On the California Wine Trail

Find my latest publication “On the California Wine Trail” at http//www.neauxmad.com where I write about a recent trip to rediscover 4 historic wineries in Napa Valley that I first visited in the ’70s before the blind tasting in Paris.   Cheers!

In neauxmad.com you will find my travel piece “Finding Zen In Searchlight: A Haibun”…..

Finding Zen in Searchlight: A Haibun


My Gypsy List — 8 Places I Love

One of my early experiences with travel was written up by my dad and published in a travel magazine.   At the time I was mildly impressed that our family vacation was put to print, but now it’s wonderful to look back on his pieces as I reflect on the magic of travel.  My case of wanderlust, no doubt, is in the genes.  Travel is beyond visiting interesting spots on the globe.  Travel is a way to view life and culture.  It becomes a chance to feed the soul.  As my dad wrote,  travel allows us to experience the vibrant environment of a new destination where we can linger almost too long, drinking in the pleasure of feeling like a roaming gypsy immersed in the vibe and people at hand.   My gypsy “short list” of place I love and a bit why…

  1. Paris, France — Centre Pompidou,  hot chocolate at Angelina’s, walking along Champs Elysees. Pont Neuf,  Rive Gauche and the galleries,  the Grande Arche, the TGV to Nice
  2. Taos, New Mexico — Taos Mountain, a tuna sandwich at Michael’s Kitchen, dancing at the Sagebrush Inn, the turquoise shops, Ghost Ranch, the High Road to Santa Fe
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii —  outrigger canoes rowing the Ala Wai Canal, Tahitian hula dancing, lunch at the Halekulani, North Shore, Haleiwa Bridge, lanais, Hawaiian quilts, puka shells necklaces
  4. Venice, Italy— water taxi across the Grand Canal, Hard Rock Cafe,  Peggy Huggenheim’s Villa, the gondolas,  Prosecco, Piazza San Marco, Carnivale masks, the Rialto, macchiatos
  5. London, U.K. —  the Thames, the pubs, Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, the Tube, walking in Richmond Park, Hamm
  6. Newport Beach, California– Crystal Cove, Balboa Island pier,  the bay, surf shops and beach boutiques, the ferry, koi pond at Fashion Island, the Lido, Pacific Coast Highway to Laguna Beach
  7. Prague, Czech Republic — the steeples,  the crystal, walking the Charles Bridge, the jazz bars, hat shopping, the Astronomical Clock
  8. Medicine Park, Oklahoma — the one-way wooden bridge, the bikers, their hogs, burgers at Meers, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, cobble-stone cabins with screened-in porches

Take A Hike! Sunday afternoons and Summer vacations

Growing up I recall countless afternoons after church and the proverbial Sunday lunch putting on hiking boots to walk the trails in the nearby wildlife refuge.  My dad, of course, was the “hiking master” as we took our stride up the mountainside.  The party of hikers besides my dad and me would include my sister, my mother who often joined in reluctantly, and maybe a neighborhood friend or two if we could twist a few arms.   We’d fill the canteens with water and set out for an afternoon of adventure among the wooded footpaths and the grassy, rocky meadowlands.  Walking over leaves and branches, detouring around streams and boulders, our band of walking warriors always found excitement along the way.  Any sighting of a scissortail or a large bird that we were certain was a bald eagle would simply send us over the moon.  We might see a buffalo and an elk.  My memory of those times lingers on happy hours spent walking trails lined with  shrub oak and holly berries, cedar and pine needles.  I can close my eyes and smell those Sunday afternoons.    My dad, without a doubt,  was motivated on those hikes among the Wichitas by, not only, a time to savor nature’s beauty, but also, a chance to explore, to feel adventure, to imagine life far beyond the horizon.  To widen the expanse of what we could  explore within driving distance on a Sunday afternoon, our summer vacations often took us to the Rockies of Colorado.  There the hikes took on a majestic vibe.  We were beyond the reach of home.  We were serious hikers now setting out from the trailheads surrounding Estes Park.   The summer mountain journeys were a way to venture together as time moved on and family vacations like these would end.  Yet, what was lasting would be the sense of wonder my dad had shared with me.  He’d talk about geography as more than a physical location but rather a state of mind, places not bound by borders and endless worlds to discover.   To look at life as a chance to marvel at its beauty, its mystery and to seek new horizons, to wander different places was his wish for me and my siblings.   His travelogues about some of our summer vacations were published in those early travel magazines.  He referred to our trips as pilgrimages and I quote “Already we could feel the exuberance that goes with vacation time.  We had our road maps marked…rain dampened neither our gear or our spirits…we had lingered almost too long, drinking in the pleasure of being roaming gypsies.”  Today I’ve volksmarched in Germany and France and walked the beaches in Hawaii and California.   I set out mornings to run the trail by my house all the while looking around for the next adventure and still in awe of this world,  still feeling the magic of what’s beyond.   I say, take a hike!

Chad, Man of my Dreams

While I have loved wonderful men in my life, you, Chad, are  the man of my dreams.  Not long ago you were there.  You were waiting for me to come home.  I see you through the window.  You sit by the lamp, patiently waiting in the dimly lit room.  You look at ease with your long legs crossed.  You are tall and very handsome, in the  prime of your good looks.   I want to run in and throw my arms around you and hold you, but I hesitate and stand back.   I hang on to this moment of having you  nearby.  As I stare I recall how we talked the last days we were to have.  Behind that aloof, cool demeanor you were, Chad, a young man so sensitive and kind.  Your aura captured all that makes for charisma.  I wonder if you knew what a great guy you were.  I remember a day we’d met for lunch and you listened while I lamented about a relationship that was going sideways.   I was caught up in my own situation as I found  solace in that unwavering  bond between us.  How I loved your quiet strength.  Time with you felt good as we shared a sandwich.    After awhile you spoke and offered up some advice which went something like,  let things take its course without a struggle.   Wise counsel from a son to his mother.   I look for you as I peer through the window again.  My heart longs to be with you, to share, to talk,  but it is not to be.  Through the window once more I see you are gone.   I awake.  Your presence, your gentle soul fills the room and lingers there.   Your paintings hang from the walls and your treasured pieces of pottery are showcased throughout the house.  Fifteen years you’ve been gone.   Some days it seems like yesterday, some days it seems like an eternity.  There is no day I don’t dream of you.  Still missing you, Chad,  man of my dreams.

A Lesson from Hawaii

I grew up in Hawaii.  Just out of college I wanted to travel, to take the trip that had been waiting.  A college roommate who was visiting Hawaii wanted me to join her for the summer.   I was so ready to travel I missed my sister’s wedding. Hawaii was a tropical paradise in the Pacific known for its beauty of lush palm trees and waterfalls.   At the time there were small cottage hotels nestled along the beach of Waikiki.  I arrived.  The summer days played out walking to the beach, stretching out on a grass mat to bathe in the sun, splashing in the surf and dancing in the evening with a shoreline studded like diamonds with the moon’s reflection.   My adventure felt magical.  The summertime stay evolved into a decade of my life.   I feel in love, in love the a place, in love with a time, in love with an exotic culture, in love with a guy.  I got married.  I engaged with friends from cultures far different from my background.  I had babies and began to raise a family.  I pursued a career.  I struck out on my own.  In Hawaii I grew up and learned a life’s lesson.

I was brought down to myself.  I knew aloha.  I understood.  I found the meaning, the interpretation of the most widely known word in the Hawaiian language–aloha.

  • A stands for akaha’i, meaning kindness, tenderness.
  •  L stands for lokahi, meaning unity, harmony.
  • O stands for olu’olu, meaning agreeable, pleasantness.
  •  H stands for ha’aha’a, meaning humility, modesty.
  • A stands for ahonu’i, meaning patience, perseverance.

The philosophy expressed in aloha with all the charm, warmth and sincerity of the Hawaiian people is one I strive to keep mindful.  May I always have aloha.  My adopted homeland, I’m still in love with you.

August: Osage County — Not Far from Home

When I heard Tracy Letts  was developing his Pulitzer prize-winning  play August: Osage County for the big screen, I was thrilled.  I saw August: Osage County when it played on the LA stage.   “All roads lead to home.”  I could see the country, the sweeping prairie, the old hills encrusted with huge boulders, the gnarled oak trees and the miles and  miles of blue sky with breathtaking sunsets.   I knew the place Letts revealed.  The conflicted characters and how they have endured heartbreak while looking for  happiness seemed like people I knew.

Tracy Letts is the son of Oklahoma writer, Billie Letts, whose works many of us know and love.  Her best-selling novel Where the Heart Is was made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd.  Both mother and son write about women, women who stare down fear and bitter disappointment to journey forward and rebuild their lives.  The expectant teen mom abandoned in an Oklahoma Walmart by her boyfriend is mother Billie’s beloved story.  After the unexpected death of the family patriarch, Tracy’s story centers around three sisters who have come home to Pawhuska, Oklahoma for their father’s funeral and to witness their mother’s sufferings.  During the course of the play Letts explores the depth of intertwined familial bonds.  Letts readily admits he used the title of a poem by dear family friend and mentor, the late Howard Starks, for his title, August: Osage County.  Starks’ poem reveals a strong sense of family and place.

My own story begins in a place not far from Osage County.   Comanche County in the summertime when I have come home to visit is hot for days and then it will rain.  Days become cool and breezy.  The local Wichita Mountains are full with flowers of Indian blanket and Mexican sage among the tall grass.  The buffalo and longhorn are lazy after finding shade among the oak while clouds lay low and gather.  My sisters and I have walked along the trails and made picnics of wine coolers and pimento cheese.  We have escaped to Austin and Santa Fe to savor summer’s last days, to listen to music and hit the dance floor, to buy turquoise and share the beauty of Western art.

Just like the women of Where the Heart Is and August: Osage County, my sisters and I, the three of us, have stared down fear and we have rebuilt lives in the face of loss and grief, celebration and joy.   Life remains wondrous in every moment.

Lucy Lee Go Lightly

I was a reluctant grandmother.   To be a grandparent was not something I resisted but life was good, full with  friends and personal interests.  Forgotten was all that baby, little kid stuff, cloth books and rattle toys.   On the day though that Lucy Lee happened,  life became rich and enlivened anew.   Grand parenthood is  the grand adventure.

Like a splashy wave hitting the shore, she arrived on a cool breezy September evening in Newport Beach, Hoag Hospital.   Lucy Lee enchants me.   She runs to greet me.    I rush to her.   Mutual adoration is the special phenomenon that is grand parenthood.  We head to the beach with a skip as she begins to tell me all that matters.

“Lucy go lightly wherever you go, light as a lark, from your head to your toe.  In slippers you float and in sandals you flow, so Lucy, go lightly, wherever you go.”   Dennis Lee

Chief Mankiller

What I admire in women who take on life’s challenges can be found in their unyielding spirit.  I love the story of Wilma Mankiller.  She was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 1945 and grew up in San Francisco.  Her father was Cherokee and her mother Dutch/Irish.  At school she was not accepted by her peers and looking to the San Francisco Indian Center for refuge, she found her way.  She became an activist for the rights of Native Americans and took part in the Occupy Alcatraz movement in 1969.   Knowing that she wanted to bring aid to her own tribe,  she returned to her native Oklahoma in the ’70s.  In time, she was elected Chief of her tribe, the Cherokee Nation.  She credited her many leadership skills to her time spent in California involved in the causes of Native Americans.  She advanced her tribal community with education and health services, water and infrastructure improvements.  She lived by the Cherokee saying “be of good mind,” now considered positive thinking.

Her husband of 24 years, Charlie Soap, said he tried to impress her on their first date by taking her to Tulsa for a hotdog and a Rambo movie only to find out later she didn’t like hotdogs or Rambo movies.  They shared sharp wit and laughed alot.  He was the love of her life.  When Gloria Steinem married in 2000, her wedding was performed in Oklahoma at the home of Wilma Mankiller.  Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem were collaborators and dear friends.  Mankiller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1998.  When she died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, President Obama wrote, “she served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country.”

Mankiller means to give watch, to protect.  Wilma Mankiller lived her name.   She brought light and hope to Native Americans, to women, to our world.  Chief Mankiller, you nailed it.


Most that I know about elegance, generosity, compassion and fun I learned from Maggie. Maggie grew up the daughter of a Southerner, a cowboy and rancher, who taught her to dream even when there wasn’t time to spare. He taught her to ride a horse and have courage. She took a chance to follow her heart. She went to college. She fell in love. She answered, “nothing at all, nothing at all,” when I wondered as a young child about the difference between the two drinking fountains labeled white and colored. She taught the history of Oklahoma focusing on its Native Americans and the Trail of Tears. She grew herbs and made yogurt. She liked to hula hoop and play on the beach. I liked that she’d forgo cleaning and laundry to hang out with her kids. Taking time to fashion a chic party dress out of an ugly bridesmaid gown for me, she’d throw together something stunning for her evening out and looking radiant, dash out the door with her nails still wet.

Maggie, my mother, died 5 years ago  Continue reading “Maggie”

Nails Still Wet

What nails still wet means…..

  • It is not about fighting tooth and nail.
  •  It is not about a hammer and nails.
  •  It is about nail polish.

but it’s really more than just nail polish…

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