Musings and Amusings

Posts tagged ‘life’

Maps and A Sense of Place

What is a map if not ultimately a tool to help us in our discovery of ‘Place’?

Place can be as meaningless as a red X proclaiming, “You are Here” or as monumental as your internal compass at some point in your life’s journey whispering, “You belong Here.”

Occasionally Place can be conflicting heartstrings, as when you return to your childhood hometown, wanting to find what existed long ago exactly the way your memory locked it in.

Stranger or Friend

Book Cover for Stranger or Friend

Silvia Villalobos, an author and Romanian transplant to Los Angeles, recently published her first novel, Stranger or Friend in which Los Angeles lawyer, Zoe Sinclair, returns to her hometown only to find her best friend murdered and her mother succumbing to age-related illnesses and refusing medical care.

As Zoe investigates her friend’s murder, she finds once-friendly townspeople reluctant to share what they know. Zoe is forced to confront more challenging circumstances than she anticipated as she realizes how much the town she once knew has changed.

Silvia creates believable characters and relationships, and brings her story to a satisfactory conclusion (something I find missing in many novels). I recommend her novel for the storyline as well as the many themes Silvia incorporated. If anything, I hope she delves deeper into a few of her themes in her planned Zoe sequel, especially the conflicts that come as towns become more demographically diverse, forcing changing workforces and cultural adjustments.

What I enjoyed as much as the novel itself was the amount of thematic background Silvia provided during April’s A to Z Challenge. One theme that resonated with me is our human need to find our sense of place.

 In Silvia’s words, “People suffer through bad times – hurricanes, fires – and return to rebuild, as they feel they belong to the place as much as the place belongs to them.”

 Silvia’s novel takes place in Wyoming, and she specifically references the northwest corner of the state where Yellowstone National Park and the majestic Teton Mountain Range are the state’s crowning beauties.

from Google Images

Yellowstone’s Beehive Geyser from Google Images

from Google Images

Wyoming’s Teton Range from Google Images

While I have traveled to those tourist-heavy natural wonders, I know a different Wyoming – that of the central and eastern plains where families have passed down homestead ranches and where mineral excavation and oil/gas drilling are the lifeblood of the economy.

from Google Images

Wyoming Plains from Google Images

A Wyoming where the wind blows so steadily no matter the season; the snow blusters so forcefully; and the sun blisters so intensely, you’ve got to develop a thick crust and a ‘git ‘er done’ attitude to survive, let alone thrive. Silva rightfully uses weather as a driving theme in her novel, and highlights the effect it has on the sociability and personality of Wyoming’s residents.

Stegner photo

Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner Back Cover

While I was reading Silvia’s novel, I was finishing up Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner. Much to my surprise and delight, two of the final four stories, “The Wolfer” and “Carrion Spring” take place in Wyoming. Stegner wrote about the spring of 1907 after four months of brutal forty degree below zero cold snaps with intermittent wild, warming Chinook winds and continuous blizzard whiteouts and fog. Most of the cattle did not survive; the wolves were running rampant to feast on the carnage; and the wolfer and his vicious hound dog eventually succumbed in gruesome scenes when their trapping plan went awry.

Coincidentally, when I reread Silvia’s A to Z posts, I realized she quoted Wallace Stegner in her ‘Place’ post, “The knowledge of place that comes from working in it, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings and evenings…”

Much as I like to think of myself as a Pioneer Woman, I haven’t worked the land in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico or Arizona nor suffered most of their catastrophes, but I love the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Southwest Desert. Every fiber in me knows this is where I belong … my sense of place.  Much of my heart resides with my Michigan family but Colorado is my rightful home.

Thanks to Silvia Villalobos and Wallace Stegner for celebrating ‘Place’.

I’m curious about my readers.

  •  Are you transplants who have found your ‘place’?
  • Lifelong residents of your birthplace?
  • Feel like a foreigner when revisiting your birthplace?
  • Multi-placers who split you time living in more than one place? If so, is one ‘home’?
  • Still seeking? How? Where?

I am also interested to hear about authors you like who write about ‘YOUR place’ in a way that holds meaning for you. (Prompt?)

Occasionally I scroll through Andrea Reads America where Andrea provides author quotes linking the author to their state . She reads and reviews several books taking place in a state then she ‘moves on’ to another state. Fascinating!



Friday Cuppa Joe

April Tangle 2015

If we were meeting for coffee, I’d tell you how  tangled tickled I’ve been to read the daily posts from each of you A to Z Challenge participants. From veterans to newbies, you all have such humorous, thoughtful, educational – and varied – topics, and you write with such exuberance and confidence.

A tip of my mug, and Hearty Congratulations to all of you!

Hang in there; you’re nearly at the finish line.

I’m looking forward to your Reflections post at the end of the Challenge because that’s when I find out what this year’s Challenge meant to you. You all seem to be sailing through with nary an unsettling wave, but sometimes it’s totally chaotic behind your sails and we don’t find out until you ‘Reflect.’

spring 2015

Has this happened to you? You’re reading a news event about an ‘elderly’ person and, when the age is mentioned you think, “WTF?!? Elderly??  That’s MY age!”

I’ve been trying for ten years to decide what to call myself. I’m not middle-aged (not planning to live to130), yet I’m certainly NOT elderly. Dad and Mom are just shy of 90 and still relatively healthy and active. They might be elderly.

I am not.

So how do we label those of us past our mid’s but not yet arrived at our eld’s?

Good news!

Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria have decided old age “should be measured not by age, but by how long people have left to live.”

And we are living a lot longer.

Statisticians say today’s average 65-year-old should live another 24 years. That’s 50% longer than the average for our parents’ generation. (I must congratulate my parents for being WAY above average!)

Those Viennese researchers suggest that Old Age should be defined as having less than 15 years to live.

Good news, indeed. I have a decade until I reach statistical Old Age. In the meantime, what do I call myself since I’m way past middle age?

Since Living Longer is the variable that turned researchers from ‘age-focused’ to ‘years-to-live’ focused, I think that’s what we should call ourselves … The Living Longers.

And I’ve heard that a second cup of coffee goes a long way to ensuring that outcome.

Loving Living Longer

Loving Living Longer

Hub Says the Darndest Things

This was our conversation last weekend on Hub’s birthday:

Me: “Honey, We are so fortunate we’ve been able to share so many birthdays together.”

Hub: “We are.”

Me: “I hope we both stay healthy enough that we can enjoy many more together.”

Hub: “Me, too.”

Me: “But I know how lonely you would be if anything happened to me. If I die first, I want you to find a companion who can share golf with you because we have such fun when we play.”

Hub: “OK”

Me: “In fact, you should let her use my clubs.”

Hub: “No, I would never do that.”

Me: “Why not? They are really good clubs, and I don’t mind.”

Hub: “No, I can’t.”

Me: “Why not?”

Hub: “Because she’s left-handed.”

April Fools

Ha ha ha – April Fool’s Joke!

THAT conversation never happened.

But the following conversation actually occurred a few years ago …

If we don’t spend Thanksgiving Day with friends or family, we like to go for a long walk after dinner. One of our traditional walks meanders through a local cemetery where our talk often turns to our own lives, our remaining years, and whether we want to be buried, cremated, have a tombstone – more in a reflective than maudlin way.

That particular year, I was feeling thankful for all the spectacular vacations we’d taken, especially to some quaint locales before development changed their character and made them over-populated tourist meccas.

Honey,” I said, “when I die, I want you to cremate me and take my ashes back to all the places we’ve traveled together and have such fond memories. Sprinkle a little of me each place you go, and enjoy being there again yourself.”

Like where?” he asked.

Oh, you know, like Turks and Caicos, the Cayman Islands, Young Island, Maui, Mackinac Island, the Lake Superior shore, San Francisco, Paris, Carmel, Telluride, Santorini  the Maine coast. What do you think? Would you like to do that?

Hub … thinking … pausing … grinning … “Would I have to go alone?”

Flying into Turks & Caicos 1987

Flying into Turks & Caicos 1987

Balance, Please

When I worked my after-retirement, parttime bank teller job, my branch was located in a Denver neighborhood with a large Russian immigrant population.

Immigrant as in displaced Russian Jews who came to America decades ago; who are certainly in the last decade of their lives; who live on a monthly disability, Social Security or displacement settlement stipend administered by the US government and automatically deposited into their bank accounts.

On the last Friday of every month, a steady parade of 4’5″-5’0″ tall Jewish men and women – widows, widowers or married couples – marched into the bank on aged, stiff joints wearing their heavy overcoats, warm ear-covering hats and sensible walking shoes. Many used canes, and all were so squarely built nothing could topple them.



Each waited patiently in the interminably long teller line holding a small square of white paper in one hand. They’d approach my teller window one by one, push that small square of paper across the marble counter, and say in a deep, gutteral voice,

Bullenz, plizz.”

On the paper was a scribbled account number. I’d look up the account balance, write it on the paper, and turn the paper towards them.

bank moneyThey’d study the paper – if they were a couple, they’d whisper to each other in a language I couldn’t name – then painstakingly print a dollar sign and a 3-digit number on the paper. That was the amount – always in NEW hundred dollar bills – they wanted to withdraw from their account.

Quietly in English, I would slowly and deliberately count the bills to them as I laid each bill on the counter.

They would slowly – in Russian or an Eastern European language – count the bills a second time to themselves or each other. After methodically placing the bills in a black purse or trouser pocket, they would push the piece of white paper back to me a final time.

Bullenz, plizz.”

I’d mentally subtract the withdrawal amount from the balance I’d previously written, and write the new balance. They’d study the paper; whisper to each other, pick up the paper and pocket it.

A few would nod or thank me; others just turned and shuffled out the door.

Don’t we all – when life goes sideways or priorities get out-of-whack – wish we could stride to the Counter of Life and shout,

HEY! May I get a little balance, please?!?”


If there’d been such a Counter during my earlier decades, I would have been tempted to stand in line. Now I have the benefit of hindsight, and I view ‘balance’ from a different perspective.

I’ve concluded that well-meaning Life Coaches and ubiquitous ‘Healthy Life’ articles exhorting the necessity of balance in your daily life are just a current-trend version of the ‘You CAN Have It All’ myth.

I was in my early 30’s when I rejected the ‘You CAN Have It All’ harpies.

You can’t. I couldn’t. No one does.

Is it possible we’re stressing ourselves more by reminding ourselves how out-of-balance our lives are during any given week, year, crisis, or life event?

Marriage, divorce, birth, death, job change/loss/overtime, weather calamities, accidents, injuries, illness …

You name it; life brings it. Generally not in a balanced pattern.

Life is uneven.

That’s not to say your life, in its totality, can’t be balanced. If we lessen the emphasis on evaluating balance in any given time capsule and accept that – for most of us over our lifetime – our ebbs and flows average out, we might stop pining for the Counter where we can plead,

Bullenz, plizz.”

The Art of the Possible

I have compiled the results of my stealthy, unscientific survey of our blogging community’s New Year’s Resolutions. No one will be surprised by these results:

  • 1% make resolutions and have a track record of keeping them
  • 1% don’t make resolutions and feel no guilt

The other 98%:

  • Make resolutions and expect to keep them (only to be sadly disappointed when next December comes into view)
  • Don’t make resolutions and feel like guilty slackers
  • Relist the same resolutions from the past three years, hoping THIS will be ‘the year’
  • Make resolutions and immediately explain why they won’t be able to keep them
  • Make resolutions and cross their fingers, wishing for a miracle

Why is this annual ritual such an uncomfortable process for many of us? The common denominator? Resolutions = Improvement, as in “You need to do better!”.

new year 1

Photo Credit: Google Images

Think about it … December – the month when we eat too much; drink too much; stay up too late; don’t get enough exercise; and spend too much money … that’s the month we ponder the coming year.

Is it any wonder our recourse is a list of vows to ‘do better’ in the New Year?

I write this post somewhat facetiously because New Year’s Resolutions are such a time-honored tradition, and many people take them seriously.

For me, they’ve always been one of many stressors that make December a difficult month. I never made resolutions, but I carried the nagging guilt of not doing so. A couple years ago, I ‘consciously uncoupled’ from my guilt. Doing so freed me to look at the New Year in a whole new light. Not overshadowed by ‘do better’, I could envision activities, studies and pursuits which open windows on parts of myself I’ve never explored.

This New Year’s ‘Envisions’ include:

  • Music and Keyboard
  • Mapping and Footsteps
  • Urban Sketching and Watercolors
  • Word Origins – a self study by Great Courses
  • Writing Craft and Practice

The ‘Envisions’ are primarily new uncharted pursuits – even writing is largely uncharted because I’ve barely scratched the surface. My desire to pursue these interests is triggered by connections to my writing – either because of inner links I’m uncovering beyond creating words or from sparks that fly when a particular blogsite piques my curiosity.

I will write about each as I dip my toes; it helps me understand my interest as well as co-ordinate my approach to learning, experimenting and practicing. I have no expectations that I will master any of them; only that I want to explore and appreciate what is possible.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to subject you to a slew of neophyte etchings or miscued keyboard recitals.

Maybe a few …

grand piano

Photo Credit:


The alternative could have been me droning on for the next twelve months about improving my diet!

Wow, the WordPress gremlins attacked me today! First arbitrarily shutting off comments, then messing with the format of my already-published post. Grrrrr!!


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