Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I've taken a vacation from blogging for almost a year and a half. Mostly this was about being newly married and trying to shoehorn all aspects of my old life into this new life with Tom, which really did not work too well because, after all, there are still only 24 hours in a day. Blogging, even writing, have been pretty low on the to-do list. Yesterday was our second anniversary, and we agreed that we'd do it all over again. This married life is sweet.

Lately, I've been playing with the idea of finishing my book, Aunt Testament, so I can move on to another project. To that end, I've joined a writing class taught by my studio partner at the GoggleWorks, Mickey Getty. We meet every Tuesday for two and a half hours. The writers are brilliant, talented women. We critique each others' work and do writing exercises, which brings me to the point of reviving the blog. It's going to be more about the writing life and my progress on my book. Also, though, it will contain snippets of the writing exercises we do.

Like yesterday's.

Write for ten minutes starting with "I remember...." Then write ten minutes starting "I don't remember...." Then write for ten minutes "I am thinking of...." The following is the result.

I remember the smell of the sweeping compound the custodian used on the floors of our elementary school. It picked up all the mud and dust and added a slightly oiled look to the surface of the floors. I remember being in Seventh Street School from third through sixth grades. I remember that the third and fourth grades were on the main floor. So were the first and second grades. But the bathrooms were in the basement. How weird to have the bathrooms in the basement. I remember the boiler room right at the foot of the stairs The girls' bathroom was at the end of a long hall, and had about four booths. There was a gas heater with open flames that kept the room warm — I remember that we used to toast ourselves in front of this heater.

I remember Jeannie Kudray.

I don't remember how I heard about this. I don't remember my brother coming home and saying that Jeannie Kudray had gotten hurt at school. I don't remember hearing the details, but I have a visual image in  my mind. I don't remember her toasting herself at the open flames. I don't remember her running, panicked, out of the bathroom, turning the corner and running down the hall in flames. I don't remember her long blonde hair streaming out behind her, and myself looking out the doorway of the music room. I don't remember the custodian grabbing her and beating out the flames with his bare hands. I don't remember the ambulance taking her to the hospital.

But I do remember that Jeannie Kudray died. She was in my brother's class. Lynn was four years behind me in school, so when he was in third grade, I was in seventh. There is no way I could have seen this.

I am thinking of the power of imagination. How my mind made up the whole scene so vividly that I can see it still. Intellectually, I know that I could not have seen this, but I believe in the power of that vision, that movie in my mind with a clutch of girls standing at the far end of the hall, their faces distorted by open mouths, horrified looks following Jeannie. I believe in that scene as truly as if I'd actually seen it.

My interior movie version of Aunt Testament is just as real. Some of the scenes are that vivid — as if I am watching them and recording what I see and hear, noticing every detail of color and sound and smell. Other scenes, though, are not as clear. They must be conjured up, assigned to my subconscious and written and rewritten to capture the same power as the visions. I could wish for all my writing to arrive in such technicolor bravado, but that would be tempting fate. I will myself to be satisfied with the visions I have, and trust that the rest of the story will be there when I summon it.

It is all mystery.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

San Diego Wedding

Here comes the bride
Speak now or forever hold your peace.

With this ring...
The Kiss
Gorgeous bouquet
The rings

Mr. and Mrs. Robert McLay

Dina, Robert, Jodie, and Haley

Shocking — a wave!

Kian, Dina, Robert, and Devon McLay

Dina and the brothers: Jodie, Robert, and David

Devon and Jess

Sharon, David, Devon, Haley, Jess, Joe Henry, Robert, Dina, Jodie, Tom, Donna, and Kian
The Gathered Clan

Wedding cake
Cutting the cake



Friday, July 8, 2011

Family vacation

It's the McLay family vacation time again. Every year they get together for a week -- hanging out, cooking and eating, and some form of recreation, depending upon the location. They've been to Turks and Caicos, Majorca, the Outer Banks, and here. This year we are in San Diego, right in Mission Beach. It was a seething mass of humanity for the Fourth. I walked from the beach house to the bay and then to the Oceanside. Not a long walk, but informative. I took pictures. The beaches and parks look empty, but the reality was it felt incredibly crowded. Even though it was before 8 am, the parking lots were full of tents and screened rooms, beach chairs, and playpens.

Now it's Friday morning and we are thinking about our flight home tomorrow, about cleaning the beach house, doing laundry, and packing.

This year we had a special event -- Tom's oldest son, Robert, married Dina Testoni. His younger brother David married them. Did you know that in California any person can be the designated officiant? Robert and Dina exchanged their vows, and then David proclaimed, "By the authority vested in me by the state of California,I now ..." It was a very sweet service witnessed by all the family members who are here: Tom and I, Robert's sons Kian and Devon and Devon's girlfriend Jess, Tom's son Jodie, Jodie's daughter Haley and her friend Sharon, and Joe Henry, cousin of the McLay boys. Then we traipsed off to the beach to take pictures.

After the photo shoot, we walked back to the beach house for a feast. Jodie had prepared a shish kebab dinner: skewers full of shrimp, steak, vegetables; baked sweet and white potatoes. The whole meal was delectable. Last of all was the wedding cake which Jess and Devon and I had made. Carrot cake with pineapple and coconut in it,and buttercream frosting of ambrosial dimensions. We had made flowered decorations, too. I'll try to post a photo of the cake when I'm back at my regular computer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


     The first strawberries of the season have appeared at our local farm stand, and I bought three quarts. They are everything good that I remembered about fresh strawberries from last year. Sweet, ripe, delicious!
     As I was hulling and slicing them, I remembered another occasion when I was serving strawberries nearly thirty years ago.
     As a child, I had always wanted to take piano lessons. Not a good idea, my mother said. A piano would fall through the floor. While that sounds extreme, it masked the real reason my mother didn't want to have a piano in the house: all those children (there were five of us) could have created an awful racket pounding on it. Also, she had memories of her one and only piano recital during which she forgot her piece. After several attempts at the performance, she walked off the stage and never took another lesson.
     When we lived in Wyomissing we bought a piano, and the girls and I took lessons. When I left the marriage, I took only my clothes and the children's furniture and clothing. I was sad to leave the piano behind, but it was necessary.
     After a long job search I found work teaching. The job provided low pay and few benefits, but it was a job. It was a toe in the door, a chance to show what I could do, and perhaps to get hired. Turned out I was hired the following year — on the salary scale and with full benefits.
     Late that spring I answered an ad and bought a piano! I enlisted the help of my brother, Dick, and brother-in-law, Frank, who had a truck, to move it to our townhouse. Anticipating a celebration, I bought an angel food cake, a half-gallon of ice cream, and two quarts of the first strawberries of June. I hulled and sliced the berries, sugared them, then placed them in the fridge to chill until the moving was done.
     The men moved the piano into place in the dining room, and I began dishing up desserts. The first bowl went to Dick's wife Kathy. I handed another bowl to my sister Dorothy just as Kathy said, "Donna, there's something wrong with these berries. They're salty!"
     What?! I tasted them, something I hadn't done because I didn't want to eat a single berry of the celebratory treat. Definitely laden with salt. I checked the sugar canister; it had been filled with salt.
     I found out later that my daughter Patty had played an April Fool's Day trick on me — and we used so little sugar that I hadn't discovered it. And she had forgotten about it.
    Plan B: angel food cake and ice cream.
     This morning, remembering the salty berries, I smiled — something I had not done that day so long ago.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Weather Worries

     Jackie Troop had been the library secretary, laminator queen, and general go-to person on the staff at Summit Valley Elementary School, so when I heard about her retirement celebration I was quick to sign up. On Thursday I attended the dinner at Shady Maple. It was great to see so many old friends from my days as principal there. I have kept in touch with a few of them, but this was Nostalgia Nirvana!
     One of the best things was seeing the way the staff still supports each other. There was a pervasive spirit of camaraderie and good will, and the two retiring staff members were key to this nurturing climate. I remembered how remarkable the district was and was glad I had worked there. Gratitude settled into my bones once again.
     It was still light when I left the building. I'd parked in the farthest corner of the most distant parking lot, and as I walked to the car I noticed a dark cloud covering most of the sky. I could see the edge of it. I felt the wind pick up and wondered if it would rain. I hurried as quickly as I could in the sandals I hadn't worn since last summer.
     By the time I reached the light at Rt. 322, wind was whipping the trees and blowing small bits of detritus across the road. I drove for a few more miles. The wind became stronger. It blew a dense cloud of dirt and pebbles which covered perhaps fifty yards of roadway and I had to brake so I could see where I was going. Road signs wobbled wildly. Sticks the diameter of my wrist and arm were scattered on the road and I had to steer carefully to avoid them.
     I noticed that the edge of the front paralleled my line of travel.
     Weather has been in the news lately, and not in a good way. Tornado season arrived with a vengeance this year. I was aware of storms that had devastated Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri. I scanned the sky for funnel clouds. I began to worry.
     As I drove the last miles on 322, my imagination took flight. Those wobbling signs became potential agents of death. If the winds could drive a straw through plate glass, broken signs could become flying scimitars, slicing through the car (and me). I concentrated on steering, dodging road trash, and breathing. The twenty-minute trip seemed to last forever.
     At last I arrived home. Home! Still no rain, and the edge of the front was behind me. Thanks be to God!
     Tom is accustomed to imagining the worst case scenario in everyday events. He is adamant about putting small cargo on the floor of the back seat instead of in the hatchback, where it could "become a projectile in case of an accident." I understand that, though sometimes I need to be reminded of it. When I described the trip and my relief at my safe arrival, his comment was, "You have a vivid imagination."
     Don't we all?


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Paris Highlight

Photos by Helen Maynard
     One of the best moments was our last full day in Paris. We were going to walk up the hill in Montmartre on our way to Sacre Coeur Basilica. We were to meet at the Abbesses Metro stop (one of the few remaining art deco entrances). In the park near the stop, three musicians had set up and were playing wonderful jazz. Tom put a few Euros in the clarinet case and we started dancing. A young man from London holding his baby joined us, and we had a great time just dancing! Applause when we finished, too.
     Tom was always a jitterbug fanatic, but I came to it much later. It's such a fun way to enjoy the big band sounds of the thirties and forties.
     Paris has many charms. We have not seen all of them yet!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April in Paris

     A week in Paris — who could ask for anything better? Well, maybe two weeks in Paris, but never mind. A week of learning and visiting new sights and meeting new people. A week of delectable food served with flair. A week of walking on cobblestoned streets and broad boulevards, of sun and clouds but no rain. A fabulous week.
     Though this was my ninth visit to the City of Light, it was my first time seeing the original city wall in the lower floor of the Louvre. Paris long ago outgrew this boundary, but the beautiful stonework has stood for many centuries. We  walked in the moat that surrounded old Paris, and saw the pillars that had supported the drawbridge. I marveled at the expertise of those early workers in stone. Nameless, their work testifies to their skill.
     I will post some photos when I have downloaded and edited them.