Musings and Amusings

Posts tagged ‘personal narrative’

Lattes, Lizards and Laxatives


Oh c’mon. You didn’t really think I was done with the potty talk, did you? If you didn’t want to hear more you shouldn’t have shared so many light-hearted latrine stories!



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!



It’s the Map; It’s the Map *

Titled borrowed from Dora the Explorer who always carries her map …

Perhaps you spent childhood Sundays as I did – morning church followed by delicious pot roast and veggies then an afternoon drive in ‘the country’ with the whole family in tow.

The back roads in Michigan are unparalleled rural beauty – hilly, curvy dirt roads with borders of massive tree trunks hoisting broad green canopies so thick it’s like riding through tunnels. back road 1Looking back to see the cloud of dust in our wake; following Dad’s finger pointing out a deer, a fox, a coyote in the field beside the road.

Occasionally as we backed out of our driveway, we kids would scrunch down in the back seat – below window level – with our eyes closed. Dad would turn out of the driveway and about 15-20 minutes later, he’d stop by the side of the road and we’d have to guess where we were. Although I suspect it might have been his ploy to keep us quiet for a stretch, his stated aim was to help us develop our sense of direction.

Dad’s ability to know where he was, and how to get home, was uncanny. It came from his years of living on a farm outside of town where he and his 11 siblings spent their time after chores wandering miles along streams and through woods, developing a sixth sense for navigational accuracy.

Despite Dad’s skill, we’d often end up on a road no one recognized. Alarmed, Mom or one of us would say, “Dad, are we lost?”back roads funny

No. We’re just taking a short cut.”

 No matter how convoluted that ‘short cut’ was, Dad eventually delivered us home without consulting a map.

I couldn’t internalize Dad’s directional aptitude in Michigan. My dilemma was three-fold. Because the terrain all looked the same and there weren’t any distinguishing markers on the horizon, I didn’t know where I was hence I couldn’t figure out which direction I should head and, even if I did, I couldn’t discern that direction from nature’s clues.

The sun, even when it wasn’t obscured by tree tunnels or cloudy skies, never seemed like a marker I could read. Sure sunrise was east and sunset was west, but during the daylight hours, I had a hard time discerning anything from the sun (or from the moss that supposedly grew on the north side of trees, for that matter).

Colorado is different. Not only does the sun more distinctly position itself in the northern sky in winter and the southern sky in summer, but WE HAVE MOUNTAINS! A mountain range I can see from anywhere on the plains. No matter where I am, I can head for the mountains and sooner or later I’ll come to a north/south road at the base of the foothills. I know which way to turn because I know which mountaintop rests miles above my next-to-the-foothills abode.

front range 1

Nevertheless, my consistent use of maps – a stress saver in Michigan – has carried over to Colorado. Not so much because I need one, but because I have developed a fondness for maps that goes beyond finding my way from here to there.

Maps are both literary and visual art (more on that in a future post).

They lend themselves to time travel. Have you ever spent time at the library looking at old census maps or comparing a regional map from a decade ago with a current one?

Maps provide off-the-beaten-path routes. They invite exploration in towns with culturally intriguing names. Do you like to take ‘the back way’ down an unfamiliar road or spontaneously divert to a town whose name intrigues you?

They offer geographical lessons. Do you ever spend an evening with a map of your country – refreshing your memory about which states, provinces or regions border others? (I’m always flummoxed by where Connecticut and Rhode Island are in relation to the bigger surrounding states.)

east coast map

 Maps jog our memories. Do you point with delight to a long-forgotten vacation spot and spend an hour reminiscing about the highlights of that trip?

Maps promote dreams of future travel. Who hasn’t browsed an atlas and identified several ‘musts’ for your bucket list?

I am very happy with my GPS, Silvia, who has reconciled herself to the fact that I often ignore her sage directions, even when I’ve asked for her help. Secure in the knowledge that Silvia  – like Dad – will eventually lead me home, I can even sneak in a stress-free, solo ‘country roads’ drive during my annual Michigan visit.

Silvia gets me where I’m going when that’s all I need, but there’ll always be a place on my bookshelves and in my travels for my maps.

What about you? What part, if any, do maps play in your lives?

 And finally … Can you fold a map along its original lines or does yours look like this?


Coming soon … Bemuzin on the artistry & creativity of maps.


Five Favorites for Spring

It’s official.

After 64 years, I’m declaring spring my favorite season.


Before summer and autumn fool me once again into thinking I like them best.

Springtime in Michigan as a child was a time of joy and wonder; a time when each of my five senses came alive.

Robins chirping at dawn like a faithful alarm clock, and the ground springing to life as if stretching its giant arms after a long winter’s sleep.

What I remember most is the aroma of the newly awakening outdoors. The minute I stepped outside, the scent of rich, dark soil moistened by melting snow filled my nose. That raw, loamy aroma was as pungent as any singular bloom and lingered for several weeks, enhanced by occasional spring rains – the kind without wind, thunder or lightning when walking under an umbrella was novel and fun.

The sidewalks were littered with fat, juicy earthworms who’d wriggle their way out of the soaking soil, bringing with them an earthy scent all their own. The lucky ones made it back to the safety of their underground abodes before a robin gobbled them for lunch, or an inattentive human squashed the life juice right out of them, leaving a flattened, brown leathery string glued to the sidewalk.

While I can’t choose a favorite flora, I can pinpoint five that immediately transport me to my first spring memories. Just as the robins woke my ears and the soil twitched my nose, these plants gave me visual, touch and taste sensations.

Forsythia from Google Images

Forsythia from Google Images

Forsythia – An early spring bloomer, growing in the southwest corner of our “near” back yard. A four-foot shrub with long, gently drooping limbs and tiny brilliant yellow flowers running up and down the branches. Such delicate blooms that a hard, windy rain shower or a late-arriving snowstorm would prematurely knock the flowers from the limbs, leaving shocked naked branches quivering for a green leaf robe.

Daffodils Google Images

Daffodils Google Images

Daffodils – another early bloomer. We had a large back yard. In the 50’s there were few fences, although we had a wire fence along the southern edge of our “way back” yard. Mom grew daffodils along that fence. What seemed like hundreds of daffodils. Plain yellow was the only available variety and they bloomed in such abundance it was like sunshine beaming from the ground. I’ve tried, in vain, to grow them; alas I don’t have the ‘daffodil touch’.

Spirea from Google Images

Spirea from Google Images

Spirea – these 4-foot bushes formed a hedge that separated our ‘near’ back yard from our ‘way back’ yard. They have an abundance of small whitish blooms and dime-size, scallop-edged green leaves.  I haven’t found a spirea here in Colorado, which is a shame, because I can’t teach Sparks and Raqi one of my favorite youth pasttimes – picking a spirea leaf; placing it front-side down on my tongue; and pressing my teeth against my tongue while blowing air in such a way that the leaf vibrated against my tongue producing a shrill whistle. Simple pure kid-in-nature fun. Tasted kind of bitter but worth it for the whistle.

Lilacs from Google Images

Lilacs from Google Images

Lilacs – Giant shrubs, tall enough I could squeeze in between the vertical old-growth stems and the new shoots as a child and pretend I was in a mini-forest. Seven or eight lilacs formed the border of our ‘way back’ yard, with just enough space between them that I could scamper through for a short-cut to Teddy’s or Margie’s back yard; still within shouting distance if Mom needed me.

Many yards had lilacs – some white; some deep purple, but I liked ours best – the pale lavender ones with a fragrance so strong I’d get punch-drunk from the nectar scent and lie in the grass for hours … inhaling.

Red Buds

Red Buds

Red Buds – if you’ve never seen a red bud tree, you are missing one of God’s most beautiful gifts.

My maternal grandparents lived in a small town about twenty miles away, and the road between towns followed a river with undeveloped woods on both sides. That stretch was called ‘The Red Bud Trail’ because so many red buds grew naturally in the woods. They were quite small and fragile-looking, dwarfed by larger maples and oaks, but there was no mistaking that occasional flash of pink as we drove by.

People who don’t know might think – in landscaping – they are looking at a crabapple tree when, in fact, they are seeing a red bud in bloom. But for those who have taken red buds into their hearts, there’s no confusion. The red buds are much daintier blooms appearing well before any greenery and rationing themselves along the full length of their branches. From a distance, they have a distinctly fluorescent pink that no crabapple can imitate.

Red Buds Worth a 2nd Look

Red Buds Worth a 2nd Look

Red buds are also prized for their unique leaves – a light, bright green palm-size, heart shape that is all the more reason to love this tree.

I could name many more beloved spring blooms – magnolias, yes – but I’ll close with an anecdote about peonies because Luanne, poet and blogger at Writer Site, and I had a conversation about lilacs and peonies yesterday.

Don’t you love peonies?” Luanne asked.

Yes, Luanne, I do’

But Dad isn’t especially fond of them. When we moved to a property that included a farmhouse, barn, out-buildings and ten acres, Dad had a lot to manage when he got home from work. The previous owner had planted three rows of seven peonies – 21 peonies to mow around, weed, prop up during flowering season, and trim every fall. All which took time away from Dad’s vegetable and fruit gardening. One night, he bulldozed the lawn mower across those peonies, shredding them to the ground. He kept doing it until they finally died.

That’s the only living plant (besides poison ivy) I’ve seen Dad purposely murder!


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