Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Spirit

After the Ceili while the travelers slept late Christmas night on the Queenstown wharf in County Cork, Ireland, awaiting the arrival of the ship that would take them to Boston, a strange procession made their way in the moonlight. Some held deer antlers aloft but there were also additional characters: the Folk Fool, the Man-Woman or Maid Marian, the Hobby Horse and the Boy Archer. The magical notes of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance led the group in spiraling dreamlike steps. Antlers clacked together as the men approached each other in two rhythmic lines, in greeting, in competition, in gratitude. And after they wove and dipped and clacked and skipped, as the music slowed and the recorder faded, they slipped off the stage and melted into the crowd.

This was part of my magical Christmas treat at the Christmas Revels which this year celebrated music and stories of Ireland and the British Isles around 1900. Directed by David Parr, this was the 25th anniversary of the Revels at the Oakland, California, Scottish Rite Center. My husband and I had attended once before years ago and I had found it charming. This year, in the spirit of “Consumables!” I wanted something wonderfully Christmas-y, something with unmistakable holiday spirit.

In the past, we have threatened to attend the Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus sing-along but never quite made it. We tried the Oakland Ballet’s Nutcracker Suite, somewhat less overwhelming than the San Francisco production but no less fun. And we’ve traveled on a family pilgrimage to San Juan Bautista to watch El Teatro Campesino for Christmas musical wonder. We’ve taken the ferry into San Francisco to watch the skaters at Union Square and visited the Macy’s Christmas window displays. My favorite of those was the Mouse Christmas where all the mice were celebrating tiny mousey holiday treats, decorating tiny trees and giving mouse presents under the floorboards of human houses. All the creatures were stirring and it was holiday perfection.

This year I had hoped to take our friend Gerry, the one who crawls through her window when she’s locked herself out of the house, to the Revels because Gerry is about as Irish as they come. And, betting that the Christmas Revels would not be singing, “The Last Rose of Summer,” a beautiful Irish song that sends Gerry into Mood Indigo, I figured this would be the perfect holiday mood-setter. What better than the Ireland that her grandparents and parents knew, at a happy but wistful time, Christmas, with family, yet embarking for America and likely never to see the family in Ireland again.

Best laid plans and all that: Gerry got flu-like symptoms from the whooping cough shot and, miserably over-apologizing (really, dear, it’s OK), she had to bow out. With three tickets and two people, John called his cousin David, found that his wife Wendy was glad to have him out of the house for a few hours, and we had our happy substitute. We barely made it to the show on time, got to our seats and the magic of Christmas began. We were transported to Queenstown in County Cork in 1900, where the Irish, English and Welsh, dressed in their warm traveling clothes and dragging their steamer trunks assembled on the dock, waiting for the ship that will take them to their new lives.

The show started with a medley overture, next, a 12th century song from Ireland, the Wexford Carol and went on to provide us with stories and songs, solos and sing-alongs that embodied the spirit of Christmas. There was no Santa Claus. There was no manger scene. There were adults and children dancing and singing, showing the season’s best and giving us a glimpse into the traditions we in America find curious and wonderful.

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance comes to us from the village of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, England. It has been a family tradition in that village with the Bentley and Fowell families for centuries and is still performed today. The antlers used by the “deer men” in Abbots Bromley are actually reindeer antlers and have been carbon dated back to the 11th century. The basic concept of the dance is a thank you for allowing the villagers to hunt, but it is also a remnant of “sympathetic magic” acting out a successful hunt and bounty for all. The traditional village production of the Horn Dance occurs in September, but it also has ties to Christmas time. It shows the universal need to thank a higher power for gifts and hope for good things in the time to come, plenty for all. I love the Revels recorder music and the after-midnight dance because it echoes the magical traditions of Christmas: If you squint, you can see a semi-Santa in the Maid Marian who is a bearded man in a dress, with the deer like reindeer, the Boy Archer like an elf. It’s just a little different in the moonlight.

Much of the show was for the child in all of us, with the youngest performers dancing a “stitching” game, holding hands in a line and leading the line under the next two dancers’ arms. An Irish story edited by William Butler Yeats called “The Soul Cages” told us of the friendship between a young man and a magical creature half-man, half-fish called the Coomarra. We learned how to count sheep so that the faerie folk will not take them: Ain, tain, otherow, pothero, pitts. Umfit, cumfit, ethero, petherow, potts. No lost sheep! We sang The Holly and the Ivy and Lord of the Dance and a round in Latin, Dona Nobis Pacem. The Morris Men danced and the Cutty Wren was celebrated.

This was the winter solstice performance of the Christmas Revels. It’s only fitting today to note that not only do we experience the longest night this winter solstice but a rare full lunar eclipse, visible to most in North America tonight. The last time we had a full lunar eclipse on the solstice was 1368, so those clouds outside this afternoon better get on their way. I plan to stay up to see the red, red moon tonight. Moonlight can be deceptive in its own right, as reflected in the Tarot.  Are your eyes deceiving you?  Is there more to this story than you know?  Think you'll ever know? The full moon’s light made red by the shadow of the earth between it and the sun must be magical indeed. Is that a man in a red suit with eight tiny reindeer or Maid Marian with how many Deer Men? Ain, tain, otherow, pothero, pitts….

Gerry, don't worry.  We will do something else when you feel better!
Best wishes!


Want to know more about the fun and affordable California Revels, a bargain in the Bay Area with convenient and safe parking? Visit and get on their mailing list.

How about more adventure at Christmastime with El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, California, an unforgettable performance in the historic mission right on the San Andreas Fault? Visit:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mercury Retrograde

I just won a contest for having the best Mercury Retrograde story! It’s a lot like winning the Darwin Award but on a much smaller scale. For one thing, unlike the Darwin Award, there isn’t a death penalty.

First, for those of you who don’t get what Mercury Retrograde is, it’s a term from astrology. Those of you who never got beyond, “Hey, what’s your sign?” may not grok this right away, but basically we have all the signs and all the planets in our chart. It’s not like they go away on our birthdays or any other day for that matter.

About three times a year Mercury appears to stand still or go backwards in relative motion to the earth. The planets don’t actually stand still; it’s the “in relative motion to the earth” that’s the key phrase here. It isn’t only Mercury that does this but Mercury gets talked about the most. You know how people talk about more crime and crazy stuff happening with the full moon? Well, some swear by it and some seek to prove that no more crime or crazy stuff happens then than any other time. But people still seem to note those times.

Mercury Retrograde periods are something like that but it’s not crime, at least major crime, and it’s not crazy stuff. It is little stuff that could send you over the edge, though. It usually has to do with Mercury-related topics like communication, electronics, new purchases, access to things, shipments, that kind of stuff. And during the retrograde times, people tend to be more aware of things going awry, snafus, if you will. And in fact, it also has to do with the “if you will” part. Mercury is identified with the Magician in tarot, presto, change-o, illusions, ability and the statement, “I will.” It’s the can-do card. In fact, it’s the ‘can do it in front of people’ card because the Magician is a bit of a showman. His number is 1. His cartoon character could be Thumper in Bambi. Thumper’s best quote in the movie is the ice skating scene where he zips across the freshly frozen pond ice shrieking for joy, “Look what I can do!” I love Thumper.

The Magician grows up to be a wizard after he gets over his Sorcerer’s Apprentice phase in youth. You see him more clearly next in the tarot as The Hermit. After he’s mastered the arts and tools ‘as above, so below,’ he retreats for a bit of introspection. Just being able to do something is not enough. How many times have we shaken our heads at youthful enthusiasm and hoped they will learn to use their force for good instead of evil? For instance, just because you can drive, should you? But the Magician is focusing on the “can” part of things in the first numbered card of the major arcana. He not only believes he can, he really can do it, whatever it is.

So just because the Magician can do it, should he? And that combination of showmanship and a dash of moral ambiguity gives him his Trickster reputation. So he is also Coyote in First People’s stories, an able magical creature with wonderful talents that you sometimes trust and sometimes don’t.

People have a natural mistrust of abilities beyond their own. It’s not so egotistical as it is just plain experience. If you’ve never seen something before, do you trust it immediately? Our natural case of the heebie-jeebies is part of that ol’ lizard brain telling us Yellow Alert just in case the new shiny or fuzzy thing has teeth and likes to eat people. Approach with caution. Curiosity is what we’re all about, but the point is to live through the experience.

Magician, reversed, from Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

When the Magician is upside down, or in tarot talk reversed, something is stopping him from doing what he can do. Or, the Trickster side is coming out. Things don’t go as planned. Unexpected results from your usual can-do may occur, but they are usually on a small scale. We’re not talking The Tower here. This is just the stuff that will drive you nuts. If it really is the little things in life, Mercury Retrograde is a time when those little things mean frustration, exasperation, errors in communication, etc.

Our current retrograde period lasts through Christmas. Think of all those fun electronic gizmos people give and get for Christmas. And the calls to the help desks for assistance when the durned thing doesn’t do what the instructions say. Instructions not exactly in English? Tab A, Slot B but there is no Tab A on your whatsit? You mean THAT is the On button? Oh, fresh batteries. I should have known. Yup, that’s Mercury territory. On hold for five and half hours with the help desk only to have the help desk person accidentally hang up? Mercury Retrograde. Your Magician is standing on his head. And he’s probably laughing. Funny guy. Ha ha.

I’m hoping Mr Mercury calms down for me but I wouldn’t put money on it. In my horoscope chart, Mercury is my rising planet, the first one to get over the horizon when I was born, and in my first house of self. Mercury is something of a big deal in my chart, so funny little things like the typical Magician reversed/Mercury Retrograde stuff could affect me personally a little more than other people. At least, that’s how they read it. I’m more likely to notice those little things. Good news, I’m more likely to think of them as funny, too.

My winning entry for the “retrograde-est” Mercury went like this. Theresa Reed, also known as The Tarot Lady, posted an offer for a free tarot reading to the author of the best entry on her Facebook page for a Mercury Retrograde story. Here’s my post:

It's the little things that send you over the edge. My 85-years-young friend has locked herself out of her house twice since the Merc Rx and crawled in through the window to get back in (pretty good). My husband could not get his electronic key to open his car, called AAA and they determined there was nothing wrong. Nothing. The alarm company called for routine maintenance via the phone, which hung up on us twice, then, finally, to diagnose an issue, I had to climb onto the washing machine. I told the tech at the alarm company that if she heard a scream, it was only me falling behind the washer and in that case she should call emergency to rescue me. Except for the constant laughter, we completed our mission unscathed, but the imagined picture of a 56-yr-old woman climbing onto her washer was just too much for the tech to keep a straight face. The housekeeper almost walked in on me when I was just out of the shower and not ready for guests. I got to the door on time to keep it closed, barely. Pun intended. He wouldn't have been phased though. And, finally, I figured out the reason I'm so out of synch with one of the shops where I read is that...I'm not on their mailing list!!

Oh and when I tried to post this, I had to close my browsers and relaunch Facebook!

I feel like Queen for a Day because my sad story won the clap-o-meter but in this case it was the laugh-o-meter. Sometimes I think, because of the strong influence of Mercury in my chart, I gravitate toward this kind of thing. And, like the Magician and his audience, even when these little things don’t work exactly as planned, at least I’m entertained.

My prize for winning The Tarot Lady’s contest is a free reading over the phone. Hmm, you know, phones are covered by Mercury too. I think I’ll wait until the Trickster goes direct before I collect.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nutcracker Sweet

Is there someone on your holiday shopping list who is nearly impossible to buy for? For me, that’s my husband. It’s not that he doesn’t deserve presents. He does, perhaps more than anyone else I know.

He’s my Prince Charming, my secret shopper, my partner in adventure and mystery. He’s spontaneous and enthusiastic, a constant source of amusement. He’s generous to a fault, something like the San Andreas Fault, and is in constant danger of being distracted in friendly conversation or gallant action or helpful suggestion. The girls on the ferry, where we met, told me in a good-natured grumble, “Marcia got the only good one!” That’s probably inaccurate in a world view, but I did get the good one for me.

And since we both seem to have the packrat gene well expressed in our makeup, we both agree we really don’t need much more stuff.

“Consumables,” he says, “consumables!”

If you look at either of us, you’d probably agree that we don’t need to pack anything else around the middle, or at either end to be truthful.

Our only concerns when we got married were practical ones. Would it be safe for both of us to live together without adult supervision? So we have a dog to help us stick to the rules, very much like the Star Wars C3PO, a Protocol Model. The dog makes sure we lock the doors, feed the cats, go to bed sometime near bedtime and bathe occasionally. He barks when we hug just to make sure we aren’t fighting. In all our years of courtship and marriage, we have never really had a fight. Oh, I’ve fussed about making sure the door isn’t standing open to let a cat escape and he’s pointed out characteristics of my driving every once in a while, when he’s gotten his breath back. But those haven’t been fights. OK, so he is seldom on time. He can forget what he went to the store for and come back with everything else, usually something good. As our only prenuptial agreement I made him promise me he would not attempt to be handy, but instead call an expert in case some household emergency occurs. So he’s not a tools kind of guy.

We like a lot of the same things especially mysteries to read so we can usually buy books for both of us. He tends to like the funnier ones like the Janet Evanovich’s numbers series and the Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder books and he’s big on the Elizabeth George Lynley and Havers mysteries, too. He misses Calvin and Hobbes in the newspaper. He loves the New Yorker cartoons, especially the Booth cats and dogs. He’s still in search of the lost episodes of Rocky the Flying Squirrel where Rocky and Bullwinkle solve the mystery that made Washington, DC look just like Butte, Montana and vice versa. He’s pretty sure I’m the inspiration for Danae in Non Sequitur. These things have all shown up as Christmas and birthday presents over the years. But unless Elizabeth George comes out with a new Lynley, I’m scrambling for books this year.

He also likes non-fiction that tells a story. We both loved Simon Winchester’s The Crack in the Edge of the World because it made geology so human. He read an enormous book that followed DNA studies for the origins of the British people and was proud to announce that his Irish ancestors emigrated from the Basque regions in prehistoric times.

He is interested in mining and metallurgy. He likes old maps of places he has been before. He accidentally became the manager of our local rugby team when he’s never played rugby in his life. Paradoxically, he’s also an excellent embroiderer and he creates his own designs. He cooks, sometimes without setting the kitchen towels on fire. He makes cookies, brownies, beef stew, a Thai dish called “Tiger Cry,” tuna casserole, stuffed peppers, and enchiladas. He has perfected the art of the steak on the grill. He also makes a very healthy but, to my taste buds, revolting variation of minestrone soup which even his sister agrees should be called “snot soup.” He has the urge to improve nearly anything with cayenne or vinegar or both. He likes kimchee and beets. He has an idea of the perfect kitchen knife, the perfect frying pan, the perfect soup kettle and the perfect rubber spatula. These areas have also been the inspiration for Christmas gifts for him. Last year, he said he wanted a can opener, a specific style and I ran all over town to finally find his Christmas present.

His wardrobe is simple. He likes khaki pants, blue, yellow or dark grey polo shirts, pullover sweaters, black socks, blue button-down collar shirts, a decent sports coat. He has and wears a tuxedo for formal occasions. He’s particular about his shoes, just a couple of styles. Last year, I showered him in sweaters from “NordyRack” for Christmas.

The dog and cats adore him and he loves his little furry friends too. He’s attentive to their emotional needs, worries about their health, takes care of the litter boxes [thank you, God, ed.] and never has said no when I brought home just one more cat. He is the dog’s best friend. He is the warmest spot in the room and therefore coveted real estate for the cats in cooler weather.

He is a lifelong baseball fan and was over the moon with the Giants’ World Series win this year. He brought me a coveted tie-dyed Giants World Series t-shirt from Game 2. He has told his nephews apocryphal stories of his winning pitch for a championship game, taking over for Vida Blue, explaining with a straight face that the authorities have assured him that the record book will be corrected this year at the latest. He has a Giants baseball hat covered with pins from years of baseball games, including a favorite specialty patch given to him when a foul ball hit him between the eyes while he was seated in a luxury box. Where was he during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake? At the ballpark for the World Series, of course!

He likes live theatre, musicals and ballet. He loves it when I dance with him. His favorite trips are those without planning or reservations. Considering he was actually asked to leave Christmas Midnight Mass one year because his off-key singing was “throwing the choir off,” it is amazing that he is the choirmaster for the ARC-Solano Choir. He has always wanted to learn to play piano but something has always interrupted that goal. He has a long history of volunteering to help others in numerous organizations and private efforts, including his stint in the Peace Corps and a return trip to India under a Fulbright Scholarship. And yes, I am really proud of him.

He is that strange creature women in search of a man have come to believe may not really exist. He’s a wonderful guy. When we were first going out, people noted our age difference, which truly isn’t that great. John makes much of it to flatter me and swears it is not flattery. I quickly found that his male co-workers were mystified at his success in snagging a younger woman, without bothering to know who I was or, even after years of working with him, who he was. To a man, they asked me, “What’s a nice girl like you doing with a guy like this?” While it was posed as a joke, I knew the honest ignorance of their query. I began to answer frostily smiling, “He amuses me.” I realized if they didn’t know by then, they would never know. They would be among the endless line of confused and dissatisfied men who wanted to know what the heck women want when the answer seems so obvious.

Truly he wants very little, except a peaceful home, time with kind friends, family to love, an opportunity to help others and a few literary thrills. He writes me mushy poetry for my birthday and our anniversary. He brings me surprises for no reason. He is, in short, my King of Hearts. Now what do I get the guy who is everything…to me? I’ll think of something.

Best wishes.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Surrounded by Buffleheads

“We are now,” Captain Ronn announced over the Delphinus' loudspeaker, “surrounded by Buffleheads.”

I started to snicker. Hey, my whole week had been like that. And here I was out in the cold, bright sunshine of a perfect day for birding by boat on the San Francisco Bay, and I couldn’t get away from them even in the serenity of sincere birders and a diesel engine bubbling through the green waters of my famous bay.

Bobble Heads, I thought. I’m surrounded by Bobble Heads! No, wait, these are ducks, Buffleheads. I focused a minute and brought my mini-nocs to my eyes. “Hey,” I said to my dear friend Ronda and my dear husband John, “they’re pretty! Look!” They were, too.

Going on natural history trips is one of my favorite treats. Those of you who know me personally will understand when I say that I don’t exactly have an REI physique. In the rough-and-tumble world of the outdoors, let’s just say I spend a lot more time with tumble than rough. But I love outdoor adventures.

I must get it from my Dad. The itty bitty Colonel fancied himself a naturalist of sorts, Man Against Nature. Capital letters are required here, his being the Colonel and all. He was an engineer and architect and his orientation was that nature was both an obstacle to be conquered and a resource to be savored. He could identify birds by their songs while his hearing was still pretty good and trees by name. Dangerous animals like snakes were supposed to be killed and fish and deer were to be captured and eaten. It was a hairy-chested nature for him, very macho, very special-effects laden. Moles that dug up a lawn weren’t just captured in a trap; they were eliminated with explosives. Dad was a whole show in himself sometimes.

My orientation to nature was a bit different. I objected to killing things, except perhaps the giant cockroaches they called “palmetto bugs” in Florida. Aside from that small but important exception, I wanted nature for pets or at least to watch them be themselves. My greatest wish was to have a pet [fill in the blank with usually something furry with bright eyes and a wiggly nose, generally a kitten, but also raccoon, skunk, mouse, squirrel, rabbit, puppy, even bird or snake] that I could take with me everywhere who would be my very best friend forever. We had pet fish, birds, a rat, a snake, ant farms, cats, dogs and even entertained thoughts of (was Mom really serious about this?) a pet coatimundi for a while. When I went fishing, I would catch “cute” perch and sunfish with worms and an easy hook. I considered the fish visiting me, so I took them off the hook, kissed them and set them free. After a while, I didn’t like the number of fish who were harmed by the hooks, so I stopped fishing and just amused myself looking in the water. We had a frog “farm”. We had pet red-eared turtles and box tortoises. And there was the toad thing. I didn’t want to conquer nature; I wanted full immersion.

Fairly early I learned that I wanted full immersion without mosquitoes, no-see-ums, chiggers or any other buggy thing that found me edible. And no cockroaches either. So the idea of actually roughing it in the rough was, well, too rough for me. But that never kept me from my urge to slake my thirst for natural history. It just modified it a bit.

Fast forward to current times where I have an indulgent husband who is happy to follow my curiosity where it will lead and my good friend Ronda who loves birds and ecology. We decided a while back that our favorite gifts to each other were gifts of experience. We still make the occasional hand-knitted treasure (from her) or beaded and embroidered whimsy (from me), but we agree that our best presents are the ones that don’t take up any space. We go on Field Trips and we signed up for the Point Reyes Association’s Birds of San Francisco Bay Birding Boat Tour with John Klobas and his daughter Sarah.

Lucky us, not only John and Sarah and their love of birds and behind-the-scenes nature stories were our guides, but the owners and operators of our vessel Delphinus were Ronn Patterson and Barb, none other than the leaders of a little birding cruise up the Napa River the hubs and I had enjoyed a while back.

I’ve said before that I’m not a birder. I’m not. I don’t keep lists of birds I’ve seen. I don’t get excited at the sighting of a Black Oystercatcher perhaps the way I should if I were a birder. Instead I think of things like, “How fast does a bird have to be to catch an oyster anyway? They’re cemented to rocks, fer goodness’ sake.” I do connect with the fact that a very cool looking black bird with a bright orange bill foraging in the rocks I snapped pictures of in Monterey Bay back in 2008 was probably one of those. Ah, I think, a cool-looking bird. I like birds.

I like birders, too. They’re quiet. They don’t want to scare birds. They usually don’t wear makeup or anything besides warm layers and the perfect shoes for the conditions, whatever the conditions. Most of all, they don’t want me to fix anything associated with computers, so they make the most delightful company when I want to get away from it all. Birders are, for the most part, scrupulously honest folk because they are keeping their own personal list of whether or not they’ve actually seen a bird. They really want to see the bird, whatever it is, and so will not allow themselves to have counted it unless they really saw it. That sort of integrity can be refreshing and blended with a lack of pretentiousness, almost as cute as the furry little thing I wanted as a pet or friend. They still have cool toys like killer binoculars with backpack-like elastic straps to keep the tools of the hobby handy without crashing into everything. They admire each others’ shoes for their practicality in all-weather conditions. They may branch off into woolen goods colored with natural dyes like mushrooms or windbreakers with the right amount of convenient pockets. They may also have cameras with enviable lenses and filters. They generally are willing to talk about these, in hushed tones of course so as not to disturb the birds. They are gentle, honest folk who want to see our wonderful world continue.

We did naturally see birds: Terns, Goldeneyes, Sandpipers, Osprey, grebe, San Francisco Giants-color-correct surf scoters, loons, great egrets with black feet and snowy egrets with yellow feet like flipflops at the beach, Merganser, Scaup, coot, Canada goose. I learned about Lipstick gulls and their kleptoparasitism of brown pelican. Basically, similar to an annoying practice common in the corporate world, a pelican will catch the fish only to have its closest companion the gull take the fish, like taking credit for the pelican’s work. We saw a pigeon that had strayed offshore, a land-based bird on holiday, perhaps. And we saw a single Black Oystercatcher. It was a glorious Two of Wands day, a day to hold the world in your hands and look out beyond your usual castle walls to absorb something new.

I learned that Buffleheads not only do OK in rougher waters, they seek them out. And something connected with my own life, some penchant for avoiding the easy path because I knew my life was going a different way. There is something about my tendency to hop into whitecap waters of the corporate world, a place where most people try to seek either the premium high-ranking roost or hope for some protected cove of glassy surface where a comfortable sameness provides security. There I was, surrounded by Buffleheads, a duck not out of water, in the tossy cold waters of the Bay, aware that I had the whole world in my hands.

Best wishes!


Hey, want to get away from it all in your own back yard or perhaps just a little farther away? Check these out:

JOHN KLOBAS is a naturalist who regularly teaches docent training and natural history classes at Santa Rosa Junior College. It is equally possible to find him knee deep in a tide pool, on the side of a mountain, observing and teaching about natural history and animals, or soaking in a hot spring. He is the leader of John Klobas Wildlife Adventures, specializing in birding, marine mammal, natural history, environmental education, backpacking, and mountain climbing adventures throughout California and the West. He is the author of Life Cycle of the Pacific Gray Whale and can be reached at

SARAH KLOBAS has been birding with her dad since she was five. She has a BS in Wildlife Biology from UC Davis and has studied birds in California, Mexico, and Washington. She works as a biologist with the Sonoma/Marin Mosquito and Vector Control District and is a GGRO hawk watcher.

More on the Delphinus and Dolphin Charters:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pennies from Heaven

Thanksgiving week is a busy one for most people in the USA, so I promise not to take up much of your time today.

First, applause! applause! to Theresa Reed, The Tarot Lady, for her contest to provide a FREE mentorship prize to some lucky young tarot enthusiast between the ages of 18-28. Here’s a link to her contest:

This is an incredibly generous offer since it is more than a one-time encounter but a full course with individual attention from one of the most respected tarot professionals out there. Thanks, too, to Donnaleigh de LaRose for sharing this link for Theresa’s contest on Facebook.

I feel a deep connection to mentoring because I remember being a confused teenager with so many paranormal and predictive moments. It was hard to know whom and what to trust in my experiences. I had only the briefest experience with a kind adult who recognized my situation and helped me learn how to focus. Most of all, he helped me feel normal at a time when nothing felt normal. Students, take advantage of a terrific chance to grow!


The Art Postcard Tarot and Victorian Trade Card Tarot are still available but, I’m pleased to say, going fast. The decks are $25 USD each plus postage. If you are interested, please email me at with your name and address and I will send PayPal instructions. If you’re wondering whether or not to get one or perhaps both, remember The Fool card says, “Just do it!”

The Fool from the Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

The Fool from the Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord


May you have a blessed Thanksgiving week. If you travel, travel safely. If you stay home, stay home safely. If you get a chance, whether under your breath or to their faces, thank someone for something. If they didn’t do it, you’ll keep them guessing. If they did, you might even make them blush.

Best wishes!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Taming the Lion

O frabjous day! Prince William has proposed to Kate Middleton and Anglophiles everywhere are a-glee. That includes me too, from a very American point of view. While I don’t follow the British Royal Fam as closely as some, my Inner Child is about to call a tea party with the teddy bears. My love of fairytales, princesses with long hair and short, and handsome princes disguised as frogs, bears, beasts and other forbidding exteriors is indulged with these two lovelies’ happy news. And it looks like we will be treated to the spring or summer 2011 wedding and all the controversy that goes with it.

By all accounts, the bride-to-be is a lovely person, and, while the fairy tale icon of being technically a commoner, she comes from a wealthy family who made their money on their own from a business of planning children’s parties. There’s something about being in the business of making people happy that seems to fit with being the future queen.

In my fairy tale mind, I have rosy images of this wedding being the happy resolution of the sadness of the life of Diana Spencer and her beautiful sons, hoping that the princes get to enjoy full, joyful and productive lives in the service of their family and country.

Modern fairy tales of course are fraught with annoyances like over-eager news reporters, skulking around to catch the Royals in awkward or at least interesting situations. My favorite human interest story about Kate Middleton is that she thought William looked “sexy” in his Navy uniform. This was perceived as a “slip.” While I can see that such a personal remark could conceivably be considered too human to come from a figurehead, I thought it was a lovely little personal insight. After all, if Kate thought William looked like a toad, people might call her a gold-digger and hope at least she fell for his wit. Instead, of course, nearly everyone thinks of them as being a beautiful couple, her model looks, his fresh-faced sincerity. We think he looks yummy in the uniform, too. It should be her purview to take that concept of yummy to the next step if she intends to marry him.

While it’s a “slip” for Kate to say “sexy” about William, of course the press is free to take all kinds of sensationalist potshots at the happy couple, risking lawsuits of harassment as one publication found. But generally, the press doesn’t get dinged for their nickname for her “Katie Waitie.”

OK, the girl has stuck around. She apparently thinks the prince is worth it. When you take into consideration the invasion of privacy, the pressure, the schedule, the requirement for being “on stage” your whole life, marrying a prince is a big decision. It’s not something you should enter into lightly. Perhaps more than a typical marriage, a Royal Wedding is not just marrying the guy but marrying his whole family. If the immediate family is the Royal Family, the extended family is all of the UK. Anyone with in-law trouble or maybe even just with in-laws can understand the need to approach with caution here.

A previous Queen of England, Elizabeth I, knew all about this. If Elizabeth had been dull-witted, the question of marriage would likely have been easy at the time and she would have fallen into relative obscurity, either producing an heir or not, and of course changing the course of history. But no, Elizabeth was a smart cookie, the kind that makes ambitious men quake in their boots, the kind that scared so many people about giving women the vote and any other privilege granted to males in western society. From the moment she became queen, the power brokers around her were pressuring her to marry some guy or another for purely political reasons, usually for reasons of personal gain. In Elizabeth’s day, the word ambition was actually a very negative word, not like the proactive, go-getter quality we think of today. It included the concept of scheming and back-stabbing, the “sell your grandmother to get ahead” slimeball characteristic we ascribe to villains. She was surrounded by these people who were looking out for her own good, so they professed. She was, in a word, alone.

She had the advantage of observing the mistakes of others. Most of all, her strongest personality characteristic was her ability to postpone announcing a decision or revealing her feelings.

For someone like me, whose personality seeks closure of issues in order to move on and the sooner the better, this would have taken the utmost strength of character. And yet, like the Strength card in tarot, the strength it took Elizabeth was not in being the arm-wrestling champion of the junior high two years in a row (fodder for another entry in the future) or otherwise pounding her subjects into the ground to do her will. It was the strength to remain detached and maintain a gentle and noble exterior. She adopted her persona of the Virgin Queen finally, declaring she was wedded to England and could not in good conscience distract herself from her duty to her people by fulfilling some personal desire for domestic bliss in a conventional marriage. She picked the noblest possible reason for retaining control over her own life as the reason. And by doing so she became one of the greatest monarchs in history.

I suspect Elizabeth had several reasons besides the official one. I would just love to talk to her.

Instead of making fun of Kate’s wait, I think we should applaud it. She shows the strength to endure, not force a situation. As a wife, an in-law, a public figure and a leader, her maturity, resolve and spirit are clearly visible through this one act of gentle persistence. It gives me hope for success in the future, no matter what the role of the British monarchy becomes. I suspect there will be ample opportunity for her to display her strength of character in the years to come.

Best wishes to the happy couple! And to all of you.


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Monday, November 8, 2010

You’ve Got Your Troubles; I’ve Got Mine

“I’m afraid to have my cards read! I don’t want to get that Death card.”

OK, nobody wants the Death card to show up. Or the Tower. Or the Devil. In fact, some telephone hotlines tell their tarot readers to take those cards out of the deck for their client readings, something I consider unethical or at the very least a disservice.

Let’s review: Death doesn’t have to mean death, like what we see in murder mysteries every night on television; it can mean change, an ending and a beginning. If you think about it, there are plenty of things in your life you would just as soon be done with and never have to think about again. So Death doesn’t always have to be bad news because it isn’t always physical death. In fact, it’s most likely not physical death. If you’re reading this now, you probably aren’t dead (I leave room for error here) but you have probably gone through changes in your life, true? So, just playing the odds blindly, what’s more likely to happen in your life in the next week? Physical death or some change in your life? OK, so resume breathing normally.

And the Tower. Yes, it’s a big building falling down after being struck by lightning and people falling with it, at least in the RWS (Rider Waite Smith) tradition. Yes, it can mean that, like Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song that goes, “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug,” this time you’re the bug. But it also means the *GREAT ZOT!!* of realization that changes everything you based all your assumptions heretofore upon, the foundation of your logic or thinking or belief crumbles because it was going to anyway. It’s the “A-HA!” moment, the eye-opener, the Eureka shriek, even thunderstruck love at first sight. Think Publishers Clearinghouse knocking on your door. Away go your previous assumptions, swept away by sudden realization. And it’s the Big Do-Over. Sometimes do-overs are called second chances. At one time or another, we’ve all wanted a second chance at something.

All right, then there’s the Devil. OK, I admit, evil that likes to torture you and doesn’t really care about you or the entertainment value of your suffering is pretty tough. However, the Devil is also that little voice in your head that says, “Buy me!” when faced with the [new, latest, shiny, red, pretty, fast, bigger, smaller, sparkly or other adjective that grabs you and won’t let you go] thing. It can be devastating like the chains that tie us to a destructive relationship or habit that we fear we just can’t quit. It can also mean you’re having your own devil-may-care moment of unbridled fun, the dancing on the tables and shooting out the lights kind, the kind you hope doesn’t make it to the papers, the kind you don’t take home to mom, the kind you hope you get away with without ruining the rest of your life. You get the Devil and Temperance, you have your evil and calm down. You get the Devil and the 7 of Swords and you probably get away with it, whatever it is, except that thoughts of it may plague you after the dust settles. You get the Devil and the 10 of Swords, o woe and consequences! So while the card itself can, in various decks, look really scary, there’s a range between “Cute Li’l Devil” and the kind that needs an exorcist. I recommend the cute end of the spectrum myself, but that’s just me.

Those aren’t the cards that scare me though. OK, I’m not a big fan of the Tower, mostly because I hate surprises, something like the premise of the now defunct show Dead Like Me where our main character meets her untimely demise as the victim of a falling toilet seat. I have plans.

No, there are other cards that scare me. They have to be in the “right” context of course.

For instance, I have a bit of an aversion to the 6 of Wands. I don’t like to be paraded around like a hero. I’m just like you. Or at least I try to tell myself that, while at the same time relishing how different I am from everyone else. But all that attention in the parade and stuff, that’s so not for me. Give me fortune, thanks, and leave the fame to the photogenic, I say. Take me to the pub and let’s tell stories together but don’t try to make a hero out of me. Queen for a day, I’m not. But who listens to me?

The cards that give you the heebie-jeebies are likely to tell you something about yourself. My 6 of Wands thing started early, when I was 3 or so. It was centered around fashion. Mom loved clothes and had the kind of figure that could wear just about anything, trim, great legs, long neck, deep set eyes. Did I mention I take after Dad’s side of the family? She was thrilled to have a little blonde baby girl to dress up in mother-daughter outfits and put me in little girl fashion shows. I hated it. They poured me into frilly panties with a big fat red heart appliquéd to the butt, scratchy dresses with scratchier petticoats and, at 7 or 8 years old, the ultimate indignity, a leopard print one-piece bathing suit. I looked like a speckled jellybean. Of course this particular moment was mixed with my brother’s Cub Scout den pointing, laughing and calling out, “Me Tarzan, you Jane!” That was so it. Make them stop looking at me. My modeling days were over then and there. I was prepared to bite people if they tried to dress me up one more time. Mom gave in and I retired from the runway.

6 of Wands from the Art Postcard Tarot,
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord,
all rights reserved

I found that it got no better even if I were recognized for something I enjoyed doing. I began fainting, offstage at least, after piano recitals. Who knew piano lessons could be so hazardous? I was given the surprise and dubious honor of being the valedictorian of my junior high class. When the principal called out my name, he mispronounced it. “Mar-see-uh McCord.” I was just uncomfortable enough, just angry enough, just embarrassed enough, to shake his hand, then lean into the microphone to say, “That’s Marcia, sir, just like you say Marsha.” It’s a mistake anyone could make but my finest hour to date was marred by misidentification, compounded, I reflect, further by my correcting him in front of the whole school. Well, it was an award for having the correct answer but no one cared. Seriously, the whole thing would have been better if they had just mailed it to me. I did at least remember to say thank you.

Toastmasters International helped me with speaking in front of others so the public aspect of my work isn’t so dreadful. Public recognition, though, was still a problem.

I sang in a Sweet Adelines quartet in Illinois, tenor, spokesperson, comic relief. We had a pretty good sound there for a little while. Some guy even came around and asked if we wanted him to be our agent. We didn’t. No, even “worse” accolades were to come. At a county fair after our performance, we were mobbed by little old guys in their 70’s who wanted our autographs. It was a nightmare. And I laughed. I should have been flattered. I should have had stage-fright. But no, I had after-stage-fright.

My last great horror of recognition happened eight years ago. I was working for a large financial corporation in San Francisco that will remain nameless, a place I mistook for the Everyman company. It was a wonderful place to work, too much to do, great people to work with, pieces of a giant puzzle to solve. I absolutely loved my work. I got awards, an entire credenza full of them, for technical and customer service achievements. I was proudest of those I won as part of a team, thinking I could bury my 6 of Wands phobia of the spotlight in a crowd. And then the party was over. No matter how many awards I had won, “Exceeds Expectations” reviews I had received or what I had achieved as an individual or team member, I was among one of the great waves of people laid off. I had a short time to pack my things and go. And I left the credenza-top full of those awards, that bright fame that meant nothing, that recognition of air and smoke.

For me the 6 of Wands is nothing but an uncomfortable spotlight on accomplishments little understood. The parade ends. The parade sponsors feel good that they have shown all that they can reward wonderfulness but nothing really deep and meaningful just happened.

But it’s not all awful between the 6 of Wands and me. Why, just last week I had a great time at the San Francisco Giants parade through the City of San Francisco. Down on the street, being about a foot shorter than most of the crowd, I caught great views of the undersides of hats and the occasional display of nosehair. Up in our friend’s office on the 8th floor, high above Market Street, just far enough from both the heroes and the crowd, I thrilled to the sound of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and watched the orange, black and white confetti fall like plum blossoms in a spring storm to cover the streetcars and vintage autos and adoring fans. And I cheered for the Giants as they celebrated their moment of victory, home from their World Series win. And I noted how quickly after the parade was over and the cheers had died down and the crowd had moved away, the City street sweepers began their cleanup, as if nothing had happened at all.

Best wishes!


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Monday, November 1, 2010

No Soy Bruja

I don’t speak Spanish. I wish I did. I feel I’m missing out on so much of the world because I, like so many residents of the USA, am fluent only in English. My favorite musicians are the Gipsy Kings who speak something between French and Spanish, close enough. Think of all the music I could enjoy.

I know there’s always been an argument in my country, somewhere on the “love it or leave it” end of the open-minded negotiations spectrum for some folks, that people who live here should speak our language. I beg to differ. There is no such language as USA-ish. Or maybe it exists only in text messages, license plates and advertising. Wsh u cd b here 2.

Oh, sure, there was a moment when our official language was almost German. Ich auch spreche klein Deutch. Or something like that. I like German as a language. Purely from an outsider’s point of view, I like the way they do nouns. Why create a lot of new nouns for new things when you can splice a couple of good well-used nouns together to get the idea across? It’s kind of a green language that way, recycling a couple of words to create a new one. And, back when we used typewriters instead of computers and printers, I thought the liberal use of capital letters, say with nouns for instance, at least assured a more even wear of the typewriter keys. It seems like a balanced and reasonable language.

One of the things I like about Spanish is the written part, especially punctuation. For instance, when we say something in an excited way, we might write it as, “Wow!” We have to wait until the end of the word or sentence to know how loud we say it. It works fine in English if the message is short. Certainly, “Wow” is a whole different feeling from, “Wow!” Or even, “WOW!” And in one of my favorite all-time Marketing flops when the Ruffles people tried that grease-substitute stuff (for those of us who wish we could eat all the crunchy things and still look like a runway model) and called them “Wow,” my husband and I felt a certain different message was actually the true result of the, er, um, sudden dyspepsia caused by the inability to digest this wonder-grease. We called them, “OH, Wow!” So I don’t mean that English isn’t expressive.

But in Spanish, you know up front if you’re excited when you read something. You’ve got an upside down exclamation point at the beginning of the sentence and a regular one at the end. At least you don’t have to back up and repeat yourself more loudly to make it sound right. It’s nice being prepared for excitement. It kind of builds the excitement.

In grade school, a priest visited our third grade class and started to teach us Spanish. It was fun, uno, dos, tres. When I moved to New Mexico, I found that Spanish was even handier to know since about one third of the school spoke it. I took two years of Spanish in junior high from our very scholarly teacher who was from Deep in the Heart of Dixie. Her Spanish was more standard, according to local ears, than her English and I reveled in being able to repeat useless phrases like “Lobo rueda la bola” both with an Atlanta accent and something closer to my classmates’ tongue. It solidified my lifelong love of regional dialects since I had been teased by my New Mexico classmates for my “British” accent from deep in the heart of central Florida.

I learned just enough Spanish for a couple of key moments. One of them was filled with that sense of karma, that feeling that I’d gone to Catholic school as a non-Catholic to learn to count in Spanish from a priest and had been uprooted from my Wild Kingdom in Florida to the dust of New Mexico precisely for this moment.

I was still in junior high and Spanish, whether Atlanta-accented or not, was still fresh in my ears when a very dusty, tired man perhaps my father’s age, perhaps older, cautiously approached me one searing afternoon. He asked me, in Spanish, where Roswell was, basically, how to get there.

One of the benefits of reading too many books and loving study and language and other bookish things was that I tended to drink in the circumstances, the context of a question. I realized this man was taking a terrible risk talking to a young Anglo girl and knew it. He stood sideways to me at least 10 feet away, his head bowed, his eyes pleading. I recognized that he was likely illegal, sorry he was so far from home, beaten down by false promises of economic opportunity. His hands were rough and split from field work. His shoes were dusty and cut. He had no baggage other than that of his soul. I was touched by his plight, his longing, his dread, his fear, his hope, his exhaustion. He was Don Quixote without the horse, the armor, the best friend or the mission in life. He was lost in a lot of ways. I knew just enough Spanish to tell him to take the highway going south, 90 miles, you can’t miss it, not in that part of the world. I hope he got a ride.

I don’t know what help I gave him. I know what it did for me.

Last night was Halloween and one of my favorite treats is giving free tarot readings for folks who walk up with their kids who are trick-or-treating. I do it once a year, dress up in some gypsy-Zigeuner-Gitana getup with thick socks and a good wool wrap and Birkenstocks. This is Northern California, after all. My husband helps me set up my tent, drape the supports with jack-o-lantern lights and hang the elastic sparkly spider web as atmosphere. This year I had a couple of extra treats for the décor. We had gone to a fund-raiser where the clients of the ARC-Solano and residents of a retirement home had joined forces to create giant heads made of papier-mache covered balloons painted and decorated and set on stands. These were auctioned off along with other fund-raising activities and I bought two of them. One was an irrepressible Happy Ghost with a big grin and rubber-glove hands on either side of its ghoulish face, clad in seasonal white gauze, just the thing for the special specter. The other I dubbed The Eye of Zohar in honor of a vintage tarot game recently purchased by Thalassa of BATS fame. Finally, towards the end of the evening, a neighbor brought me his artfully carved pumpkin, all the fun and none of the goo.

The majority of people I read for last night just happened to be Spanish speaking. Luckily, I had translators handy. One of my young neighbors next door assisted with a couple of readings, so I read for Edgar too when we had a break.

I started out my readings with a very hesitant, “No soy bruja.” They smiled and nodded. Edgar smiled and nodded. “Did I say that right?” I asked him. He smiled, “Yes.” Good, I thought. The last thing I want to do, especially on Halloween, was scare people. And then I laughed at the nonsense of that on so many levels. But at least it was a true statement.

The daughter of a family out for the treats translated for another set of readings. I really focused my message in my attempt to make sure in the simplest language possible the point of the readings would be conveyed. It was hard. It was good. It was exhilarating. I finally folded the tent about 9:30 pm.

Edgar’s parents, Miguel and Martha, were sitting on their steps in the night as I carried my candy cauldron up the steps to my front door.

“You should learn Spanish,” Miguel called. “You could get a lot of business.” I thought for a moment about the time it would take to become really conversant, to talk about all the range of events and emotions and hopes and fears that clients talk about in a tarot reading.

“How about I work out a deal for Edgar as translator?” I called back. “He could use the money, too.”

Like the Page of Wands, that’s how inspiration and the communication of a new project can work. Suddenly on a dark night in October, someone brings a candle to roll back the darkness. This just might work out.

Best wishes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Prognosticator, Predict Thyself

Paul the Octopus is dead at age 2. The tarot world is in mourning. Just in case you are in the tarot world and you hadn’t heard, a moment of silence is in order, please.

Paul, not often known as San Pablo de Pulpo, was the spot-on predictor of this year’s World Cup Games. Presented with a favorite treat, mussels, contained in two boxes which represented the two teams playing each game, Paul correctly selected mussels from the winning team. He had an amazing 100% accuracy, something most tarot readers would advertise in print only if they were frauds instead of real tarot readers. Paul was our hero. OK, so he was a little slimy and you’re never sure how to look an octopus in the face, but when you get past these superficial characteristics, Paul was downright amazing.

Tragically (from our longer-lived perspective), octopi live only about two years, so he was basically at the peak of his career when we knew him during the World Cup predictions. It’s a short life for a creature of cleverness. Perhaps it is the brevity of life itself that spurs innovative techniques among the 8-legged brainy types. They work on a short deadline, literally.

I’ve had my “hot streaks,” sure. But I would never offer a 100% accuracy claim. Too much gets lost in translation. If it were like a movie, I would re-project it for people. If I knew the Lotto ticket numbers, would I be sitting here talking to you about an octopus?

Those hot streaks were fun though. Back in the 80’s when I first started working as a computer programmer, it was still about 2 or 3 men to every woman in the business, even fewer when it came to database analysis and design which was what I liked. Programs come, programs go, but data and information stay forever. That’s why your moms and dads tell you that you’ll be sorry for posting those really fun photos on the internet someday. Data is meaningful in context; change the context, you change the meaning. Funny at a party is perhaps not so funny in court. You get it.

Back in the day – scratch that. I hate that phrase, love you young ‘uns but that’s just one that gives me shivers. OK, back in Illinois when I was a “baby” programmer/DBA, I worked with a bunch of guys. These were not completely house-trained guys when it comes to being civilized but in context that was funny, in the way Animal House is a funny movie. Funny to watch but not funny to live with. I remember getting a ride to lunch with the group I hung out with at work, 15 or 20 of us invading some bar and grill or experimenting with Japanese food or getting tossed out of the Mongolian barbecue for being too efficient in filling our bowls with the goodies from the ingredients banquet table prior to griddling. I still wore skirts and hose and heels then, not yet annoyed with the discomforts of feminine fashions. At lunchtime, we piled into cars and took off for the restaurant du jour and one time I remember I caught a ride with Wulfers.

Wulfers was so correctly named, looking a bit more like Wolfman Jack and rather less like Alcide, slightly older and very married. He was a funny guy, a leading jokester from the spitwad section of gradeschool, a dominant buffoon who had long since succumbed to the superior wit of his wife. We felt sorry for her in a way because it was so obvious she had married a big kid, but we figured that he must amuse her as he did us. He was sort of handsome, sort of not and always had a joke to tell. Wulfie was still into sports and fitness and testosterone and stuff so I guess I should not have been surprised. But when I climbed into the back seat with the rest of the carload, I screamed. There on the backseat floor was a discarded pair of underwear, definitely Wulfie’s.

I screamed my bug scream. Hose and heels will make you do that when you encounter the unexpected BVD’s in the back of a guy’s car who is, after all, just one of the guys. Wulfie suffered his near-death experience of embarrassment, which was to hang his head on his steering wheel and try to explain, as he might to his long-suffering wife, exactly why a pair of underwear might lay discarded in plain sight for a “good” reason, something sports related apparently. Amid my shrieks of disgust and threats to phone his wife, I rode to lunch without letting my feet touch the floor of his car or the unmentionables, much to the snickering delight of the other passengers. I caught a ride back to work with someone else.

In this male-dominated world of constant apologies to women for transgressions that seemed like a good idea at the time, I grew a little more comfortable, although I reminded Wulfie that I wasn’t riding in his car again, clean or not. And it was during this time that I had a little predictive hot streak.

I’ve mentioned I like baseball. In my work environment there, all sports were hallowed. It was fall and football season. The World Series didn’t stretch into November like it does now. This was Football. We were firmly mired in the debate of Astroturf v. grass and being just halfway between St Louis and Chicago, the local rivalry was a constant topic of discussion, with a few outlanders defending Detroit and other exotic places. I started watching weekend NFL shows and after a couple of weeks into the season, wrote down the name of the Super Bowl loser (very specific) and pinned it to my fuzzy wall in my cube. And I was right. Three years in a row.

After the second year, Wulfie came to me and it was clear that his lifelong obsession with sports had included a monetary significance common in office pools and other far-off-track wagers. He begged. It was fun to be in demand. I personally did not make any money from the predictions. It was just fun to see them turn out. And then, in the fourth year, I lost interest in predicting football. Like Paul the Octopus, my season of specialty was over. And it’s never happened again. Don’t ask. I don’t do sports anymore. I read tarot.  I still predict things, just not Super Bowl stuff.

Paul the O’s demise and all too brief a stay in the public attention prompts at least one question: If Paul was so good at the World Cup, why didn’t he predict his own death? Without knowing Paul personally and with few personal octopus encounters in my lifetime, I can’t be sure. But my sense is that like my brief stint with the Super Bowl loser predictions and like the Eight of Cups, the 8 of Water, the 8 of Intuition and connection to the collective unconsciousness, it was just Paul’s time to move on to something else. He specialized in this year’s World Cup and not in his own life and death events.

Those of you may wish him a jaunty, “Godspeed, Sucker!” But I feel I speak for the tarot community when I say thank you to Paul and his moment in time and hope that his next life, whether it is some eight-legged heaven or rebirth to a higher form, brings him and those around him joy, however brief.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Treat, My Trick

“I’m coming to your house for Halloween,” the checkout clerk said as I watched the 20? 25? bags of candy glide by on the conveyor belt of the checkout counter at my favorite funky discount grocery.

I laughed but didn’t say what I was thinking, that it is an odd spot in life when you feel comfortable holding a real job and going trick-or-treating for Halloween. My sense is that this feeling of “just right” doesn’t last too long. Or maybe it does now.

My last Halloween of trick-or-treating was quite a while ago, a few states away from the current abode and, now, seeming like a world away. I lived in New Mexico.

“Not the pretty part like Albuquerque or Taos,” I would explain with my nose wrinkled. Eastern New Mexico was called the Llano Estacado or “staked plains.” At the time of this nickname it was a place flat and featureless, so much so that the travelers stuck stakes in the ground, like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs, so they could find their way back. I was taught that when First People were being relocated, shameful practice that it was, they were offered this land and turned it down “for what’s behind the curtain,” I used to quip. When I lived there, I would have turned it down for the curtain itself, but it also grew on me.

When we moved there from Florida, it was a huge culture shock in many ways. For one thing, there wasn’t any water or not much to speak of. My father who had come there to teach engineering studied the water table in the area and determined that the ground water had dropped dramatically in a short amount of time. The farmers had to dig much deeper wells just to keep going. It was a dusty place when I was there which prompted more jokes, “Most of New Mexico is on its way to Texas by air,” and “You learn not to smile facing west here so your mouth doesn’t fill with sand,” and “You can tell summer from winter here because all of a sudden the wind blows cold instead of hot.” These things were only funny if you didn’t live there; otherwise, they were just facts. The glass in windows on the west side of buildings took on a frosty appearance from being sand-blasted, a fine tapering miniature sand dune collecting on the inside of each windowsill where the finest grains worked their way in no matter how clean and tight your house was. What snow there was fell like cold crumbled Styrofoam, little ice-balls instead of snowflakes, each with a grain of dust at its center. My final despairing joke was written to my grade school friends in Florida describing my new home, “Great beach. No ocean.”

Like I said, it grew on me. We went out into the country looking for arrowheads and interesting cactus and “horned toads” (horned lizards), finding a few of each, plus prairie dog villages, a great expanse of uninterrupted horizon and the occasional cow pie.

Instead of retirees’ finest treasures in estate sales in Florida, my mother’s New Mexico antique shop stock opportunities ran more to cream cans, spurs and singletrees. We became friends with the junk man who had been graced with some young man’s closet full of classic science fiction and I quickly devoured anything that had his name written inside the cover. We bought feral chicks hatched in Mr Turnbow’s field for a quarter a piece and kept them as pets.

I became aware of the legendary status of Billy the Kid, a/k/a William H. Bonney and Henry McCarty, and his friendship/adversary relationship with Sheriff Pat Garrett, a story still alive in my new home, a story mummified in the sand and caliche limestone about the evils of reading dime novels and getting too upset when someone insults your mother. I reasoned that the vividness of this collective memory was that little else had happened in this part of the world to interfere with the memory of events in July 1881.

It was in this sandy wilderness, a place where artists did not go for inspirational landscapes, that I sought my final pass at trick-or-treating. I was in junior high. One of my classmates was staying with us for the weekend. Our fathers taught in the same department at the university. Her grandfather had died and apparently she had a horror of funerals. We were presumed to be friends but we weren’t really. We were too different from each other. But I felt obligated to be a good hostess while she was staying with us and harbored no particular malice. I was reluctant to go out for candy that night, feeling too old and not having a costume, but she wanted to. We walked around in our sweatshirts and blue jeans with pillowcases, each house adding to my embarrassment.

The attack came when we were on the far side of our neighborhood. We were between houses. It was a very dark moonless night and the wind was blowing cold to usher in winter. Two boys came up behind us with intent to steal the pillowcases full of candy. My houseguest was an easy mark and lost her pillowcase to the young runner immediately. I, however, had been trained in long years of ambush and hand to hand combat with my brother. My reactions were swift and deliberate.

Being the more substantial of the two girls, I had been selected by the more burley Trickster. He had, as so many do, over-estimated my height and instead of hooking me around the neck with his left arm, he caught me at the mouth. Without dropping my pillowcase full of treats, I grabbed his wrist and elbow and with conviction bit down through his faux-leather sleeve to the skin, like it was a chicken drumstick. At the same time, using my, er, ballast, I flipped him over my back to land uncomfortably in front of me, all the while maintaining my grip on his arm. I felt it snap and heard my attacker grunt in surprise and distress. I let go, ready for the next round, but he scuttled away, his arm at a dangerous angle.

We screamed like the girls we were and ran for the nearest neighbors’ house, called the police, my parents arrived and we all went home. There was, after the excitement, only my pillowcase of candy left between us. And Mom made me give our guest all the good pieces.

I was steamed at being the more able, the more apt, the stronger and better prepared, the winner who in the end lost, just like in the 5 of Swords. That card is the card of conflict, a win-lose card instead of a win-win card, one where the victor eventually finds out he didn’t really win. And we never did find the kid with the broken left arm.

Just like Billy the Kid, I figured out crime didn’t pay in the end, for either the criminal or the victim. In the end, Billy got shot by a guy who actually liked him. In the end, I had fought for candy that I was obligated to give away to my wimpy houseguest. In the end, there’s some guy who wore a medium green plastic and cotton knit jacket with teeth marks and something broken. In the end, I gave up on Halloween trick-or-treating for good.

Now, I actually love Halloween. It isn’t that I’m stuck on a holiday I can sink my teeth into so much as I love seeing the kids and their parents and dogs dressed up in costume dashing up to my house with their bags, forgetting to say the Magic Words, “Trick or Treat!” So I bought a boatload of candy again this year. I’ll set up my tent in front of the house, dress in costume, fill my big brass cauldron with what we used to think of as penny candy and read tarot cards for free for the adults. I get all the good stuff.

Best wishes!

Friday, October 15, 2010

News Flashes from the Universe

Sorcerer's Saturday, October 16, noon to 5:30pm at the end of First Street, Benicia, CA. Come for a tarot reading and shop the historic downtown area in Benicia including Angel Heart 4 You.  If you're looking for something slightly different in a shopping opportunity, stop by The Red Raven in Vallejo, CA.  The Red Raven has lots of new and interesting things in time for Samhain; stop by and celebrate.

Come to Angel Heart 4 You's Anniversary Party Sunday, October 17.
Can't make it to Sorcerer's Saturday?  Stop by Angel Heart 4 You for their first anniversary party from 11 am to 6 pm Sunday, October 17.  Most of the intuitive readers (including me) will be there at least for the afternoon, plus there will be free appetizers.  Sample the readers and the snacks and celebrate with Carol and Peg.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot and Art Postcard Tarot are at the printer!
If you've been thinking about ordering one or both decks, there's still time.  Contact me at morganmm at aol dot com.  You can also find me on Facebook.  Each deck is $25 plus postage, limited editions of 100 only self-published numbered decks.

Coming Soon to a Blog near you:  Rosie's Handcrafted Bags with images from Marcia's Tarot Decks!
My friend Rosie and I are combining forces to recycle old blue jeans (plus a judicious raid of my fabric stash) and turn them into fabulous fashion hobo-style handbags with images from my tarot decks.  It gets better!  Proceeds from the sales of these fashionista fundamentals will go to our favorite charities, the Benicia-Vallejo Humane Society and the ARC-Solano.  Stay tuned for these must-haves.  Pictures will be posted here.

Best wishes!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Happy Fall

“Marcia, why are you walking with a cane?”

“Oh, I went on vacation.”

Not every explanation makes sense right away, perhaps especially in tarot readings. When I read for people, I get part of the story. The cards, the person, the moment come together and trigger impressions, sometimes vivid, sometimes vague. The impressions can be in any form. People most often think they are visual because, well, seers see, right? Clairvoyance means “clear sight.” Sometimes it’s called “second sight.” But that’s really only part of the story. Sometimes the impressions are musical with lyrics of some silly song that start running through my own personal Muzak. Sometimes they are smells or sometimes very tactile. Sometimes words seem to just fall out of my mouth.

Of course my husband says this can happen at any time with me, even in my sleep. I don’t think I say anything of great importance when I’m sleeping. For instance, last night he says I uttered very clearly, “You will just have to get used to it,” or words to that effect. I figured I was talking myself through the new reorganization at work. But that’s another story.

Back to the cane and the vacation, naturally there is a story about why I’m limping. And it is connected to our vacation. I fell. It could happen to anyone. But the rest of the story is so much more fun than that, like a vacation all in itself.

I wanted an old-fashioned road trip vacation this year through the Wild West. We live in what is most certainly the Tame West in Northern California. Northern California isn’t exactly the California you see on television, all paved and sunny. That’s Malibu or Santa Barbara or Los Angeles or Orange County. That’s southern California which often seems like a world, or at least a state away. Northern California is cooler, often foggier, with redwoods and cows closer at hand than the crispy brown hills in SoCal. Northern California has the San Francisco Giants who just won their division last night (OK, no more baseball in this one; I just had to get a plug in there). Northern California is often, but not entirely more liberal in its politics, a point of view born out of kindness, love and generosity rather than starry-eyed give-aways. (OK, no more politics, either.) Roses and grapes and children grow well in Northern California, as do cats and dogs and ideas about environmental sustainability. So why would a person ever need a vacation from all that? Well, heck, I just wanted to go somewhere, that’s all.

Unlike my other vacations, this one wasn’t well planned. I had two weeks. I wanted to take my small car so we could share the driving. I just don’t think a road trip vacation is a good time to begin to renew my skills with a manual transmission. And I wanted to take the dog with us. He’s a companion animal and gets anxious when he’s not with us. And finally, since I acquired a new kitten who was just a few weeks old, I determined we had to take Pixie with us. It’s essential bonding time in her development. If we left her at home for two weeks, I was pretty sure I’d come back to a feral indoor kitten with difficult to correct bad habits. OK, so it’s a road trip with a cat and a dog. I wanted to visit my sister in Colorado and see the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park again.

That was the extent of the planning. No reservations, no particular route or itinerary and no other goals. This just isn’t like me. My husband is the spontaneous one, the one likely to go off on a trip without having packed. We made three very deliberate stops before leaving town: the gas station, the library for audio books and AAA for maps and things. And we left town.

We drove east, which for us takes us to the Old West. We stopped for lunch and had patty melts, forbidden fruit, in Lodi. We stopped for the evening in Sonora at a “pets ok” motel. The next day we drove the north road through Yosemite, past the meadows and mountain views, stopped at Mono Lake for a couple of other-worldly photos and pressed on to Candelaria in Esmerelda County, Nevada. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Candelaria. It’s a ghost town that bloomed and died with a silver strike in the 1870’s, evaporating about 1880 leaving the shells of the mercantile, the bank and a few other buildings. My husband’s great-grandparents were married there and we wanted to see it. I was so excited that we had found it, since ghost towns are so often not well-marked on maps, that I popped out of the car with my camera, ready to take photos of days gone by. I started to step up a small rubbly incline for a better view when I was immediately swept off my feet, landing flat on my back beside my car.

“Where’d you go?” my husband asked, noting my disappearance.

“I’m down here,” I sighed, camera in hand and a battalion of sticky, scratchy things now attached to the back of my knit shirt. I didn’t think much of the fall at the time.

We had a great time poking through the debris in Candelaria, discovering that the road approaching from the west was hardscrabble washboard rough, about an hour’s drive at 10 miles per hour, while just on the other side of “town” the same road was suddenly paved and striped, a convenience not noted on the AAA map. In our reservationless trek, we stayed places not found on Travelocity or AAA, like The Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada, $34.95, pets OK. Bikers welcome. And free secured WiFi. The ice machine was broken but it was otherwise a pleasant stay. I particularly loved the Virgin River Casino and Hotel in Mesquite, Nevada, $24.95 weekday off-season price, again pets OK. We didn’t win big, but they really did have prime rib for $6.99 and the room was sparkling.

One of my favorite AAA maps, which we hear is soon to go out of print, is the Indian Country Map and we made good use of that. We wound through the Carnelian Cliffs through Navajo Country, marveling at the painted ponies and unusual sheep. We stopped for a moment at the Navajo National Monument, snapping photos of the dramatic landscape, and landed at the Ancient Puebloan site of Canyon de Chelly and The Thunderbird Lodge. Pets were OK there too, but the price was considerably more, $150 with the dog. And I slept poorly although the room was spotless and comfortable. We toured the south rim sites, made the acquaintance of several of the Navajo vendors including a 6 year old toothy animal lover named Randy who showed us his beading work and was fascinated with the dog and cat. We pressed on through back roads to Shiprock, New Mexico, and landed at the Tomahawk Motel in Cortez, Colorado. We took a little rest from driving and nosed around Cortez which included fine dining at Nero’s, shopping at the various trading posts and a short trip over to Mancos to view the hot air balloon evening display at the end of their Art and Balloon Festival.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park "Genesis Wall"
(c) Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved
 Our Big Events were next. We took an all-day tour of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park, a huge horseshoe shaped reserve that holds not only historical Ute pictographs and remnants Chief Jack’s burned-out home, but also much older Ancient Puebloan petroglyphs, towers, kivas, storage bins and cliff dwellings. This park can be toured only with an approved Ute guide and is full of artifacts of at least two civilizations in nearly-untouched condition, unlike the highly restored and “swept forest floor” look of the adjoining Mesa Verde. With a generous offer to kitten-sit while we took our all-day tour, we set out with guide Marshall Deer and our driver Tommy to visit remote areas of the park where perched in the cliffs are Lion House and Forest House and other structures ca. 1100-1400. My favorite spot is still the “Genesis Wall” an Ancient Puebloan petroglyph wall telling the story of creation starting with the Spider Woman, the Spiral Path, Kokopelli, The Hero Twins, and all the way to the Fourth World where man leapt out of the jumping up places from within the earth.

From Cortez, we drove to my sister’s house on Vallecito Lake near Durango, somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation, just to remind me how out of shape I am. The weather was perfect, sun-splattered and golden-aspened, and we walked the new handicap-accessible trail my sister was instrumental in building. (I am just a bit proud of her, I admit.) We were treated to a Durango stroll with her women’s barbershop group and balcony seats at the Diamond Belle for lunch in the Strater Hotel.

Too soon it was time to head back to California, which had been deathly hot while we had been away, 108 in our town while we guiltily had enjoyed 83 degrees in the desert that day. My husband was treated to one of his favorites, a rip-roaring thunderstorm with a huge dust storm first act in Nevada. The kitten and the dog and I huddled together in the passenger seat while he drove through the dust and lightning with delight.

And then we were home and slept soundly in our own bed, soundly and late. I luxuriated and finally, on getting up, realized my bad knee wanted to bend in all directions again, not just knee-like. The only event was the Candelaria fall almost two weeks earlier. And so I found a cane to use. Our beloved chiropractor Dr Miller says, “Ice.” And I’ll be checking in with my Primary Care Physician.

I love our fall vacations! They give me a chance to pause along the road of my life and rest, to view the long road behind us and look forward to the long road ahead. Like the 9 of Wands, a little reflection of history helps us do better in the future and let us know that we can continue with our journey, even after a tumble or two.

Best wishes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What’s New at the Magician’s Table

And now a word from the shameless self-promotion department (borrowed with respect from those crazy guys at Car Talk on Public Radio):

• Picture Postcard Tarot SOLD OUT
• Two more decks in progress and available now for pre-sales reservation!
• Tarot Class September 19, 2010, Benicia, CA

I am just thrilled that my Picture Postcard Tarot (self-published limited edition) has sold out. Almost all US mailings have been sent; the International mailings are being held waiting for a couple of spare King and Queen of Wands.

My first venture into self-publishing was exciting, obsessive, perhaps even mirage-like in its quality for me. Just a few of the decks suffered from a problem where the King and Queen of Wands were stuck together. When pulled apart, they left part of the images on each other, just like all the CSI shows tell you about the rules of physical evidence. And boo-hiss to that little snafu! The printer, however, has been just excellent about it and is shipping the replacement cards to me now. So if those over-heated King and Queen of Wands are stuck on your copy of the deck, never fear, cooler cards will also be yours.

Who knew Wild Bill Hickok had such a thing for that Party Girl? Get a room!

Many thanks to those who ordered one or more decks, making this experiment possible.

**Update!  Aeclectic Tarot has posted a review and images of the Picture Postcard Tarot.  Click here


Following closely on the heels of my first tarot deck are my next two tarot decks. Like the Picture Postcard Tarot, these will be self-published numbered limited editions. However, both of these decks will be limited editions of 100 instead of 50. The cost will be $25.00 USD per deck plus postage. I intend to publish both before the end of the year and am taking pre-order reservations now. If you would like one or more of these decks, please contact me at my email address which is listed in several places in this blog for more information.

The Art Postcard Tarot is the second in my study of antique postcards from 1900-1909. It is a deck of 78 cards, plus a “Happy Squirrel” and a cover card. Again all images were taken from real antique postcards from that time; the images themselves may be older, but somewhere someone thought it would make a good visual to send their message. The artwork is generally light-hearted, even when dealing with difficult themes. There are portraits, serious art, cartoons and illustrations.

The cover card shows a “romantic harem” theme with the lovelies contemplating their own fortune. The Ace of Swords is atypical of the usual portrayal but shows that not all our new ideas are necessarily good ones. The Hermit walks the night alone. The Queen of Wands is a lively redhead bursting with energy.

The Victorian Trade Card Tarot is the third of my limited edition decks. It too is a deck of 78 cards, plus a “Happy Squirrel” and a cover card. The images on this tarot were taken from trade cards used as business cards between 1870-1890. Trade cards were an interesting phenomenon that had a short but exciting life in the history of advertising. Even during their own time, they were collected and pasted into albums as novelties. They came in all shapes and sizes and, unlike our business cards today, were not personal contacts at a company but rather advertised a business or product in general. Again, I’ve aimed for a light-hearted theme. Often the pictures on the trade cards had little to do with the product being advertised. Looking at some of the ads on television lately, I think we may have come full circle!

The cover card shows a wizened fortune teller and her young clients. Is she telling them to listen to her words or explaining that she has to eat, too? The Emperor is advertising ham even if the pig looks more like an elephant. The Devil is demon temptation, especially for the shoe-lovers among us. Who hasn’t heard that little voice over the left shoulder whisper, “But they are so YOU!” The 6 of Swords illustrates how the picture often had little to do with the product. The advertising for tea is seemingly disconnected from our well-dressed travelers, unless you consider Mom needed that extra shot of caffeine to get the boat going.


Finally, I’m teaching a class using tarot for creative inspiration on Sunday afternoon, 3 pm – 5 pm, September 19, 2010, at Angel Heart 4 You, 501 First Street, Benicia, California. The class is $35 per person. It is called Fire - Inspired Tarot. Collecting, Writing and Creating Tarot and will feature the work of local artists, plus a hands-on workshop for you to create your own art using the tarot as inspiration. I’ll talk just a little about creating these limited edition decks and what it takes to get them from concept to realization, a Fool’s Journey in itself! I’ll also bring some of my collection of antique and limited edition “art decks” with a little bit of information about each of them. It will be a fun class. If you have already created something inspired by the tarot, you are encouraged to bring that. Advance reservations are encouraged (you can pay when you get there). Call Angel Heart 4 You at 707-745-2024 and sign up. There’s no telling what we will come up with!

Best wishes!