Category Archives: Domesticity

The War for the Figs — Who Will Win?

I had gone outside and started tying the first of fifty or so shiny gold ribbons on the fig tree when a mockingbird landed on IMG_0190the nearby split-rail fence and started, well, mocking me, as though I were a fool who credited him with less than a birdbrain. I tried to scare him off by duplicating the sound of a shotgun blast, but that came out as a soft pop of air and failed to ruffle even one feather.

He continued to taunt me. I paid him no mind as I moved from one branch to another cutting and tying on streamers. It wasn’t until a blue jay settled into a high bough, cursing, that the idea came to me to curl the ribbons so they might dangle and dance on a breezy day or appear as snakes on a calm one.

Sadly, neither of these threatens a blue jay which loves bright shiny objects. Already she was probably planning to feather her next nest with them, a nest that would be built long after she and her family and friends had eaten the figs and the leaves had fallen and been raked.

I am willing to share, but I have my limits. Several years before an arborist came to prune the tree, three herding dogs barking from the windows of the man cave and long silver streamers twirling under the leaves discouraged wild life from eating the fruit hanging from the lower branches.

This year I had not even gone through a spool of gold before a squirrel leaped from the roof of the house onto a branch opposite the blue jay. That is when I understood two things –these animals, which were not made to mix, no longer feared the barks that came from within our home, and they had formed an alliance to shoo me from this goddess of all fig trees.

Just last year my 89-year-old Gene had made a short video in his backyard of a fox and raccoon eating leftover spaghetti from the same bowl. It was a scene from the peaceable kingdom. No one made a fuss. Especially not Gene, who prefers the food prepared by The Golden Corral to his own.

But I can’t say there will any quiet here for the next three weeks. Maybe if I channeled my Native American ancestors, I would waive ownership of the tree and give into these greedy critters, which will soon be drunk from the sugar fermenting in their tiny brains. But since I, too, have a passion for figs — plain, broiled with prosciutto and cheese or preserved. I won’t.

It’s time to let the dogs out.

Thanks to Serendipity, Another Leaf is Added to the Tree

Last week, a friend went to Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore and stayed at an inn for a few days and met the couple who was running the inn while the owners slipped away to to a Jimmy Buffett concert across the

My aunt, uncle and grandmother in my great-grandmother's backyard. South Norfolk, 1940s.

My aunt, uncle and grandmother in my great-grandmother’s backyard. South Norfolk, 1940s.

Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach. After my friend learned the wife grew up in South Norfolk, she told her of my novel, Cooley & Rose, which begins and ends in her hometown.

The substitute innkeeper downloaded the e-book and immediately read it. What follows is a portion of the email she wrote to my friend.

“Just finished reading Cooley & Rose. I love it and imagined the place she wrote about to be places from my childhood. My sister did the same. She even mentioned a Mrs. Dowdy being “saved.” That was my maiden name, and my great grandmother was extremely religious . . .”

If you think this is a shameless plug for Cooley & Rose, you’re only half right. There’s a story here.

Because I thought the reader would be interested, I wrote her the following:

“I think that your religious great-grandmother was probably the woman that my grandmother referred to as “Sister Dowdy.” I don’t think I ever met her, but my grandmother talked about her often, and the name stayed in my mind for all of these years. I liked the sound of “Dowdy,” so I used it.”

I went on to give her some of my family background – the names of my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my great aunt and her husband who was the local pharmacist.

She replied to my email. The first line read, “I think we are related!” Then she told me why. In short, our great-grandmothers were sisters. As adults, they lived only three houses away from each other.

Now, I also have unknown cousins on my mother’s side, and only the Chesapeake Bay separates me from this one, whom I hope to meet soon.

What I haven’t told her is that about 15 years ago, my HOBL and I went to the town where she lived and looked at property, and we came across a charming old brick church that was for sale. In my mind I began envisioning it as a house, then as a home, but my HOBL nixed that idea when he learned that the town didn’t have a clay tennis court.

If it had, my new cousin and I might have discovered each other sooner.

cover final 3-2-13NOTE: Goodreads.com is giving away three paperback copies of Cooley & Rose. Deadline to submit our request is Sept. 15, 2013. Paperbacks are for sale at Amazon.com, and e-books are available for all readers. Visit your favorite online store.

How to Find a Good Husband, Even if You Don’t Want One.

For most of my life, I had no desire to marry. From what I saw, marriage didn’t have much to offer a woman except a life of drudgery, more submission that compromise, and no time of her own until the kids were grown and gone and the husband still employed or dead.

Sounds a bit harsh, I know, but having grown up as the youngest in my family, I had already lived with too many bosses, and I could see no reason to commit myself to another.

If you’re a reader of this blog, however, you know I changed my mind when I was 41 and found myself becoming engaged to marry in a circumstance more fitting for a creepy thriller than real life. There was no bent knee, no diamond ring, no roses, not even dinner. If you don’t know the details and want to know more, scroll down to the title with the word “stalker” in it.

The idea for this post came early this a.m. By the time I rose at 6:30 a.m., my hunk of burning love (HOBL)

My HOBL working his magic in the kitchen.

My HOBL working his magic in the kitchen.

had already cut back the limbs of the floribunda rose bush that had sprawled across the side courtyard toward the door to the house, picked our first tomatoes, lopped of the top of a bush that had been tall as a small tree, and fed the three dogs and the cat. Amazing, right?

But he wasn’t always like this.

When I was in my thirties, a friend of mine, who was ready to meet the father of her future children and thought I should be, too, despite my protests, told me to stop being picky. “Find a good guy,” she said. “One that’s trainable.”

By this point, she had started applying her hiring skills to her love life. For her, finding a husband had become a priority project.

“If he has a shirt you hate, throw it out. Bad haircut? Take him to a different hair cutter. You can change the small things. But you’ve got to find a great guy.”

At the time, I truly felt I would never have any need for this information, but the fact that she had set herself such guidelines amazed me. Where was the romance?

Then came the moment I learned my HOBL wanted to marry me, and in a flash, my friend’s advice returned to me, and I knew that I had found a man that I could marry without being shackled to domesticity or his every whim and whom I could train.

Right away I threw out his red, white and blue, paisley shirt and urged him to stop smashing the hair on the top of his head flat.

Other than that, my training of him didn’t seem to take. I taught him how to cook a variety of seafood, to make salad dressings and mashed potatoes, which he loved, but he’d forget how and couldn’t be bothered to read a cookbook. I showed him how to separate clothes for the wash, but our underwear ended up smoky blue or pink. I reminded him that a closed door to my writing shed office meant I was working and not to disturb me, but he did anyway, with our three dogs at his heels.

Then this year, everything changed. Some evenings I came in from my shed to find him cutting up vegetables to roast with a pan of fish filets nearby, ready to be broiled. He started separating the wash and using the wrinkle-free setting. He saw what needed to be done in the yard and did it! Without nagging or to-do notes from me.

No long ago, I called my friend, now a happily married mother of two teenage girls, and said, “You didn’t tell me the training would take 18 years.” She laughed.

I bragged to everyone about my husband and even advised my niece to find a good guy who was trainable, and, after running my mouth, something came to me that probably everyone else already knew but hadn’t mentioned. My HOBL had trained me.

I had added color to my black-and-white wardrobe and cut my hair. I no longer freaked when dishes from late night snacks set in the sink unwashed overnight. He taught me not to act rashly or over-react, that perfection is more of a nasty compulsion than a virtue and that lies, such as “No, those jeans don’t make your butt look big,” from him or “No, you aren’t going bald,” from me can be a small gestures of love.

Update: Interested in winning one of three, free paperback copies of my novel, Cooley & Rose? Or other new novels? Go to Goodreads.com, and participate in its First Books giveaway. The promotion for Cooley & Rose will run through Sept. 15, 2013.

The Unknown Cousins Tour: Great While It Lasted!

Ten months ago, after visiting his hometown of Winston-Salem, my father told me about his cousin’s daughter who was near my age and, like me, was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic in her forties. In hindsight, I guess the important detail was that we shared an odd medical history. At the time, however, I was shocked and

Sunset at Holden Beach

Sunset at Holden Beach

thrilled to find out I had a female cousin my age. It had always seemed that men had overrun the Perrel side of my family. But I was wrong.

Becky and I met on Facebook. When I studied her picture, I saw we had we had the same full face, the same small teeth which a friend once described as “a row of pearls;” and chestnut-colored hair. (Yes, that’s my original color.)

I learned that she, too, loved to read good books, both fiction and non-fiction; had developed into a foodie who hoarded bottles of capers; and had traveled a lot. I saw the big difference between us last winter when one photo after another on FB showed her with her HOBL, both bundled like the Michelin man with mounds of snow everywhere. Ugh, I thought. How can that be? I spent three winters in Columbus, Ohio, and, when I returned to Virginia Beach, I prayed I’d never see snow again. But my cousin, although she kept houses in North Carolina, had made New Hampshire her home!

She also told me that I had a slew of cousins, most of them female, so a few weeks ago, my HOBL and I set out to meet them.

Our first stop was to meet Becky in Holden Beach, an outer banks island eight-miles long just north of the South Carolina line. It’s a lovely, slow-paced place that reminded me of Virginia Beach before it became an overgrown city.

There, I again noticed her teeth, the similar shape of her face, and then I saw we were the same height and wore the same shade of orange polish on our toenails. The first hour there, I suffered a small case of first-

View from the intercoastal waterway to Holden Beach

View from the intercoastal waterway to Holden Beach

date jitters that started to dissipate as we lunched al fresco by the inter-coastal waterway and vanished completely by mid-afternoon as we noodled in a pool and gabbed, taking time every once in a while to float in comfortable silence.

I won’t tell you about every second of our two-days there, although it was Becky who took us to Mary’s Gone Wild, but so many occasions pointed out how simpatico we were. At a Celtic store in nearby Southport, we learned that each us had been thinking of buying a ukulele. So we did. Orange ones. Not because we wanted them to match but because we both love that color.

From Holden Beach, we went to Winston-Salem, where I’d often gone as a child to visit my grandmother’s family. The night we arrived, we dined with Becky’s mother, Billie Jane, a kissing cousin to my father. Newly turned 85, she’s a beautiful and gracious woman, a former yogini, with a soft voice and a great sense of humor. She flattered me greatly by saying that once she started reading my novel, Cooley & Rose, she couldn’t stop to fix her 5 o’clock supper. She had to keep reading.

By then, I’d already developed a sore throat, and by the morning, the day of a birthday lunch for all of the cousins born in June, my voice was fading. Becky, her husband who had returned the previous night from Singapore, and my HOBL went without me. While they were gone, I napped, then met her neighbor who commented on much Becky and I looked a like.

When the three returned four hours later, my husband said, “I wished you’d met these people 20 years ago. They are so much fun.” In particular, he named three of my senior cousins who came and went in a big Cadillac and made him laugh the whole time in between.

But, thanks to Becky, I didn’t miss everything. She took individual videos of all but one of my cousins, saying “hello,” and more, and watching and listening to Kent, Kay, Mickey, Gail, Helen and so many more made me both teary and happy and wanting to return soon.

Saturday morning I woke unable to speak, my neck swollen, and knew I needed to head home to my bed and, most likely a doctor, even though my cousins had organized an early birthday party for her mother the next day that would include other cousins and their families. Cousins I’d been following on Facebook. Lucky for me, the wife of one stopped by Becky’s house the day we arrived, so I was able to meet Karin, but I had so looked forward to getting to know Jan, Pat and Tim.

In a bare whisper, I asked Becky if maybe my HOBL and I could stop by and see Tim, who lived nearby, on the way out of town. She located him at his 92-year-old father’s, and led us to him.

Meeting Becky was big deal for me, because I’d never known extended family members with whom I could talk books or politics or food or health or nail polish. Then, at the next stop, two other big things happened.

First, Tim, who looks nothing like me, told of how my maternal great-grandmother, who had lived next door to his father and was not related to him, would sit on her porch on warm summer nights with the neighborhood kids gathered around her and tell stories. Since I’d only met her one or twice as a small child before she died, that information thrilled me since my life has been about stories and the cause-and-effect of actions.

He also told me that soon he was going once gain teach classes based on Julie Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, a book I’d read years ago, and that he also biked, had studied Tai Chi and did yoga. I couldn’t speak, so Tim had had no idea, until he saw me smiling and nodding, that all of those had been important to my life, too. He mentioned that the next day, he was headed with his wife and either a mandolin or guitar to Ireland, a country that I fell in love with many years ago.

What I had intended to be a 15-minute visit turned into an hour or more. Tim and his sweet honey of a father, Bink, are professional musicians, and Becky plays the guitar, too, and sings, and, around the kitchen table the three of them played one song after another as I again teared up, moved because I belonged to this family.

More Snaps From Mary’s Gone Wild

Several readers asked to see more photos from Mary’s Gone Wild which I wrote about last time. Here are four. I hope you enjoy them.

The outside of another house she built from recycled  wood and bottles

The outside of another house she built from recycled wood and bottles

Inside each bottle house is more of Mary's art -- painted glass and furniture.

Inside each bottle house is more of Mary’s art — painted glass and furniture.

Mary's boat made from donated bottles

Mary’s boat made from donated bottles

Mary's studio.  The red building in the background is the Coca Cola House.

Mary’s studio. The red building in the background is the Coca Cola House.

When a Stalker Plays Matchmaker, There’s More Drama than Romance.

“Happy Anniversary to B. and me. May 12 is the only day of the year I will never work, as this was her request on our wedding day. She gets flowers from me on the 12th of every month, and has since we answered the easy questions together 23 years ago today.

“It’s been mostly fun.”

A long-time friend of mine, who, like me, married for the first and and only time in early mid-life, recently posted this on Facebook. Later in the day, his wife commented: “Awe!! So sweet! :>x. Time flies too quickly especially with my boyfriend for life.”Pleaasure House Point_2012 12 09_0026_edited-1

I tell you. Love doesn’t get any better than this. Or more romantic.

My anniversary is in less than two weeks. Because my Hunk of Burning Love (HOBL) and I changed our wedding date to accommodate out-of-town visitors, on more than one occasion we’ve missed our anniversary and celebrated it belatedly, only after being reminded by a friend or family member.

He stopped bringing me flowers after a sassy cat named Mr. Burt Reynolds joined our household and started disassembling the arrangements stalk by stalk, then petal by petal. Now we grow our own flowers for cutting – various types and colors of zinnias, which the cat hates. When the flowers are in bloom during late summer and early fall and I’m out and about, my HOBL cuts and arrange them in vases he sets in unexpected places.

When we announced 18 years ago that we were going to marry each other, one of my nosey brothers called my HOBL and asked who proposed to whom. When my HOBL’s answer didn’t satisfy him, he called others to get the scoop. He found the truth hard to believe.

The Big Moment did not involve a diamond ring gunked with creme brulee, a bottle of Dom, long-stemmed red roses or bended knee. Nothing about it was romantic or planned. But, drama? There was plenty. The catalyst for our spur-of-the-moment decision was someone whom I’d known as a teenager. A shy boy who rode the same school bus as I. As a man, he served as a naval officer and after that earned a Ph.D. and became a biogeneticist. J. was also an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic who stalked me off and on for more than 20 years.

A few weeks prior to the night that changed my life, J. had obtained my unlisted telephone number from an alumna of the school we had attended, a person who was unaware that his teenage crush had become an obsession. By this time, J. had been quiet for several years, living and working in the Midwest, creating corn hybrids, and, from what I’d been told by a family member, in love and hoping to be married. I was happy for him, even happier for myself, believing he was out of my life for good.

But the woman he loved did not want to marry him, and I can only guess that served as one of many factors that led him to call me near midnight in April 1994.

The moment I picked up the phone, I knew it was him. The moans and heaving breathing of an animal in pain, sounds I’d heard so many times before from. Sounds so pitiful that it pained me to know he suffered so. I did not hang up, because it was important for me to know his location and where his mind was. I will not go into all of the chilling details, but once he found his voice, he told me that he raised finches; that two beings lived in his body, one who could draw extremely well; that the Pope would be assassinated in the fall of that year; that I was destined to marry him, to have his child; and that the three of us would study sorcery and cure the ills of the world.

The next few days, as calls continued to come from the Midwest, I worked to erase any signs that I lived where I did, including trading in my car. I knew that before long he would show up, which he eventually did. Friends made daily calls to his office to track his movements, and I hid out in another city while a family of four settled temporarily into my home. These efforts to protect myself and mislead him, however, make up a later chapter in a long story that I have no plans to write.

Let me pause here and tell you, the only time I have written about this was a short note to a mutual friend, and writing this post is exhausting me. So many emotions are churning inside, including sadness that J., who died two years ago, had to live such a confused and difficult life.

But there were moments of happiness for me. Not long after J. found me that April and before I changed my telephone number for the umpteenth time, I came home from a graduate class, and on my answering machine were numerous messages from him – his voice and language growing angrier with each, all accusing me of being home and not picking up. And that’s exactly what I did with the other harrowing calls that followed. Lucky for me, in between these, a friend phoned and volunteered to keep me company.

And he was the one who answered the next ring. He told J. that I would be home from school soon, to call back in 20 minutes.

When J. did, I held the phone so my friend could hear, witness the insanity, but after a few moments, he pulled away, shaking his head, unable to listen any longer.

Then, J. said to me, “That guy there? The one who answered the phone? He’s in love with you.”

For the first time in days, I laughed. I looked at my friend who had plopped down on the couch as though he owned it. Looking into his eyes, I said, “You say the guy who answered the phone is in love with me?”

My friend grinned, pushed himself up and nodded.

I smiled. “You know what?” I said to J. “I’m in love with him, too.”

Eighteen years later, I still am.

Writing and Talking With a Lyme Brain is Hard Work. Ask Amy Tan & Rebecca Wells.

This week I’ve been spending my time making changes to the e-book version of Cooley & Rose and working on a format for a paperback version.images

While doing this, I struggled with my Lyme brain where years ago babesia bacteria took up residence, wreaking neurological havoc in so many ways, especially on my ability to recall words. This is a challenge for a writer. Amy Tan and Rebecca Wells have written about their experiences. When Wells created Ya-Ya in Bloom, the sequel to The Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, she had already developed advance neurological damage. 1103_rd_tick

My brain was already frazzled by the time I started working on the novel-version of Cooley and Rose. Still, I pushed on and finished that, then wrote The Wyatt Sisters Songs of Sorrow, a story that is even more complex than the one that I’m hawking these days.

People say, “Oh, everyone forget words now and then.” True, but I will give you two brief examples of what happens with a Lyme brain.

Yesterday I was telling my husband about my new cell phone and all the tricks it could do and how I carried the instruction book around to read whenever I had to wait somewhere, like the drive-thru at the bank or a doctor’s office. He cocked his head and squinted his eyes and said, “You have a clock that does all that?” Years ago, I would have accused him of losing his hearing, but now I know better. Even though my brain thinks one word, often another comes out. This happens everyday. Unless I can’t find any semblance to the word I want. Then I just shut up. And sometimes he’s grateful for that.

A couple of days ago I came across “squawling babies” in Cooley & Rose and decided to look up the word “squawling” but could not find it. Then my mind told me to look up “squalling,” hoping it had a secondary or tertiary definition that would fit my meaning. I had no luck there with that either. Then I started going through the alphabet, and when I came to “B”, I stopped. “Brawling babies,” I said and imagined two little diapered fatties, lying on their backs, flinging their arms and kicking their legs. I was wrong again, but the strain of thinking was exhausting me. And then the word came. “Bawling.” It was the right word although a bit bland. I had to jot it down, because my brain kept insisting on returning to “brawling.” DSCN0143

With this path of thought written down on paper, it came to me that somewhere in my mind, the words “squealing” and “bawling” had merged to become “squawling.” Now, after having taken care of my corrections, I wished I’d stayed with the original because even though it’s not a legit word, it seems more expressive than “bawling.”

What do you think?