Once There Were Wolves–Book Review

Once There Were WolvesOnce There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved being in the world described by the author. The tale, told through the eyes of Iti, a young woman biologist, evokes an aura of fable, or classic fairy tale as it unwinds the telling of three mysteries: a possible love connection for Iti with Duncan, the local police chief, a perplexing ailment plaguing Aggie, Iti’s twin sister, and an actual murder of a community member. Moreover, throughout the story, a theme reverberates: will Iti’s team be successful introducing wolves back into the highlands of Scotland, and if not, why? I loved that the author is not preachy as she unveils some truths about the world’s reluctance to embrace and preserve the wildness of nature, specifically represented by the wolves and the attempt by humans to extinguish their species. The book explores this violence making the reader yearn for a return to a more natural balance between prey and predator. We learn, for instance, that absent the wolves as predator, the deer have so denuded the forests that no new saplings will grow, resulting in fewer trees, upon which we humans rely for oxygen. Parallel to the violence involving animals, the reader learns about the violence inflicted by men against their wives and the repercussions that has upon the victims who are unable to recover from the trauma.
The characters come alive in the book, to the point where I felt I was communicating with friends as I read it. The mysteries resolve themselves in a surprising but satisfying manner. It is a book I will remember. I loved the feel of it–a soft touch to difficult topics.

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The Killing Hills-Book Review

The Killing HillsThe Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book review, The Killing Hills, by Chris Offutt, Grove Press, 2021, 219 pages

In this short novel, the author takes the reader on a journey to the eastern hills of Kentucky where a woman has been murdered, and an unlikely brother-sister team are positioned to solve it. Mick, now AWOL from the criminal investigation department (CID) of the army stationed in Germany, has been called upon by his sister, Linda, now Sheriff of the small, insular Appalachian community, to assist in the investigation. Having served in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mick notes the similarity in the use of violence between the clans living in the hollers of Kentucky and those groups in Afghanistan. On a personal level Mick must also solve the mystery of who fathered the baby his now pregnant wife carries. Mick and Peggy knew each other as children, married at 19 and have spent the better part of their 12 year old marriage apart.
The author uses an array of creative language to both describe the environment in which the story takes place and the dialogue of the characters. Examples are:
“Mick left his sister’s house and headed east. The sun lay above the hillside as if resting, tinging the western treetops with flame…He made a sharp curve to a ridge that ended at a house surrounded by heavy woods. There was more sun here and he a briefly pitied people who lived in the hollers where it was already night.
He waited in the truck and watched for dogs. People unaccustomed to visitors in an unknown vehicle were capable of greeting a strangers with a weapon.”
And the dialogue conveys the uniqueness of the people:
“Your son is more or less why I’m here.
Which one?
Uh, well, Mick hesitated, your second boy, I reckon.
Oh, she said. Fuckin’ Barney. He ain’t here right now.
You call him that too?
We’re a nickname family. You know Shifty’s not my real name, either. It’s Camille Littleton, then I got married and my husband started in calling me Shifty because the only clothes I had were shifts my mother made. Now we got Cricket, Jimbo, Junebug, Sheetrock, Doodle and Rickets.”
Rickets. Ain’t that a disease?
Yeah, but he ain’t never had it. Just born bow-legged.”

I enjoyed reading this artfully crafted novel. The story is tightly woven and I read it in two sittings. The characters came alive. The setting exposed me to an area of the country I had only some scant familiarity with when I visited my sister, Jo-Ann, when she worked as a geologist for a coal company in West Virginia, and had just experienced one of their yearly floods in the holler in which she resided with her family. It is my understanding that this is the first mystery/thriller set in the eastern hills of Kentucky. I recommend it withs 4 stars.

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Self Talk To Get To Work

Learning a great deal about syntax and flow to create an art piece–a written one, using words, naturally. I seem to spend time, wasting time on Trump and his lies, disgusting example of human species that he is, along with reacting to the deeds of him and his cronies, the uglies of the Republican Party. Free yourself from this living hell and write your stories, creative soul that you are, perceiving good things where they are. Do not let them rent space in your brain. This too will pass, this time of unbridled immorality, politicos chasing money and power using out-in-the-open dastardly schemes to thwart citizen’s voting, removing drop-off poling boxes in Texas, hundreds of them, curtailing postal services, to name just to of their schemes.

Diary entry from April 15, 2019- Monday

What the hell is going on? Now Notre Dame in Paris is burning, giving me goosebumps, and not the good kind, the scary, unnerving kind. On top of our horrible political climate.

Going to lunch with Kathy this morning, for her birthday. Looking forward to our time together. Going to Della Fattoria, maybe take her over to Pet Pals Thrift Store for some bargain hunting. The hunt is what’s fun.

There’s a 50% chance of rain, must remember umbrella–this time of year, abrupt season changes, flowers abound. The apple tree looks like a lace umbrella, so full of white-pink blooms, Hope the rain does not interfere with the bee pollen exchange.

Tomorrow, Kiva arrives at Snoopy Airport. She hasn’t been here in over a year–two Christmases ago. Trying to explain to Bob the only part I hate about her visit, or Aaron’s, is that there is always the leaving part. When she left for college, a wound appeared in my flesh, it seemed. Then over time it healed and a callous appeared to protect it, but each visit re-opens the wound. Need to explicate this better–the sadness of a child’s departure from me, the mom, creates series of wounds, from the departure, a tear to the flesh, so it is felt.

You want them to grow and flourish, and flourish, and yet the separation is felt as a body tear–not unlike the separation at their birth, which happens for mothers the moment babies are born. How we all deal with this is a topic for me to further explore. Note to self.

Last night at one AM before falling asleep, as I reached up to put out the light, a weird thought occurred to me: Thomas Alva Edison, fellow New Jersey-an, did you really do us any favors by discovering the electric light built? Did you.

Tension Choosing Tenses

I learned something interesting while writing a flash fiction story yesterday. The story involved an office worker’s connection to her deceased dog. She says, “I miss him. His name is Velvet.” I spent a good amount of time deciding which tense to use. Should it be “was” or “is”?
If someone asks you what the name of your deceased dog is, you probably say his name was Big, or his name was Spotty. This is how I would put it if a hypothetical person asked me that.
Not so with humans. Over the years Bob and I have lost all of our parents in the same month, June, although in varying different years. Thoughts of them are especially in the forefront of our minds, as we reflect on each one’s anniversary day of their passing. When someone asks me about them, I invariably respond: My dad died; his name is Joe. My mom passed on; her name is Helen. Bob’s mom died; her name is Sarah. His dad died; his name is Meyer.
When referring to deceased people, I feel the present tense is the appropriate choice to use for their names. This seems to sound right because my connection to them carries forward into the present despite their having passed away. When I say their names are Joe, Helen, Meyer and Sarah, it reflects how I perceive them–as if they were still actually with me because in a very large sense, they are, surely in my heart and mind. And further, unconsciously I give credence to the notion that they still exist on some plane spiritually even after their deaths.
Not so with pets– though I’ve loved them with a tender heart when they were with me, my life has moved on without them, and thus I refer to them and their names in the past tense.
So my character in the short flash fiction piece presented a problem to me. Tilda is grouchy and sullen and clings to the memory of her dog in a human way because she basically has no one else in her life. Though deceased, he is still with her and the reverie she felt with him as her companion, is brought to life when she connects to a dog who resembles him. Hence it made sense for me to write, “I miss him. His name is Velvet.” I don’t know if readers will pick up on this nuance. But I surely hope that they do.

April 6, 2019- Ruminations on a Theme of Solitude

The nattering and chattering of birdsong surrounding me as I sit beneath the cover of the Monterey Pine, sipping my morning coffee, thinking about how everything seemed to flow too fast yesterday, today trying to capture my calm as if it were a fish and I need only cast my line into the brook to snag it. The air, cool with the morning wetness, the sun not yet fully awake behind the white duvet of clouds shielding it from hiuman follies. I too sit protected, sanctuaried away from all that, as if in a cloister communing just among the birds and the hustle-rustle of spring leaves dying to be born on newfound branches.

I Won’t Be Marginalized

Something happened yesterday. It jolted me. And like a lancet pierced my emotional cloak to dig up the feeling I sometimes experience–that as a woman male society expects me to be invisible, my needs non existent. ( For example, give up your birth name upon marriage). In that moment I connected to the truth that most of our mothers and grandmothers have been marginalized over the centuries–their work and consciousness debased. And it sickened me. My stomach recoiled.  We’ve been “just housewives”, just “mothers”, “just quilters”, “just nurses”, etc, As long as our efforts have been seen as detached from bringing home the bacon and relegated to just frying it, our careers are viewed as unimportant up against the man’s career who is the one earning the money in the family.

What happened was this: Bob and I applied for a line of credit using our house as collateral. A safety net. Just in case. Or if we ever get serious and remodel the room above the garage in order to rent it out. I was checking over the papers since we were to sign them with a notary later that afternoon. The form  listed my husband, Bob, as signer, with his occupation and number of years, and me as co-signer- with no occupation or employment listed next to it. Granted, the loan was based on his salary, but i bristled at the alleged non-existence of my career, my work. Why should I be any different from a man who wants and gets recognition for his career or profession? I still consider myself an attorney even if retired, and certainly still a writer even if I make hardly any money at all at it. It’s not a hobby for me. It’s an occupation.

So I filled it in with a pen– Attorney/writer, 42 years, and initialed it. And I felt better for it. Move over Quicken Loans. I’m a woman and I’m here. Get used to it.

When it comes to food I carry on my ancestor’s tradition

So my hubby and I went to the 3rd Annual National Heirloom Festival yesterday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where fecundity flourished. Seeds galore and becoup info on why to oppose GMOS-gene modified organisms.  It is a mantra I intuitively agree with, along with nine other countries, like Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Luxumbourg, Austria, Hungary and Poland which ban Monsantos GMO corn. In fact, Monsanto has abandoned it’s GMO crop push in Europe. It’s interesting how those against GMOs connect it to being anti mom’s apple pie.


I spent a great deal of time by the Santa Cruz County based Mountain Feed and Farm Supply who had a huge display of fermenting veggies. And for a mere 20 dollars you could own one of the gizmos to get you on your way to fermenting every food morsel in sight, as long as it fit into the half gallon Mason jars, whose top had a strange looking tube sticking out of it. ( Wish I had taken a photo.) Click here they look like this. Anyhow, I asked the young woman why I needed that little contraption when I had already successfully made traditionall “Jewish pickles’ using only salt brine, a crust of rye bread, fresh cukes placed in a clean crock, topped with gauze, and a platter held down with a cleaned flat rack. “Oh You don’t,” she said,   “Go ahead and continue doing what you do. This is just for people who are afraid to begin fermenting food. It’a a beginner kit. You’re obviously past this.” This made me feel great. “Will do,” I smiled back feeling part of the fermenting nation. But she got me thinking I really should upgrade my system. I mean using an old crock pot insert and a flat rock? I was better than that. Maybe I did need that five gallon crock all set up with weights for holding down the pickles in the brine, and a water seal lid, imported from Poland, no less, the very land of my ancestors. At $140.00 it was still tempting but way too large, although it was the size my grandfather, Constanty Lupinski might have used in his Polish deli/grocery store in Irvington, New Jersey in the 1930’s-50’s. I wasn’t ready for that much fermenting, “Do you have anything smaller?” I asked. “Yes, but we’re out. You can pay for it now, and we’ll ship it for free.”  “I’ll think about it,” I said. I sauntered on. Well it didn’t take me long to get pulled in at the Architectural Ceramic Design station. Wow, Here was a bevy of rainbow colored, hand-hewn pottery. and amid all that sat several fermenting crocks–all in various colors, from red to yellow to orange. “People are getting back into fermenting,” Alan the potter said. No kidding, I thought. Gee I was one of the forerunners of a trend. I puffed out my chest and took in all the simply devine colors. (hint: click on the website to see them, you’ll see what I mean). Plus the feel of the items is light, yet you know it is handmade. “I used to work in a beauty salon,” said Donna his wife and potter partner, “I know how to throw and blend colors.” It was apparent to me she was expert at it and putting all of her color energy into the pottery business as I looked at her lovely long but natural grey hair. Okay so I bought the red,orangey one.  My grandad would be proud. And I even found a recipe for pickled apples which is a good thing since our golden delicious tree gave us five bushels this year.

All in all it was a a good day yesterday and I feel connected not only to my own heritage, but to so many others, (mothers and fathers) who also used the process to survive way before refrigeration was a gleam in anyone’s eye.

How different we are from our mothers

How different our daily lives are from that of our mothers. You only have to go visit the vintage kitchen exhibit at SVMA to see that (Kitchen Memories: Kathleen Thompson Hill Culinary Collection thru Dec. 1). There you will find a collection of unique kitchen tools which now qualify as antiques (by definition items over 50 years old) but which rained commonplace in my mother’s kitchen– from the handheld eggbeater to the retractable clothesline,  

And then there’s the hand coffee grinder made of wood which my grandmother used daily but now sits unused on the top tier of my kitchen cabinets.

Coffee Grinder



My husband recently splurged on a Cusinart coffee maker which provides us with up to 12 cups of coffee with the press of a button. The beans stored in the device get ground automatically. All you need to do is empty out the gold mesh strainer containing the previous day’s grinds, and pour in the requisite amount of water, whose level you can determine from a see-through section of the container.  And if you should forget to empty out the previous grinds because say you’re still in a fog from your night’s dream in which you won the lottery, well, never mind, the apparatus detects it and beeps away at you, and stays on strike until you change it. The

Coffee Maker

first time I used it, I had done just that, and so responding to the rhythmic beeps of the thing I figured out intuitively what was wrong. I blurted aloud to the machine, as if it were alive and talking to me with it’s beeps, ” How cool. You are a coffee maker for an idiot; anyone can use you.” And like I said it’s actually my husband’s machine;  I’m primarily a tea drinker. He didn’t take offense, though which I surely did not intend, my words flying from my mouth as an accolade in amazement at this “smart” coffeemaker. And that’s how he took it as I proceeded to dump the grinds from the basket and re-push the start button. I could hear the heating element processing the water. All systems go. The coffeemaker was actually my husband, Bob’s latest toy of which he seemed inordinately proud, since he had plucked it up at Big Lots during our stay at our daughter, Kiva’s apartment in LA. She in turn had been chauffeuring us around her favorite bargain haunts, Big Lots occupying place number two on her “go to” list of best LA deals. The first spot won by the Goodwill in Inglewood where she lives. (That fun experience the topic of another post).

It seems our generation craves machines which make our lives simple, and men involve themselves in purchasing culinary items, ones which are user friendly, and don’t require much thought or effort to use. Presumably then we can direct our minds toward more lofty levels, such as oh I don’t know…just loftier thoughts. Okay, like fantasy football for my husband,  and morning newspaper reading on my ipad while we await our morning brew. How different we are from our mothers.

Feeling hemmed in with child

Being a new mother with my eight week old son and unhappy with my newly acquired weight, I decided to “woman up” and take responsibility. I’d get back into my pre-child size 10 clothes pronto and regain my fitness by attending an aerobics class, which in 1978 was the current exercise mania. But I had to take Aaron with me because there were no family members who could take care of him while I exercised, or even went to the store for that matter. My younger sister,Barbara, lived close to me but she worked daytimes, and besides for some reason which now escapes me, we had had a falling out, and were not on speaking terms. But that’s another story. In any event, I shlepped Aaron to the class, where people in leotards mainly ignored him. But he looked around and seemed to enjoy the scenery of the group, mainly young women and only a couple of men, swinging their legs into the air, and hopping around the room to the sounds of Staying Alive (U tube), and Fever written and sung by the Bee Gees, from the movie Saturday Night Fever, a huge hit from the previous year, starring John Travolta in his hip-swinging days.  The staccato shouts of the nubile instructor clad in tights and a red leotard propelled me into a disco fever. But when she proceeded to instruct us to do knee bends and squats, I proceeded to lose it. My left knee chimed in:  you’re going to regret this; it caused me to scream out. My left leg crumbled out from under me and I fell to the floor.  The instructor hovered over me, gave me a hand up, but it was my clear my time in the class was over.  I could not stand on my lag without wincing in pain. Apparently, my upper leg muscles lacked the strength necessary for squats. So I must have overextended my knee way past my foot resulting in a pulled tendon or something, such that I could hardly walk. Leaning on Aaron’s carriage  for support, I  limped to my car, put my baby son in the car seat and drove home using my right leg. I remember thinking, is that why God gives us two? Two legs that is, for klutzes like me?  The next day the doctor diagnosed a bad strain, handed me crutches, and told me to rest my  leg. Duh. What else could I do? But rest was out of the question. Now, I had a baby and crutches. Plus,  before i left the class, the aerobics instructor had told me that i should not bring my child to the class in the future, citing insurance reasons or something. Was she just  jealous that I had such a lovely son?  No more aerobics unless I could get a sitter. Hemmed in, alone and disregarded is how I felt in that moment of my new motherhood. And yet I had given birth to this wonderful child. The world in Northern Virginia, just a stone’s throw from the nation’s Capitol was not set up to accommodate mothers with children  who wanted to work out. In 1978 that was still years away. And I began to wonder if my fitness and weight loss would similarly be years away– if not altogether out of reach.