“You look great!”

“You’ve lost weight! Maybe ten pounds!”

“Yeah, well, so would you if you had surgery, ended up with a horrific case of thrush from the antibiotics so you couldn’t eat, then got fifty-million different opioids that killed your appetite. It’s a done deal.”

“No, really, you’re leaner and straighter.”

“You’d be straighter too if some guy cut you open and sawed out worn and crooked bones and replaced them with extra parts from the Tin Man. You’d be straighter.”

“Good job. Sometime tell me how you managed to reduce so fast!”

And this, folks, is how some (not all!!!) people actually do listen to each other. Cracks me up.



Pain and Pleasure

Yesterday at physical therapy I was standing there doing tug-o-war with my therapist. Yeah, it’s an exercise. I’m supposed to hold still while he attempts to move me away from my center by pulling in one direction or the other. It’s a hip strengthening and stabilizing exercise. The tool involved is stretchy. Once that was finished, we moved on to his pulling me (using the same stretchy tool) from the front. I was thinking about how great it’s been to be able to safely do so many things I want (and more that I don’t want, like yard work) so quickly after surgery thanks all the physical work I did before the surgery, the miles and miles on the bike-to-nowhere, the dog walks that were often excruciating.

“You need to give me a challenge,” I said to Ron, grinning. “I’m pretty strong.”

“You are,” he said. “You know, I think you’re ready to walk on uneven ground.”

“I have been.”

“Where?” I told him about our walks out at Shriver/Wright Wildlife Refuge with the heat the the horseflies, how beautiful it was, how silent and empty (because who wants to walk in heat with horseflies? Only a dedicated idiot stoic like me, I guess). “It’s mostly flat, but there are some little — very little — hills.” My new thing is finding hills. Not big hills, but hills.

I had been thinking that I’m now able to walk my dogs at the slough and do a lot of other things because of the way I was raised. I felt grateful to those “cowboys” who raised me to be tough and to have a sense of humor about it. There wasn’t a lot of indulgence in the Kennedy household. In my mind’s “ear” I heard my mom say, “Quit yer bellyaching,” followed by a slap across the face as enforcement.

I literally grew up expecting pain. One friend a long time ago called me a masochist, but that’s not it at all. A masochist LIKES pain. I don’t like it, but it doesn’t surprise me. What has surprised me is NOT feeling pain. That’s amazing.

I wonder how I would have raised children to expect both pain and pleasure and take neither for granted, to understand pain enough to know that it may be transitory but maybe not; it may need to be dealt with. Still, it’s universal to all people and so should inspire compassion. I would want to raise them to understand pleasure is also transitory and somewhat random, but can be the fruit of their kindness to others — which is intentional and which they can choose and can ameliorate a lot of the pain in the world.

All in all, the cowboy stoicism with which I was raised seems to have been a good thing, though I could’ve done without the slaps. It looks like I’ll be doing that mountain hike two months earlier than originally projected. ❤ Thanks mom.

Stoicism: an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.


Navigating Time Travel

Reading a street map is becoming a lost art. Is that OK? I rely on my phone, too. It’s like having a wife who sits in the passenger seat with a map and tells me where to turn. I’m sorry for the sexist remark “wife” here but in my life that person was either my mom or me so it isn’t all that sexist. When I was in Switzerland with my friend L I opted NOT to pay extra for GPS because I was going to have a “wife” who could navigate. I wasn’t thinking that, 1) L drives everywhere in her life because 2) her husband is blind and 3) not everyone LIKES maps as much as I do and 4) she wasn’t really good at reading a map and 5) Switzerland is what one from out here where the second largest town in an area as large as Connecticut has only 4000 people, well, we might call Switzerland “compressed.” Where the next town HERE might be 14 miles away, in Switzerland it might be half a mile.

I can tell you, it led to some pretty ugly moments, but we always got there, and L got better at map reading. All was well.

As for me here in the wild and woollies, my cell phone service data plan doesn’t cover the San Luis Valley. I have a Rand McNally road atlas in my car, but with no co-pilot that’s a bit of a problem but there is this little trick of pulling over and looking at the map. I’m pretty good at that.

Maps fascinate me. In the process of writing my historical novels, I found old maps to be like time machines. While writing The Brothers Path I tried to imagine the moment when Felix Manz was drowned in the Limmat and what kind of panic that might have inspired in some people — including my characters. In fact, the first line I wrote of that book was THAT moment, the moment when the brothers Thomann and Andreas realized they were about to witness something that had never, ever, ever happened before* and one of them, Thomann, quickly apprehended that it could result in a lot more deaths if not a riot. Thomann told his brother to run. In fact, the first line I wrote of that novel was, “Andreas! Run!”

But where? Zürich today is not Zürich of the 16th century. It was a walled city — and it had been walled more than once, a series of walls ever reaching outward as the city grew. I found a map. A beautiful 16th century map with the names of the various gates clearly marked. I saw the roads (old, old roads, still there, paved, lined, traffic filled, but old) that would have taken them out of the city that horrible day. There was a squat little tower called the Ketzitzturli (sp) that would have put him right on the road home.

Many of the streets in Zürich carry the names of the towers to once they led. I found it pretty easy to drive in Zürich because I knew this old map so well.

*The leader of the Reformed church, Huldrych Zwingli, executed his former friend, the Anabaptist, Felix Manz. It was the first execution of a Protestant by a Protestant and it happened only 3 years after the beginning of the Reformation. Both men had once been priests.



Once upon a time, four 1/2 years ago, when I first moved here, I looked at the yard and thought, “Wow. All I have to do is mow it!” I’d been living on a 1/4 acre of rock riddled land in the Cuyamaca Mountains of California and to cut the weeds/foxtails, I had to use a weed-eater. My new, green Colorado lawn seemed like Heaven well, in Heaven.

I’d forgotten. Twenty years before I’d had a lawn. I’d even planted the damned thing with seed! and then we got a lawn mower and I mowed it and I…

hated it. Hated that job. Looking at the emerald splendor of my new Colorado lawn, I forgot all about that until the first time I hitched up my (electric) mower and went at my front yard. Strong feelings of hating it rose to the surface, and as I criss-crossed the relatively small surface I yelled, “I hate this. I HATE it. I HATE IT.”

I gotta’ get out there before it gets too hot which is tomorrow when it’s supposed to hit 90.


Old and Moldies?

I’m pretty sure this can’t last forever, but for now I LOVE everything. Seriously. Bear brings in lilac branches I don’t think, “You stupid dog. Now I have to clean up after you.” I think, “Oh, lilac branches.” I’ve been rejuvenated by my hip replacement.

One of my small pleasures (sometimes not so small) is listening to a radio station from San Diego every Sunday morning. The program? “Legends of Alternative.” I’ve written about it before. It’s really and truly one of the absolutely LEAST important things happening the world today (or any day). The DJ, a Brit named Steve West, was the DJ of my favorite radio station (91X) back in the 80s/90s. I listened to him every day on my drive home from school — he had the afternoon slot. I can’t hear his voice without imagining the loop from College onto the I-8 West and the trip home. For a time, home was in Hillcrest, a block from Balboa Park. Later home was in City Heights, a sketchy neighborhood where some of my friends and/or colleagues wouldn’t park their cars.

A lot’s happened in the thirty years and it’s not like I can’t listen to the same music via any number of free or paid streaming platforms through my phone. Huh? In 1985 such a thought was — well, there was no such thought. I just sat in front of my Amiga trying to write stories and ending up writing letters to people I could’ve called on the phone or met for coffee (I wanted a Mac like the one belonging to a neighbor; he’d let me borrow it for a month) but the ex, (a programmer for Convair) was more impressed by the Amiga which just shows you shouldn’t always listen to experts.

He’s no longer on 91X but has moved over to their competitor, 94.9.

From time to time, via the medium of Facebook, I request a song. Steve West invariably plays it and mentions “Martha in the little town of Monte Vista, Colorado” and like a 7th grader I’m thrilled. The song is usually what Tracy from “Reflections of an Untidy Mind” has very accurately identified as my “Anthem.” It’s not like I don’t have various recordings of this song (CD, cassette tape [yes, really]) but I like hearing it on the radio. I also like the fact that the first time I heard the song it was spun on a turntable by this self-same Steve West back in 1986. And, he loves the song. What could be better? He’s even played various mixes for me. Yeah, 7th grader…

It’s a silly Sunday ritual but a sweet one. One old song after the other comes out of my speakers and I savor the nostalgia or wince at the horror, depending. He has a slight predilection for the more cheerful songs of the era, Morrissey excepted. He seems to think that Ministry was a better band before they went all “dark and industrial” (I disagree) but from time to time he’ll play a legit punk song, usually something familiar to people, like “God Save the Queen.” That’s OK. I know the truth. I heard his interviews with Johnny Rotten and Jello Biafra.

Meanwhile, back to the slowly reduced number of chores on the “escalator of life” out here in the “wild, wild west.”



A Painless Hike and a Kind of Prayer

Thinking back over the past several months, all the kindness that’s come my way, finding the best possible doctor, having a hospital stay that was comforting and healing with wonderful, caring nurses, being surrounded by friends, and cared for in the most intimate ways by a friend who was willing to give up ten days of her life to see that I was ready to be on my own, finding out that shopping with a friend is fun, having a friend fix me food that might make me want to eat something, being joined in walks in my hood by people I like, knowing that my dogs weren’t just being cared for but actually LOVED, well — the list is way, way, way too long.

I’m not a church person. I don’t think God is in a building — well, he is, but not only — and at the end of this day I looked at Dusty and Bear and thought, “I have to say thank you somehow for this miraculous moment of my life, but what?” Of course, they had the answer.

So out we went. I walked the entire mile loop — it took 45 minutes but that’s fine. I was there expressing and feeling gratitude plus it was my first walk on uneven ground, though very familiar ground. The wind blew, it was dinner time so no one was out there and Dusty was free, the dogs walked carefully and slowly beside me, the light was beautiful, meadowlarks sang, a redtail hawk swooped. I saw that the the wild iris HAD bloomed there after all and I was happy, even though I missed them. I love that nature is going to do its thing whether I’m there to see it or not. I thought for a moment about how inconsistent my parents were and realized one of the reasons I grew to love nature so much is that it is not inconsistent. It can surprise you, but the reason behind it will make perfect scientific sense and can be understood. It’s not just drunk or in a bad mood.

About 3/4 of the way, I began to feel tired and we went more slowly. Bear pulled a little but a gentle “No” brought her back to my side. It was paradise and in the midst of it I realized that there is no way I will ever be able to express my gratitude, but these months have changed me and not just the first pain-free “hike” I’ve had in years, but in other ways that I will learn as time goes by.

Martha’s Saga

When you’re stove up there’s just stuff you can’t do and some of that might drive you nuts. The true nature of three common trees and shrubs — lilac, elm and aspen — is not known to everyone, but the truth is they are invasive as hell and opportunistic sons-o-bitches. They LOVE the dog yard because the sewer line runs through there and sewer lines in my (old) town are enormous clay pipes. Basically, my back yard — dog yard — is lilac, elm and aspen paradise.

Every year I cut them before they’re 6 inches. I mow them and that’s pretty much all I need to do to remind them who’s boss, but this year, that wasn’t happening. Add to that the guys who turned on the sprinkler — whom I’d asked NOT to turn on the sprinklers back there — turned on the sprinklers back there and they ran for at LEAST two hours three times a week. The lilac, aspen and elm were all singing about the wonder of life and the greatness of this summer and the owner of this house. Since those sprinklers didn’t seem to want to go off I also had to trudge (cane and all) through this jungle in the mud to turn off the sprinklers. Finally the guys came out and fixed the problem but by then many of these wretched plants were over 6 feet tall with  stems that were approaching trunks in width.

Not a pretty picture.



So yesterday I cleaned the yard that is the garden and might, someday, be a nice place to sit of a morning with a cup of coffee (when I’m able to carry coffee down two steps). Today I pondered, “What next?” But I knew…

I knew my weed-eater wasn’t powerful enough for the job and the lawn mower couldn’t cut it (ha ha). There were two possibilities. Hand pruners or hedge clippers. The choice was easy. Bear and I went into the dark, dark garage and found them and I took after the bushes. After 30 minutes, I had a pathway from the garage to the front fence and Bear’s second favorite hole.



“It’s still here, Human!”

After another 30 minutes, I’d cut a similar swath back to the little sidewalk that runs along the garage. I was done. Lunch and water and back out there, surprised to see I had a lot less work remaining than I thought.

I went for it. Thirty minutes later I invited Dusty to come out to inspect my work. His conclusion? “Yes, human, you’ll have no problems finding my poop here. Good job.”

That is, of course, the point.



“Couldn’t have done better myself.” “Dusty, you don’t have opposable thumbs. You couldn’t have DONE it yourself.”

The next chore awaiting my attention will not take place until Monday. It will involve the lawn mower and the front yard. Strangely, I’d rather cut down all those lilacs with hedge pruners than get out the lawn mower and go through all that. That’s a job I truly hate.

This evening I’m going to try something new; taking Dusty and Bear to the slough for a walk. Maybe no one will be there and certainly the light will be wonderful. There are lenticular clouds out there now and that could (please whoever’s in charge) mean rain.




Gratefully back to Business as (Somewhat Slower than) Usual



Bear, happy to be home


Lori, the owner of Noah’s Arff, brought Dusty and Bear home to me yesterday afternoon. They were so HAPPY! Lori pulled into the alley, I left the back gate open, both dogs went straight to their yard and into their house. Dusty spent the first hour glued to me and Bear spent her first hour exploring the vastly overgrown wilderness that was once her yard. She was VERY impressed, however, by her favorite hole because now the lilac has leaves and has grown around the hole so she can not only dig, but she can hide.



Dusty in his favorite spot


I have always been amazed by dogs and I was curious to see what Bear and Dusty would do when they came home. They were gone for 6 weeks — 43 nights. They learned a whole new schedule, new life, new people, new regimen. They had fun and playmates and sometimes a lot of time in the VERY large kennel that is “theirs” (it’s easily 10 x 10 feet). But once home, it didn’t take long for them to reassert their dog-status and re-assume their habits. The REAL test was last evening, after dinner, about 7:30 pm (a beautiful time of day on the longest day of the year, the first day of summer) Bear stood in the kitchen giving me a certain look which means, “C’mon! Let’s go! C’mon! The alpenglow! You’re going to miss it! I have messages to read! Let’s go!”

I wasn’t sure I was ready to walk her, honestly. I’d half planned to wait a day or two, take control of the moment, make it my own choice, but I love that dog and I thought she was right.

“Dusty, you have to stay here. I can’t handle you both.” Dusty seemed to nod in understanding. I leashed Bear and out we went. She was eager, but responsive to a command I’ve taught her which is, “Go slow.” So we had our evening walk on the longest day of the year, slow and peaceful around the high school. I met a neighbor with her sweet, smart and very loyal little white poodle. Bear sat and listened to our short chat about stuff. Then we went on our way Bear read messages, left a couple, while I looked at my mountains and thought to myself that there’s nothing more beautiful than a simple moment with a good dog.

I’m so glad they’re home. Now I have to go clean up their yard. There’s probably even a pond out there somewhere I don’t know about.


“I missed my coffee!!! Thanks human!”



I like Italy, but I’ve had so many Italian experiences I don’t know where to start or what to write. I don’t know how it happened that Italy and Italians took such a large role in my life, but that’s how it happened.

I’ve been in Italy several times — I haven’t traveled around much as I tend to be more an “intensive” than “extensive” traveler. I like to BE somewhere for a while and get to know it and experience some of daily life. In 2004 I decided to follow Goethe to Verona — the first place on his Italian Journey where he saw an actual Roman ruin. Now that I’ve been around a bit, that seems kind of odd since the Romans were everywhere, but that’s his story and if he likes it, that’s fine.

In Verona is an amphitheater where all the usual bread and circus stuff took place some millennia back, but more recently, at the end of the 19th century, Giuseppe Verdi thought it might be cool to stage his new opera — Aida — in the Arena.

In 2004 I got to hear it and it was really wonderful to be in that place as the sun set and the music came up — the spectacle directed by Franco Zefferelli. I was in Verona for a month, studying Italian and wandering around so I went to see Madame Butterfly, too. For Aida I bought expensive seats. For Madame Butterfly I sat on the sun-warmed marble seats carved carefully for the comfort of ancient Romans. A lot more comfortable and way more fun!


Me Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly, Verona Arena, 2004


A storm came up in the last act and they cleared the Arena. As I walked down the steps leading outside, I could really imagine hundreds of ancient Romans leaving some gladitorial rout. Outside, the rain fell gently and I walked back to my apartment, under the fragrant Linden blossoms across the Adige. Thinking of it now, I cannot choose what of all of that was most lovely.