Monday, April 30, 2012

The Joys of Home Ownership

You know the definition of a house: a hole in the ground into which you pour money.

We’ve recently been trying to help our daughter purchase her first home. The ones she likes in the area where she wants to live are too expensive. The ones she can afford are much too small, in bad areas, or would require an exorcism and resurrection to make them habitable.

We’ve owned two houses plus a townhouse in our lives.

The first was supposed to be a ‘starter home.‘ We owned it for seventeen years, during which time we structurally changed all but one room. And we did all the work ourselves. We defined DIY long before it became popular.

While we owned that place, we also bought the townhouse. We used it on the weekends, and our daughter lived there while in college. We did nothing in the way of changes to it, even though I hated the electric stove and kept threatening to replace it.

Instead, we sold both the first place and the condo and bought a larger house near the beach. Our daughter was grown, so no one could understand why, instead of downsizing, we upsized. The answer was simple: we loved the house, location, and proximity to the ocean. (Since Larry is an avid surfer, our priorities were clear.)

We also bought this particular house because it was only about seven years old and had just been completely refurbished: new carpet, fresh paint, new plantation shutters. The yard was lovely and already landscaped. It required nothing in the way of repairs and little maintenance.

Twenty-five years later, however, we’ve replaced the roof, all the windows and most of the doors, survived four broken pipes and a cracked shower pan, relocated all the piping, added another breaker panel, re-landscaped both the front and back yards, remodeled all the bathrooms as well as the kitchen. We’ve also re-carpeted the whole house and replaced some of that.

Now that we’ve retired, we hope nothing major will be required since the house is in better-than-new condition. But we’re not counting on it.

I’ve also been thinking about home upkeep since Nan Burton, my protagonist in the new book Ghost Writer, to be published this summer by Oak Tree Press, inherits a beach cottage and soon discovers the questionable joys of home ownership.

How about you? Do you have any horror stories about how your house self-destructed? Or are you one of the few blessed souls who never seem to have houses turn against you? I’d like to know.

Monday, April 23, 2012


This has been a major issue for me throughout my life. It still comes back to bite me at the most unexpected times.

When I was a baby and toddler, my grandfather was the most important person in my life. That’s because I was the center of his universe. He spent every minute of his time at home with me.

When I was born, my parents lived in a little two-room house behind my mother’s family home. Each night, my grandfather tapped the kitchen window on his way down the driveway to let my grandmother know he’d arrived. Then he headed straight to me. We spent at least an hour together each evening, Grandpa reading me book after book or carrying me around the ‘big house’ pointing out each item and naming it. No wonder I had a fifty-two word vocabulary at a year! (Mom was sure no one would believe it, so she documented all the words in my baby book.)

Grandpa read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (commonly referred to as “’Twas the Night before Christmas”) so often that when I was sixteen months old, he stood me on the dining room table, and I recited the whole poem at breakneck speed for all my grandparents’ friends. (I actually remember looking down at my little patent leather Mary Janes while doing this.)

On the weekends, Grandpa took me everywhere with him. To this day, lumberyards and hardware stores are my favorite places. The smell of freshly-cut wood, the gleam of hardware, and all the intriguing gadgets bring back wonderful memories.

Then one day, Grandpa didn’t come home. Because I was only twenty-six months old, no one told me what happened or talked to me about Grandpa or death. I have vivid memories of standing at the screen door of the ‘little house’ day after day, waiting to hear his footsteps on the driveway. They never came.

Five years later, my dad went to work one day and didn’t return. Because he left for work before I woke and returned after I went to bed, I almost never saw him during the week. On the weekends, he was usually out in the garage or at a neighbor’s house building things. That environment was not considered suitable for anyone of my age or gender. (Hey, Dad, I can take apart and fix nearly anything, so your mechanical skills passed to me. Also to my brother, but he did get to spend some time with you, even though he was nearly three years younger.)

I have fewer memories of my dad than of Grandpa, but the day of his death is etched in my mind as though it happened yesterday. I remember getting off the bus, looking down the street, and seeing lots of cars at my house, some of them unfamiliar. The walk seemed endless as I tried to figure out what was going on. It was a weekday, and Mom should have been at work.

I recall entering the house and seeing my grandfather at the end of the hall with his arm around Mom. This was particularly curious since my paternal grandfather and my mother mutually loathed each other.

I can still hear my mom telling me that my dad was dead, looking at my relatives and the neighbors, and realizing that they were expecting a reaction. My thought was, I guess I should cry. But I hadn’t yet connected any emotion to hearing the news. Always a pleaser, however, I managed some tears. 

My aunt gave me a glass of tomato juice.

I was sent back to school the next day.

Several days later, the funeral was held. I begged to be allowed to attend, but following the best advice of the day, Mom wouldn’t let me. I never missed a day of school following my father’s death. And we never discussed it or grieved together as a family until about fifty years later.

As an adult, I realized that denial was Mom’s method of putting one foot in front of the other in order to raise two small children alone. We owe her such a great debt by choosing the hard path. My grandmother wanted us to move back to the family home. Thank God she chose not to do that! The two women did not get along well, and life with Grandma would have been horrible.

Instead, we stayed in our neighborhood that was truly an extended family. We used to joke that we didn’t dare to do anything wrong because our parents would hear about it before we got home. We had a large support network, but I was an early ‘latchkey kid’ responsible for my younger brother.

As an adult, several of the other parents in the neighborhood told me they would have liked to have done more for us, but mother’s stubborn pride did not allow her to accept any help. As a child, all I knew was that we could count on any of the other parents in case of emergency. And that we were very, very poor. (Dad only left enough insurance to bury him.)

Of course, another reason I’m grateful that Mom chose to stay in Alhambra was that Larry grew up in the same neighborhood.

I felt abandoned first by my grandfather, then by my father, and then by Mom when she went back to work. She was physically present, but was emotionally unavailable to both of us. Again, I understand that it was her coping mechanism, but we both felt very insecure as kids.

All these feelings came back as I wrote Ghost Writer (coming this summer from Oak Tree Press). My protagonist, Nan Burton, feels abandoned when her parents decide to take an extensive trip, just when she’d like to have them available for help. She feels abandoned, but also feels guilty. Just as I did, however, she experiences a sense of accomplishment when she’s able to cope with her problems by herself. 

Have you ever felt abandoned? Are there other childhood insecurities that continue to evoke emotions in adulthood? How do you cope with them? (I write about them.)

Monday, April 16, 2012


 My mother-in-love had a theory which I've found to be true. Not only do people take vacations, but so do things. You, know, those items that go missing and, after a period of time, you discover in the place you’ve searched several times before.

Recently we went on a long trip and, against my usual practice, I took along some jewelry. Among the items was my mother-in-love’s gold cross. It’s one of my most precious pieces, not for its financial value, but for its meaning to me since I’m the only one in the family who remembers why it was so important to her.

Mother (she was ‘Mother’ and my own was ‘Mom'—I truly had two mothers) was a pampered only child. Her mother died fairly young, which made her even more of a ‘daddy’s girl’ than she'd been before. And that was always a close relationship. When her dad died of cancer at seventy-three, she was heartbroken.

One day, while cleaning out his safety deposit box, she found a lovely gold cross with a diamond at the center attached to a watch fob. She brought it home and invited me over to see it.

She told me, “It’s almost like Daddy left this for me to find.”

I had just gotten some of her family pictures framed for a photo wall. The minute I saw the cross, I took her to the wall and pointed to the one of her as a baby with her parents. In that picture, she is clearly wearing the same cross.

Of course we both cried.

“I’ll bet Daddy bought it for me and then put it away until I was old enough to wear it. So it really was a last gift from him.”

On the day she died, Dad asked me if there was anything of Mother’s I’d like to have. Of course I answered, “Her cross.”

He went straight to her room and brought it out.

“Oh, Dad,” I said with the tears starting afresh. “I don’t need to take this right now.”

His eyes shone when he wrapped his hand around mine holding the special piece of jewelry. “She knew you loved it, and I’m sure she’d want you to have it. I’m afraid it might get mislaid if it stays here.”

Whenever I wear it, I tell Larry, “I’m wearing your mother today.” And I feel her presence around me.

Since we were going to be visiting our niece and her pastor husband, and since we’d be gone for several Sundays, I took the cross with me on the trip.

On Easter Sunday, I looked for it to wear, only to discover that it hadn’t been put back in its usual place. So I checked all my drawers, all the suitcases, in short, everywhere I might have stashed it. No cross. And none of the other pieces I’d taken were anywhere to be found.

I wasn’t worried that I might have lost it because I’d worn it the week before and was sure it had come home. But after returning from church, I went through everything again. Still no luck.

When these things happen, I always remember Mother’s vacation theory. It also includes that those things that take trips return when they’re ready.

This morning I guess the vacation was finally over because I made one more thorough search of the suitcases. And there were the little bags with my jewelry, right where I’d already checked several times.

Do your possessions ever take vacations? This beats every other theory I’ve heard for what happens to them.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Today is Easter, the time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It made me start to think of resurrections in general.

The dictionary defines resurrection as:
1.      the act of rising from the dead.
2.      the state of those risen from the dead.
3.      a rising again, as from decay, disuse, etc.; revival.

I don’t think I’ve ever done the first two, but it seems I am in a constant state of the latter. I’ve always been easily bored. Yet, I don’t do well with chaos and upheaval. At home, I want everything in its place. I can’t stand clutter. Clean is important. Yet, too much of the sameness makes me want to scream.

Larry is a creature of habit. He’d follow the same routine each day, eat exactly the same meals, watch the same TV shows, and keep precisely the same schedule. As long as surfing was in the mix, he’d be content.

I need variety. I need to take a different path occasionally, see new people, places, things.

Larry re-reads the same books over and over. I’m always moving on to the next one. There’s so much to see and do and learn. I want to gobble up as much as I can.

As I am getting older, though, I realize that I can’t do everything I could when I was younger. Sometimes I feel positively ancient. That’s when I need a resurrection. I have to force myself to get up, get moving, do something new.

We were on the road for four weeks in March. By about the third week, Larry was more than ready to come home, but I loved every minute of it. Well, except for trying to sleep in strange beds.

As usual, I planned our journey like a general headed into battle. Each day was packed with visits with friends (as many as possible), covering miles and miles (over 4,000 in all), and experiencing as much as possible in the time allowed. And we saw a great deal.

But the most important part of the trip for me was reuniting with old friends we hadn’t seen in years.

We started in Prescott Valley, AZ with my former boss and his wife. Larry and I worked with both of them for several years before I left that company in 1985. He changed jobs two years later. We lost track of them for a time, but reconnected about seven years ago. What a joy to spend time with them!

We also had dinner with another couple who used to attend our church but moved to Prescott, AZ several years ago. We see them about once a year. (The husband stayed at our house for a couple of nights last fall.)

Since our four friends had never met each other, we planned dinner together. The two couples had so much in common that we’re sure they’ll stay in touch. For me, it was a resurrection of cherished friendships and the beginning of a new relationship between two couples we adore.

Next, we moved on to Tempe, AZ for Sunday services with a young man who grew up in our church here in California. He’s just been installed as the pastor there. Another couple from our San Juan church, who have moved to Colorado but winter in Chandler, also attended with us. Then they, their Chandler neighbors, and the young pastor and his family went to lunch with us. Another of my former bosses, whom I haven’t seen since about 1979, drove from Phoenix to join us. What a joy to see her again! And I added yet another resurrection of old memories of good times.

On to Deming NM, where we spent the day with one of my best grammar school friends. Over the years, I’d lost track of her, but about a week before we left, I located her again. What a fabulous day! It was as though we’d never been apart! I felt younger and refreshed when we left. And there is the promise of yet another visit together this summer.

Then on to San Antonio, TX for the EPICon conference. We look forward to this event each year where we reconnect with dear friends and make new ones. In addition to the great workshops and other conference events, I received and signed the contract for my next book, Ghost Writer, to be published this summer by Oak Tree Press. The publisher brought the contract with her as a surprise for me.

On the Saturday of the conference, we held an event, including a book signing, that was open to the public. This time, a friend from grammar school and high school drove three hours each way from Houston just to spend a little time with us! We hadn’t seen each other since graduation. And once again I had that sense of revival and revitalization. She, too, is planning to come to Dana Point for a visit soon.

After the conference, we traveled north to Dallas to spend a few days with our daughter, Kim. We really miss her and had a wonderful time just being with her.

Next, we ventured to Colorado where we had lived for a year in the ‘70s. We spent the night in Denver in a funky and fun B&B, and ate dinner at the Buckhorn Exchange, a favorite haunt during our time there. The clock turned back, and I rediscovered the love I’d had for the city and for Colorado.

On to Idaho Springs, CO, the inspiration for the fictional town of Aspen Grove, CO we created for our anthologies. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time we were there. We stayed in a charming B&B called The Miner’s Pick. The innkeeper was a delight, and we felt at home and welcomed.

Walking the streets of town for hours, taking photos of all the lovely old buildings, eating in the restaurants, made my made-up town feel real. We toured the gold mine—more great research since our little town is an historic silver mining town and much of the process is the same.

We also drove to Georgetown where we found even more inspiration. Many photos later, we felt we had captured the essence of these small, historic, mining towns, and I have some new ideas for business and people for the future. We even sold a few of our books!

Then on to Utah to visit our niece and nephew.

But the night before we left Colorado, I discovered that my ancestors had lived in a town about fifteen minutes off the main highway right on our way. I felt compelled to go there, and last week’s blog was about the amazing emotional experience I had there.

Our few days with our niece and her family were full of fun. Since we have no grandchildren and are unlikely to ever have any, being able to play with and spoil their two little boys was a delight.

Our last stop was in Las Vegas to see more friends. We enjoyed a lovely dinner and a great deal of conversation. We hope to see them at the end of this month when they return to our little piece of Paradise.

We returned home tired, and overwhelmed by everything that we’d seen and done. It will probably take me another month to process everything. But I’m not bored and feel revived and ready to go!

Now, is that a resurrection?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Unexpected Reaction

On Thursday, we left Grand Junction, Colorado on our way to Centerville, Utah to see our niece, Carrie, and her family. That morning, I realized that we’d be passing close to Spring City Utah, where my grandfather was born and where his family lived.
I went on to to verify the city and discovered that a distant cousin had recently posted photos of the local cemetery and the headstones of my great-great grandparents. (There are 39 cemeteries in Sanpete County, so without this information, it would have been nearly impossible to locate them.)

I contacted him through to see if he knew where the family home was located since I have a drawing of it from about thirty years ago. He answered back while we were on the road to say that he had no idea, but wished us well in our search.

Since it would be only about a fifteen-minute detour to go into Spring City, Larry agreed that we should make the trip. I had absolutely no expectations about what we would find there, but I definitely felt a strong impulse to make the pilgrimage.

I’d always known that my dad’s family was one of the Mormon pioneer families who settled Utah. About twenty years ago, my aunt Mary Evelyn (Dad’s younger sister) gave me copies of lots of the family information, photos, stories, and the sketch of the original house.

The southern part of Utah was arid and looked much like the desert areas of Arizona. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would have moved there. However, as we left the Interstate and headed into the valley and Sanpete, the landscape began to change. Mountains began to rise on either side, and ranches and farmland started to dot the landscape. As we got closer to Spring City, the area grew greener and more beautiful. And I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion.
I still haven’t been able to fully comprehend everything I was feeling. I think part of it was a profound sense of the loss of my father, who died when I was seven years old, even though I don’t believe he ever visited that place. In addition I felt such a connection to his family, knowing that they had lived and died there.

On the way into town, we passed the cemetery. It took very little searching before Larry located the grave markers. Just seeing their names carved into the sandstone somehow made them real to me. My tears represented both loss and joy and a profound sense of gratitude. Had it not been for these adventurous spirits,, I would not have been standing at their graves.

After seeing the cemetery, we continued into town and stopped at the city hall to see if they knew where the house was located. The young woman at the desk was most accommodating in attempting to assist us. However, we were unable to find the building.

This entire trip has been amazing, and nearly every day has provided another highlight. This certainly was one of them. Our journey has been all about family and friends. Touching the past added another dimension to an already memorable experience.