“There’s something special about a grandmother’s house. You never forget how it smells.” Fredrik Backman’s character says that in his book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Backman* is so much more than a writer. He’s a touchstone for humanity.

My grandmother married quite young and came straight to America.  Her disillusionment was profound.

Happy Mother’s Day, Nonna.  Thank you for buying a return ticket. ♥

I’m more curious than George about these two, wishing I had asked more questions and begged for more stories.

The Ticket

In the dank cellar on Oak Avenue,

she shovels coal into the firebox.

Outside, the hens squawk about their fate.

She misses the hill town in Piemonte,

where the earth drives you mad with the scent of growing things.

Here there is bread to bake and children to bear,

the ache in the small of her back

indifferent to her desire

for purses of gnocchi and fresh butter.

Here there are no clusters of purple grapes

ripening under an apricot sky,

just grey sheets to scrub

and a brown metal bed that lists.

She used to feast on music and laughter,

stories, tart and sweet,

but those days are done

and she is swallowed up

by black stockings, rolled down to just below her knees,

and shapeless dresses skirting hard-looking calves.

With a ragged moppeen,

she scrubs away sin and regret,

kneels on yellowed linoleum squares

in a house grown smaller in size.

She fingers the ticket in her pocket.

Will he remember the feel of her cheekbones?

the line of her hip under his hand?

She packs the one photograph of them.

That and the white silk dress on a wire hanger.

Toni 5/13/17

*Bachman’s books are not to be missed.

“Behind all your stories is always your (grand)mother’s story. Because hers is where yours begin. – Mitch Albom

Life is full of surprises…. and serendipity.

Sometimes it’s the little victories.

Like making it through Wednesday, right?






But wait.  Sometimes a serendipitous moment just takes your breath away.






Yes, it happens.  The world is a smaller place because of the Internet and the potential for happy accidents is, well, infinite.  Like Horace Walpole, you merely need to be open to good things and accept the gifts that come your way.


Horace Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford, coined the word serendipity, a pleasant surprise. He was a curious intellectual.  Horace would have loved the Internet.



When he read the Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip”, he was enthralled by the princes who made amazing discoveries by accident. And the word serendipity was born.


” This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word. And was formed from a fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.”

So here’s my fairy-tale-story.  I got an email from a folksinger/songwriter/poet in the UK.  It seems that while he was searching the Internet, Google linked John Richards to a post I wrote about my dad, Foundryman’s Daughter.  

Serendipity, I’m telling’ ya.


John says that he has a lot of songs covered by UK folk artists and the most recent one is Foundryman’s Daughter.  Don’t you just love Google?


(partly inspired by the experience of John’s daughter when going to University)



They laughed at your past and the town you were born in
Laughed when you spoke of your romantic dreams
They made you feel small in the biggest of cities
Friendship it seems isn?t all that it seems
They laughed at the hopes of the father that loved you
Foundryman’s girl in a smoke covered town
Where life had been hard for this King and his Princess
With no silver spoons and no golden ball gowns
But be who you are
And be proud of where you?ve come from
Be true to yourself
And be true to those that wish all that’s best for you
Don?t ever forget you’re as good as the next man
And better than most when you know who you are
You’ve made your own way
Earned the things that surround you
Houses and land and a seamless blue sky
But you won’t forget how to treat those around you
Foundryman’s girl with such steel in her eye.
You know who you are
And you’re proud of where you’ve come from
You’re true to yourself
And you’re true to those who wish all that’s best for you
Don’t ever forget you’re as good as the next man
And better than most when you know who you are.

John wrote this song in honor of his dad, a foundryman made redundant after 20 years of service via an impersonal letter posted through the door.   Have a listen.


John is one special guy. Not only did he seek me out because of our shared history, he sent me the CD.


I know his dad would be so proud.  Maybe John will share a photo of his foundryman father to post alongside mine.


So, that’s the story. Who could ask for anything more?

Toni 6/1/16

P.S.  A big hello to everyone who is reading WWWW for the first time — *waves* — thanks for being here!


According to the ancients, parfumeurs, and Arab royalty, the old saying might as well go: “Worth its weight in whale waste”.

A news story today sparked a memory.


How about this magic moment? A couple in Lancashire in England found a lump of ambergris that is possibly worth AU$ 100,000. The couple are already in negotiations with prospective buyers from France and New Zealand.

Ambergris is the legendary ingredient in perfumes (in French, it means “grey amber”). When I walk the beach, I follow the smell of rotting fish and scan for greyish lumps. Don’t you?



Ambergris comes from the cured secretion of sperm whales.  The whale secretes a substance to heal its stomach from the scratches of the cuttlefish and squid beaks it swallows when feeding. This gets out through the gastrointestinal system and is left floating on the ocean for years. The floating part is what gives it its slightly salty and warm smell. It retains its scent for centuries, just like musk.

It’s hard not to fall in love with ambergris. Here is a solid lump of whale feces, weathered down—oxidized by salt water, degraded by sunlight, and eroded by waves — from the tarry mass to something that smells, depending on the piece and whom you’re talking to, like musk, violets, fresh-hewn wood, tobacco, dirt, Brazil nut, fern-copse, damp woods, new-mown hay, seaweed in the sun, the wood of old churches, or pretty much any other sweet-but-earthy scent.

Everyone loves ambergris, just not so much when it’s fresh. It’s smell is extremely fecal (think cow dung) and has no value for perfumery. But let it float on the ocean for years? Now you’ve got an evocative scent, an effulgent patina, and waxy texture.



So, naturally, I’m gonna have to wax poetic on ya’…..from the archives, my throwback Valentine love poem*.


Like the beachcombers

who found calcified remnants sweet smelling, waxy and gray,

coughed up by sperm whales, no less;

treasures of “floating gold”

prized by ancient Egyptians,

on the coast of Australia,

I look at you and see ambergris.


Well, fellow beachcombers, is it or isn’t it? If you see embedded squid beaks, book that private jet.

440px-Squid_beak_measuringimage-01Or give the grey lump a hot needle test. Heat a needle and touch it briefly to the surface. If it’s ambergris, the surface will melt instantly, turning to an oily, molten black residue and a small puff of musky smelling smoke will be emitted. Ah, the sweet smell of success.


Toni 4/14/16

*My blogging partner/poet Patty wrote a much love-lier Valentine poem here.