Starting a new blog!

It’s been so long since I posted, it’s time to start over. I will be posting here on my new blog.

Endings in the Dead of Winter…

Driving up and down Oregon is something I have done a lot, but never during a winter storm. My 91-year-old mother was ailing and on hospice care. It would be only a matter of time, so I packed, got the car serviced, and headed south toward California on a Thursday morning. The December weather was worrisome. Rain poured down in a deluge and it was hard to see the road, making for slow driving, but lots of other cars were traveling south as well, cars with Oregon plates, and I found this very encouraging. I had already read online that the Siskiyou Pass on I-5 was very hazardous and icy, so I thought I’d cut across to Florence and take the coast route instead, but that road turned out to be closed. I found out later that there’d been a landslide. That left driving to Grant’s Pass and taking Highway 199 to Crescent City.

Rain turned to heavy snow south of Roseburg, but the big, fat flakes weren’t sticking to the pavement yet. There are several summits between Roseburg and Grant’s Pass, and the first one, Canyon Creek, was okay. This was the highest one, so I figured I’d make it to Grant’s Pass before snow covered the road, but at the bottom, traffic came to a halt. For three hours. Cars were backed up ahead of me as far as I could see, and they backed up behind me for ten miles at least. And there we sat. All that time, snow continued to fall, making it less and less likely I’d be able to get to Grant’s Pass. I used up a quarter tank of gas keeping the car idling and the heater on low.


At times like this, driving alone becomes very lonely. I wished I had someone with me in the car. The woman in the black Lincoln ahead of me kept getting out to look around. She was wearing what looked like pajama pants with sock monkeys all over them.

I texted my daughter, Eithne, and she went online to find out what had happened. She texted me back that I-5 was closed. I wondered how long we’d be stranded. I got out a couple of times myself; the snow on the road was slippery. Somebody said there’d been an accident ahead at Wolf Creek which had closed the freeway. Eithne kept checking back. My sister, Carolyn, sent prayers, and after three hours, we began to move forward at a crawl to a spot where a man from ODOT gave us instructions, one car at a time. We were being sent back to Roseburg. He told me to get off at the next exit, which had been plowed, and get back on the freeway going north. They had plowed one lane of the Canyon Creek Pass, so we were able to get through. A lot of snow had accumulated during those three hours.

It was beautiful, like a Christmas card with all the tall firs and spruces covered with snow. Waterfalls cascaded down the banks bordering the freeway. The rivers raged wild, the water dark and cold.

Southbound cars and trucks on the other side of the freeway were backed up for miles. Eithne called to tell me she’d booked me a room at the Super 8 in Roseburg. I was glad she did; the “No Vacancy” sign went up right after I got there.

I was exhausted. I thought I’d have to postpone my trip and return to Portland the next day. Chains were now required on all the passes, and I am not a confident snow driver. “At least I tried,” I told myself.

Friday morning, I kept checking road conditions. By 10 a.m., the situation had improved, and I drove to Grant’s Pass. Going over the passes was a bit iffy, but I made it through. The streets were plowed in Grant’s Pass, and I headed on down Highway 199, a winding corkscrew, towards California. Plows had been through, and snow was piled up on the road shoulders—no place to pull over. Gas stations looked like you’d get stuck in them and not be able to get out. Snow had cleared by the time I got to the end of 199 and merged onto 101.

I stopped in Crescent City for clam chowder. I texted Carolyn, who was, I think, much relieved. She gave me the number of the Super 8 in Fortuna, a couple of hours south.

The motel was across the street from the Eel River Brewing Co., where I had supper—Greek salad and an excellent dark beer. A guy at the next table saw me using my Mac and asked if I write. He told me he’s writing a Sci-Fi novel and is about halfway through. He was about my age, all gray hair. So cool… a writer in Fortuna!

The drive through the redwood forests and green hills of Northern California was gorgeous—so green it was almost neon. Winter driving has its problems, but the beauty made up for it all. It was Saturday evening when I pulled my car into Mother’s driveway.

San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge

The furniture in Mother’s bedroom had been shoved aside to make room for the hospital bed, oxygen unit, commode, and boxes and trays of supplies. Mary Ann, the nurse’s aide, sat in the corner by the window.

Seeing Mother was a shock. Always slender at about 130, she was down to 91 pounds and looked like a skeleton in the hospital bed. She looked like she’d been in a concentration camp. I  told her I’d come all the way from Portland to see her. “I know who you are,” she said. I don’t think she knew me after that.

That was the start of a week-long vigil from which I still haven’t recovered.

Mother’s condition deteriorated a bit more each day. In the corner, 24 hours a day, sat the CNA caregiver. Mary Lou was there the day I came; the next day it was Rita. Both of them were wonderful. I didn’t get to know the night shift nurses as well.

The bedroom across the hall from Mother’s room had been turned into a TV room—really a junk depository—but the sofa pulled out into a bed, and that’s where I slept.

Besides me, the people in the house were Mother in the hospital bed, the CNA nurse on shift, my niece Andrea, and Yvonne, Mother’s companion/caregiver before she took a turn for the worse. Yvonne was in the process of sorting through her belongings and preparing to move out. My other niece, Jennifer, was in and out, as were my sisters, Carolyn and Rosemary.

Out in the orchard a solitary buck with a fine rack of antlers was eating fallen apples and standing on his hind legs to pick ones that were still on the tree. He was there most mornings. There were rabbits in the yard, too.



On Christmas, Mother seemed to revive a bit. She was feeding herself, holding a grape and taking small bites. A book the Hospice nurse gave us said people will often rally before the end, and that was the last time Mother ate or drank. The next morning, Rita said she could no longer swallow; “Her condition has changed.”

After that, Mother was unconscious most of the time. The nurses had little moist sponges on a stick to swab out the patient’s mouth and keep it moist. Mother was even choking on those. There were long gaps between breaths, at irregular intervals. She was on oxygen all the time now, lying there semi-comatose, getting morphine at regular intervals. The nurses had seen it so much, they could say, “It won’t be tonight.” They told us it is painful to die because of the circulation shutting down, and the morphine kept her from having any pain. Mother’s hands were getting bluish and cyanotic. The night nurse, Rosa, said, “She won’t wake up again.”

We all kept going in and watching her breathe. Every time there was a long pause, we’d think she was gone, but then she’d start again.

Saturday, December 29, we wandered in and out. Mother had not eaten or drunk any fluids since Tuesday. Mary Lou said when people are about to die, there is an odor, and she was smelling it now. She said it was a spicy odor. I didn’t notice it, being there all the time, but I noticed it afterwards, and it seemed to increase even after she was gone. Mary Lou said Mother was waiting for Eithne, her other granddaughter, to come. I told Mother Eithne was coming; not that she appeared to hear me, but the hospice booklet and information I had read online said hearing is the last sense to go. It lasts until the end, so keep talking to the person. Eithne did arrive that afternoon. She said Mother responded when she touched her and spoke to her. The rest of us thought she was in a coma and perhaps no longer here at that point, so maybe she was waiting for Eithne.

We all went out to dinner at a restaurant just a mile down Carmel Valley Road. We came right back and sat in the room with Mother. We talked about movies and joked about an actor with the nicknames “Captain Tightpants” and “Captain No Pants” after a scene showing full posterior nudity. Andrea called him “Captain McBooty Buns.” We were all laughing when it happened. Mother stopped breathing. We crowded around the bed.

The nurse, Sylvia, said “It is done.” She made phone calls. Her employer told her to leave. She told me that Mother had tried to die while we were out having dinner, but then she held on and started breathing again. She waited for us to come back and felt that at last she could go when her children were all around her in the room, laughing.

What a beautiful, beautiful thing to say. 

Isla Vista, 42 Years After the Riots

Joel and I were lovers during the 1970 riots when I was a student at UC Santa Barbara. The riots happened in Isla Vista, a densely packed, beachfront ghetto of cheaply built student housing next to the university campus. My apartment was right on the police riot patrol loop. Armored trucks circled the neighborhood again and again. During those nights, they would lob tear gas canisters into people’s yards and onto porches and balconies. The gas leaked in around the doors and windows of the crummy apartments, and we lay on the floor holding wet towels over our faces in order to breathe. Outside, the police shot the tires of parked cars and gunned down dogs or cats that wandered out on the streets. Isla Vista was a town under siege, a police state. No one was safe. Nothing was safe.

KCSB, the campus radio station, is still there.

KCSB, the campus radio station, is still there.


Most of us students cowered in our apartments, listening to KCSB’s live reporters, our only source of news about what was happening outside. I still remember the horror I felt when the station manager announced that the police had ordered KCSB taken off the air. I was raised to believe this couldn’t happen in America. It was an awakening that changed me forever.

KCSB is the only radio station in USA history that was shut down to suppress its news reporting. It happened after a police officer accidentally fired his rifle from a convoy of huge dump trucks that barreled in around 1 a.m. the morning of April 18, 1970, killing a student. The police said he was killed by a sniper’s bullet. They said Isla Vista was full of snipers with high-powered rifles. They lied. They knew that same night that Kevin Moran had been shot by a police officer, but they stuck to their sniper story for three full days.

Many of the old landmarks are gone, but the apartment where I lived on Sabado Tarde is still there.

The duplex on Sabado Tarde

The duplex on Sabado Tarde

This used to be the Sun and Earth health food store.

Sun and Earth

Sun and Earth

A university lecture hall with new trees stands where the bank was burned.


The Magic Lantern Theatre showed lots of independent art films. It looks just like it did years ago. The covered walkway leading to the theatre entrance is on the right. The building on the left used to be the Red Lion bookstore, the best bookstore of my life and one of my favorite places of all time.


Borsodi’s Coffeehouse, across the street from the bank, is no more. Most of the shops including Unicorn Books, the head shop, the Rexall, the record store… they’re gone. But the beach still looks the way I remember. Even the oil platform is still there.

The beach looking toward Devereaux point

The beach looking toward Devereaux point

Oil Platform Holly

Oil Platform Holly

Little Free Libraries


I throw a few books in a backpack and head out to a tiny, tiny library. I open the door and put the books inside. Next time I come by, my books will be gone and different ones will be there…

Lately, I’ve been taking long walks through the neighborhoods of Northeast Portland. I go up and down the streets searching for Poetry Posts like this one and pausing to read the poems.

“Consolations” by William Stafford

love Poetry Posts. A few years ago, I only knew of one. Now there are lots. Every walk is a literary adventure… and now, even more delightful, are the Little Free Libraries! I discovered the first one last summer in the upscale Alameda neighborhood. It looked like a very large Poetry Post, but instead of a sheet of paper with a poem, it was crammed full of books!!! I have since discovered three more. They’re enchanting and adorable. This one is in my neighborhood, about 6 blocks away.




Pretty in Pink

The elevators were jammed and Molly had to go down six flights of stairs in order to get outside after the floodwaters receded. Cars cluttered the streets, pointing every which way, some of them upside down, some lying on their sides, and the buildings sagged and tilted sideways. Doors gaped open on their hinges, showing cave-like interiors with splintered walls. Molly picked her way to the outskirts of the ruined city and across a strange, barren landscape. Her feet broke the crust of the sticky mud, and she trudged over rocks and bits of splintered wood that were all that remained of the stands of eucalyptus trees. For this expedition, she should have put on something practical like the gray coveralls she wore at work. She felt pretty in her pink angora sweater and matching bracelets, but they felt silly now. What was the point of preening, anyway? She had never been so alone. Where was everybody? Had they all drowned, or were they cowering in the ruined buildings? Two white towers in the distance looked familiar; she thought they might be part of the amusement park on the waterfront, but she wasn’t sure.

She was on a hard beach without any sand. The towers loomed over her like smokestacks on a sunken ship. Eerie, sinister music began to play, like a wheezing organ with holes in its bellows, and she caught her breath and froze. Danger! An arch like a gateway beckoned—safety was on the other side. If she could just make it through! She ran, feet slamming on the hard pavement. Just inside the arch stood a pair of gigantic conch shells, facing outwards, but as she drew near, they turned and aimed their points at her like guns or like spears, barring her way.

Not Jealous

An excerpt from what I’m working on now…

Ma is in a rotten mood. “Leave me be, Crankypants—don’t bother me now,” was what she said when I asked about John. She’s so grumpy, I ought to call her Crankypants. But then I’d be grounded, and I’d have to say “sorry,” and I’m not a bit sorry.

Ma went to Ireland to see John after she sent the money that saved Dad’s life. I wanted to go, too. I wanted to meet my brother, but she said no, she wanted to do a bit of shopping and I’d only be in the way. I think she lied, though. She didn’t bring back any packages. She didn’t bring me a present—all she brought back was a mean look on her face.

Ma, Francisco, and I are out on the back patio. Ma and Francisco sit at the table, drinking wine. I take my lemonade over to the Jurassic parking strip in the garden and play with my dinosaurs. The Allosaurus goes after the Stegosaurus; I make him go boing-boing-boing on his back legs like a kangaroo. I make some growly noises. Urgghhh, Ahgrrrhhh!”

“Mi amor,” Francisco says to Ma. “What is wrong with you? You’ve been snapping everyone’s head off since you went to Dublin. Were they horrible to you?”

“Of course not. They were all so grateful, it was pathetic.”

“Grrrhhh,” the Allosaurus says. “I’ll snap your head off.” The Stegosaurus goes “Meep-meep” and turns his back.

“Then… what is it?” Francisco says. The dinosaurs and I are quiet, listening.

“They were all together, the whole clan—having a vigil, I suppose, and there on the loveseat, like part of the family, was the American whore. Same slutty red hair—I recognized her immediately. I was floored. I had no idea! He told me they were finished—she was a one-night stand that he never saw again. He must have run straight to her when I threw him out. There were children all over the place besides John—any of them could have been hers and his.”

Silly Allosaurus keeps coming, and Stegosaurus gives it to him with the thagomizer on the end of his tail—four deadly spikes—crunch! “Ow-ow-ow!” Allosaurus drags himself away.

“This bothers you?” Francisco says. “Why would you care? Don’t tell me you miss him?”

“Francisco! How could you think that? It’s that I just spent a fortune to save his pathetic, miserable life, only to be slapped in the face with another of his lies. It was galling. I feel used, taken advantage of. He cheats on me, lies about it, and I practically bankrupt myself for him.”

“You didn’t do it for him. You did it for the boys because they begged you to save him. Forget him. He never asked you; he doesn’t even need to know about it. Ask John and the others to tell him he was saved by an anonymous benefactor, a philanthropist.”

What’s a philanthropist? I wonder.

Ma screws up her mouth sideways. “I don’t know… it’s tempting, but on the other hand, I do want him to know. He’ll owe me for the rest of his life. He’ll be like a trout with a hook in his mouth and me holding the line. We’ll see how Miss U.S.A. likes that!

“Anne.” No more “mi amor”—he sounds mad. “This is very unbecoming of you and upsetting to me. Perhaps you’re the one who lies. You’re jealous, over a man you told me you care nothing about.”

Ma’s face gets purple and her eyes bug out—she’s so angry she looks like she might explode or shoot out a bunch of purplish-black ink like an octopus. I squeeze myself behind a mock orange bush so she won’t see me. My lemonade glass falls over and the lemonade soaks into the dirt, turns it to mud.

“I am not jealous!” Ma’s voice sounds all splintery.

Wordstock 2012

Wordstock is the largest literary festival in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a big convention with authors reading their work, panel discussions, workshops, and tons of booths—booksellers, publishers, magazines, and all things related to books and writing.

There was a photographer wandering around with a Nikon with a huge, honking lens that was about a foot and a half long—it looked super badass. He and his equipment fascinated me because one of the characters I’m writing about is a photographer.

A couple of festival highlights:

Storm Large was reading from her new memoir, Crazy Enough, about having a mother who was in and out of mental hospitals the whole time she was growing up. Crazy Enough is sad, but it’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. The mom loved to ratchet up the drama and would grab one of her breasts “like an actress in an old black and white film who would clutch at her chest to emphasize her passionate sincerity.” (Page 51.) Storm was reading about her mom and acting it all out, and there in the center aisle was the photographer. She let him have it.

“You took a picture of me holding my boob? I can’t believe this! What’s with you?”

And he kept shooting. He moved up close for some more shots. Geez…

Next, Duff Brenna read from Murdering the Mom, a memoir about his own insane upbringing. I’m not sure he got any pictures taken of him.

Duff Brenna and Storm Large

Erin Morgenstern  and Stephanie Snyder talked about Morgenstern’s book, The Night Circus. Snyder is the director of the Douglas F Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College. Morgenstern liked the “steampunk-looking microphones.” The writing in The Night Circus is gorgeous. I love circuses and this particular one is the strangest I have ever read about or seen in my imagination!

Erin Morgenstern and Stephanie Snyder

I listened to a lot of authors I’d never heard of as well. I’m making a list so I can read some of their books. It was a wonderful two days. I wish it wasn’t over.