Monday, December 22, 2014

The Corner Store, Where the Cookies Came in Two Sizes...

 By Camincha  

The corner grocery store of Alba’s childhood -- she recalls being nine -- was very special. It took the role of today’s Community Service Centers: if you were not at home when a package was delivered, they would accept it, and hold it for you. They would take messages. They would let you know when that special brand you were waiting for came in. If you didn’t have a phone they would let you use theirs. Some charged una peseta, twenty cents, or if you were a regular they would just let you borrow it. Saying, “No. No charge for you,” they would slide back the peseta that you had placed on the counter, perhaps adding with a smile, “you are a preferred customer.”

Alba’s grocery store at the corner of Porta and San Martin in Miraflores, in the same block as her house, was owned, like most small grocery stores in the area, by Chinese. Two Chinese men. Both tall, good-looking. One was called Lin Lin. Alba never knew if that was his real name or not. She just accepted it, the way children often take some things for granted. Lin Lin was friendly and helpful to his clients. He smiled whenever he saw Alba. Often he saw her from his post, sitting behind the counter, before she saw him. As she approached, all of a sudden, his eyes would be visible, then his smile as he rose from his chair.

Lin Lin’s store was spacious, clean, with a large counter and a high ceiling. Its walls were lined with drawers. Little drawers. Large drawers. They went all the way up and down the walls. The drawers contained all kinds of merchandise. On one side, they held a well-organized rainbow of threads, ribbons, small pieces of yardage. Next needles, thimbles, measuring tapes. Another group held writing paper, pencils, erasers of all shapes, sizes and colors. An entire side had make-up, tiny perfume bottles and First Aid items. Other drawers held rice, all kinds of beans, noodles, wheat, coffee, tea. But the drawers Alba always zeroed in on were the ones that held the cookies.

In fact that was why this grocery store was so very special to her because of the cookies that were sold there: butter cookies. Flat. They were plain on one side and on the other, they had a clown’s face outlined in brown. They came in two sizes, one the size of una peseta, twenty cents, the others the size of a silver sol, un sol de plata. These cookies were so thin that she wondered how they held their shape. When she put them in her mouth they felt sturdy. Ah! but soon they cracked into tiny little pieces and their delicious flavor spread through out Alba’s slim, little body. 

And she did get a lot of cookies for one or two cents, since Lin Lin was most generous. He measured the sale with his hand. And to Alba’s delight  he had a large hand with long fingers.

Camincha is a California-based writer and a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives. To find a good recipe for sugar cookies, go to

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Meet the Red Birds!

Finally I got the cardinals on film. I had no sooner sat down to meditate this morning when the bright red male started strutting his stuffon the window sill. He hung around so long that I decided to pick up my camera -- the focus already set -- and shoot. A few minutes later, the female, a greenish yellow belly with pale red head and orange beak, appeared and I photographed her as well.

The last post and the one before that discuss the weird appearance of these birds. A friend contends that cardinals appear when there is something to celebrate (or grieve over.) So here we are now with photos, proof that they actually have been visiting.

Perhaps you can understand how distracting these birds can be.  As much as I love seeing the cardinals, it's getting more and more difficult to meditate.

Another little cardinal story happened yesterday. I was looking to buy a tray for underneath our toaster, as there are always crumbs pouring out onto the counter. My husband suggested that I look in a nice gift shop in Chatham, N.Y., the closest shopping district to Spencertown.

"They won't have a tray like that," I said to him. But I told him I would look anyway.
A young woman showed me several ceramic trays that were both too small and too much money. I turned those all down.

"We have one more tray in the back room," she said, and she produced a plastic tray that was the perfect size.

Guess what was pictured on the tray?

Yes, you got it. A pair of cardinals against a winter scene.

This has been a wild bird week. And I am still trying to piece together what exactly is going on here. Clearly there is no simple answer.

Monday, December 15, 2014


The cardinal was back this morning, and this time it was the red male batting at the window. I was busy  meditating.

What I want to know is why do these cardinals keep trying to pull my attention away from meditating? (They have been coming since I wrote the last post, last Wednesday.)  That day my head was swimming and I could hardly concentrate on writing.

Since then, I have talked to two writer friends about this situation. When I told my writer friend Peg --  who has read 1,000,000 pages of my writing, including the novel-by-blog Sister Mysteries -- she got confused. "You mean like cardinals in the church?" she asked.

HA, I responded, it never occurred to me that someone would s thinking I was talking about the
high priests of the Catholic church.

But then, Sister Mysteries -- which I finally finished the other day in Chapter 70 called "Finale" -- was all about the Catholic nun, Sister Renata, who back in 1883 was falsely accused of killing her cousin.

Renata, finally and officially, went free in that chapter, and so, reasonably enough -- I thought I was done writing Sister Mysteries. But oddly enough the book continues and maybe that is because the book that I am really writing is the story about me and how I discovered my faith in the divine. (More on that another time.)

Anyway, when Peg said that about Catholic cardinals, I had to explain to her I was talking about the birds and how a female cardinal came crashing into my window and batted her wings against the glass as I sat there with my mouth hanging open. And all the while I was trying to meditate. My therapist in New York City, who has been teaching meditation for 20 years, says that when you meditate you open yourself up to divine energies.)

My other writer friend -- a superb poet named NANCY DUNBAR -- says that cardinals appear "in times of grief and in times of celebration." In my case, I have been celebrating the OFFICIAL ENDING TO THE BLOG TOME I HAVE BEEN WRITING SINCE NOVEMBER 10, 2011. Actually, though, as Peg knows so well as she has read all the 1,000,000 pages I've written, this book has been brewing and steaming and overflowing for 20 years (I wrote the first chapter of the Renata story in Janury 1995). Understandably I have been more than frustrated with this novel. I have tried to write it so many times I can't count. And then I have tried NOT WRITING the novel just as many times and it refused to be put away!)

So the last few days I HAVE BEEN CELEBRATING! Like Renata, I am FINALLY FREE. I am no longer trapped in this novel and I am so happy I can hardly tell you.

I guess that is why the CARDINALS have been coming to my window. It makes me believe in miracles -- so maybe you want to visit my brand new blog called Mysteries and Miracles.  I hope you will read it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Miracle Morning!

Miracles are
happening to me
this morning
the first was just
moments ago the
most amazing bird story I have ever
I saw it 
while in 

I had been sitting for
about half an hour when
my husband brought the 
puppy downstairs so she could
go outside.

My husband came into
the living room and said a few things to me
I resumed meditation
and then
and then
the puppy came in and sat down
to the right of me  
I looked over my right shoulder




So I stopped 
to write this.
It's a mystery
I needed a camera but didn’t move.
Some miracles
you just can’t photograph
in words.




But now that we are on the subject of mysteries I might as well
tell you the candle story again
once again
today a candle won't stop
burning bush
won't stop
won't stop
the wax
the wick
I had a tricky candle once before in my Sister Mysteries blog

That time it wouldn't stop burning
It lasted and lasted and lasted
Way way past a candle should.
A long long long long
time after the wick
just kept burning
and burning and
burning bush.
I am now finished reporting on morning miracles.
(But the candle is still burning and I will time how long 
before it goes out.)

p.s.s. The candle burned for four and a half hours!

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Dear Sylvia

By Nancy Dunlop

Dear Sylvia,
For years your poems
seeped through me
until I finally gave in and allowed myself to be yours
But now, after my own
life cracked down the middle
landing me in the hospital
I must part ways with you
I don't want your ringing anthems
about doll girls and nurses and coffin lids.
I mean, really!
you modelled your poems
to fit with your grisly prediction
yours was a poetics of quick death.

So, dear Sylvia, I divest myself of you
despite your tricky eloquence,
your beautiful horrors.
I am turning my compass,
hopping poem to poem
out of the darkness
to newly lit light.

Nancy Dunlop is a poet and a writer who lives in Delmar, N.Y. with her husband and two cats. It was published first in Miss Stein's Drawing Room.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Write a Novel in Four Weeks? How about Four YEARS?

It's that time of year again: November, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. Why somebody somewhere decided that a work of fiction could or should be hammered out in 30 days originally mystified me.

The idea behind this month-long race is that you pour out your fictive soul in 30 days and 50,000 words. As the website notes:

"National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing... Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel."

Four years ago this month, I put aside all my skepticism. I have written three novels (published two) and I am well aware of how much work goes into writing a novel. Still,  I decided to respond to my writer friend Lori's challenge to try it out on my fourth book.

I was fast out of the starting gate and was thinking that it might just work -- since I had already played with the plot for this novel over and over again. I thought to myself, you have the pieces, and the plot, all you need to do is weave them together in a coherent way. Somehow, it really seemed doable

For the first few days, I was going great guns, turning out chapter after chapter (You can read the first installment of Sister Mysteries on line, because I decided to try writing the novel on-line in a blog.)

Still, it quickly became apparent to me that there was no way I could keep up. There was no way I could meet the NaNoWriNo deadline. My chapters kept expanding and morphing and getting more complicated. I'd finish one chapter and realize that I needed another chapter that I hadn't counted on in my original plan.

So when November 30th came along, I was only at Chapter ten.

Curiously, though, I didn't consider myself a failure for missing the 30-day deadline (and neither did my friend Lori.) Because after ten chapters, I was convinced I could write the book I wanted so much to write.

In the end, it has taken me four years to reach the last chapter of Sister Mysteries (which is coming soon!)

I make no apologies for taking four years rather than four weeks to turn out the tome. After all, it took me four (or five) years to write my first novel, Dreaming Maples. In that novel, like Sister Mysteries, I had to do more than just write 50,000 words.  Writing a novel forces you to create a whole world for your characters to inhabit. You learn about that world by endlessly writing and rewriting, seeing and re-seeing. Just to give you an idea, to produce my first novel of 425 pages, I wrote perhaps 2,000 or more PAGES that never appeared in the final product. To be a novelist you have to have many skills but perhaps the most important "skill" is patience!  (Just ask my friend Lori who, until recently, tried for many years to turn out her first novel.)

I often tell my fiction-writing students that when you write a short story, it's like holding a baby. You can keep the happy little creature bouncing in your lap or riding on your shoulder for the relatively short period it takes to produce a short piece of fiction.

But when you write a novel, be prepared to wrestle with a mammoth octopus -- one that will enfold you in its all powerful tentacles and squeeze you dry for a long long time. Writing a book is a little like getting married: you are through-the-roof ecstatic when you first jump in, but you may very well lose your enthusiasm after a couple (or more) years. Writing a novel takes over your mind and your life. You have to be willing to yield control to a higher writing power (some writers might go religious here, and I suppose that I am one of those.)

In any case, it isn't so bad that the NaNoWri/Mo folks have given "anyone" the chance to try their hand at hammering out a novel. After all, I seem to recall that it took William Faulkner only six weeks to churn out As I Lay Dying. 

Even though many people might very well fail to meet the November deadline, they're going to work up an enthusiasm that carries beyond the month.  After years of dreaming about writing a novel, a person may find a real momentum and commitment going forward. Indeed they may very well decide to push on and find a way to their own endings. And for that I say many, many thanks NaNoWri/Mo. I am deeply grateful that I am one of those writers!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The next time you buy a book on Amazon, consider the way they treat their warehouse employees!

By Richard Kirsch
Amazon’s business model is based on quick easy buying and low prices. One way it does that is to force its warehouse workers to wait a long time to leave work, without getting paid. And that’s just fine with the Obama administration, which continues to have a blind spot when it comes to decent pay and working conditions at Amazon.
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard a case (Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk) in which workers are suing the temp firm that staff’s Amazon warehouses. The workers are in court because they don’t get paid for the time they are forced to stand on line for a security check when they leave work to be sure they haven’t stolen anything. 

The security screening itself reveals the poor working conditions and lack of respect that Amazon has for its workers. Workers who are well paid and have job security will not take the risk of stealing. The lack of pay adds costly insult to their injury.

The legal issues revolve around whether the security screenings, which can take 20 minutes or more, are “integral and indispensable” to the job, which would trigger pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Amazon certainly thinks so; the screenings aren’t optional. Still the firm, which pays warehouse workers around $11 or $12 an hour, cheaps out by denying the workers pay when they are waiting on line to leave.
As Jesse Busk, the lead plaintiff in the case, told The Huffington Post, "You're just standing there, and everyone wants to get home. It was not comfortable. There could be hundreds of people waiting at the end of the shift."
While President Obama has made numerous passionate speeches about giving Americans a raise, his administration is taking Amazon’s side at the Supreme Court, filing an amicus brief, alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about this from the administration. Last August, as I wrote at the time, “President Obama gave a great speech on why good jobs are the foundation for his middle-out economic strategy... from a huge Amazon warehouse where the workers do not have good jobs.”
The President told the Amazon warehouse workers who were in the audience, “we should be doing everything we can as a country to create more good jobs that pay good wages.”
Everything, it turns out, except being sure they get paid for all the time they are required to be at work.
The Obama administration may wonder why the President does not get more credit for the economic progress the nation has made coming out of the Great Recession or more recognition for his calls for raising the minimum wage. The core reason is that for too many Americans too low wages, too few hours at work, and job insecurity or no job at all remain their reality.
The President’s defense of Amazon reveals another reason. Americans see that he is unwilling to take on the powerful forces that are driving down the living standards and hopes of American workers. They see his embrace of Amazon and Wal-Mart, where he gave a speech on energy earlier this year. And too many come to the conclusion that it is only campaign contributors that matter, despairing of finding leaders who understand what really is going on in their lives – and who are willing to take their side against the powerful.
Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. This piece ran first in Roosevelt's blog, Next New Deal.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stop and Breathe

At the top of the
list of
is the number
of breaths going
in and out each day.

The authorities say
we breathe
24,000 breaths
per day (15 per minute).

As you sit there
reading this
right now
right there
in your
for a
times the
air goes in

Then close your eyes
for a minute or two
and slow down
your breathing and
the way the cool air
passes through your
nostrils and fills your
whole chest cavity.

What a wonder it is
that we have
in order to live.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ah, the telephone, made today to throw away...

By Camincha

A telephone in their homes, Alba remembers, was not a necessity during her childhood in Miraflores. The city was then very small. Everything was close by -- school, church, stores, friends, transportation. A message could always be delivered on foot. Also in her neighborhood for twenty cents, una peseta, you could borrow a telephone from the pharmacist, or from grocers and butchers. Sometimes they didn't even want to take your money.

At the time, of course, they had no idea that their quiet beach resort city at the edge of the Pacific, 20 minutes south of the capital city, Lima, would grow to become a garden city. And in time, futuristic, avant-garde. Famous for its restaurants, specialized boutiques,  five-star hotels, international night clubs. Elegant. No,  no idea. Not at all. 

Meanwhile, many families did have telephones. Some, like Marita’s family, even had telephone jacks in several rooms. That way, the one black telephone they owned could be used wherever needed. And the numerous members of this extended family could have privacy and comfort when sustaining long conversations.

Alba remembers it wasn't like that in her home. A telephone wasn't  considered necessary. Still, her frugal parents acquired one just to keep up with the times. One day at breakfast her father simply announced: every business man must have one. Easier, faster than using the services of a messenger. Then he smiled, we'll try it. We’ll see.

Shortly after that conversation Alba came home from school one day and there it was, a Candlestick
phone. The receiver on the side in its own hook. A desk top model. Slender, elegant. It was installed in her father's office  which was the first room to the right of the entrance hallway opposite the enormous living-room. All communications were short and to the point. Alba doesn't remember one single instance when her father or mother sustained a long telephone conversation.

Often, Alba thinks, what fun it would have been to see their reaction to the many forms, shapes, colors of the telephones of the 21st century. 

ALBA HEARS BEEPING. She listens. Is it the TV? No. The cute little redhead on the screen is promoting cereal. Feeding it to her teddy bear. Alba listens intently. The beep is coming from her new phone. She didn’t recognize the sound because she had just bought it. She wasn't used to the idiosyncrasies of disposable phones.  Phones that are made not to last. Phones that when broken can’t be fixed. She has been replacing phones every four, five years. Buying them from GOOD GUYS or CIRCUIT CITY  or  RADIO SHACK. They don’t last forever. Rather they are forever breaking down.

Ah, the new phones bear no resemblance to the black phones. Black phones were made to last forever and could certainly be fixed when broken.  She remembers the first one she owned when first arrived in California, a heavy black wallphone. The next one, also heavy and black, was made to sit on a stand in the hallway. It lasted many, many years and was replaced by an identical one in a lovely off-white color. Alba went to the trouble of buying two 25-foot cords so she could drag the phone all over the house until one day, suddenly it became embarrassing, May I use your phone? the car mechanic asked—he made house calls.

Yeah. Yes. Yes. Ahhh…just follow the cords.

So now said off-white phone has a secure place on the kitchen table and is not used very much since Alba finally bought a cordless and learned to use that instead. Then that phone broke so following her usual way of doing things:

At GOOD GUYS:  I just bought this phone. Five years ago.

What? clerk.

I bought it—five years ago. I was told Panasonic is a good brand. 

The young clerk looks incredulous.  What is wrong with this woman? He keeps his eyes on her face. He is searching for a flicker of sanity in her. Finally the words fly out of his mouth. In a rush. He is afraid she is going to say something. Repeat the same nonsense: Panasonic…good brand…five years. Picking up speed, encouraged by her silence, he becomes assertive. In one breath, stringing the words: Telephones-today-are-not-made-to-last!

She wasn’t convinced. She wanted that one fixed. She insisted. It turned into one long grievance procedure because for starters she had to buy a phone—they wouldn’t loan her one while they fixed the one she brought in.  They would take it back and return her money when hers was fixed. The three weeks she was told it would take to fix it stretched to three months.  Finally she got it back only after she complained to the GOOD GUYS’ District Manager.

Later on she bought a cell for emergencies. It got complicated. A friend told her that it had to be activated before she used it. She didn’t know what to do. She never does. So she asked for help.

She took it back to Radio Shack where she bought it. The Sprint rep on the phone had a heavy Indian accent. Alba couldn’t understand him. He couldn’t understand her Peruvian accent. She asked for help from the clerk: Ed, please help! Mike, the manager, also helped. Amused at her, they wrote down numbers, answered the rep’s questions, address, name, social security, income. And when they were done laughing they put the cord and phone back in the box. Sorry, ma'am, your accent got in the way. She could hear them laughing when she walked out of the store.

So now she has three phones. A black cordless at home. The off-white on the kitchen table after long just sitting in a drawer. And the cell that is great help in emergencies: like when Alba was able to alert Amy and Jerry that her bus was arriving half an hour late, saving them the trouble and frustration of a guessing game: Did she get on the bus? Did she miss the bus? The cell is also a great help when she writes down the wrong address. Arrives at the right city. Right Street. But, she tells the receptionist, I can’t find 2100. 

There is no 2100. There is no 2100. It was torn down to make room for the new freeway. We are at 3500.

Thank you. 

She does a quick U and parks in 3500 parking lot. Loves it. A building with its own parking lot. That’s why she chose a doctor in Burlingame. In San Francisco this doesn’t happen anymore, parking at the door. Ever. 

Enters 3500. There is no third floor. Third floor is an enormous cafeteria. Calls receptionist. Again.

There is a pause. A pause as in: not again. Receptionist tells her the suite number is 110 not  310. 

The cell has been a big help. Already paid for itself. What would they say?  Her frugal parents? 

Three telephones?!

Camincha is the pen name of a writer living in California. Her writing appears frequently at MyStoryLives.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


In that vast terrain
that is her brain
she is
at a
until one day when
she opens her mouth to
try to speak out pour
some weird red marbles
jelly-like to the touch much
like the chewy brain inside her head.
Seeing the marbles and certain that
she is losing the mind inside her head
she goes racing determined to gather the red
the red the red the red the red the red the
red explodes
she has to catch to gather to run to paddle
the kayak is running in white water bow in
and stern out now out of nowhere she is certain that if
she opens her arms mouth legs wide enough the words will follow
the faster she runs the faster the words leakspillexplodesurgenow

One thing is certain: she will have a difficult time recreating the
unspeakable desert through which she has travelled. How can she
possibly tell others who have not visited the land of NOT that there is no way you can
possibly describedefinedeter the word that she cannot say.

When finally it lifts, the sand the heat the white barren landscape,
the heavens open, the rivers flow, the ocean throws up its
cool clear glorious waters in colors
too numerous
to name.

Here now
Hear now
she is catching
she has caught her
breath she is picking up
the paddle that is her pen
slowly she skiffs the boat
slowly slowly she banks the ocean
waves she picks her way through
the waters she is finally ready to
go ashore to tell others where she has been.

the first


Friday, August 22, 2014

Chapter 69, Sister Mysteries: "A Miracle in the Courtroom"

The sky is a milky blue color when Renata and the others wake up.  Kitty has already been up an hour, feeding chickens, gathering eggs and then, baking muffins for the breakfast meal she will serve downstairs in the cafe, promptly at eight.

Renata is first into the kitchen. Kitty is spooning corn meal dough into a cast iron muffin tin. She puts the spoon down and wipes her hands on her apron. Then she takes hold of both of Renata's hands. "I can't believe you're back," Kitty says.

"Nor can I.  Sometimes I think that we may very well be making a giant mistake." Kitty turns back to her stove. Renata yawns, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. "But I can't live on the run. And I shouldn't have to, because I didn't kill my cousin."

Teresa appears in the kitchen. "Katy you still have that old coffee pot? I need a lift this morning."

"Of course." Kitty reaches into the pantry for the pot. "Coffee is in the decanter beside the sink."

She finishes filling the muffin tins and takes her bowl and spoon to the sink. "So what's the schedule this morning?

Renata settles into the rocking chair that Kitty keeps in the corner beside the stove. "I'm supposed to be there by nine, and the judge says he'll give me an hour to present the new evidence."

"And that evidence consists of the missing pages of your journal, right? The pages that lay out exactly how Antonie died."

"Yes." Renata rubs her forehead. "I know it's a longshot, but I've got to do it. I have to try."

Katy slides the muffins into the oven. "I don't  know much about the law, but I have my doubts that..."

"I know, Katy. I know." Renata pauses and then she whispers. "We can't be too hopeful but I have no choice. I cannot live my life on the run."

At exactly ten minutes to nine, Renata opens the door to the small courtroom. Teresa and Art follow her into the stuffy room. No judge. No sheriff.

"So where shall we sit?" Teresa asks.

Renata shrugs. "It makes no difference, does it?" Her face is pale and pinched. Teresa wraps an arm around Renata's shoulders.

"My dear sister, this is not the face we need today. You must stand up to them, find your voice, convince them that you deserve your freedom." Renata bites her lower lip. And nods.

Teresa whispers. "All you have to do is believe in your heart and soul what you know to be true. You didn't kill Antonie and you have proof now. Trust in yourself and in God. He will take care of the rest."

At that moment the judge and sheriff stride into the courtroom. The judge in his black robe takes a seat at a table that stands higher than the rest of the tables in the room.

"So I said we'd give you an hour," the judge says, folding his hands on the table. "So what magic tricks do you have up your sleeve to show me today?"

"To tell you the truth, Sir, I have the evidence hidden beneath my skirt. So if you don't mind turning away for a moment...." The judge, smirking, turns around to face the wall. The sheriff does the same.

Renata unties a piece of twine at her waist. A thin package, wrapped in brown paper, makes a soft thud as it lands at her feet. She reaches down for the package. "Alright, you can turn back," she says.

"'And what would that be inside the package?" The judge leans over the table, one covering the other.

Renata steps closer to the judge.  "Before I let you see what's in here, I think it's only fair that we reconstruct the evidence used against me in the trial."

The judge clears his throat. "We are not going to retry this case, if that's what you had in mind."

"No, of course not," Renata says, her voice strong and commanding. "I'm not looking to do that. I simply want to remind you that virtually every piece of evidence presented at the trial was in the form of writing: my journal entries, and my cousin's wild stories casting me as a dancer and worse, a seductress."

The judge folds his hands together.  "Yes, well, if you recall, no one ever established that those stories were the work of your cousin's pen. There was every reason to believe that those stories were ones that you composed."

"But that's foolish. Why in heavens name would I implicate myself in a murder I didn't commit?"

The judge slaps his hands on the table. "I said it before and I will say it again, we are not going to retry this case. So get to the point."

"My point is that there wasn't a single witness presented."

"And again, you are trying to reopen the case. I am quickly losing my patience!"

"All I am trying to establish is that all of the evidence was in writing, writing that I did, writing that I claim my cousin did. Some of that writing carefully lays out my cousin's last hour."

"So what is new about this? Yes, it was writing that prove the case, but how does..

"What I have here is just more writing. But it is the part of my journal that I would never before share with anyone. Tthree pages that I ripped out before I was tried. Pages that I vowed I would never make public."

"And why is that?"

Renata sets the three journal pages on the table. "Because they directly implicate...." Here, Renata's head drops forward. Teresa, standing to her right, puts an arm around Renata's waist and squeezes her arm.

"Go on."

"They reveal the truth about how Antonie died and they make clear that the person who..." She is trembling now and Teresa squeezes her tighter. "...the person who completed the act, finished the suicide that Antonie set in motion with his own razor...was..."

The sheriff stands. "Your honor, we've already established that her cousin was murdered. Where does she get the right to call  it a suicide. It's just her overactive imagination...."

The judge, ignoring the sheriff, takes his eyeglasses out of his breast pocket and picks up the journal pages and begins to read. Renata interrupts right away. "I guess I don't have to point out to you that the yellowed paper, the ink, the slant of the handwriting, perfectly match that of my journal."

Leaning back in his chair, the judge pauses. "No, ma'am, you don't need to point this out to me." He continues reading. When he comes to the third page, he reads and rereads it and then sits back in his chair. He places his hands together and rests them on his sizable stomach.

"And pray tell, how is it that we never saw these curious pages during the trial?"

Renata closes her eyes, inhales and then slowly releases her breath. When she speaks, it's in a whisper. "I refused to implicate Senora. I wanted to... protect her."

"Well, well, what we have here is a most interesting turn of events." The judge takes the journal pages and hands them over to the sheriff. The pages are lost on him because he doesn't know how to read.

"Please give me the full name of this woman you call Señora."

"Must I? Isn't it clear from what you read here that my cousin was hellbent on killing himself?"

"The name please..."

"Señora Maria Cuorocora de los Ramos."

"And where can this woman be found?"

Renata closes her eyes. "She is in her final moments of life, weak as a kitten, residing at the convent where she can get the care she...."

Suddenly Teresa gasps and lets go of Renata's shoulders.

Renata looks up and there at the back of the courtroom stands Señora, wrapped in a black shawl and leaning on a cane.

The two nuns are aghast. "Judge, this is...this is...this is Señora, but just hours ago I saw her so close to dying that she could not possibly appear here."

Sister Teresa flew to the back of the room and helped support the hold woman. Soon she is standing beside Renata. They embrace. Señora's face looks so thin and pale it has a purple cast. She reaches into a pocket and brings out a sheet of paper. "Una oracion," She whispers. She hands it to Renata and raises her hand to tell Renata to read it aloud.

Renata looks at the judge. "Part of it is a prayer she has written. Shall I go ahead?

"Don't ask my permission, this is your dog and pony show."

She begins, translating as she proceeds: Dio mio, madre mio, my God my holy mother Mary holy father and son and holy spirit to whom do I ask forgiveness? To whom do I confess? The priest, Father Ruby?  The last time I slid the little door in the confessional I saw the black screen between me and the priest and I lost heart. I wanted so desperately to unload myself, I wanted to scream 'I have sinned in the worst possible way, I have sinned by taking the last bit of life from a man I knew and raised from childhood.' But I lost heart. I left the confessional and I visited Renata at the jail; I begged her to tell the world the truth, but once again she refused."

Renata raised her head.

"Please continue," the judge said. "Dear God help me. Help me help my dear Renata to go free. No one but me can help her. I kneel here and beg you to hear me, from my humble position on this cold floor in the kitchen. I ask not for me not on my behalf but for her, she who faces hanging. I am determined to find a way to tell the world the truth, that I was the one responsible, I pressed the blade and severed his throat. I only continued with what Antonie started but of course I could have tried to get help for him rather than hasten his death. What I did was unforgivable. I dared to take the place of God, deciding whether a man was going to live or die. Please God please forgive me for what I did!"

There was perfect silence in the courtroom. The judge stood and gazed long and hard at Señora -- she seemed to shrink in his gaze. "I am afraid that you leave me no alternative but to take the old woman to the jail."

Renata protested. "She is close to 85 years old. She rose from her death bed to speak her truth. She only finished what Antonie set out to do. He wanted to die. She raised him from the time his mother -- my aunt Eliza -- died from small pox -- he wasn't even walking. Can't you see that arresting this woman makes no sense?"

Before the judge could answer, the sheriff stepped forward and put Señora into handcuffs. She offered no resistance. "Are we through here Judge? Can I take her away?"

"I would like to ask the nun one more question." He turned to Renata. "Why for God's sake didn't you make it clear what happened? Why this long drawn out affair when you knew there was a killer and that killer wasn't you?"

"I wanted to protect the woman who raised me. She is my mother, my grandmother, my savior. I couldn't forgive myself if I lived and she was put to death."

The judge shook his head. "Let's go, Frank, there is no point in sitting here any longer."

All of a sudden the sheriff screamed. He lifted the handcuffs into the air. Señora was no longer in the cuffs. Nor was she anywhere to be seen.

The judge roared. "What the blazing hell is going on here?"

Renata looked at Teresa. Art stood back and shook his head.

"I expect an explanation," the judge said, slamming the table, but even as he said it, the command sounded foolish.

"We have seen the hand of God at work here," Renata said in a whisper. "The work of God and the work of the Virgin Mary, to whom we pray every day."

"Well I don't give a damn about any of your foolish religion," the Sheriff said. "Stupid magic."

Renata smiled at the Sheriff. "Well then I invite you to find the old woman using whatever magic you happen to muster." She smiled at the judge. "May we leave now?"

"Don't leave town until we have gotten to the bottom of this foolishness," the judge said.

Art and Teresa and Renata were soon on the wagon heading back to Kitty's. Renata and Teresa held hands and prayed the whole way.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mystical Mistical Pond!

This is the pond after a heavy heavy rain.

What a gift Mother Nature is.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A NYC church praying for deceased soldiers

Strolling along 29th Street in Manhattan the other day, I came across a very moving project. It is the work of Marble Collegiate Church, best known for once hosting the sermons of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

In 2006, the church decided to start praying for all the American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every soldier's name and age are typed onto a piece of paper, and slipped into a plastic sleeve. The name tag is then tied to a long golden ribbon which hangs on the wrought iron gate outside the church.

The church also prays for the thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan who have perished. Those ribbons are blue.

Finally, green ribbons denote prayers for peace.

The railings are crowded with ribbons. Seeing the names of the soldiers -- most of the whom were in their 20s and 30s -- really brings home the painful loss of life connected to the wars. The project is reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., which names more than 58,000 soldiers who either died or went missing in Vietnam. The names are engraved on the memorial's black granite wall.

The church has worked hard on the prayer project and they are to be commended for raising our awareness.  The ribbons force you  to think hard about war and the terrible loss of life that goes with it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Perfect Day, Count the Ways

My mother said it best: today is a ten out of ten day. Crystal clear blue sky, perfect temperature. With all the rain, the garden is lush with lilies: yellow, butterscotch, salmon, orange and my favorite, sizzling red.

The only problem on a day like this is how do you take it in? Never mind saving it, how can you savor it?  Maybe the only way to enjoy this day is to stay in the now, breathing in and out and counting the special moment as a blessing.

One of my blessings is having a small pond, filled with giant bullfrogs. Incredible the sounds they make. Back and forth across the pond, the deep humming sounds coming from these frogs sounds like some crazy symphony instruments warming up for the performance!

As day ends, light turns the maple leaves a brilliant green. The pond is bright and shimmery. No better place to be.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

By Camincha

It is always summer when Alba thinks of Miraflores. The sun is always shining when Alba thinks of Miraflores although she knows very well it wasn’t so. The fact is that the climate was capricious, in the summer often foggy, cold, grey with a fine garüa, a mist, good for vegetation but not for Alba because she liked to go swimming and the garüa made her cold when it settled on her skin and frustrated, especially if she had plans to go to the beach to swim, which she enjoyed. But she and her friends would go anyway and walk into the freezing water, some days not even holding on to the rope set there for those worried that the violent surf would rough them up, tumble them, push them against rocks and deposit them bruised and cut on the stones under the surf. So what’s that got to do with caigüas (a plant that bears fruit similar to bell peppers.) Both happened in the summer.

After swimming, still shivering, they would make their way to the dressing rooms. Still damp, and by then hungry, their wet hair sticking to forehead, shoulders, neck, clothes, they carried their heavy uncomfortable bags with their wet towels and bathing suits up the hill to El Malecón (seawall.) Hug good bye before going on walking to their respective homes. Alba felt lucky, she had only four more blocks to walk to her house at Porta Street where a delicious lunch of caigüas stuffed with meat, black olives, bits of hard boiled eggs, sauté onions and garlic awaited her. Or caigüas soup. Or purée of caigüas. Caigüas stew. Caigüas...cooked in as many ways as was possible for they grew in such profusion that mamacita had started to invent some recipes of her own.

This situation with the caigüas came about because their house front was flushed with the sidewalk, no front garden. But mamacita loved to garden. And was good at it. Knew all the plants -- the secrets of roses, dahlias, geraniums, carnations, lemon trees, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, corn. She grew all of these in an eight by eight space in the center of the house built for that purpose. She also put to good use the three and a half square feet of dirt next to a wall in the middle of a raised cement border walkway that nurtured a jasmine so fertile that it had spread all over and looked like a beautiful lace tapestry. The little yard and the small patch were full of black, rich dirt that mamacita kept fertile by periodically mixing it with compost made of blending chicken droppings with vegetable cuttings and crushed eggshells. And caigüas? Oh! the caigüas. Well the compost, the black dirt and the regular watering she gave it produced, out of a few seeds she had dropped on it, an enormous amount of succulent caigüas. And they harvested them in such abundance that years later were still talking about it. It was a miracle the jasmine survived the intrusion.

Alba remembers mamacita directing the servants to fill boxes and baskets with caigüas and sending them to friends and neighbors and finally to the owners of the vegetable and meat store on their block that smelled of fragrant herbs and fresh meat. Owned and operated by two Chinese men who if Alba happened to go by while they were having lunch could be seen eating a couple of light color sticks in one hand, from porcelain bowls they lifted to their mouths, while their dark eyes above the bowl peered at her. The Chinese did not live in Miraflores, Alba knew this because she had seen the tall men get off the bus from Lima at the corner of Avda 28 de Julio and Porta half a block from her house early in the morning and walk in their gaunt manner. Their heads up in the air like testing the wind trying to divine what the day would be like. Deliveries on time? Enough sales to cover the expenses? But on the day of the caigüas Yin Yin and his partner had a smile on their faces for Alba’s mother sent the caigüas as a gift.

Meantime The Baths, which is what everyone called the beach at the foot of the cliffs in Miraflores had very little sand, mostly stones that hurt your feet so it was necessary to use sturdy foot wear and certainly a thick towel to lie on. It was rough, some days more than others. Like when the rope that ran from a pillar at the edge of the surf to about a hundred feet into the ocean was helpful to the timid and not good swimmers. Because when the tide was high the waves that angrily came to explode at the beach sometimes were monumental. Other times they had lost their strength just as they arrived and barely rolled in playfully before going out again. But the ocean was always cold, thinking of a warm lunch of caigüas in any form was most welcomed.

Camincha is a pen name for a writer living in northern California.