Ray’s Birthday

Low-key.  Family-filled.  Perfect.  We had a great day at Sarah and Gregorio’s place, celebrating Ray’s 60th birthday.  Lots of laughter, great food and loads of love.  Hard to beat.  Gregorio and Sarah made the soup, vegatables and rice, Liz made the salad and Rachael baked two honey-sweetened desserts. Ray and I just sat and enjoyed it all.

Happy Birthday, Ray.  Living this past almost 38 years with you has been a treat.  You are one-of-a-kind, in the best possible way.

Here are a few photos commemorating this event.  Our Mexico beach house trip was also part of Ray’s birthday celebration since the kids paid for everything. This was icing on the cake.

How lucky we are to have these wonderful daughters, sons-in-law and grandkids in our lives.

Here’s to another 60 years, Ray!



A Pre-Birthday Visit to the Getty

Liz, Ray and I went today to the Getty for Ray’s birthday, which is tomorrow.  The big 60th for Ray on March 18th.  Tomorrow, we will celebrate by joining the whole family out at Sarah and Gregorio’s for lunch and a day together.  I am so looking forward to seeing everyone and just hanging out. Of course, seeing my grandbabies will be a major part of that treat.

Today, we had a wonderful time.  We ate lunch in the cafe at the Getty, then headed over to see an exhibition on art exhibition curator, Harald Szeemann.

Here is a description of the exhibition:

“One of the most distinguished advocates of conceptual art and postminimalism, and a figure who became synonymous with the advent of globalism in contemporary art, Harald Szeemann (Swiss, 1933–2005) developed a new form of exhibition-making that centered on close collaborations with artists and a sweeping international vision of contemporary culture.”

Afterward, we had coffee, then headed over to a photography exhibition on Paper Promises, Early American Photography

Here is a description of that exhibition:

“This exhibition explores the formative years of photography in nineteenth-century America. Featuring rare photographs and negatives as well as iconic images from the Gold Rush and Civil War, it traces early experimentation with photography on paper. The show also reveals how photographic reproduction helped shape perceptions of the United States during a critical period of political tension and territorial expansion.”

And also, one more exhibition, entitled, “Cut! Paper Play in Contemporary Photography.”

Here is a description of that exhibition:

“Many photographers working today use paper in unique and innovative ways. Some create paper models with images gleaned from current events, popular magazines, or the internet for the express purpose of photographing them. Others cut, layer, fold, and assemble representational photographs to introduce tactile or narrative elements. This exhibition features works by Thomas Demand, Christiane Feser, Daniel Gordon, Soo Kim, Matt Lipps, and Christopher Russell.”

Liz was very brave to offer to go with us to an art museum. We are known to be there for hours.  She was a good sport, looking at all the art and then waiting patiently while Ray and I looked and looked and then looked some more.

This was a lovely afternoon and just perfect as a pre-birthday celebration before Ray’s official birthday tomorrow. We had a wonderful time together.

Thank you, Liz!



A Luxury

The house smells of Murphy’s Soap because our weekly housekeeper of the past 22 years has just left. She swept and mopped this floor just an hour ago and the room feels clean and free of corgi hair that will soon begin accumulating again on the area rug and wooden floor.

I grew up with a daily housekeeper, first Louise Love and then Lorene Massey. They were both African American women who cooked and cleaned for my five siblings, me and my parents. I appreciated them then and I appreciate Elda now for her weekly dusting, sweeping, mopping and bathroom cleaning. I didn’t have a housekeeper after I got married until I was in my early 40s and I never, not ever, take Elda for granted.  I have been on my knees plenty of times over the years, cleaning bathtubs and toilets and I know exactly how unglamorous it is. The truth is that I would gladly clean our bathrooms if need be as long as Elda would dust and do the floors. Those are my failings. It is hard for me to ever want to pick up a dust rag or plug in a vacuum cleaner. Luckily, Ray loves to vacuum so he often goes from room to room with his “Shark,” making sure that corgi hair doesn’t bury us between Elda’s visits.

I understand that I am a privileged person to have a weekly housekeeper.  I work every day so I’m not all that privileged, but clearly, I have enough resources to allow for this luxury. I am grateful I have this option since I know exactly how tired I would be – how tired I was with three little kids – when I didn’t have that choice. 

One day I said to my mother that I didn’t feel as if I deserved to live in a beautiful house or have more than most of the rest of the world.  Her response has stuck with me. “No one deserves the life they are born into – good or bad. Our job is to do the best we can with what we’ve been given with the help of God’s grace.”

I live in one of the wealthiest communities in the United States and am far from the top of the economic heap here. Many people live in much bigger houses, drive more expensive cars and have much more impressive bank accounts than I ever will. At first, this bothered me; now, I don’t care. I’ve lived here long enough not to be dazzled by externals and to also understand that comparisons are unproductive and often downright destructive. Just like recognizing that there will always be someone out there (or many someones) who are smarter, it is undeniable there will also always be many people who are more well-off.  But I have come to know from experience that quality of life is not dependent on excessive money, simply enough to ensure a safe and comfortable place to live as well as enough extra to pay bills, buy nutritious food, and allow access to decent health care. The rest is nice, but not necessary to have a rich and meaningful life.

But there’s no denying that a housekeeper, daily, weekly, monthly or even quarterly, is a true luxury. One I am deeply grateful to enjoy.


One of Those Days

I have had one of those days where everything I’m doing is in mid-process with nothing coming to a logical (and satisfying) conclusion.  I have been working on a paper with a student that is frustrating to organize, tackling an ongoing problem up in Ojai with our land partners that refuses to right itself, figuring out a project with Ray that brings up more questions than the answers, putting a nice big STOP to definitive steps forward. I even got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic today on a street that’s usually smooth sailing. ARGHHH!

I am assuming I am being given opportunities to develop extreme patience.  What else could explain these obstacles that seem to be popping up, willy-nilly?

Whatever the case, I am aware that as of now my work day is done and I can stop all these frustrating tasks until tomorrow.  I am happy about that. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll look at these things and they’ll seem simple and easy to handle.  That would be nice.

Until then, have a good evening.  Here’s hoping your day has gone a bit more smoothly than mine.




Please Read My Student’s Nationally Award-Winning Essay Plus a Few Words about Her Grandmother and Herself

My student, Lara King, has kindly agreed to allow me to reprint her winning essay here on my blog.  I believe this beautifully-written piece deserves a wider audience than simply the judges for the Scholastic Art and Writing contest.  Please read this touching essay about Lara and her grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and feel free to share with others if you are inclined.

From Lara:

I am from a small, rural town on the shores of Lake Huron called Alpena, Michigan. Len’s daughter Liz and Liz’s boyfriend Ron visited my family a few years ago. They told us about Len Leatherwood and her love and talent for writing. My sister and I took one of her Story Circle online classes. We not only improved our writing skills but also learned about ‘flash fiction’. Len introduced me to the Scholastic awards. After consulting with her via phone calls, I prepared some pieces of writing and submitted them the contest.

My paternal grandmother was raised in Scotland to a privileged family. She was a top runner at St. Andrews and was preparing for the Olympics until World War 2 began. She met my grandfather and returned to his home country New Zealand with him. I met her for the first time during one of my stays in New Zealand. By that time, she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for two decades. Despite experiencing severe memory loss, she remained passionate about music and could still play the piano perfectly. In ‘Ship of Theseus’, I explored the theme of identity using Theseus’s paradox and other metaphors.

Ship of Theseus – Personal Essay / Memoir

Theseus’s Paradox: A wooden boat has its original boards replaced with new boards over time. If all of the original boards are eventually replaced, is it the same boat?

I rose from the tartan sofa to help escort my grandmother to her piano. Slipping my hand through the nook of her arm, I supported her right side while her long-term caregiver supported the left. She clung to the two of us as she shuffled unsteadily to the black velvet bench. We lowered her gently onto the seat. Turning slightly, my grandmother gazed at me as if I were a stranger. Her shriveled mouth pursed for a moment, but, by then, the thought disappeared. Nonetheless, she straightened her spine, positioned her fingers, and began to play the piano as I watched.

Like crops infiltrated with saltwater, my grandmother’s pestilent disease had not only corroded and destroyed her memories, but also prevented her from cultivating new ones. The vestiges of her childhood, education, travels, and family barely remained accessible. Recently, her youngest child had been missing from her list of children that she recited. She had never known her grandchildren. Even after I spent hours with my grandmother, she could never produce a name, a face, a label for me.

Every day, she wore the same heavy layers of clothes and the same indifferent countenance, corrugated in wrinkles from a lifetime she could not remember. I stroked her eternally cold hands and asked questions. I could never fathom the world in which she lived; a world lacking meaning, history, substance, purpose. A world consisting merely of the random ideas and thoughts that stuck in her mind like gum on a sidewalk. Within a single visit, she would attest to owning the title of ‘fastest runner in Scotland’ numerous times in response to questions. Every sound in the background could be attributed to her brother, long dead, entering the house from the garden. My grandmother’s memories of her beloved homeland of Scotland and cherished brother, however, existed only in the form of empty words. Over time, these desultory statements grew more and more meaningful to me; they were all she had left.

During my frequent wanderings throughout her house, I examined the plein air paintings hanging on the walls and the family photographs lining every surface. Searching for any hint of my grandmother’s identity through her long-forgotten collection of books, souvenirs, decorations, and furniture led me to dead ends. I imagined her sculpting her identity – making memories, collecting knowledge, gathering thoughts – like an intricate sandcastle on a beach, only for the ocean waves to ebb away at the foundation until it collapsed into an amorphous mound.

One aspect of her identity, however, seemed immune to the tide: her love of music.

Her hands, translucent enough to see the purple veins beneath, danced effortlessly across the piano keys. They did not require her eyes, faded and foggy with cataracts, in order to hit each note at the right timing. She chose melodies from either dormant memories or song requests and executed them perfectly, like a human jukebox.

If a person has their original memories stripped away over time, how much of the same person remains?

Was my grandmother the same person? The same avid bird-watcher who had saved dozens of books on bird species and could, at one time in her life, accurately identify every specimen that visited her garden, even if she now recognizes the creatures only as colorful masses? The same doting mother of six, despite forgetting the existence of one child? Or was this version of her simply the palimpsest of her former existence?

I could not tell. As my grandmother reached the end of the song, I wished I knew. Still, in face of loss, she clung onto the last intact aspect of her identity. Like the band that played as the Titanic sank deeper and deeper into the ocean, she not only endured the vicissitudes, but also maintained the most fundamental joy in her life.

And like the Titanic, my grandmother was a doomed vessel. She passed away two years later, though my father said that it was simply the death of her physical being. Still, I grieved the loss of my grandmother and the role she was meant to play in my life. Her favorite piano and bagpipe songs were played at her funeral. I thought about her love of music and the boat paradox. Her memories may have vanished, but she retained the intrinsic shape of the ship, the shell of her existence. Gazing around at the funeral attendees and listening to her favorite songs, I realized that I inherited her life’s frame. I would save the memories that she could not keep and preserve the ones that she could.

lara outside pic 1

National Silver Medal Essay Winner in the Scholastic Art & Writing Contest!

Today, Scholastic announced their national winners and I am delighted to announce that my student, Lara King, has won a national silver medal for her personal essay, “Ship of Theseus.”  Lara is a high school student who lives in Michigan and her essay was selected from 350,000 submissions from young artists and writers all over the country.  Receiving a national Silver Medal places Lara’s work in the top 1% of all submissions.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is the oldest and most prestigious writing contest for youth (grades 7 – 12) in the United States.  Recognizing many of the best and brightest young artists and writers since 1923, the Awards have a long legacy of celebrated recipients, which include Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates and this year’s Alumni Achievement award recipient, Marc Brown.

I am so proud of Lara and am very pleased that her creativity and hard work are being recognized on the national level.  The Scholastic contest is the best of the best in the United States, and Lara can feel proud to be among such an illustrious group of young artists and writers.

Congratulations, Lara!  Here’s to all your hard work.

Lara King Photo 2018

Happy to Announce: Presenter of Two Workshops at the 2018 “Stories from the Heart IX” Memoir Conference!

I am delighted to report that I  have been chosen to offer two workshops in the upcoming “Stories From the Heart IX” Memoir Conference in Austin, Texas on July 20 – 22, 2018.  I will be presenting one of the two Friday pre-conference workshops entitled, “How to Improve Your Writing and Get Published: Flash Fiction and Flash Memoir,” as well as giving a workshop during the conference called, “The How-To’s to Successful Blogging.”

This biennial conference is sponsored by Story Circle Network, which is a non-profit organization “dedicated to helping women share the stories of their lives through memoir, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama, and to raising public awareness of the importance of women’s personal histories.”  I am the coordinator for the Online Writing Classes program for Story Circle Network as well as an online teacher, and I am very proud to be part of this fine and inspiring organization.

If you are a woman and have a desire to get your thoughts, feelings, life events or fictional ideas down on paper, then consider attending this wonderful conference. The women are open, wise and wonderful and the workshops will provide down-to-earth writing information that not only informs but also inspires.  You will come away feeling nurtured and understood by a group of women who know all about the challenges of life.  I have attended this conference for the past several years and always leave feeling filled to the brim with caring and connection.

I would love to see you at both of my workshops!  That would be quite a treat for me, all on its own.

Here’s the link to the conference sign-up: http://www.storycircle.org/Conference/

When you
your heart,
you open your
—Beth Mende Conny
Story Circle Network The best and most
beautiful things in
this world cannot be
seen or even touched.
They must be felt
with the heart.
—Helen Keller

Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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