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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Famous People Blogs

Now that I've entered the blogosphere, I'm fascinated by other peoples' blogs, and intrigued by famous people who blog. I was startled to discover that David Byrne, from the Talking Heads, keeps a blog, and I get to see what movies he goes to (apparently he was quite taken by Q'oriana Kilcher in The New World, and that he recently visited San Francisco. It's interesting reading his musings.
I wonder then if other qualities besides selfhood that we think of as being unique to ourselves and to human being in general are also present in the animal kingdom? If animals and even insects have “personalities” then do they also have morality? A sense of right and wrong? It’s not so crazy. Right and wrong could be notions that lend an evolutionary advantage and foster social well-being, and therefore survival of the group. So why shouldn’t animals have these principles too?

I was thrilled to find a "blog" by Jeff Bridges (whom I've loved ever since "Starman")which is, wildly, all scribbles and colors and drawings. It's cool to look at.

Rosie O'Donnell has a fantastic blog that is written in this great, haiku-esque form.

christiane amanpour on larry king
telling the truth
iraq has been a disaster
this administration has prevented
the showing of coffins
the funerals of the war dead
the real cost of this manufactured war

there is no freedom of press in america

thank god 4 her


parker is up to fractions
god help me
4/5th of 1730
no idea

made me totally crack up.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I've Been Scanned

This was an interesting weekend. My 15 year old daughter and I went for our fourth and final visit to Stanford to partake in a mother-daughter research study on emotions. I'd read about it somewhere last year, and it seemed both interesting and a fairly painless way for her to earn some money. The other 3 visits, spread over the past six months, consisted mostly of interviews, lengthy questionnaires and some computer tasks, but this final visit was something different.

We'd both agreed to have our brains scanned by MRI and I was more than a little nervous about what I'd signed up for. I can be claustrophobic sometimes, and I was worried about being strapped down for an hour in a tube the size of a coffin. They were talking about "bite plates" and molding some putty to the roof of my mouth so I couldn't move my head. My palms were popping sweat. (she didn't seem phased, though, so I tried to act calm)

First they showed us a pile of various "prizes" and told us each to pick three. She picked some mod-groovy plastic pouches, a pedicure kit, and a glass picture frame that she could paint herself. O boy! I chose some glitter glue pens (thinking of the 11 yr old at home), some cute bath products in a plastic Chinese takeout box, and a gel-filled eye mask (the only thing I really wanted). Then we had to fill out a questionnaire about exactly how excited we were about our prizes, presumably to figure out how motivated we were. (when I first mentioned "prizes," my daughter and I said simultaneously, "Like Coldplay tickets?")

She went first. They made her remove her ear-cartilage piercing, and gave her some rubber soled booties and some big foam headphones. She climbed up on the little mattress, declined a blanket, got fitted for the Bite Bar (aughhh!) and they slid her into the tube. I went with the testers back into the control room and we talked to her via the Intercome. She had to keep saying "Uh huh" to indicate she was okay and wanted to proceed. She had a little rubber squeeze ball that she could squeeze to say she wanted to stop, and that didn't happen. The noise of the Magnet was deafening. It sounded like she was being jackhammered to death. They sent me to another room to read a book and dip into a drawerful of odd snacks. (sour cream and onion Pringles, butterscotch candies, and veggie sticks)

Then it was my turn. I got onto the mattress and immediately asked for a blanket. It was freezing. Then they fitted me with foam earplugs (for some reason, they don't give headphones to adults) and the dreaded putty Bite thing. It wasn't so bad. It was more like a little shelf to rest my top teeth on. They made me make sure I could still swallow and talk. Thank goodness, I could. Then they fitted the mirrored computer screen that I knew would be my salvation. With this thing directly in front of my eyes, I wouldn't be able to focus on the ceiling of the tube only inches above me. I would feel just a little less confined. They slid me in, they made me say, "Uh huh" and it began.

First they scanned me "at rest" while I watched clips from The Lion King. Which I hadn't watched in about ten years. It made me profoundly grateful that I no longer had Disney-aged children. (except for Pirates of the Caribbean, of course, which I don't mind at all) Then they showed a clip from some film about a man whose teenaged daughter is dying of cancer. I feigned indifference. The words came up on the screen: Imagine yourself in this situation. No, thank you.
It pressed on: Really get into the feeling. Oh, all right. In the name of science. So I imagined each of my daughters lying in that bed, and the waterworks commenced. Tears poured out of my eyes and dribbled into my ears and the electric earplugs. I worried about electrocution. When they seemed satisfied that I was sufficiently "sad," they scanned my brain. Rat-a-tat-tat. Then they asked me to push a button (on a box attached to my hand) that indicated my emotion at the time. VERY sad face, mildly sad face, mildly happy face, big happy face. I pushed very sad.

Then they told me to think about a happy memory from high school. The happiest memory I could think of. This turned out to be fairly easy. I imagined myself at Roosevelt Stadium in New Jersey. I was with my best friend and we were first in line at the gate. We had a huge cooler filled with our favorite foods: lemonade, sandwiches, homemade cookies. We had been there for hours, since early morning. Then the gates opened and we surged forward in a slow-motion, ecstatic run across the grass, each of us lugging a handle of the cooler. We unfurled our blanket on a perfect expanse of Astroturf. We had scored a great spot. (the computer screen said, Really get into the feeling. I imagined scores of adorable 70's style boys with feathered hair walking by and smiling at us. I imagined a perfect afternoon of sun, food, frisbees, card games, waiting for the sun to go down and the concert to begin. Then the stadium lights flared on and I had to stifle my urge to scream. So what band was it? The Eagles? Dan Fogelberg? How about a double header! They came out on stage. The opening notes of "Take it Easy" and the adrenaline overflowed. Cathy and I pulled out the denim shirt we'd been embroidering by hand for months. We balled it up and tossed it on stage. Dan Fogelberg caught it and unfolded it, in front of seven thousand people. "That's beautiful!" he said. A quartet of faces appeared on the screen. How are you feeling now? Big smiley face.

The last task was a series of rapid-response pushbutton tasks while the Magnet hammered away for a nonstop ten minutes. I had to push the button every time I saw a star, but it had to be at the same split second. A millisecond off, and I lost points. If I didn't have at least 80 points, I wouldn't get the gel mask! Oh dear! I fumbled a few times, but tried to keep my focus. In the end, I had 84 points and so got to take all three of my prizes home. My daughter had scored 94. The wonders of the young brain!

We were also awarded both horizontal and vertical photographs of our brains. I couldn't help comparing. Did mine really look more shriveled up, with less gray matter, or was I imagining things?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

More Readings @ Home

Last night I held another home reading, a literary series I've dubbed the
Shepherd Canyon Reading Series.
Parent authors from the Neighborhood Parents' Network read from Using Our Words, a fantastic local anthology. The writing was terrific, and read to a nearly-full house in spite of the rain. It was so great to see old friends (hi Valerie! Hi Rani!) that I hadn't seen in a really long time, and great to meet new people who are bonding over great writing and books.

I just got news that Joy Castro, a good friend and one of the first contributors to my anthology, A Ghost At Heart's Edge, will be in town briefly this week. Happily, I was able to book her for a reading for Shepherd Canyon this Friday night. Bay Area people, please come. Joy is an exquisite writer and a beautiful person, and her book will move you to tears and awe. Non-Bay Area people, you can order her book tool.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

24 Hours of Solitude

I just returned from 24 hours at one of my favorite places on earth: Santa Sabina, where silence and solitude are the order of the day. I started going there seventeen years ago, when I was studying calligraphy and the Friends of Calligraphy held their annual retreat there. I was enchanted by the beautiful garden courtyard, the huge quiet room called the Scriptorium, the smell of ink, the hush of thick handmade paper. I felt like a monk there, in my small cell-like room. It was breathtakingly beautiful and solemn. I found out that Santa Sabina welcomes private retreatants once a month, during their Weeks of Prayer.

I remembered this years later, when I had a one year old baby, and I longed for quiet, and sleep, and a place to write. I reserved 24 hours retreat and drove to Santa Sabina with my Mac Plus packed into its cube-shaped, padded case. I took a dozen books, and my favorite pillow. I slipped into my plain little room with its sink (and hidden mirror) and wardrobe that seemed as magical as the one that led to Narnia. I was alone! for the first time in a year. I drank up every minute, blissed out. I wrote a little, I read a little; I took a nap. I swam in the silence.

Since then, I have taken six-hour retreats, six day retreats, overnights and weekends. This place has become my beloved home, home of my muse, home of peace, home of more writing than I ever do in my real home. (one of the secrets is the lack of wireless Internet; although there is a dialup connection in one shared room downstairs) I've gone on my own, but I'm happiest when there is a writer friend in the cell next to mine, and I can hear the very faint tapping of their keyboards. We emerge to share a cup of tea, or to sit in the garden, or of it's a long retreat, to catch a dinner in town.

Yesterday, I did what I always do. I walked in the garden. I read a little. I took a little nap. I wrote. I visit with a friend. When I came home, even after this short short time away, I felt rejuvenated, loving, generous. I made a big pot of homemade chicken soup for my daughter. These are things that come less readily when I've been home too long, immersed in work and daily tasks, errands, carpools.

I've made it a vow to return for as many Prayer Weeks as possible. (and it is my belief that writing is a form of prayer) I'd welcome company.

So: next upcoming Weeks of Prayer where they accept "private retreatants" are: February 15, March 1, April 12 and May 17. Those are all Wednesdays, and they take private individuals from Mon-Thursdays. Let me know if you're up for some heavenly solitude. I might try to go each time except for April 12th.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

More Book Art

This is the art made from books that hangs in our dining room. It was made completely from folded paperback books on a plywood frame. It's a startling piece of art: it looks like brushes, or brooms. From some angles, the printed characters look Japanese. But when you come up close and spread the pages apart with your fingers (it's interactive!) you can read it, and it's English type.

Can you tell why I like it so much?

Here is an accompanying statement by John Woodall, the artist, which brought tears to my eyes when I first read it.

These paper pieces, the folded books, represent a significant part of a larger work I have been developing for three years.

Conceptually, my concerns are human relations. What we do to and for one another. The human use of human beings. Humanity in service to itself. The potential for violence and healing. Our capacity for both.

The paper works reveal a particular use of time during a specific period, one year. This period of time is occupied with research, thought and a repetitious act - folding paper. These folded books have become a physical manifestation of that time and its use to address issues of violence and healing.

My assumption in this exercise is the presence of what is often thought to be lost. Love.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Tunnel of Books

I just love this photo. Thank you Gayle for bringing it to my attention! It's part of an exhibit of book art called "Lost in Books" that I just found stunning. I love art made out of books, books that look like art. I have a fantastic piece of book art in my dining room, which I will photograph and post later on.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Is it a ripoff, or is it flattery?

A friend of mine emailed me yesterday to say she'd read one of my stories online, which she found when Googling for this blog. Normally, I'd be happy to hear this news, but this particular story, originally published in the Bellevue Literary Review, was not online as far as I knew. So I googled myself along with the story title and found this.

On one hand, I felt flattered and glad that a major university is using my story for a class in the Medical Humanities. On the other hand I felt kind of ripped off. Why didn't anyone notify me that they were going to do this? What about copyright? Electronic rights? I gave the Bellevue Literary Review first-time rights and then they reverted to me. So now anyone can use them?

I've been on the other side, too. I photocopy stories from anthologies and use them to teach my classes. I read the copyright guidelines which says I can use a short story, once, in the limited field of my classroom. But what about online rights?

I admit to feel a little "once bitten, twice shy" about this whole thing. When Amazon first came up with its "Search Inside the Book" function, I searched for myself and found, to my horror, one of my stories excerpted in a book called Families In Later Life: Connections and Transitions. Again, thanks for the flattery, but that editor totally ripped me off. I found over a dozen references to my story throughout that book as well.

Once, about four years ago, I picked up a copy of a literary magazine in a Borders bookstore and started flipping through it idly. There was a story of mine! I couldn't believe it. When I contacted them, they stuttered that they had "forgotten" to send me an acceptance letter (and a contract). AGHHHH!!

The first time was the worst, though. It was over fifteen years ago, and the Internet was new. I joined an online writers' group on Compuserve. Naively, we posted our work and shared feedback. A few months later, one of the other members of the online group emailed me and said, "I have something to show you." One of the
other members, a woman, had proudly sent him a copy of her first published book (published by MIT, where she was a professor!) - which included one of my poems that I'd posted on Compuserve, with just one word changed. I was stunned. Ironically, the poem was called "Missing Children" and was about kidnapped and "disappeared" children in Latin America. And here my own poem had gone kidnapped.

I fretted over it for months. I wrote to her. I wrote to MIT. I had written that poem in a workshop in my MFA program, and I had everything from my first pencilled drafts to many versions scribbled on by my professor and classmates. No response. The man who had originally sent me the book warned me that he thought she was suicidal (her own mother had committed suicide) and that if she were "outed" as a plagiarist, it might send her over the edge. I declined to follow up, but many years later, re-published the poem (with my own name!) with Poets Against the War. That felt better, and like I had taken it back and given it an appropriate home.

(oddly, I have never been able to find any reference to My Plagiarist after 1994, when she gave a reading of the book including my poem - did she read my poem out loud? - and wonder if she really is still alive)

These are the times that I think I really need an agent. Miss Snark, where are you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I'm doing a reading...

This Saturday night, January 21st, 7pm, along with a group of amazing writers from the anthology Literary Mama, Reading for the Maternally Inclined as well as It's A Boy. This stellar group of writers read at Diesel Books last week, and I was blown away by the passion, humor, depth and just plain good writing.

And it's being held at A Great Good Place for Books, my neighborhood bookstore and the place where Debi Echlin presided until she passed away in November.

Come on out. It'll be a good show, I promise.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Vote for Miss Snark!

Miss Snark has been shortlisted for best blog on "Best of Blogs"

Given the amount of pleasure I’ve had reading Miss Snark’s “Crapometer” over the holidays, I felt I had to inform everyone that she has been shortlisted for best book/literary blog over here.

If you're finding Miss Snark amusing and/or useful, go ahead and give her a vote. You’re allowed to vote once a day.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy Birthday MLK Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 77 years old yesterday.

Twenty years ago, I fell in love with the man who is now my husband. He called me up at three in the morning and said, "You have to listen to this." He read to me, in a chokey voice, words from a collection of MLK Jr's sermons. I don't remember which words they were, or what sermon. But I was so moved that he was so moved. That he would disregard the clock and call me up to share such a thing. And it gave me the first inkling of knowing that this was the beginning of many such sharings.

Thanks to Gayle for reminding me. And thanks to Salon for letting us listen to his words again. Take one minute to listen to his "I have been to the mountaintop" speech. Goosebumps, and a few tears.

Think about what we can do to honor him. I'm thinking about that today. When my girls were little, we used to bake a birthday cake and sing to him. We haven't done that for years, and it seems a little corny. But it also seems wrong to let the day slip by without commemorating, and contemplating, his life and work.

Babysitting Myself

So I've been investigating various ways to limit my online use. I'm still thinking about it, mind you; I haven't quite done anything yet.

But I did download a 10-day trial version of a software called Mac Minder, which basically limits the software on your computer by program. So I can have unlimited use of Microsoft Word, which I use for writing, and a time-limit (between certain hours that I choose) on Mail or Firefox or Safari.

The other day (this shows how addicted I am) while I was waiting for my daughter who was at crew practice, I went to the public library to catch some Internet time. (I had been gone ALL DAY!) The library was about to close in 15 minutes; so there was a little clock ticking down the minutes left. It was an amazing incentive to do what I needed to do, and fast.

So now the question is, how much should I allow myself? Two hours a day? Is that still a lot? Is it not very much? I have no idea. I think what I will do is allow one hour of Mail and two hours of Internet.

And I think I'll start... tomorrow.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


I woke up yesterday morning, thinking, I must write to Dr. Sue and ask her what I can do about my Internet addiction. In the years since we installed wireless, high-speed access in our house, my writing output has dwindled. And I know that the two are directly connected, because when I go to colonies, where Internet access is deliberately limited, my writing output soars. It isn't just being away from family and work and daily responsibilities; it's that infinitely sticky Web.

So imagine my surprise when I logged onto Dr. Sue's column and found that the topic was... Internet addiction! And I was incredulous to see that Dr. Sue had linked part of her response to THIS BLOG, and my post on freewriting. Now that's ironic. Especially considering that during some two-week spans, the only time I really get any writing done is during that one-hour period when I am surrounded by my freewriting witnesses, and I absolutely have to do it.

But I was very interested (actually, desperate) to read Dr. Sue's advice on the matter, as well as some very helpful ideas from some of her readers. Dr. Sue said:

Decide beforehand how much time you wish to spend on the Internet. Half an hour is usually reasonable, but you may require longer or shorter breaks. Whatever you decide, stick with it. If you tend to lose track of time, invest in a kitchen timer. Return to your work at the prescribed time, even if you are in the middle of an absorbing discussion, even if your best friend has just sent you a weepy email about her romantic breakup or accusing you of neglecting your friendship. Remind yourself that if you had an office or factory job, you would be expected to go back to work at the end of your break regardless of the state of your personal life. Then, after another hour or two (assuming you have the luxury of writing for several hours at a stretch), take another break. After a week or so, you will have fine-tuned your schedule, and it will begin to feel natural to you.

And one of her readers had this to add:

I do my fiction writing on a laptop that never gets connected to the Internet.
When I'm strong enough to be self-disciplined, I save Internet use for the end of my writing day.
...If I manage to make the connection a reward rather than a morning routine, I get a lot more done.

Now that's a concept. A reward rather than a routine. I know this is bad. I keep my laptop next to my bed, on the floor. (I often write in bed) When I wake up in the morning, I pull it onto my stomach, like a little lapwarmer, and check my email, even sometimes before going to the bathroom! Now that's bad. And there it is, all day. Now, I'm often doing things that enhance my writing - visiting Readerville, or other writing blogs, or "doing research" on my WWII novel, or writing emails to other writers about writing. It all counts, doesn't it? Doesn't it? Sure it does, but I think I would be a lot better off if my ratio of True Writing to Reading or Writing About Writing was 10:1 and not the other way around.

I'm going to have to bite the bullet. I'm going to have to make some changes around here. I don't think I can do the 2nd computer option, although I still do have my old clamshell iBook lying around. I could completely disconnect that one and use it as my primary writing computer.

I could take myself somewhere (not an Internet cafe, hah!) where there is no wireless connection. I used to work often at the Mills College library and that was a good thing. I love those little wooden carrels with the dividers like blinders. I just hope they haven't installed a wireless hub.

That is one of the best things about Santa Sabina, my beloved convent-ish place. I go there when I need a mini-retreat, and something tells me I need to go there a lot more often. They have a small room with a dialup connection, and that's fine, to perhaps check once in a six hour period, and not every six minutes.

Another option is to install a Big Brother type software, like the one I used to limit my kids' Internet access a few years ago. I should probably install it on my main computer. You can program it to shut off access between certain hours, or to allow only a certain amount of connection per 24 hour period.

I could also hire somebody to sit next to me all day and if they see a browswer bar appearing on my screen instead of the Word toolbar, they can strike me with a sharp object until I cry.

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bumped by Bush? Don't let it happen!

I just received an email from my beloved Blue Mountain Center that one of their past residents, a filmmaker named Brad Lichtenstein is in need of urgent help.

His film, Almost Home, documents a year in the lives of residents, families and staff trying trying to transform their nursing home into a true home and shake the negative nursing home stigma. He has been working on this film for over three years. It seems like an amazing project and an inspiring, life-changing film.

It was finally scheduled to air on PBS on February 21st during prime time, but is now being bumped to air George Bush's State of the Union address.

Do not let this happen!!

Here's what Brad says:

I NEED your help to persuade PBS stations to join our new national broadcast date.

Please click here to find your local station and call or email viewer services to request that they air Almost Home on the national airdate of Feb. 21 in prime time.

If you are in New York, please clickhere and choose the subject "programming." This is the #1 market, and crucial to national newspaper reviews!
If you are in Wisconsin, we are set (thanks to many of you!). But please email this request to your friends out of state.

Email blast your networks and ask that people immediately go to their local PBS station website and send an email to their viewer services or programming department requesting that ALMOST HOME air on the national airdate of February 21st during prime time.

If you are connected to an aging or other organization, please email your chapters, partners and other organizations and ask that they blast their constituencies. (Again, I've pasted a useful email draft below). Also, please consider posting a notice on your website.

Stations really listen to their viewers. Time is of the essence as February schedules are being locked right now! So, please, do it right away while it’s on your mind and your screen. A grass roots campaign has the power to save Almost Home, so please help....it's deeply appreciated.

Monday, January 09, 2006

News to Warm a Mother's Heart

My daughter has joined the high school Scrabble team! Woo hoo! (of course, you have to be an exceptionally geeky mother to do a jig over something like this)

An Agent with Attitude

I have recently discovered an endlessly fascinating, hilarious, slightly painful but ultimately very helpful blog by one Miss Snark, who comments, quite acerbically, on topics close to any writer's heart. Attitude-wise, she is pretty much the polar opposite of gentle, generous Dr. Sue, but the end result - a better and wiser writer - is the same.

In December, she hosted a rather astonishing event, where she offered to read and provide commentary on over one hundred novel synopses, for free. She savaged about 90% of them, and gave detailed comments and sarcastic line-notes for all to see. She published both the synopses and her comments on her blog, and entitled the whole thing The Crapometer. (you can read through all one hundred entries if you check out her archives from December 25, 2005) It's like a car wreck you can't pull your eyes away from. But I learned a lot. I haven't attempted to write a synopsis of my novel yet, but believe me, when I do, I will be referring back to The Crapometer in order to see what NOT to do.

She seems mean. But she's got a heart of gold to let us in on the truth like this. People ask her advice on everything from formatting to rubber bands, and she's got a snarky answer for it all.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Doctor for Writers

It's an idea whose time has come: a psychologist who gives advice, support, handholding, wisdom and comfort to that most beleagured group - writers! Dr. Sue has been offering her sage comments on Readerville forever, but now she has her own gig every Friday at M.J. Rose's blog. She's wonderful, and a fantastic writer in her own right. Wondering about what to do when your own friends won't read your published books? When you're consumed with envy? Stuck in a seemingly endless writers' block?

Just ask Dr. Sue.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

And a very wet New Year

We were supposed to host a party on New Year's eve - with soup, board games and a celebration of "New York New Year" - where we watch the Times Square ball drop at 9pm and yell "It's 2006!" and then feel like we're free to go to bed. But none of that happened (except the going to bed early part).

We woke up on Saturday morning to no electricity. In a fit of optimism, I drove down to Berkeley Bowl for provisions, but it took hours to get down there because there were trees crossing nearly every road around us. It was like driving around a series of mazes,each passage cut off by a giant, horizontal tree. One poor neighbor (not someone we know) had a tree crash in one window (and the roof, too) and out another. Somebody nearly drowned in flooding in their car at the bottom of our hill.

By mid-afternoon it became clear we wouldn't be able to hold this party, no matter HOW many candles I burned. It was just too cold, too dark, no hot water and no clear way to reach us. How disappointing.

So the girls went to spend the night with friends, and John and I took my mother out to dinner and to see Memoirs of a Geisha. Blech. He called it a "flotilla of B.S." She LOVED it. I was completely squicked out by the blue contact lenses (is this so we could tell her apart from all the other beautiful Asian actresses?), the women-as-object theme, the young-girl's-virginity-as-commodity theme, and the women-clawing-each-other-apart-in-hatred-and-competition-theme. The only thing going for it was the very pretty photography of the landscape and architecture, although the cute little Village did seem a little Disneyesque. And the kimonos were gorgeous. But I wouldn't recommend it. It was just too sad.

Now it is a new Year. I begin teaching again in a few weeks. I'm wishing everyone lots of good writing, great books and love.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Writerly Kind of Holiday

I've been gone a long time. First, it was pre-holiday. Then it was holiday, travel and family. Then it was a huge storm that knocked out our power.

First I want to report that Santa was very, very good to this writer. I got two (2!) Scrabble boards- a plastic swiveling travel kind, and then a heavy duty wooden one for home. My girls bought me a nifty Scrabble dictionary which is chock full of great words like "aa"(rough, cindery lava) and "qaid" (Muslim leader). Very handy. I also received a gorgeous Levenger library stand, complete with Oxford American dictionary. And it comes with its own pretty little domelike magnifying glass, perfect for geezers like me who can barely read a phone book anymore.

While we were rained in up at Tahoe, we played multiple games of Scrabble. My daughters were very trepidatious about playing against me, but we did it "open book" (with the Scrabble dictionary for help) and the scores came out amazingly close. And they were shocked at how fun it was. I was shocked and happy at how much they liked it.

Then, we played Twister, and they whupped me. I also got to read a new book: Wild Dogs by Helen Humphrey, which I ended up liking very much. I began a short story that I've literally tried to write a dozen times over the past years, and it's never quite "taken." Maybe this time.