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My America

It’s Election Day in America, and I’m on the other side of the world. It doesn’t stop me from thinking about the states today, though, and I thought I’d share some photos of some of the places I love and have lived there.

However you vote, remember there are more things that unite us than divide us.

Love, Marla

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My America. Go Vote!

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A Coalition of Cheetah and a Poesy of Parks’

family definition great grand aunt

My husband reminded me that after I posted about the 5 cheetah we saw in The Kruger, I never came back to tell you what a group of male cheetah are called.

A “coalition.” A coalition of cheetah.

When I first heard the word, I thought our heavily accented guide was saying “a collision of cheetah,” which I thought was brilliant, imagining those split-second legs and gangly bodies tumbling every which way over each other to tackle prey. I was happy, however, when he repeated himself and I thought he said “a collusion of cheetah.” That sent me into reverie about an exclusive club of hunters, stealthily hiding from humans and waiting to catch prey by all means necessary.

travel Africa
A coalition of cheetah in Kruger National

A “coalition,” therefore, was kind of a letdown. Of course it’s a suitable term, given the nature of male bonding and function of male animal groups, but I think “a collision” or “a collusion” would have been cooler.

Speaking of cool terms for groups, just last week my niece had her third baby girl, creating what I like to call “A Poesy of Parks’.” “Poesy” are poetical works. What are children if not poetry, yes?

Keeping with tradition, I’ve written a letter to my newest grand-niece, Nora Katherine Parks:

Dear Nora,

I hope to get away with calling you NiK-NaK, after the NK initials of your name. Nik-Naks are a snack here in Africa, loved by nearly everyone.

family definitions aunt
Nora Katherine Parks (aka “NiK-NaK)

You are the luckiest baby in the world, born to the most loving and kind parents I could ever imagine for a child. You have the most incredible big sisters, Adeline and Clara. Don’t worry about the funky nickname. I can’t help giving them. I even nicknamed your mommy “Bazinga.” (But you still have to call her Mommy.)

I can only imagine what you will see in your lifetime, being born in the 21st century. I just read that the next time Haley’s Comet will appear will be the year 2061, and I will be 91. You will be 55, so I hope you’ll visit wherever I am and we can watch it together. I can die after that, but hopefully not. 101 is actually my wish. You will love me and be annoyed by me many times by then.

In the meantime, I hope we get to spend enough time together for you to know your ol’ Aunt Marla. I have thought about what you can call me. I have a friend who is called Grauntie (Grand-Auntie). That’s not really for me. Your mommy calls me Auntie M. Your awesome Uncle Brandon calls me Marla, along with some choice expletives from time to time. You may not call me choice expletives until you’re 18. Your sisters call me Aunt Marwa.

family definition great grand aunt
A Poesy of Parks’.
Nora has an abundance of love from big sisters Adeline and Clara. (c) 2014. Photo by Brianna Parks

As a side note—and this is important, little NiK-NaK—I am your grand-aunt, not your “great-aunt.” Many, many, many people use “Great Aunt.” Many, many, many people are wrong.

Despite the fact that standard dictionaries now allow for “great” as an alternative to “grand,” it is still incorrect. This is the same way the dictionary revised the word “loan” to be used as either a noun or a verb, so that everyone and her uncle (or grand uncle) now thinks they “loan” people money, when in fact they lend it. But you will learn in your lifetime, as a wonderful but frustrating mentor once told me, “English is a living, breathing organism. If it didn’t adapt to its environment we would all still be speaking Latin.” I only agree with this when I like changes, like punctuation outside most quotation marks, or one period after a sentence.

family definitions great or grand aunt
My niece and her three daughters.
(c) 2014. Photo by Brandon Sink

Anyway, in terms of genealogy (the only true source for defining our ancestral relationships) “Grand” refers to the generation before your mother, while “great” is for two generations before your mother. It can be easy to remember this way: Grandma, not Greatma; Grand-aunt, not Great-aunt. If you go two generations back you add the great, as in great-grandma, or great-grand-aunt. Get it? I knew you would. You Poesy Parkses are smart that way. Of course, this may also have been one of those Aunt Marlaisms that annoyed you, but I warned you of that above.

Nora, I’m sorry to be so very, very far away for your debut. I was lucky enough to meet both your sisters within days of their birth, but you and I will not meet for over a year, when I return to visit November, 2015.

But I promise to make DVDs. I’ve already been making them for all three of you, but until now, I’ve called you “new baby Parks” in the videos, because your mommy and daddy cleverly kept your name a closely guarded secret. (They probably didn’t want to give me time to come up with an even worse nickname.)

My gift for your birth is one that was given to me the day you were born: a One Rand coin from the 2002 World Summit here in South Africa. It’s only the 2nd I’ve seen since moving here, and I’m bypassing everyone above you on my coins gift list to give this one to you.

travel Africa currency Rand commemorative

Welcome to the world, Nora Katherine. May your life be one of equality, compassion, liberty and love.

Love, Auntie M / Aunt Marwa

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My Dad Might Kick You in the Face

tribute to father birthday dead
tribute to father birthday dead
My dad and me in the backyard at my grandparents’ house in Skunk Hollow, Pennsylvania

This is my dad, Roy.

Today he would have been 72.

As a birthday present, I’d love you to read about my dad for just a minute…

He was pretty crazy, was a wonderful wood-carver, ordered his evening beer and cigarettes from us in Spanish only, danced when he needed to fart, kicked some guy in the face while serving on a submarine in the Navy because he was sometimes mean like that, especially if he thought a guy was in need of a kick in the face, was aboard the USS Waller during the Cuban Blockade, where he wrote a letter home referring to it as “Blockade Schmockade”, taught me how to ride a crazy Appaloosa named Jumper during summers in Utah, and wrote a lot of cool, folksy poetry.

This link will take you to the tribute I wrote to my dad on his 70th birthday. I’d love you to get to know him a little better.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Love, Marla

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Meanwhile Russia Hates America. So Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

travel South Africa living in South Africa American expats

Let’s face it. There’s nothing light about Russia’s most recent threat to reduce America to ashes. But there is also nothing new, thankfully, and all the blustering leaves ordinary Americans and ordinary Russians scratching our heads and wondering why we can’t just have a cookout (that’s a “braai” for you ZA’ers) with some hot dogs and a bottle of Smirnov and toast to our frustration with all of our world “leaders”.

Russia Could Turn US to Radioactive Ash

Welcome to Manuscript Monday, where tidbits from my manuscript are shared with readers here. Identity is a recurrent theme in my book, and I thought this latest Russia/US crap was a good segue into themes from the manuscript…

On this St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2014, I’m going back to my roots. Continue reading Meanwhile Russia Hates America. So Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

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There Was a Little Girl…

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Do you have a nursery rhyme or poem, or saying from childhood that still stays with you? In my case, I internalized a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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There was a little girl

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.


It was one my mother said to me frequently, and I still occasionally fall into the trap of thinking I can only be very good, or horrid. Influence from this poem is referenced in portions of my manuscript. And while I’m all degrees in between, isn’t it funny the words and stories that shape us when we’re young…

Tell me yours?

Happy Manuscript Monday, readers!

Love, Marla

Special thanks to the Poetry Foundation for sharing so many beautiful works on their site.

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What Kind of Hero(ine) Are You?

Writing at sunrise over the Indian Ocean.

I had a minor “Manuscript Monday” epiphany while in the Maldives. Okay, maybe not so much epiphany as another mini-insight. (I think epiphanies are for people who overlook all the minor revelations on a regular basis.)

It was the last morning before catching our plane back to reality. I woke early to watch the sunrise from our villa, and to try and memorize every piece of that once-in-a-lifetime trip. I prepared a cup of my favorite jasmine-green tea with the last of the teabags I brought for special days on the holiday.

The morning started with me thinking about my late mother. Our last day in the Maldives would have been her 71st birthday, and I thought about how much I wanted to tell her about this latest adventure. She would have lived and loved so vicariously through my letters and postcards (she would have only tolerated this online blogging ). These thoughts have become less sorrowful in recent years, and I know that means I have healed considerably. I think I will always be able to cry easily when I think of how much I miss Mom, but I can now laugh almost as easily when I imagine her commentary on my adventures.

I allow myself to linger in these thoughts while watching the night turn to day. I make a point to embrace the images, love them, and then let them go with daybreak. The sunrise soon distracts me and I’m in the moment.

I am wearing my yellow silk robe from Viet Nam. My thick, long hair is billowing in gusts of ocean wind. Waves crash at the break in front of me. Streaks of coral rise from the cloudbank horizon and stretch across the sky. Below me our netted hammock hangs over the tiny piece of Indian Ocean we have called our own for the last seven days. Brightly colored fish dart into and out of view.

Writing at sunrise over the Indian Ocean.
Writing at sunrise over the Indian Ocean.

I sip my tea and write in my journal. Perfect.

Everything feels right about the moment, and suddenly I feel like the heroine of a paperback novel. My hair lifts and falls as warm wind gusts. I am barely covered as it tugs at my light robe, only a thin piece of fabric keeping it tied around my waist. The wind sweeps back the silk to bare my thighs and expose my breasts to nothing but the ocean. I feel more sensual and tantalizing than I ever have in this morning wind and the flattering light of sunrise.

I consider seducing Kurt awake, but decide this perfect moment is better left mental than physical. I take my teacup to rinse it and catch myself in the mirror as I pass. I already know what I will see, because I’ve seen it in my mind: windswept hair; sunkissed face; flowing silk robe; and the glow of world-traveling seductress in my eyes.

Mirrors can be such assholes.

The “me” who doesn’t reside in my head, the one reflected in the mirror, reminds me more of Maxine from Shoebox Greetings than a paperback heroine. I I am wearing glasses, my breasts sag gently against my middle age body. Though I am perfectly content and happy, I look haggard and suffer from “bitchy resting face,” a trait I most definitely inherited from my mother.

Although my reflection catches me by surprise, it doesn’t make me sad to see the contrast of my image to my imagination. Because while fantasy is intriguing and sexy for a moment, I have never been that kind of heroine.

Panoramic view from our villa in the Maldives at sunrise.
Panoramic view from our villa in the Maldives at sunrise.

Mine is more of a romantic comedy, or maybe a comedy-drama, and that’s okay. I’m more Steel Magnolias than Danielle Steel anyway. Except in my story, it’s Sally Field’s character who dies, and Julia Roberts is left with a lifetime of health struggles, a broken heart where her mother once was, and the most incredible husband in the world.

But my character doesn’t get children. Because in real life, you don’t always get the legacy after the loss.

And that’s okay, too.

Because my heroine’s strength comes from learning to be alone, and to be at peace with the solitude. It comes from finding fulfillment other than in lineage, or in legacy.

How about you? What kind of hero(ine) are you?

Love, MarlaTraveling Marla heroine comedy Maldives bathrobe Maldives sunrise Indian Ocean panoramic Maldives sunrise Indian Ocean sunrise finding purpose without children be your own hero

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Dear 2014, Let’s Do This!

Dear 2014,

I realize we just met, but I’m someone who goes into every new relationship with an open heart and high expectations, so I thought I better let you know my intentions, in six parts…


Part One: Love

Don’t let twenty years make me think I’m on a marriage high horse. Appreciate more. Work harder. Cook once a week. (Okay, so at least think about cooking once a week.)

Checklist item: Write to the editors of The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra and suggest a disclaimer advising middle-aged women of a certain size that some positions may result in severe muscle cramps and/or hospitalization. Suggest a new book: The Complete Kama Sutra for Sexy and Adventurous Buddha-Bellied Women.

Making sand angels in the Arabian Desert.
Making sand angels in the Arabian Desert.


Part Two: Finance

Begin rebuilding savings after blowing everything on one single anniversary trip. Though worth the once-in-a-lifetime dough, peeing myself while watching our bank account drain to zero was not fun. Take cheap camping trips for the next year.

Checklist: Purchase multiple budgeting software, camping supplies and organizational supplies and pretend these are “necessary” expenditures in order to “save” money.  Pretend it has nothing to do with being an impulsive, obnoxious gift-giver.


Part Three: Time

Since we have less than 365 days remaining together, I will do my best to use the days productively, and balance family, work, friends and “me-time” more effectively. I understand this might mean a few less episodes of Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, or True Blood (though I don’t think I can compromise Downton Abbey).

Checklist item: Tape photo of very creepy Vietnamese spider to television screen to begin aversion therapy.

osage orange hedge apple monkey ball woolly mammoth poop
Unidentified spider from a squat toilet in Viet Nam


Part Four: Family and Friends

It isn’t just about quantity of time spent, but quality. I haven’t been the best sister/aunt/cousin/niece/friend in 2013. I’ve been distracted by this strange and surreal new life. More than that, I’ve been handling my relationships from a position of anxiety. Each time I talk to someone from home, it twists my gut into a little ball of sadness. I then either cry my eyes out, or stifle crying until my head is a stuffed, swollen sinus infection that the toughest nasal rinse can barely penetrate.

The result is that I avoid talking as often as possible. This is not to be confused with the fact that I hate talking on the phone. I hate it more than pretty much anything. But letters and emails need to occur more frequently from me, and calling once every couple of weeks wouldn’t kill me.

Checklist item: Purchase more kleenex and prepare daily nasal spray.


Part Five: Work

Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.

Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit.

Checklist item:  Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit.

writing psychosis non-fiction fiction memoir
Manuscript revision at a guest house near Pretoria.


Part Six: Health and Fitness

Stay the course, because I have an awesome routine, and my successes are little but permanent. Anything worth doing takes patience and work.

“I am a turtle. I am a turtle. I am a turtle.” = I win against Other Me who is a naughty, haughty dumb-bunny.

Checklist item: Keep fridge stocked with mineral water and veggies, and an emergency kit of Ferrero Rochers and cappuccino packets to handle Part Four effectively.

Fitness female personal trainer weight lifting


Let’s do this, 2014.

Love, Marla

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Some Words For My Husband After Twenty Years of Marriage

Today’s post is for my husband. We married on New Year’s Eve, 1993.

The morning after you drove me home in the snow, when my bicycle was all I had for the twelve-mile ride; the morning after we spent the night talking in your car by the lake, when we watched the otter swim past…

I called my mom and told her I met the man I was going to marry.


I farted on our first date, and you laughed, I knew you would love me, raw.

I farted on purpose.


When we separated after only a few years, I thought it would kill me.

It made me stronger. It made us stronger.


You talk every time I start to take a video, and interrupt me every time I’m writing, and don’t have the best way with words.

When I am in crisis, your timing and your words are always perfect. This is the only absolute that counts. And I love you forever for that, and more.


When I lost our babies, then lost my womb, you comforted me, gave me time to heal, to become me again.

Then, after time softened the edges, you told me you didn’t marry me for children. You said you married me for love…and my boobs.


When men shake their head at you in consolation, in wonderment, in commiseration that you have “survived” so many years of marriage, you smile, and say you’re lucky.

And then I feel even luckier.


When someone asks you, with serious face, how we managed to be married so long, and we still seem to *like* each other, you say, with your equally serious face, that it’s work, sometimes hard work, but you work together and it’s worth it.

Then later when I purr over your response, you say that it is work, and friendship, and knowing that when we fight and we think things are broken, they are never really broken, just chipped, or cracked, or whatever cliche you like at that moment, and that we will be “us” again tomorrow, or the day after, or maybe longer if it really hurts. And I realize you’ve just said another perfect thing, and I love you forever for that, and more.


Thank you for this anniversary holiday. But thank you, more, for the twenty years to reach it.

Happy Twentieth, Kurt.Getty Center Kurt Marla Druzgal 2009 Los Angeles

Love, Marla

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Weekend at a South African Farm

expat living in South Africa travel

You’re either country folk, or you’re city folk, and it’s a deep-seated longing when you’re out of your element. Kurt and I are country folk, and we never get used to the close-quarter assignments of urban (or even suburban) living.

expat living in South Africa travel
When we crested the hill and saw the lake above Loskop Dam, we knew we were in for a beautiful weekend.

So we were really grateful, this past holiday weekend, to be invited to the family farm of our new South African friends. So much of what we’ve experienced here has been the usual tourist fare, and we were excited to just enjoy time in the country with friends.

expat living in South Africa travel
Kurt taking a much needed break and watching the overflowing Olifants River

The farm is about an hour and 45 minutes from where we live in Pretoria, just across the border into the Limpopo Province.

expat living in South Africa travel

I don’t know what I expected from a weekend at a South African farm, but it was wonderfully similar to one of our weekend getaways in the states.

expat living in South Africa travel
Alfalfa farm in South Africa
expat living in South Africa travel
Butterfly on alfalfa at the farm

We had several braais (cookouts)…

expat living in South Africa travel
The best fire circle we’ve ever seen was for the braai at this farm. I had Kurt take many photos so we can start this project when we return to the states.
expat living in South Africa travel
The first night it was pork rashes and mealies (corn on the cob) and the best pap I’ve ever tasted. This evening it was steak and lambchops and whole chickens. Incredible.
expat living in South Africa travel
Even tea is cooked over the hot coals.
expat living in South Africa travel
Kurt says this was the best french toast he’s ever eaten. I agree. We loaded it up, South African style, with streaky bacon, sausage, fried bananas and mushrooms. And for the true South African experience: a tomato sauce mixture for on top. I tried both the tomato sauce and the syrup. I think I gained 5kg this weekend, but maybe the best 5kg I’ve ever gained.


expat living in South Africa travel
Fried bananas and french toast. My new favorite breakfast.

…played in a swimming pool until we were exhausted, then sat around a fire in the evenings.

We even did a little target shooting…

expat living in South Africa travel

and rode ATVs to get a beautiful view of the overflowing dam.

expat living in South Africa travel

expat living in South Africa travel
Wild warthogs we chased out of a puddle while riding ATVs to the dam
expat living in South Africa travel
Loskop Dam
expat living in South Africa travel
Loskop Dam

We fell in love with our friends’ South African family immediately, privately comparing siblings and quirks and campfire stories to those of our own families in America. Of all our regular tourist fare so far in South Africa, a simple, authentic outing turned out to be one of the most rewarding, because we felt like we had family again, even if only by borrowing someone else’s for a little while.

expat living in South Africa travel
Impala and calves at the farmstead

Everything was the same as it would be at home, except that the food is a bit different, and the surrounding wildlife includes deadly snakes like the Black Mamba, Mozambican Spitting Cobra, and Puff Adder. Oh, and some poisonous scorpions as well.

expat living in South Africa travel
Impala doe and calf

But we slept peacefully in the cottage next to the main house. We left the windows open and fell asleep easily to the sounds of nature around us. When we returned to Pretoria, we were barely able to sleep again, stirring at every small sound in our suburban landscape.

South Africans coexist with some of the deadliest species on earth, and before we came here, I wondered how anybody slept in a country home, knowing what might be stirring in the nearby woods. But even in South Africa, even in the countryside, you’re more likely to succumb to any number of man-made or self-made mishaps than “Death by Mamba.”

expat living in South Africa travel

You live life, you pay attention, you know that those things want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them, and you learn… when bitten by a Black Mamba, be sure to write the words “Black Mamba” next to you, because that’s all you’ll have time for, and at least someone will know how you died.

Love, Marla

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Awkward, Feel-Good Thanksgiving Video

Sometimes you just need to dump all the stress and share something that makes you feel good, laugh, and enjoy people who are as awkward and dorky as yourself.

Thank you, Hill Family, for your Thanksgiving Flash Mob to “Don’t Stop Believing” and thanks, HuffPo for sharing it three years later so I could find it and share with my readers.

Happy Thanksgiving. We miss you all SO much.

Love, Marla and Kurt