Sunday, August 27, 2006

And Out Again

Many thanks to the Deepwater Journal women for postings while I grieve. All of us need backup when our shoes are untied and there's wolves lurking on the grounds.

I'm actually up a bit. I had a 'visit' from Zebo last night. I heard him barking at the back door. It was the plaintive one he does that said, "Oh, please, please just open the door and let me in! I'm a good boy and I don't chew on your shoes and shop through the garbage can!"

I did manage to get SOME work done the past few weeks, albeit a bit close to the wire. I felt like a calf roper on a timer! Finished an Edwardian costume for Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan Friday night with a whole 30 minutes to spare before show-time. I've never let an actor down in over 40 years, even if I have to stitch them in at curtain! I'm rather proud of the costume - a teal peau de soie skirt with a pleated back held out with a bustle pad and black soutache trim at the hem, a silk blouse with a vintage applique at the squared neckline, pintucks down the front, 8" long lace cuffs, and tassled points. Then I made a shawl from Italian suiting in shades of teal, black, dull gold with long fringe for a scene change appearance. Took no pictures as usual so you'll just have to believe me.

For those of you who clicked on the Peter Pan link above, you have already spent some time with a character I met online years back who relieve believes he is Peter Pan. Enjoy his fashion pages. And before you write him off as a complete nut, read his life philosophy and mission statement. Now. Those of you who didn't click on the link will be just a little bit more curious.

All of us have a little Peter Pan in us. In me, it's the voice that wants to escape when I hear about wars, and crimes against women and children, and disease, and graft, and pollution, and Global Warming and the real life that blows up at my door like flotsam and jetsam. I usually come back after a bit, but escape to Neverland is always an option when faced with the spector of stark, hard reality.

My Neverland is often the Computer where I live a Virtual Life while waiting for realities to subside into a handleable level. Sometimes, Neverland is in a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz. Focusing on 'should haves' and 'could haves' in the past is another trip to Neverland. Escape with friends is the more pleasant of all my Neverland trips. There, I can be someone important and meaningful and interesting because my posse sees me that way, bless them.

I'm right here in Neverland this minute as you read this. Ernesto is knocking on the back door of Florida and my Gulf Coast home outside Tampa. We do this thing in Hurricane Country where we collectively mind meld and try to send the destruction anywhere but here. This is my guilt over Katrina, ya'll. The crazy part of my bent psyche said that I had a part in turning that horror over to those poor people in NOLA and Alabama and Mississippi. That's very Napoleanic of me, but survives as a shard of the guilt I was brought up with. My little child's mind believed that every calamity that befell my family and my small world was due to some shortcoming of mine.

Is all this confession too much information? I have a tendency to do that. Doris Weatherford said I didn't have a presumptuous bone in my body and was truly guileless. I can read that either way and contemplate that proclamation often. I had professors in University that told me on the Q.T. that I shouldn't be SO truthful and forthcoming. I still wonder exactly what the ramifications of that meant.

It all falls into part of Neverland, however. So now that you know how Peter Pan has touched my life. Now that Peter has flew in and back out the window, I'm going to focus on Peter's quintessential promoter and usurer, Disney. I have pirate skirts and bodices to make for my beautiful little Pirate Jenny in California. She and her Captain Sebastion can be seen cavorting around the Burbank Disney lot in pictures on my Deepwater Trading Company website gallery .

Thanks once more to beautiful Martha and Robin who took up the slack for me on this particular trip to Neverland.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Food Offerings

by Martha Marshall

When someone is grieving, it's traditional to offer food. Sometimes that is all one can do. Sometimes it's enough just to be there, but the presence of comforting food makes everyone feel better just for a little while.

Last week Dina called and I said to come by for supper. Having gone through the awful last weeks of her beloved dog Zebo's life, and not being ready yet to accept the reality of his passing, she seemed glad to be here and be wallowed all over by my three dogs. They all knew something was amiss. They all stuck close to her, a chin in her lap here, a head on her shoulder there, an occasional lick, a wagging tail bumping against her, and, later in the evening, a whole 20-pound dog asleep on her lap.

And so, as my dogs were doing their part to say "we know it hurts," I was making dinner and serving wine. That night we convinced her to stay, and we talked and talked some more about things that hurt.

Then yesterday Dina was here again with Phyllis for another one of our Powerful Women's Business Meetings. And again we had food -- of course! This time it was my Famous Alabama Chicken Stew. It's famous only because people here in Florida think Alabama is exotic.

This recipe is a version of Brunswick Stew. In Alabama it’s made with chicken, tomatoes, lima beans, potatoes, corn, onions, and black and red pepper (I like mine spicy.) When I was a kid, it was a 4th of July and Labor Day tradition for schools and churches and fire stations to make the stew in a huge iron pot, simmer it over a fire outside all day, stirring it with a big wooden paddle, and sell it by the bowl, the quart, or the gallon. The long simmering and stirring were necessary for the stew to thicken and the chicken to become so tender it would break up completely, and so that the fire would impart just the slightest smoky flavor. Then, probably some time in the 70s, the food police stepped in and shut down what had been a treasured tradition. No more open-air stew pots.

My sister later carried on the tradition for a lot of years, making the stew for her Baptist Church in the fellowship hall kitchen, until she turned the responsibility over to someone else. But she still has stew for me when I go "home." She and her husband have a cabin in the woods -- their little retreat -- and we go out there, fire up the iron pot outside and make our stew.

So yesterday I thought of chicken stew, a sublime comfort food if there ever was one. And Dina, I hope you know you are loved.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

We Bring

by C. Robin Janning

we bring bits of sky
and play with

Sunday, August 20, 2006


by C. Robin Janning
sometimes we stand
for a while at the edge
of a different place

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Transfer Of Light

by C. Robin Janning

we do all kinds
of things for each other
that's why we're here

one of the best things?
bringing some light
to a dark space

Monday, August 14, 2006

Old Friend

I forewarned you about my crappy time of year before. Other than the morose mood I'm in remembering my departed ones, I thought that I had gotten by relatively unscathed without a crisis this year. Alas, that's one of the foibles of having an old dog coinciding with a crappy season and other planetary transits.

His name is Zebo. He is a 14 year old shepard mix with an unusually beautiful face, body and demeanor. Dapper, really. I call him my Handsome Fella. If he had been a human male, he would have worn a tailcoat, tophat and gloves, sported a monocle, and would have carried a cane. Debra Plant, a friend who teaches Africana Studies up at the University of South Florida said, "He has deer feet".

He does have deer feet. They are small and dainty and cream colored as he's aged with his handsome face becoming more grizzled as we've aged together. My son brought him home from a friend's home where he'd ended up after having spent almost a year of his life tied to a tree because he was too big a dog to handle for the gentle little girl he was a present for. Feeling sorry for him, my son brings in this bounding energy of a bundle who when let off the leash runs and runs and runs and runs all over the neighborhood to make up for lost days being tied to a tree.

We eventually got a fence built and he would run the yard. His ability to open the gate and tear off on a neighborhood run earned him the nickname of Houdini as well. We would have to start up the car, go down the road and open the door. See. He loves him a car ride as much as he loves a run. You don't have to drive him very far either - just down to the bridge and back is a big deal.

His other hobby was attacking any wildlife he could catch and he was pretty fast. I was forever grabbing him up by the haunches with coon or possum attached in his mouth to make him drop it before he killed it. I think he had such a hate for them because when he was tied to that tree for all that time, they would taunt him just out of reach of his chain. Time after time, a fellow of even temperment could be justified in going a little postal on the arrogant critters that dared to come into his domain and within his reach.

The last few years he's slowed down tremendously as he developed a raging case of arthritis in his spine, hips and back legs. He's become totally deaf. He can't hear a word or noise like the pounding of lightning that would send him shaking up under me wherever I was in his healthy days. He preferred my sewing machine back when he could hear the thunder and once ruined a beautiful old Bernina I've owned since 1976 by laying on the pedal and 'sewing' until it seized up.

If you give him a hot dog, he will hold it in his mouth like a cigar, make it disappear into his maw and then slide it back out. He thinks this is wonderfully funny. He has a great sense of humor and would even wink at you! I quit giving him hot dogs because I felt the nitrates couldn't possibly be helping him any.

So. I was really concerned when he started laying around and quit following me from room to room as he usually did. Where I went, he was. Right up under foot. Phyllis calls him River Zebo because it got to where you had to manuever your way over him to get anywhere in my house when she comes to visit or I needed to go to the kitchen. He just hates getting up. And getting up and laying down and moving of any sort was painful. You could hear him moan, sigh and yip with it. Then he got to where he couldn't go up the steps without help. Now. This is a huge and painful undertaking for me since I have the human penchant for back problems and he is a really big boy. He started to fall down the steps and needed help up the steps, me working the back end and him crawling up in with his front. So I took him to the vet last Wednesday.

Dr. Marks tells me that his arthritis has gotten really bad and is pinching on the nerves in his body, which explains why he was peeing and pooping on the floor and then coming to get me to go out. He gave him a shot of cortisone for the arthur and some tablets for me to give him. I don't like cortisone. It did a number on my daddy's bones and I think that it's really hard on the body. Tary Peace, who's also a nurse confirmed this for me when I talked to her Friday. He was getting really bad, was in a lot of pain and panting to prove it.

So Friday he fell in the frog pond and I had to drag him out. This has hurt his dignity because he was always very careful about his composure and deportment. Then he got really, really bad and couldn't get up and didn't seem to want to. I gave him ice cubes and his treats, but he wouldn't touch his oats and honey cereal with milk which is his most favorite treat. His pain was very evident. So I talked to him. Like I wrote to you in the post Talking To The Dead, I practiced what I preached. I told him to let me know if it was time when the pain and the indignity and the effort to put one deer foot in front of the other.

That's why we visited the vet Saturday. I stayed in the room with him and held his face and looked in his eyes and told him I loved him when the vet gave him the shot. He just let go. No more pain. No more accidents he couldn't help and felt embarrassed about. The techs wrapped him up in his car riding sheet for his last ride home. Alan, my nephew came over and helped me bury him. I wanted to put him next to where Molly and Sugar Bear were buried but have let it grow up so much, I couldn't get through it.

So he's next to the mulberry tree with the jasmine growing in it. My heart is broken. I have cried and caterwalled and moaned and hurt. I will get no more dogs. Or cats. As I've gotten older and lost family members, it gets unbearable for any loss of someone I love. Those of you who have an animal will understand this. For those of you that don't get it, I won't even try to explain.

Now this is for you my good old friend Zebo. This is for all the times you laid your head in my lap when I was feeling bad, wagged yourself silly when I got home because you were genuinely happy to see me then cussed me out with loud barks for not taking you along. This is for all the silly and funny things you did that made the house feel full even when there was no one but me in it. This is because I will miss your gold, soft ears and black saddle to stroke when I'm having a rough time sleeping. I will miss you, my old friend.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Trojans and Other Non-Prophylactic Concerns

Got your attention with that title maybe. Actually, I'm referring to the Trojan Horse Downloader.Agent.4.AV that popped up as an extra special gift on this computer I'm using. Mine got zapped in Friday night's lightning storm.

Tampa Bay is the Lightning Capital of the World, don't you know. So. I have zap protectors plugged into other zap protectors. But this zap was particularly sneaky sly and found it's way through the cable hookup. My computer guys will try to save Ol' Betsey and will salvage my store board for my files if that's not possible. I'm going to see if I can find a zap protector gizmo for the cable hookup. Damn.

Now. Back to trojans. I have always been bemused by the fact that individuals would sit around using their genius or just aping knowledge gleaned from some seedy website about causing mayhem on other people's systems. I have to assume that they have no social life and are not in therapy to relieve the symptoms of boredom or anti-social behavior issues they may have had since birth. There is also the assumption on my part that these individuals are pimply faced nerds without much to offer socially because I can't imagine an adult having the time to putz around with this crap. Simply said: They need to get a life.

Trojans and viruses and worms, oh my! All contribute to the general state of confusion and lack of direction we humans seem to have gotten ourselves into. We're warring against civilians in the guise of furthering state safety and agendas and fighting terrorism on just about every continent on the globe. Sad state of affairs for us now. I know why the rapturists are excitedly clamboring about the End Of Days. And nerdlets who design Trojans and viruses and worms and hacks contribute mightily to the travail and tribulation. They're just stupid.

In the scheme of things, can you imagine an ex-nerdlet trojan designer sitting their grandchild on their knee - assuming, of course that said nerdlet got away from the keyboard long enough to bond and mate with a reciprocal nerdlette and had progeny, provided they knew how to have sex. "Now, sonny, when I was your age, I designed a virus that shut down all the computers in the Healthsouth network! You wouldn't believe how they scrambled around trying to find patient records with allergy alerts. 'Course there were a few casualties, but what the hell! I'm famous!"

Oh. I forgot. The grand designers of malware can't really crow about their accomplishments, can they? Except to other nerds. They can sit around and snork and adjust their pens in their pocket protectors. Or maybe they substitute a good ol' trojan for the real thing in sex. Can you hear the disdain in my words?

See. I have very little time for idiots that waste it. This Cosmic Cotillion called Life that we're all invited to is the only dance here that we are aware of, if you ascribe to the Waved Space theory of the physicists. But while we're here, shouldn't we be trying to make our works be monumental, or at the least, significant? When there's so much turmoil and hate and destruction in us, shouldn't we be trying to highlight those characteristics that make us excell? Should we be giving the Grand Wazoo powers-that-be another idiot reason to wipe our collective asses off the face of this jewel of a ball?

I believe in Karma. Whether we judge ourselves at the end of our days or someone takes the job for us, I feel that what goes around comes around. Maybe it's laid out in a panalopy of images of what we've done in our lives - all of it from the mundane to the really bad. Maybe it's in the last flickering moments of conciousness before our signal goes to gray. I have to believe that whatever reflection comes we'll have to weigh whether downloading a trojan onto some old lady's computer really counts for squat in the Scheme of Things.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Don't Forget to Water the Flowers

By Martha Marshall, from 1998

Mama always had a green thumb. She could pinch off the smallest piece of any growing thing, poke it down into some water in a drinking glass that had maybe once held Bama blackberry jelly, and before you knew it that little piece of coleus, or strawberry begonia, or hen and chickens (she could tell you the most glorious names and knew them all on sight) would be happily curling its way around the kitchen window. She had plants everywhere – in every available space on a wall shelf, every window sill, and spread out halfway across the floor, most of them having had similar water-borne beginnings, or were treasures she occasionally would bring home from the Sears garden store.

The ones in pots may or may not have had anything under them to catch the overflow and protect the furniture when you watered them. More often than not, it would be a used Morton’s chicken pot pie pan, or a lid from a plastic refrigerator bowl that had long since lost its mate, or just a piece torn from a cardboard box with aluminum foil placed underneath. Things always got a second chance at life with my Mama.

In the winter time, all the potted plants out on the porch would take up residence inside, where it was already crowded enough. She would lovingly make a space for them among all the rest, making it impossible to get by them in tight corners without extreme caution. She would gleefully anticipate the annual blooming of the Christmas cactus. Her watering ritual seemed to take at least forty-five minutes. Somehow she always knew which ones needed how much water, how much light they needed, and from what direction, and when to take the spent flowers off so they would keep blooming.

She had a prized African violet collection, which had their special window in order to take advantage of just the right light. I remember, over the years, countless individual African violet leaves sticking down through waxed paper into water glasses on their way to becoming new plants. You could see the pain come over her face if any one of them got knocked off by a dog or a cat – or worse, by one of us in one of our wild chases through the house.

She raised two daughters, and neither of us turned out to be particularly gifted at growing ornamental things. We both could grow tomatoes, corn, okra, and kids – things that we thought really meant something. But we just never had an aptitude for growing things in pots. This could have had something to do with the fact that Mama sometimes seemed to care more about all those potted plants than she did about us. We thought at times, even though we never said it out loud, that she could have concerned herself just the tiniest bit more with us and whatever was on our minds on a particular day. I think we were more than a little bit jealous of those plants.

When Mama went somewhere for a few days, Daddy would take care of his dogs and she would say to us, “Don’t forget to water the flowers.” And by “flowers” she meant the whole assortment of plants, flowering or not. And if you didn’t, she would know. She knew them all and had nurtured every one, many times having carefully relocated them when we moved from house to house. She had put so much time and love into them, you just couldn’t contemplate being the one to cause their early demise. For me, that meant I would sometimes be overly anxious and water a plant too much, and that would be just as bad as if I had left it alone. A time or two, when that happened, I would think of replacing it with a brand new one, but then I would immediately realize that it was no use; she would know. So I would just prepare to face whatever disappointment I might cause her.

My sister tells the story that when I was about ten, she was already working full time and couldn’t go with us on a family beach vacation. She received just one communication from us. It was a post card from Mama, with a picture of the beach on the front and one line on the back, which simply said, “Are you watering my flowers?”

When I left town with my young family, my sister and her family remained nearby. The tradition of taking care of Mama’s plants for her continued when she made a trip out of town with Daddy. Then later on, after Daddy died, it was just Mama and her plants. When she went somewhere, which seemed like all the time, my sister still would go over to Mama’s every few days to “water the flowers.”

Now that Mama is in the nursing home, my sister is still the one who lives nearby, and sits with her just about every day. She has made sure Mama always has a living plant or two in the window sill. It used to give Mama such pleasure just to see something alive and growing, that she felt she was caring for, even though, as time went by, she really wasn’t able to keep them going without a lot of help. If one started looking a little droopy, my sister would quietly replace it with a new one, and Mama really didn’t know the difference. Now, as she becomes more feeble, I don’t think she even notices the plants at all.

My sister and I both have tried over the years -- really tried -- to have potted plants of our own, but with sad results every time. Our lives made more urgent demands of us. My worst offense has always been the watering. I think I have finally mastered not watering them too much, but I’ve had difficulty giving them enough. At different times for each of us, we have simply given up, again and again. Mama was the best, and we could never begin to measure up.

Over a period of about two years after Mama went to the nursing home, we distributed her things among family members. I brought home one of those prehistoric-looking succulents with new baby plants all along the edges of the leaves, and tried to make it grow. Seeming to resent having been uprooted, and in spite of my weeks of fretting over it, it flatly refused. I had failed again.

But something may be changing this summer. I have been creating hanging pots with mixed annuals and greenery, and putting them out back on the screened porch, where we can enjoy them from inside the house. Their presence helps create the feeling of refuge and peace that I try to produce in our surroundings. I sometimes think those plants are even grateful to me for taking good care of them this season. They seem to sense what a supreme effort this is. I sit out there with those hanging baskets around me, in the cool early morning with my coffee, watching the cardinals and blue jays as they gently nudge this year’s teenagers toward adulthood, and reflect on what I can possibly do to make it work out this time, that will make the difference, so that these beautiful plants can survive the summer with me. I yawn, stretch, and head back inside to prepare for another busy day. And then, as if calling after me, I hear Mama’s voice – young, and strong, and clear, saying, “Don’t forget to water the flowers.”

Friday, August 04, 2006

Talking To The Dead

A friend wrote today that someone significant from her past was dying. She was in a panic at the thought of having to go see them. She asked my advice. I have experience in these matters, you see.

I told her to talk to them like a human being. Talk about your history together. Talk of what you’ve done together. Talk of your friendship. Speak on the same topics you would have before the Big D entered the room. Let them know how much they’ve meant to you in your life. If they bring up the Big D - death, ask them their feelings about it. Are they scared and want to talk or are they avoiding it. Do they brush up against the topic with dark humor or innuendo? Take your cues to the one getting ready to make the trip.

See. Death talk is something we Americans don’t do. We scurry about our important lives and affairs with blinders on. Talking about death, except for homilies in church services, usually around Easter time, is verboten in our cultural Diaspora of youth. You won’t see many magazine spreads on planning the perfect funeral or slick advertisements in Good Housekeeping and Vogue on the latest model of coffin or burial vaults. No. Instead, there are ads advertising life insurance with a sweet-faced kid asking dad what would happen to them if he were no longer there to provide for them. But no death talk. No dying, demise, extinction, termination, finit, caput, au revoir, or Big Sleep. We seem to get our undies in a bunch if the topic is broached. Stirs up something awful frightful. We panic.

Here. Let me say this to you: You ARE going to die. It’s as inevitable as taxes. Let that sink in. But you knew that somewhere in the back of your mind, right? Life insurance companies bank on this gamble with insurmountable odds in their pockets.

So. Why can’t we talk about it? Specifically, why can’t we talk about death or get all spooky when we talk TO the nearly departed? It’s not the flu. You can’t catch it from someone in the final stages of the process. Death usually doesn’t rub off on you. You can’t catch it from the toilet seat.

I’ve thought that perhaps we feel uncomfortable talking to those about to die like we’re afraid we’ll look directly at someone’s hair lip or amputated leg, their wheelchair or their infirmity, their burns or scars or deformity. Our uptight Victorian based society makes us squeamish around death and bodily imperfection. Funerals aren’t much fun as a rule and everyone is very morose and upset. Unless the person past tense has requested a really rowdy party.

I’ve been around death. I’ve told you before that I am the last remaining survivor of my family of four. I’ve had close cousins die old and young, good friends pass with illnesses or weak hearts or murders or the other calamities that befall frail flesh. I’ve even looked into the gaping maw of Death myself because the kind of Mach 10, 60 MPR with hair afire life I’ve led has put me in some very shaky circumstances with my share of close scrapes. I’ll tell you about some of those in the future.

I’ve always considered it an honor to be around someone packing her bags for the Summerland trip. We’re there for other passages – weddings, baby showers, birthdays, graduations. Why then can’t we celebrate the nearly departed in for their own bon voyage?

I stayed with my mother the last six months of her life 24-7 as she prepared for her death under hospice. Let me abuse you of the notion that full-time custodial care for a difficult adult is a breeze. It ain’t. I suffered from sleep deprivation and extreme fatigue among other horrors. But I got through it, heralded her out, led a toast to her as friends gathered around her deathbed with a, “Well done, Mame”.

It was comforting to help the nurse bathe her and get her ready for her last ride. Those cultures that tend to the bodies of their dead have a leg up on us to defray guilt. It makes death up close and personal and puts some pegs in the closure column.

Saying this is not a condemnation of those poor souls, usually us women, who are stretched tissue thin between elderly parents and growing children. Our society and government make sure that there are damn few resources to help with that care and strain. We’re just not set up to handle the profound drain of energy and emotion that the caretaker is subject to. Been there. Done that. Nor am I advocating a return to the several generations living under the same roof for centuries. I’ve had several mothers-in-law that would end up missing under suspicious circumstances to foist that off on you.

I’m also not saying that we should bring up children to run around playing amid the beds of the terminally ill like Ayn Rand’s mule bred brood in ‘Anthem’. But, isn’t death and dying one of the life lessons we should at least teach ourselves and talk to our children about?

Our culture favors separatism, the ME, I, Individual. Because of our small, not-ready-for-nuclear-living family lifestyle, we have moved from our Agrarian roots, close-knit communities and extended families to warehouse our infirm and elderly in not-so-antiseptic places called ‘retirement homes’. This says a lot to how much we don’t want to be bothered by death and the preoperative mechanicals that go with it. If you don’t see it, you don’t have to deal with it.

I’m not flippant about death as the Ruth Gordon’s Maude is with her sunny bright umbrella attending every funeral she can when Harold meets her. Okay. Maybe I am flippant. But. We really need to look at this. All of us. Our penchants, our fears, our squeamishness. Let's have Plan Your Own Funeral cocktail parties. Maybe if we go at IT with morbid humor, show videos of ‘Death Becomes Her’, Bela Lagosi’s ‘Dracula’, ‘Dr. Strangelove’, and ‘Ghost’ playing in the background while we fill out DNRs, Living Wills and pick songs we want at our wake while eating crudités and sipping martinis, we might morph into some real conversation about the topic of talking to the dead.

Life is a veritable smorgasbord with lots of planned and spontaneous activities to do while we’re on deck. But we’re all going to debark and it would be nice to have a few conversations about it, or at least a card before we get into port.