Beautiful Little Nonsense #7


The 6yo, eying the urn with our old dog’s ashes. “What are ashes like?”

“Sand,” I tell him.

He thinks. “Plus love.”

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Beautiful Little Nonsense #6

mazeThe 4yo is doing a maze, blazing wantonly through solid lines.

Me: “Can’t go through walls, bud.”

Him: “They’re just gates. I push them open.”

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Paddling Blind

kayak2Last week the yoga class I take from time to time decided to meet on the water.

“We’ll visit the swans,” said the instructor Erin as she directed three of us into kayaks. Then she climbed into her own — well, they were all her own, she lives on the pond, and teaches the small class at her home — and pushed off from the shore. “Then we’ll have a little blind paddle, see how it might expand our morning.”

My mornings tend to start in a not very expansive way, something I’m not very proud of. My initial reflex when I open my eyes, in that first lucid moment between dreams and reality, is to do a mental check of the things I know are in store and brace myself for the things I don’t. It feels like there’s usually some unforeseen thing, some blindsider that makes me exhale at the end of the day and say, Wow, I didn’t see that coming. Sometimes I wake up wondering what’s going to be The Thing today. I know this isn’t the most open, optimistic way to greet the day.

“There she is,” Erin called back from under the brim of a floppy pink straw hat, and reached back a muscular arm to hand me her binoculars. Not more than 50 yards away, an enormous swan sat on her large nest, a camel-neck queen on a pedestal of sticks. Her mate drifted watchfully about 30 yards away. “Last year when I sat here once, the cygnets poked out and walked around,” Erin said. We floated there awhile letting our kayaks drift, then back-paddled away with quiet strokes.

When we reached the middle of the pond, Erin told us to close our eyes. “Point yourself in a direction away from anyone else, set your sights on a far point onshore, and try paddling toward it blind. Don’t peek.”

I have sat down to writing that way, trying to ward off distractions by typing with my eyes closed. But that’s sitting stationary. I was never a big fan of pin the tail on the donkey or three legged races. I’ve woken abruptly from nightmares about driving a car blind. Like many people stuck with the label control freak, I tend to be far more comfortable when all of my senses and limbs are in play. Surely Continue reading

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Beautiful Little Nonsense #5


The 4yo, irritated that he has to stop drawing this morning and get to preschool.

“Why did you even sign me up for school? It wastes into my art*.”

*part of his “sister’s ballet recital” oeuvre



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Beautiful Little Nonsense #4



The 6yo, biking over a boardwalk through a marshy field, sees tall stands of cattails.

“Mom, look!” he says. “It’s the way corn-dogs grow!”





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Beautiful Little Nonsense #3



I put unmatching white socks on the 4yo.

He grabs the miscolored toe seams, clearly disturbed.

“These do not rhyme!”



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Beautiful Little Nonsense #2

Mint-leaves-2007A little “Who’s on First” with the 4yo and 6yo after their dentist appointment.

The 6yo: “Did they ask you if you like mint?”
The 4yo: “I like mint.”
The 6yo: “That’s not what I asked. I asked you if THEY asked you if you like mint.”
The 4yo: “Yes, I like mint.”
The 6yo: “NO! I asked you if THEY asked you…”
The 4yo: “Don’t tell me no! I do too like mint.”

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Beautiful Little Nonsense #1

Hoboken-Walking-Tour-map pic

When time is short, and I don’t have much time for writing at length beyond work-related projects, there’s one type of writing (if you can call it writing) that consistently gives me pleasure: recording the beautifully absurd, gorgeous tiny nonsense my kids say. It takes one minute to jot it down, or two minutes to forget it forever. 

The 8yo, when my novel came out in paperback a year after the hardcover:

“Mom, if your book is really popular, will you be able to read in places like Japan and Hoboken?”



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The Myth of the Perfect Start

log-frozen-smallThe log was 30 feet up in the air, a sort of telephone pole of a balance beam. I was supposed to walk from one end to the other, holding onto nothing. The rest of the group had done it. Ten minutes had passed, and I was still frozen on the business end.

Thirty feet was not a height that would kill me, especially in a safety harness. But from the way I stood paralyzed after a series of false starts, you’d think I was walking a tightrope over a rift in the earth down to its fiery magma core.

“Just take the first three steps,” the guide called up. “You just have to make yourself start. It’s like writing the first three words of a novel.”

“No. It really isn’t,” I called down, trying to be darkly funny, but the bitter was seeping through. So were the tears.

My two younger sisters, with whom I’d traveled to this Tucson resort to celebrate a Big Birthday, had both just done it successfully. And when they reached the end, they’d each tagged the far pole and walked back, backwards. That was the victory lap, a victory I’d assumed would be mine, too. After all, I like physical challenges, I like being out of my comfort zone. What I hadn’t figured on was how much I wouldn’t like it when I couldn’t use my hands (which our guide explained later was the ultimate bugbear of those who have an issue with being in control).

The group members down below had been calling out encouragement and advice — momentum was key, they said, just get that first step going and then another, and don’t stop. But 10 minutes was an uncomfortably long time to watch someone short circuiting, and they had put away the cameras and fallen silent.

I’d like to blame it on  Continue reading

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Sochi, My Worrisome Valentine

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -4I first heard about the stray dogs of Sochi via my twitter stream, when a sweet homeless Shepherd (https://twitter was posted by ABC journalist Matt Gutman. Several days later, U.S. skier Gus Kenworthy posted a photo of the litter (https://twitter he plans to adopt.

Sochi, the world learned, had a dog problem, and had contracted with sharpshooter exterminators to make sure the vermin wouldn’t be an embarrassment during the Olympics.

Amid the oddities and malfunctions in the lead-up to the opening ceremonies (yellow hotel water, and bobsledder Johnny Quinn having to break down his hotel’s bathroom door (https://twitter, the strays of Sochi became big news, fast. This was no fun and games. Until a local billionaire stepped in with funds for a shelter complex, thousands of strays were targeted for death. More evidence, it seemed, of Russia’s authoritarian response to virtually everything — from building contracts and overspending to censorship and human rights.

The dog shootings were eerily timely for me because they paralleled research for my second novel, set in 1980s USSR. In the aftermath of the Chernobyl/Pripyat evacuation, I learned, clean-up crews called “liquidators” went in to shoot the house pets that had to be left behind. The idea was to catch them before they could wander, radioactive, through the buffer zone toward other villages. Cats were wary and hard to shoot, according to interviews in Voices From Chernobyl (http://www NULL.npr NULL.php?storyId=5355810). But dogs were easy targets, as they naturally approached people in search of food and affection.

It’s been awful research, but riveting. So much of the tragedy was caused bythe government’s delay in helping its people — a mind-boggling 36 hours passed before an official explanation, and then finally evacuation from under the radioactive cloud. The Soviet Union was loathe to admit incompetence on the world stage or create panic in its citizens, and wanted to take care of things quietly, superficially. So, families picnicked in the contaminated grass while their government kept up appearances.

But long before that, the disaster was was set in motion when inferior materials were purchased to build the reactor, in inadequate supply. Then in the rush to make deadlines, the reactor opened before all its safety tests had been done. So proud the Russians were, done on schedule. So good they looked internationally, all that complicated construction finished and facilities humming.

Sound familiar?

I visited the USSR in 1989 as part of an Intourist group — the primary way to visit then, officially chaperoned by the government in its bugged hotels. And what we saw were elaborate facades hiding chaos, corruption and deprivation. We ate in restaurants that no longer bothered with menus, because they were 86 not just certain ingredients, but entire food groups. One of our scheduled side-trips flew us to war-torn Uzbekistan instead of Kiev because lo, there was a cease fire in the civil war, and that’s where Intourist wanted us to spend our hard currency. We drank champagne for breakfast, because the shipment of fruit juice hadn’t come in from Cuba. We ignored the broken hotel smoke detectors, clearly dismantled and rigged instead to bug the rooms.

2014 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony (http://beyondthemargins NULL.jpg)When you care above all else to contain the impression of chaos, chaos has a way of catching up. Sometimes it’s a missing doorknob and an oddly constructed toilet, a snowflake that doesn’t blossom into a ring. But sometimes it’s a lot worse.

I found myself squirming as I watched the Olympic opening ceremonies, physically uncomfortable as the camera panned the enormous new stadium. It seemed unnervingly ambitious for contractors who had also produced the likes of a bathroom with two toilets in a single stall. There were high wires, and elaborate soaring props. A young girl suspended Peter Pan-style in the air. Pyrotechnics everywhere. The margin for error felt very, very slim.

Then a photo of a stealthy stray appeared on my Twitter feed, a dog inside the stadium standing on a loge balcony, hanging out and watching the spectacle along with the rest of the spectators.

It was a nice spark of levity and defiance in an atmosphere of discipline and obedience.

But when it comes to Russia, I’m leery of sparks.


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