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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Once More Into the Breach

I've been asked to guest blog again.  Yay!  Today you'll find a character profile of Claire Milton, the lively progatonist in Jagaur Sees:  The Lacquer Box.  It appears in Her Ladyship's Quest, a literary blog by Tracy Falbe.  You can read it at  http://www.herladyshipsquest.com

Jaguar Sees can be found at the Amazon store, http://amzn.to/hUuFdS   [I'm told I should have the cover picture here, but we're at the hosptical visiting my brother-in-law, and it doesn't want me to upload.  :(  Sorry.]

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why'd I Do It?

I've been fortunate enough to be invited to guest blog again. This time, Lisa Yards asked me to write on her Blog, The Brooklyn Scribber: http://nblo.gs/fWLbe.  I tell a little more about time in Moscow and the confluence of events there led to the actual Kindleing of Jagaur Sees: The Lacquer Box. Also, I explain the goofy title. Check it out!

As always, Jaguar Sees by Ann Simon  is available at the Amazon Kindle store (http://amzn.to/hUuFdS) for electronic readers, computers, Windows 7 phones, i-pads and other i-products.  The Kindle app is currently free.    

Friday, March 25, 2011

Eating Cake With Cthulu

Do you know the wonderful thing about weddings? Is it two souls joining in their earthly journey; the bright future of two lives united in love; blah, blah, blah? No, the wonderful thing about weddings (and I’m only saying what you’re all thinking) is cake. Lots and lots of cake.
Our son is getting married tomorrow. We’re so happy for him. We’re crazy about his bride. We know they’ll have a wonderful life together. But on top of all that, there is cake.
At the rehearsal dinner tonight, we had the groom’s cake. It, like our entire family, was just a little different. It was a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and peanut butter filling. Yes, the groom’s cake was a giant Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup. And instead of a classic bride and groom on top, the bride’s sister, who’s a professional icer, made a bride Cthulu with a groom Cthulu. Cthulu is a tenticled, particularly evil demon in H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories and the title character in an RPG (Role Playing Game). Cthulul is also a character that our son has loved from childhood. (Did I mention the little different part?) While this may not seem like wedding material to some (okay to most) of you, anyone to whom I mention it as David’s groom’s cake nods and says perfect.

It’s not politically correct to say, but don’t you think Marie Antoinette had it right? Wouldn’t we all rather eat cake? (Actually, I heard somewhere she really said, “Let them eat bread,” but what fun is that?) The chocolate peanut butter Cthulu cake was delicious.
Tomorrow? Wedding cake!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jaguar Sees, Chapter 2

Okay, Sports Fans, time again for Twitter's Sample Sunday.  Here is Chapter 2 of Jaguar Sees:  The Lacquer Box.  Claire is on the plane back to Moscow.  She has just entered into the meditative state of a Shamanic Journey.

                                                               CHAPTER 2
Claire was no longer aware of her physical body sitting in the plane, shuttling through the atmosphere. Her consciousness was with Spirit-Claire, who walked through a familiar cave and out into the middle of a meadow. A large, mottled jaguar, mouth slightly open to inhale Claire’s scent, slunk toward her from out of the surrounding forest. Its pace picked up and it galloped directly at her and gave a great leap. When the cat was almost upon her, Claire dropped to her knees and opened her arms. The animal elegantly dropped to her side, allowing Claire to wrap her arms around her.

Every Journey, Claire fell in love all over again with everything about Jaguar: her grace and beauty, the deep pile of her fur, her predatory instincts. From the first wonderful Journey when Jaguar came to her out of the forest, Claire knew that no other animal would have enriched and balanced her so well.

Jaguar lay to her right while Claire rested her head on Jaguar’s head and dug her hands into the solid warmth of the thick, soft fur.

“Hello,” she whispered to her spirit companion. Jaguar regally lifted her head, rubbing it against Claire’s cheek.

Claire sat back and focused on the clear sky. She asked deliberately, Why am I so restless all the time? Why can’t I just calm down? How do I find my balance again? She looked into the forest, waiting. A solution would come as a deep certainty, a telepathic response or even as a message from one of the animal spirits. She could never predetermine its form.

Sounds came into focus from the animals beyond the edge of the clearing. Claire grew sharply aware of birds flitting in the branches, squirrels skittering through the underbrush, lizards scurrying over rocks, all jittery swishings through the forest. I know, I know, She thought. That’s my question; what’s the answer?

A dark cloud swept the meadow causing a cold wind that instantly frosted the wild grasses with hoar. Claire shivered. Is this my answer? Something cold coming, something dark and frightening? Then everything went still. Jaguar crept in front of Claire, guarding an unseen threshold, snarling.

A deeper shadow passed overhead. Claire looked up to see a vulture sweeping a wide circle in a ring of light.

“Jaguar, what’s Vulture doing here?” The representative of death, rebirth, and purification had never, ever appeared in one of her Journeys. Jack’s spirit animal had always stayed firmly in Jack’s Journeys where he belonged, but now he flew toward something in the forest. Claire wondered what it was.

Jaguar left Claire's side with a bound. Claire took off after her, following her along paths and through thickets. They did their best to keep Vulture in sight.

With a rumble of thunder, the sky released a torrent of hail. To avoid getting pummeled, the pair veered into a gully that ran under a protective canopy of trees. Abruptly the hail let up, and they slowed to catch their breath.

A cylinder of grizzled fur blurred out waist-high from the embankment to their right. Claire froze in surprise. The blur solidified into a scruffy, snarling badger, flat brown eyes locked on Claire’s face.

Jaguar slunk low, hind end raised and twitching for attack as Claire backed away from the badger’s yellow teeth, slipping on the icy hailstones beneath her feet.

The ground jolted as a great ape swung down from the trees and landed with a grunt. Claire tumbled into the massive, hot, hairy body and recoiled in repulsion. He grabbed her upper arm, his nails sinking into her flesh while the other hand maintained a solid hold on the overhead branch.

Jaguar, torn between the double threats to Claire, kept her body between Badger and Ape, swiveling her attention from one to the other and back again.

Claire chopped her wedged hand into the ape’s forearm in a Tai Kwan Do blow intended to loosen the muscled grip. Ape held on like iron, dirty nails tearing the soft tissue of her upper arm. He pulled on the branch above, wrenching her shoulder as he began to lift her into the trees.

The more imminent threat was now clear. Jaguar snarled and barked: in a lion, it would have been a bellowing roar. She sprang to attack Ape.

In that same moment, Badger leapt onto Jaguar’s back and dug in with filthy claws. Jaguar flinched from the attack but didn’t check the impetus that drove her forward.

Ape jerked back, dropping Claire’s arm to avoid Jaguar’s jaws aimed at the artery in his thigh. He grabbed with his feet at the branch above and retreated through the trees.

One enemy having escaped, Jaguar tried to shake off Badger’s teeth now latched high onto her back. The cat strained over her shoulder, snapping to take hold of his neck. Unable to reach where he gripped high on her back, she sank her teeth his hind leg and tore him free. She flung him against the side of the ditch where he streaked into his dark hole. Blood ran where he had bitten off a chunk of flesh.

Blood also dripped through Claire’s fingers, now clenched to her arm. She had dropped to the ground, dazed. Jaguar circled, nosing her, urging her away from the scene of the ambush. She got up, steadying herself with a hand on Jaguar’s back, amazed that the animal’s flesh was already beginning to heal.

They moved toward where Vulture now descended in ever-smaller circles, finally dropping below into the trees, out of sight. They heard strident caws and followed the sound to an area amidst several large boulders. Vulture danced around a menacing, metallic blob on the ground.

Claire moved closer trying to make out what the substance was. Jaguar crept forward with her belly close to the ground, paws under her, hackles raised. They were rebuffed by invisible vibrations coming from the stuff.

Vulture bobbed back and forth, but the blob seemed too putrid for even a scavenger pick up. He finally gave up and loped awkwardly for a few steps until he built up enough momentum to lift into the sky, soaring gracefully away.

Although Claire felt tired and frustrated. It was clear to her inner sense that the Journey was over. She held onto her arm, trying to staunch the blood still oozing through newly forming scab. She and Jaguar dragged back to the center of the meadow.

Standing in the clearing, enjoying one moment’s peace, she ran her hand through Jaguar’s think pelt and tried to decipher how the vision related to her personal quandary. Drat, she was sorry she hadn’t brought her animal symbolism books to Moscow. She’d have to figure out what the ape and the badger represented, and then she would still have to interpret what the parallel danger in Ordinary Reality was supposed to be. What was the cold, dark wind? For heavens sakes, what was coming in her life that was as awful as that? And why hadn’t there been any resolution? She sighed and gave Jaguar’s cheek one final scratch. It was time to go back.

She knelt in front of Jaguar, saying good-bye, green eyes looking into intense golden ones, whispering endearments, promising to come again. She carefully placed her spirit-self back in the tunnel, and, spiraling up it, returned to her body in the airplane seat.

Certain that her mind was completely centered on the here and now, Claire opened her eyes and turned off the iPod. Her left arm hurt. And felt wet. She slipped her navy blue cardigan off her shoulder and saw blood trickling from three long gashes just below the matching tank top strap. "Holey Moley," she whistled through pursed lips.

She leaned over to put the iPod away in her pocket book and found Misha’s round, blue eyes blinking open.

“What’s a ‘moley’?” he asked sleepily. He closed his eyes and turned over.

She felt as though the world had inverted, but remembered to keep her thoughts silent. This isn’t possible. No Journey is physical. Uck, it’s dribbling down my arm. She fumbled in her purse for the handkerchief she always carried and pressed it against the wounds to stop the bleeding. She readjusted her sweater, shaken and so inwardly focused that she startled when the beverage cart trundled to a stop next to her seat.

The stewardess asked, “Would you like something to drink?”

“Scotch, please.”



Claire concentrated on extracting from her wallet the five dollar bill she traded for the drink, but the golden liquid sloshed to the lip of the glass in her shaky grip. She took a big sip, then dug around for her pill case and picked out two aspirins, swallowing them with a second gulp. She took a hard look at the Scotch and selected an Ambien as well.

She had always thought of Journeying as merely a meditation technique, a way to avoid linear thinking and gain use of her subconscious, all very intellectually sound. She had never believed, as her teachers taught, that so-called Alternate Reality was a real place, a place your spirit, although not your body, actually visited during a Journey. One thing she had learned was that most people thought a concrete belief in Journeying was the crazy meanderings of delusional minds.

Crazy or not, Journeying was both meaningful and useful to her, and that was good enough. She held the handkerchief tightly to her arm and, while firmly lecturing to herself that a physical crossover between the realities couldn’t possibly exist, the Ambien crept over her, and sucked her into sleep.

Claire was jarred awake by a bumpy landing. She cursed her hangover and struggled with her computer case as Misha went ahead of her, exhorting her to call him. Yeah, like that’s going to happen, she thought. She jerked her case free, and her coat tumbled on her head. She stumbled after the stampeding herd to Moscow’s notoriously slow Passport Control lines, unrepentantly elbowing a large woman who pushed past her.

She was at the back of a line that was slow even by Russian standards, and it was forty-five minutes before she pushed her passport – checking three times to ensure she still had the loose migration card enfolded in its pages -- through the window to a surly guard, stiff in her navy blue uniform, who studied Claire’s papers with detailed care.

The official looked up at Claire and down at her computer. Up again and down. If Claire weren’t so tired, it would have made her nervous. Her passport photo wasn’t a bad one; it matched her green eyes and sharp chin. It didn’t show her slender length, but that hadn’t changed either.

“Claire Milton,” the guard stated flatly. “This is Chamber of Commerce Visa. You work in Moscow?”

“No, I’m here with my husband, Jack Boden. Er, I mean John Boden.”

“Husband is Jack or is John?” The guard peered back at the line.

“John. John,” she repeated, “Jack is a nick-name. He’s not here in line. He’s in-country already.”

The guard looked her passport again. “Your name is not Boden,” she challenged.

“I didn’t change my last name when we got married, so he’s Boden, and I’m Milton. Er, that’s my last name. I’m Claire Milton.”

“Your husband is already in Russia? In Moscow?”

“Yes. He’s waiting for me in the airport. I’ve been in the U.S. on a visit.”

“What work does husband do?”

“He works with the American Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense, uh, the MOD. Well, with the 12th Gumo within the MOD. But his company is GoCo. They send a car when we come in to pick us up from the airport. He’s here with the driver. Or, he’s out there,” she gestured beyond Passport Control. Exhaustion had her babbling. She sounded like a blithering idiot.

She took a breath and drew upon Jaguar’s hunter-patience, serenely able to wait without frustration, intuitively able to navigate the unfamiliar. Jaguar was poised; Claire was poised.

“Wait,” the guard commanded. She stepped out of her booth, carefully locking it behind her and strode off to a side room.

So much for poise. At least she didn’t pull me out of line. Not yet, anyway. Claire waited, shifting from foot to foot, finally resting her forehead against the doubtless germ-laden glass front of the booth. She eyed her passport, lying so close on the counter beyond the clear divider. Even if she could have reached it, it wasn’t stamped yet. Maybe if I fainted dead away, they’d wave me through just to get me out of the way. Then I could sleep. More likely, they’d put me in a locked room and forget about me. Then I could still sleep. Or worse yet, they’d send me to a local hospital. I wouldn’t sleep so well there.

The guard returned, unlocked the door and reseated herself. She picked up Claire’s passport and thoroughly checked it against her computer once again. Without a word of explanation or apology, she stamped it and the migration card, and brusquely gestured Claire to pass through to the luggage retrieval area. She probably just had to go to the restroom; tormenting me was a bonus.

When Claire finally stepped through to baggage claims, her suitcases were the only ones left on the conveyor belt, just drifting into the opening in the wall. When they came around again, she tugged them off. They were much too heavy. Sometimes she thought all she did was haul vitamins, books and packaged food into Russia and Gzhel china, Russian crystal and pretty lacquer boxes back out again, and while the lacquer boxes were the lightest of the commodities, what they lacked in weight, she made up for in quantity. She never made these trips without her two enormous suitcases. She towed them down the long hall, one in each hand, her computer case sliding off her shoulder. On behalf of the universe, I thank the person who put wheels on suitcases.

She had learned to simply walk past the customs inspection stations. If they wanted to paw through her things, examine her vitamins and rifle through her books, they would call out to her to stop.

As she walked by the second station, she saw that they had stopped Misha Shomkin. He was waving his arms and yelling at the customs officials as they pulled vodka bottles out of his bags. She smiled to herself, Good. He deserves it, the jerk.

Jaguar Sees:  The Lacquer Box by Ann Simon Is a fast-paced thriller with an overlay of the spiritual:  Shamanic spirit animals aid the heroine with her deadly challenges.  It is available at the Amazon Kindle store for Kindles, i-pads and other i-products, computers,  and Windows 7 phones.  The Kindle app is currently free.  http://amzn.to/hUuFdS 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deer, Oh Deer

I love deer. I live in a wooded area, and you can see them in the early morning, brown-eyed and calm, meandering through the neighborhood, slipping in and out of the woods like benevolent spirits. Once, getting my son off to high school, we stood open-mouthed at their grace as they checked the copse in our front yard. My next door neighbor has taken a picture of a rare white deer in his back yard. At twilight, a herd will wander down the street, the very model of the absence of anxiety I fight so hard to achieve.

I hate deer. Year after year, they devoured almost every growing thing in my yard.  I'd had enough.  Out came a dozen hardy hosta that never had the opportunity to bloom, roses that turned into Morticia Adams bouquets of thorns, and a row of day lilies lining my driveway whose buds were perpetually nibbled off like a proffered row of miniature Reece’s peanut butter cups. My pride and joy, lush bearded iris so dense you couldn’t take a step between them, had been decimated.  I replaced it all with supposedly deer-resistant plants.  Supposedly is the key word here, because, given enough snow and hunger, deer will eat anything.

Our wide and long front slope faces the Western sun that bakes it all summer. Its 45 degree angle is too steep to mow. Our second year living here I pulled every weed on that slope and planted a DOZEN flats of English ivy (that’s 144 plants, folks) (also a flat of now defunct periwinkle). Every morning, amidst the gnats and mosquitoes, I was out there weeding.  The ivy grew shiny and lush.  A couple of years ago during a hard winter (and haven’t they all become hard?) our visiting ruminants ate the central third turning my beautiful slope into an eroded, tangled, brown mat.
This year I’m trying a deer repellant. I’ve sprayed it on the ivy and my two new rose bushes. I have to do something because when I see what they’ve done, I go berserk. I curse and jump up and down and just want to them!

But when I see the deer muscular, majestic, and all unawares, they take my breath awy.  They’re just magnificent.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blog on a Blog

Part 1:  Hey, all!  What do you do if you're living in Moscow for two years?  Write a novel, of course.  I was asked to guest blog on this topic by Patrick Ross who writes a blog about creativity.  You can read it at:     It will give you a flavor of the life of an ex-pat in Moscow.

Part 2:  If you enjoy reading my blog (or, hell, even if you don't), would you become a follower?  (Look to the upper right of the text.)  You don't get any e-mails saying when I post (which some of you have said you'd like) or any spam or, in fact, anything.  However, it would be a huge stroke to my ego if I could get 20 followers.  :)  So, please?  And thank you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jagaur Sees -- opening and Chapter 1

Below is my first Sample Sunday offering, the opening to Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box. For my regular followers, Sample Sunday is an opportunity to post a sample of one’s writing on Twitter (yes, I’m afraid I’ve gone over to the dark side). For Sample Sunday readers, Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box is a nuclear smuggling thriller with a metaphysical/paranormal overlay. The Shamanic spirit animals begin to appear in Chapter Two, so you’ll have to be patient for that.

Jaguar Sees:  The Lacquer Box (http://amzn.to/hUuFdS)  by Ann Simon is available at the Amazon Kindle store for Kindles, Windows 7 phones, i-pads and other i-products.  The Kindle app is currently free.  

                                                                     THE BOX

Arkady Tabidze waited at the long wooden table in the lacquer box factory in Fedoskino, north of Moscow. The “factory” was a shaky wooden structure holding a few tables and desks, scattered pots of paint and lacquer. It was here that some of the most beautifully painted lacquer boxes in Russia were created, to be sold in souvenir shops and markets all over the country. Twilight struggled in through dirty windows, barely augmenting the single light bulb that hung over the table.

Tabidze was not a top artist for the factory, but he was well-trained and clever with his hands. He had violated strict policy, having made a custom box for an unsanctioned buyer and brought it here on this Sunday evening. A wife, a sick child, a long winter -- he desperately needed to supplement his meager income.

The door swung open, and a man in a black cashmere overcoat strode in. Even his bodyguard, waiting by the doorway, was better dressed than Tabidze.

Tabidze offered the box with a tentative smile. “I hope this meets with your approval.”

The man inspected the central design, flames forming a highly stylized triangle, recognizable only to someone who knew to look for a coded radiation symbol. Embellishments on the box offered other furtive clues.

“It opens smoothly? Show me.”

Tabidze turned the box in his long, deft fingers. “I have made an ingenious catch. You see, you must press just here as you twist, and the secret compartment swings free. You want to hide a little gift in here, perhaps?”  Tabidze imagined this man gave his mistress presents worth more than his own monthly salary.

The man’s smile lifted to one side with sarcasm. “Yes, a little gift. You’ve done a good job; it is just as I ordered.” The man pocketed the box and went to the door.

“Any other work you have, I would be happy to execute,” Tabidze offered hopefully.

The man turned and blinked at the word execute. “Yes.” His head ticked toward his bodyguard. “Piotr will take care of your payment.” He exited into the winter haze, all thought of the artist shut from his mind with the shutting of the door behind him.

Tabidze stood up expectantly. He only had a moment to be puzzled when Piotr inserted his hand inside his overcoat and, instead of a billfold, drew out a velvety black pistol, the silencer already in place. Tabidze never registered the soft “shuush” that ended his life.

                                                                CHAPTER 1
Claire matched the boarding stub to her seat in the airplane’s cattle car class. By wriggling her computer case back and forth, she carved out a slot in the overhead compartment just big enough to worm it in and then jammed her coat on top. After a year and a half, trips back to Moscow were less adventure and more real life.

She swung into her seat, dropped her purse on the floor and carefully toed it to safety. She smiled politely to the man seated next to her (always a man with his wide shoulders and elbows on both armrests).

“Hello,” his round face and blue eyes could have come from a 1940s Soviet Russia poster, while his jeans and button down shirt proclaimed Western experience. He looked a bit older than she was, certainly not yet forty.

“Your first trip to Russia?” he had a pleasing, back-of-the-mouth Russian accent although his voice was curiously light for a stocky man.

“No, I’ve been home to see my brother get his doctorate degree. My husband and I live in Moscow. You’re Russian?”

“Yes, also from Moscow. I travel to the U.S. for business. We import Russian vodka. You like vodka?”

“Mmm,” Claire’s eyebrows danced. She really did like vodka. “It’s one of the few Russian words I can pronounce properly.”

“You speak Russian?”

“Nimnoga,” Claire held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart to indicate a little bit. “It’s so hard!”

The man pulled a business card out of his wallet. He flipped the side covered in Cyrillic over to the side with the Latin alphabet. Mikhail Shomkin it announced in firm, black lettering. Troika Vodka was printed beneath, and, below that, a charming emblem of three horses pulling a sleigh. The address in the lower left showed his office was near the center of the city, convenient to all the routes that radiated from the central circle that was Moscow. His phone number in the right corner balanced the address. His index finger flicked to his printed name as he pronounced, “Mikhail.” He pressed the card into her hand and pointed to his chest, “Misha.”

“Claire,” she nodded, pointing to herself.

He proudly offered up the picture inside his open wallet, “Wife and baby.”

Claire stared at a pale young woman who held an infant as moon-faced as Misha. She never quite knew what to say about babies. It wasn’t that she didn’t like children; she liked children. Once they reached the age of five or six, they were rational beings with interesting ideas. She occasionally read to little Nora, her neighbor Gina’s six-year-old, or took her to the playground, and they both had a good time. But four-month-old Jake? No, thanks.

Babies drooled, they cried and, worst of all, they didn’t do anything. People fussed over them while, let’s face it, they were incredibly boring. She didn’t get why everyone was so gaga over them. Even her brother Dan and sister-in-law Jenny, now that he had a tenure-track position, had that gleam in their eyes.

“What about you, Claire?” they asked.

“Well, what about me?” she would counter. She could see that they thought her self-centered, but wasn’t that the best reason not to procreate? Self-centered people certainly shouldn’t become mothers. Fortunately, Jack didn’t seem to feel any urgency. When she asked him if he wanted kids, he would say, “Not now. Maybe some day.”

She looked at the creased photo with what she hoped was credible interest. “He’s adorable.”

“A boy,” he stared fondly at the photo, “Nicolai, after my father.” She might not care much for babies, but she appreciated his pride in the tiny, wrapped package on the woman’s lap; she liked his happy smile.

“That’s a good name.” She pointed to the address on the card. “We live further down Tverskaya, near the Belaruskaya train station.”

“You are with the State Department?”

“No,” Claire smiled –- how delightful it would be to have the perks of a diplomatic posting. The idea of access to the Embassy’s grocery store with its sections of peanut butter and identifiable meat was an unattainable dream for mere plebs.

“My husband works for Goes & Company. It's better known as GoCo. They have a contract through the Department of Defense to support Cooperative Threat Reduction. They’re securing all the nuclear weapons throughout the Russian Federation.”

“And we have Americans doing this?”

“Americans and Russians working together to improve the security at the weapons sites of the former Soviet Union: it’s in the interest of both countries to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.” Claire had recited the line so many times, it was like repeating a memorized script. She was always surprised that people weren’t familiar with all the press about the Nuclear Threat Reduction Treaty although, she supposed, the Russian media may not have publicized it as much as the American. What she never mentioned was that America was paying for most of the work, which seemed counterintuitive during a time when Russia was making billions with their oil. However, it wasn’t a point she wanted to bring up as a visitor to a foreign country.

“That is worthwhile work,” her seatmate approved.

“I’m very proud of him.”

“Do you like it in Moscow?”

“There is so much to do,” she asserted enthusiastically, “museums, the ballet, and the metro makes it so easy to get around.”

All that was true; Moscow was a lot of fun. What Claire didn’t mention was that she chaffed at the limited life of a trailing spouse. She didn’t have a work visa and so couldn’t get a job. She was half bored, half fascinated by the endless chain of leisure activities and shopping trips by the women who trailed after husbands with careers that moved them all over the world. They filled their time with sight seeing, needlework, and first class travel to Abu Dhabi. Then they blathered endlessly about how difficult it was to support their husbands. She could never quite adjust to being one of them, however temporarily.

Misha broke into her line of thought. “Which is your favorite, the opera or the ballet?”

“Oh, the ballet. Operas are difficult because of the language, you see –- most are in Italian, and the supertitle translation on the screen is in Russian.”

“But the beautiful music?”

“Well, yes.” This was a lie; she and Jack had found both the voices and the staging uninspired in Russian productions. At the third and final opera they’d tried, the soprano had sung flat. Instead of decrying his favorite art form, however, she shared, “We went to see the Magic Flute last summer, and they had duck quack down from the rafters.”

“A duck?”

“Not a real duck. A rubber ducky, or,” since he wouldn’t understand that American cultural reference, “maybe it was plastic. I’m not kidding,” she added in response to his doubtful expression, “and the time before that, we saw a world premier about musical geniuses that were cloned. The singers all came out in diapers over their suits.” She added dryly, “I’m not inclined to try again.”

Misha burst into laughter, “I must admit I saw that one. It was not very well done.”

“With the ballet, we get beautiful symphonic music along with the dance, both of which anyone can understand.”

“Yes, I see. My wife and I like the opera, but we like to go dancing even more. We have not gone out since the baby. She does not like to leave little Nicolai with anyone but her mother, and since her mother lives in Archangel . . .” He shrugged and then frowned as if there was a subtext to his statement, although Claire did not see why staying home should come as a surprise to anyone who had a new baby to take care of.

Misha brightened, “Your husband, he travels much on his work?”

“A fair amount.”

He leaned over her side of the armrest. “Maybe one time when your husband travels, you will want to go out. Not to the opera,” he reassured her, “but to go dancing.” His voice dropped to a persuasive caress, “to have a good time at local clubs, with someone who speaks Russian. We will have fun. You call me, yes?”

“Uh huh,” she answered while she thought, Yeah, right, like I’m really going to call you. Sheesh, what is it with men? I thought we were having a pleasant conversation, and here he was hitting on me the whole time, with a brand new baby in his wallet, too. I’m really disappointed in him and in myself. How is it that I didn’t spot the signals earlier? And now what am I supposed to do with his card? Throw it in his face and scream PIG!? That doesn’t seem quite right.

Instead she reached down, lifted the outer flap of her purse and flipped the small, white rectangle into the pocket. She brushed her hand lovingly along the soft, sensuous leather. This trip home, she had finally found the holy grail, the perfect purse: light brown leather with an adjustable strap that easily crossed her chest, bandolier style. There were inside spaces and a zippered compartment plus two outer pockets so there was room for everything, and everything stayed organized. Just the night before Jenny, had handed her a tin of saddle soap, and she had rubbed the surface until it flowed under her fingers like water.

She retrieved a paperback from its roomy depths and, after combing her hand through her dark, tousled curls, leaned back and opened it. She was relieved that Misha not only took the hint, but wrapped himself in the airline’s blue fleece blanket and fell asleep.

The biography would have been enjoyable if her seat cushion had been better padded. She wriggled around trying to find a comfortable spot, arching her back to avoid a lump and stretching one, long, denim-clad leg into the aisle. The harder she tried to focus, the more her mind darted and drifted. She gave up and exchanged it for the airline magazine in the seat pocket, the glossy cover sticky from too many cross-Atlantic flights.

She was sorry to discover the movie was the one she’d already seen, but she’d kill some time doing the crossword puzzle. She enjoyed the puzzle in the Post every day when she was home, but couldn’t work up interest in the one in “Airline Traveler.” She gave up, groped on the floor for her purse again and pulled out her iPod nano.

She tucked the device in her shirt pocket and plugged the earbuds into the airplane’s jack. For ten minutes she pretended to listen to the bad music but found the tinny sound and overly commonplace melodies nerve-wracking. She yanked the cable free and let it dangle in her lap.

She’d felt like this for months: itchy. She’d looked forward to getting home, certain the trip home would ground her, reassert her sense of self, but once there, she was just as antsy to get back to Moscow.

Why do I feel like I’ve got a dark cloud over my head? I have everything I could want. I’m acting like a spoiled kid who has plenty of amusements to choose from but still isn’t satisfied. What’s going on with me?

She couldn’t identify the problem or its cause, but she knew how to find the solution. She’d put it off, thinking her trip would allow her restiveness to fade into tranquility. Well, it hadn’t. A seat on a plane wasn’t ideal, but, after all, it ensured there wouldn’t be any telephone calls, friends to meet or even bad TV to distract her. It certainly ensured she would sit still in one place.

She would get her solution in a Journey, not a journey like she was having here on the plane, but the kind of Journey she’d practiced since her Native American Culture class in college. Claire smiled to herself thinking about that class, about the young man who’d sat next to her and never noticed she was there. She’d almost had to strip naked and dance on the desktop to catch Jack’s attention. Once she got it, though, oh, my! a fantastic life journey had begun.

This kind of Journey, however, was one in which she would travel mentally, spiritually as a way to gain new perspective on things in her everyday life. She sifted through her thoughts to form her intent, silently clarifying what her request would be.

Slipping the iPod out of her pocket, she plugged in the ear-buds and thumbed through the menu. She pressed the arrow to play “double drums“, closed her eyes and concentrated on the unvarying beat. Within minutes, she was enclosed in it, her visual cortex interpreting the persistent rhythm as ribs of a tunnel. Claire felt herself swim down, down, down the tube formed by the tempo –- Alice’s rabbit hole –- until her brain waves synced with the drum’s steady vibration and put her into deep meditation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What To Do

I take ballet class on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, which leaves Monday and Thursday for everything else. Usually Thursday mornings are reserved for the grocery store (ye gods, get to Wegmans before 10:00 or you’ll be stuck there for eternity.)  However, this morning I had a doctor’s appointment (just routine, no need for panic). It was raining pretty hard so the traffic was worse than usual, but I left the house 10 minutes early and so arrived on time, just in time, in fact, to wait twenty minutes. On the way home, I drove over to Costco and picked up toilet paper and facial cream and popcorn – you know, the things you need from Costco. Since Costco is across the street from Home Depot, I went in for a mulch ring for around the giant composite turtle that guards our septic tank access, some sealer/primer for that odd stain that’s appeared on the ceiling and to look over light fixtures for the kitchen renovation at the end of April. (There will be Blog material there, oh yes there will.)

I drove home, unloaded the car and kicked myself for forgetting packing paper for packing up the dishes for the kitchen renovation. I wrote an e-mail regarding Jaguar Sees, had 15 minutes for conversation with my husband and took off to meet my friend for her birthday lunch at Champs. (Shrimp fajitas for her, chicken fajitas for me) That was a delightful hour, and since there’s a Whole Foods in the same Mall, I’d hoped to get the food shopping done. Unfortunately, they either didn’t have mos tof the stuff on my list and what they did have was awfully expensive. I just nabbed five bananas and some fresh flowers. Tomorrow I’ll stop at the Giant on my way home from dance class to pick up everything else.
Meanwhile, I saw the Michaels across the parking lot and remembered I needed an odd-shaped picture frame for the little 6” by 6” painting our kitchen designer gave us. (Pretty cool, right? I mean, not every kitchen designer is an artist, and not every kitchen designer-artist gives customers lovely remembrances. It’s a beautiful little picture – a burst of flowers in deep pinks, oranges and greens.) I pulled my raincoat hood over my head and avoided puddles. I found a frame and then got distracted by yarn on sale. (Okay, the yarn was four aisles over, but I’d had to go two aisles to get the acid-free paper to back the painting, and by then it was calling me out of the corner of my eye—in a mixed metaphor kind of way.)
I found yarn that is variegated blues and browns, exactly the right colors for our new duvet! I grabbed that and drove home in the rain that’s been pouring down all freaking day.  I'm home in time to have a glass of wine before dinner, write this and look at afghan patterns for the yarn. 

So, please, don’t be one of those people who asks, “Now that you’re home all day, are you bored?” or, “Now that you’re not working, what do you do with yourself all day?”

I'm not bored.  I'm not even home.  The real question is, “How did you ever find time to work?!”

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Kind Girl

My last two entries were not intended to be about family, but they ended up that way. I really thought I was writing about my absent mindedness (Feb. 28) and my cat (March 3). Who knew they’d end up being about my father and then my mother? That is half the delight in writing – you can surprise yourself with where your mind is going. You find out you’re really only a backseat driver to yourself.   I'm writing today's post about my daughter.  Let’s see if it ends up that way.

A friend of my both daughter’s and mine received a (probably unintentionally) unkind remark posted on her Face Book page. Her Face Book page! Whatever was this person thinking? It was mean, and it cut. My daughter saw the remark and immediately refuted it in an insightful and funny way and also wrote my friend a comforting e-mail. To top it off, she wrote me a sweet note about both the friend and myself. I wasn’t surprised.

When she was in the fourth grade, my girl won the classroom prize for Most Improved Reader. The prize was a packet of stickers. This was back in the day when stickers first made it big. And were not just pictures of commercially successful products; they were the desired products themselves. They came in all sizes and shapes and subjects. Little kids had special sticker books where they collected their stickers.

Here was my girl with a big packet with a wide variety of stickers in recognition of her improvement. (And truthfully, like many children, the reading bug struck her in the fourth grade.) She opened the packet and kept half the stickers. Then she went around the class and gave away the other half away to the children who had not received any awards. I knew then I had a keeper! ;)

What’s most valuable in this world? If you had to share a desk, a room, a baby-sitting co-op with someone, what’s a prime attribute you’d wish for them to have? Intelligence? Sure. Organizational skills? Yes, but wouldn’t a kind heart be more important than those? Who among us doesn’t wish to be treated with kindness? Who among us remembers to act the same way towards others?

My hat’s off to you, Pazoo Girl, and I blow you a kiss. Your acts of kindness are not random at all; they are conscious and continuous. You make me proud.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Moles or Medicine?

Elaine wasn’t due to go to the vet for two more months, but here she was, just wasting away in front of us and yowling about it the whole time, too. I made an appointment for last Monday. Getting Elaine into the cat carrier has always been, to put it mildly, problematic. You could pop treats in there or sprinkle it with catnip, but she was not enticed. Since her last check-up, we inherited one of those small, fabric carriers from my daughter’s cat. While it is quite a bit smaller than our own carrier – in which we transported two cats – Elaine, amazingly, allowed herself to be poured right into it.

Not only was she put into her carrier without any of my blood being drawn, but she was relatively calm in the car. There was meowing, yes there was, but much less than usual, and she calmed more readily to my voice. Now if you’ve ever tried to actually talk for an entire car trip, even the 18 minutes it takes to get to our vet, you will realize it’s not as easy as it seems. My only refuge is to filk. Old filks (the famed, Pussycat’s Deck the Halls and Good Morning, Dear Pussycat) and new filks (variations on Jingle Bells and ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple) were growled out of a throat still hoarse from bronchitis. At least Elaine didn’t yowl along. An added benefit: this carrier weighs a third of the old one, so carrying her was waaay easier.
The vet gave Elaine a good check up. Aside from the arthritis in her hips, she is in really good shape for a 16-year-old cat. Except . . . . Why is there always oan except? The vet took some blood, and Tuesday he confirmed that Elaine suffers from a hyper-thyroid. This explains the daily in-the-basement yowling, the constant hunger, the weight loss, the inability to swallow chunks of food (the swollen thyroid impinges on her esophagus).
Hyper-thyroidism is easily controllable with medication. A medicine dropper twice a day and voila! Except, well, has my vet ever tried to give Elaine a dropper full of medicine? I think not.

Not that it can’t be done once. Maybe twice. However, experience has taught me that by the third dose, Elaine won’t come anywhere near me.
The medicine is tuna flavored. “Some cats love it,” the vet tech told me with a smile. Yeah, right. I strategized that here we have a cat who will eat dead birds and mice and even gnaw on the occasional mole. Maybe she’d accept tuna juice squirted into her favorite evaporated milk? Nope. Cold moles seem to be more appealing that tuna-flavored milk.
In the end, I did exactly what the tech told me not to do (because you never know how much she’s getting). I squirted it onto her cat food. This morning she downed it without a glance. I see that some of tonight’s food still remains. However, I have hopes. Not that I’ll fool Elaine. I’ll never be able to do that, but hopes that she’ll accept the unusual concoction
Without the medication, of course, Elaine will eventually die. She’ll stop being able to swallow, he heart will continue to race, she’ll become more emaciated. And maybe that will happen. Hey, maybe that’s Elaine’s plan. She’s smart, and she’s stubborn, never a good combination.

Oh, dear, it’s like a bolt from the blue: the parallels to my mother are endless.