christmas Tree:”

Oh, Todd the Toad, oh Todd the Toad,
Why did you jump into the road? (2X)
You used to eat a fly or two
But now the flies are eating you;
Oh, Todd the etc,


I’m partial to the shepherds who:

washed their socks by night all seated round the tub.
A bar of Sunlight soap came down and they began to scrub.

There are a bunch of verses elucidating what those shepherds got up to while they waited for the Messiah. And who can blame them? I sympathize with their ennui.

My friend Nina (rhymes with Dinah) let me into her crusade against how we render “Silent Night” meaningless. We sing that all is calm and all is bright. Okay. Fair enough. But then there’s this stand-alone phrase: “round yon virgin, mother and child.”  Round yon virgin, mother and child, what?

The only way to get this past an English or a singing teacher would be to punctuate and sing “All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild.” Nina and I now try to get through the line without a break.

And while I am here, there is no such thing as a mild child, especially not if he is planning to grow up to save mankind. I always sing “wild.” And virginity is a scam.

Moving on to the insipid “Away in a Manger.” (I’m sorry if you like this carol but they put me on the stage when I was three and made me sing it to Highland Covenant Church in Bellevue and I really wish they hadn’t.) Here we have two lines that people run together without a comma: “The cattle are lowing the poor baby wakes.” The cattle are lowing. That’s a thing all by itself. The kid wakes up. That’s another thing. One causes the other but they are still two separate things. Okay this isn’t a very strong complaint. I think I am still unhappy from when I was three. Christmas is for children.

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” has enough grammatical conundrums to keep me busy through all the verses. Take the beginning which we blithely sing as four unrelated thoughts:

It came upon the midnight clear.
That glorious song of old.
From angels bending near the earth.
To touch their harps of gold.

I believe the meaning is this: The glorious song of old (the aforementioned “it”) was sung by angels at midnight who apparently had to bend toward earth in order to get their harps out of storage.

I understand that language is used differently in verse. I don’t fault Edwin H. Sears who wrote the text in 1849. In 2017, in this Me, Too moment, I have to say the idea of angels bending and touching is a little weird.

These are some of the many thoughts I have as I sit at the piano playing Christmas carols so that other people can have warm and/or transcendental experiences. You’re welcome.







November 22, 2017

Cheerfulness Breaks In

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I’ve got malaise. It’s partly due to the way it doesn’t get light in the morning, it gets gray. It’s partly due to having come off an exceptional burst of creative energy in which I sang the Queen of the Night, finished my first novel and helped put together a second volume of the All Present Songbook. I have to keep reminding myself that I should expect a gray period after all that.

It’s a lot to do with the news, which is hard to read but hard to not read.

My behavior regarding the news feels like my experience growing up with an alcoholic father and a disturbed, unpredictable mother. It was hard to leave the house because I felt I needed to track everything that happened so I’d know how to stay out of the way. It was hard to come home because I never knew what I was walking into. The best way to cope was to monitor everything –the moods, the explosions, the drinks—every hour of the day. It gave me a feeling of having some control.

I’m doing the same thing with the news. I get up wondering who is next in the parade of sexual assaulters to go down, what horrible legislation has slipped through and which of our rights as Americans have been further impinged upon. It used to be that the news delivered a shock to the system once a month or so. Now it’s five times a day. Obsessive monitoring of the news is the way Trauma behaves. Not everyone has it as bad as I do—and some have it worse– but I think on the whole, we are a traumatized country right now.

My malaise is the flip side of my anxiety. When I short out on the panicky feelings, I fall into dullness: instead of watching MSNBC, I watch movies from the Lifetime Movie network, aka All-Men-Who-Aren’t-Jerks-are-Rapists network. They are awful movies: bad scripts and bad acting. Not that different from the White House press briefings actually.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The most productive and happiest non-pharmacological remedies for depression I know are gratitude and humor. I’ll pursue the first and hope I find the second:

I’m grateful for my friends who are my family. Over the weekend I had tea with Kay and Maxine, the feng shui goddess. Maxine started in on a story I have heard about 16 times. Had I been feeling less vulnerable, I might have cheekily finished the story for her. Had I been feeling less fragile, I might have rolled my eyes and told her she needed new material. As it was I sat back dreamily in my chair and thought about how lovely it was to be with my friends.

I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbors. Once a week I see a movie at The Gwen: the big screen TV in the plaid room of my neighbor Gwen who knows something about just about everything. I walk across the street with my house keys, cuticle cream, eye drops for persistently dry eyes and two fingers of Scotch. I let myself through the secret gate into Gwen’s exotic courtyard and do the secret knock on her side door. Gwen opens the door with a bourbon in her hand and we proceed to the movie. All that’s missing are the head turbans and cigarette holders.

Gwen and I made our semi-annual trip to Costco last week. I love these outings. We, armed with lists, are in and out of there in 45 minutes. While Gwen grinds her coffee, I write her a check for my portion of the bill because I’m there on her membership. I bought a pound and a half of organic power greens, which I belatedly realized expired in four days. I did it: I ate the whole thing. When they cook down it doesn’t seem like quite so much. I am so much better off for having eaten my power greens.

Bill across the street recycles his Sunday New York Times to me every week. I in turn read it, then use it to start a fire (in my woodstove, I don’t do anything illegal) or to line the yard waste bin. Bill brings the sections over as he finishes them, which mean he drops by almost every day. We chat and he plays with the kittens.

The kittens. We’re all doing pretty well at Elsinore. Laertes had his first vet appointment about six weeks too late for his booster shot so now I have to start the vaccines all over again. Otherwise he is in great shape. The gunk in his ears is not mites but kitty earwax. He doesn’t have worms or fleas or a respiratory infection. The big challenge with him is how much he eats. He’s going to be a huge cat. His paws alone look like fuzzy orange combat boots. So I have two feline grazers and one gourmand.

On the turrets

Regarding the smallest of the grazers, Hamlet is coming along. He is now consistently in the room with the other cats, with me, and with whoever has come in the front door. He and Laertes play, fight and sleep together. Hamlet plays with anyone who pulls his favorite mouse toy in front of him. He lets me stroke him occasionally but more often leaps up in alarm, retreats and watches suspiciously. He really does live up to his name: quietly and mutely suspicious. Other than that, he knows the hour of treats and he has a persistent little meow.

Hamlet and ghost

The big grazer, Artemis is resigning herself, I think. I am quietly optimistic about this. She takes great umbrage at Laertes’ energetic appeals to her. She hisses and he backs off but doesn’t remain discouraged. I have noticed that the three of them seem to do just fine when I’m not around but the minute I show up, Artemis gets pissy. She commands the bed at night. No one sleeps with me but her. She even used to run Winston off, god bless his soul.

The Garden. Tim is putting the garden to bed for the winter and I am making paths. I never replaced the lawn mower that died years ago. Either Bill or Gwen magnanimously mows my lawn a couple of times a year but my goal is to not need a mower at all. I’m going for a field. Or the London Park look. Kensington Gardens is a field with mown paths. Currently I have cardboard paths crisscrossing the yard: big pieces of ugly cardboard weighed down with bricks and pots. It’s hideous. The idea is to smother that grass and let the rest grow high. Kind of a poor person’s maze.

I’m getting a noble fir the day after Thanksgiving. Bill is loaning me his 50 pound Christmas tree stand and will help me secure it.  I’m hoping the kittens will climb it. I’m looking forward to the lights. I have this idea that if I turn on the tree first thing in the morning while it’s still dark, I won’t want to read the news and maybe I’ll write a few cards.

And finally, if you live in Seattle, this weekend is the annual Dibble House Holiday Craft Sale at 7301 Dibble Avenue NW. More friends, warmth, hot cider and cookies. It’s tradition that’s been going on for over 20 years.

Friday, Nov. 24th 4pm ~ 8pm (where yours truly is the entertainment)
Saturday, Nov. 25th 9am ~ 6pm
Sunday, Nov. 26th 12pm ~ 4pm

My malaise has lifted. Maybe you’ll get one of my Christmas cards.







October 16, 2017

The Boys of Elsinore


Last month I finished the novel I have been intermittently working on since 1997 and predictably went into a slump. I experienced a 53,000-word hole in my psyche, which along with paying too much attention to the news roiled my nervous system. So what did I do to cope? I brought two feral kittens into the house.

Hamlet and Laertes

I knew the definition of feral but I had never experienced the difference between feral and fostered. I tricked myself into visiting Seattle Area Feline Rescue by saying I was only going to see what the facility looked like.

“This will be my fourth set of kittens,” I said as I confidently filled out paperwork.

I wanted two males because Artemis, my 13 year old cat, was used to being with boys and because I already knew I was going to call them Hamlet and Laertes. I met them: one orange tabby and one black, sequestered with a couple of outgoing females. The orange one was slightly less frightened than the black one but neither one of them was eager to be picked up and cuddled.

“Were they fostered?” I asked.

“They were trapped.”

Yikes. The seedy underbelly of homeless cat society.

Their starter home was the loft that serves as my guest room.  They hid in corners and behind the bed when I came bearing gifts of food, water and toys, beaming with goodwill and welcome. My three earlier pairs of kittens had only run from me after they linked the presence of the cat carrier with trips to the vet.

In addition to kittens who were terrified of me, I had to contend with a cat who made it clear I had betrayed a sacred trust. Artemis spent a lot of time in the sun room during the first week the interlopers were in residence. In fairness, she spends a lot of time out there anyway, mostly sleeping, but now she was sleeping in odd positions due to the giant chip on her shoulder.

“Come sleep, thou certain knot of peace.”
Artemis in Denial

I brought the kittens home on a Friday. By Saturday evening I was thinking this wasn’t working out as a life-affirming way to fill the 53,000-word hole in my psyche. Do you know how demoralizing it is to have animals running away from you all the time when all you want to do is love them? By Sunday I was crying at the cash register of All the Best pet care. Thanks to the lovely woman who sold me the feline calming device –though it’s an open question as to who actually needed a calming device–and who gave me a bag of samples along with such encouragement that I decided I wouldn’t run away from home after all.

There was an immediate problem with their names. I had originally named the orange one Hamlet and the black one Laertes. My friend Nancy who has taught line-by-line readings of Hamlet to college students suggested I had them backwards. I only had to look at the photograph to know she spoke truth. There was the dark prince Hamlet, receding as though hiding behind the arras, suspicious of everyone and everything. There was the more out-going, orange Laertes. I could imagine him patiently putting up with his bloviating parent (that would be me, I guess) while snickering privately with his sibling.

By the fifth day, I expanded the kittens’ territory. I opened up the stairway to the loft and blocked off an area on three fronts. Now they had some hallway and the bathroom to play in. I put an old window screen across one of the Pullman bathroom doors so I could see their curiosity pull them into a wider world.

More importantly so could Artemis see them through the screen. Up until that point, Artemis could smell them and hear them and this was her sole basis for lobbing guilt grenades at me. I watched her go through something like the stages of grief, beginning with disassociation. She sashayed through her day as though nothing extraordinary was going on until she saw one of the kittens through the screen. She’d rear up and hiss, the kitten would scamper out of sight and Artemis would immediately go back into her waltz of denial.

Here’s where we are three weeks out: the boys are living up to their namesakes. Laertes is cuddling and purring while Hamlet watches me suspiciously and only runs in terror about 50 per cent of the time. I have pushed their vet check-up forward three times because I have no confidence I can catch Hamlet.

I got tired of having to scale a wall to get into my own bathroom so I opened up the rest of house to the kittens during the day. The boys play in Elsinore Castle and Artemis sulks silently when she isn’t hissing at them. The kittens are curious about her but she’s not having any of it. Even so there’s been some progress: at least Artemis deigns to be in the same room with them and even watches them play.

The Boys of Elsinore

At night I close the kittens up in the loft where, among other things, a cat carrier sits open with a nice wool cushion inside and occasionally a dish of something enticing. The vet appointment is a month off.















September 21, 2017

Finished the Book!


When I was a child I often wailed “What can I do?”

My father wailed back at me “The perpetual cry of youth: what can I do?”

Irritated me no end but there you are.

I am feeling a little of that angst this month because I am between quarters so no choirs to direct or watercolor classes to teach. I have my private students but without the classes and choirs I feel on vacation except I can’t go anywhere because I’m working. But there you are again.

I was up on Whidbey Island the first part of the month to work on my novel and I finished it!  I have been going up to my retreat on Whidbey four times a year, ten days at a time for two years. This trip was to be routine. I wasn’t expecting to come home with a completed novel. My hair-dresser (Ross) said he could tell by the way I talked when I got my complimentary trim that I was going to finish my book. (They are uncanny, aren’t they, hairdressers? Maybe it’s because they work so close to the brain.)

Anyway I started this book in 1997. That’s right. Last millennium. It began as a short story about a spirituality group that imploded from recriminations and hurt feelings.  It sat for a long time because I didn’t know how to finish it.

I went for years whining that I couldn’t think of a plot. I learned something about plot when I wrote my memoir because a memoir has a built-in plot. Or at least mine did: I was a mess, my parents died, I got better. Have you ever heard someone say, “You know what that child’s biggest problem is? Her parents.” Well, then.

I started writing my blog in 2011 and through that I’ve learned something about creating characters: Gwen my neighbor who knows something about just about everything. Putzer, the Attorney. Nina, rhymes with Dinah. Chris, the unclassifiable except she’s a tenor.  None of these people are in the book but their presence in various blog posts helped me think about characters, especially quirky ones. We’re all pretty quirky once we start paying attention. I feel like the biggest quirk of all and every character in my book is a part of my psyche. When you think about it, how could it be otherwise?

I worked with an editor (Jennifer D. Munro) and learned some basics about Point of View—something I never had to think about with a memoir or with a blog, for that matter. Jennifer was gracious, cheerful, constructive and fun. She had a lot to do with the book’s final acceleration.

Through it all, though, I have had the great encouragement (and periodic annoying prodding) from my friend and former Whitman College roommate and fellow English major who might call this a run-on sentence and who still lives in Walla Walla, Debi. She has cheerfully read all my pitiful attempts and all my prep work. The book is dedicated to her.

It’s called Advancing the Retreat. It takes place in my little area of Crown Hill and refers to Seattle places and landmarks. I imagined my house and neighborhood as the setting because it was easy for me to keep track of directions and distances. You know, for verisimilitude and consistency. It’s narrated by four different women plus one omniscient narrator.

April March wants nothing more than to be left alone to putter in her garden but her husband has joined the church across the street and April gets pulled into the machinations of the congregation. The minister’s wife has a secret, the minister has a different secret. Down the street is a new friend of April’s who knows both their secrets.

Meanwhile there’s a squirrel loose in the church, a loan to pay off, and a fund raiser of a sacrilegious calendar that outrages the minister’s wife. The minister fancies himself a musician and pushes his ideas on the choir director who in turn impinges on his turf by creating a spirituality group that she calls Ouroboros, the snake that eats its tail. April annoys the minister by creating a magnificent labyrinth in her yard to rival his plastic one, which he hopes will attract rental groups to the new wing of the church, which has yet to be paid for.

That’s probably enough. I’ve basically given you my query letter. That’s the new time suck. Writing to 200 plus literary agencies and publishers so that I can get a bunch of rejections for Christmas.

I’m back to why I started writing this post. It’s hard for a self-employed person to do nothing.  The Ouroboros is chomping away. The end of one thing is the beginning of another. Writing this novel has been so creatively satisfying that there’s a big hole right now. Not a hole I want to fill up with rejection notices, but there you are.