Twirling, Band and Tommy Nugent

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to try out for twirler. I had been a devoted band member, starting out with a cornet in 5th grade and eventually graduating to French horn. I definitely wanted to play French horn in concert band, but it was my senior year and I thought it might be fun to be one of the girls wielding a baton during marching season. The problem was that I had no clue how to twirl. I had been a cheerleader for three years prior to this and didn’t have any twirling experience. Zero. But thanks to the aid of a seasoned twirler, Debby Russell, who took me under her wing and worked me to death for 3 weeks, I somehow managed to win a spot.

That was a very fun year with the band and my fellow twirlers. Our band was excellent and we were all proud to be involved with Tommy Nugent as our guide. He was a tough cookie when it came to everything related to band and I still have anxiety dreams with him at the center. It was not uncommon for him to yell at the top of his lungs and turn bright red just because someone was not kicking high enough on a turn during marching season. However, I must say that Mr. Nugent was my first real brush with excellence. He expected a lot, but he gave a lot in return and the results were undeniable. We were a Sweepstakes band for two years while I was in high school with all 1′s in marching and in concert band. That’s tough to beat.

Interestingly, I also had a taskmaster in the twirling realm. Our head twirler, Debra McGuire, was driven to be the best twirler she could be and she expected us to follow suit. I somehow was invited after marching season to join a twirling trio with her and another twirler, Elaine Brooks, and I still can remember parts of that routine that we must have practiced a 1000 times before heading to contest. We received all 1′s at our first contest, moved to the next where we also received all 1′s, and then were told we had qualified to compete at state.

We travelled to Austin in early June of 1971 for the big competition and, unfortunately, I promptly lost one of my contacts in the swimming pool at the motel where we were staying. That didn’t bode well since I was (am) severely near-sighted and hadn’t brought my glasses. Still, later that day, we got up to do our routine in front of the judges (Debra basically lead me to the spot where I was supposed to stand) and the second we started, I just clicked into our routine and did what we’d been doing for several months. As it turned out, we received all 1s that day, too, making us an All-State Trio. We were all very proud, and I still am, particularly since I’d barely known how to hold a baton just the year before.

Band was one of the best experiences in high school for me. I learned to appreciate hard work, to love music, and to see how being part of something bigger than myself could bring a great deal of satisfaction. Thomas Nugent was the lynchpin. I am grateful for his passion. He taught me a lot about finding something to love and pursuing it with all my heart.

Debra was impressive, too, I must say.  Without her (and Elaine), I wouldn’t have even considered heading off to a twirling contest.  I’m very glad I did.

By the way, my baton is leaning against the wall in my closet upstairs in my bedroom.  I never know when I might just get the urge to twirl…

Back Row: Jane, Cathy, Elaine and Gail

Second Row: Carla, Len and Cheryl

Front Row: Debra




Thanksgiving Anticipation

I am getting ready for an onslaught of visitors. I am excited about this, so “onslaught,” with any negative connotation that might accompany that term, is perhaps not the right description. Whatever word best describes the arrival of happily anticipated guests is what I’m going for here.

Every year at Thanksgiving, our family from Utah comes for several days, and since these are some of my favorite people in the world, you can imagine I look forward to spending time with them. They are arriving on Wednesday and will be with us until Sunday. This is my sister’s son, Jim, his wife, Karri, their two kids, Eli and Sophie, and my sister’s ex-husband, Ray. Jim’s sister and her husband can’t make it and I’m sorry about that. They, too, rank right up there in my favorites.

We are going to Ojai for one night of camping on Wednesday. This should be fun. My daughter, Sarah, is a first year medical resident in family medicine and as such gets to work nights on both Thanksgiving week and Christmas week. Therefore, we’re celebrating our Thanksgiving not on Thursday, but instead on Friday. That gives us the chance to run off to Ojai for a quick camping jaunt. I only wish that Sarah, Gregorio and Luna could come be part of this time. Liz, Ron and Rachael will be driving up Wednesday night to camp and will caravan back to LA mid-afternoon on Thursday. We might get to see Sarah for a brief time between when she wakes up in mid-afternoon and goes back to work at 7.

I love camping and I love Ojai so I am happy about this part of the trip. We are not having holiday food before Friday so this is all about turkey hot dogs and store-bought potato salad. This should be very relaxing and pleasant. My goal is to have most of the Thanksgiving food prepared before we leave for Ojai so that our return doesn’t signal me having to move into high, high gear, preparing a big meal on Friday. That is the plan, at least.

Whatever the case, I am happy Thanksgiving is almost here. This holiday signals pure happiness for me. I can’t wait.


Just a Few Photos Over The Years

Len at Age 6

Len at 6


George, Sandra and Baby Leslie


George Sandra Leslie


Leslie a Bit Older




Sarah at age 3 in New Orleans with Friends


Sarah, et al in New Orleans


Len and Girls in 2005


Len and Girls, 2005


Hutch, Rachael, Ray and Holly, 1994


Ray, Rachael, Holly and Hutch, 1994


Ray and the Girls, around 2005

Ray with girls, 1994

I just happened to come across these today.  I’ll keep looking so that I can find good photos of other family members.

Happy sleeping!



Toddler on the Mend

I am happy to report that baby Luna is breathing much easier today, and so are all of us who love her.

I realize there is much overuse of antibiotics, which is definitely not helpful; however, I am grateful we live in an age where antibiotics are readily available. Without them, this outcome might have been gravely different.

Our concern was exacerbated by the recent outbreak of respiratory illness among children. According to an article in the New York Times on September 25, the outbreak that started in the Midwest has now spread to 38 states. I certainly don’t have any evidence this is what Luna was suffering from; I just know that being aware that other children have been plagued with breathing problems sent the alarm bells ringing louder than usual.

Alas, I believe our little one is moving quickly back to her natural healthy self.

Three cheers for that.

Thanks to all of you for your messages of concern. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. That was very kind.

Hugs to all.

Talk tomorrow.


Urgent Care for Luna Today

Our little Luna made a trip with her mom and dad to Urgent Care today. She was very congested with a rattling chest. The doctor did a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia – which she does not have – but told Sarah and Gregorio to take her to the emergency room if she starts having any more trouble. She also has an ear infection. They also did two breathing treatments on her and sent her home with several medications.

We went out to check on her this evening. She was pale and a lot less enthusiastic than usual, but she was still open to playing with her Mr. Potato Head and putting together her barnyard puzzle. She could make all the sounds of the animals on a farm when Gregorio quizzed her and she also requested that I give her a bath, which I did. She sat in the bath and said, “Happy.” She loves stretching out in their big tub and almost swimming through the water. Her breathing seemed to get a bit more labored, though, so we didn’t linger for a long time. I dried her off, covered her in lotion, got a new diaper on her and her pj top. She looked sleepy after that so we said good-night. Sarah and Gregorio said they got about 3 hours of sleep last night. Hopefully, tonight will be better for everyone.

Our friend and priest, Ian Elliott Davies, cancelled an engagement so he could come check on Luna and say a prayer for her. That was an awfully sweet thing for him to do.

Needless to say, we all adore this child.  We will be happier when she is back to her healthy little self.  She is a little fountain of love in all of our lives.

I am heading to bed. We’ve had one of those disjointed days with a dozen very different things happening. Maybe tomorrow will flow just a bit better.

Of course, it has everything to do with Luna feeling better. If she is, the I expect we’ll all move out of “Tilt” and back into balance.


Flash Fiction: When Life Gives You Lemon Sherbet

“You’re mother lied to you. That’s the truth.” Those were the first words my father said when he came to see me in the hospital. Thanks, Dad. I appreciate your sensitivity.

Why was I in the hospital you might ask? I was having a delicate brain operation to remove a tumor. I had been suffering from symptoms for the past two years. Now you can see why Dad’s sudden need to expose my mother and her prevarications came at a bad time. At that moment, I was just hoping I would wake up after the operation, not worrying whether my mother had lied about the time and date of her graduate school graduation.

You may need a little background to understand this situation.

My father and mother are divorced and have been for the past four years. I see my dad sometimes, but not often and when I do, the visit is usually riddled with sarcastic comments from him about my mother and her behavior. Dad still hasn’t recovered from the divorce and remains one of the walking wounded. You would think that would make him slightly more aware of how I would feel just before brain surgery, but apparently not.

“Why do I care about the date of Mom’s graduation?” I asked him. “Does that really matter now?”

Dad’s response, “Your mother isn’t graduating. She hasn’t even been going to graduate school. I don’t want you having this surgery without knowing the truth about her and her deceiving ways.”

My delicate brain went into a complete free-fall. “Are you saying that Mom has been pretending to go to class for over two years and is actually lying about where she’s going?” I knew Dad was bitter, but this accusation was further than he’d ever ventured before on the hate scale.

He looked awkward – perhaps actually registering how disturbing this information might be for me – then nodded. “She’s a stripper, Amanda. An exotic dancer at one of those clubs over in the industrial section of town.”

My father had now moved into certifiably insane. My mother, who was a librarian, would not remove her clothes for a bunch of lonely, depraved men for any amount of money. “Sorry, Dad,” I said, “April Fool’s Day was two weeks ago. Good try, though. Was that to cheer me up?”

“Just call your mother in here and ask her,” my dad said, pointing to the door. Do you want me to go get her? She’s just in the hall.”

Now I was hooked. I couldn’t go under general anesthetic with that absurd question burning in my brain. “Yes, go get her,” I said, curious to see how she would react to such a ridiculous claim.

My mother came in, wrapped in an oversized sweater, loose-fitting jeans and Crocs and Dad wasted no time confronting her. “Go ahead, Penny, tell your daughter the truth about your supposed graduate school graduation. She deserves the truth.”

My mother, with her blonde hair cut super short and wearing no make up, nodded. “Yes, honey, I guess my secret is out.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It beat working for minimum wage at a convenience store, and you have to admit we needed the money.”

Yes, that part was true. My frequent trips to doctors’ appointments weren’t cheap. “But why didn’t you tell me?”

“And have my daughter be embarrassed by her mother’s actions? No way. I figured we’d get you through this and then move forward.”

I thought back over the past couple of years. I was aware my mother left everyday at odd hours for graduate school classes – often at 9 or 10 at night – and returned sometimes in the early morning hours. I knew that she seemed to have more money than her librarian salary could offer – a lot more than she’d had for most of the time I was growing up. I also knew that she seemed happier and more fulfilled than she’d been when she started graduate school. I guess I had just assumed that she had found her niche and was finally happy. I suppose that was, in fact, the case. It was just a different niche than the Art History I thought she was studying.

My father beamed with triumph. He had the same look back when I was sixteen-years-old when he had come into my bedroom to tell me that he was moving out. All I remember about that day, besides that crazed look of victory on his face, was that when I went into the kitchen I saw that a carton of lemon sherbet had melted all over the counter. My mom must have taken it out before the fight began and never put it back. Now I saw that my whole relationship with my dad was like that sherbet – a treat that had gone to waste.

I looked at my mom, who had now retreated to the door out of fear, I suppose, of my rejection. I called to her and said, “Hey, Mom, come close. Let’s get something straight before they take me off and start drilling into my skull.”

My dad, gloating, stood next to me, and my mother, nervous, walked slowly up to my bed. I looked at them both and realized they were just two ordinary people who didn’t have a clue what to do with the problems life had sent their way, which included a daughter who had been sick for several years now and finally had some hope of getting some relief. “Let me say this once and be done with it, please. I don’t care what you’ve done or how you make money. I just care that you are here right now with me and we are a family – a fairly crazy one, I admit – but my family just the same.”

My mother hugged me.

My dad looked as if he was just about to protest, but instead leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. “I love you, honey.”

“I love you, too,” I said.

Hours later, I was finally settled back in my room with my mom knitting quietly in the chair next to me. The door opened and in walked my dad carrying a carton of lemon sherbet. After filling three bowls, he raised his plastic spoon. “Here’s to a new beginning.”

“Hear, hear!” said my mom.

I smiled. “Let the healing begin.”


Saturday Night Quotes on Writing

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on writing:

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Ernest Hemingway

“There is no denying the wild horse in us.” Virginia Woolf

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” William Faulkner

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Flannery O’Connor

“We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” Kurt Vonnegut

I love these because they help keep me focused on my writing and also help me to reduce my fear. That is a winning combination. They also help me to remember that all of those amazing authors once needed the same encouragement I need now. That provides a fair amount of solace!

Happy Saturday night, folks. I am heading to bed after a long day.

See you tomorrow.