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One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand

There is a poem, written in the 16th century, that I think of every time I go to the beach. I have my dear, departed grandfather to thank for knowing it. He passed on his love of classic poetry and literature to his children, and in turn I grew up a little conflicted on spelling, word usage, and a few other archaic sentiments. I remember wondering about that poem as a child, imagining a man so in love with a woman, or so obsessed, that he needed to immortalize her, and why he would pick something that washes away in the first place. He seemed kind of simple, but really passionate!

If you think writing your name in the sand is some marvelous “special” thing you do, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but some English dude was doing it about 450 years ago. Continue reading One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand

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Again poetry Lynn Knight

Manuscript Monday again, and today I’m reading some poetry for inspiration. Just saw a new one by one of my favorites, Lynne Knight, so I’m sharing that with you here:


This is the kind of poetry that moves me. She is accessible, but with such imagery and language that penetrates me, engages me, sparks my own creativity with each reading and re-reading.

Again poetry Lynn KnightIn 2010 I first learned of her from the poem, “To the Young Man Who Cried Out ‘What Were You Thinking’ When I backed into His Car.”

It was so well crafted and prompted me to contact the poet simply to express my appreciation of her writing.
And as I’m appreciating her again for this new poem, I wanted to share her with you, and share a bit of what inspires me and kicks my own creativity into gear.
I could use some more moving poetry today. Could you share a favorite of yours?
Love, Marla
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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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Well, The Joke’s On Me…

travel South Africa

I thought I was being pretty clever the other night. My husband gave me his phone to load photos on the computer. His phone has been quite clogged with a lot of our travel photos that I hadn’t dumped, and he needed more room for photos he needs to take on his jobsite.

So as I was sitting quietly on the couch, moving them over to his laptop, browsing through what was there, I came across an awful photo he took of me while on our Cape Town trip last November. I was on the side of the road, bending over to take a photo of some beautiful flowers, when Kurt had surreptitiously taken a photo with his iphone of my ample derriere bent over.

I’ll get him back for this! I was pleased with myself as I checked to make sure he wasn’t watching me, and hurried to set the photo as his desktop background. He caught my smirk and asked me what was up, but I said I was just enjoying the photos and quickly kept moving them over so he wouldn’t see what I had been looking at.

I closed the laptop and we finished watching our movie and went to bed. I had completely forgotten about my little trick when I got up this morning. I went about my usual routine (laundry, gym, shower) before getting online to check email before starting my day of writing.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my computer to realize that I had been using my own laptop the night before and was greeted by this desktop background:

travel South Africa
Humor may just be the key to a good marriage, but you have to have a pretty good sense of it!

Happy Tuesday, readers!

Love, Marla

P.S. The entertainment continued as I tried to decide what tags to accompany the photo and post today, which are important if I want people to be able to find the photo and accompanying blog. But when I typed in “bending over” the first suggestion was some kind of voyeuristic site about bad girls bending over.

And y’know, I’m pretty sure my photo wouldn’t fit into the category, but it might be entertaining to be scrolling down through that and be assaulted with this one, haha.

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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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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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There and Gone: Procession of Mandela Before Lying in State

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

I almost missed him.

Arriving more than an hour before the procession was to begin, I drove around looking for parking several blocks from the procession route, but all was cordoned off by security and police. One police officer saw my camera and tried directing me to a bus for media, but since I didn’t apply for a media permit, I was pretty sure my camera alone wouldn’t get me very far.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

I kept driving away from the blockades until I found a spot and parked my car. It was about 1.5km walk through central Pretoria. Carrying only my camera and wearing my “We Love You Madiba!” t-shirt that I bought at Houghton on Sunday, I received a lot of stares from people going about the start of their workday. Some smiled and gave the thumbs up, said hello, or something in another language with the name “Madiba” at the end and big grins. One young man even fist-bumped me when he saw the shirt, and whooped a loud “Madiba!” A couple of women glared at me and I found myself doubting whether I had any right to wear the shirt. I smiled and hoped they saw sincerity and respect.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel
Many at the procession celebrated Mandela’s life with posters from Pretoria News, and South African flags.

I finally made it to the route and found a corner that seemed pretty empty, looked for a high spot (a two-story parking lot did the trick) and settled in to wait.

As people began to fill in the spaces lining the wall where I stood, and the crowd grew on the street below, I met a gentleman on my left named Royal, from KwaZulu Natal, and another on my right, named Mike, who is a Pedi living north of Pretoria. While we waited, we swapped procession updates that we had from either online media or from loved ones texting us.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

Around 7:45 the procession finally came through. A couple motorcycle cops came through ahead of the group, and gave a thumbs up to the crowd, indicating Mandela was on his way through. The crowd let out a loud cheer and necks craned toward the helicopter that appeared over the street, then toward the blue lights flashing in the distance.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel
The helicopter (top right) signaled the procession was near.

I felt a body or two pressing against me as I leaned far out over the wall trying to snap photos. I wondered for a moment if we would all topple to the street in our urgency to see him.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

A woman’s voice in my ear reassured me she wouldn’t let me fall, and I could feel the pressure of her weight, and her arms at my waist as we all leaned out together.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

The procession was on us in a flash. A roar of motorbikes came first, and as I saw the long line of cars behind them, I thought it would begin with a procession of dignitaries, with Mandela at the very end, in some kind of open car, or maybe even a carriage.

So as the motorbikes passed me, I began looking toward the end of the line, thinking that these bikes marked only the beginning of a long line that would slow as his body passed.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

I was so wrong that I almost missed him.

I should have known from the roar of the crowd below me that they had already spotted him: their hero; their leader; their father; their friend. Immediately behind the motorbikes, in a large black van, was a casket draped in the South African flag, holding the body of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

I barely had time to register that his body was in the van before it had already passed. Thankfully I caught it in the photos I was taking of the motorcade preceding him, and another as the van whisked him away toward the Union Building.

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

As soon as it began, it was over. Royal from KwaZulu Natal had already disappeared into the crowd, and Mike was headed back to his office. The crowd was more celebratory than sad around me, and what tears there were mingled with more ululating and singing. The flags didn’t stop waving as the gates parted to let people cross Madiba Street, and I stayed for a moment longer, stunned that the procession was over so quickly.

I walked back to my car, grateful I am here in South Africa, grateful I was able to witness the procession, and hopeful that I would come away with at least one photo to share with all of you.

Thanks, always, for reading and sharing in my travels, friends.

Love, Marla

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Mandela’s Houghton House: Day of Prayer

expat life Pretoria South Africa travel

Yesterday our friends asked us if we would like to go with them to visit Mandela’s house in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg. I wanted to share a few photos of that trip with you, as well as a video, but I’m not able to get the video uploaded yet today, but hopefully my internet connection will be a little better tomorrow for it.

In the meantime, I’m sharing some photos from the gathering at his house yesterday.

Love, Marla

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