The Book I Most Want To Read

As previously reported, I am in the process of fleshing out and editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I don’t have a consistent  schedule for when to actually sit down and work, but I think often of the miniature world I created, of the characters’  struggles and triumphs. Imagine my excitement when a couple of weeks ago L., an author and former editor, agreed to meet with me to discuss our mutual projects.

Moi?  Discussing someone’s writing project? I had a feeling L. did not specialize in fourth grade book reports or progress notes for therapy sessions, the two forms of writing with which I am most familiar. Nonetheless L. arrived at my home armed with two copies of the first chapter of  her current fictional work.  I was armed with only one copy of my first chapter, because I didn’t know any better.

Over coffee cake we shared our respective synopses. I learned that L.’s protagonist is a teenager living in a United States of the future, while L learned that my protagonist is a middle aged woman living in the present in a town which does not exist. Next we read one another’s chapters. I was immediately pulled into the life of L.’s teenaged heroine.  I had opinions on where she was going, and what she would do next. Clearly L. has the talent to write in such a way that the reader quickly develops  empathy for her characters.

The meeting made me feel so…writerly, because L was generous enough to take me seriously despite my lack of education and experience. Somewhere in there we talked about mutual challenges for our work going forward. My dilemma was that I had been advised to begin my book with more action. Should I do as I had been advised or should I do what I thought best?  And how could I think anything to be best when I had never written anything at all?DSC_0323

As we say in the South, bless little  ole Miss L.’s heart!! She absolutely validated my intention to write a book about a woman’s interior life, the world others do not see. Her advice to write the kind of book I would want to read myself was the most grounding advice I could have heard that day. I doubt I was of much help to her, but I gave it my best shot. I hope points are given for effort!

I did make the cake though!

I did make the cake though!

Two days later I arrived at the Monterey Aquarium, where some scenes in my book take place. I wanted to see the place for myself in order to write more realistically about my character’s day there. I was curious; what would have caught my character’s eye or mind at the museum? What, if anything, would stay with her, lingering in her thoughts  long after her day at the museum was over?

DSC_1489

Finally, an uncrowded spot!

I suppose we see what we need to see when we are ready, for though I was wondering what my protagonist would feel, I was quickly making observations of my own.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

See the photo below!

All my observations weren't deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

All my observations weren’t deep. See how these two fish look just like my new shoes in the shot above?

As I made my way through the exhibits, folks were crowded all around the tanks, admiring the fish and taking pictures.DSC_0468

These sea creatures  inhabit  worlds we do not see, worlds that humans have been known to ignore or exploit.  Each species is  motivated by instinct to perform actions  we may may  not understand. Their ways of living and appearances are alien to us.DSC_0443

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

In the tanks the creatures grow and change, each ecosystem interacting with and depending on one another.  For them it is business as usual  but the humans  are mesmerized. We cannot stop congregating, staring, watching, and eventually becoming hypnotized by the swirling colors and otherworldly life forms. DSC_0422DSC_1474It is as though we can see into their souls, if they have souls. As we stare we realize we are all interconnected parts of the same whole.DSC_1468

As I tried to sidle up to the tanks, camera at the ready,  I felt a thrill of recognition. Why, this was JUST like reading fiction. A reader opens  a book and finds an entire world, full of people and events that are strange to him.  Though the reader  may not agree with what happens to the characters, he  becomes entangled in their lives just the same.  Hopefully the author has used prose arranged so artfully that the reader, like one of those gathered by the fish tanks, finds himself compelled to read the words over and over, just to hear them or to see the mental pictures evoked one more time.DSC_0411

As we navigate the stories we read, we come face to face with ourselves. How do our inner lives correspond with those of the characters for which we have so much empathy? Would we respond as the characters have? What do their struggles have to do with our own lives?DSC_0454

It has been said that fiction exists for truth telling. Just as an endangered species takes us out of our complacencies, a work of fiction can disrupt our world. Characters can become permanent parts of our lives. While we may never meet Jean Valjean, Porfiry Petrovich or even Harry Potter in our actual lives, they live forever in our hearts. Raise your hand if you have ever pondered on characters and their predicaments long after you have completed your first reading of a favorite book!

What if we had to  live his life?

What if we had to live his life?

I left the aquarium feeling more connected to the unseen worlds of the ocean, and grateful that such quirky but gorgeous creatures are on this earth. I got a sense of what would have caught my heroine’s eye, and how she would have responded to her surroundings. But focusing on these unseen watery worlds gave me even more permission to write authentically about what interests me, namely, this particular middle aged woman in a town which does not exist.DSC_0387

One day in the future I hope to have my heroine’s story ready to share. Her world is compact,  but it is real, just as  the lovely blue tangs and angel fish inhabit a small but tangible space. In the grand scheme of things her efforts in this life may seem minor, but  her spirit touches many. Like the connections found in the world beneath the sea, like all the humans on this earth, she is a small part of that whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. That is exactly the book I want to write, because that is exactly the book I would most want to read.DSC_0416

 

 

 

 

San Francisco Sleuth

As though I were invisible I slid through the revolving door of my airport hotel and kept going  on foot. No need for the doormen to know my plans. Besides, the Millbrae Bart Station wasn’t too far to walk, even for a dame of my age. I was dressed to fit in with the population: scarf, stylish shoes, sunglasses, and dark jeans. I had an old Bart card with eleven dollars on it, so I went through the turnstile with the practiced boredom of a native. So far so good.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I could have sworn I used to take the Bay Point train out of Millbrae, so there was a bit of awkwardness when a Bart employee had to tell me I just needed to get on this Dublin train, but I don’t think anyone saw that. In just a few snaps of my gum I was at the 16th and Mission station, ready for some San Francisco sleuthing.

Why San Francisco? Because I was THERE, wise guy, because I was THERE. And a sleuth gets to sleuthing wherever she she may be. Haven’t you read Harriet The Spy?

Rising from the bowels of the 16th and Mission terminal I mixed in with the human flotsam milling outside the station. After a few purposeful turns around the square I found  the Fillmore 22 Bus stop just where I expected it to be, at the edge of the road.  I had just cased my fellow riders in the bus shelter when I realized I needed to be on the other side of the street.

I was just in time to board that bus, but  my intuition, borne of long experience, told me to  check with  the bus driver  who sent me back to the original spot across the street. With moves like these I  was confident no one could have followed me. At last I boarded the correct bus, blending in easily with the populace. My destination: Portrero Hill, where I was to meet a couple of operatives.

We saw each other the minute I stepped into Chez Papa Bistrot, the agreed upon  rendezvous. I’m sorry to say they were there first, but they had chosen wisely. Their table had a clear view of the entrance and exit. Mark was dressed in his customary black, while David, with his dark rimmed glasses looked the part of a hapless  professor. Well played, gentleman, I nodded to myself. These men could be at home in any large metropolis, watching, noticing, making things happen, with no one any the wiser.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

When David left for the men’s room, I pulled a package out of my enormous black handbag and slid it across the table to Mark.  The package was an “Otter Pup” coloring book from the Monterey Aquarium, but inside were original childhood photos of Mark’s Dad, who also happened to be my Uncle Eddie, my mother’s little brother,  deceased now for many years.

The three of us put in some effort perusing the photos. Wondering about the people and circumstances in old photos, looking for clues to past lives – I am always on the scent of these hunts. Here was Uncle Eddie in the backyard of our grandmother’s house, cleaning a fish, while a curious cat looked on.  In a second photo young Eddie was angelic, dressed in a white  first Communion suit with short pants, accompanied by an older boy. They are standing in a church narthex. We could identify neither the  older boy nor the church. Yet a third photo showed young Eddie aboard a white sleigh, right beside Santa Claus, in some unknown department store. The last picture showed Uncle Eddie as a handsome young man in a letter sweater, posing with a pipe. A caption underneath, we think written by one of our spinster great aunts, read “The Pipe.”

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Knowing we would not be able to answer all the questions raised by the photos, as there is no one left alive who knows the answers, we left the Chez Papa for some more contemporary surveillance. We  settled ourselves down the street on the patio of Farley’s to drink some coffee. Noir, of course. Though ostensibly we were deep in conversation about Southern mores, we all had our eye on the joint across the street.

Don't tell me there's no story here.

Don’t tell me there’s no story here.

Thankfully by now we had some reinforcement, in the form of Mark and David’s elderly black and white terrier Windsor. Windsor is blind, but he looked as best  he could, while scouting the area for edible clues.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he's security conscious.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he’s security conscious.

Maybe we saw suspicious activity across the street. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe the five year old girl and her mother sitting on the patio were plants, sent to charm us into giving up our secrets. That kind of gray area is  all in a day’s sleuthing. But one thing was certain: we three had to split up, in case we were made.

To throw watchers off the track we posed for some touristy type pictures. Meaning we were noisy and conspicuous. IMG_2884Then as if by magic, three adults and a blind dog disappeared inside a black Smart car and disappeared up the hill. David, displaying the spy craft for which he is well known, dropped me off by the Mission Street bridge, right beside the Portrero Hill Community Garden.

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

We’re professionals, so I didn’t ask their destination, but as an out of towner I did have to consult with them on one thing. Where could I get my nails done? Mark suggested a place in the Castro called the Hand Job, but also some other options. I took in his suggestions noncommittally, not recording them on paper.  The less Mark  and David  knew of my comings and goings, the better.DSC_0480

After crossing the Mission Street Bridge I found the streets to be curiously quiet for some blocks. But I kept my eyes open, crossing streets frequently, but not stopping except when I needed to examine native plants, which are another focus of my ongoing detective work.  Eventually I came upon what I considered to be the likely nerve center of the neighborhood- a yarn store, Imaginknit.

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business...or does it?

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business…or does it?

Maybe because I was hot and tired, I decided to just play it straight in there and not try any funny business. Was I ever glad of that decision when out of nowhere bounced what to my unpracticed eye seemed to be a brown and white miniature greyhound. Knowing the place was well policed, I simply chose a pattern, yarn and needle, and after purchasing same I killed a little time winding my yarn. Everything seemed on the up  and up there. The shop was chock full of  helpful salesladies, delicious yarns and knitted samples. That dog runs a tight ship.

Revitalized by my yarn purchase I ventured back onto Mission Street. Street traffic picked up around Dolores Park. I put away my camera after the passing the park so as not to arouse suspicion.

Dolores Park, under construction.

Dolores Park, under construction.

In a few short minutes I was in the Castro, looking for a nail salon. For safety’s sake, and also because I couldn’t find it, I did not go to the Hand Job Nail Salon, instead choosing the one right beside the Castro theater. The manager was kind enough to take me as a walk in, or else he was afraid to say no to me.  For a time my detecting efforts were slowed, as I could  only guess at what the nail ladies were  saying amongst  themselves. They seemed  concerned about the blisters I had worn on my toes from the up and down terrain of my reconaissance that day. Me, I was used to it. It’s the cost of business in this crazy trade.

Finally I was released from the salon, with newly bronzed nails and toes. No one who had seen me before could now recognize me as the same woman who had crawled in with overgrown cuticles just one hour before. I sat at one of the round tables at the top of Castro to ponder my next move.DSC_0481

DSC_0483Having made my thorough way from Portrero Hill to the Castro, my mind turned to plans for the evening. Truth was, there was a man interested in my company for the evening, and I was considering his offer. No, it wouldn’t be  as peaceful as grabbing a couple of cold brewskis with a meat and three at Mae’s Diner, but the plus side was I wouldn’t have to pay for my grub. I was torn, but then I looked down and found the best clue of the day. If it’d been a snake it would have bit me.IMG_2898

Well then. I decided if that man wanted my company, he would come to me. So I texted him,” Found a place at Albion and Mission. Meet me there.” I ducked in the place and sat myself at the bar. I had time for a Pilsner and a little eavesdropping before my companion arrived, if he arrived. Sure enough, before I could say “You  must have thirteen tattoos and body piercings,” to the hostess, the man in question arrived.

Fine. He could pay for the beer I’d already had. We decided the place was as good as any to eat dinner, as there was already a long line to get in where we were. We had each had a long day, his, lecturing  in a cold conference room and mine out pounding the pavement in the  golden sun, and we were each glad to sit down and relax. My companion knew better than to even ask about my classified work.

As the evening wore on I felt myself lose a little of my hard boiled edge. In the end I let the man  guide me back through the crowded street with the pupusa places and bars, back to the Bart Station. Turned out we were each going back out to the airport area, so I let him accompany me. As the Bart train pulled away from the station, I saw our reflection in the window. We looked just like an old married couple on the way back to their hotel. A perfect cover.

 

 

 

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.

 

Overheard At The Book Sale

Hey everybody! I’m on my way out to the pool, but before I go, I know you want to hear about the  Friends Of The Library Used Book Sale. Because although everyone does not get to go, everyone SHOULD have the chance to go. Yes, I wrote about this last year. It was a popular post, but I know better than to try to recreate it.

I know you would have loved being there. I arrived at 10:00 A.M., accidentally grouping myself with the crowd waiting to be the first ones in. We streamed in when the doors were unlocked: the young, the old, the limping, the pony tailed, the bearded. Many thought to bring their own bags, for a bagful of books was priced at five dollars. And we early birds each had a game plan.

Mine was to head straight to the record albums. I did find a few, not as many as I had hoped, but I had to move on. Now I was free to drink in the heady air of the shelves. Nonfiction first. I already had a rolling cart, because as the pro that I am, I was not going to be held back by a handbag, despite its potential value as a weapon to procure the only copy of  Backyard Pests or Desserts From Around The World.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I found paperbacks to read in the swimming pool:DSC_0325

And some nonfiction that suited my fancy.

I'm in a World War I phase right now. Also I'm in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

I’m in a World War I phase right now. Also I’m in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

Though we were  a civilized crowd today, emotions ran a broad gamut. Would there be any decent classics left? And how about the selection of banned books? Endorphins and cortisol filled the room like a whiff of Midnight In Paris.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Tension was definitely in the air, but if one wanted to be sure, one could do what I did. I eavesdropped. Here is my report of the emotional scene:

Disappointment in the  the paperback fiction: “I been lookin’. But I ain’t found the first romance in here.”

Dang!

Dang!

Effusiveness, obsessiveness and  poor boundaries in the mystery paperbacks: “I’m a neat freak! Everbody wants to know how I keep my house so clean!”

I don't see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

I don’t see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

More obsessiveness  later from the same woman, apparently worried abut the effects of unauthorized reading on the populace, in the hardbacks: “Yes, but when you get started on one it really ruins your housekeeping, doesn’t it?”

Attitude of entitlement in the children’s section, from a middle aged woman, imperiously, to a volunteer,”Where are the third grade books?”

Affability and non competitiveness, or perhaps a pickup line  in the hardback fiction, from a man to a woman, Him: “I’ve seen quite a few Danielle Steeles in here. Aren’t you looking for those?”

Her: “Yes, I’ve got my list of titles right here.” Displays handwritten list.IMG_2836

Defeat, from the woman with a limp, to her friend in the science fiction, “Just take yer time, Charlene.  I’ve gotta take a load off.”

I feel her pain.

I feel her pain.

Hope, from one woman to her husband, over in the corner ” Let’s pay for what we’ve got and come back at 3:00.”

Determination, in the History section, from a little girl to her Mama, “Please just let me finish this row!” Mother agrees reluctantly. Girl finishes searching the row and grabs a book.

Mother,”Young lady, you have already got a set of Presidential biographies at home. You can’t find what you want so you just want to buy something.”

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

Generosity, from a man to his wife in the record department, “Honey, go ahead and get it. It’s got Cher on it!”

And from me, ambition to become one of the helpers at the sale. and not entirely for altruistic reasons. Me, to my husband, as we exited the parking lot, “I know that record volunteer was holding some records back. I saw him.”DSC_0323

These Boots Are Made For Walkin’

The day I left for Europe my hairdresser told me I was wearing the wrong shoes. “What?” I asked, looking down at the serviceable Merrill hiking boots which had accompanied  me on many a sojourn. “Nope,” she repeated in a definite tone. “You can’t wear those shoes in Paris.”  You don’t know my hair dresser, so I’ll tell you that when she says a thing she means it. As I was going straight to the airport from the salon, I could not rectify the situation until I got to Amsterdam.

On Monday while my husband worked I tried to turn myself into someone who could blend in with the Parisians. For the fashion mavens among you, I went from wearing these items:

IMG_2828 To these:

Check out the boots: they have memory foam in them!

Check out the boots: they have memory foam in them!

And the nifty black rain coat!

And the nifty black rain coat!

After our usual good time (mostly mine, while my husband worked) we departed Amsterdam for Paris by train on Wednesday afternoon. Neither of us had ever been to Paris, but we were certain that one way or another we would enjoy ourselves. After a confusing time at Gare du Nord we boarded the metro to the apartment we had rented.

We got into our charming apartment without a hitch, but we were tired, so we spent the evening in, and dined on items from a market down the street.

The apartment building.

The apartment building.

DSC_0601

The stairs leading to our apartment.

The next day I was ready to walk while looking smart and sophisticated. We soon learned that we were lucky enough to have blundered in on yet ANOTHER  national holiday : May 1st in France! The streets were thronged with tourists walking in the rain, looking to see what would be open that day. We set out  from the eighth arrondissement to see for ourselves.

Jardin de Tuileries? Yes. DSC_0475

Cafe in the Jardin de  Tuileries ? Thankfully, yes.

The Louvre ? No.DSC_1231

Notre Dame?  Yes, but who would even try to wait in that line? We satisfied ourselves by taking photos of the outside.DSC_1240

Bathroom outside of Notre Dame?  Thankfully, yes, although it smelled like a zoo.

Deportation Memorial?  No.DSC_0503

When we left the Ile  de la  Cite we turned toward the Eiffel Tower, the only definite destination of the day. Having been unable to purchase advance tickets on the internet we had opted for a behind the scenes group tour of the Tower. As we walked we talked about what other things we might see on the way and what photos we would like to take if we arrived early. And we did expect to arrive early, for we still had one and a half hours until our tour.

Somewhere around that time I started to suspect I had worn the wrong socks, for the soles of my new boots seemed to have become so thin that  I could feel every slap of my feet on the pavement. On and on we walked. At one point I realized I had my airplane socks in my purse. I sat down on a ledge and put those babies right on. Ahhh, for a few minutes the cobblestones didn’t feel so close to my skin.DSC_1236

And we walked and we walked. With my sore feet and bulging purse I was going as fast as I could. Even the fact that I looked smart and sophisticated was of little comfort. The Eiffel Tower was just so far away!  We kept thinking it would be just around the corner, but when we turned, no. Not yet. Eventually my husband started to worry that we couldn’t even make it in time. I did not mention that I was past caring whether I ever saw the Eiffel Tower or any other monument ever again.

The wea

You trickster, you!

We rushed onto the Eiffel Tower grounds with two minutes to go until the tour. What you need to know abut the tour is that we missed two hours of lines, and that when we rode the elevator up, sheets of rain were buffeting the Tower so that it was useless to try to go on the observation deck. We exited as soon as we could.

So much for all those artsy Eiffel Tower pictures we were going to take!

So much for all those artsy Eiffel Tower pictures we were going to take!

We trudged the streets again   in the rain to a sidewalk cafe which  served overpriced beer. I didn’t care; I was going to get to sit down!!!!  And oh, when I did……has anyone out there ever found the act of sitting down to resemble a sexual experience? I don’t want to embarrass my children any more than I already have, but that 14 euro beer was worth every last penny!

Ahem. Afterwards.

Ahem. Afterwards.

Once we were seated with our beers I had an announcement to make to my husband: under no circumstances would I walk back to our apartment. I didn’t know where we were or how we got there, but he was going to find me the metro to get back. Or else. Since he had had the big idea to walk all day, and his google map seemed  to have underestimated the distances, he deemed it politic to agree  immediately.  I did concede  to walk one more half mile  in the rain to where we had found a brew pub open.

The oldest peeps at the brew pub. Bonjour!

The oldest peeps at the brew pub. Bonjour!

We were the oldest people there, but again, aside from being as wet as a drowned rat at least I looked smart and sophisticated for my age! In time we left, on the lookout for the metro station. We walked and walked and somehow missed the first station. But lo, in the darkness was another one! There was yet hope for the two foreign waifs!DSC_1269

Back at the apartment, I allowed myself to look at my fitbit to see how many steps I’d walked that day. Are you ready for it???? Drum roll, please???????

29,000.      That is correct, my friends.

29,000 steps  and 12.45 miles for the smart, sophisticated girl in the new boots! I was tired, aching, wet and cranky. But oof, what if I’d had the same experiences that day  while  wearing those old hiking shoes?? Qui serait  terrible, no?

Little Ole Ladies In Pasadena: Advice From Professionals

Magpie TV, devoted to bringing viewers the very best in practical information, is pleased to bring you travel tips from two very special little old ladies: The Magpie herself, and her stalwart companion Readmegirl. Hey, there’s precedent:

She's such a copycat! Source: starpulse.com

She’s such a copycat!
Source: starpulse.com

Martha Stewart appears on her own network. Tune in today to learn how to make sure YOUR trip feels as smooth as the zipper in your properly sized and packed suitcase  from start to finish!

Commercial Break: Planning a trip to Pasadena? We’d love to help, but we’ve only seen a few sights  there: Huntington Gardens, a famous bridge, and the Rose Bowl. What we can recommend is walking the neighborhoods and admiring people’s yards. If you happen to see inside their homes, so much the better. Here are a few neighborhood highlights:DSC_0382

DSC_0401DSC_0416Part One: The ladies, recently returned from visiting Krug The Thinker in Pasadena California, were not available to appear live, which is fine because this is not a live show anyway. Nor is it taped ahead of time. Our unique no audio/no video format made it oh so possible for our guest stars to compile some dos and don’ts from their most recent peregrination.We are also privileged to have some of their photos for our commercial breaks! ( We suggest some music now, but all we can think of is “Leaving’ On a Jet Plane.” Lame.)

1) Trip Planning: Arranging conveyance by airplane is more complicated than ever, warns  the Magpie.The fares, the routes, the service – all have become so unpredictable and frankly, unsuitable for civilized beings. What one wants and what is available often do not mesh conveniently. However, if possible, when arranging a trip, depart the morning AFTER the clock springs forward, depriving you of the one hour during which you sleep most deeply. You’ll be in such a daze you won’t even notice the delays or the bad breath of  the man behind you in the TSA line.

2) Airport Transportation: Never make assumptions about ground transportation. The wise traveler learns ahead of time what is available and makes arrangements accordingly. The alternative is to stand at the exit with one’s mouth open, inviting native insects in for a visit. IF one arranges a pickup by limousine service as the little ole ladies did, it is helpful upon landing  to respond immediately to the driver’s text announcing his arrival at the airport. But don’t call the one who most recently texted you. Ignore THAT text and call the one who picked you up last December!! That will really surprise him on his day off, and make for a zany good time leaving the airport!

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

3) Footwear:  Magpie makes it a point to have comfortable walking shoes. Last year the Magpie had occasion to own two identical pair of walking shoes, the first pair having rudely hidden themselves in the closet until after the second pair was purchased. Magpie’s response was to immediately put one pair inside her suitcase so she would always have a pair of walking shoes. Upon arrival at the Saga Court Motor Hotel, congratulating herself on her forethought, Magpie whipped both of those left footed babies right out of the suitcase.

Oops!

Oops!

4) Packing Light: Be creative! The Magpie never checks bags, so she tries to use multi purpose garments. For example, a bathing suit cover up can double as a nightgown. If, as happened to Magpie, you underestimate how cool it gets at night, especially with a roommate who wants the air conditioner running,  and you have to add a couple of shirts on top and a pair of jeans on the bottom so you won’t freeze, that bathing suit cover up will tuck right down in your jeans so that you barely have any bulges when you appear in the lobby in  your two left footed shoes and an ice bucket in which you plan to stack three or four cups of coffee to take  back to your room. Decorum is everything, Readmegirl reminds us.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

5) Be Courteous! Some travel companions have odd proclivities, such as announcing that they cannot sleep while being serenaded with the combination of honking, sawing and gurgling that makes up snoring. If  you are awakened by a nudge in the middle of the night, and  are surprised to find a frowning yet familiar face hovering above you, demanding that you cease and desist, simply say “Thank you,” and go back to sleep. That’s how the Magpie handled it , and she’s convinced that the gentle approach to the nudger made all the difference.

Commercial Break: ( We recommend narration in a calm dignified tone.But you do what you want.)  Today we feature the Saga Court Motor Hotel  of Pasadena.

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

This 1960s gem, located on Route 66, offers palm trees, a heated pool, and 1980s bedspreads. (Now  a little suspenseful music.) In addition, the  Saga’s peach colored stucco walls, retro atmosphere including jalousied windows, will make you sure that a noir mystery is occurring on the premises. We can’t be sure one did NOT take place, as we had a mysterious call from someone asking for “Marcia.”Who calls anymore on your room phone?? Keep the Saga in mind when you visit Pasadena. It’s reasonably priced, has an air of mystery about it, AND has a few books to read in each room.IMG_2664

And now we return to our show: We’re learning so much about how the smart set travels. But there’s more!

6) Don’t Avoid Responsibility: When you have been invited into town to see someone, don’t make THEM do all the heavy lifting. Specifically, Readmegirl tells us, when your hostess announces that her one of her sweetest friends who is also an incredibly talented chef is in town and wants to cook for all of you, insist on supervising! You may look as though you are only snapping peas, lounging on the couch, and drinking a purple drink called an Aviation, but in fact you are making sure those kids don’t burn the house down. In the name of safety, search your heart for the humility needed to complete this noble task. You won’t be sorry!

Stealth  Supervision

Stealth Supervision

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

Supervision has its own rewards.

Supervision has its own rewards.

7) Clarify, clarify, clarify: Readmegirl reminds us of the importance of communication. Here’s the kind of ubiquitous situation to which she refers: When you are  enjoying a glass of wine at an Italian restaurant where the decor is reminiscent of the Ratpack days  and your sister returns from the restroom and announces, “We’re all going to have to go on a field trip to the bar after dinner. It’s got gold wallpaper with black stripes with  machine guns on the walls”, DO NOT JUST ASSUME THAT THE SHOTGUNS ARE REAL!!!!!! You will be so, so disappointed!

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes.

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes. I won’t say who thought the machine guns were real, only that between these two there are 78 years of formal education.

8 ) Don’t be territorial: You don’t have to be the center of attention at all times. Allow your travel companions to get ahead of you on walks and have their own conversations. After all it’s not THEIR fault you can’t keep up because you are having to wear someone else’s too large shoes that squeak so loudly that you have no chance to practice your favorite pastime of eavesdropping. Try not to take it personally when they get ahead of you while you lag behind to take pictures because after all, life is art, and that while ahead of you THEY witness a woman  watering her flowers clad only in a shirt and some shiny underpants. It won’t be easy, but in time you will get over it.

You can't be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture...

You can’t be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture…

Ahey're probably NOT talking about you.

And they’re probably NOT talking about you anyway. Right??

9) Use your Southern hospitality! Expect to be included in your hosts’ lives and activities. When invited to drink celebratory beers with a group of Cal Tech astrophysicists and assorted other left brain specimens, accept happily and chances are they’ll never dream you know nothing about science. Instead, choose a topic of universal interest, such as your own wedding 35 years ago, and how your seventeen year old sister had to drive home the car that your male guests had adorned with inappropriate sayings. That’s something everyone can relate to!

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

10) Getting Home: All good things must come to an end. If you are reluctant to end your voyage, chances are you will be packing, inexpertly, at the last minute. Some of the inexpertness could be due to the lateness of the hour, to the wine you are drinking to assuage your sadness, or to the knowledge  that the new suitcase you just  bought at the thrift store because luggage was 40 percent off does not unzip all the way around. Though Readmegirl is a very efficient little cuss, she could not make headway with her suitcase situation and was forced to avail herself of her sister’s help. Magpie’s expertise at least got all items packed, but put Readmegirl over the line for  carryons. Should this happen to you, advises Readmegirl, decide what you will give up if challenged at the airport. Should you decide to let go of the  red duffel bag you brought, as was Readmegirl’s choice, only leave your ignition key in the bag if you think it would be funny to call your husband and ask him to come pick you up at the airport one hour away from home at midnight. That joke never fails to get a response!

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Well everyone, that’s all the time we have for today. We hope we’ve left you with some useful tips from this peripatetic duo. Viewers, as always, if you have tips to share, or simply want to validate the ladies’ experiences, we welcome your comments!DSC_0372 DSC_0407

The Magpie’s Jewel Box

Welcome again to Magpie TV, the unique low tech television show which challenges YOU to use your imagination! In Episodes One and Two, and also Three we detailed the Magpie’s journey to find and renovate a little treehouse of her own. Today’s show is the Magpie TV version of the typical last day of HGTV renovation shows, in which we see a fast forward ( in our case, imaginary) video of a renovated space being furnished.

For those who are new to  the show: You’ve followed the HGTV shows which depict  a hapless individual or couple completely renovating their home or yard over the weekend. It’s easy, right?  Two skinny celebrity do- it- your- selfers come over and show you how to operate heavy machinery on a Friday afternoon. You get four or five friends, and together you rip out those passé  walls and smelly hi-lo carpet, laughing and laughing at the sheer hilarity of tearing up your house.  That’s Friday night. On Saturday you rebuild the walls, install the new kitchen cabinets, and paint. Some of you work inside while others outside make new furniture and decor by gluing sequins to  pieces of board found by the roadside.  Or maybe they reupholster or even spray paint the fabric from a thrift store chair which will eventually be placed in front of the fire place. And finally, on Sunday, all the  magically chosen new furnishings are moved in, curtains and pictures are hung, candles are lit, and everyone lives happily ever after.

But of course it’s not that easy.  Magpie found out it takes a LOT LONGER than a weekend!  In today’s episode we hear it straight from the Magpie herself. ( The show has a fairly low budget.)

Part One:  As far as furnishing the condo went, for many months I had only vague ideas of a midcentury modern space, which included an attractive credenza housing a hi fi, a snazzy bar holding all the cocktail accoutrements I did not yet own, and a teak hutch from which I could serve my guests. As far as upholstered goods went, I came to the conclusion that although I would have loved to furnish the place with all vintage furnishings, I didn’t really want to sit on fifty year old upholstered items. I would therefore look for vintage case goods but buy a new couch and chairs.

It was too soon to buy furniture, but I felt as though I MUST start finding things for the condo. The solution? Art from silent auctions. I readily confess that silent auctions bring out the most desperate acquisitive parts of me. I never leave an auction without something. That is because I bid on 500 things. I will leave my silent auction behaviors for another post but suffice it to say I have left auctions with items  ranging from the doors of railroad cars to hand knit scarves. Since I could not yet hang my selections, for many sad months they languished in a closet. One silent auction find was a painting so shiny I had to have it. Look at the upper left of there photo below:

I bought a painting that reminded me of this Sputnik from outside Joe's Liquors in midtown Memphis. As HGTV would say, it was my "Inspiration" Source:joeswines.blogspot.com

I bought a painting that reminded me of this Sputnik from outside Joe’s Liquors in midtown Memphis. As HGTV would say, it was my “Inspiration”
Source:joeswines.blogspot.com

Also we had this former swag lamp turned into a dining room chandelier.IMG_1908And suddenly it was time to find things.  My ideal method of furnishing the condo would have been to stop in at consignment places and estate sales, waiting until I found just the right thing. But that method wouldn’t work for two reasons. Number One: I didn’t feel I had the luxury to shop slowly over time. I had a mighty powerful hankering to see the place finished. Second: Folks, I don’t like to shop, in part because I don’t like to drive the car around. I did make a stab at shopping locally for furniture when my sister was here, when  we hit a consignment place and found these two tables.

Table Number One. And on the right a partial view of the “Sputnik” painting.

IMG_2060But after that I went straight to…Ebay! I have to laugh because prior to this I had never bought one single thing from Ebay. Instead of starting small, with a dish towel or kitchen implements perhaps, I started with a dining room table!  So you can Imagine my surprise when, as a complete newbie,  my bid was accepted. And now  imagine my further surprise when I realized my bid was only for the TABLE, not the chairs! Oops!

But the table… I loved it! Look what it does!

Its smaller diameter.

Its smaller diameter.

But it expands! This baby is from the50s, but it was in its original box. Never used!

But it expands! This baby is from the50s, but it was in its original box. Never used!

So after purchasing a table I got busy looking for chairs. I could have spent more money, but after the table incident…. I thought these would work, and they did.

These do have signs of wear. Well, so do I.

These do have signs of wear. Well, so do I.

And while I was at it, I found some nesting tables that could be used in lieu of a coffee table.

These hail from Denmark.

These hail from Denmark.

I now had a bed, a table, chairs and two side tables and nesting tables.  The next step was to find the living room furniture. What did I actually have room for in this Magpie’s nest?  Not very much,  as it turned out. After lots of measuring I  got together with Jane the Designer and chose a couch, a chair and an ottoman. At the same time I chose fabric for a curtains and sheers at the sliding glass patio doors. I particularly wanted that big glass door to be covered by the time winter winds came through.

COMMERCIAL BREAK: Hum a peppy “Susie Homemaker” type tune to yourself. Read out loud to yourself: Looking for ways to go greener during the next holiday season? Mindful Magpie has a free tip for you.

I'll et they've never seen a present like this!

I’ll bet they’ve never seen a present like this!

Out of bows and ribbons? Or too lazy to walk all the way up the stairs and find them? Do what the Magpie does and decorate your packages with STUFF YOU ALREADY HAVE!!! Look how nice that coaster looks with the wrapping paper.  It almost keeps you from noticing the bunchy wrapping job. You’d be surprised what items can be used: Mardi Gras beads, small statues, even a nice ripe bell pepper would be festive. Next year get out of the wrapping rut and see what you can come up with.

Part Two: We placed our furniture and drapery orders and waited eagerly for delivery. Weeks and weeks went by. Since I could not speed up the delivery of these items I returned to Ebay for more instant gratification  mid-century modern pieces. We had only two possible spots in the living room for a bar. The space limitation meant we could only use a very shallow piece. Eventually I found this:

And there's another glimpse of the Sputnik painting as well.

And there’s another glimpse of the Sputnik painting as well.

The wire to the little lamp inside had been cut, but it was configured to use in England anyway. Replacing the light is on our to- do list. Now we were getting closer to being able to have those Manhattans! After purchasing the bar my budget was a bit maxed out. Until the furniture came in I really couldn’t make any more decor choices anyway.

Finally, some time in the fall, the drapes and sheers came in. My husband thought we did not need to pay someone to hang these, that he and my taller son could handle it themselves. He and the son did eventually get them hung, but it was a lot of trouble, so much so that when the curtains proved to be a little longer than I expected I chose to leave them as they were rather than take them down for hemming. Ready to see the drapes?

Drapes, a definite improvement over the vertical slat blinds.

Drapes, a definite improvement over the vertical slat blinds.

Drapes and sheers.

Drapes and sheers.

Light coming in through the sheers. Have you ever seen such cuteness?

Light coming in through the sheers. Have you ever seen such cuteness?

I was so pleased with the  drapes. But when would the furniture come in so I could sit and read in that room? Find out when we come back!

COMMERCIAL BREAK: Cue some music with building tension. Newscaster’s voice: We interrupt this commercial for a Handknit Sock Alert. The mate to this sock has been reported missing at the home of local citizen Mindful Magpie.

Will this sock become a permanent singleton?

Will this sock become a permanent singleton?

Some say it is unfair for her to use her own show to broadcast information which may only pertain to her. But Ms. Magpie is convinced of the existence of a global sock abduction conspiracy. No doubt some of you are as well. We at Magpie TV want to give this issue all the attention it needs. If you have seen this sock, please return it. No questions asked. More updates as the story…unravels?

Part Three: Fall 2013. Thanksgiving approached and the furniture had still not arrived. Since we had ordered it in the summer, we were beginning to doubt we were ever going to get it. The manufacturer kept assuring Jane the Designer it would be delivered but then… it wouldn’t be.  How did I manage my impatience, you ask? It wasn’t easy! Sometimes, audience, it seemed the only thing that kept me going was to  remind myself that ONE DAY I  was going to be able to write a blog post showing this whole process. ONE DAY!!!! became my mantra!!!

We decided that if we did not have a true delivery date by Thanksgiving we would simply scrap our plans, go to Macy’s with our tails between our legs, and make the best selection from what they had on the sales floor. Luckily at just the last minute, the company did load our things on the truck and deliver. I had forgotten what I had ordered, it had been so long, but when I saw it I was so grateful I had not had to scrap the all my carefully made plans.   ( Furniture will be shown momentarily.)

Now at long last we could do the part that looked so easy and fast on television: hang the pictures, ( as though that could ever be fast with a male involved) roll out the rug, turn on the lamps and set out the accessories!!!!!!! Drum roll, please!!!!! Close your eyes, and OPEN!!!

Come in the front door!

Come in the front door!

The living room

The living room

The comfy chair and ottoman.

The comfy chair and ottoman.The picture on the wall is a by young local artist, Joey Evangelisti , who also happens to be autistic.

A few accessories...

A few accessories…

DSC_0919

The photo on the wall is from a collection of vintage downtown Memphis scenes.

So here we are. We’re not completely finished with the condo, but what is undeniable is that what started as a treehouse has turned into a Magpie’s Jewel Box. Shininess Abounds!  True, I haven’t solved the hi fi problem, but I’m working on it. Some walls still need pictures. We haven’t done much to spruce up the balcony. But each time I unlock that front door and walk in, I feel as though the condo is welcoming me to sit down, prop up my feet and relax. After eighteen months of condo work, I’m more than ready to do that! Manhattan, anyone?

The first Manhattans!

The first Manhattans!

Closing Credits: A few before and after shots. Sing the song of your choice.

Magpie with her first condo visitors: Jane the Designer and her Ubiquitous Mother, AKA Mimi.

Magpie with her first condo visitors: Jane the Designer and her Ubiquitous Mother, AKA Mimi.

Memphis Sesquicentennial glasses, an early find for the bar.

Memphis Sesquicentennial glasses, an early find for the bar.

In the kitchen.

In the kitchen.

A Word From the Magpie TV Staff: Thanks to all who have faithfully tuned in to a show with no staff, no budget, no audio and no video. We’ve tried to give  a realistic but hopefully not too tedious picture of the making of the Magpie’s Jewel Box. If you have questions or  comments we want to hear them, please!  After all, this is our  first television series; we depend upon your feedback!