An American Cyclist from South Africa

A guy in plaid shorts and a shirt in the colorful geometric patterns of the South African flag, pushed his bike through the doors of the Extended Stay America hotel in Bothell, WA.

Bright yellow and red panniers hung over front and back wheels. Three water bottles were attached to the frame. Two flags, South African and USA, on 3-foot tall poles leaned over the bike.

My wife was at the end of the check-in line. I looked at the cyclist’s friendly face, thought about my youngest son Weston who’d just biked from Logan, Utah to Boise, Idaho, and said, “Where are you going?”

“Tomorrow is the last day of my 4200-mile trip from the Washington Monument to the Seattle Space Needle. Ten weeks.” No wonder he looked so happy! He was at the end of his trip.

“Why did you make this trip?”

“I got drunk one night” he replied, “and said I’d do the TransAm. Then my mates wouldn’t let me out of it.” He shrugged. “So here I am.”

Dave Rens usually works as a marine engineer; he’s also been a scuba instructor. He grew up in South Africa, enjoying a carefree childhood steeped in outdoor activity. Except for short trips to South Africa, he hasn’t been back since 1994, now calling Florida home. On May 31st, he waved goodbye to his two children, Storm and Morgan, officially beginning his journey on June 1st. He had a bunch of new equipment–the bike, navigational aides, and polarized sunglasses with little reader lens so he could read maps or look at his phone.

The bike I saw come through the door, the Disc Trucker by Surly, had “Roofus” painted on the cross bar. I didn’t get a chance to ask the origin of the name, but Dave was quick to tell me that the bike and tires were tough—“only 6 punctures during the whole trip.”

Being from Washington, I was pleased to hear that the last few days of his trip were his favorites, especially mounting Washington Pass (elevation 5477). “The sheer majesty was difficult to capture…it took my breath away,” he wrote in his blog. “Washington State was fighting to be the best on my tour and is winning.” Check out his text and photos at Dave and Roofus Do the TransAm.

Good luck Dave,” I said. You’re practically an Olympian.”

“No,” he said. “I’m better than them.”

That’s the kind of attitude that can make anybody a success when mounting an ambitious goal.

When I got up to my room, I contacted Seattle’s Channel Five about his arrival at the Space Needle and provided contact information. I left him a meal replacement bar at the front desk because my two oldest sons, Jason and Jules, are associated with PROBAR. Jason has also made the Logan-Boise trip on his bike. This blog and those gestures were the ways I could think to register my admiration for Dave’s ambition.

Congratulations are in order, not just for the medalists in Rio.

A Writing Residency in a Matchstick Factory


When I lamented the upcoming conclusion of my low-residency creative writing program my son said “Come to New Orleans for the first ever Matchstick Factory Residency. You can write. I’ll work on sculpture. We’ll have some good food.”

Weston was a faculty member in the art department at Tulane University. He lived outside NOLA in St. Rose in a derelict wooden match factory warehouse, at one time “the largest of its kind in the world.” Delta Match Corporation opened its doors in St. Rose, Louisiana in 1952, was taken over in 1970 by TransMatch, and closed down in the 1980s.

For $650 a month, utilities included, Weston got the space he’d always wanted. The video he posted revealed five thick-walled rooms cleaned and re-organized into a workshop, gallery, living space, photo studio, and bathroom. Not that the place was gentrified: it had an improvised kitchen containing a hot plate, bucket under the sink, and multiple not-quite-up-to-code electrical connections; the stained industrial toilet resided in a makeshift stall next to a gerry-rigged, open shower, operated by an elevated faucet connected to six feet of hoses and a heating element. The shower floor consisted of a slatted wood platform. The walls were decorated with driftwood.

Without hesitation, I said yes. Air conditioning in the living area, a good bed, compelling projects, and five days with my son was persuasion aplenty.

A few weeks later he collected me at the airport in his pick-up. We banged through the rutted streets of New Orleans, aggressively speeding and passing other cars. “This is how people drive in New Orleans, Mom,” he said.

Twenty minutes later we entered a wide, gated parking lot across from the banks of the Mississippi. A faded For Sale sign advertised eight acres of commercial property, the acreage that included Weston’s warehouse. He punched in numbers and the gate rolled closed as we maneuvered fifty feet forward toward the damp, weed-trampled entrance. The entrance, fortified by a heavy door, had proved an insufficient barricade for the heavy rain during hurricane season. Water penetrated the main living area to a one-inch level. Hurricane season was over but moisture still oozed into the warehouse. The landlord had said, “The tenant is responsible for drying out the floors.” Weston, motivated by soggy clothes and a ruined printer during the first rainstorm, wedged his possessions onto elevated shelves and purchased a pump.

The place was Weston’s and he loved it. He built enormous shutters for the tall windows, painted everything white up to the tall ceilings, crafted an outdoor hot tub and constructed a fire pit. The noble Volkswagen bug (1971) that transported him from the Northwest to the South six years earlier—an adventure shared with his brother Jon—was parked in the front.

More than twenty-five years ago, as a preschooler, Weston had regularly hauled out his sleeping bag, placed it next to the heating vent under my desk adjacent to the kitchen, and slept, lulled by the electronic rhythm of my red IBM Selectric typewriter.

Now that I was in his space, my command post was a seasoned pleather chair with a board stamped “Bullseye Glass” laid across the chair’s arms to simulate a desk. My Mac maintained an easy balance atop it. Weston either stretched out, sketch book in hand, on a Coleman cot, or spent time in his workshop, surrounded by the categorized shelves of saws, grinders, assorted hand tools, and stacks of stored raw materials for his sculptures—glass, stone, and wood––all at hand. On the two days that he taught and tended the studios at Tulane, I accompanied him and worked in his office or the capacious Tulane Library.

Mornings we indulged in cheap eats at the famous Waffle House. Evenings he prepared meals in a Dutch oven—tasty fish stew––over an outside fire. Once we scarffed up crayfish heaped upon large circular platters at the self-described “low-key neighborhood seafood joint” called Harbor Seafood and Oyster Bar.

I completed the last draft of my thesis, Her Name is Quintana Roo, two weeks before it was due, with time enough to revise, proofread, print, and send it in for digitization and binding. Weston finished pieces for an upcoming gallery show. We researched announcements of competitions for community art and studied applications for residencies for artists. We posted six months of goals on large monthly calendar sheets. We discussed the quote, unattributed, that he had taped to the wall–more applicable to me, 4o years older than he. We meditated, strolled the banks of the Mississippi, and talked late into the night about David Foster Wallace, Richard Branson, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

We declared the Residency a success for both of us. “Write your name on the door,” Weston said. I Sharpie-scrawled my name and the duration of the First Matchstick Residency on the backside of the door labeled Water Heater Room. Behind it was Weston’s living space area, where the dripping faucet and faulty wiring hadn’t jeopardized our creativity at all.

Z is for Zen and the Art of Writing

Z“Find a piece of heavy white paper that is the exact size of a book you admire, and cut some circles in it. Make the circles different sizes, some large, some small. Place the white paper over a page of the book. Some of the words will show through the holes. Write these words down. Repeat on another page, and another, until your poem is finished.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #5 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

My variation of RO’s instructions:  I gathered up six books on zen from the library, listed here in alphabetical order by author–because aren’t authors the most important element of a bibliographic citation? Zen in your Garden by Jenny Handy; The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty W. Moore; Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig; Zen Doodle Unleashed by Tiffany Lovering; and Zen Dog by Toni Tucker and Judith Adler.

Then I cut a series of circles as directed, but opted to take only one small elongated oval so that I had enough width to extract partial sentences from random pages to make a poem. Though there are several several lines from each book, none are from the same pages. I placed Dinty Moore’s phrase “the quibbling Money” in the middle of Toni Tucker’s sentence from Zen Dog  which begins with “Where we sit” and ends with “The quibbling monkey.”

I decided to participate in the A-Z Blog Challenge because my friend Pam Helberg said “You should do this!” We were leaving two days later for the AWP (Association for Writers and Writers Programs) Conference in Los Angeles. I was reluctant because I had a website without content, I was ignorant of WordPress technique, and I was going to be traveling for much of the month. Pam, whom I have dubbed PG, Practical Genius, worked in technology for fifteen years, and continues as a freelancer, said she’d help me. And she has–for many hours.

Using Ruth Ozeki’s prompts was a last minute decision too. Ozeki, whom I’ve heard speak a half dozen times, is an author and Zen Priest. Using Zen, a faith that fascinates this mainstream Methodist, is a fitting conclusion for twenty-six days of blogging. I’d planned all along to use Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book,  Zen and the Art of Writing, but…I didn’t pack it in my suitcase and it wasn’t in the local library, so my Zen explorations included doodling, dogs, children’s literature, motorcycle maintenance, accidental conversions, and gardening, which may go to prove the assertion in the poem title, or that applications of Zen are limitless. Thanks for reading along with me.

You Can’t Define Zen

You can’t define Zen any more than

Rich air and strange perfumes from the flower

I’m walking backward in front of them

You may not use all the tools at one time.

Some spheres have a purity of form

Kindness works. Generosity.

Not every time, but always.

Now on the horizon I see something else

Where we

(the quibbling monkeys)

can learn to finally sit.

P.S. I’m happy to provide the source and page number of each of these lines, but who would want them except a bibliographic nerd?

Y is an Apology to an Anonymous You

Y“While you are in the library, write a sincere note of apology to someone, addressing the person as “you” without giving a name. Fold it up and leave the note inside a library book. Put the book on the shelf.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #9 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016).

I wouldn’t want anyone chasing after the note I enclosed in one of the depicted books, so I’m not identifying the library, although someone might be able to recognize this library by its bookmobile.

image image imageIt was hard to write an apology to an individual I don’t know for the reasons cited below, but I suppose most of us have experienced harshnesses put upon us by others. I also suppose that we have been unkind to others thereby necessitating an apology and creating memories that stick with us all too long.

I have written before about a sixth grade experience during which a bunch of other girls and I chided (well, actually bullied) a girl whose initials were F.A.T. School personnel required us to apologize, and we did, but the abject shame has stuck with me for several decades. When I saw her at a high school reunion six years ago, I referenced it, including another apology. A friendly, accomplished woman, she said, “I don’t remember.”

May all those we harm be so gracious; may we strive never to be hurtful. Here’s my  note of understanding. I can’t quite call it an apology.

imageHi!  To keep my writing life stimulating and fun, I am participating in the 2016 A-Z Challenge which you can find out about by going to I have combined the daily alphabet prompts with 20 other prompts written by Ruth Ozeki, the best selling author of A Tale for the Time Being, etc.

[I site the title of the blog and Ozeki’s prompt in the letter, but won’t reproduce it here]

The thing is, how do I write a note of apology to someone I don’t know, against whom I have perpetrated no ugly deed necessitating confession, a request for forgiveness, or the expression of regret or remorse. Well, maybe I should apologize to this book for making a lump in its pages.

Anyway, if you have been wounded, know that the writer of this note extends sympathy and sadness and wishes that s/he who “done you wrong” finds the inner bravery to apologize. In the meantime, use this $5 bill for yourself or someone else.

 I hope your life is happy.

Xcellent, AleX

X“As you are walking toward the next intersection if you see a person who is wearing something red, stop flipping your coin and follow that person instead. Follow the person wearing red until you see a person with long brown hair until you see a man in a pinstriped suit. When you see a man in a pinstriped suit, return to flipping your coin.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #3 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016

imageGUEST BLOG BY ALEX LAMBRIES: Alex Lambries, 17, is a junior at Park City (Utah) High School. She loves skiing, hiking, biking and cooking. Her high school team took first place in a regional culinary competition. She is a loving and competent big sister to Gabrielle, 15, Elizabeth, 12, and Nicholas, 9.

We walk into the mall and I flip a coin, which directs us to the Pretzel Shop where I buy a cinnamon and sugar pretzel. I see a Polynesian guy with luscious black hair and blue eyes. He’s wearing a red plaid shirt. I turn to my grandmother and say, “Didn’t you know that Polys wear plaid shirts all the time? They rock.”

I watch him buy lemonade and a peanut butter and a jelly pretzel (eeeww) which is almost enough to deter me from pursuit, but those blue eyes drive me on. He strides over to Granny’s Book Nook and looks over his shoulder. Why? Is he in the Fifty Shades of Grey section? He slides a shiny volume onto the counter and pays for it.

I can’t hang around to see what he buys because I have to follow the prompt and I’ve seen someone with long brown hair: Chewbacca. I must follow him, but not before he glances at me and give him a wink. IChewy goes to the Oakley Kiosk, browses thick Coke bottle lenses with pink frames, puts them on, and presses a bell.

A secret trap door opens in the floor and he disappears. I drop down into the rectangular pit of mystery and doom. The corridors are lit by smoldering torches. I try to follow the friendly hairy beast, but I only see cages of flamingoes. Now I am on a platform which undulates and begins to rise until I am in the center of a circus tent.

I see a guy with luscious black hair and blue eyes, a red plaid shirt open at the chest under a pinstriped suit. He is reading to children who are waiting for the circus to begin. They are sitting in Chewbacca’s lap listening to Red Shirt read Horton Hears a Who. He looks my way and winks.

I decide to sit right here and not flip another coin.



W is for (Dog) Walking

W“Go to a large city with a coin in your pocket. Start walking. When you reach an intersection, take the coin from your pocket and flip it. If it’s heads, go right. If it’s tails, go left. Repeat.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #1 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

I am in Park City, which may have City in its name, but PC (pop: 7962) is not a large urban area. Thirty-two miles from Salt Lake, the town is known for accessible ski areas, the 2002 Winter Olympics, the annual Sundance film festival, great mountain bike trails, oh, and as the latest dwelling place for my son Jules and his family.

So, since it snowed this morning and I was loath to take my wimpy rental car out of the driveway, the place for a coin-flipping adventure was right here in the neighborhood, namely the Jeremy Ranch section of Park City.

Bella, the family Labradoodle checked out the weather and decided to spend a cozy morning in front of the fireplace, but when his little buddy Nicholas came home from school and was anxious for an on-leash (I’m sure he thought unleashed) adventure, he was ready to move, but impatient at every coin flip.

No coin flip here because we’re heading to the dog park. Anyway, Bella flips her own coins to conquer bolders, run, and take a break in somebody else’s garden.

Nicholas said, “What is this? did somebody die here?”image

Nicholas pauses to look at a worm. “Boy, that’s a long one.” Another coin flip: Tails! We go left and there’s Tony. “He’s old,” says Nick. “He’s nine.”

Finally the dog park. But we have to watch out for bears, coyotes, cougars, elk, moose, deer, and…image

…a dog with a mind of her own.

Nicholas wants to swing, but I say no. Hey, it’s 48 degrees and the swing goes out over the water.

Time for another coin flip. Fortunately, it’s heads, which means Southridge will connect to home on Sunrise Drive, the street where Nicholas, Bella, Alexandra, Elizabeth, Gabrielle, and their traveling parents, Jules and Sara, live. And me too, for a couple more happy days.image.jpeg