Category Archives: Life, the Universe and Everything

Heroes Come in All Sizes



Who remembers the ones who stay behind?

My brother called today to remind me of our terrible beautiful mother’s death exactly one year ago today. Fitting it should be on Veteran’s Day actually, given how much of our lives was devoted to waiting for my father. He was an Air Force career man and he was always going away on TDY or coming home soon from some other country or the DEW Line.  He got sent into the cold for six week week stints constantly when I was a kid.

Jean Groves,  hamming it up about 1950

Jean Groves, hamming it up about 1950

During the Cold War, the DEW Line, Distant Early Warning System, was a line of sites that were monitored for enemy activity. Dad was a cryptographer and into computers very early on so he was always getting sent to some ice bound hell hole or other for temporary duty. We talked to him weekly on the MARS radio, the kind where you say something and then you say, “over”, because its not true two way communication, but kids love it because its so spacey.

My father was not a big presence in our growing up years, my mother shouldered the yoke and dragged us along the path in my father’s wake. Wait until your father gets home didn’t work with us, everyone would have forgotten the issue by the time he showed up.

Here’s the thing, no one ever talks about the families of military men, the career men whose wives and kids give up what we would call a normal life. Those wives are heroes too. The military is notoriously underpaid when it comes to families. The saying,”If they wanted you to have a family they would have issued you one”, still rings true. It was then and is now a struggle to make ends meet for families of career enlisted especially.

It goes a ways towards explaining my mother’s constant fury and  my father’s passivity. He had someone telling him exactly what to do and she was forced to comply with the stupidest regulations ever written on a daily basis. Things like a white glove inspection before we could clear quarters when we lived on a military base, never mind that the first time she flipped the lights on in the place 10 million roaches ran for the hills. Things like getting decent dental care for her kids on a military base which didn’t ever happen. I broke my front teeth when I was 8, they got fixed when I was 21 and could pay for them on my own. Things like just getting a doctor’s appointment for a kid sick with a high fever were an exercise in the power of anger.  I salute my mom for never giving up and never giving in. My ability to fight like a tiger for what is right and mine came directly from her example during those years.

My brother had Teddy and I had Rabbit, gifts our father brought to us. We had so few gifts from him, we still have them.

My brother had Teddy and I had Rabbit, gifts our father brought to us. We had so few gifts from him, we still have them.

Military kids are overlooked unsung heroes that no one ever thinks about thanking for their sacrifice, but they give up so very much. The average military brat changes schools 6 times in 12 years. They never have time to make lasting friendships or build relationships or put down roots. When they get to new schools they are treated like they are stupid and automatically put in the slow classes. They are never in sync with learning. I still don’t know my times tables because one school hadn’t started and the next one was finished with them.


We bloom where ever we get transplanted.

They are packed up and taken without being consulted to all corners of the world and they make it work. My husband is the kid of a career Army man and I grew up in the Air Force. To thrive,  I developed a Pollyanna outlook early and I still have it, It was an adventure and I was having it. I learned to pass in any society I was pitched in and I’m a lucky one. My husband grew up terribly shy and without close friends because he never had any opportunity to make or keep those friends. He had a successful career in the fire service but he still struggles with social situations and innate shyness because he never had the opportunity to be ‘normal’.

So, here’s to those other heroes the wives, and now husbands,  who do the parenting work of both mother and father for as long as they need to fill that role, when their partner is serving their country somewhere else. Here’s to the smallest heroes, the kids who didn’t ask for this,but cope and survive and live their own kind of normal. Don’t just thank the vet, thank the family who stands with him everyday.

Backwards at a High Rate of Speed


Number 3, Prieger Promenade, Ooshie and our dog in the window

When I was a kid, aged eight actually, my family moved to Bad Kreuznach, Germany in 1956. This was during the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism. Nuclear war wasn’t on the threat horizon yet but the phrase “Ugly American” was in play. After  World War II, Americans had a sense of belligerent entitlement– because America had saved the world all by itself.


Mother and Ooshie going out in our 1957 yellow Dodge station wagon. Mom is mugging for the camera and it’s obviously before my mother ripped the door handle off the car on a narrow German street.

My mother was a terrible mother in many ways with a violent temper and unpredictable mood swings. She was a narcissist, a word I didn’t know then, but I lived in constant fear of her anger and her ability to manipulate us all. One thing she did and did well, was to understand that America was filled with racist, misogynistic bullies, and a lot of them were in the armed services with us. My father was a cryptographer with the Air Force and we were ostensibly attached to an army post, not part of it but for the convenience of the base.

Mother refused to live on post. She wanted as little as possible to do with the Americans represented by the army in 1956. Most of them hated being in Germany and hated the Germans, calling them names like ‘dirty kraut’ and exploiting them at every turn because “they lost the war and they deserved it”.


The weekly market where we did our shopping with big wicker baskets. It was about 1/2 mile down the river and over the bridge from our house.

We lived on the economy, as the saying went,  on the first floor of an amazing three story palazzo for lack of a better word. We got the house at Number 3 Prieger Promenade because of the importance of my father’s job. I didn’t know that until years later, I just knew I loved living there. We were across the river from a bird sanctuary, next to the Orion Gardens and in front of us was a 3 kilometer long pedestrian pink cement promenade facing the Nahe River. It was heaven on earth for two little kids.


Our housekeeper Annie and her daughter Gretel, my brother and me on a picnic on Kuburg Hill

We had a series of wonderful housekeepers and maids we loved dearly. Ursula, aka Ooshie was my favorite. She was tiny, about 5 feet tall and we all adored her. She gave me a pair of green satin high heels to play dress up in and I clopped everywhere in those things. One night the police came and took Ooshie away. We couldn’t understand it and as 7 and 9 year olds, my brother Sonny and I were terribly confused. I found out much later she was an East German plant placed with us to try to glean information from my father. Her sister was arrested in a different household the same night. These 20 somethings did not want to be spies, they just wanted a life again but their family was in East Germany. This meant they had no choice, spy for the Russians/East Germans or your family members will be punished severely.

These things happened and we accepted them. My culture vulture mother made sure we spoke German, dressed as German kids and had German friends. This meant among other things, that I was toasty warm in reindeer hide boots and long wool stockings while the American kids froze their asses off in anklets and inadequate shoes through the snowy winters. We looked German and we assimilated and we inhaled the culture of Europe like miniature vacuum cleaners sucking up  everything in sight and loving it.

It was shocking to go on post to visit other American families that I recall as rude  and pretty repulsive for the most part. I remember one kid well, Ronnie Pilcher. His bedroom was piled halfway to the ceiling with comic books. My brother Sonny and I weren’t allowed to have comics so we would go in Ronnie’s room, flop down and devour his comics ignoring him completely.1germ

Once in awhile my parents would go out to dinner with friends and sometimes the Pilchers got included. They appalled me at the tender age of 9. Ronnie would whine about how he hated the food and he wanted a hamburger and French fries. Why this left such a mark on my budding gourmet soul, I don’t know, but I tried to stay as far from him and his embarrassing ugly American behavior as possible. His parents spoke no German so they would speak English really loudly, the classic behavior of the foreign idiot. I could see my mom gritting her teeth and ordering another glass of wine just to get through the evening.

Black Americans were ignored or actively discriminated against by the ignorant white Americans in the army back then. My dad and his buddies were musicians who had jam sessions on a regular basis, usually in our giant house. A lot of the musicians were black and in and out of our house on a regular basis. I noticed immediately the Germans were pretty color blind even in the 1950s,  treating the African Americans as equals. One night Bing Crosby’s son came to our house to jam although I had no idea for years who that guy was. It was all pretty wonderful and there were a lot of nights I fell asleep under the piano.


Every single weekend we were exploring and camping somewhere from the spring to the first snow. A lot of weekends were spend on the Neckar River in Heidelberg with friends. We could run wild all over the castle, swim in the river and generally be ignored by the partying grownups. Paradise. We had a striped French tent, very avant garde, and our black and yellow Dodge Station wagon. We stopped traffic at every campground.

Germany was my first lesson in what not to be. It blew my small farm town  California upbringing away and it never came back.  When we went home again, I cried on the plane for the entire trip, on some level my heart is still broken. I never fit in to my old hometown quite the same. I had seen too much and knew too much. I spoke a foreign language and had traveled all over Europe. I had sipped beer out of my dad’s stein in Munich and  met gypsies in the Black Forest. I saw the Mona Lisa and was unimpressed but I loved the Egyptian wing at the Louvre. I had onion soup at 5 a.m. in Les Halles at a long table with working farmers and camped at the Brussels World’s Fair with people from all over the world.

What those years taught me is that Americans are not as great as they think they are and they never were. We can be appalling bigots in so many ways. I don’t want to see America great again if it’s like those years.  Women were held down and back, and they were complicit, which is the worst part. Bigotry and institutionalized racism were the order of the day. Name calling was accepted and intended to insult and hurt , Jews, kikes, wops, krauts, Japs, slant eyes, chinks, spics, beaners, and  n_____s; only white males mattered, and sadly the people that were kids then are in power now with their parents tiny values locked in their heads.

I am so grateful to my crazy mother for having a bigger horizon in her head, I hope I have been able to pass on that positive piece of my past to my children. It’s the horizon that’s important not the fence you put around yourself. Greatness may be in our future but its certainly not in our past if you understand the history  beneath the shiny feel good imagination of a bunch of old white men.


Stuck on Spin


Stuck on Spin Again, the idea that politicians with too much power are all crooks is not a new one. It’s a thought that saw print in 1770, and has been addressed down the years by many thinkers and writers. To wit:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887.

Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine in his essay titled “France and England: a Vision of the Future”, was published in London in 1848 and included this text: “It is not only the slave or serf who is ameliorated in becoming free… the master himself did not gain less in every point of view, for absolute power corrupts the best natures.”

“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” William Pitt 1770, spoken to the House of Lords in England.wake up

All of the shrieking, head banging, finger pointing, threats and general shenanigans taking place during this election cycle is simply politics redux, exacerbated by social media that lets us be meaner in spirit and more personal without looking someone in the eye.

When one invests many, many years of his or her life in the heady corridors of power and succeeds it has to come at a cost. Imagine the adulation of hordes of people and powerful interests trying to curry favor with you? Imagine all of them throwing money at you and telling you they adore you. Hey, Hollywood falls for it why shouldn’t politicians?

Clean politicians are like unicorns, it’s hard to believe they exist but look at Jimmy Carter,Bernie Sanders, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Unicorns, every one.

Its hard sometimes to see the need for support for a TBI victim, they can look comepletely normal but still feel so lost, navigating a changed landscape.

These are the type of people we desperately want to lead us, but in the real, cold world I don’t believe it’s possible for us to follow them when they show up. Why? We are selfish at heart and want what’s best for us individually, not the country as a whole. Why else would people fight against housing the homeless, making sure everyone has medical care and letting students get in lifelong debt to attend college? Heavens, it might make your taxes go up or cost you personally in some unknown way. Few of us see the bigger picture and are willing to make any kind of sacrifice for the common good.

We live in a global economy that is led by wolves that inhabit other countries. Wolves who don’t believe in our concept of freedom or equality and justice for all. More like justice for some and the rest should die already. Unicorns aren’t really great at dealing with very nasty threats and those very hard core customers who would really like to see America as it is end.

Sometimes we don't even know who we are and that's a terrible feeling.

Sometimes we don’t even know who we are and that’s a terrible feeling.

Witness the mess in the Middle East, Saudi Princes don’t give a rat’s ass about anything in America but our expensive consumer goods and they are smiling at us with one side of their mouths and dealing with our enemies like ISIS and a smile on the other side of the same mouth.

Nuclear threats exist. We are in a poker game with Putin’s Russia and Communist China at a minimum, and all are held in check and balance by our strength and resolve at the global table.

There are endless lists of countries who for one reason or another have an interest in America and how we rule ourselves, they would like to own a piece of American pie, and in the case of China, they actually do. Make no mistake people, Bernie Sanders is the most wonderful man who ever lived but I believe in the world economy of today he would be eaten for breakfast.

Together we can achieve anything!

Together we can achieve anything!

Donald Trump is proving himself an unqualified outsider on a daily basis. If we really want a Bernie to lead us we had better stop bickering, put on our big girl panties and begin to build the world we want over the next four years. It won’t happen by sitting around and complaining and calling each other names and disparaging another person’s choices.

To paraphrase Lord Acton, great women are almost always bad women. Me? I would rather at this point have Hillary Clinton, a known wolf, at the helm guarding our interests from the rest of the pack of wolves. A sheep is not going to get it done at this point. Scream and yell at howl that she’s corrupt but ask yourself, you white boomers, if this was not a woman would you be having a conniption of this magnitude? I don’t think so.

Between Instagram and my new gradient background-winning! These are my first two sheep, Germany and 56 years old.

Maybe if we can all go to Unicorn World and actually work together in four years we can elect a president who more closely fits what we dream we can be, if I have a prayer that’s it, let us come together and make America great for the first time.glove

Homeless and Hoping, Olympia Washington

doorThis is an essay, it has lots of facts and I’m hoping they all got down straight as they came from my own notes. I can certainly provide access to any of the entities that gave the facts if someone wants to argue.  The big takeaway is I left this meeting with is an awful lot to think about as a member of my community and a merchant in the downtown core.

Last night I attended a State of Homelessness meeting held by the League of Women Voters in downtown Olympia. The large meeting room was packed, with people standing and people sitting on the floor. Many were older people, lots of gray in the room including me, but all ages were represented and paying close attention. The meeting was intended to bring all the providers and volunteers in Thurston County up to speed about what is a complex problem everywhere these days: the homeless.

The person that resonated most with me personally was a gentleman from Side Walk, a local group/organization focused on rapid rehousing and direct contact with street people. They started out life as a program of Interfaith Works and have grown since then. He spoke with gentle humor and his words were an eye opener for me, I’m one of the bystanders who generally gripes about the plethora of grubby street people downtown and I am one who has felt helpless to impact the situation.wake up

He said that Olympia is not a “Homeless Magnet”. People don’t come here to be homeless because we have such wonderful services or for the climate. It would seem everyone feels like their city is a homeless magnet: Malibu, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Miami et al. Personally, I would think Malibu or Miami would be a better choice than soggy Seattle if I had an itchy foot and the ability to travel.

It turns out it’s not really a matter of choice. These people are from here and have remained here. Their families and their roots are here and going somewhere else is not really an option emotionally or fiscally.

In January of 2016 there was a survey conducted : I count Thurston Because I Count. I hope I got that mouthful right… At any rate, volunteers canvassed the county and its towns and counted 579 Homeless people .There were 476 last year and and 576 the year before, so that population seems pretty stable in numbers.  They did complex surveys much like a census when they could and completed 342 of those which gave them some fascinating facts.

I wrote as fast as I could, and I’m hoping I got the numbers written down right. 235 of those homeless spent the night in a shelter, 192 were on the streets all night. 150 of those counted were in transition, which I take it means there was something happening with their housing situation.  Of the 342, 226 were male. 7 of them were under 18, 26 were over 60. That leaves 116 female, but I could swear the speaker said 90 female. You get the picture,  the most people homeless are the male demographic from 20-59.IMG_0287

It gets far more complex when one drills down. 205 of those completing a survey identified as having a disability. 223 had been homeless for more than 1 year. Why? Economic and job loss counted at 161, family crisis 73, kicked out or left home, 61, alcohol and drug use as a contributing cause, 48.

Here are more numbers: The folks at Interfaith Works run a shelter which is always at 100% capacity and they turn away at least 8 people a night. Interfaith shelters the most vulnerable among the homeless population. The people most likely to die on the streets. 81% of those folks have won the trifecta: they have multiple issues. Chronically homeless for over a year with physical and mental issues along with substance abuse issues. They are the most visible and the most difficult to help. This population cannot conform to social needs and falls through the cracks most quickly. Interfaith has an approach that they call call opt in, they screen people in to their shelter, not out.  They are very hopeful that local jurisdictions will begin to implement this vulnerability model which gets the most desperate people help first and fast–and again and again if need be.

With a 40% decrease in federal budgets to address this issue over the last several years, more and more falls on local people and local assets and cities and counties don’t always have the funds they need to build or acquire housing or services for homeless people. The biggest need seems to be housing. Not a tent city, not a shelter, but a place of one’s own. Rapid Rehousing is a catch phrase I heard a lot last night. It costs $2500 to house someone for the night in the ER, $104 in a police station, $26 in a short term shelter and as little $4 a night to house someone in their own place.graffiti1

There is a levy proposal in the works under the aegis of the Housing Task Force to provide property tax funds to build 500 units of affordable housing for families with children. That’s 24 cents per $1000 for 7 years for property owners. It would seem to me that’s a pretty painless way to help out with out having to get up and do anything to address the crisis.

The other issue with housing people is they don’t stay put without support services. I heard a word I haven’t run into as a layman: siloed services. It fits. This means medical care, psychiatric care, economic support like food stamps, and housing issues must all be accessed separately in their own silo, and each one requires a separate appointment and waiting up to 30 days for said appointment.

Okay, I’m fairly normal and the idea of having to make and keep myriad appointments to get anywhere with anything is daunting. Now, if I add in no transportation,  no regular meals so I’m always hungry and low energy, or reliance on lots of bus changes and schedules, it gets worse. I’m homeless, I don’t have a phone or a calendar or maybe even a watch to know where I’m supposed to be and when. Let’s pile on a disability, whether its a mental condition, chronic substance abuse or a physical condition. I’m going to walk away and curse the system that keeps promising to help and never delivers. I’m still wet to the skin and sleeping on the street with no help in sight.

There is actually an answer to this one: it’s in the works and if you believe in prayer, or good karma, call some down for the implementation of a Community Care Center. Somehow, someway,  service providers have all managed to work together for the common good and in the works is a one stop shop if they are successful. No more silo. It will have showers and laundry facilities, a nurse practitioner on site, counseling and connecting services to help people do things like get a birth certificate or a social security card. Access to figuring how to get housing and qualifying for it, I would imagine there might even be access to job training or job hunting services. Walk in and get help immediately.

Olympia park bridge graffiti, worker bees

Olympia park bridge graffiti, worker bees

And yes, housing does work to resolve a lot of homeless cases IF you have the other side of the coin, support services available, when needed and as often as needed. Rapid Rehousing assumes everyone can be successful, and you know what? The concept has a 92% success rate. The big stickers are landlords reluctant to rent those with a criminal history or no history, all bars to being able to rent. I can understand that and I think it’s something that needs more scrutiny and support so everyone gets to win.

It costs us $40,000 per year per person (if you add it all up and divide it out) to provide the services we have now which are not working. There are 1455 homeless kids attending school in Thurston county.  That’s about one in every classroom. There are 2.5 million homeless kids in the USA and they are invisible, to me this is beyond shameful.

I still feel a little tentative and scared of the guys outside my business who yell at me. Seeing them piled up in their tarps with dogs and shopping carts and yelling and screaming at each other as they fight for a semi-dry space is horrible and tragic and I feel helpless. My own next step is to call the Downtown Ambassadors program and get them to introduce me to my street neighbors. Its about building trust I think at this point. Who are they? What is the story of these people? They are humans like me and until I know who they are I cannot change me and I think I’d like to.prayers

Afterwards: The Miracle

white camellia


I lost my beloved crazy sister just before Thanksgiving, tragically and in a house fire. She died of smoke inhalation and when the firefighters reached her it was too late. She was cremated and I wondered about that and wrote this.


There is beauty in this can of ash that is not ash
It is the story of you.
Sometimes I still hear your voice and always, your laugh.
I opened the container,
Just a cookie can from an old Christmas,
and I looked inside.
Would it make you smile,
to know you sit on a child’s chair in my living room?
The chair you found for me,
The one we both loved in Carlsbad.
You put it in a cardboard box and mailed it to me with that antique bowl,
The one that was Oaxacan green and it was broken before I got it.
It was so beautiful I saved all the broken pieces from the box,
And we both cried over losing it.
I wanted to find the perfect container for you, as perfect as that bowl was,
but there you are in a cookie can.
My sister and my first best understanding of unconditional love,
my measuring stick of love and crazy.
I wondered if I had your kneecaps in that can,
or your beat up dancer’s feet or your collar bones
made strange by childhood pellagra?
I love that your bones are the story of you,
everywhere you lived, the water you drank, the food you hoarded,
all those dances you danced, the pain and the joy that marked your life,
everything was saved and marked in your bones,
unique and amazing.
It seems that we are each a map sketched out by the table of elements,
all of us one-of-a-kind wonders,
our bones like fingerprints or snowflakes.
I love knowing that since the beginning of time
things had to happen just exactly the way they happened
for us to be sisters.
Miracles really do happen don’t they?
And I think you were mine.

Me and Marji on a beach day.

Me and Marji on a beach day.

The Violet Mystery



It isn’t often that I am flummoxed by research into something I’ve found, but this case had me chasing my tail. Here’s the back story: I recently acquired a batch of stuff being sold by a gentleman whose very old mother had gone into assisted care, he was beginning to sell her bits and pieces to pay for her stay in the facility. It’s a common story and a sad one, but sometimes it lets me send lovely things back into the world for another life so I try to be positive and honest. In this case he had a silver Mexican bracelet that was to die for, I gave it back and told him it was worth in excess of $150 and he needed to get more than I could give him for it. Its just good karma to be fair in my world.



None of what I got had a ton of value other than curiosity and my love for bits of Odd Stuff. One of the other people I was with acquired lots of depression glass and some serious pieces of carnival glass, I opted for stranger things, like two shoe horns, one from JC Penney and the other Sears and Roebuck.

Paris Souvenir bracelet

Paris Souvenir bracelet

I also got a small wooden box of things including ten tiny ceramic deer, a cool brass souvenir of Paris bracelet, a hat pin and sundry bits of things that will be used to create other things.

My tiny deer accidental collection

My tiny deer accidental collection

My favorites in the mix were of course, the French bracelet and the ten tiny deer. I seem to have accidentally begun to acquire deer. They are seeking me out but that’s another entry entirely.v16 I  also got a set of very old Lancôme perfume bottles still  in their box and an odd little wooden case. More about that in a moment. The Lancôme bottles go back to the late thirties and were well and truly stuck shut. A little hot water unstuck the tops and I could pull the stoppers out and smell the heavy old perfumes in them. Did you know there are serious collectors of empty and almost empty old perfume bottles? Who knew. Those will be on their way to a new home soon…

Rieger violet Coffret

Rieger violet Coffret

Now, for the wooden box. It’s 2.75 inches tall and looks like an old cannon barrel standing on end. It’s actually a coffret, a tiny wood case, of maple that is threaded about an inch down and unscrews. The exterior has a purple and silver metal paper label that reads Florosa Fanoma, W Rieger, Frankfurt A/M, which is most likely for Am Main. At the bottom is the single word, ” Violet”.

Inside the tiny wooden coffer, or coffret more properly, is an eight-sided lead crystal bottle with a cut glass stopper. This stopper was also stuck shut until I gently ran warm just over the top, at which point the crystal perfume dauber/wand slid cleanly out. No label on the bottle inside and amber colored liquid fills the bottle about three-quarters of the way up.

Open Sesame!

Open Sesame!

A little background here: My favorite scent in the entire known universe is violets. As a child in Germany, I loved that they grew in the parks and lawns in Springtime with great abandon and very long stems. I would take hours and pick huge bunches of them to take home. Their scent was so haunting and so elusive and the air smelled like heaven wherever they perched in the water glasses my mother gave me for my bouquets. In France a few years back I brought home a bottle of Violettes de Toulouse and I have hoarded it until I can go back and get more. That’s enough of a reason to go back to France for me. Yes, I love violets.

I am serious about my violets, so it was with both  fanfare  and trepidation I pulled the stopper out and sniffed it carefully. Holy Cow! It smelled like it was bottled last week! I dabbed some on one wrist and then the other and sat there with essence of violet all around me.

How could this be? The container was old, the label was old, so how old was old anyway? I started digging and found very little information on the elusive W. Rieger. I know that he was part of Wilhelm and Guillaume Rieger and they founded a perfume company in 1860. I found a reference to Violet Perfume then and in about 1910. The style of the label tips me off that this is an old, old bottle but how can it still smell so good?

And there is another Rieger connection:Paul Rieger of California was famous for his ‘flower drops’ perfumes from the early part of the 20th century. There are a ton of Paul Rieger ads for sale on eBay, all clipped from magazines that survived until now. Apparently flower drops were THE perfume to give and wear as the ads are everywhere. There are still many actual flower drops bottles around with CALIFORNIA flower drops printed on the labels.v6

The two Rieger thing was making me as crazy as a raccoon with a can opener and a six pack of tuna. Paul Rieger and Wilhelm Rieger? How does this whole thing go together? That’s just too much of a coinkydink as my mom would have said. A few more hours of digging (God bless the internet and my research abilities) and I uncovered the 1910 San Francisco Crocker-Langley City Guide. Bingo. Paul Rieger, big wig San Francisco perfumer, is the owner of Paul Rieger Perfumes but guess who the manager is? William Rieger. I’m betting Wilhelm became William in America. There is even a Mrs. Paul Rieger, widow, listed so there may have have been even more Rieger generations in the Bay Area.

  Croaker Langley Directory

Croaker Langley Directory

Paul Reiger must have been a marketing genius, his perfumes were in Saturday Evening Post, Sunset Magazine, Photo Play and every magazine out there at the time. Reiger’s Flower Drops was the 1910 creation of Paul Rieger, but I’m betting someone else in the family made them first back in Germany and the family took the concept to the new world and unleashed it.

“Reiger’s Flower Drops were advertised as the ‘soul of the flowers’ and ‘lasting 50 times as long as ordinary perfumes’ and ‘the rarest and finest perfume ever produced. One bottle holds all the delightful fragrance crushed from thousands of living blossoms. The acme of elegance and refinement-entirely different from any other perfume you have ever known.’

The regular sized vials were about 3ml and retailed for $1.50, sample sizes were available for 20 cents.” (quote from Cleopatra’s Boudoir perfume blog)

The secret to the fragrance and my own ah ha moment was in discovering they used no alcohol in the process. In addition it’s been stored in the dark for all that time in it’s little maple coffret, and probably somewhere nice and cool to boot. This is straight concentrated oil of violet, and that is why it has lasted perhaps 100 years. If this fragrance was acquired as late as 1929 it’s still  74 years old.

Why 1929? The McKinley Tariff Act of 1930 meant everything imported had to be marked with its country of origin, as in “Made in”.  This says Frankfurt a/M, it does not say Germany, therefore it landed in the USA before the tariff did. Additionally, it predates the California Flower Drops labeling although it is similar. This purple foil label is so over the top that it has Victorian style all over it, so I’m educated guessing it was made about 1890 or so.

Imagine, this scent was created before there were telephones, or record players, or commercial airline flights, or typewriters, or plastic, or refrigerators or ball point pens or mechanical pencils, or flush toilets, washing machines and running water in every house- and it’s still alive.

I will keep it and wear it and enjoy every single lovely drop of time I wear on my wrists, I think it’s better than a watch because it doesn’t just mark time, it has kept it alive.



Old Protestors Never Die, Just Cause

The finished poster

The finished poster

Prowling around in my archives and hunting for a photo of Los Angeles theater marquees I took a few years back, I unearthed this piece of memory: the National Lawyers Guild poster I did in 2009.

This story actually began when I got a call from a friend,  “Would I be interested in talking to the NLG about doing an image for the poster for their annual meeting in Seattle?”  I had to stop and think about it. What was the National Lawyers Guild anyway? I do poster art regularly but I did not know what they did, who they were, and about their work across a sea of causes and cases. They were involved to their eyeballs in representing the people who were arrested in the melee that became the “Battle of Seattle.”

The NLG is serious business, and although I am fairly well known as an artist here in my corner of the Pacific Northwest, my work has been cursed with the rubric “whimsical”, so was I really a good choice for this?  On a meltingly hot July day, fortified with a pitcher of iced tea and a fan, I met with the guys from the Evergreen Law group to try to get a handle on what they wanted from me.  I wound up promising to think about it and to put some sketches together and I did my research.

Even a tee shirt. Capitalism at its best.

Even a tee shirt. Capitalism at its best.

On November 30, 1999, thousands of people disrupted and ultimately shut down the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle. The crowd was mostly peaceful with a few idiot anarchists mixed in. The Seattle police assumed the worst and responded to the mass of protesters by firing tear gas and rubber bullets point blank into the crowd. Hundreds were arrested, many were sickened by the gas and others were hurt in the melee.

The protest was organized by the Direct Action Network who decided to shut down what they considered the most undemocratic institution on the planet, the WTO, aka World Trade Organization. The WTO ostensibly negotiates and aids countries in making trade easier between member nations, but in point of fact much of what they do is heavily skewed to making rich nations richer and poor nations poorer. They have fallen off a wagon that was supposedly oriented towards development-friendly outcomes in all participating countries towards a ‘market access’ direction. Poorer countries, especially those in the third world,  are being pressured to open up their agricultural, industrial and service sector leading to exploitation by the bigger WTO fish.

This scenario electrified organizers who truly believed a peaceful demonstration could send a message around the world. They began by marching out 7:00 a.m., setting up blockades around the city. Word spread and before too long a lot of people in Seattle spontaneously joined the demonstration. Linking arms and keeping delegates out of the meeting. They were amazed that they were actually shutting it down with people who had never demonstrated for anything previously.

A wood cut version of the art that became a shirt.

A wood cut version of the art that became a shirt.

The Seattle police under shaky leadership panicked, put on full riot gear and showed up in force. By 10:00 a.m. they had opened fire with chemical weapons, tear gas, concussion grenades and brought in armored vehicles to fight unarmed citizens. The people didn’t give in, shutting the meeting site down until after dark. That same day, there were corollary actions across the globe. The longshoremen  shut down every port up and down the entire West Coast.

I had seen the slanted news footage of “looters” and “rioters”, the media loves a good rampage and played it to the hilt. Slowly, the truth came out, the police were brutal that day, and it was completely unnecessary in the face of what should have been a non violent protest.

I thought a lot about the genesis of a political image. Was I a conscripted hack, a tool for the left? The answer was a solid no. I grew up in the late 60’s and my history is closely intertwined with Vietnam protests, the struggle for racial equality and women’s rights. The words that galvanized my own life? My parents saying to me, “We can’t pay for your college, we have to send your brother because he’ll marry and need to support a family. You can just get married and stay home, it would be a waste.” It may feel like a small drama in a domestic teapot, but that was when I understood how pervasive and complacent American attitudes were towards women, minorities and non-wars like Vietnam.

That was 1966 and I never did get over being angry about it. I finally finished college and like a lot of women in America, I graduated in my 30’s as a single parent, with a long history of kicking up dust along the way. I’m not sure how much has really changed since then. We are still complacent and still about 85% sheep looking for that magic shepherd who won’t morph into a wolf and eat us. The important thing seemed then and seems now to keep trying, to leave the herd, to find my inner moral compass and follow it.

So I looked at NLG on the web, I looked at photos, I talked to friends, and read up on the “Battle in Seattle”.  I thought about what this image should say. I thought about it a lot. I thought about the accidental warriors and those who set out to change things, those people who cannot and will not give up. nlg art

The result was a whole wastebasket full of discarded muddled mixed up drawings. I really didn’t think I could do it. I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t seem to say it. I was so far out of my bright, fun, snarky wheelhouse that it was miserable. It felt like I was drawing wearing boxing gloves and a blindfold. It seems simple, but this is the hardest drawing I’ve ever done. I had to scrape it out of someplace inside that was buried and collecting dust, and when it came, it came whole in one quick sitting, like someone else was guiding my hand and holding my pencil.

The simple graphite on paper image is homage to the great artist and Polish worker for social justice, Kathe Kollwitz, who created searing personal images of oppressed people in the early 20th century. The couple in my drawing is drawn as Kollwitz might have portrayed them, androgynous because I wanted the viewer to bring their own story to what happened in Seattle. For me, this is everyman and everywoman who fought back and stayed in touch with their internal compasses along the way.

Art is not always easy. Its not always pretty, and it wears so many faces they are uncountable. Painting is words made with pictures and you experience the best stuff viscerally. It might be Kathe Kollwitz who almost makes me cry or it might be Helvi Smith, whose ridiculous Pink Fifi Poodle painting made me laugh out loud at her perfect catching of the essence of poodle.

Snarky Fifi cracks me up!

Snarky Fifi cracks me up!

I’m glad I had a chance to reach past my limits, yep. I am.

Danny and Mr Tolkien


The Quest, fulfilled.

Once upon a time, the June I turned 19, I moved clear across the United States from my Southern California roots to Alabama and then Kentucky to be with my helicopter flight school attending husband. For us and the other young couples in the air cav, time together would be measured in months, before they all shipped out. We lived in the present, there was no future that we could see from where we were standing.

I didn’t mind being away from home. I was more fascinated than lonely and I didn’t complain when my pilot husband was off for days training to go to Vietnam and fly, he loved helicopters and the army. For me, there was too much to experience, see, do and understand in this new alien place. I was an Air Force brat and the military lonely lifestyle was something that was second nature in my family.

My chariot of choice in my explorations was a black and yellow, brand new 1967 Barracuda convertible with a huge engine and straight pipes. Gas was 25 cents a gallon and that car let me explore old towns, old cemeteries, and all the history I could find within a day’s drive. I hated the muggy weather, the daily rain and the snakes, but still…. driving down a tree lined street with houses looking like Tara on either side made up for a lot.

In November, we moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, assigned to the 101st Airborne. The winter actually came in Kentucky, with snow, ice and cold. I bought boots and a black furry coat with a hood and even a pair of long johns. Because it was too cold to explore for the California Kid, I discovered the base library and changed my literary life forever.

I was hunting through the shelves and found a book called ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. The end papers were maps and it looked like a giant fairy tale. I checked it out and devoured it. I discovered there were four books making up the cycle, and the Hobbit was just the beginning.  I trekked back to the library and the only one on the shelf was the second book. I read it anyway. I went back and this time I found the last book and read that. In weeks of waiting, I never found the first book and I remember being so frustrated because there were such gaps in the story. There were no bookstores close enough to either buy or order the book and time was moving on. My husband was shipped out and I was shipped home, back to California.

Danny took this photo of me in 1969

I was 18 when I got married, right out of high school and in a haze of doomed romance. I married someone I really didn’t like and I knew it. I even tried to get out of it, but my mother had already paid for the wedding and I was going to go through it dead or alive according to her. The best thing about that marriage was finally escaping my mother’s claws and her influence. She went on to completely destroy my brother’s life and my sister’s, but my trajectory was up and out and I never looked back. I left the pilot, I couldn’t do it anymore. He returned in one piece and went on to remarry and have a good life in Oregon.

Art car, Sausalito, 2005

I had my life back and the summer I was 20, I went on a long camping trip, again in that Barracuda, up the California coast with my friend Danny. Danny’s fiancee Brenda had just dumped him, becoming unengaged after a full year, and running off with a guy who was wanted for punching a cop in Dallas. Hey, it was the 60s and we were young and full of angst and hope and upheaval. I was half in love with him, he was still half in love with her, it was the stuff of bad novels and it made for a memorable trip which included skinny dipping in the Russian River, exploring Big Sur and every inch of highway 1 before it was a heavily traveled tourist trap.

Hippie Harbor, 2007, Sausalito still has its soul

San Francisco was heaven and Sausalito was even better. In 1968, Sausalito was a sleepy, hippie, fishing town. It is now big money but there are still patches of that vibe and I love going back and finding it to this day. Sausalito also had an amazing bookstore and in that store I found on 9/23/68 all FOUR volumes of the Lord of the Rings plus the Hobbit. I will never forget that store, that moment, or that day. Danny bought those four paperbacks for me and as our budget was small, it was an enormous gift. The books were the Ballantine Books authorized editions, each one was 95 cents.

Art Car, Sausalito, with a message for me

That was the cherry on the top of the trip for me. We spent a few more days exploring and camping and resisting returning, but jobs were calling us home and funds were getting low. We made it to Eureka, California before we turned around to drive almost straight through 12 hours to Redlands and home. The real world came back with a crash and life went on for us, but those weeks out of time were magic. It was the start of our relationship and we wound up with marrying and having three amazing sons.

Sausalito mailbox

Our marriage didn’t last forever because I am very bad at the art of marriage, we even tried twice. We made it through the bad parts and our friendship was close and it was forever.  I thought someday we’d wind up rocking on a porch and arguing about politics.

Dan Snow, taken in Palm Springs, 1968

Dan died on April 9, 2002, after a recurrence non-Hodgkins lymphoma surrounded by his sons and his wife, Dorothy, the real love of his life.  I’m glad they found each other in time because if anyone deserved to be loved, it was Danny. I still miss him and when I look at my boys, I see their dad so clearly. Corey looks most like him and the resemblance is startling as Corey gets older. Joel moves most like him, he has his father’s physical gestures and joy in living. Josh is the passionate one, Danny could argue all night long and drill you into the ground when he cared, Josh can do the same thing and does.

As for me, I’m the one who remembers him as a young man, the twenty-four old with the longest eyelashes I ever saw and as much curiousity as I had about what was around the next corner. We had fun, we really did, and the best years of our lives were spent together. For a very long time, I religiously read all four of the Tolkien books every September, the anniversary of fulfilling my quest to read the last book, and perhaps to remember a magic moment in my life when everything was as perfect as it ever gets.

The books are now getting tattered and fragile and yellowed, they have obviously been loved, and one had a fishbowl break in its vicinity years ago, but it was saved and dried out.The Fellowship of the Ring had a corner land in a coffee cup, but that too passed, and nowadays my quest for the fourth book filled, they are on my shelf of best loved books and most cherished memories of There and Back Again.


The Boyscouts and I Tackle the Art Question

Is graffiti art? There’s a whole other discussion. Graffiti bees on an Olympia bridge.

I was recently privileged to be asked to talk to a pack of boys, okay, a small troop of Webelos on their way to becoming Boy Scouts. The last thing they had to accomplish was to talk to an artist and complete an art segment in their ‘road map’ to scouthood. I found it interesting that art wound up last on the list, but I’m grateful to the Boy Scouts for including it all. The meeting was at a local Catholic church, upstairs in a small room. I dragged my clothes basket of art up the stairs and found six fresh-faced boys and two parents seated around a table, all chattering and working on a word puzzle. They looked quite interested at my covered clothes basket, with good reason more interested in the basket than  me, the lady artist, old enough to be their grandmother. They were amazingly engaged and polite and reminded me so much of my own son’s scouting days at the Lutheran Church. Ever notice Scouting is always at a church?

Knowing I would be talking to the boys and their age, I actually sat down and thought for quite some time about What is Art? It’s one of the universal questions in society, like Why Am I Here? –and just about as easy to answer. The good thing about the art question is that there are actually some fairly good answers, consensus if you will, in our society, here and now, about what art is.

When does a photograph become art? Can a flower be art?

1. At is on purpose. It must be consciously created. It cannot be just a beautiful flower or a beautiful mountain, although artists are inspired to include those things in their art. It doesn’t have to be beautiful to everyone, or anyone, but it often is. It can make you think, it can make you angry. It is made on purpose by the artist to convey meaning. It is not accidental, again the flower is beautiful, but its beauty is both accidental and incidental. Nature created it because that is what nature does, we see it and judge it beautiful because that’s what we do. Art is conscious. It is made with intention.

2. Art must be original. An artist can even take apart something and reform it into something entirely new. Witness the artists who show their work at the wonderful Matter Gallery in Olympia, me included. That work is all upcycled and repurposed. It was all something else, a piece on the wall used to be a sail on a ship, or bicycle parts, a sculpture might have been screws and washers. One of my pieces was a birdcage and now its a birdcage that is a metaphor for a way of looking at life.

Winged Victory, standing now in the Louvre

3. Art is intended to convey meaning. We may not understand the language or even like it, but the artist is telling you his/her thoughts, beliefs, feelings or attitudes towards something or about something. Think about how much public art we love or hate, are bronze statues of generals on horses art? I’m not sure, but for me they are simply memorials. The Winged Victory of Samothrace standing in the Louvre, is definitely art. In its time, it may been a memorial, that’s a thought worthy of more discussion for me. What was the original intention?

4. Art must be recognized by society as art. It doesn’t have to be good or appreciated but it must be recognized as art. Two ends of the spectrum come to mind here. All the rotten paintings I have seen of Mt Rainier or even worse, bad ocean scenes, is one end of unappreciated and Robert Mapplethorpe’s inciendiary male nude photographs were at one time (for many in America) the other. Mapplethorpe stood the world on its ear in his time although now he is recognized as a 20th master of the photograph. Often great art pushes boundaries and makes people very uncomfortable, especially when it is in a shared space. Public art, there’s another discussion!

Incredible tramp art shrine, from, for sale on their site.

Which brings up a whole other set of things: when does a photograph become art? I may need to chew on that a few days and do some reading up to refine my thoughts.

5. Art is not craft, but art is crafted, and craft can become art. Tramp art for example. Its heyday was the Civil War through the 1930s, and it was not art for the most part when it was made/created, but definitely a craft using whatever was at hand by some very clever hands. Today, it is sought after and has transcended craft to become art.

I construct both art and craft, and for me the difference is very clear. The boxes hidden under the tablecloth I showed the Boys to their delight, were art. I consciously intended to tell a story of Lost Childhoods. Thinking of the icons of my life, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Sam, the Grim Reaper, King Neptune, and so many more, I wanted to tell the story of what their childhood’s were.  They were definitely crafted but their intention was to tell a story.

Father Time’s Lost Childhood, a constructed piece from my series Lost Childhoods

When I create a garden ornament with an old salt shaker  or a piece of tin, my intention is to bring pleasure and joy to the new owner. They are one of a kind pieces, but they don’t tell a story, they fill a function and are definitely not art. The same is true for those who make work in multiples and sell it. The first piece may indeed be art, but the multiples become craft, fine artisanal craft but they cease to be art because they are not original.

Metal garden art made from a ceiling tin

The Webelos and I had a lively discussion and they loved the two pieces I brought, especially the more macabre ‘Grim Reaper’. In the end, I felt like I took away more than I gave because of the thought process involved. Ihope they retain a scrap of the discussion as they grow up and it gives them an ha  moment some day. I’m still having ah ha’s around here after this experience, what more could I ask for?



TBI: Coming Back From the Edge, Caring and Cared For 2013


Its hard sometimes to see the need for support for a TBI victim, they can look comepletely normal but still feel so lost, navigating a changed landscape.

Tonight Terry showed me an email from a list he belongs to, his Traumatic Brain Injury Support group. The man who wrote the entry posted this quote from a dear friend of his. I think it is so true and so telling and it speaks to the TBI survivors point of view, one that us “normal folk” may sometimes miss.

“Brain injury at best is one of the harshest most sinister life changing disabilities a person can experience. It is not fair how it strips pieces of who we once were to the point where we must recreate ourselves, leaving us many times trying to navigate this hell. All the time those who we need the most cannot even see it, and by the time people get this figured out we have caused so much damage to the infrastructure of our lives.

So here is this completely new person, with no support, no understanding. Many times they are labeled bi-polar, on drugs, crazy. All that is happening is this reformation, relearning of any of the  skills we lost, and on many survivors’ minds is this unfairness of how people treated us along this journey. Resentment, anger and even hate and rage have come from this.

TBI victims can be called bi-polar, or crazy–mad as a hatter– or on drugs, when what they really are is re-inventing and re-learning themselves with little or no help.

The time is now, that we the survivors of the world need to let new survivors know what could be in store, we need to connect our disability community to pose it in a position of power, not one of division and weakness. 65 million of us.

Together we can achieve anything!

Together there is nothing we cannot achieve. Alone we get lost in the corners of society.”  I believe a man named Peter Hoecherl wrote this and truer words were never spoken.

I am caught on one side of the chasm that is TBI, and being the one left to try to pick up the pieces and lend support to a survivor has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I don’t regret a minute of it and Terry and I are damned lucky and we know it. Lucky because Terry was a firefighter with truly excellent insurance that paid for his care in a rehab facility like the Centre for Neuroskills in Bakersfield.

Its been a crazy ride, getting back from there to here.

Not very many Americans have access to that level of care. Without it, Terry could easily have lost the forward momentum he fought so hard for. He made it all the way back. Today he is about 95% of the man he was. Here’s the odd part, he’s a different man now. Its like being married to his twin. Brain trauma does some weird shit to people.

I saw the lost part, the angry part, the confused part for myself as Terry came back from the edge. Again, brain trauma is truly crazy-making because the victim can look completely normal outside and be lost in the woods inside. Marriages break up and families shatter because care givers are as lost and confused as the traumatic brain injury victims.

Sometimes we don’t even know who we are and that’s a terrible feeling.

When Terry recovered and returned from his traumatic brain injury and returned to his job after less than a year of recovery and rehab, a miracle in itself,  he was welcomed warmly. Yay..round of applause…and then a lot (not all)  of his co-workers treated him like a crazy leper because he had been injured and they knew about it, they seemed afraid to give him back the work he had done before and avoided talking with or spending time with him. He felt like a charity case and it was maddening and frustrating.

He felt isolated, alone, and like the only one in the world for a long time.

My advice was to give it time and give his work his best because something would come along and eclipse his accident and it would be forgotten. Sure enough, it took over a year and he worked his arse off, but other things came along and the community memory faded. He is a fully-functioning team member and very much appreciated as one of the best in the business at what he does.

I still  take a lot of the extra load off around here for him, I’m now the bill payer and the banker and the paper pusher because I can do it. Terry gets tired. That’s a side effect that will never go away. Rebuilding all those brain cells and neural pathways will take always take extra energy and I seem to have enough for both of us.

Just because I pick up the slack doesn’t mean I’m a saint, I get tired and cranky and resentful of the fiscal hole we’ve had to climb out of after a major accident like Terry’s. I could still kick him on a regular basis for getting on his motorcycle at night in deer country and doing this to us, but I think the price he has paid has been high enough.

That’s the thing to remember, the price TBI folks pay is never paid in full.  I think that’s why I started to write this blog, to pay all the love and care we got forward. I thought of all the families lost in the dark without a candle or a match and wondering what is going to happen to us? What could  happen? What comes next? How will I cope?  What’s out there in the dark?

One day at a time is how we take it.

I remember right after Terry got back to Olympia, he was in medical rehab for a broken neck, broken ribs and broken wrist and his short term memory was gone. I was home by myself and I googled Traumatic Brain Injury Support in Washington State. I didn’t find much, but I did stumble into a chat room of traumatic brain injury survivors and friends. I will never forget one 20 something girl telling me not to take more than one day at a time, she assured me it would get better. She told me her dad had been brain injured and her parents were still together and happy ten years later. At Christmas her mom bought and wrapped a present for her dad to give her mom and the giving and opening of that gift was special to both of them every year. It does get better, nothing is static, everything changes.

She was right. It did get better. That’s the thing that a lot of people don’t realize about brain injury. If you keep challenging yourself you just keep getting better. There is no stopping point and you set your own speed limit. We made it. I’m not exactly sure how, but its Valentine’s Day now and Terry and I have a lot to celebrate. I’ll go back to the Chronicles and the Adventure of how we got from there to here tomorrow but right this minute, I’m celebrating us!

Today, we celebrate us. Terry now.