Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Amazon Book Reviews 2013

I have been spurred on to write Amazon Book Reviews. It was a confluence of Amazon probing me to write reviews of of my purchases, and an abundant  overload of really bad (read: free) ebooks.

I have a Kindle, and I know how to use it. I also have a pipeline for free ebooks from the eReader Cafe and BookBub—and I've been an involuntary invalid. I just can't believe there's so much bad escape fiction out there. In self defense, I'm doing something about it review, by review. Maybe it's also self-inflicted punishment for reading so much drivel. Cat-o-nine-tails. Reviewing books is not an easy writing form for me. My cousin said: Why don't you review them too? And so I did. Another tool in the craft toolkit.

Deep Fried and Pickled (The Rachael O'Brien Chronicles Book 1)
Price: $4.99
Great ideas, fun, quirky readDecember 16, 2013

I liked much of the story, how it was written, the format (month by month chronicle of freshman year in 1986), the end of chapter notes to the character's self, and the mystery element. I was never convinced the heroine Rachael O'Brien was an art history major. We're told this about one third way into the story--so it required readjusting one's definition of the central character, and so much of the story is dependent upon this fact. I'm also not convinced of clueless Rachel's sleuthing skills. The introduction of the art theft and forgery ring was a great idea, but full of holes. One reviewer accurately noted that the story was carried by stereotypical drunken college parties, attempts to get laid, irresponsible behavior, and road trips. The story is very juvenile. Not exactly Cold Sassy Tree, but it was a sassy read. Better quality than the usual free ebooks. That said, I'm still deleting it from my library. Meh

The Riddles of Hillgate (Z&C Mysteries, #1)
Price: $3.99

Don't waste your time, it's worth more than this free ebookDecember 16, 2013
To say this book is poorly written is an understatement. It's so bad, it made me cranky enough to want to write my first review, and a negative review at that. Reviewers who posted that this book a well-written great read and rated it five stars, must also find cereal boxes entertaining. Or, they're shills. Trust me, wonderfully written, this book ain't--and I'll read just about anything, including cereal boxes.

Many reviewers commented that this book sounds like it was written by a child, rings too true--only I suspect this ebook was dictated by a 2nd grader with an over-indulgent mother typing every utterance verbatim. I found myself gnashing my teeth and literally yelling at the author(s) over myriad goofy sentences and plot leaps. It's not exactly escape fiction when the reader is fighting with a poorly crafted book.

Virgin Shirley Temples? Really? Hmm, I thought Shirley Temples were already virgin. Odd appearances of other virgin drinks had me wondering if the mother-daughter duo had a secret drinking problem. And how does this relate to the plot? But there's plenty of booze under all the sinks, and plenty for rum cake too.

Wow, first, the mother & daughter duo are broke, then, with no money, they turn the mansion into a hotel, and then and a niteclub all in one fell swoop? Did I miss a chapter or three? We won't mention that the ditzy duo slept in the same bed, and their boyfriends in a separate wing. Really? Claire falls through the rotted floor--where a new washer-dryer were installed? Really? And how did the skeletons get in the basement? We also won't mention the contrived IRS scenario. Segues would be good. Whatever happened to the concept of the suspension of disbelief? Or pyramid structure of ideas? Myriad improbable scenes and dropped storylines galore are guaranteed to have readers gnashing their teeth.

Mother author: seriously? I think it's adorable that you're writing books with your baby daughter (insert awww-factor here), but whatever happened to fostering basic writing skills? At least take some responsibility for the readers who have to READ the stupid books.There's no excuse for this kind of bad writing. Even in a free ebook.

Utter lack of plot development and sequence. Lose the adverbs, adjectives--or at least place the dangling modifiers in the right part of the sentence. Develop plot sequence. Get an editor. Make that several editors: concept/plot; development/sequence editors, and a copy editor too. Attending a writers' group would be useful as well. Hint: spellcheck is not your friend. Just because a word is spelled right doesn't mean it's the exact right word.

One reader mentioned that it read like a Nancy Drew mystery. At least books FOR children are well-written. This one is not. Irritating writing--and as a writer in the schools, I've worked with kids of all ages--I know what they're capable of. Far better than this drivel. Thankgawd no trees were harmed in the process. A colossal waste of time. Minus five stars.


MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2016
MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2015
My Amazon Book Reviews 2014
My Amazon Book Reviews 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Such deep quietude,
listening to an occasional car on the freeway—
like long rolling waves rumbling to the shore.
Had a pre-op visit yesterday,
I’ll be facing knee surgery alone
the day after Little Christmas.
What presents
will the three wise men bring me?

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Someone advises me to bomb our house to get rid of the hordes of Argentine ants running amuck. Unfortunately defpggers are not the answer for an ant infestation—I tend to try & die long after the house is deemed safe for human habitation. I must be part insect.

One time, our landlord, who had taken a shine to Bob, decided to bomb our new house as there were fleas in the shag carpet from the previous tenant. He used two foggers—to be safe. He was very pleased with his work. 

Eight hours later, we came back to a lovely flealess house. As I was putting things on the top shelf, I could smell the faux floral essence of pesticide. My ankles were pleased. No more bites. But Buggins wouldn't come back inside the house.

I should've guessed. Soon it became harder to breathe, my throat was raw, and my ribs hurt from trying to breathe. I began to feel drowsy. Dim alarms went off, the penny dropped. Pesticide! I staggered outside, and began to feel better. But every time I entered the house, my symptoms returned.

I had to camp out in the back yard for a month before the house detoxed enough for me to go back inside. It was a very cold October-November in Cotati, as I recall. I had to take a big breath and run into the house to eat, change, use the loo, etc. I became sensitized and even the minutest trace of defogger still sets me off.

rev 12/16


Today is a three-ant day. 
When the lathe & plaster wall 
was torn out from behind
the leaking kitchen pipes,
A colony of ants poured out of the seams
to attack kitchen counters with vengeance.
So I wiped them up with bleach. Again. 
Yesterday was a nine-ant day. 
The day before, multitudes in my cup.
They surf the standing wave 
inside the cracked  blue sugar bowl—
even with a water moat, they find a way.
I am plagued with ants in my tea. 
Piquant. Peppery. They only surface 
after I add the milk. A dark punctuation
of ants surfing in my tea cup. Again.


So far, the Argentine ants have not invaded the kitchen. They're outside circling the trash bins. They like meat, not sugar. Michael Ellis says Argentinian ants are part of a 560-mile long colony that stretches from San Diego to San Francisco. One colony! Yeow!

A poem on the Argentine ants:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Clan vs Clann

I know you are just frothing to read this post on Old Irish spelling and Pronunciation by Dennis King (Focal an Lae—a website I used to visit often at the turn of the century). I came to the link rather curiously. Old lives meeting new ones, converging all at once—with rather odd results in the Twitterverse, of all places.

I "met" Dennis, who butted in mid-conversation on Twitter last night. OK, so it was already bizarre, to have five-way twitter conversations all in Irish—me, the only one writing in English—until Google Translate up and quit on me.

It all began because I posted this:
“Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Xhosa Madiba clan in Mvezo, in the Umtata district in Transkei, on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela. Nelson was a Christian name given to Rolihlahla in school. The clan name of Madiba, which is often used as a form of address for Mandela, comes from the ancestral chief.”
Someone immediately corrected my spelling of clan to clann and said that it meant children, or offspring, not tribe. Another said stet. leave it be. The battle lines were drawn. I said: it’s not a misspelling at all. The word clan entered into English from the Highlands ca. 1425. Clan is a kinship organized by founding member or symbolic apical ancestor. We were off on a fascinating linguistic bent.

The original question on the table was: why is the word clan spelled clann in Irish? (But not always in Scots-Gaelic). What were the rules?

Dennis, a latecomer to the conversation, instead of answering the question, decided I was the weak link and derided my lack of knowledge of Irish, in Irish. Ní gá. Is léir nach bhfuil tú eolach ar an tSean-Gh ná ar na lámhscríbhinní. Slán. It got worse. Flustered chickens could do no better at chest puffing.

Maybe there was no battle of words, maybe it was merely a case of what gets lost in translation. They were all writing in Irish—mostly in Belfast Metro Irish, at that. That's when he tried to rip me a new one because I dared to ask why. He ranted as if credentials were questioned. To be fair, I hadn't a clue as to who he was—other than he was turning out to be a twit boor.

He let fly. There was a palpable pause, a Twitter dite in the Twitterverse replete with sad emoticons. For my part, clan wars ensued. So, I Googled him, then to put it to rest, I name-dropped. I said: I'll ask my Irish professor, Dan Meila. Perhaps he can shed some light. A hit! A palpable hit!

Let's just say Dennis backpaddled: Tá an Nollaig ag teacht agus chuile strus is straidhn a thagann léi, móide laethanta giorra! His link was a peace-offering, I suspect.

But I'm sure you're all champing at the bit to find out what the frothy lit-bits were all about.

It turns out that clann was originally spelled cland in Old Irish. In the Online Etymological Dictionary we found that clann was a word imported from Latin, planta (a green twig, cutting, graft). Huh? I wasn't taking that at face value.

A little more research yielded that cland arrived via the Welsh word for child, plant. It was a borrowing from Old Welsh plant, which was, itself, a borrowing from the Latin planta

Because Irish is Goidelic, vs. Brythinic Welsh, and the Irish substituted k- or c- sound for the Welsh (or Latin) p- sound. (See Welsh map/mab, and Irish macc (son).) But not for the Irish word, páiste, the later, an imported Anglo-Norman word for child (from page). The original Irish word for child was Ieanbh. In this case, both words existed side by side. (The Handbook of Language Contact)

Of course this raises the question, what did the Welsh and Irish call themselves before they got all Latinate, —túath? But that means tribe in the larger sense. In one dictionary I found that the Irish word for clan is treibh. Circular breathing. And why did the Irish even need to import a word like clan? Or child, for that matter? What does that say about the evolving structure of identity in Medieval Irish/Celtic society? Planta doesn't seem to mean family tree in Latin. Fodder for another time.

Some of my basic orthographic questions: do clann & crann follow the same spelling rule (-nn). And why? Where does it come from? Not sure about other double consonant words like tonn, or crann.

After cracking open five dictionaries smelling of mildew an age, I found nothing, except a scrap of yellowed paper—something my grandmother had written long ago, transliterating Spanish and Nahual into Irish. That's fodder for another blog. My eyes hurt from trying to read the small print, magnifying glasses were in order. Nada. So I dusted off my old Irish grammar books.

What I found: Rudolf Thurneysen, in Old Irish Grammar, wrote that scribes refrained from doubling consonants in unlenited groups (p 86)—and it was written as cland, not clann.

Clann was also written as cland—not clann—in Old Irish Paradigms—John Strachan (p 175).

As a rule, it seems that medieval scribes didn't write -nn—as it wasted precious parchment space. It looks like a lack of lenition also affects use of double consonants.

Someone said the -nn also lengthens the vowel sound. Or it replaced lost fadas. So the double -nn is modern Irish rectifying scribal error in old manuscripts?

If cland is a Latin loanword, it explains why I didn't find it in the Táin Bó Cuailgne or the Táin Bó Fraich. But I did rediscover the saying: Atmu!

Atmu! I said to myself, beating my hand to my chest in oath, like the warrior CuChullain. It was a battle of words, alright. To the bitter end. But we emerged, a tribe.

At least I dusted off all my old Irish books—it's been decades. I’m sure this is way more than you ever wanted to know.

Some lit bits:

Richard Sharpe - Irish manuscripts and the complex page

Online Etymology Dictionary Compilation fo several dictionaries including OED

Lexilogos Portal to multiple Latin (and other) dicitionaries

DIZIONARIO LATIN great for conjugating.

MacBain's Dictionary - Gaelic Languages clann children, clan, so Irish, Old Irish cland, Welsh plant, *qlanatâ: Indo-European root qel; Greek @GtÈlos, company; Old Slavonic celjadi@u, family, Lithuanian kiltis = Lettic zilts, race, stock; Sanskrit k˙la, race. Some have added Latin populus. Usually regarded as borrowed from Latin planta, a sprout, English plant, whence Gaelic clannach, comatus.

eDIL electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language (eDIL) is a digital edition of the complete contents of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language based on Old and Middle Irish materials. clan atmu

Wictionary: Old Irish cland Borrowing from Old Welsh plant, from Latin planta.
macc From Primitive Irish genitive ᚋᚐᚊᚊᚔ (maqqi), from Proto-Celtic *makkʷos, a variant of*makwos (“son”), (compare Welsh mab, Gaulish mapos, Maponos), from Proto-Indo-European *meh₂ḱ- (“long, thin”) (compare Ancient Greek μακρός (makros, “long”),Latin macer (“thin”).[1]
túath Proto-Celtic *toutā, from Proto-Indo-European *tewtéh

Wictionary: Old Welsh not much use
Welsh terms derived from Latin plant

IRISH WORD  clan treibh

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Landscapes, sketches (art) 2013

I made these drawings in May and June of 2013, ideas for silk art and wet pastels. I like the drawings better than the finished product.

Landscapes, wet pastels (art) 2013

I'm posting all my 2013 wet pastel landscapes at the end of December, though they were done over the course of a year, most were done during the summer.

Wet chalk and wet construction paper pastels: these are 9x12". I can't go back and finish them when the paper's dry as they're generally far too fragile to re-wet and add details. I usually only have about 10-15 minutes to complete a pastel!

This idea evolved when my after-school art kids at Cleveland Elementary Schools (2007), asked if they could do chalk pastels. I wasn't wild about the idea as I like more painterly colors, etc. But I also love to draw. So we did some pastels and I was disappointed in our results. I noticed that one child developed a cough from inhaling the chalk dust. (It bothers me too). His mother insisted it was only a cold (I think she was afraid I wasn't going to let him participate as he totally loved art). But.... I wondered: how can I reduce the chalk dust? Water. When I worked at a horse training stables, we used to sprinkle the indoor arena sand to keep dust levels down.

I discovered a technique of wetting both paper and chalk and it's akin to painting with sticks of chalk. (I've used both oil sticks and Aquerelle watercolor crayon sticks so it was a natural progression. With the Aquarelles, I weted the stiff morilla board first, or sprayed it with water after the crayon was applied. But I didn't want to use white paper for chalk pastels—besides, morilla board is astronomically expensive to use in the classroom.

So I experimented with all kinds of paper and the ONLY paper that would work was my former school painting/drawing nemesis, construction paper. It has a tooth (texture the chalk needs to adhere to) and the glue that holds the woodpulp together softens and the chalk adheres directly to it. Riverside acid free construction paper works best. Most schools have the worst grade cheap construction paper, but it will work, though it's more fragile and will easily tear.

An added bonus of using chalk wet, the colors are more painterly and vibrant. Cheap kid chalk or hopscotch chalk generally won't work, it's often too hard and will tear the paper, but the heavy teacher white chalkboard chalk is a perfect blending tool with a buttery consistency when wet.

We add black details with the waterbase stabillo pencils at the end of the session. (I also remove black chalk from the pastel sets). Pieces are very fragile until the construction paper dries. I put them on paper towels and in a sunlit window to dry.

Adult pastel sets often have toxic chemicals in them—like vermillion, cadmium and cobalt. Don't use them with kids! make sure the chalks have non-toxic AP labels.

I was nosing around for a silk painting idea and did these instead.

Chalk pastel on construction paper, 6x9" or 9 x 12".

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pass the Power Pole and the Popcorn, photo


So it's really happening. Third time's a charm (or as my grannie would say: turd times a charm). I have electricity for 4 more minutes—then it's 10 hours w/o power. No internet! PG&E is really replacing the power pole this time. And no, I couldn't rescue the 'hood gnome. Sounds like a construction site out there. Lots of buzzy toothy man-toys strewn about on the sidewalk. Chief gnome o' the 'hood.

OK so I'm guessing that "Oh shit" is not a phrase one wants to hear when PG&E workers are swapping out old utility poles. What sounded like a colossal house fart was a utility pole slipping off its moorings—even though we've been without power since 9AM, those lines going up the street lines are live. So, there is a bit by way of fireworks as well.

Luckily, I was inside the house when the pole fell. No sparks, or arcs, but a whole lot of current was disrupted. It was probably safer to be in the house vs. on the street, or, say, in a parked car, but the shearing sound of a pole falling down and electrical lines reverberating was too much to bear. I was out of the house in a flash. Camera at the ready.

I guess the resident utility pole gnome is really pissed off by now. We don't know who the folk artist is who has painted hundreds of gnomes dressed in pantaloons and kilts, on blocks of wood, and installed with hex screws—get it? But s/he installed them on every utility pole in the neighborhood. Unofficial word from the pole swappers is that PG&E is not happy about the growing gnome population, but we've all become rather attached to them.

The guys in the bucket lift crane are performing an exacting ariel ballet with live wires. They wear heavy insulated rubber sleeves, and gauntlet gloves and as they manipulate the wires, I am reminded how fragile life is. They assured us that we'd have power back within 10 hours—but I don't think so, not now. All bets are off. The utility pole is like a ship's mast on the sidewalk. Someone removes the cross poles to untangle the wires. They sing like guitar strings being changed.

Glad I took care of most of my electrical errands. We have propane so I at least I can cook. I'd forgotten how great pan-fried toast tastes. I also orgot to make breakfast this AM, and was cut off mid-sentence with Tony Bucher. Tony and I were preparing for the Seamus Heaney reading next Tuesday evening at the Mechanics' Institute. I got all the publicity out on social media, but I was cut off on Avenali Scholar info. I'm sure Tony was wondering what the rest of the sentence was. No way to fix that now. Only electronics working now is my MacBook and a very dumb phone—painful to text on it.

The name of the sub-contractor who dropped the pole? Intern. Not a name one wants to hear when it comes to rerouting live power lines. OK, maybe not Intern, but Intren. I bet PG&E is not too happy with their subcontractors now.

It is a massive tangle of downed power lines by our back gate. A worker is on the phone to HQ. HQ cannot see him waving his arms. I cannot hear what's being said—but those flailing arms convey the message. The main trunk line sways so gently, I am reminded of a ballet of sloths dancing across open fields. Telephone and cable lines are cut and bundled like black snakes at the corner of the alley.

Now, PG&E proper is here too. A bevy of blue trucks. I suspect the resthome down the street is without power too. I hear generators kicking in for those on life-support. Because we're near the rest home, we often have power when the rest of the neighborhood is without. Not today.

Wow, now the next pole up the street is stressed. The lines are taut. They're attempting to unwire it now. More blue PG&E trucks arrive. The old utility pole is finally freed. Lowered gently to the ground, a fallen patriarch. This day is turning into a little boy's wet dream.

I've managed to recharge one MacBook to 60% while I work on the other one. I just swap out the charger as needed. Rotating MacBooks, that's the ticket. Hey, it's one way to work around the battery limitation. I've moved shop to my car. Great writing space—even if people look at you kind of strange—as if you were some sort of pervert. I like hanging out in my car to read. It's comfy, warm and well lit. Only bummer is that there is no wifi to be had anywhere. I circle the block looking for any free wifi signal. Nada. At least I have a power converter that runs off the cigarette lighter so I can rotate my charging MacBooks. I set up a Mac to Mac file transfer so I can rotate my writing from Mac to Mac when the batteries begin to fail.

It's not yet rush hour, so traffic isn't too bad on MacArthur Boulevard. Yet. It's like the Indie 500 at 5 PM. If this were a fire, it'd be a 3-alarm fire. As it is, there are five big rig trucks plus lots of decked-out utility trucks. Wonder how long I can run my Macs off the car battery? Unless I run the car, the current shuts off every few seconds. so I guess not very long—unless I run the engine. This is not the way to charge a Mac.

Still hoping to find some open wifi on the street. No luck. Because a wide swath of our area is blacked out, no power—all kinds of opportunistic wifi networks with unimaginative router names—Zwire, ATT, Netgear—are popping up all over the 'hood. A few stand out. Fox Den, Someone really named their wifi DirtySlut? Ha! One wifi network is named Surveillance Van #4 and another is called P+_Emergency mobile services—don't think I want to attempt to use those signals. I can almost pull in an open Linksys wifi. Maddening. But not quite. Better to turn off the wifi and save the battery.

Two more utility pole transformers blow—it's a blue light special. More like cannons going off. BOOOOM!! And a Roman candle of blue fireworks. I know transformers are loaded with nasty chemicals, so all windows are closed up tight. Funny having one's office in a car. Ringside seat to the street. Some jackass just parked in the cordoned-off no parking zone. People are daft… Go ahead, touch the downed power cables. I dare ya. Make my day.

More utility poles are affected. Maybe seven in all. PG&E guys are scurrying up poles like rats on a sinking ship. The synagogue is roped off too. People are being escorted into their dwellings across live power lines.

Well, well, well, ATT has finally arrived, trolling the street like sharks. I guess the cable companies will be next. But with no electricity, it's all moot. The pole they're working on now is the old fashioned kind with the blue glass insulators.

I wonder what the resident squirrel thinks of all this? It's time for his afternoon drink. He usually runs up the power cables to the fence. It's a tangle of lines going up the alley—it may be TMI for him. At least most of the loose wires are secured now.

Pretty much the whole block is affected by now. I have a headache. Advil time but I need milk for that. I'm roped off from my house. Because the sidewalks are closed, it's turned into a bit of a party atmosphere.

My MacBook charge is up to 88% w/ engine running. It won't recharge if car isn't running. Maybe I can go back into the house soon. It's up to 91%—that'll carry me for several hours. Think I can call it a day. The light is fading. Time to dig out the candles. Not exactly an evening by the fireside bright.

Sherrie, our next door neighbor suggests, since none of us have power, that we go down to the Fox Theater and see The African Queen. Bogie, it is. A few years ago, we saw the real African Queen moored in the Florida Keys. When we get electricity again, I'm going to look for my photos. Meanwhile, it's time to smack the boiler. Get things back on track. No telling when this will get posted as I don't exactly have wifi. Meanwhile, the silver screen beckons.

Epic fail, AT&T, it’s not our faulty wiring, the power lines are cut, stupid!

My Twitter stream: FRIDAY EVE: @ATT #fail PG&E cut our phone lines—we've no dial-tone or DSL. ATT replies—you've got signal. I said, No we don't—the lines cut. ATT tells me—to reboot your modem. I screech: THE LINES WERE CUT!

We also called @PGE4Me who cut the phone lines & they said oh, we can't fix @ATT lines. I said BUT YOU CUT THEM! Down lines for 3 days! #epicfail

SATURDAY: @ATT #fail PG&E cut phone DSL lines to 12 apts. ATT has the temerity to say—our offices show you have full signal—your inside wiring is faulty. I yell: How could your office show that we have full signal? OF COURSE WE DONT HAVE A SIGNAL. THE LINES WERE CUT!

SATURDAY: @PGE4Me contractor replaced the utility pole—sort of. But then the pole fell, taking out seven other power our utility poles with it.  We’ve been without juice 12 hrs as PGE didn't finish job—cut @ATT lines. We’ve been without  phone/DSL for four days! #fail

SUNDAY: @ATT #fail @PGE4Me replacd utility pole, cut phone/DSL & didn't bother to reconnect lines Fri. ATT tells me—yr inside wiring's faulty—we can fix it Tuesday for a fee. I yowl BUT THE LINE IS CUT!

You'd think people at @ATT would've noticed that many people were without service at the same location—re: cut lines—instead of telling us it's our problem. An inside job.

Awesome, a real @ATT phone line repairman came today—8 hours later he replaced the entire line to 12 bungalows, and fixed fried trunk line on the main power pole—there were nesting birds inside the ATT relay box? Fried birds? Out, out, damned sparrow.

Darwin Awards are in order for the birds & birdbrained phonetree people at @ATT & @PGE4Me— who completely ignored our reports of cut/down lines in the street after the pole was replaced, telling us it was our faulty wiring. The wiring is faulty alright. It’s cut. PG&E is for itself, not for me.

Good old Ma Bell, no brains at the helm at all. I have proof, photos of 4 cut power lines, down in the alley, for 3+ days. Where do I send them? There's a reason why we didn't have dialtone, dudes. Meanwhile I'm working on my DSL smoke signals. Fried bird anyone?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Rocket Man Chris Hadfield

Went to meet the man who fell to earth this afternoon. Starstruck. Yes, I was. Even the Taurid meteor showers welcomed Rocket Man Col. Chris Hadfield to California! The sky gave him a high five and a standing ovation. The meteor didn't streak, it hung there in the sky like a lantern. Was it a meteor or space debris, or a spent space capsule welcoming Chris? Does it matter?

It's not about the destination. Arriving. "it's always about the journey, and the places in between" said Col. Chris Hadfield. Happy Carl Sagan Day!

When I was teaching a class on Sonoma County history for Elderhostel (1980s) I met a retired NASA scientist who worked on the Apollo project. Because I brought bucketsfull of my favorite rocks to class to demonstrate Sonoma County's diverse geology, he brought me a piece of the moon to hold. I held a piece of the moon in my hand. Basalt. And in Guatemala, Donna Champion's cousin Raúl let me hold a Mayan smoking mirror—a meteorite. Utterly changed, I was.

Starstruck I am! And Cmdr_Hadfield was phenomenal—especially with the kids. He even sang Space Oddity, and Rocket Man for us. There were 300+ people packed into the bookstore, it was a zoo! When it was my turn to meet him, I gave Col. Chris Hadfield Neil’s CD, and he signed my package of Frozen astronaut ice cream.

A bit of synchronicity, as I typeD this, on the TV Elton John is singing Rocket Man. Someone asks me what astronaut ice cream tastes like. I grouse, It's not about the taste of astronaut ice cream, it's about the signature! Chris was the first Canadian astronaut and space oddity to sing David Bowie from outer space!

(Why is it that every single photo that someone takes of me with famous people is ALWAYS out of focus?)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


After a rainstorm, I watched small gulls at Lake Merritt dancing on the grass. I don't know what kind of gull—perhaps Sabine's gulls. They had sooty heads and white dots on their tail feathers. They'd dance, then tilt their heads sideways, as if to listen. And then, dance again. Pause. Listen. Dance. All around the lake. Small dancing gulls. I remembered an odd photo I found in a museum basement. Lake Pomo Indians tapping the earth with walking sticks. The caption read they were drumming a raindance to make the worms come up. Then it all fell into place. What was concealed. The gulls were dancing for worms, their feet thrumming the rhythm of the rain.


Monday, November 4, 2013


According to the Celtic astrology chart, I was Reed, the hound and owl, my totems. My ogham was  ///. My stone was jasper, my color, salmon. I laughed at fate. But I began to dream of blood-red stones bleeding into the marsh. The owl and hound alternated a chorus of hue and cry. Arrows dipped in yew berries. Bog bodies, murdered in triplicate, still dreamed of escape. Distant salmon returned home. Rare coinage of wisdom and knowledge—squandered.

11.4.2013  75 words
rev 11.5

Flashnano Day 4: Write a story that is exactly 75 words long

Nov. 4: This is not what I meant to say

Take the phrase “(blank) Sheet,” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then write the poem.

FIRST DRAFT: I had to download this chart in order to read it. I am Reed, the hound and owl are my totems. My ogham is /// (with a strikethru bar in the middle). My color is salmon red (clearly I was born in the wrong month—I don't DO orange), my stone is jasper. I can live with that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


                            —for Robert Peake

Last time I was in London, I hated the squalor.
Only when I crash-landed in a little used parlour—
decked in clashing cabbage rose wallpaper, 
chintz and bric-a-brack, starched antimacassars
covering the striped silk-covered horsehair sofa, 
as we so carefully perched, slurping our tea—
only then did I feel at ease. We were strangers,
distant relatives, my two girlfriends and I.

As I wandered across Hammersmith Bridge, 
I spied a pearly king all in his Sunday finery,
top hat & coattails adorned in wheels & crosses
made of flashies—mother-of-pearl buttons.
Reflections of a glinting sea & secret shells.
No hippie, the old man had the sense to ignore
the American urchin in the land of Cockaigne.

The river hissed strange, dank secrets.
And the clouds over Hammersmith, 
seethed and roiled over the Thames. 
Water seeking the ablution of water.
I was trapped in a painting by Frangonard, 
or perhaps by Watteau. Bucolic & melancholic,
I was a teenager, far from home & homesick.

Whenever I find a real button in the street
I save rare coinage for the pearly king.
Closest I ever get to London these days 
is Gatwick Airport, but your poems 
they make me long for an imagined place 
to welcome me home with frail arms
held as wide as the lumbering sky.


PAD Write a “the last time I was here” poem. Imagine you’re returning to a spot (physical, emotional, psychological, etc.): Is it a good thing? Bad thing? What did you leave behind (if anything)? What’s there to welcome you back (again, if anything)?

FIRST DRAFT: Being a country bumpkin from the wilds of West Marin, I hated London. Only when I landed in the distant rellies' seldom used parlour—replete with clashing cabbage rose wallpaper, bricabrack and a silk covered horsehair sofa, in Hammersmith, did I feel at ease. As I walked across Hammersmith Bridge, a Cockney Pearlie King was striding down the sidewalk. I followed him, and marvelled at his topcoat tails covered in fantastic designs and crosses done in mother of pearl buttons. And the clouds over Hammersmith, the Thames. Oh, the clouds, they were marvellous. I was 19. First time away from home. Closest I ever get to London these days is Gatwick Airport but Robert's poems make me want to give it another go.

Note bene: many of my poems come from Facebook posts. One reason why I'm so active on Facebook is because it triggers surprising writing prompts. Fitting them onto PAD writing prompts is an artifice. But that really doesn't matter, because the poem must stand alone in the end.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Today's headlines: Trove of Looted Nazi Art Found in a Berlin Flat.

The people of Leningrad mourned for the art was lost during Nazi occupation. Many pieces from the Hermitage were never recovered. The people of Leningrad attempted to hide one million pieces of art—they hid paintings by taking them off their frames, rolling them up, and storing them in sheds, barns, and caves with the cows. They buried pots and gold coins underground. For that, they were starved during the siege. The cattle killed. But they would not give up the art to the Nazis and they mourned for what was lost. Communal gardens began sprouting rare china, then bones, and a harvest of teeth. Like the Bibi Yar. Russians still make up stories of the fabled lost amber room of Catherine the Great. Perhaps someday we'll find other Nazi caches in Swiss vaults, German apartments, and Argentinian haciendas. My fear is that when this art is repatriatied to the heirs of the original owners, it'll disappear back into vaulted caves. But the work of Chagall Picasso and Matisse belongs to the daylighted world. Not the past. 

rev 11/5

Flashnano Day 2: Write a story that incorporates a piece of scientific/analytic data

Write a “news of the day” poem. The poem shou
ld use some sort of recent news event as a springboard. It can be a news story from today (this morning), but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, you could even go “old school” and find news stories from archived sources–like the “news of the day” from 1936 (to pick a random year).

When I was in the USSR, I was told that there were still many lost Nazi art caches. This is one of them found. Many pieces from the Hermitage were never recovered. The people of Leningrad attempted to hide one million pieces of art—they hid paintings by taking them off their frames, rolling them up, and storing them in sheds, barns, and caves. Buried pots and gold underground. For that, they were starved during the siege. But they would not give up the art and they still mourn for what was lost. People still make up stories of the survival of the fabled amber room of Catherine the Great. And so many other artifacts that belong to the world (not just the Hermitage) were lost. Perhaps someday we'll find other Nazi caches in Swiss vaults and German apartments and Argentinian haciendas.


There was a time when the fall
was punctuated with stacking firewood. 
My grandmother at the cross sawhorse, 
& me, a child stacking cords of wood
against the shingled wall of the shed.
She showed me how to wedge the ends
with split wood to make a jigsaw puzzle.
When she sawed through the sawhorse, 
we changed jobs, I sawed, she stacked,
each year, she moved a little slower,
while I became expert at greasing
bow saw blades too precious to snap.
The saw bit into sunlit sawdust, an acrid legacy.
The axe & wedge split the secret heartwood.
Over the years, we built great cord walls
that could stretch to China, or the moon.
Nothing was wasted. Mulched leaves
kept the garden warm. Without kindling
the sap from the oak & bay wouldn't bleed
& sing of secret aquifers, or cry of old storms.
They'd gurgle & hiss in dark sooted tongues
and then flood the house with smoke.
So we coaxed their gift of heat & light
with small scraps from the woodpile.
Impatient, I stomped on a green bay branch
to break it in two for kindling, but the tip
lashed back to pierce my upper lip. 
Two inches away from blindness
I was, that day.        A font of blood
bathed my teeth in metallic sacrifice.
I was a big girl, so I swallowed
back the tears, and stacked wood
for the coming winter.

rev 11/5/2013
in the forthcoming CPITS 50th anniversary anthology

November 2 prompt: This is my body

: was a time when the fall was punctuated with the stacking of firewood. My grandmother at the cross saw horse, me stacking neat cords of wood against the wall of the shed. She eventually sawed through the sawhorse. We changed jobs, I sawed, she stacked wood. As I made a kindling pile, I stomped on a branch to break it in two, and the flexible end whipped around an pierced my upper lip. Two inches away from blindness I was that day.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Total eclipse of the sun at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau,
the City of Refuge, Hawaii, 1991.

I was snorkeling with the manini,
the striped reef fish, who gathered
around me like a gown of yellow leaves
as the sun disappeared behind the moon.
The birds no sooner sang the sun up, 
when they prepared for sleep again.

The wild wind stilled, the stars shone.
The sun was a black Van Gogh sunflower. 
Bailey's beads rippled, a spritzer of light,
then, a diamond ring nearly blinded us.
Ghost visions danced as a Hawaiian couple
dressed in tapa cloth and feather cloaks,
exchanged vows at the Hale O Keawe heiau.
Though we broke kapu, we avoided certain death,
we were not ha ole, without breath, without honi.

Their kahuna sang the sun back into the sky.
The ali'i answered. Solar winds rose. The sea
was garlanded in leis of pikake maile leaves.
The manini drifted off, fire danced on the water.
The collective aha! as we breathed in the mana 
and sang alo ha! to the returning sun.

rev 11/5/2013


November Poem a Day prompts

I may stash several prompts here and not on the days they were listed. It creates far too many empty posts that I never get around to finishing. I also fell off the wagon on Day 9. So sorry. Too much to do with Poetry Out Loud packets to get out to schools, my birthday, Thanksgiving, etc. But hopefully you've a much better track record than I. I also may come back and revisit these prompts later.

Molly Fisk's first 5 free prompts (join her bootcamp to get the rest):
November 1 I keep looking up from my desk and seeing ghosts....
November 2 prompt: This is my body
November 3 prompt: You gotta dance somewhere...
Nov. 4: This is not what I meant to say
Nov. 5: (Verbatim fortune cookie fortune): Being an able man. There are always.

You will need to join her group for the rest of the prompts.

But Iris Johnson @irjohnso is posting her responses on Twittter (so you can figure out the prompts), or visit her blog Poet 2.0 to see her responses.
Day 6: Untitled Hate Poem
Day 7: Make Them Float in Your Mouth
Day 8: You Left Me in the Woods 

Check out Molly Fisk's On-line Personal Essay Boot Camp 

Check out Robert Lee Brewer's 2013 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Guidelines November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge. I try not to read his examples before I've a first draft down as i find I want to write something linked to his idea and I want to work closer to the void—or the empty bowl. (I also combine several prompts), but you might want to see them if you want more inspiration. Visit his site at Poem-A-Day.

Write an appearing poem. This could be a poem about something (or someone) appearing out of nowhere. Or it could be about appearances–appearing one way to some people; appearing another way to others. If you’re new to my prompts, let me share one thing: I’m totally fine with you stretching the prompt in any direction you need to write; in fact, I encourage it. Now get poeming!

Write a “news of the day” poem. The poem should use some sort of recent news event as a springboard. It can be a news story from today (this morning), but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, you could even go “old school” and find news stories from archived sources–like the “news of the day” from 1936 (to pick a random year).

Write a “the last time I was here” poem. Imagine you’re returning to a spot (physical, emotional, psychological, etc.): Is it a good thing? Bad thing? What did you leave behind (if anything)? What’s there to welcome you back (again, if anything)?

Take the phrase “(blank) Sheet,” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then write the poem. Possible titles might include: “Rap Sheet,” “Blank Sheet,” “How to Fold a Sheet,” “I Look Like a Ghost Beneath This Holey Sheet,” etc. Feel free–as always–to bend and break the prompt to your will. The poeming is what matters

“Two for Tuesday” prompts on Tuesdays. In that way, I get to pretend like I’m a DJ on a radio station. Here are the two prompts today:

Write a concealed poem. Could be about a concealed weapon, concealing emotions, concealing intentions, etc. Cover it up and write about it.

Write an unconcealed poem. Okay, take everything from the first prompt and uncover it. Reveal everything that’s hidden.

Write a hardship poem. The hardship could be moving forward after a tragic loss, having to work through a difficult problem, or even just showing up to work. It can be serious, funny, or complicated.

Take the phrase “The Other (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Some possible titles may include: “The Other Side of the Story,” “The Other Brother,” “The Other Hand,” or whatever else you concoct. And remember: I really don’t care if you bend or break the prompt in your favor.

Write a poem incorporating something sweet. Maybe a cake or pie. Possibly a candy bar or pixie stick (you know, that paper straw with delicious sugar inside–mmm). Or move it sweetly in another direction.

Write ekphrastic poetry–or poetry based off another piece of art. In the past, I’ve provided paintings, but today, I’m picking photographs (for something a little different). You may use one of the images below or choose your own.

“Two for Tuesday” prompt. Do one, do the other, do both, whatever keeps you poeming this month:
Write a poem about your happiest moment. Well, doesn’t have to be yours actually. Just a moment that is someone’s happiest.
Write a poem about your saddest moment. Conversely, take happy, flip it, and make it the saddest moment.write a self-help poem. It can be written in the style of a self-help article or book. Or you can take it in a more subtle self-help direction.

Write an exploration poem. Maybe you’re exploring a new land, the depths of quarks, outer space, the mind, the soul, etc. Your call. In fact, it could be said that most poems are an exploration of one sort or another.

Take the phrase “What (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles might include: “What Luck,” “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas,” “Whatever You Say,” and so on.

Write a half-way poem. The poem might deal with a half-way point in time. Or perhaps, a place in the dead center of here and there–in a physical sense. Even a compromise on terms in a negotiation can work.

Write an element poem. Maybe an element from the periodic table (hydrogen, oxygen, etc.). Maybe an element of surprise?!? Or a missing element, which could refer to a person, tool, or poem. Run wild with it.

Write a “forget what I said earlier” poem. This poem could be a response to a poem you wrote earlier in the challenge (or just earlier in general). Or it could cover one of those moments–I have them all the time–when you say something that ends up proving wrong or that you wish you’d taken back.

“Two for Tuesday” prompt. In fact, it’s the one that I include in every challenge. Old hands knew this one was coming sooner or later. Here are your two options:
Write a love poem. Romantic or more general types of love. Or…
Write an anti-love poem. Some folks just don’t like love poems of any type, so have at it.

Take the phrase “Always (blank),” replace the blank with a new word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: “Always on My Mind,” “Always Wrong,” “Always Writing Poems That Don’t Sound as Good the Next Day,” etc.

Write a secret message poem. Maybe it’s a coded message, a message in a bottle, sign language, foreign language, etc. Confession time: I’m often (though not always) hiding messages in my poems, and nothing rocks my world more than when readers catch them.For today’s prompt, write a poem using at least three of the following six words:

Use the words in the title of your poem, in the body of your poem, and feel free to play with them (by which, I mean, make them plural, past tense, etc.)write an “I shouldn’t be here” poem. You can decide where you shouldn’t be: maybe it’s a place, maybe it’s a time, or maybe (just maybe) it’s a state of mind. Shake yourself loose in a poem.

Write a poem that responds to a statement. You can use any statement, quote, etc., that you wish, but I’ve included a few to make it easier. That said, feel free to find and use a different statement for your poem.

Here are some quotes:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” – Virginia Woolf
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

Take a poem from earlier in the challenge (that you’ve written) and remix it. You could take a free verse poem and re-work it into a villanelle or shadorma. You could re-work multiple poems into a new one. You could take a line from one of the poems and write a response poem to it. Or you can take it in an entirely different direction.

“Two for Tuesday” prompt of November. Let’s make the most of it. Here are the prompts:
Take the phrase “Free (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Example titles might include: “Free Bird,” “Freedom Isn’t Free,” “Free Offer,” etc.

Take the phrase “(blank) Free,” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Example titles might include: “Fat Free,” “Stone Free,” “How to Be Free,” etc.write a local poem. By local, I’m thinking of something that happens or has happened in your neck of the woods, but you know, I’m never against poets bending and/or breaking my rules. So feel free to play with the concept of local however you wish.

Write a bird poem. Pick a bird, any bird, and write a poem about it. Or just write a poem that happens to have a bird somewhere in it.

Write a commercial poem. This prompt makes me think about the commercialism decried in Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, but there are any number of ways to attack a commercial poem. I have complete faith in everyone here being able to take this prompt in wild, new directions.

Write a disappearing poem.

Now during the month of December, revise those poems. Visit Robert Lee Brewer's site for information on how to submit your chapbook.  2013 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Guidelines Good luck!

FLASH NANO on Facebook, or check out Nancy Stohlman''s blog.
Let go of exposition.
Let go of description.
Let your silences become informative.
Let go of extra words.

Day 1: Write a story that takes place in a hotel.
Day 2: Write a story that incorporates a piece of scientific/analytic data.
Day 3: Write a story that takes place late at night.
Day 4: Write a story that is exactly 75 words long.
 Day 5: Found text. "Find" a piece of text--non-literary but prose, such as a pamphlet, brochure, contract, junk mail, directions, etc. Write a story that mimics or is otherwise inspired by it.
Day 6: Write a story that includes a piece of real overheard dialogue.
Day 7: Write a story where someone has an illness, real or invented.
Day 8: Write a story that includes all four of these words: pineapple, beauty, bifocals, grass.

Day 9: Write a story inspired by a story of your grandparent.


Write a poem using 8-10  of Marcel Proust's character prompts in any order. Answer in full sentences, not phrases. Poem needs to stand alone away from prompts. And yes, you may eat madelines as you write.
Marcel Proust's Character Questionnaire 

              * what do you consider your greatest achievement?
              * what is your idea of perfect happiness?
              * what is your current state of mind?
              * what is your favorite occupation?
              * what is your most treasured possession?
              * what or who is the greatest love of your life?
              * what is your favorite journey?
              * what is your most marked characteristic?
              * when and where were you the most happiest?
              * what is it that you most dislike?
              * what is your greatest fear?
              * what is your greatest extravagance?
              * which living person do you most despise?
              * what is your greatest regret?
              * which talent would you most like to have?
              * where would you like to live?
              * what do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
              * what is the quality you most like in a man?
              * what is the quality you most like in a woman?
              * what is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
              * what is the trait you most deplore in others?
              * what do you most value in your friends?
              * who is your favorite hero of fiction?
              * whose are your heroes in real life?
              * which living person do you most admire?
              * what do you consider the most overrated virtue?
              * on what occasions do you lie?
              * which words or phrases do you most overuse?
              * if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
              * what are your favorite names?
              * how would you like to die?
              * if you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
              * what is your motto?

Write a letter of advice to your younger/older self:
See Naomi Wolf’s letter of advice to her younger self 

30 Flash Fiction Prompts–Flashnano 2012 from Nancy Stohlman''s blog.
1: Write a story in which something transforms into something else.
2: Write a true story that is so ___________(insert adjective here) that no one would believe it’s true. But it is.
3: Find a story you’ve written that isn’t quite working. Chop it down to exactly 100 words. Give it a new title.
4: Write a story that is based in or uses elements of mythology–any mythology from any culture or time period.
5: Bibliomancy–open the dictionary to any random page, place your finger on any random word and poof! That is the title (or part of the title) of your next story.
6: Write a story from the point of view of someone much older than you.
7: Write a story about or featuring a body part. (Heads out of the gutters, people, there are other body parts!)
8: Write a secret, preferably one you think no one could relate to.
9: Write a story in which something important is lost.
10: Use a dream or pieces of a dream to create a surreal, alter-reality story.
11: Find a story of yours that’s not quite working. WITHOUT rereading it (this is key), rewrite it from scratch, letting it morph as necessary. Then compare the two and blend to taste.
12: Write a story that begins with, and consists mostly of, dialogue.
13: Write a story that deals with or includes some aspect of a taboo.
14: Write a story that has happened to you but write it from another person’s point of view.
15: Write a story that involves a reoccurring and/or deep dark fear.
16: Write a story that’s happened to someone else, but write it as if it happened to you.
17: Write a story that has some reference to a current event.
18: Write a story that involves an animal.
19: Write a story in which you spill a secret, yours or someone else’s. Disguise as necessary.
20: Write a story that takes place in an empty landscape.
21: Rewrite a scene from history.
22: Write a story that involves time travel.
23: Write a story that contains at least three of these elements: body lice, gasoline, a Hostess product, a childhood hero, an outdated slang expression, a song title or your favorite flavor.
24: Write a story that contains elements of a real holiday memory.
25: Write a story that takes place over breakfast.
26: Write a story that includes a humiliation, real or invented.
27: Write a story that involves a celebrity.
28: Write a story in which the impossible is now possible.
29: Revisit a story you’ve written. Count the words. Now reduce the word count by half.
30: Write a story with a theme of “The End.”

Check out TEDs Andrew Fitzgerald: Adventures in Twitter fiction Create a linked Twitter story or poem.

See also Alexander McCall Smith's 6-tweet stories. ‏@McCallSmith 
A short story from Croatia
Chapter 1. A small town on a Croatian island had a harbour. Visiting yachts tied up at the pier.
Chapter 2. For many years Bruno, one of the villagers, charged the yachtsmen to tie up. He collected the fee, and pocketed it.
Chapter 3. People began to complain. “Under what authority do you charge for this?” they asked. “Why do we have to pay?”
Chapter 4. The people of the village said: “But Bruno depends on this.” They made him a uniform: white with gold buttons.
Chapter 5. Bruno was able to put up his charges. Nobody complained. A uniform may reassure both wearer and the public. The end.

A very short Italian story. Chapter 1. Ernesto lived in Parma and had a petrol station. He also had a very glamorous daughter, Fabricia.
Chapter 2. Fabricia attracted an unsuitable suitor, Salvatore, a swarthy Neapolitan who wore gold chains: not what Ernesto wanted. 
Chapter 3. Ernesto decided that the best tactic would be to buy Fabricia a very expensive red sports car, a Ferrari in fact. 
Chapter 4. Fabricia took Salvatore for a ride in her new car. Then he stole it, and disappeared, presumably back to Naples.
Chapter 5. Ernesto said to his daughter: “Darling, many men are untrustworthy – particularly ones who wear heavy gold chains.” 
Chapter 6: She said: “Daddy, you are so prejudiced! I am so sad. I loved Salvatore.” Ernesto said: “You’ll learn.” She did. End.

And if you still want more prompts, I've lots & lots I collected from APRIL POEM A DAY links. During April I reposted from four different writers: PAD, Molly Fisk, NaNoPoMo, and Facebook writing prompts—3 to 4 prompts each day for the entire month. More than enough to inspire the inner poet.