Tuesday, January 26, 2021


 Y'all, this is so hard. I feel like I've been punched really hard in the chest -- it's that kind of sharp fierce ache.

Today I was at Wal-Mart. My mother was born in a town in the middle of Indiana that had less than 1000 people in it, and she loved going to Wal-Mart. I swear, she went every day, whether she was buying anything or not. I was looking for the toothpaste we needed and it just hit me, she'll never go to Wal-Mart again.

And my father can't remember she's dead. He keeps asking where she is, and my brother has to tell him, over and over, and each time it's like the first time he's heard it. It hurts him that much, every time.

My parents, 2019

Monday, January 25, 2021

Shelbylynn Jennings 1937-2021

My mother died last night, at just past 9:00 p.m.

Almost the first thought I had was how glad I am she lived to see Trump defeated. She hated him so much -- more even than I did.

My mother married young, and had three children before she was 24 years old. She had a fourth, my brother Ben, when she was 37, and in her second year of college. 

She went to work at an insurance company straight out of high school, living with four roommate in a two bedroom apartment. She used to tell me that right before payday, when they ran out of food, they would hunt through couch cushions and take back refundable soda bottles, anything to raise enough money that they could each have a hamburger from the drive-in across the street.

And they all went to parties together, in the big city of Fort Wayne. She was doing that when she met my father, who was three years younger than she was --19 to her 21 -- and in the last year of his two-year engineering degree.

They met at a party. This was a story my mother loved to tell. There was a woman she didn't know there, from the South, who kept asking where Bill Jennings was, because he was bringing the beer. My mother had started drinking cocktails before he arrived, and when he appeared, with a case of beer on his shoulder, she was a little drunk. She pointed her finger at him and said, in a terrible Southern accent, "I know yew -- Yore Bill Jennings!"

My dad was a snack at 19, and they started dating right away. They got married three months later, when he graduated and took a job with Boeing, working on developing metals for the space program. His family sold used cars and trailers, and they gave my parents a tiny pink trailer at cost, which Boeing shipped from Indiana to Renton, Washington, where the plant he worked at was located.

My parents drove there, crossing Illinois and Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana and a bit of Idaho. It was 1958, and all along the way as they drove through the high plains, they kept seeing signs for Little America, the fanciest hotel and restaurant and truck stop they could imagine. My father promised my mother they would stop there, but when they came to it, it was early in the day -- too early, he said, and wouldn't stop. She ragged him about this for the next 60 years.

Little America, Wyoming, 1960

The trailer park was filled with other people who worked at Boeing, and their young wives -- most of them pregnant. My parents joined bowling leagues; my mother pushed us (my older brother, me, my younger brother) in a stroller up to the grocery, and my father carpooled so she could have their one car once a week to go do laundry. My earliest of memories are of the nursery at the bowling alley, and how much I loved going to do laundry, since my mother always bought us candy from the machines there. I loved chocolate babies the best -- like jelly babies, but made of a chocolate nougat sort of thing.

I remember also my father left for work before dawn, at five a.m., and my mother would go back to sleep after he left, so my older brother, Scott, and I -- before my little brother was born -- were on our own. We knew how to turn on the TV, and Scott could cook. Well, he could make ketchup sandwiches on white bread. These were the most delicious thing I had ever eaten.

My mother took us to the library, and read to us. She let us roam the trailer park in the way parents did back then -- I had complete freedom to go find my friends to play with, or go to the playground at one end of the trailer park, even though I was only three years old.  I remember picking blackberries in the woods behind our trailer, and that night having a nightmare about a ghost chasing me through the woods. I remember falling down and skinning my hand, and how she swooped me up and crooned, patting my back until I stopped crying -- the safest I think I have ever felt.

When I was three, and my older brother five, and Michael the baby two, my father was transferred to the plant in Michoud (outside of New Orleans). Once again, Boeing moved the trailer. 

We lived in a trailer park under a bridge in Gentilly, near the Folgers Coffee plant. I would wake up smelling coffee being ground and roasted every morning. That was the Christmas it snowed in New Orleans. We had Christmas dinner with some friends my parents made -- my mother made friends wherever she went -- and I was dressed in a fancy dress and patent leather shoes (my mother loved dressing her only girl, and it was a big disappointment to her when I turned out to be so butch later on), so I *almost* didn't get to go out and play in the snow. But they found some boots for me, ones the two boys in that family had outgrown, and this began my lifelong love of snow.

The next year my parents bought a house in Metairie. (I surmise the transfer came with a raise.) I was four, and made friends with another four year old, two houses down. She had teenage brothers, and told me she knew the worst bad word.

We were riding her trike. She pedaled and I stood on the back and pushed along with my foot. "So what," I said, "so do I: shit."

  "No," she said, and stopped pedaling to whisper it in my ear. "It's fuck."

We'd just come up on my house again. This subdivision was so new the sidewalk were blinding white and all the trees were saplings. My mother was planting her front yard garden, and I yelled across the lawn at her: "Mommy! Fuck isn't a bad word, is it?"

She sat back on her heels and gave me that look. "It's the worst word in the world," she said, "and you should never say it again."

I was very impressed. The worst word in the world! I didn't say it again until I was about sixteen. Then I never stopped. In fact, I taught her to say it just as freely.

My parents made friends -- my mother made friends wherever she went -- and played bridge, had barbeques, joined the swim club, which was right next to our house, so that as we grew up we could go swimming whenever we wanted. We got a puppy, Oscar, when the neighbor's dog had puppies. We had cats, but they disappeared during Hurricane Betsy, which hit the year after we moved into the house.

I remember that hurricane -- my father watching the banana trees bend and batter in the storm winds, and my mother putting us to bed in the closet in the den, the only place with no windows.

The house was wonderful, by the way -- a willow tree out back, which I spent a lot of time climbing, and out behind it a vast tract of land which we called the "woods" and where we ran wild. Every kid needs a wild space, I think, there were so many kids then. We ran in packs, playing tag and climbing trees and making up dramatic stories about our Barbie dolls. 

My mother read us books, and took us to the library, and gave us crayons and clay and paintboxes. She took us swimming every day in the summer, and to the zoo and art museum in the city. (Metairie is about ten miles out of New Orleans proper.) She arranged for me to have art lessons. She taught us how to ride bikes. One of my early memories is standing on a chair beside her while she baked oatmeal cookies, "helping."

When I was seven and my older brother eight, he was diagnosed with Type-I diabetes. Since her father had just died of that disease the year before, she took it hard. But she rallied, and taught him to give himself shots, and monitor his blood sugar, and never stopped him from doing whatever he wanted to do: boy scouts, sports, it didn't matter. She encouraged it.

When I was eleven, she started college, planning to get an education degree. The three of us were latchkey kids then, staying by ourselves until she got home or my father did, usually well past six. I started cooking dinners, and I remember also climbing the tree in our front yard and watching down the street for her car, longing for her to come home. She made friends there -- of course she did, she made friends everywhere -- and once in a while, for a treat, she would take me to classes with her, and we would hang out with those friends.

In her junior year she became pregnant with my youngest brother, Ben, which delayed her progress. Then my father was transferred to Kansas, where we lived for about nine months, so her degree was delayed even more.

My father quit Boeing at that point and took a job at Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, in part so he could move us back to New Orleans. Both he and my mother missed the city and their friends. My mother graduated two years later, but before that, when I was fifteen, she took me to see The Man of La Mancha put on by the university's drama department. It was the first live play I'd ever seen, and (no exaggeration) changed my life.

She went to work for the New Orleans Public Schools, teaching in Desire Project school for $8000/year. Even in 1976, that wasn't much money, and in her second year on the job, the teacher's union went on strike. My mother walked the picket line. They were out for months, as I recall, but won the strike -- their salaries increased threefold, and they won other concessions.

I raised Ben while she worked, which honestly I loved. I've always liked kids, and he was a good one. Still is. I couldn't drive yet, but I mastered the bus system, and hauled him all over the city, to malls and the zoo and the local park.

As I grew older, we clashed. I guess most adolescents and their parents do. But she supported me in every choice I made -- when I transferred from my first school in Ruston to the University of New Orleans; when I went off to graduate school in Arkansas; when I got a job in Idaho. When she came to visit, she would buy me groceries, to make sure I had enough to eat. And after I had the kid, whenever I asked for help, she got on a plane. She babysat the kid when he was sick and I was in my first months at my tenure track position; she sent money when we needed it; she and my dad took the kid for trips and to stay every summer.

Every time I got sick -- when I had cancer, when I had my shoulders operated on, when I had kidney stones the first time -- she got on a plane and came to take care of me. This was when I was thirty and forty years old. (I had my own kid by then. I understood why.)

And when I needed advice, she was who I called. 

When my brother Michael died, at only 52, it broke her heart. She never stopped talking about him, or missing him.

Mike, age five

But through everything, she was the happiest woman I've known. I suffer from anxiety and depression, as does the kid; she was never depressed a day in her life. "I get sad," she told me when we were talking about this once, "but not sad."

Well into her eighties, her friends were still coming to play bridge, and calling her up to chat every day. Her best friend, Becky, lived across the Ponchartrain Bridge, and they would drive back and forth to have lunch with each other at least once a week. Becky was the last person she responded to -- almost waking up -- before she died.

I don't know what we'll do without her. "Who will I call up to for advice?" her sister told me, right before she died. Which, same.

But I'm not worried about her.  Wherever she is, I know she's happy. And I know she's making friends.

ETA: See also this, from my beloved nephew

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Bad News


My mother's condition has grown steadily worse over the past 24 hours. Her doctors don't think she'll live much longer.

There's no time for me to get down there, and Covid restrictions means I wouldn't be able to see her in person anyway. We're arranging a zoom call.

My poor father. They've been married 62 years. He's going to be lost without her, never mind the dementia. 

Friday, January 22, 2021


 Dr. Skull is getting his vaccine while we speak.

I still don't have mine. Our university is not making the process by which we get vaccinated at all clear. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Kid Does Art


This is at the riverside park where I walk the little dog -- I love how he captures the water and the trees.

Watercolor on paper.

If the Duck Fits, Pumpkin


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Listening to NPR

 I was driving home from the library with NPR on the car radio and the host said the phrase "former president Trump," and I just let out my breath.

We have waited so long, y'all.



Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Rotting of the American Mind

This thread outlines a problem I have seen happening to more than one person I know -- some of them my students.

It's very disheartening. 

In case you missed this



 My mother is much better. I talked to her on the phone yesterday, and my brothers who live nearby no longer think they'll have to put my parents into assisted living. Also, since they've started making sure my father eats three meals a day, he seems to be doing better too. This is such a relief, I can't even tell you.

The little dog is also doing better. I have to inject him with insulin twice a day and test his blood sugar frequently. It's still a little high, but not in the 500+ range, which was where it was before. (Now it's between 200-300.) And his energy level is better -- he runs around like he used to, and is back to chasing (never catching) the rabbits who live in the yard.

I have crocheted seven hats (one for the kid and each of his roommates, one for Dr. Skull, and three for me); one scarf; a failed sweater; and most of a blanket. I'm working on a new sweater now, which I hope will be more successful. Crocheting, I have found, is the perfect thing to do during interminable zoom meetings, of which my university is currently holding many.

How's everything where you are?

Friday, January 15, 2021

First Week of Teaching in the Pandemic

 I've completed my first week of teaching during the pandemic -- I didn't teach last semester, you'll recall, due to my sabbatical.

I can safely say I do not like this.

One thing I do not like is the masks. I know they're necessary but (a) I wear glasses, so mine are constantly fogged up, which does not help my ability to see and remember student and (2) masks cover mouths, so I'm having trouble seeing who is talking.

Also, because we've split the classes, I'm see half the students in any given class once a week. I can already see this will be an issue so far as getting much done.

Also, just in the first week, I've had three students who have had to quarantine due to family members testing positive, and one student -- who is in our National Guard -- called up to go deal with the cosplaying traitors at the Capitol. That student has no idea when they will be able to return and resume classes.

I've had enough of living in interesting times, thanks just the same.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Vaccine for Me

 Our university just sent out a notice that we'll be able to get the vaccine starting next week. They're going to bring people to campus to give it to us, I think for free.

They vaccinated our Health Science people yesterday, since they work in the local hospitals and were most at risk.

Even though I'm pretty sure I already had it, this is a relief. I think Dr. Skull will be able to get it too, since he works in the public schools.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Back in the Saddle

 My sabbatical is over. (Cue weeping.)

It actually feels good to be back in the office, at least at the moment -- not quite eight a.m., drinking coffee and planning the work for the week. 

I'm teaching two Comp II classes, one on-line and one in person; one intro to Creative writing, in person; and one Fiction workshop, also in person. All the in-person classes are what's called alt.hybrid, which means we split the class in half and each half comes to school once a week and works online the rest of the time. This is to allow for social distancing.

We'll see how it works out in real time.

Meanwhile, my parents have been having trouble. My mother has been living with myelofibrosis (a kind of slow blood cancer) for years, but last week it kicked up into an acute phase, and now she's in the hospital. The medical team says she'll need to stay in nursing care for at least two or three weeks. Because her blood isn't making sufficient red blood cells, her O2 levels are down (85-90%) and she's not able to think clearly or communicate.

This is a problem for her, obviously, but also for my father, who has been sliding into dementia for a couple years. He can't live alone, because he can't remember anything for more than a few minutes, and will forget to eat or take his meds without constant supervision. My mother has been taking care of him over the past years, but with her in the hospital, well.

One of my brothers and his family, and one of my nephews still live in New Orleans; and my other surviving brother lives a few hours away. They've been coping so far, but it's fairly clear that my parents are going to have to go into assisted living.

So that's been happening. 

And, of course, 40% of the country has lost its damn mind. The ability of conservatives to blame what happened at the Capitol on anyone except their own poisonous selves is...not surprising, I guess, since that's their M.O. Disgusting, I guess is the word.

How's your week going?

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Saturday, January 09, 2021

History of Your Personal Internet


Mine was some history chat line -- I can't remember the name, but I had a book reveiw published with them. H-Net? Is that right? That would have been around 1998.

Then when the kid was little I used to post on another forum, Mothers Who Think. That would have been 1999/2000? The kid was an infant and then a toddler. I remember asking for advice when he was late to walk, which was when he was 17 months old. 

What about y'all?

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Chryons Today

 This one is up at PBS:

And CNN ain't playing:

Tuesday, January 05, 2021


 I'd been scheduled to teach all of my classes as alt.hybrid this semester, which means half the class meeting one day and half the other, and about half the work being done online.


Students aren't signing up for hybrid classes, preferring online classes. So one of my classes has been moved to full online.

How much do I hate Blackboard? So fucking much.

I'm trying to be optimistic and look at this as a benefit. Maybe I will finally learn how to use Blackboard!


Sunday, January 03, 2021

Curry Soup

 I've been hungry for curry all year. This is a new version of the potato soup with curry I posted awhile back, created because I only had two potatoes.


  • Celery
  • onion
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • bacon grease
  • apples
  • curry powder
  • salt, pepper
  • broth of some sort
  • milk (either cow or coconut)


  1. Chop celery, onions, and carrots into small bits. Cook over low in some sort of fat -- I used bacon grease because we have it, but anything you have will work. I used an onion, two carrots, and three celery stalks, because that's what we had.
  2. Peel and dice apples and potatoes. I had two each, so that's what I used. Add chopped bit to the cooking celery mix.
  3. Add curry powder to this mix, and cook a few minutes more to wake up the spices. I used two tablespoons of curry powder, but if you don't like your soup too spicy feel free to use less. Add a little salt and pepper -- like a half teaspoon of each.
  4. Pour in the broth. Any broth you have will do. Use vegetable if you have a choice.
  5. Cook over low for about 20 minutes. Run half of it through a blender or else use your immersion blender until most of it is smooth. 
  6. Add some milk or some half-n-half or some coconut milk.
  7. Eat with bread!
The bread I'm using

Bread was made and photographed by Dr. Skull

Saturday, January 02, 2021

High Drama in the Fort

 A hawk just tried to get a small bird of some sort (I didn't see what sort) in my yard.

The local crows mobbed the hawk and chased it off.

Now they're doing laps above the yard in celebration.

I love 2021 so far.

Covid-19 Update

 As I was trawling through my posts for 2020, I found one in which I was extremely concerned because the pandemic would not be over until well into July 2020.

Right now, over 3000 Americans are dying every day, and the US has over 20 million cases. Death toll at the moment is more than 340,000 Americans.

Also, a new and more virulent strain has developed.

But -- of course -- reactionary posturing heaps of trash on the Right are still insisting it's all a hoax. That more of them are starting to die is no consolation, given the number of innocent people they infect on their way to the grave.

I was hoping to be teaching as normal this semester. Well, maybe in the Fall.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy 2021 (no jinx)

 The rooster who lives two yards over is crowing and crowing. I hope that's celebration and not alarm.

It's a rainy, cold, wet day here in the Fort. The kid and his roommates are coming down for pizza later (made from scratch by Dr. Skull.) Garlic bread and babka will also be served.

Things were a mix of good and bad for me this year. The sabbatical was lovely, and I finished one novel and started two more. I read a lot of excellent books. But Dr. Skull was unemployed for a long stretch, and needed very expensive surgery; and then the little dog got sick. And all around me, of course, the world was burning down (in some places, literally).

Here's hoping things turn around in 2021.