I’ve been intending to post more activities for parents and kids to do together, so this seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase more pages from “Us, Livin’ the Life.”

One of my first gifts for Arielle was Playdough. I bought her a toy contraption that you could load wads of different colors into and squeeze them out mixed together in various shapes and sizes like noodles from a pastamaker.

Another of my early gifts was a tea set that we used for our frequent tea parties. Whenever we had ice cream, we ate it from these bowls with the accompanying tiny spoons—it lasted longer that way.

I also bought Arielle her first set of playing cards and taught her to play War, Go Fish, and Concentration. Later she would teach me B.S., Indian Poker, Texas Hold ‘Em, and Speed.

One of the pastimes that always got us belly laughing was making up Silly Stories. I would write a secret narrative with blanks for things/nouns, actions/verbs, etc. and ask Arielle and Ella to supply whatever words came to mind in the appropriate categories. Of course, they proffered the funniest words they could think of.

When Arielle learned about pointillism in school, she wanted us to try the technique together. She drew the outlines of the composition in light pencil, and we applied the points of color with Q-tips.

We devised a secret code and kept our messages in the envelope above.

This is a technique Arielle learned in school and taught me. You start with a band of color in a corner of your paper. Then you apply another band conforming with the first while also adding more to  the shape—and simply repeat the process over and over until you reach the far side of the page. You’re liable, as we were, to wind up with blank islands among all the ribs of color that you can fill in with various patterns. This is an unfinished example I found among my papers.

These are some of the first jigsaw puzzles Arielle and I did together. When we were finished, I would spray the back with adhesive and affix a cardboard backing so she could hang them on her bedroom walls, the ceiling, along the hall… 

I remember the day the kids wanted me to take them to the Tokyo Fish Market to buy these animal erasers that were the rage among their cohorts. They made the diorama mobile homes themselves, using scraps from my collection of fabric swatches for doll clothes.

Creating a scrapbook page each year is a wonderful way for kids to commemorate their birthdays. For Arielle’s cake I always studded with candles the biggest glazed snail donut carried by Happy Donuts, her favorite treat.

Emerald created this page for her scrapbook for her eighth birthday. After Scrapbook Territory closed, I’d periodically take the girls to Michael’s to pick out the scrapbook papers they liked the best, including birthday and holiday papers. (Right before Halloween and Christmas they have a larger selection of designs to choose from, of course.)

The article above, entitled FASHION ALERT, begins:

      This season wearing any garment in a conventional way is the gravest of fashion faux-           pas. No longer is there such a thing as dressing for the occasion. Anything goes!

Arielle and I staged more than one avant-guard fashion show. If you look closely, you’ll see I’m wearing a philodendron coiffure, a reading light on my nose, and scrabble letters on my cheek, while Arielle sports a belt necklace and swimsuit shoulder bag, accessorizing with kitchen utensils in her waistband. For undergarments, we’re both wearing Tupperware containers and coat hangers for a sharp, edgy silhouette.

The title of this page—illegible in this scan—is Important Documents, and the one on top is a list Arielle and I compiled when she was little of all our favorite things to do together. The docs are in a clear “report cover” cut down to size and attached with brads.



This will be the first Christmas in fifteen years that Arielle won’t be helping Ella and me find the perfect noble fir and decorate it with my rather…er…”extensive” collection of old-fashioned glass ornaments—to the strains of Kathleen Battle’s “Ave Maria,” Andrea Bocelli’s “Silent Night,” and Patrick Ball’s Celtic harp.

Ah, well, the place is a wreck anyway, the plaster still cracked and broken and hanging off the walls in patches from the time they leveled the foundation of the building, said walls also punctuated by gaping rectangular holes that the electricians left when they rewired the building. None of this will be fixed until the pandemic is over.

Still, it’s hard. No seasonal crafts with the kids, no stockings stuffed with pear Jelly Bellies and lemon Turkish delight, no festive wreaths of sequins or bells or berries, no snowflake candles floating in bowls, no Christmas table with poinsettia napkin rings and brass candlesticks gleaming, the candles encircled with Scandinavian mini-garlands of ribbons and flowers, no celebratory toasts with eggnog and apple-raspberry cider… I suppose Ella and I could set a table for our eyes alone…and maybe put a wreath on the front door for our new neighbors to enjoy… but beyond that, I guess we’ll just have to fall back on our memories of holiday seasons past.



From A Patchwork Memoir:

Earl and I are bound for Blackhawk in his red MG, the very same car and the very same route we took when I was seventeen. Actually, he has two MGs and goes to all the “Noggin and Natter” MG Club meetings held at various Bay Area pubs, as well as rallies, which are like treasure hunts with no treasure, only a secret destination that you find your way to by clues.

“Did you bring the spritzer?“ I ask anxiously. “It looks like a scorcher.” It gets so uncomfortable in the MG on a hot day, what with all the heat coming off the gear box, that the last time I spritzed a quart of water all over my face and clothes, drenching myself to keep cool. Going any distance with me and my back problem is a major production, so Earl always brings a small ice chest with two ice packs, as well as a special car cushion.

The mall is even prettier than I remember it. At one end is a modern fountain with tiered, round water tables, the runoff spilling under a bridge into a little lake that meanders between the shops and restaurants. It’s bordered by boulders, wild grass, and cattail reeds, and stocked with yellow and gold-spotted carp.

The Behring Museum is two stories, the black marble floors so shiny you can see almost as much detail in the gleaming reflections under your feet as you can in the antique cars all around you. There’s a 1926 Daimler made of German silver—so heavy they have trouble keeping the air in the tires, Earl instructs me. It was owned by a maharaja and has panes of smoked glass to hide his wives, an exterior wicker seat for the servant, and elaborate boa constrictor horns on each side. There are several Duesenbergs, including Clark Gable’s convertible coupe—they gave rise to the expression “It’s a duesy,” Earl explains. Also a 1931 Bugatti Royale made of thousands of small blocks of wood. What strikes me as funny about some of the earliest cars is that they’re conceptually incongruous—the cabs have the flowing lines of horse-drawn coaches, while the “business” ends look boxily like traveling chests.

One showstopper is rainbow-striped. “I wonder if that’s the original color,” muses Earl. “The cars I remember from my childhood were dark and somber. Henry Ford always said his customer could have any color they wanted, as long as it was black.”

I remark on the fact that many of the cars have TWO spare tires. Tire technology wasn’t all that advanced in those days, he tells me—and his family invariably had a flat on the way to Cape Cod every summer.

He explains to me about disk wheels versus spoke wheels that have to be tuned for tension and points out “artillery” wheels, which got their name because they have wooden spokes like cannon caissons.

Later we sit at the other end of the lake at a table with white linen under a canvas umbrella. A female mallard is snoozing on a boulder just beyond our table. When the waitress brings the bread, the duck rouses herself suddenly. Joined by her mate, they peer expectantly over the edge of the table at us, as irresistible as begging dogs at the family dinner table.

“Did I ever tell you about my Dad’s feud with our neighbor, Jack Landis?” I ask Earl, who shakes his head. I know I probably have, so I’m glad he’s almost as forgetful as I am (though he has the excuse of age) and I get to tell my stories more than once without having to worry about being a bore.

“When I went to Minnesota for my high school reunion,” I say, “My dad and I went back to see the old Dudley house together. He reminisced about how he’d bought me a duckling and built a small cage for it out of wood and chicken wire. The cage was just a little 12” box, so, as the duck grew, there was hardly room for it to turn around. Our neighbor, Jack Landis, told my dad it was cruel to keep a duck in such a small space, so my dad called the University Farm Campus and asked someone over there their opinion; he was assured it wasn’t inhumane, he claimed. He told me all this bitterly, still as angry at Jack as if it had happened yesterday.”

Besides believing animals couldn’t “know” anything, I remind myself, my father didn’t believe they had any feelings either—and I realize that in some way I’ve always identified with my duckling, as though my father built a cage for me, too, that I remained imprisoned in for many years.



The Spanish people were generous and hospitable with a liberality that astonished someone raised with a Yankee sensibility like I was, with an emphasis on self-reliance and habits like thrift and prudence. When a Spaniard picked up a few of us American hitchhikers, he would treat us all to a meal at a café in the next town we stopped at, whatever his financial circumstances. Because the Spanish sensibility was, as I perceived it, steeped in a sense of community, people weren’t constrained in the way many Americans tend to be; they didn’t worry about the future the way we do in our culture, trusting in the shared ethos that we are all our brothers’ keepers.

By the end of the year, my love of Spain and sense of belonging, like a root system, had grown so broad and deep, I began to consider the possibility of making a life there as an ex-patriot after I graduated from college. I felt for the first time that I understood the wish of the farmer who wanted to be buried under the old oak he’d climbed as a child—because felt I wanted to be buried in Spain.



The University of Madrid was in political turmoil that year—there were frequent student demonstrations and violent confrontations with the “Guardia Civil,” the state police. (We called them “grises”—“gray men”—for their gray uniforms.) When there was liable to be trouble, Gay, at the Education Abroad Office, would call all sixty of us in the program, warning us not to attend classes that day. We risked jail if we were anywhere in the vicinity—police trucks would drive around and spray “protesters” with paint to mark them for arrest. One day Gay didn’t reach me in time. I took my two metros and bus to campus, but as I got off amid a crush of students, I saw a line of Guardia Civil on horseback at the far end of a field. Frantically I scrambled back onto the bus a moment before the doors closed—and watched the grises charge down the field, descending on the students and beating them savagely with “gomas” (rubber clubs), until the melee was right underneath my window—frightened horses rearing, clubs swinging, students screaming as they were thrown against the bus or clawed at the doors.

Some time after this incident, all classes were suspended, and we U. C. students were given a choice—to leave Madrid or stay—because if the university remained closed, the boys in our program could lose their credits for the year and risked being drafted for the war in Vietnam.

My friends and I, including Ella, Dale, and Pete, chose to stay.



In Paris, after our landing in Le Havre the previous summer, I’d swung through the rainy streets with a boy from our program named Pete—on our way to buy him an umbrella. He was an economics major—handsome and outgoing, with an amiable charm. From time to time during the year we found ourselves together, and I would get my hopes up that it was the beginning of something, but he would always back off.

“At the party Pete told me about the book The Games People Play and we went to the kitchen to try our hand at tortillas, but there weren’t any eggs in the fridge. ‘Por fin y al cabo’ we ate at the university cafeteria and went walking through a park—the grass was wet, the night balmy. There were shadowy figures on benches, low murmurs. Pete carried me over a hedge. I was amazed at how easily he lifted me up. I said one or two things that made him laugh—like pointing out the constellation Orion with his three belly buttons. But it wouldn’t have been necessary to talk at all if he had held my hand. Debbie and Bruce were walking hand-in-hand. His aloofness began to bother me, and I started to tense up. The walk home was uncomfortable, the lack of physical contact so unnatural I think it upset us both. The evening just fell off; he clapped for the sereno, said ‘Adios!’—that was it. I wondered if he would ever ask me out again. I thought he wouldn’t, and I swore to protect my feelings no matter what happened.”

Then, on a trip with some girlfriends, we missed the train back to Madrid and disagreed about what to do. While two stayed behind to wait for the next train, two of us went to the outskirts of town to hitch a ride. There on the shoulder of the road was Pete with a male friend. He and I hitchhiked together that afternoon and shared a room in a pension that night. And although nothing happened, the intimacy of the situation caused something in our friendship to shift.

I found out from Wendy, who was dating a friend of Pete’s, that he had a girlfriend back in the States, which I realized had been the obstacle all along. That spring we hitchhiked to Portugal together. He was great fun to travel with—being ingratiating enough for the TWO of us—and people responded with warmth wherever we went. He didn’t speak any more Portuguese than I did, but had no inhibition about speaking Spanish and changing just the endings of words to approximate Portuguese.

One afternoon we found ourselves on the wrong bus, so the driver let us off along a country road, directing us across a valley to a distant road somewhere on the other side. We waded through a field of wildflowers that streamed up and over the steep hills to either side, the two of us getting giddier and more intoxicated with the natural beauty as we went. We wanted to touch each other but were too shy, so we horsed around instead, frolicked and chased each other until we finally collapsed, exhausted, on the ground. Beneath the flowers, mint was growing everywhere, and when Pete finally kissed me, his hair, his clothes, everything smelled of mint.



Rome wasn’t the only place I was anonymously harassed. One day in Madrid I found myself waiting for the subway at rush hour. As the doors of the train opened, I was swept into the car by the surge of the crowd—and someone pulled up my dress the moment before I got hemmed inside. When the train started, my skirt was bunched up around my waist—my panties, nylons, and garter belt exposed (this was the year before we started wearing pantyhose)—and I felt a lecherous hand squeezing my thigh. Not knowing what else to do, I wormed my own hand down and grasped it tight so it couldn’t stray any further, while I peered into the impassive faces around me, trying to figure out who it belonged to. When I found I couldn’t, I hurled myself at the exit at the very next stop and made my escape, even though I was still many stops away from my own.



At first I was too shy and insecure to speak much Spanish, afraid of making mistakes. I’d had three years less Spanish than the other students in my program, since I’d started out in French in junior high, as I’ve said, and I continued to have to struggle to understand and keep up.

But in the spring of that year, a strange thing happened. I’d become so facile at conjugating verbs from tables in my head and to referring, mentally, to the other diagrams and charts I’d memorized that I sounded—almost—fluent. Then, quite suddenly, all my “props” fell away—I couldn’t remember these schemata, and I found myself floundering in a sea of panic and confusion. This lasted only a few weeks, until one morning I woke up fluent. I could talk and think—I even began to dream—in Spanish. But the change wasn’t just a matter of verbal proficiency. With mastery, I underwent a more profound transformation from the anxious, reticent young woman I’d been to a voluble, extroverted “Latina.” An alter ego emerged who actually enjoyed being the center of attention. I’m afraid you could hardly shut me up.

Looking back, I think one of the things that freed me was finding in the Spanish language a refuge from my father, a place he couldn’t follow me—criticize or mock me. Rather than the unsympathetic audience I’d had in him, I found a sympathetic one. The Spanish people couldn’t have been more pleased and enthusiastic about anyone’s efforts to speak their language. Soon they were asking me what country I came from, assuming I was a native Spanish speaker, though they couldn’t quite place my accent. (My accent, curiously, WASN’T quite like anyone else’s—and it wasn’t until many years later when I met a woman from the Canary Islands that I finally heard an accent like my own.)

And perhaps I should mention here that throughout all these changes, I frequently shared my evolving thoughts and feelings in fantasy dialogues with one person—Dr. Camarer, promising myself that when I got back to the states, I would resume therapy with him. More than once I thought of writing to tell him how rich and full my life was in Spain and to thank him for his help. But I never did.