Tuesday, December 3, 2013



Here’s the thing about my husband: he wants to save everything. In all our years of marriage, he’s never met the item he doesn’t want to keep (the only exception perhaps being rotten vegetables).  A mantra rings in his head, which I know better than anyone because I hear it so often: “Keep that, Babe. We may need it some day.” 

Thus on his side of our kitchen we have a collection—dozens of used drink cups, both plastic and cardboard, complete in some cases with traces of dried cola. In our garage he stores old jelly jars, empty coffee cans, hunks of Styrofoam, strands of wire, dozens of once-filled vases, endless wicker baskets which once held gifts.  Almost nothing is so mundane he sees the need to throw it away.  

This is the man who once happened to follow a diaper truck onto a freeway offramp. The van took the corner too fast, and its back door flew open and a great white sack flew out onto the shoulder. The van never slowed, but Rob did.  With his usual great reflexes, he brought his car to a fast halt near the fallen sack. Rags! He thought. Dozens of perfect rags.!

But when he picked up the sack a surprise was waiting. The diapers were dirty!  Any other man would have blown out his breath and dropped the sack like a hot coal, but not Rob. Knowing I’d kill him if he brought his load home, he went to the nearest Laundromat and ran the load through twice. Even today he chortles about how he gathered all those great rags.

Today was a kind of test, though. Now a few weeks past our Great Fire, this morning we had a crew of five men digging a trench—ready to replace our burned-up wooden fence with a block wall. About noon I looked outside to see men wheeling loads of dirt up a ramp and into a waiting truck. “Wow!” I cried, turning back to Rob, sitting in his usual chair. “You should see all the dirt they’ve hauled out of that trench!”

A mistake. “Dirt!” he cried, abruptly straightening. “They’re hauling away our dirt?”

“Well, yeah. What else would they do with it?”

“But dirt is valuable,” he said. “You pay good money for topsoil.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “This is a half acre, Rob. There’s quite a lot of topsoil left.”

“When they come to plant, the landscapers will need that dirt.”

I just looked at him. Finally I said, “The landscapers will dig holes. They’ll have their own dirt.” 

He finally subsided. He did not, as I feared, rush outside and order the diggers to leave our precious dirt in great humongous piles.

But dirt wasn’t today’s only issue. Outside near the pile of discarded wooden fence was another pile—several dozen aluminum tubes that Rob brought home in 1978 from our hang gliding company. Over the years he’s said, “Babe, somebody will need them someday.” Since they were mostly hidden by shrubbery, I never argued. But now all that shrubbery is gone. And there they sit.  

Today, as I looked at the fence pile I thought, These tubes must go. We’ve had them long enough. Nobody will ever want them. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of saying to Rob, “When they pick up the fence, they should take away the tubes.”

He stared at me in horror.  “Aluminum is worth money! They should be recycled!”

“How do you plan to do that?”

“I’ll borrow a truck.”

“A truck from whom?  And who will load it? And how much do you think you’ll get?”

“A lot. They’re worth a hundred dollars, Babe. A hundred dollars, easy.” 

Inwardly I groaned.  Ten years from now those tubes will still be there.

Suddenly I had an inspiration.  I’ll tell you what, Rob. If you let the contractor take away the tubes, I’ll pay you fifty dollars.” 

His face softened a little.

Dear Lord, I’m onto something good.  And then I thought, Corruption begins at home. “I’ll make it a hundred dollars, Rob. Let the tubes go and I’ll give you a hundred dollars.”

With that, Rob broke into a big grin. “I’m selling out my principles for a hundred dollars. They should be recycled, you know.”

“But think of the hassle. Let the contractor recycle them. If they’re worth money, he’ll do it. And you’ll have the cash right now.”    

He didn’t argue. He just smiled. But then, so did I. Never have I so looked forward to spending a hundred dollars. As we walked back into the house I thought, I wonder how much it would cost me to clear out the garage?      


Sunday, December 1, 2013


My books are leading a charmed life.

With all the different titles I’ve published—now fourteen—and all the copies I’ve bought to sell at speeches, the miracle of Santa Ana’s October windstorm was that our backyard fire didn’t start anywhere near the garage. If those neatly-boxed volumes had caught fire, it would have taken Noah and his 40 days of rain to extinguish the flames.

But hey, disaster might still be lurking--maybe next month we’ll have a flood.

So now I’m asking, You wanna buy a book? For not much money?

How about $10 each?

You can buy my books three ways:

1) on my website at Maralys.com. See “Store.”

2) On Amazon (look for my Amazon page)

3) Direct from me—autographed, of course: Maralys@cox.net

Charmed life or not, my books are no longer waiting for a Prince Charming with a fat wallet, they’re looking for someone with Ten Dollars. Anything to get out of the garage.

Friday, November 29, 2013



            Never mind the Raiders and Cowboys. If you want REAL football, next Thanksgiving I suggest you come to our Ladera Elementary school in Tustin and see the game as it’s supposed to be played. You might even get an email “e-vite” from a college athlete, as we did, or perhaps you’ll simply hear about us on the street.  

Around here football is actually a GAME. It’s fun. Little kids get to “tackle” grownups, (okay, it’s “tag” football), and they learn to kick a football and throw—as long as they can successfully dodge a dozen multi-sized players and the two puppies loose on the field.

The grandparents, and that includes me, sit on the sidelines and watch. Right away I spotted a small blonde girl, about nine, who seemed to be in on every play. To my amazement, Taylor could zigzag like a marine on an obstacle course. With the ball tucked against her pink and white striped shirt, she dodged, in quick succession, a UCLA volleyball player, an orthopedic surgeon, and a young man who’d just won a national tennis tournament. Minutes later, Taylor made a clean, thirty-yard kick.  But that was peanuts compared to the sudden, surprising run by twelve-year-old Elizabeth, who is usually more singer than athlete.

Along the periphery of the field, Lauren, eight, practiced her gymnastics with three   back- flips in a row. While behind her, Davis, ten but small for his age, caught the football just before it hit the ground. He didn’t get far, though. The mother who is the country’s number one fifty-and-over tennis player managed to tag him.

Within a small circle, the game came to a momentary halt when the five-year-old threw a fit.  One of the bigger boys simply picked him off the ground and set him down again outside the boundaries.

For a few seconds I tabulated the various ages. The surgeon, still a Sunday athlete, is sixty-one, the UCLA player is 23, his sister, a landscape architect, is 26.  Still, the youngest player was five. I have no idea about the age or occupation of the man who arrived late, on his bicycle. All I gathered, really, is that his kids are whiz-bangs at sports and so eager to participate that they shortcutted the journey by climbing over the school fence. Actually, so did several others. This is, after all, a neighborhood athletic field.  

With a halftime water break, the game lasted an hour and a half. By the end I had no idea which team won—if indeed, scores were tabulated or anyone could tell who belonged to which squad. At times they knew, but I didn’t. From afar there seemed to be a constant shifting of team loyalties as new participants arrived or others faded away, with large and small people reassigned to achieve some kind of balance.

Balance? Oh come on, there was no balance. Just a lot of sprinting, kicking, and throwing, with a few spectacular performances distributed up and down the age groups. And from us on the sidelines, a lot of wild cheering.

As they departed, everyone was sweaty and most were smiling. Good feelings prevailed. The smallest players dashed away without the need for extra praise. Hey, for awhile they’d been treated like adults. 

As far as I’m concerned, for the rest of Thanksgiving none of the professional games compared, even slightly, with this one.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013



            He called my name in a way I’d never heard it before: “BABE!  BABE!!”  The voice was my husband’s, and it penetrated right through the bedroom wall that separates us from the outside, rose above the whirring sounds of our bedroom air purifier, and drowned out the Santa Ana wind blowing outside—a real gale.  
            What I heard beyond the word itself was horror and urgency.  
            Oh my God! Oh my God! What is it?
            Within seconds I was out of bed, tearing through the room and straight out the nearby door that leads to the backyard.
            And there, beyond our bedroom wing, I saw him: Rob standing with a hose in his hand. And all around him . . . FIRE!  Fire in the trees behind and above him, patches of fire among pine needles on the ground, sparks--in that terrible wind--flying above his head. To me, a virtual wall of fire with Rob standing in the middle.
“Rob! Stop it!” I screamed. “Run!”
Instead he stood there, hose moving, but his feet cemented in place. I screamed again, but he never acknowledged me--ignored me as if I wasn’t there, or he couldn’t hear my voice.  
Getting nowhere, I raced back into the house and grabbed the nearest phone. It was dead. I ran to another, and strangely this one had a dial tone. Heart pounding hard enough to kill me, I did what only a half-crazed person might do: I dialed 411.  
All I got, of course, was an automated voice asking for city and state.
Oh, God!  Oh stupid. Stupid.
Ever more frantic, I re-dialed, this time 911. “Our house is on fire!” I cried to the responding woman, and with a restored brain managed to give her the correct street address. Next I called my daughter, once more saying without preamble, “The house is on fire!”
Just then our doorbell rang insistently. Once. Twice. Fists pounded on the front door. “Your house! It’s burning!” cried the woman who stood there. Dimly I noticed she was a stranger, that she was thin and dressed all in black. “Get out! Get out now!”  She leaned in to drag me out.
“I know! I know! My husband’s in the backyard, and he won’t leave.”
“You get out, then!”
But I was in my nightie, and left her standing there while I rushed back to our dressing room for clothes. In seconds I was wearing the nearest shirt, the most grabbable pants. Shoes in hand, I ran back to the patio. With every fiber in my being I screamed at Rob to leave, but he ignored me. His hose turned one way, then another, while more trees flamed and embers flew. And still he refused to budge.
More neighbors came and literally pulled me outside. One of them went out back and tugged on Rob—a useless effort. Meanwhile, on the front walk I was bent over, trying to put on my shoes, trying to breathe. Where are the fire trucks?
“My husband!” I gasped. “He won’t come!”
Our driveway was now full of neighbors, then a policeman . . . then, finally, three huge fire trucks.
It was the firemen, about fifty of them the newspapers said, marching to the back in their thick yellow suits that finally made Rob surrender his hose.
For hours I was furious with my husband, couldn’t stop being angry that he’d risked his life.
As a devoted group of us, neighbors and family, sat on a small retaining wall across the yard watching firemen douse the trees . . . an adjacent woodpile . . .  a wooden fence . . .  our wooden patio cover . . .  and yes, the house, I could hardly speak to Rob. “Look at your shirt!” I cried, pointing to the charred holes across his shoulders.
“I shook a few embers out of my hair, too,” he said.
He stood up and paced restlessly, then told us, his small audience on the wall, how it all began:
“It was just before eight, and I was up, letting in the cat. Suddenly the cat stopped in the patio doorway and froze. All four paws were splayed, and he was staring toward the back. One long look and he streaked away. I wondered, What’s he looking at? A squirrel? But his reaction was so extreme, I took a second look and saw what he’d seen: a pine tree in back, near the fenceline, was totally aflame. The flames were headed down, lower and lower. Luckily, I had a hose on the patio, already turned on, and I rushed back there and began spraying.”
Rob’s efforts had clearly kept the flames from doing their worst.
Even as we watched the firemen, a sudden explosion of sparks sent them all jumping back. An electrical wire had fallen to the ground, and over by the bedroom wing the live wire had to be cordoned off with yellow tape.
Suddenly Rob said, “Babe! Tell the firemen to stay off the roof! They’ll break the shingles.”
I ran around to the front. Too late. Five yellow suits were already up top, stomping around and throwing off concrete shingles.  
The man from Edison who arrived later to retrieve the live wire told us what had happened: thanks to the fierce wind, a huge tree branch had fallen across the wires, knocked one against another, and produced enough sparks to ignite the pine tree. The wild wind did the rest.
            Later that afternoon we recounted the miracles:  Miracle One: That the fire did not start at two in the morning, with both of us asleep. We might not have known until the flames were right outside our bedroom.  Or even inside.
Miracle Two: That Rob was up early—usually he isn’t—and that the cat had flashed a warning.
Miracle Three: That Rob had a hose all ready and kept the house doused until  the firemen got there.
Miracle Four: That our huge bedroom picture window and adjacent wing windows were all double paned. Directly confronted by flames from below and from blazing woodpiles six feet away, the outer panes shattered but the inner ones held. “If both panes had broken,” a fireman said, “the wind would have blown the flames straight into the bedroom, and down through the house. I doubt we could have saved it.”
As it was, for two days we had no water, no electricity, no gas, no internet, no TV, no workable solar panels. Worst of all we had no phone, and my cellphone did not work anywhere near the house and never has.  Which meant we couldn’t call or be called by any of the dozen groups we needed to start restoring us to normal. 
What we did have was a house in which every room in the bedroom wing reeked of smoke, making it too toxic to live in.
Thank God for our nearby daughter, Tracy, and husband Brad Hagen, who invited us to live in the “Hagen Hotel.”
Happily, our insurance company, State Farm, reached from Tracy’s house, responded immediately and with all the right people. They brought a contractor to drag away charred debris and a burned-up shed and fence, an interior crew who wiped down and cleaned every object in the bedroom area, including the walls, another bunch who took away all our hanging clothes to be cleaned, and yet another contractor who sealed off the bedroom area and set up an ozone machine which ran all night for two nights with the express purpose of killing odors.  
A week later it was obvious that the rugs in that area needed to be replaced. The smoky smell had partially returned, meaning something was still giving off unlivable vapors.  
It was Rob, though, who emerged as the original mixed blessing.  For risking his life as he wielded the hose near our bedroom he was clearly an idiot. But for standing his ground and saving our home he was definitely a hero.