Long long ago in a faraway land (that I’ve visited and love) lived a minor knight in the service of the Habsburgs who lived not far away. The Habsburgs were not yet that jaw-jutting mega-ruling family they became, but a little conclave of Austrian immigrants who had a castle (see photo above) on a hill looking over the Reuss river valley in what is now the Canton of Aare. In a few hundred years, they’d be chased out of Switzerland, but for now they were busy protecting their interests.

The castle-fortress belonging to the (very minor) knight, Heinrich von Lunkhofen, was on a hillside, somewhat south and east from the Habsburg’s headquarters. It was a tower with a few attached buildings and a courtyard. Its main jobs were to house the minor knight’s family, provide protection to anyone who needed it in times of attack, and protect the Habsburg’s interests. Heinrich’s brother, Hugo, had a similar castle between the Habsburg’s fortress and Heinrich’s. Near the town named for the family, Unter-Lunkhofen, are ruins of Hugo’s castle-fortress, but nothing remains of Heinrich’s.

Of course, the minor knight’s family had a flag which was carried into the crusades (presumably) and whenever there was a battle locally (it was the feudal period, key word, FEUD), and a kind of address marker for mail delivery (You made that up, Martha). Years and years later, a tiny bit of Heinrich’s DNA made it’s way to Monte Vista, Colorado.

So, without further ado (what’s ado?) here’s my family’s flag (crest). It is also the “wappen” for the village of Zwillikon in the area of Affoltern am Albis.

Lunkhofen Wappen


My family has another crest, too, for the other side, the Schneebelis. Their name started out as “Schnew” (snow) and then “Snewli” and then (no one knows why) Schneebeli (little snowballs). German evolved just like English so spellings changed and stuff like that, but “beli”? It’s a red background with three snowballs on it. There’s a lot of dispute (well a “lot” is relative…) over why the Lunkhofen name vanished and the family became Schneebeli. My theory is that it got very inconvenient at a certain point to be connected to the Habsburgs.

My other theory is that there is a genetic predisposition to love snow.


Njal, the Viking Mouse

I can object until I’m blue in the face but it makes very little (if any) difference. I object to a lot of things. Currently I’m objecting to the presence of a tiny field mouse in my house, but he doesn’t care. He is not attracted to the peanut butter or minuscule fragments of popcorn in the numerous traps set all around his habitual stalking area. I’m beginning to think he likes me. I’m wondering if, at night, he curls up with Bear to sleep. He’s a daring little guy. I’ve named him Njal for the ill-fated but virtuous hero of my favorite Icelandic saga.

I object to most of what’s going on in Washington right now and I voted my objection. Easiest ballot I ever filled in. I didn’t have to think about anything since my goal is simply to contribute to restoring the balance of powers. I know how powerful my vote is, too. I’m one tiny person in the middle of a large (in area) rural Colorado county. Oh, the power!!!

I once objected to things vociferously and strenuously, but that was before I was 40. I still had the impression that people were listening to me and waiting eagerly for my opinion. Years teaching taught me that is NOT the case. It was a relief letting the weight of the world fall from my shoulders and, instead, lifting the little piece that belongs to me, barely bigger than this little audacious hungry grey rodent.


Heart-shaped Fruit

Obviously, I never got love right or I’d live in a bigger house with another person in it instead of a little house with two big dogs and a tiny, elusive mouse.


One winter, after a love misadventure in Italy, I ran away and went to stay with my friends who lived near Zürich. I had a brokenish heart. It wasn’t decimated, but it wasn’t happy, either.** My friend’s parents had emigrated to Zürich from Italy right after WW II.

Pietro started to sing before we left the house. He had a terrible singing voice, awful, but not quite as bad as mine. “Non esiste l’amore. E soltanto una fragola,” he sang as he put on his boots.

“Ma, Pietro, no,” said Laura, my friend’s mom. “Marta, Non ascoltarlo. L’amore esiste. E non é FRAGOLA. É FAVOLA, sai? Story. L’amore e buono, bello. Pietro, non essere così cinico.”* 

Pietro winked, put his coat on, and we went out for a walk in the forest. He explained it was a joke. Fragola — strawberry sounds like favola — fable. He wanted to console me. Just being there was a big consolation.

The trip to Italy had been a disaster from the get-go. Late connections. Storms in Cincinnati. A missed plane in New York. Routed through Paris. Lost luggage. No record of my being on the plane from Paris to Mila. No boarding pass. Trapped in the luggage area of Malpensa for an hour while Alitalia sorted it out. The traveling companion I’d picked up on the way to New York was a story in herself, an elderly Italian woman from Las Vegas traveling with two neatly wrapped mink coats disguised as boxes filled with jars of homemade jelly. Finally, in Genoa, I had to borrow my would-be-lover’s mother’s underwear!

When I arrived in Zürich, my luggage was there (thanks to the would-be love in Italy who organized it). Each day was Swiss December sunshine. I felt I’d been meant to be in Zürich in the first place. I loved my friend’s family, Zürich, the forest, their dog. It was really and truly ALL GOOD. It was also the last time I saw Pietro alive. He died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma the next winter.

Looking back, I see this is a pretty romantic story and a grand adventure. Still, that fragile easily-smashed and rotted heart-shaped fruit is a pretty good metaphor for love.





*Martha, don’t listen to him. Love exists. And it’s not strawberry, it’s story, you see? Love is good, beautiful. Pietro, don’t be so cyncial.”

**And, the man in Italy and I are still connected in our own way. I ran away, other stories followed in following years, but some threads are made of tough stuff.



Lamont and Dude Discuss Career Change

“I’m glad that’s over. I’m getting kind of tired of donning the Smilodon Suit every week and driving to LA. I’m thinking of quitting.”

“I saw the last video. You seemed a little off your game.”‘

“Is that supposed to be funny?”

“No, but it is funny. You want to get the girls next door and throw a few steaks on the barbie?”

“Was THAT supposed to be funny?”

“I see what you mean. But anyway, do you?”

“I just want a weekend off, you know? Hang around with no schedules and no hot smilodon suit and no little kid pulling my fake whiskers. It was hard enough being a REAL smilodon.”

“Right, what was hard about that? Top predator, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“You’re going to have to let that go someday, Lamont. I’m sorry it was you in the tarpit, I’ve told you that a hundred times, but I didn’t know it was you, and even if I had, so what? You know it’s kill-or-be-killed out there. How many times did you kill and eat me? You don’t even know.”

“No, but I savor — ha ha — the memories of the times I remember. Maybe we should change the subject and focus on the time I was a bear and you were a beautiful salmon leaping from the mountain stream, right into my mouth.”

“It was a brief and happy life. There’s something to be said for that.”

“Not much when it comes down to it.”

“OK, but it’s good to look on the bright side.”


Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their previous incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.


Conversation with PBYT.Dog

“Yes, Bear.”
“When will it snow?”
“About the time you have my yard completely dug up, I think.”
“I meant to say no one knows.”
“Last year we’d already had a blizzard.”
“I know, but it was the only real snow we had. I think that sucks.”
“We went out in it.”
“Of course we did because we’re idiots like that.”
“I love snow.”
“I love it too, Bear. It will come, sooner or later, but we live between two mountain ranges. They catch most of the storms. It’s just how it is.”
“Why don’t we move?”


PBYT.Dog = Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog



Run, Martha! Run!

I have always been an athlete (and am striving hard now to return to that though godnose what my sport will be). I was a runner in junior high and high school, played softball, hit practice balls for my little bro’s baseball team, played field hockey. I have hiked and run thousands of miles of trails. All this took its toll on my joints, and I have had two hip replacements. I’ve been cleared by my orthopedic surgeon to run and ski, but I don’t know if I will get my mind to the place where those will happen. I hope so.

I think some people are designed so that their brain works better with hard physical exercise. I had rheumatic fever as a kid, developed a heart murmur, and while we lived in Colorado (where I was born) I wasn’t very physically active. But when we moved to sea level when I was 8, that all changed. I discovered baseball, ice skating, high-jumping and running in the forest. I felt free, strong, happy. By the time I was 13, I could hit a ball farther than anyone in my town of 10,000. I could catch anything. I could outrun everybody.

My parents didn’t encourage me — well, my dad did. He’d play catch for hours with me after he came home from work. My mom was an inanimate object who thought physical activity was bad for women. When I ran an incredibly fast 400 meters, my coach called my mom to see if she would sign a permission slip for me to go to Olympic Training Camp for the 400 meters and 400-meter hurdles. Mom refused, saying running would make it impossible for me to have children. I was 13! I think that was the moment I decided I’d rather die than have a baby, and I have no children. Parents who tramp on their kids’ dreams might be killing their own — my mom wanted to be a grandmother.

Back then, there was the idea, also, that sports were “masculine” and girls and women who played them were not very feminine. Sure, there were some sports that were OK for girls — tennis, figure skating, softball, gymnastics, swimming — but otherwise? It was iffy. I grew to hate the word “feminine” because it limited me. Female, OK. Feminine? No thanks. Back then, many people thought that if you were any good, you were overburdened with testosterone like a female Russian weightlifter who’s been caught juicing. Sports are gender neutral and people should do — play — what they love.

When I was a university professor, one of the high points of my time teaching was attending the Scholar Athletes Award Banquet with one of my students, a girl on the soccer team. Her boyfriend — who played on the men’s soccer team — was being honored, too. At our table were two petite young women who ran 400 meters and 400-meter hurdles. I loved that, enjoyed talking to them about their sport, and took it as a sign from wherever signs come from. A gift for me. “You couldn’t have this, Martha, but these young women can.” ❤

The vast majority of the scholar-athletes receiving awards that night (B+ GPA and above) were women. It was (surprisingly) a very emotional evening for me. I got to see the results of Title IX, the law that requires schools to put as much into women’s sports as it does into mens. On the surface it’s an equal opportunity law:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

But it opened a door that, when I was young, didn’t even exist.

Athletics programs are considered educational programs and activities. There are three basic parts of Title IX as it applies to athletics:

  1. Participation: Title IX requires that women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports. Title IX does not require institutions to offer identical sports but an equal opportunity to play;
  2. Scholarships: Title IX requires that female and male student-athletes receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation; and
  3. Other benefits: Title IX requires the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the provisions of: (a) equipment and supplies; (b) scheduling of games and practice times; (c) travel and daily allowance/per diem; (d) access to tutoring; (e) coaching, (f) locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; (g) medical and training facilities and services; (h) housing and dining facilities and services; (i) publicity and promotions; (j) support services and (k) recruitment of student-athletes.

I know not everyone is designed as I am, but everyone should have the right to reach for the highest level of their abilities if they want to. My mom’s decision didn’t make me stop running and who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t have made it to the Olympic team. That I didn’t get to try is, ultimately no big deal, but the fight I had with my mom after she got off the phone with my coach was, for good or ill, a determining moment of my life.



One of the best moments of serendipity in my life (and there have been several) was that I happened to look on Facebook the very day this dog was brought into the local shelter, and, without hesitating, I contacted the shelter to meet the dog. She looked at me with my  Siberian husky Lily’s blue eyes. I’d had to put Lily down only a few months before and I knew another dog would be coming into my life. When I saw this puppy, I knew I’d found my dog. I still had doubts, but…

At the shelter, I met one of the coolest young people I know. More serendipity. Brandi knew that I was Bear’s owner – though Bear was then called Silver, a good name, too — and though others came to see Bear, Brandi gave them no encouragement. “I knew she was your dog as soon as I met you,” she told me later.


Bear appeared to be a husky/Pyrenees mix. I didn’t know anything about livestock guardian dogs except I’d seen them working. I knew huskies were higher energy than I could deal with at that time. It turned out that Bear is an Akbash dog, a livestock guardian breed from Turkey. Livestock guardian dogs, in general, are calm, pretty low energy (they’re bred to keep sheep from going crazy which, if you know anything about sheep, is not that easy), independent, intelligent and they bond tightly to whatever they’re supposed to bond to — sheep, goats or me.

I like this dog a LOT. She’s turned out to be a good friend (for a dog). She has some odd behaviors — she hugs people, for one. She sits on her haunches and wraps her arms around people who come to my house. It’s her way to say hello rather than jumping on them. She’s pretty forceful in this demonstration of affection. She really wants my friends to feel welcome but I think sometimes they feel frightened because she’s so large. She’s very gentle and slow moving with small kids and kitties! She’s especially attentive and loving to my friend’s developmentally disabled son.

She’s a lap dog — but that’s normal behavior for her breed, too, to sit or lie on the creatures they care for. She’s openly affectionate — I’m used to Siberian Huskies who are very independent dogs, somewhat cat-like in their show of affection. For a Siberian Husky, showing love is going “hunting” with you for several hours. So having a dog who seeks and gives affection has been different. Often, on a walk, Bear will stop gathering her messages and tracking animals, and snuggle up beside me so I can put my hand on her back as we walk along. She loves this and I do, too.

Before getting Bear, I’d already had, probably, 20 dogs, but never a dog like this. ❤



Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog



Weather Report

Winds in the San Luis Valley blast between the San Juans and the Sangre de Cristos. Spring winds carry newly turned soil in dust clouds from one side of the valley to the other. Winter’s bitter winds drive drifts against snow fences and mountains. Summer winds ahead of thunderstorms clear the air awakening somnolent crops. Fall winds scatter golden cottonwood and aspen leaves across a blue, blue sky. The oldest trees lean, knowing that resisting the wind is the easiest way to break.


Accept this Simple Toad

I love P.G. Wodehouse. One winter — 1981/82 — I went through all his novels and short stories like a starving person on a desert island. Later that same year, I ended up getting married to my second husband. It wasn’t meant to be a serious marriage. It was supposed to last a year and allow him to go with me to China. I took everything lightheartedly, flippantly, even, and P.G. Wodehouse influenced the design of my wedding ring.

In one of the stories, the protagonist — we’ll call him Bertie, but he wasn’t Bertie — and his best friend — go out drinking because the friend has a broken heart. At the end of the evening, they end up several sheets to the wind. They say their goodbyes and go their separate ways. In the wee hours of the morning, Bertie falls into a pond. He manages to haul himself out and he staggers home, soaking wet, covered with weeds.

As the friend staggers home, he meets his girlfriend coming out of a cab. They make up, and set a date for their wedding.

As fate (and P. G. Wodehouse) would have it, the two friends run into each other. Bertie hears all the good news but finds it difficult to care. He’s cold, wet and drunk, but he still realizes this is an important moment in the life of his friend. He decides (in his inebriated state) to give his friend something to mark the happy moment. He fishes (haha) around in his pocket and finds a toad. He hands it to his friend saying, “Please, accept this simple toad as a symbol of my feelings on this special moment.”

I wanted that to be my wedding vow. I wanted my new husband to say, “Please, accept this simple toad…” It didn’t happen that way.

The ring is my design. It’s sterling with a toad carved onto it. Its eye was a tiny emerald that fell out when I was trying to help some people push their camper out of deep sand in the Anza Borrego Desert.


The marriage didn’t work out and, sadly, was not the hilarious, flippant, short-term affair I’d dreamed of. I’ve learned over the years that people don’t take my sense of humor seriously.




OK, here’s the deal. “We as writers” need to (mostly) use words our audience can understand without stopping to look them up. That’s the vocabulary imperative for any writer. “Fleek” is not going to make the cut long term or short term, no matter how “fleek” it is. Another important point for us, as writers, is that no words are inherently “bad” or “good.” There are words that are the right words for the job and words that are not the right words for the job. The badness or goodness of a word is not inherent in the word at all, but in its fitness for use.

Lots of words pass through our world as fads. Some of them are really groovy, but they exist for a short-lived purpose. Sometimes words are employed by the young to separate them from the larger tribe. I get that. I used to be young, and so much of what the older people did made no sense. I now see that youth’s special vocabulary came from a deep (atavistic?) desire to reciprocate the incomprehensibility. Golding wrote about this in Lord of the Flies.

Words are the paints of writing. The reason we make kids learn “big words” is so they have a bigger paintbox. Who knows what they’re going to be when they grow up and stop being groovy, phat, bad, wack and fleek? The right words give personality, place and time to characters in a story, precision to a technical document, clarity to an analysis of an argument. The right word can circumscribe a sunset, hold a mountain range, light up a river. The wrong word strikes a discordant note so abrasive that readers flee.