Buon Fresco

In 2006 I went to Fresco School in LA. It was a wonderful weekend. I stayed in a hotel in Venice Beach and commuted to school. School wasn’t far, either. School was in one of Howard Hughes’ Hangars in what was once an airfield (and if I’m lucky I’ll remember the name of it…).

It had been — and remains! — a dream to paint buon fresco — that’s painting onto wet plaster. My teacher was from Russia — Ilia Anossov — and while I give him a “C” as an instructor, I give him an A+ as a person and fresco enthusiast. He gets a C because he took my brush out of my hand and finished my fresco for me (grrrrrrrrrrrrrr). Still, I really like the guy and loved the class. I even understand his impulse. He is a big-hearted guy and he didn’t want me to fail. Sometimes it’s hard to believe a student is OK with failing, and I was.

Class was two long days over St. Patrick’s Day. My hotel room was really a small apartment with a kitchen. When I arrived the first afternoon a random bum-like homeless guy at the parking lot said he’d watch my car for me. I don’t know what his story was but he was splendid and possibly he did watch my car. Strangely, he didn’t want any money. There are a lot of mysterious interactions in our world and at this point I’m half-way convinced that some of them are not with humans but with some other kind of human-like form of something. That guy was one of them.

So…on my way home from my first class I stopped at a supermarket to get something for dinner. I’d completely forgotten it was St. Patrick’s day wrapped up as I was in the magic and wonder of painting fresco. As I stood in line, waiting my turn, I felt a sharp pinch on my arm. “Huh?”

I turned around. An older woman with gray hair under a headscarf was grinning at me. “Sure you’re Irish,” she asked with a lilt in her voice. “Where’s your green? Don’t tell me your underwear. I haven’t believed that since elementary school.”

I cracked up. I admitted to being Irish and apologized for my lack of awareness over what day it was. We chatted.

I bought some gross food I cooked in a skillet in my apartment and went to bed. During the night, I heard intriguing sounds coming from upstairs and felt surprised at the nature of my hotel.

Before class even began we had to do two sketches, a value drawing and a color sketch because, when the plaster is ready, the artist needs to know exactly what he/she is doing. There is a small window of opportunity to paint. It’s a real “carpe diem” thing with plaster.

The colored sketch I hd to prepare for class — if I’d been smart, I’d have chosen something simpler.

We painted our frescoes on the back of 14 x 14 inch tiles — a perfect surface. All of it was wonderful to me. My fresco turned out badly, though there are worse out there. My teacher painted the two top apples, and they don’t’ look like apples to me. OH well… To my eye, the best part is about three square inches in one corner, the wicker chair. Luckily it broke a month or so later so I have never had to move it or look at it. (Featured photo)

I love the medium, but it’s complicated and expensive and needs a lot of space. The most wonderful moment was when Ilia showed us an old coffee can filled with dry pigment for ultramarine blue. The pigment was left over from the Depression when so many fresco murals were commissioned by WPA for public buildings. I got to grind that paint and use it. That was the best part of everything.

WPA paint. 💙


My morning radio has David Bowie singing “Ch-ch-ch-changes,” and I’m remembering one of the earliest classes I ever taught, Intermediate Composition at the University of Denver. My students’ ages hovered around the magic number of 19. The song had been out for a while. It came out on my twentieth birthday in 1972, five years earlier.

I heard the song on the way to school that morning. I felt so old, so much older than my students, even though, in years I wasn’t. Already in life experience I was far away even from my 19 year old self.

As I listened, I somehow thought David Bowie was warning the ancient me that the young’uns in my classroom were a different generation, and I could neither understand them nor hold them back. I felt used up, irrelevant and passe. At 25.

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through…

Just starting out I felt the weight of responsibility. Why would these 20 some odd kids want to learn from me? If they were anything like I had been, they were challenging everything I said, at least in their minds.

The song –which I didn’t much like — lingered in the back of my mind, residue from the car radio. It was as intimidating as the forest of kids who didn’t especially want to take a composition class, but had to. Timorous? All of us were. They because I had the power of the red pen. Me because they might make my life hell as I’d made the lives of some of my teachers hell.

It went all-right in the end. A month or so later I was sitting with a few of them in the student union sharing a pitcher of Coors (don’t judge; this is and was Colorado and craft beer wasn’t a thing) and watching Star Trek reruns.

This Post Comprises a Lot of Stuff

I was eating breakfast in the Yoyi Bingguan (friendship hotel) in Beijing with my mother-in-law and the Good X. Frances was a woman of strong opinions and on this particular morning it was English grammar.

“I hate it when people misuse the word comprise. It’s a transitive verb. It’s not ‘comprised of.’ It’s comprises. Really sets my teeth on edge.”

I just stared at her, knowing that after that breakfast whenever I read “comprised of” it would set my teeth on edge.

Does it really matter? In one sense it does. Composed of is a perfectly good construction and people are familiar with it. I ended up seeing that “comprised of” was often employed by people trying to look smart. That was a step toward one of the components of my writing philosophy for myself and my classes, “Just say it. Don’t try to look smart or fancy it up.”

Transit-ive — transit — the damned thing moves, acts, does something. Intransitive? Not going anywhere by itself. Needs something like an auxiliary verb to help it along like, “Is composed of.” So, my household is composed of me, Bear, and Teddy, OR my household comprises me, Bear, and Teddy. But, I can’t change the world and neither could Frances. It comprises people who never sat down to a grammar breakfast with my MIL.

Yesterday I was back in the book judging business, and I got a book that employed something called AR — “augmented reality.” Considering that I’m bewildered by reality 9/10ths of the time, I found that disturbing. Does reality need augmentation? It seems to me that people have a pretty loose hold on it already.

I Googled AR, learned what it was (think Pokemon Go) and, since the book made no sense as it was, I tried to use AR to “read” the book. I couldn’t get it to work, so I don’t know if the story is good or not. The one big failing is that the authors assume the reader will know (will every reader know? I don’t think so) and did not provide any instruction with the story other than the little scan square which I employed. It also assumed that a reader (in this case a judge) would be happy to install an app to make the book “work.” That’s uncool.

I arrived at the website and had instructions there that I couldn’t understand. Is that on me? Is it because I’m a “senior citizen”? It’s true that what kids might be learning in school now I did not learn in school then.

I know one thing; the local park had more people in it during the Pokemon Go phase than it has had since. It seems to me that the way this book is designed, the two characters — who exist on the otherwise white pages — will be involved in adventures and backgrounds that exist in AR.

I felt a little resentment toward the author of the book. I wanted to do well by his book and I couldn’t. It seemed to me just one more indication of the way we assume others are living in our microcosm of reality — augmented or otherwise.

Luckily I have a pal who could explain it to me — ChatGPT. So, I asked… Dude, how do I use AR to read a book?

To scan the pages of a book and activate the AR features, you will need a device with a camera and an AR app that is compatible with the book. Here are the general steps to follow:

  1. Download the AR app: Search for the AR app that is designed for the book you have. This information can usually be found on the book’s cover or in the book’s description. Download and install the app on your device.
  2. Launch the app: Open the AR app on your device and select the option to activate the camera.
  3. Point the camera at the book: Hold your device over the page that has the AR content. Make sure that the entire page is visible on the screen.
  4. Wait for the app to detect the page: The app will detect the page and overlay the AR content on top of it.
  5. Interact with the AR content: Depending on the book and the AR app, you may be able to interact with the content in various ways, such as tapping on the screen or moving your device.
  6. Move on to the next page: Once you have finished interacting with the AR content on one page, you can move on to the next page and repeat the process.

It’s important to note that the exact process may vary depending on the specific AR app and book you are using. Be sure to read the instructions provided by the app and follow them carefully to ensure the best experience.

To use AR, you will need a device that supports AR technology, such as a smartphone or tablet. You will also need to download an AR app or game that is compatible with your device. Once you have the app installed, simply follow the instructions to use the AR features.

I may have to give this book another chance. I really would like to see it. Philosophically it’s problematic for me. It’s a kids’ book. Would I want my kid looking at a book through his/her phone? No. Do I want books to turn into cartoons? That’s another question. Would I want my kid to learn to read and be interested in reading? Yes. Might this help with that? Maybe. Is any kid born today going to live in the world in which I grew up. Absolutely not.

In other news, in the natural world, we’re looking at 40 mph winds with gusts up to 70 mph. I think if I took Teddy out today, he might turn into a kite… Featured photo: This is where Teddy likes to walk — between my knees. I don’t know why, but it’s his preferred locale when he’s not passionately sniffing for history in the grass.

Highway to Hell

Yesterday I got new cartridges for my printer, and the color cartridge didn’t work right. Through HP’s support chat I got the problem figured out and learned more about the printer I’ve had since 2019, a machine I call “Darth Printer” because it’s black and has an antipathetic personality. It’s not evil, but it’s definitely “my way or the highway, Sweet Cheeks.” Turned out the color cartridge was defective — something you can’t see from its cheery pink exoskeleton — and so a new one is on its way to me from — of all places — Calexico, CA.

It made me wonder what happened to THAT town since I last saw it a LOOOOOONNNNNGGGG time ago. I mean a REALLY long time ago — 1987. (“Is this a windup for a story, Martha? Should I get some coffee?” “Well, yeah, if you want to.”)

The Good X and I had bought our crack house in the barrio and were remodeling the bathroom. I wanted to do the counter in Talavera tile which, I knew, were less expensive in Mexico than in San Diego, so, on the 4th of July (???) we drove to Tecate. Tecate was (is?) a beautiful Mexican town in the old style with the central square. Soon after we crossed (on foot, parking on the US side) we got some adobado tacos and asked where we might find a place to buy tile. At the time there was nothing “touristy” about Tecate. The adobado seller pointed us to a plumbing store. We wandered over, enjoying the quiet vibe of this small desert town on a hot day. The beer, what, factory? was emitting steam as per usual. I like Mexico. I like speaking Spanish. I was happy.

The plumbing store was awesome and we got our tile there and sat down with the owner and his wife for some cold Jamaica (hibiscus tea). Then, with our box of tile, we headed back to the car.

The tile we bought is the one just above the bird on the branch. We picked it because it was the only one the store had enough of. 🙂 I love when I don’t have to make decisions.

What we didn’t expect was that we could not get back onto Interstate 8 for thirty minutes or so. I don’t remember why, maybe clearing an accident. “Fine,” I said to the Good X. “We can go to TJ on the Mexican highway.” It was no big deal to get to our house from Tijuana.

So, we drove across the border. Our first thought was to go west and north from there, but the highway to Tijuana was closed. Looking at Google maps today, I see that it’s got a couple of detours.

We turned onto the highway heading east into the mountains. The idea was drive to Mexicali if we had to and, if we could, take a left straight up to the California desert before then. Right…

The highway was very narrow — sometimes one lane and seriously terrifying. At the time, we were driving a Peugeot 505 STI named (appropriately) Beauty which was good. She had wonderful suspension and was not super big. The Mexican trucks, though? Big and top heavy. The “highway” wound its way through the mountains, sometimes paved, sometimes not. No guardrails or signs. More than once we backed down so a truck could get by.

After four harrowing hours we reached Mexicali, cursing ourselves for not being able to wait 30 minutes for I-8 to clear. A left turn took us to Mexicali’s sister city, Calexico (see what they did there?) and another 3 hours took us home.

I spent more time in Tecate over the years but never drove that highway again. The featured photo shows the VAST improvements on the highway since 1987.

Disjointed Reminiscence of a Sole Survivor

I got coffee for Christmas. It was good, but now it has vanished, and I’m back to the old same brew. Beautiful stuff. Dark and fierce unlike this beautiful, springlike morning with the radio playing songs from 1980 carrying me down something that is not so much as memory lane as memory’s house of horrors. No, not really but that sounds good, doesn’t it?

The best part of 1980 as far as I recall was going to life drawing sessions at Muddy Waters of the Platte RIP (coffee house, used book store, auditorium) every Monday with my friend, Wes Kennedy. That led to my first painting show.

The man in my life at the time was in Saudi Arabia teaching at the University of Riyadh so I was enjoying a year’s reprieve from that complicated mess. The relationship would die in 1981 after five years of wrestling with impossibility and the conundrum of impossible love.

I walked to and from work every day, down Denver’s old flagstone sidewalks to the Wall Street of the West (17th street), a different Denver from that you might visit today. Much smaller, less flash. That year I moved into my favorite ever apartment which this house resembles.

This coffee is so good.

That was also the year I began being serious about the coffee I drank. There were a lot of steps between then and now, but I was on the road. There was only one place to buy so-called “gourmet” coffee in Denver at the time, a fancy grocery store on Larimer Street where I bought an electric grinder.

I take my last sip of this magical elixir before setting the empty cup on the floor for Teddy. All of this seems like a long time ago, and, of course, it was. I wasn’t 19. I was 29, still, this song from 1980 kind of sums it up when I look back on that young woman.


An irony of snow is that it’s more difficult to see on a dim day than a bright day. You’d think the glare of the sun on the crystalline snow would be blinding, but it isn’t. What’s blinding is the flat light of a gray day. The other day out there with Bear, a gray day with falling snow and fog, I found it difficult to see where I was going — it wasn’t the fog; it was the light. After a while, my eyes adjusted to the absence of shadows and contrast.

I remembered having yellow ski goggles just for that because you could not see the lines on a flat, gray day. The yellow lenses brought the features back up into the world by allowing more light to reach your eyes making life a LOT safer. I dimly remember that in those ancient times we carried spare ski-goggle lenses with us and I even more dimly remember changing them and I remember people changing their lenses on the chairlift — not smart. You drop your goggles and then?

For me, the main job of goggles was making sure I didn’t lose my glasses. Sometime back then I got these GREAT glasses that had wires that wrapped around my ears. The glasses were pretty ugly, but really, priorities. They also had HUGE lenses. They were great, but times and fashion change…


In 1975, I worked in the mail room as my second job at Head Ski in Boulder. What that meant was putting up with Agnes (shudder) who filled a rubbing alcohol bottle with vodka and thought I was after her job (I wasn’t), sorting the mail for the various departments in the plant and delivering it (with Agnes), sending TWX and making Xerox copies. Making photocopies in 1975 was seriously serious, and I had to be trained by some reps from Xerox. Agnes didn’t want to touch that thing. It scared her.

Xerox copies were expensive — 5 cents a page — so only certain things could be Xeroxed (yeah, it was a verb). and only one person could touch the machine. Me. Agnes didn’t like that I had this “power,” but she’d refused to be trained “on The Machine”. In the pre-desktop computer era we used typewriters, and for non-Xerox copies we used carbon paper. No color copying, either.

One day, when Agnes had given me the task of cleaning up the mailroom, I found a small offset press. It would fit on a TV tray (since we’re in the Wabac machine). I asked Agnes about it and she said they got it for her to make copies but she didn’t like it.

It hadn’t been touched in a while. I lifted it and brought it up to the front where there was some light. Since Agnes wouldn’t let me do anything, I started cleaning it up and I managed to get it running. The original idea behind the little press was that it would save the company money they might otherwise spend on having memo head and other non-fancy logoed paper printed professionally. It had aluminum masters and worked pretty much like a mimeograph machine. I thought it was cool.

Pretty soon the company had installed a ventilating hood for the little press and had gotten me a filtered face mask. We were a factory, after all, and people’s minds worked that way. It was necessary because the main solvent for the press was ether. My reward for saving the company all this money was a very nice dinner in Boulder’s best restaurant and, a little later, a promotion out of the mail room and away from Agnes.

Later, living a completely different life in a different city with an incredible amount of water under the bridge (but only five years later), the photocopy machine was already a big important part of life on this planet, but not very dependable and still expensive. I was a paralegal. It was still before desktop computers. Carbon paper still sat in my desk drawer. The gigantic Xerox machine could collate but it could also jam and it frequently jammed in the process of collating a shitload of pages. We were absolutely NOT allowed to unjam the machine. A specialist was called, a little guy in a dark suit with a briefcase that actually held tools. But a workman doesn’t want to march down 17th street (Wall Street of the West) in Denver looking like a mechanic. Plenty did (and do) but not your Xerox guy.

Because NOTHING ever happened at the law firm except at the last minute, we “girls” (think the movie Nine to Five) stood in a corner hoping hoping hoping hoping that things were not terminally fucked because those pleadings had to be in court YESTERDAY. These time crunches were never the lawyer’s fault, either (actually, they were). They were our fault, so we did what humans have probably done since my Refuge was a lake — we blamed the machine.

But it wasn’t the machine. It was a combination of things. About that time stores where you could take your copying needs were opening everywhere, and my predecessor at the law firm left the job to run a Kinkos. That became a back up for the many, many times “The Machine” (read that in a hushed voice) was down. Kinkos hung around for decades. I just asked the AI (which is Google) what happened to Kinkos and learned, “In February 2004, FedEx bought Kinko’s for $2.4 billion, which then became known as FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Centers.”

One thing I took away from life at the law firm was do your stuff ahead of time because stuff happens. I’ve finished and submitted my article on the crane festival 3 weeks ahead of my deadline because you never know; the copy machine might jam.

I have a photocopy of a letter my grandfather wrote which is a true PHOTOcopy. It’s faded and pinkish and strange and was made in the sixties. The featured photo is very like — and might be exactly like — the Xerox machine in the mailroom at Head Ski.

As for AI — my research has been a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s anything for anyone to be afraid of, in any case, fear never made anyone a master. We’ve been living with it for a while. My ONE concern was what some of its features and offerings might do to education, and I no longer think there’s necessarily any danger. Like any tool, it depends on the user. People have been murdered with screw drivers, but in a normal reality is there much that is MORE inert than a screw driver? All of us using WP are using AI. It’s how we get those suggestions at the bottom of a blog we just read or the prompts that are now appearing unless we’ve told the AI we don’t want them?

Lots of comments have referenced Philip K. Dick whose work I love — but of all his work my favorite is Galactic Pot Healer which is a story of how a man repaired the Inexplicable (aka God) using a technique similar to that used in Japan to repair broken old pots with gold. You can read it here.


Amo Mexico

It never changes, even after 8 years of retirement. I still dream about teaching, about being hired at a new school, about planning classes, collecting materials, going to meetings. Some of my earliest community college classes were in the town of San Ysidro which is on the border of Mexico. It’s hard to tell if it’s a suburb of Tijuana or San Diego. Late in the 19th century several immigrants from Switzerland settled there and built dairies, so who knows. Maybe it’s just a suburb of the world. San Ysidro back in the 90s was essentially a single street with minor streets leading off it.

Though over time I stopped teaching English as a Second Language, my first classes as a legit college teacher (as opposed to instructor at an international school) were ESL. My first class was an early evening class in San Ysidro, a 40 mile drive RT from my house and a little farther from San Diego State where I was still teaching at the language school.

I loved it. A room full of Mexican adults who want to learn English is about as good as it gets. I never let on that I could speak any Spanish, but they figured it out. They were enthusiastic to practice, and they would try anything, even my method of getting my students to write a poem. We met for 3 hours twice a week, and while that gave me an exhausting schedule, it also gave me money and a good time.

The school was a satellite of Southwestern College — one of the first community colleges in America. In those days (mid nineties) the school was a couple of double-wides but over time they built fancy buildings. Kind of a loss in a way, a loss in atmosphere and lightness. A couple of blocks from the school was a tamale restaurant. THAT was, well, incredible. More kinds of tamales than I knew existed, and they were all delicious. Next door to the school was Yum-Yum (Jum-Jum) Donuts where the students would usually take their break.

At times the border checkpoint would be backed up, and students couldn’t make it to class. No one had cell phones so the secretary would call the border patrol to find out what was going on. No one was ever penalized for missing class.

The last day of that first class one of my students gave me a present — an 8 foot lemon tree in a pot. He was a gardener and that’s what he had.

I was teaching in San Ysidro at the end of my mom’s life. I missed class for a week or so to go to Montana to take care of her post-hospital living arrangements — a nightmare, really one of the nightmares of my life. When I returned to class everyone came up to me with hugs and kind words all of which I sorely needed.

My first teaching experiences were as a volunteer at a literacy program in Denver. My first student was a Hispanic man who wanted to learn to read so he could read bed time stories to his daughters. Within a year I’d moved from tutoring single students to classes. My first classes were made up of people from Mexico one way or another — a couple of women were born in California, but had not learned English. An old vaquero with an amazing sense of humor was deported twice while he was in an 8 week class — he always made it back. Somehow it was a joke. These classes were absolute beginners in English, and from them I learned that learning a new language can be scary. People are truly frightened of making mistakes and looking stupid.

Once my mother — in one of her moods — was giving me a rundown of my many faults. One of them was that I don’t have the cowboy personality. You have to remember, Montana, etc. I know what that is supposed to be and I DO have it to some extent. Essentially it’s rigidly stoical, looks reality square in the eye, and doesn’t show emotion. She said, “You’re no cowboy. You’re more like a Mexican.” My mom didn’t have an especially bad attitude toward Mexicans; she was afraid of emotion.

Pero, para mí, las palabras de mi madre fueron un cumplido.


I was up at sunrise (7 am ha ha ha). It’s great that in winter my habits look much less degenerate though maybe getting up at 8 isn’t really very degenerate?

I’m well into reading the books at this point though by FAR most of them remain. Yesterday I had the experience probably shared by every judge of everything everywhere through all time, one I have experienced over and over in my life, even in the brutal task of grading papers. “Am I fair or am I blinded by prejudice?” That leads to questions like, “What if my prejudice is fair?” (It happens; prejudice is not categorically mistaken) We will go to great lengths on THAT question. An author had written about what’s wrong with education. I have a few opinions about that, so I was interested in what the book would tell me. I was reading along, finding the book interesting, the writing elegant and articulate, all the while asking myself the age old question, “OK, I know what the author is hoping to say — nice clear thesis statement — but when will this book get to the point?” when I hit something I cannot ignore. “Shit.”

Then I had to question myself, “OK, is this really SUCH a big deal or is it just a big deal in my little world?”

I stopped to think about it. I thought about the identity the author had claimed. I thought about the thesis of the book which had been clearly stated early on. I thought about education itself and its higher purpose which is to enlarge the minds and thereby the worlds of the people in the classroom through teaching skills and information.

One of the biggest axes I grind (futilely) is against the way people look at the past. I will never understand — well I might understand someday; never is a long time — why so-called culturally enlightened people can’t look at the past with the same generosity of heart they look at unfamiliar cultures. Why do people compare the “progress” of one world with that of another? Values and understanding of reality are not universal, not across the world, not through time.

I think of the world, its history and its people, as a unit of knowledge, and if everyone could just get it together?Wow. But we focus on differences because we’re busy little pushers of shopping carts doing comparison shopping. What if we actually need ALL of it because (wow) ALL of it is here.

My friend E came over the other day for a chat and to bring me fruitcake. She had some interesting news. She’s Episcopalian and goes to the beautiful little church built by British pioneers to resemble their village church in England. I’ve loved that building since I first drove around Monte Vista and I’ve gone to services a couple of times. I even gave a presentation on the Swiss Reformation. It’s a very open, warm, friendly and tiny congregation. E told me that a “competitor” — she used the word without feeling comfortable about it, obviously — had opened in town a schism Anglican Church based on its dislike of the fact that the Anglican Church (big letters) is cool with investing gays and lesbians as clergy. To this new schism, this is not to be borne.

“What do you think?” she asked me.

“Well, to me it falls in that mote vs. beam argument.” E agreed.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5 KJV

That’s the thing with judging anything. In teaching — and the contest — I had a rubric. The rubrics I used in my writing classes I had designed for each class and each level and it told the students specifically what their grades were based on. I have one for the contest as well.

Only recently I learned the etymology of the word “rubric” and it’s beautiful. I learned from a series of videos from the British Library on “How to Make a Medieval Manuscript.” The word “rubric” comes from a red pigment “Rubrica” — an iron oxide red often used to outline letters before they were painted in. “Rubrica” is iron oxide red. It is long-lasting, easy to make, readily available, and inexpensive. Once I knew this, it was obvious, but I never “saw” it before. Rubric. Guidelines.

That’s a perfect example of how we go around thinking we know stuff, but we only know a very little bit of it, the surface of it, what we’ve heard, or what someone else has said.

The featured photo is a painting I did on a friend’s sweatshirt a long time ago. It’s a red tail hawk (bringer of morning) flying over a solstice circle that was once on a flat mountain at Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego. The hawk is coming from the south, like the winter sun. It was a VERY cool place to stop with my dogs for a drink and a granola bar. The solstice stone was in the exact spot of the Solstice sunrise.

One day I headed up there, and a Boy Scout troop was dismantling the circle. I asked the leader, “What the fuck are you doing?” without the word “fuck.”

“Oh we found this witches’ circle. It goes against the teaching of Jesus, so we’re taking it apart.” I wanted to spit in his stupid face, but I just shook my head and moved on. Anyway, I knew what it was. They failed to move the solstice stone, and when my first three dogs died, I put small mementos of them under the stone, tags and, in Molly’s case, ashes. In this photo, it’s the large pointed stone just above Truffle’s (brown dog) head.

Solstice Party

In 1981 I was in Law Firm Limbo looking at a map of the world on the wall of one of the law partners and dreaming of far away places. In 1982 I was in a “faraway” place — China — dreaming of home (it was Christmas time, after all, and I had the flu). In 1985 I was in San Diego teaching the world. Crazy cascade of events and adventures. I loved teaching international students. It was as if the whole world had come to meet me.

That year I decided to have a holiday party — a solstice party. I invited everyone I knew — students, colleagues, friends. It was a great party. But the highlight was at about 9 pm when a taxi rolled up and one of my students came to my door — Mohammed Ali Assyri. He was dressed in his Toub and said, “Come Mrs. Martha. We are going back to Saudi tonight, but we wanted to say goodbye. Majda is in the car.” He and his family — his wife and two little girls — had been sent over by Saudi Airlines as were many of my students at the time. The Good X and I were especially close to Mohammed and Majda. We had done a lot of things together during their year in San Diego. I was really going to miss them. I knew they couldn’t attend the party, so seeing Mohammed suddenly appear made me happy. We lived in a beautiful 1920s apartment near the San Diego Airport, so it was on their way.

I grabbed a dish of cookies — the ones like my Swedish grandmother made and are made in some variation all over the world — little spherical butter cookies with nuts. The only ingredients are butter, flour, a little sugar. Mine are almond. Some cultures use pecans. Mexican Wedding Cookies have spices. I had nothing to give them for the trip, so I grabbed that dish.

I went down the steps to the street. Majda was sitting on the backseat of the taxi with the smallest little girl asleep on her lap. “This is for you, Mrs. Martha.” She handed me a small, weightless package.”

“These are for you,” I handed her the dish. She took one and bit into it, smiled at me, and said, “Like in my country. We have the same.”

We had a few moments together, and they had to leave. In the present were two beautiful glass Christmas tree ornaments.