Google Visual Deals Wants Me to Marry Adrien Brody and Thinks Zac Efron is a Piece of Meat

Every morning, as my brain slowly defrosts with the help of a cup of coffee, I like to read Facebook and some gossip websites. My favorite is called Dlisted. I figure it’s important work, in case I’m ever on Jeopardy! and need to know pop culture. Not because I’m shallow or like to laugh or anything. No! Margaret 100% serious author! Margaret smash! Margaret keep façade!

Also, pop culture (entertainment etc) is also the only category I can reliably beat my husband in when we play Trivial Pursuit.

Anyway, somehow, I got Google visual deals turned on. I almost disabled it yesterday but I’m glad I didn’t. If you’re shopping someplace, Visual Deals looks at the photo you’re looking at and tells you if somebody has a better price on that product. Visual Deals doesn’t work with all photos. It didn’t work with the photos on my site (not that I went through all of them).

Today I noticed when my cursor hovered over the pictures Dlisted linked to, it gave me some pretty interesting suggestions, so I took screenshots of them.

Cameron Diaz. Suggestions: circus clowns, Care Bears, Dr. Seuss characters, a cute baby invitation thing.

cameron diaz visual deals

Kendall Jenner. Pinatas, Backyardigans, Balloons. Oh, My!

jenner visual deals

Zac Efron. Bourbon cinnamon flavored something (mmm actually that sounds yummy). Pumpkin scented candles. Key lime cake pops. Chocolates. Steak.

Oh my gosh. Google Visual Deals just made me fall in love with Zac Efron.

zac efron visual deal

Adrien Brody. Beautiful white horse with long flowing locks. Wedding cake. Wedding bouquet. Gift tags. Obviously Google Visual deals thinks he’s good White Knight husband material.

adrien brody visual deals

And finally, for Jane Child, nothing. Because she’s Jane Child and there’s no comparison.

jane childs visual deals

An Introduction to Grief

This is an essay I wrote a few years ago. My then-editor and I had talked about finding it a home someplace, so she asked me to pull it from my blog, but nothing came of it. I saw it in my “unpublished” folder and decided to re-publish it today.

My husband cannot cry.

I say he must be able to, because his eyes have not dried up and fallen out; but he says ever since he got hit by a car when he was 11 and his skull cracked, he has been unable to shed tears. He says he wants to, wishes he could.

We are getting ready to say good-bye to his sister. She is just fourteen months older than he is and the sibling he is closest to.

Deb’s third kidney transplant has been failing for a while. This decline is not entirely unexpected. How can it be, for someone who has been sick her entire life? Yet it still comes as a shock. She will not go on dialysis again. She doesn’t want to. It hurts too much, and she will likely never get another transplant. She’s had this kidney for about two years.

Three hospice workers sit around my in-laws’ dining room table. Two of the hospice workers are warm and businesslike, mirroring my mother-in-law, who goes over the pile of paperwork with a calm, even cheerful attitude. This is what you need to get through this—to concentrate on the business at hand, I think. They tell me grief counselors will be available for the kids, give me hand-outs. But the third worker, the ride-along newbie, has an expression of sympathy that cracks me, and I excuse myself to the bathroom. On the way back into the living room, I burst into tears again. My mother-in-law hugs me and all I can think is I should be the one hugging her.

Deborah does not want us to feel bad for her.

She’s stubborn like that, always has been. You need to be to survive dialysis for over a decade, like she did before her last transplant.

She went to live in Kansas after college, got a job at a chemical company, then as a chemistry teacher. She got a Master’s Degree in Chemistry, volunteered at the Royals every single season as an usher, went on trips around the country visiting ballparks. During college, she toured Europe, worked at Mount Rushmore. Over the years she’s been all over the U.S.
She visited us in Hawaii after her transplant and went hiking up Diamond Head, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, touring at Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl. I was way more exhausted than she was. Every year, at the beginning of baseball season, she’d sent all of us her picks for the year. Cadillac would laugh at her picks, always hopeful, never realistic to him.

We moved to San Diego around the same time Deb decided to move home from Kansas last year. She inspired the main character in my new book (THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS). That scientific way of thinking, that no-nonsense way of talking to people. Mostly, the kidney stuff. I interviewed her about her kidney problems, and she told me everything. I’d known some of it, but not all the grueling details. She told me about a doctor who thought an allergy to IVP dye was psychosomatic. She showed me the plastic tubes, the grafts, permanently implanted in her leg and arm. The veins so collapsed they could not draw blood any longer.

When I was done writing, I had her read it. She enjoyed it. There was a rose genealogy chart I made up in the book. The editorial staff said it didn’t make sense and asked me to change it. Deb said, “It’s based on me, so it made perfect sense to me!”

More important, I just liked her. She was the one who got me. Who sat with me at family gatherings and laughed at my jokes. When Cadillac was going to be out of town and I wanted to go do something, I thought to call her.

After never living in the same town, Deb took special interest in our kids. She took each on special outings. Eldest went to lots of science programs at the Fleet, where Deb volunteered. (She also ushered at the Padres and tutored students). My son got to eat crickets because of her. Little Girl went to the Safari Park with her. They baked cookies together. She tutored Eldest in math, a subject that used to make her cry, so she started pulling A’s. Over Thanksgiving, Aunt Deb hosted a Star Wars marathon. The kids spent the whole weekend with her, watching the movies and eating a huge host of snacks. At the end, they played a Star Wars trivia game, which Deb won. She gave the prize to the runner up, Son– a Star Wars poster.

Little Girl was at first wary of Deb. Deb didn’t look like other adults. She was small, under five feet. She had lots of scars on her arms from all the places she’d had to have IV over the years, scars everywhere, in fact, from various other procedures. But before long, it was Little Girl who became especially close to her aunt. She’d save up drawings to show, stuff to tell Aunt Deb, for days before we visited. “I’m going to tell Aunt Deb that there’s ICE CREAM at the Safari Park, and she will say, ‘Ooooh, ice cream! I love ice cream!’ and then we will buy some!” One of their bonds was the fact they both had blonde hair. “Aunt Deb is not just my aunt. She’s my friend,” she told me more than once.

These outings made the kids feel important. Special. It didn’t matter what they did. It only mattered that they got to be singled out for a day. It only mattered that they got to spend time with Aunt Deb.

It is Friday afternoon. We haven’t told the kids yet. We go pick up the kids from school. We are taking them to see her.

There have been easier parenting moments.

Right now, the kids are happy and high from sugar. It’s the last day of school before winter break, and they had class parties. In the parking lot by the junior high, where we pick up our oldest, Cadillac and I turn to face the kids. We have to tell them here, because we are going directly to see her. I take a breath. “We have something to tell you,” I say. My voice breaks. I can see them brace themselves. “It’s not good.”

My husband tells them.

They understand, I see, before he finishes the sentence. Like us, they have known about this possibility. They have seen her go into the hospital for infections and deal with dozens of other ailments. Our youngest bursts into tears, covers her face. The oldest blinks, hard.

Our son looks stricken, silent for a moment. He stares out the window. Outside the car, the middle schoolers romp, wearing Santa hats and waving candy canes. “Then, we will cheer her up,” he says.

We drive over to see her. Today she has moved from her bed, where she had spent the previous day, into her chair in the family room, looking so normal the kids aren’t afraid, or concerned. She is alert and nearly normal-looking. As normal as she has been recently.

They remember their aunt is worried about their reaction. They tell her about their Christmas parties, some science mini-series, social studies class. Little Girl gives her treats from class: a polar bear sticker, a stained-glass drawing. Aunt Deborah says, “Oooh.” They make her smile. She jokes with them.

There are no good-bye speeches. Deb doesn’t want to hear it. We don’t have to say these things aloud. She knows. We know. All we can do is offer some company.

Instead, we start watching The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Little Girl sits next to her aunt, peppering her with questions about what is going on. Like, “Why are they going in the closet? What are all the coats doing in there? Why is it winter? Who is that lady? What is her name?” Deborah answers all of them. Sometimes she hacks, sometimes she vomits. Green. She hasn’t eaten in two days, only had water. It’s something to do with the liver and kidney failing. Cadillac and his parents take turns helping her.

The kids look concerned each time. I wonder if they will say, “Ick!” or run away, or ask to go home; but they say nothing. They glance at her, they are quiet, they watch the movie.

In the middle of the movie, we have to pause because the notary has arrived to witness the Power of Attorney signing. I take the kids into the other room.

We finish watching the film. When the lion, Aslan, is killed on the stone table, Little Girl says, “This is too scary.”

Deb says, “Now, this ought to look familiar to you.”

The kids stare blankly at her.

“Who else got killed and came back to life?” she prompts. “What are they teaching you in CCD?”

“About God,” Little Girl answers.

“What about Easter?” I ask.

“You mean the Easter bunny?” Little Girl says, then giggles. She knows the answer. She is playing. “Jesus died and came back to lifeAn i,” she says.

“So don’t worry,” Deb says. “Watch. The lion will be okay.”

After the movie, more people arrive. We bow out to go track down dinner. The kids say good-bye.

“Thanks for coming,” Deb says.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” the kids promise.

But it’s the last time she’s conscious.

Dear Ally, a Story. Chapter 1

Dear Ally, a Story

My daughter is a fairly prolific writer for an 8 year old. Here’s the first chapter of a book she wrote last fall, called Dear Ally. ( Ally is supposed to be read as “allie.”) It’s about a girl named Emily who moves to Arizona and writes to her friend from her old town, Ally, about all her new adventures.

I just added spaces to make it more readable.

She’d be super pleased if you left a comment for her:)

I just hope you’ll listen to all my adventures. All of them are going to be awesome!! I think… anyway, I’m moving to Arizona and I think it’s really hot there, is it? I know what you’re thinking, Emily, I’ve been there before and you’re saying HOT?! YOU’RE CRAZY!!! IT’S BURNING HOT THERE!!Yeah, well, its winter there and it’s just hot. BA~BOOM!!!

FYI, I’m at Arizona right now. OMG!! We just got a puppy. I just love puppies, don’t you?! Uh… 100 divided by 10. Lol. I just did 5th grade math in front of a 3rd grader! Anyway, we named the dog Gatsby, and he seems always happy! He’s yellow, sometimes crazy, and licks me all the time! My little brother, Ted, (age of 7 and in 2nd grade,) went crazy in our hotel room! Mom and Dad sleep in a room next to us, but attached.


I said, “Calm down! Sponge Bob is ok!’’ then he started to cry.

Mom busted in! She said, “WHAT’S GOING ON?! IS THERE A PROBLEM?!”

I said, ‘’ Mom, Ted’s going crazy because of Sponge bob falling for squid ward’s trick.”

Mom said, ‘’oh, Ted, sponge bob will be ok. See? Squid ward is crying now sponge bob~ ‘’

‘’Whaaaaa!!!’’ Ted rudely interrupted.

Then I got a call. Ring ring ring! It was my friend, Mia. ‘’ Hi, Emily! I haven’t while. Seen you in a What’s up? What’s going on in Arizona? I’m doing fine in San Diego. Wait, I can hear your brother throwing a fit. What’s his problem?’’

I said, ‘’ I’m fine, Mia. Anyway, my brother is throwing a fit because sponge bob is falling for squid ward’s trick.’’

She said, ‘’ what, girl?!’’

I said, ‘’ It’s a REALLY LONG story. (giggles)’’.

She said, ‘’ OOHH. Sponge bob, right? My little sister, Sarah, she likes it too. What, mom? Oh come on!!” Mia sighed. “Sorry Emily, I have to do the dishes. FYI, good luck!! Bye!’’

I said, ‘’ Bye, Mia!’’ then my dog JUMPED TO MY PHONE AND ATE IT!!!

Then I fainted. No, really, FAINTED!!

Then I saw my dog lick my face about at 12:00 pm. At the time I fainted, it was about 7:00 pm. I fainted for 5 hours!!! Can you believe it?! 5 HOURS!!! Then I called Mia on my emergencery~ cell~phone~ thingy.

‘’ Hi~ WHOOPS! I called my crush, Brandon.

‘’I~I~’’ he said, ‘’ Who is this?! It’s 12:00am!’’

I said, ‘’ Oh, I’m sorry! I was trying to call Mia, you know, from school. Oh yeah, I’m Emily, your BFI (best friend infinity.)’’

He said, ‘’ Oh, umm, hi, then. Anyway, be er umm careful because I use to live there, and, are you going to CatKing middle school because there’s a major bully there, Mackenzie Orville.’’

I said, ‘’ Well, er… I’m going to CatKing middle school, so I’ll be real careful.’’

He said, ‘’Ok! Uh, that’s good. Bye!’’

I said, ‘’ Bye, Brandon!’’ and went to bed.

Then I got woken up at about 4:44 am by Ted. He said, ‘’ Emily, Emily, wake up! Sponge bob came in our hotel room and showed me how to do 100X122!!!’’

I shouted, ‘’ Yeah, IN YOUR HEAD, NOW GET IN BED!!’’

He said, ‘’Ok, that rhymes! (giggles)’’ then he and I went back to bed. 2 hours later, at 6:05, I was woken up (again) by mom this time.

She said, ‘’ time to go to school!’’ I got ready for school and went to school. (I walked.) Then I meet someone new. A girl name Abbey Key. She has brown, shiny, hair.(which I’m pretty sure she’s
the great, great, great, great, great granddaughter of Elvis.) Anyway, we’re BFFI now!

There was a “student store” at our school. Everything costs about $1.00 or 50 cents. I bought a really cute kola eraser for 50 cents. All I had in my pockets were a dollar coin and 50 cents. Now I have just a dollar coin. When I went to class, I saw I am going to sit next to a girl name Mackenzie.

Looking for Bruce Lee’s Grave

Looking for Bruce Lee’s Grave

ON the first birthday I celebrated with Cadillac, I turned 24. He was in the Army up at Fort Lewis Washington, in the Ranger battalion. I think it was right before I started working at a weekly paper, which means I was just temping at a series of truly horrible office jobs, not yet arriving at the job which would turn into my first pro writing job, at a weekly newspaper. I’d been with him since the previous February, shortly after Valentine’s Day, and we had gotten married by the Justice of the Peace in October, the ink barely dry on the divorce papers from my first early ill-advised marriage that I never talk about, and it was now early February again and my birthday.

Life in the Army was strange. A life contracted. He had a degree in Classics but he wanted to try this out and then get a job with federal law enforcement. So he was 27, and the average age of the other lower enlisted guys was 19. Had he met me before he enlisted, he told me, he would have changed his plans. Probably I distracted him a great deal.
He spent a lot of time gone at training, for days or weeks at a time, leaving me solo. When he was home, he was so low on the totem pole he did a lot of cruddy work that required more duty time.
My life felt put on hold. Lonely. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, and I’d chosen to be here with him, but I couldn’t make peace with it. I spent a lot of time looking forward to the day he would get out of the military. And a lot of time feeling resentful.

The only place we ate out, besides fast food, was a classy joint that had a 10 pound burger that was free if you ate the whole thing. We did not know of many restaurants, nor did the people we knew, few of whom were from the area, and all of them having as little money as we did.

For my birthday, he promised to take me out. I said I would like a romantic dinner, and he said he knew of a place someone had talked about.

But first, he had a surprise for me in the afternoon. “You’ll love it,” he said, and we drove up to Seattle. I wondered where he was taking me. The Space Needle? We’d only walked around the outside. We could be going anywhere. There were so many places we hadn’t been.

Instead, we drove through a residential area, around and around a neighborhood called Capitol Hill. Then, around and around and around some more. “We’re close,” he said a few dozen times. “It’s around here someplace.”

“Where are we going?” I asked, thinking I could help spot a sign.

“You’ll like it,” he said. “I’m taking you to see Bruce Lee’s grave.”

I was silent for a moment. Genuine confusion and concerns raced through my head. A grave? On my birthday? And Bruce Lee’s?

What the ever loving–?

“You brought it up once,” he said. “I remembered.”

Maybe I had brought it up once, one of those random facts one reads sometimes. Bruce Lee’s grave is in Seattle. Maybe I’d seen it on Jeopardy!. I could not recall. I spouted a lot of random things I’d knew. That was probably one of the few facts I’d read about the area.

“You’re a fan,” he said. Stated. Like a fact.

“Um, no,” I said, sitting upright, my face heating. “That’s my brother.” My brother, with whom Cadillac was friends. My brother. “Do you think I’m my brother?” I said.

“Of course not. But you like Bruce Lee too,” he said.

“Why? Because I’m also half-Asian?” My fingers gripped the handle above the door. Who was this person? Why would anybody in his right mind think a woman in her early twenties would want to go see somebody’s grave? On her birthday? Only a very strange woman.

“No. Because you brought him up.” He drove faster now.

I sank down in my seat, realizing that I could not longer casually spout out some odd thing I’d heard, lest Cadillac think I was secretly hinting at my heart’s desire. If I told him about the World’s Ugliest Dog contest, he would think I’d want to get an ugly mutt. If I told him that the cost of living was low in the Sudan, he’d think I’d want to live there. “I bring up a lot of different shit. It doesn’t mean I love it all.”

“What else are we going to do in Seattle?” He was angry now too. “I thought you would like seeing Bruce Lee’s grave.”

“Well I don’t want to see anybody’s grave,” I yelled. “Why are you in love with my brother?”

“I’m not,” he yelled back. “You like Bruce Lee.”

Bruce Lee’s actual grave, next to his son’s

“I do not!” I said. “I have no opinion on Bruce Lee. I’ve seen maybe one movie and then not even the whole thing. But seriously. Even if I was a fan, who wants to go to look at dead people on her birthday?”

“Fine,” he said. “You’re right. I am sorry.”

I heard the apology, but I still stewed. All the way back to the south Sound, a trip theoretically taking 45 minutes but took about two hours with traffic. A double realization knocked me back. First, I had an awful, panicky fear. He had no idea of who I was, what I liked, what my heart’s desires were. And I’d thought we were soul mates. We were already married. Married too fast, against all better judgment and advice and in the face of all the signs to slow down—and now we were going to have to lie in the bed we made. But the fact was, we were unknown to each other. I was unknown to him. A true stranger, I thought. He was a being entirely different than me– I’d known that, of course– but the extent of how different he was freaked me out.

Second—and this had to do with me alone, so it was harder to admit to myself–that I immediately pushed the thought back down when it briefly surfaced—that I was hopelessly, irretrievably, shamefully shallow. At least he thought of something to do. At least he didn’t just throw a card at me and call it a day. He’d tried, right? Honestly, he was in the Army, making just above the cut-off point for food stamps (the jump pay for jumping out of airplanes pushed us over the limit). He couldn’t take me someplace fancy. Probably not even into a museum. This thought depressed me further, of how a trip to someplace I’d taken for granted, like a museum, would have to be carefully planned and budgeted for. If this was being grown-up, I didn’t like it.

But I had chosen him, I had chosen to be here. I knew he had no money. Why did I expect him to sweep me off my feet, as if he was some dot-com billionaire instead of an enlisted soldier? I wept like the little girl I was. Not sobbing, just silent, pouty tears.

“You’ll like where I’m taking you to dinner, though,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a great place.”

“It better be,” I mumbled. An ominous princess.

A bit later in the evening, we arrived at Mama Stortini’s in Tacoma. “He said they have meatballs as big as your fist!” Cadillac said.

I walked in, expecting to see low lights. Candles. White tablecloths.

I saw picnic tables covered with plastic red gingham cloths in what I recall being a vinyl-walled patio area. The tables were pushed together so you ate elbow-to-elbow with strangers.
Two basic truths. One: if an Army dude whose chow hall diet normally consists of like forty different starches tells you that someplace is great, you ought to ask a few specific questions. Two: a place that has anything “as big as your fist” might not provide the kind of romantic atmosphere you’re seeking.

We stood in the doorway and took it all in for a minute. “We can go somewhere else if you want,” he said. “I thought it would be nicer.” (You see how HARD things were in the days before smart phones and Yelp and Google Maps?)

“Nah,” I said. “Let’s just eat here.”

Here, my first instinct was to sugarcoat this for you. To tie up this story with a warm and fuzzy realization: Then she realized—even though he’d weirdly tried to take her to see a grave on her birthday, she’d been kind of a bitch. The important thing was that they were together. She hugged him, and they happily ate dinner.

No. I can’t pretend that happened. That kind of self-awareness did not come until later. It went more like this, We sat down and ate because we were starving, saying little to each other, chewing through a fog of dim resentment and heavy starches.

To his credit, Cadillac has planned other birthdays well: a surprise hot air balloon ride, horseback tour, dinners out, all varying according to our budget and time allowance. But he’s never taken me to see a grave on my birthday again. It’s entirely possible he’d refuse, even if I asked nicely.

2014: In Which Margaret Dilloway is Rebuilt. Better, Stronger, Faster.

2014: In which Margaret Dilloway is Rebuilt. Better, Stronger, Faster

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll notice I’ve had a rather unfortunate spate of having to go see doctors lately. Well, hopefully it will all be fortunate in the end; in the meantime, it’s just visit after visit with new visits added (dog spraining wrist, for example). I fear my doctors think I’m a hypochondriac. The truth is, I’ve had a few minor problems, that have only now worsened enough for me to do something about them. You know how it is. You’re too busy to take care of things.

I had an endoscopy to see if I have Celiac’s Disease and to address stomach pain and reflux, for which I took a drug called Dexilant, which had stopped working so well. The doc found pretty significant reflux that affects both passageways, larynx and esphogeal (so that’s why I sound hoarse when I sing! Not that I was ever fabulous), and generalized tummy irritation.

During this procedure, my heart was doing something wonky. PVCs, they’re called, on the EKG (premature ventricular contractions) which they also called extra heartbeats. It freaked out my GI doc, who used to be a cardiologist, and during my groggy recovery period right after the endoscopy (luckily, husband was there listening), he told me to make an appointment with the heart doc.

The doctors all got very excited and nervous about this, because there’s this heart thing in my family that I potentially will develop. It’s called noncompaction cardiomyopathy, and basically your heart walls are spongy instead of smooth. Sometimes this morphs into an irregular heartbeat, which causes your heart to enlarge and not work well. It’s what ultimately killed my mother and her sister, so every year I get an echocardiogram to make sure they catch any changes very early, and of course there are other treatment options available now that were not available 20+ years ago.

I’d been noticing an irregular heartbeat sometimes and a really low pulse. Usually 44, every time I go into the doctor’s office. Now, I’d say I’m in moderately good shape—but there’s no WAY my pulse should be that low. That’s like endurance athlete low.

The cardiologist said that the monitor could only pick up every other beat if my heart was doing an extra beat, hence on the EKGs my heartrate was around 88 instead. He ordered a nuclear stress test, a Holter monitor (which you wear for 24 hours) and another echo.

The GI doc said he found no evidence of celiac’s (he said I have wheat intolerance and to continue avoiding it) but he was still worried about some other symptoms I’d been having and wants to do a colonoscopy to see if I have colitis or cancer or precancer or whatever. Yay. (waves pompoms). Sounds like fun. I mean, I know you’re supposed to start having them at some point, but I was hoping to wait until the minimum recommended age. Oh well. At least my insides will be spic n span. I’m glad they’re being thorough, because it would suck if I found out there was something really wrong with me a few months down the road.

During this time, I also finally got a referral approved to go see an oral surgeon about my jaw. I was born with a crooked mouth, as you might have noticed from the pictures or video of me. I don’t know if it’s due to nerve damage (which would be called asymmetrical crying facies, I think, based on my highly accurate Google research) or if it’s entirely bone-related, but basically my jaw has gotten more crooked over the years, pushed by the overcompensating muscles in my face. This led to the total demise of the cartilage in the right side of my jaw, which, as you can imagine, is not pleasant. I’ve had ear pain for years and various other issues that can be traced back to the jaw (my face actually starts aching if I speak for too long—by too long, I mean for more than 5 minutes, the time it takes to read a picture book. Really. It’s annoying). Some teeth are also hitting soft tissue and I keep getting cuts in my mouth. Finally, I went to see an orthodontist (once, I had these “braces” which were actually removable braces attached to retainers, which did not address anything structural) and he found out about the missing cartilage when he did an X-ray, and also that the jaws are different lengths, and told me I had to address my jaw before he did anything. So I am actually excited to see this specialist. (And if you ask me why I’m not smiling, well, now you know. It hurts.)

Back to the heart. I went to the cardiologist’s to get some tests. The most interesting was the nuclear test, in which they shot some radioactive substance into my veins. Then I had to wait for 20 minutes, hoping to turn into the Hulk. Sadly, nothing happened, and then I had to lie down and have my heart scanned by a machine for 12 minutes, during which time I fell asleep, because the nurse gave me a warm blanket, and what else is there to do?

After that, I got on a treadmill in a room where the nurses played Good Cop, Bad Cop.

Bad Cop worked the treadmill machine while Good Cop watched with great concern. “Faster?” Bad Cop would yell, and turn up the speed and angle. “You’re doing GREAT.”

“Yep,” I’d say. At first, boldly. Bring it on, I thought. Good Cop stood right by me, obviously concerned I’d fall off the machine.

“MORE!” Bad Cop yelled. He amped it up, again and again. “Just a bit faster.”

“Not too much,” Good Cop said.

“Don’t worry. She’s doing fine,” he said, pressing the PLUS key. He did “just a bit” until I was running. “Try not to run,” he said.

“I can’t not run,” I said. I guess I could have done a fast walk, but it was easier to run. He made the angle mountain-steep. It seemed to go on forever. My lungs felt like they were going to burst. “Ungh,” I said.

Good Cop put her hands on my arm. “Do you want to stop, hon?”


“Stop, she wants to get off,” Good Cop shouted.

“Just a bit more,” Bad Cop said.

“I think you should turn it off,” Good Cop said.

“Do you want to stop?” Bad Cop asked. “You’re doing very well.”

“Yeah, yeah, I want to stop,” I said, and abruptly Bad Cop switched off the machine. I was actually expecting to do a cool down walk, so this, combined with the fact they don’t want you to eat prior, just about knocked me out. My ears rang, and then my hearing went muffled. I had to bend over, fearing I’d pass out. Good Cop felt my arms and pronounced them clammy and then I felt sick, so I was made to lie down. Good Cop looked at Bad Cop accusingly. “She needs to rest.”

I was convinced that Bad Cop was like the Dad who thought his kids could do the non-bunny slope on the first ski run, and Good Cop was the worrying mom who knew they’d crash.

I had to take a break of 30-40 minutes, and was allowed coffee and food, then had to lie in the machine again. I got to see my heart in glorious Technicolor.

IMG_20140311_141635_094 (1)

The images taken before and after the treadmill (the first two rows of large pics) are supposed to look the same when you compare them. If there is a blockage or something off, the color patterns will be different. These look pretty much the same.

The Holter is an EKG machine you wear for 24 hours. I had adhesive on me for 2 weeks—it just would not scrub off. I tried telling people I’d been in an accident and was now the Bionic Woman, but only one believed me. I was also afraid someone would think I was wearing a bomb, but nothing dramatic happened, and most people didn’t look twice at all the wires.

Anyway, the ultimate result of everything was that my heart is great. Better than normal. In fact, the Holter showed that I had fewer PVCs than I did 4 years ago, when I had the test before. Any discomfort I had during the nuclear stress test was due to my cardiovascular shape, which can be conditioned. Admittedly, I haven’t always pushed myself that hard, always afraid that my heart will rebel. But now I don’t have to worry. Drat. The cardiologist said that nobody knew what caused these irregular heartbeats, but that they were not clinically significant.

Then the cardiologist and I had a discussion about the meds that I take. Three of them, one for allergies, can actually cause some irregular heartbeats. The Dexilant, for example, can lower magnesium, which can cause this. Nobody checked my magnesium. Luckily, I got switched off of Dexilant already (which can also cause calcium loss, if taken for too long).

Now I think that these medications are all actually irritating my stomach and that I need to stop taking them as much as possible, which will hopefully eliminate a lot of the acid issues and the irregular heartbeats. I’ve always had a sensitive stomach, and whether that’s due to colitis, or if it’s worsened in my adulthood because of meds, remains to be seen. It may just be a case of one doctor prescribing a medication for a symptom caused by another medication.

So, by the end of this year, I fully expect to be a highly functioning machine who will still hopefully be able to have coffee and alcohol, in moderation. The other possibility is that stopping coffee and alcohol completely will just cure me of everything. But let’s hope for the best.

Forgotten Samurai Women

Forgotten Samurai Women by Margaret Dilloway

One day, my dad told me, “You know your mother was from a samurai family, right?”

Um, no, didn’t know that. That kind of information is good to know!My mom had said only that her family had been the royal seal-bearers (which I guess, though it doesn’t sound as exciting as samurai, is ranked above samurai).

Then I wondered: were there any female samurai?

To my surprise, there were. There’s even a book (albeit slender) about them.

I’d never been interested in samurai in my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. My mom had a set of samurai dolls, a man and a woman. The woman had silk robes and real human hair and a detailed kimono costume, right down to the knife she kept in the sleeve.

I always thought that was cool.

I got a book about samurai which had a family tree of notable samurai families. I found my mom’s family and discovered that it is an offshoot of the Minamoto branch.
Then I got the samurai women book.

Women fought in a variety of ways. There was Empress Jingu, who was said to lead her army into war while she was heavily pregnant. Other women trained to defend their homes while the men were away.

And then there was Tomoe Gozen.

Lady Tomoe was said to be the most beautiful bad-ass woman who ever lived, who was the best archer (from horseback) and best swordsman (she fought with a man’s sword). She fought alongside a general named Yoshinaka Minamoto during the 12th century.

Tomoe Gozen. Women didn’t actually paint their faces for battle, but re-enactors often do, a practice that probably stems from kabuki traditions.

Minamoto! That’s where my mom’s family came from.

Yoshinaka was an interesting character. Her parents had rescued him as an infant from an intra-family feud, and he grew up with Tomoe and her brothers. He was said to be a brilliant military tactician, who won several battles with like a quarter as many troops, but a horrible politician. His nickname was, “Kiso,” or “hillbilly,” because he was from the northern mountain area (in what is now Nagano).

Some people think that Tomoe wasn’t real, that she was invented to discredit Yoshinaka by saying he was a wimp for fighting with a female captain. She’s mentioned briefly in The Heike, a mostly true account of the Genpei War, where the Minamoto fought the Taira for the shogunate at the beginning of the shogun era. (One part said she ripped a tree out of the ground. Probably an exaggeration).

Oh, and Tomoe was also Yoshinaka’s concubine.

AND…Yoshinaka also had a legal wife, Yamabuki, as well as probably another concubine, Aoi.


Did the women get along? How did Tomoe become a warrior? What did the other women think of her role?

You can see why I had to write about Tomoe.

I did a lot of research, but most of the English language books on the subject didn’t have all the info I needed. I reached out to the folks at the Samurai Archives. Randy Schadel (aka “jidaigeki legend”); and Dr. Ayame Chiba, a member of the Minami-ku (Kyoto) Historical Reenactment Society) read an early draft and pointed out errors and made a lot of great suggestions (I’m thanking them in my acknowledgements, too, of course).

One of the most important things Randy told me is that “samurai” actually means male warrior, so you can’t say “female samurai.” The term is, “onnamusha,” or “woman warrior.” For simplicity, I’ll probably just say female samurai so people know what I’m talking about, but explain the distinction later.

Translating the life of a 12th century warrior woman into modern day women’s fiction proved challenging. Life then, as Thomas Hobbes would say several centuries later, was, “Nasty, brutish, and short.”

Ultimately, I decided to excerpt Tomoe’s story into my contemporary story, sort of like I did with the fiction “American Housewife book” in How to Be an American Housewife. Each samurai section is no more than 5 pages and thematically informs the modern day story.

But although I’m not a “historical” author, I couldn’t bear to leave the rest of Tomoe on the cutting room.

So I took all my historical sections and made them into a separate book, which will be available as a supplemental e-book when SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW publishes.

Sit Down and Shuddup

“I don’t mean this to sound like sour grapes,” says the lady in the audience, “but your books actually suck. I haven’t read them and to do so would be to lower myself, but I think they suck, because I HEARD that they suck. I’ve written books, but nobody buys them. My books are better. So how about you quit writing, and then all of your fans will buy my books instead?”

This didn’t happen at a reading, to me. It happened online, to JK Rowling. A writer of mysteries penned an article entreating Rowling to sit herself down and shuddup and give all the rest of us struggling yokel writers a break.

I would have left a comment on the article, but Huffington Post keeps telling me I’m not verified (though my Facebook account is verified and linked) and, me being me, I can never sit down and shuddup myself. I HAD TO WRITE IT HERE before my brain exploded! YESSS. I’m probably saying many similar things to what the other indignant commenters said.

Here are a couple paragraphs from the article, so you know to what I’m referring.

I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right? But The Casual Vacancy changed all that.

It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

Yes. What can an ordinary author do?

Publishers should also stop publishing ALL celebrity books. Snookie, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, all the Housewives, etcetera etcetera etcetera. And they should quit with all the big authors and book series. Fifty Shades of Grey. Twilight. Danielle Steel. Stephen King. Dean Koontz. Such gar-baaaahhhge. Not real high fiber Fiction. We should all be reading  li-ter-a-TURE. The kind your college professor would make you read.

But wait! S&S reported a 32% rise in print books largely due to  just four books. Interesting. What books were they?

A Rush Limbaugh kids’ book and three Duck Dynasty books.

That is right. Your favorite right wing blowhard and Uncle Si are largely responsible for helping to keep a major publisher in business.

Celebrity books help keep the publishing industry chugging along. They always have (for example, George Putnam asked Amelia Earhart to write a book because she was a celebrity. My kid just did a report on Earhart).

If JK Rowling didn’t publish her book, would all the people who didn’t buy say, “Well, since I can’t buy a Rowling book, I will certainly buy this lady’s book instead”? Or would they just spend money on other things entirely, like movies and magazines or cupcakes? My guess is that most of the people weren’t thinking of buying ANY book at all, until they found out that Rowling wrote this one.

These juggernaut Big Name authors help keep pubs in business and allows them to take chances on lesser known authors. Such as, I don’t know, Margaret Dilloway.

Plus, it’s not very nice to judge other peoples’ reading tastes(except for James Frey. I am totally judgy of you then. I’m not a perfect person). I’m not in charge of other peoples’ reading material (and if someone was in charge of your reading material, you’d be living someplace like North Korea).

I am only in charge of what I write. I write to the best of my ability and sometimes people don’t buy a lot of my work. But that’s not JK Rowling’s fault. There are many uber-talented authors who don’t have huge audiences, due to a lot of different factors, luck and marketing and more luck and an idea that resonates with people and fairy dust. Just like there are a lot of talented actors working who never get their big break and people with wonderful business ideas whose ventures fall flat.

It’s called life, isn’t it? Maybe someday, if I keep working hard and am very very very lucky, I can become an author other authors want to keep out of the game. Maybe not.

Also, dissing Harry Potter without reading a word of it? “…there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.” How very open minded of you! Open minded writers create the best work, I think.

Oh, wait.

Why is it not stimulating for grown-up minds? Because the struggle between choosing the dark side of yourself over the good side of yourself is NOT found in any great literature? And because it’s super easy to build an entire alternate universe that is fun and scary and thrilling, and to come up with a complex plot that makes sense over the course of a whole series? Go try to write something like Harry Potter and come back and tell us how easy that was.

You’re allowed to state your opinion, of course, but I’m also allowed to tell you mine. Personally, this adult woman found plenty to enjoy and mull in Harry Potter. Kids’ books can be great literature. Read some books on this list.

So that, my friends, is how the world works. Some people have fortunate careers, but them quitting isn’t going to make your own fortunes rise. Publishers are in a business, in which they have to pay people and show profit and things like that. And condemning books you haven’t read will not increase your street cred.

And also, just saying, “This isn’t sour grapes” doesn’t make it not sour grapes, when it is.

10 Things to Know by Age 40

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.

Narihira, 9th century

I wrote, “Mom’s 29th birthday” on the calendar for today, but some ungrateful kid crossed it out and put, “40th.” Et tu, brute? I think the youngest did it on orders from the oldest.

Anyway, I am happy to be 40. You know why? You have two choices: get older, or die.

And things are just getting interesting! 40 feels like a wiser more Zen space than 20. I’ve already had my children, we’re much more financially stable, and I think I am actually more intelligent than I was twenty years ago.

So I did a little self-assessment of my life at age 40:

Body: not nearly as decrepit as I thought it’d be, back when I was 20 thinking ahead to 40.
Wrinkles: fairly negligible (thanks, Japanese mom!)
Husband: attentive. Still love hanging out with him.
Kids: Mostly well-behaved. Diligent workers. Still funny.
House: Purchased
Career: going well
Life: good

This is me now:

still life with black fan
I know what you’re thinking when you look at this photo. Why on earth does she have a white carpet? Because it was on sale for really cheap.

This is me in 20 years (I’m pretty sure her DNA will be available for sale on eBay soon):

I also thought about some things I’ve learned by now and tried to write them down.

1. To not care about what other people think about me.

I’m not talking about when people express concern for really important life-and-death things, like, It concerns me that you have worn the same sweatsuit for three weeks and haven’t showered in four.

No, I’m talking about the peanut gallery, the cacophony of folks, who may be friends/relatives or strangers on the Internets, who love to chime in and tell you that you’re crap at your job/motherhood/writing/cooking/whatever, or you should be doing X instead of Y.

But it’s hard to ignore people! Especially for women, who are conditioned to monitor others’ feelings and worry and fret over them as if they were seedlings, and feel BAD badbad when we don’t please someone.

This is a fact. Ready?

Some people—strangers or family members— will never be pleased with you, no matter what you do or how perfect and wonderful you are. These are not people whose opinions should matter to you.

If you please everyone, you will get some kind of really big trophy because you will be the only person in all of space and time to do it.


Do you hate my language? My looks? My books? My opinions? (I could turn this into a Dr. Seuss rhyme.) Clears throat.

Do you hate how I write?
You can just go fly a kite.
Am I as ugly as can be?
Please feel free to climb a tree.
I do not care. I do not care. I do not care here, or anywhere.
You’re not worth the breath it takes
To give my head two big shakes
You’re the poo beneath my shoe
You can’t even spell the word “knew”
I do not care. I do not care.
Now take your comments
And go somewhere
Or I’ll punch you in the throat
I swear.

I’m so proud! I literally just made that up (Um, I totally can’t tell, say my wonderful lying friends).

2. To be grateful.

I am grateful when I wake up in my bed in my own house with my family snug inside it. Yes, the house is in various states of remodeling even though somebody (not naming names) swore that he would do 100% of one project before moving onto the next. But it’s our house (or it will be in like 30 years).

Every time I go to Costco, I feel thankful that I can get almost whatever I like to eat there PLUS a full tank of gas. (Not that I should get everything I like there, that’s just crazy). Yes, the trip still annoys me– I hate having to shove aside elderly ladies to get to the ultra-important pigs-in-a-blanket samples– but I feel damn grateful about the opportunity to slam my cart into theirs.

3. To let go of anger
Ok, unnecessary anger.
OK, some unnecessary anger.

Like every Irishman, I am what you might call hot-blooded. But, lately it’s been an easier emotion to turn around. (unless it’s super serious. Then watch out!). Like last night, Cadillac and I had a huge blowout (read: minor) over a saucepan. I was making dinner and needed a pan to cook noodles in (Item 3a: Have TWO large pans big enough for spaghetti noodles, not one). He wanted to cook long spaghetti noodles in a little saucepan, because the big pan was dirty with the asparagus I’d burned the previous night (to be fair, he said he’d clean the pan, but it was really bad and we didn’t have any Brillo pads, so it’d been soaking). Anyway, he’d nearly finished cleaning the big pan and said he was going to use the little saucepan NO MATTER WHAT. I said we should use the big pan and he said no. “I can make it work. Step back and watch my magic,” he said.

Well, these are quinoa noodles and they get sticky fast. If they were in a small pan, they’d be a big lump. I said it wouldn’t work and explained why, and he said yes it would, and I said no, and he said YES IT WOULD BACK OFF, and I said, I’M COOKING HERE, YOU BACK OFF, and he said no. I thought of the most dramatic thing I could say. “If you use that pan,”I said, “I’m throwing this box of pasta away.”

Mexican stand-off.

Admittedly, some people (us in the past) might have rather died than lose this battle royale.

He thought for a moment, I assume about the high probability I was making an empty threat. He was swishing water in the pan like a miner panning for gold and something about that struck me as funny. So I laughed and he laughed and I cooked the noodles how I wanted and they were perfect.

Of course when transgressions are bigger than noodles (hmmm that sounds slightly Freudian) forgiving is easier said than done. If someone has done something egregiously wrong, I might technically forgive them, understand the circumstances leading up to it, even cop to my part in it all—but it’s hard to forget it. Then if I happen to remember the incident, the feeling I had when I was hurt keeps bubbling up, just as fresh as when it first happened.

What do you then?

I let myself experience that feeling, then…I let it go. Instead of obsessing about it and thus wasting the next 1000 hours of my life. Try it first with something small, work your way up.

4. To eat healthy

I wish I’d done it earlier.

Eating well is easy after you’ve done it for a couple of weeks and you realize, “Holy shit, I don’t feel like shit anymore!” And if you’re a conspiracy theorist like me, you’ll be avoiding all those hardcore addictive chemicals that food manufacturers put in their “food,” and then suddenly you’re like, “Hmm, I’m eating things because I’m hungry and I don’t need as much food as I used to. Maybe there’s something to this!”

Don’t tell me you can’t do it or whine that it’s too hard. I will for real punch you in the throat for real! (Apparently 40 also = violent tendencies.)

5. Choose goals that seem too ambitious

I always choose the harder goal when possible. Some people might think that’s stupid, but it works for me. That way, if I fall short of my big goal, I tend to fall at least in the middle. This is how you do it:

  • Choose lofty goal
  • Write smaller goals that lead up to big goal
  • Write steps to accomplish first small goal
  • Start doing the first steps

Warning: this type of ambitious attitude may cause people to say, Who do you think you are? You’ll never do that. You’re not talented or smart enough.
If this happens, go back to number one.

6. Being pretty has less to do with actual features than with your attitude.

So cliché, right? Isn’t that what your parents tried to tell you, but you stopped believing them and believed the magazines who told you you needed moreMOREMORE?

But it’s absolutely true. I never believed it before.

Do this experiment.

Make yourself up really really nice and go out someplace public. Don’t make eye contact or try to talk to anyone. Do not smile. Count how many people smile at you. Take your picture while thinking about nothing.

You will, I bet, not find yourself attractive in that photo. You will see every line and every weird quirk that you hate about your face right there.

Now, dress in the same clothes. Go out with a spring in your step (a smile in your heart, whatever) and be warm to people. Smile a lot. Look for nice things in the people you meet, and mention them aloud. How many people smile at you? How many people respond warmly?

Take a photo of yourself, thinking of the warmest, happiest laugh-out-loud memory you can.

I bet you’ll like that one.

Without fail, if I am in a positive good mood and make an effort to treat people well, they respond in kind (unless there is something gravely wrong with them). When I was younger, I was too self-conscious about too many things to realize that. And yes, ohmygod, sometimes that takes some work for me, and sometimes I don’t do it. Because like Mr. Bates, I tend to be a brooder, a brooders brood. I actually like skulking around and thinking my deep thoughts. It’s my entertainment. But sometimes that leads into a darker mood, which leads into a really darker mood, which is harder to shake.

Bonus: it makes it easier to manipulate people into doing your bidding, so you can take over the world!

7. To have friends who will watch your back, and friends to do stuff with

Cadillac says in man-world, men can be friends even if they never talk about anything but football. I think in woman-world it’s different, at least for me. I didn’t count someone as a friend unless we can talk about non-small-talk things and be real with each other.

I’ve learned how to call more people friends– people with whom I only do certain activities with, maybe business-related or maybe just knitting or whatever. Which is fine. But you also want a core group, the ones who will help you when you need them the same way you’d help them. Which is not always easy to find.

8. To worry less about being a “good parent.”

Everyone wants their kids to grow up right. We worry and watch over their every little fart and morsel of food and parse every word they say for hidden trama. But–you had a rough day. You’re tired, you’ve driven literally 100 miles schlepping kids around and to and from work. Is it okay to have cereal for dinner?

Damn right it is. (If it’s good enough for breakfast, it’s good enough for dinner. I’ve told that to at least two people so far)

Sometimes, you gotta do what it takes to power through until bedtime. Sometimes, it’s okay to have stacks of clean clothes baskets lining the hallways and giant dustbunnies under the coffee table. The world will not end. Trust me—I already would have caused it to end.

9. To like my body

Hey, body. I’m sorry I was so mean to you when I was younger. I’m sorry that I thought I was too fat to wear a bikini when I was about thirty pounds lighter than I am now. I’m sorry that I ate so little that my head looked like a giant lollipop on a stick. I’m sorry I was too lazy to put you through your paces until after I had kids. Now you’re kind of scarred up from said kids and not everything works the same, and things look a bit different; but I’m different now too. I like you. I mean, love you. I love how you got me through that six mile hike the other day though I was growing some pretty big blisters. Arms, I love how you didn’t let me down, even when my hands and elbows tingled from nerve compression after driving all day. I like your health. I like your curves and your muscles. From now on, I promise, we’ll have a caring relationship.

10. To enjoy everything in the here and now

Without doubt, this is the busiest point of our lives. We are busy from sunup to sundown. It is easy to feel stressed and to feel like you’re never going to put away the 12 baskets of laundry and get all your other tasks done.

So take a breath and stop thinking ahead to Task #152. Be present in the task at hand– something as mundane as folding laundry can be like a meditation. Talk to the people you care about.

Because this– all this we have right now, good and bad– won’t last.

This life of ours would not cause you sorrow
if you thought of it as like
the mountain cherry blossoms
which bloom and fade in a day.


Coastal Trip

On Thursday I went up to San Luis Obispo with Cadillac, who had to do something for work (blah blah FINANCE blah blah audit). It’s about a six hour or so trip, so it was too far for a one-day trip and kind of far for a 2-day trip, but we did a 2-day trip anyway. Traveling at this time of year is hard because it’s multiple kid-sport season/finals/etc so we just stayed one night instead of trying to extend.

First we actually stopped in Carson, very very close to Compton, at a strip mall that had not one but two dollar stores. One was a Mom & Pop and the other a corporate one that just opened, which I assume will drive Mom & Pop out of business. Every store had bars on the windows. There was also a liquor store, two nail salons, a grocery store I’d never heard of, a beauty salon/supply, and a few other stores. But then you drive just a block down the road and it’s all gentrified with brand-new strip malls and new grocery stores and Starbucks and whatnot. Is that good? Where will the people who can’t afford the more expensive stores shop? Because you know the new/remodeled mall stores are charged more for rent.


Then we continued driving. I was supposed to be reading a manuscript but I kind of gave up. Cadillac’s brother just got a new car, and I didn’t know what it looked like, so he pointed one out. “That’s the kind they got,” he said. A bit later we saw another one, in a different color. He pointed that one out too. And so on. He pointed out like 10 in two days and I suppose they will get pointed out to me until the end of time, along with certain types of Porsches and Lotus Elises and so on.

We stayed at a Best Western in Pismo Beach. It was the off season and though it was by the beach and we had an “ocean view” room, I sure did not expect a view like this.


When I watch the ocean, I feel like I’m watching a movie that I can’t turn away from lest I miss something. The waves were high and all night it sounded like there was a windy storm, but it was waves crashing on sandstone cliff.

Plus they had these towels. They are somewhat tweaked because I took towels out from underneath before deciding to take a photo. Cadillac actually called me into the bathroom to see them.


The room was upstairs and had a nice vaulted ceiling. But the bed was Munchkin-short and our feet hung off. That was a bit weird.

While he did his work thing in the morning, I hung out and took photos. Like this one, in the morning sun.


After his business was concluded, he came back and we drove up to Hearst Castle, about an hour north of there. Or more, depending on traffic and whether someone is driving like they’re on a tractor in front of you, which was often the case. Or less, if you drive like Cadillac and pass people in your rented 4 cylinder car by accelerating terrifyingly past long lines of cars (only where you’re allowed to pass, of course). And why do people go really slow, then when you try to pass, gas it?

We stopped in Morro Bay for some food and I used my Yelp app to locate a place and found this one right by the rock. Morro Bay has this big old rock, for lack of a better term, and next to it, out of the photo, is some kind of smokestack operation.


We arrived at Hearst Castle in time for our tour. There are several tours to choose from. You can tour the downstairs Grand Rooms, the cottages outside the main house, or the upstairs room. I think there’s one other tour. You take a bus up this winding road to the mountaintop, which was exciting in itself because the tour bus driver was totally badass and we were teetering very near drop offs a few times. I think it’s like 80,000 acres now, and it boasts free ranging cattle and some zebras, a leftover from the zoo at the mansion.

This is looking out the tour bus window, from the road, to the water.


This is the poultry manager’s house, which looks pretty darn nice. Now people who work at the castle use it.


They gave us wristbands with the name of our tour on them. There was an annoying couple on the bus who I thought were supposed to be on our tour– annoying because they kept telling us to turn off sound on our cell phones and the woman kept tweeting and texting and getting alerts– PING! PING! PING!– all the way up, plus she pushed her way in front of us getting off– and luckily they were actually on a different tour. Phew.

We did the Upstairs Rooms tour, the private rooms where guests and Hearst stayed. You’re supposed to be in relatively good shape for the tour because there are tons of spiral stairs, steep like a lighthouse. One guy bent over and wheezed when we got to the top, so that was alarming.

Our tour group asked some interesting questions, like how the estate was split up after Hearst died among his 5 sons; what happened to his mistress after he died; where Mrs. Hearst stayed when the mistress was there; etc. I mostly asked about art, of which there was a lot.

One woman kept asking if we’d see a bathroom. The tour guide said later. But then whenever we went into a room, the woman asked, “Can we see a bathroom?” until it became the running joke. Finally we got to a room where there was a visible bathroom. They were marble bathrooms but they weren’t big, they were small and functional, even in the master.

There’s a wing with an open-air hallway for the single people. Hearst would host Hollywood parties and movie stars would come up for the weekend (the guide named David Niven, Errol Flynn) plus various starlets/showgirls.

Detail from the door. I liked looking at all the scratches. One had vertical scratches down from the knocker and I imagined someone like Errol Flynn trying to get into the showgirls’ room and being denied and dragging his nails down the door.


Obviously my favorite room was the library. Not only are there like (literally, I think this is the number) 4000 books, there’s a collection of actual Greek pottery along the tops of the bookcases. Not reproductions. Can you imagine staying at someone’s house and seeing such a vast collection of antiquities?


The guide said the pale colored vase in the corner is the oldest piece in the house, an ancient Egyptian piece found in Greece.


This is a 16th century Spanish panel on a bedroom ceiling.


This is my favorite figure. Doesn’t she look all, “COME AT ME, BRO”?

This is the “Gothic” room, where meetings were often held. Here’s a table with A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Dickens was one of Hearst’s faves) and THE CALL OF THE WILD. First editions? Why else would they be displayed? I didn’t get a chance to ask.




The grounds are filled with statues. It was driving me crazy that there are no plaques telling you what is what.


I wouldn’t mind swimming in the Neptune pool. The other pool is the Roman pool, under the tennis courts. The leg inside a smaller room is the shallow end, the rest is deep.



On the way down, we saw the zoo enclosures were the polar bears lived. These were actually advanced enclosures for the time, better than most zoos. Most of the animals went to zoos like San Diego once Hearst fell on harder times.


And one last shot of the landscape.

Totally worth seeing. Not sure if the kids would care, because they don’t generally like looking at estates too much and would probably rather see an aquarium or the elephant seals we were told were on a beach a mile away. Eldest would like the castle, though.

After that, we started home. We stopped at a gas station and Cadillac was pumping gas into the rented Kia when a man at another pump said, “Is that a Honda?” and Cadillac didn’t think he was talking to us, because people don’t usually chat at gas stations. The dude was very impressed, but in reality (if you were wondering about getting one) the Kia sedan isn’t too comfortable for long trips. My neck was really sore.

Any break from regular routine is pretty relaxing, so I didn’t mind the quick trip.

In Defense of Photoshop

Every time there’s a female celebrity on a magazine cover who is not a size zero (and sometimes when they are a size zero) somebody gets up in arms about how she’s depicted. Did they put her in a big coat to hide her horrible deformed chunky size 8 frame? Did they zoom in on her face so as not to offend us with her body?

Granted, there are some outrageous examples of companies photoshopping their poor models into skeletal nonexistence, like they time traveled into the 19th century and got their corsets tightlaced. (Thanks, Ralph Lauren!)

But yesterday, I saw that the website Jezebel offered $10,000 for unretouched Vogue photos of Lena Dunham, a young woman who is the creator/producer/writer of a popular HBO show, Girls. It was going to be a great big ole Gotcha, catching the evil Emperor in the act of destroying pure young womanhood.

It got them.


photoshop corrections

I was looking at the banal corrections, which mostly seem to deal with posture and lighting– minor things– and my underused $100,000 art major education spat up some info from the depths of my brain:

Photographs are NEVER EVER EVER a 100% accurate depiction of what we see in real life.

There’s something called distortion, caused by the camera lens, or the angle, or how close you are to the subject.

I haven’t seen this mentioned in any discussions (granted, I haven’t read all 1,500,999). Everyone automatically assumes that any kind of Photoshop is an evil attempt to set women back 300 years.

It is not.

Ideally, Photoshop often corrects things so they more closely resemble what you see in real life, with your naked eye. It can be a useful tool to correct distortions, not just create them. To correct things that distract from the subject, mood, tone, artistic intent.

Hear me out. How often have you taken a photo of someone with a crappy phone camera and seen that in the photo, they don’t look quite the same? Maybe they suddenly have a noticeable double chin or bags under the eyes or a bigger tummy than you saw RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Maybe, because one shoulder isn’t back, their body looks like they need to go to the chiropractor. Wrinkles might look more pronounced digitally than they did in real life, or they might be washed out by the light. Maybe there’s a strange shadow in the photo that you didn’t notice when you took it that cuts off half their face.

Try taking a group photo. The people in the front always look way huger than those in the back because they’re closer.

Take a close-up of a friend. Look closely at her eyes in real life– see if you notice any red blood vessels or discolorations in the whites. You probably did not until you looked for them. Now look at the image and see if those pop out at you. They probably do, though you would not note them otherwise.

Take a photo of someone from above them, then from below. Compare. See if they match what you see in real life. Notice how you can make someone’s legs appear longer or shorter by changing the angle. Try a cruddy phone camera vs. a pro. You’ll see a difference.

I don’t agree that correcting something that is distorted is the most awful thing anybody ever thought of in all the history of portraiture.

Believe me, if my family photographer snaps a pic of me and I’m exhaling at that second and my belly’s sticking out like I’m 5 months pregnant but everything otherwise looks great (kids all looking the same way! Yay!) then I would be very happy if she corrected that. Otherwise, my eye would not always be drawn to something unlike real life (nobody’s stuck in an exhale for all of eternity). If she notices blood vessels in my eyes that distract from my energetic joyful smile, then I would love it if she took those out.

Look at it this way. If you hired someone to paint you, would you want them to accurately portray the crap lighting and color mismatches of your living room? Would you want the artist to compensate for the fact you didn’t sleep the night before?

Are you seriously telling me you’d be happy with a Kate Middleton like portrait, where the artist did appear to use whatever cruddy existing English winter light was coming inside to faithfully depict every groove on her young face? All of her candid photos capture a much more joyful (and rested) soul.

Photos are not exactly replicas of real life. Like a painting, a non-candid portrait is a representation of an individual’s eye.

Y’all need to find something new to write about. Try criticizing Common Core or something. But thanks for giving me an idea for a blog post!