About Me

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Tracie Skarbo was motivated to write by her father, who was her biggest supporter. “He was always behind me, rallying me on with my writing. I would always see him with a book in hand. He gave me a great appreciation for the written word, and the power and responsibility that writers have to shape those who read their words. He also taught me to respect nature and to value the beauty within it; my reflections on my environment are just an extension of this.” Skarbo was raised on Vancouver Island and is working on her next two books.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Interview with Stephanie Rogers : Sitting with Death and the Dying

I wanted to do an interview with Stephanie Rogers for a long time, and I was originally going to do one about her latest writing project, “Tom’s”. But then the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Connecticut rocked the world and I knew this interview would take on a different direction all together. Please join me in welcoming Stephanie Rogers…

Can you tell me how you got started with hospice? 

 All my life, I've been drawn to death. Not in a morbid sort of way, but curious and fascinated by what happens at the end of this life. In the late '80s, I was very involved with an AIDS support group in Houston. I learned a great deal about death and dying during those years, though they were very difficult. In 1990, my father died of Cancer and Hospice was incredible not only to Daddy but to us, his family. So when, in late 2003, my entire world sort of exploded and I found myself looking to create a new one, I took off six months, collected unemployment and began to volunteer for Hospice. At the end of that six months, I was hired as a Bereavement Coordinator -- completely without credentials, based solely on the hunches of a couple of people. It was definitely one of those “Meant To Be things”.

What kind of training is involved?

It really depends upon what role you want to fulfill in Hospice. A background in healthcare doesn't necessarily mean you'll be successful or useful in Hospice, much less happy and fulfilled. I'm now a Spiritual and Grief Counselor for a very small start-up Hospice that's only just completing its first year. Prior to that, I worked in nationally-known (and publicly traded) Hospices. Although through the years there came to be many negatives in corporate-run Hospices, one thing they did for me was to reimburse my Grief Counseling education. I already had a BA in Theatre (which has come in handier than you can ever imagine) and through their reimbursement program, I was able to complete a BS in Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy.

What do you do to pamper yourself after working in such a stressful and an emotional position throughout the day? 

Ummmm... nothing really. I know I should, but honestly, I don't. There seems never to be enough hours in the day.
Do you work with those facing the ends of their lives as well as the families of the dying? 

Yes with both and sometimes with their professional caregivers.

What is the hardest thing about your position?

Watching families tear each other up because of greed. And it doesn't have anything to do with the size of an "estate" -- I've seen brothers come to physical blows over a rotted old recliner and seen families act with grace and generosity with hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a situation in which most anyone is helpless and it's very sad to watch.

What is the most rewarding? 

This is basically impossible to answer because there are so many rewards and each reward is specific to the family with whom I work. Overall, working in hospice has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Is your poetry an outlet for some of the things you experience day to day at hospice and how you come to an understanding of the human condition in general? 

Yes it is. But it seems that most of my Hospice stories come out in prose. I'm slowly working on a collection of stories from my first years in Hospice -- but it's proving more difficult than I expected. I want to be so careful in telling the stories of my patients and their families that sometimes I get locked out of the stories themselves. I've written a few poems about individual patients and those have been easier for me, but don't tell all that should be known about these incredible people.

I think perhaps I get more "release" from writing about things other than my patients, or even death and dying. I'm very excited about a collaborative project I'm working on with a very talented friend. We're planning to self-publish (something neither of us knows anything about) and are carefully choosing what will/won't be included. Working with someone this way is very new to me and I'm loving it. 

You said that you had a BA in Theater and that it came in handy. Could you elaborate on that for us?

The BA in Theatre taught me so many things -- discipline, improvisation, flexibility; how to work in an ensemble, how to give and how to take direction, how to audition (which is all any job interview ever is), how to take criticism and rejection and still feel worthwhile, how to work a room, how to win an audience of any kind, any size, anywhere, and how to -- always -- "find my light". But the most important thing -- about my BA in Theatre -- it gave me lifelong friends of the caliber that most people only dream of having. :-)
You are writing a regular column for Tina Armstrong's 'zine, "The F Bomb", could you tell us more about this? Where can we find it?

The F Bomb is a wonderful 'zine that I was introduced to by Keith Landrum. I'm finding that it's much, much easier to be edited than to edit. I've done quite a bit of editing in the past 2 or 3 years and, while very rewarding, it can also be tedious, and, depending upon the author's ego, infuriating. Tina is an excellent Editor -- clear and concise about what she needs and yet very open to suggestion. In fact, that's how I began the column. She posted a request for regular columns and I said, "How about one about death"? Not every Editor (even of an independent 'zine) would have the guts to say, "Oh wow, sure!", but Tina did and so we're on our way. My first column will be in January's F Bomb and I'm very excited about that.
What questions has working with those close to death answered for you on a personal level? 

I'm not sure they're answers so much as verifications, you know? It's like knowing, from birth, deep deep down that we're all the same -- all living beings -- that we all want happiness and don't want sorrow and that there are truly no differences at all between any of us. All of that has been verified by the lives I've been honored enough to witness. I've also see very clearly that we do reap what we so -- karma isn't something far off, something to experience in some other lifetime -- ok, so, yes, it's that, too, but it's really much more immediate, much more Now than we realize. A lifetime's karma colors a death bed.

In light of the recent shootings in the US, how should we approach the topic of death with our children?
The shootings... It's impossible for me to over emphasize the effect that these latest murders have had on the human race -- not just children, not just the US, but the human race. 

To answer your question about talking to small children about death, I have only two words: Love and Truth. About the shootings or about any death. Children basically have no problem with death -- they are born accepting it as a part of life and must be taught to fear death just as they must be taught prejudice and hate. Adults project their own fears about death onto children. A child told honestly about death in a language appropriate to their development age, is far more accepting, compassionate and resilient than most adults. Truth is truth -- the thing to remember is that the WORDS you use to speak Truth to a 4 year old are not the same as those you use for a 14 year old. 

As far as the shootings go -- how can we explain what makes absolutely no sense? When any death occurs, children want to be reassured that they will be safe and cared for no matter what. This is even truer when the situation is something as horrific as the murder of children. Be honest with your children -- tell them what arrangements have been made to care for them should anything happen to Mom or Dad (if no arrangements have been made, MAKE THEM) -- tell them what the authority figures in their lives are doing to make sure they are safe -- teach them about mental illness -- try to avoid making the shooter out to be "a bad man" -- judgment doesn't help a child and may well only add to their fears.

Over the years you have been working in this field have people been more openly talking about death and their fears? Or does it in your mind continue to be a closed subject? 

Yes and No -- we in the West are so pitiful when it comes to death. From the moment we took death out of the home and moved it into hospitals, nursing homes, battlefields, funeral parlors (about the time of the Civil War) we began to do ourselves a huge disservice. And while we have, in the last ten years or so, become a bit more open about at least acknowledging death exists, we are still so lost. All you have to do is look at the ridiculous fear of aging we have, the plastic bodies and faces that we try to keep "perfect" when they never really were to begin with -- the fact that our cultural models get younger and thinner and less realistic year by year -- all of that is a direct reflection of our overwhelming fear of death.

Thanks so much Stephanie for this candid look into what you do with your days. If our readers would like to know more about Stephanie or see more of her writing, her book “Toms” is linked below and her blog “A Crown of Dark Water” is as well. 

Stephanie’s Amazon author page:

Toms at Amazon:

Toms Kindle:

Stephanie’s Blog:

If you would like to know more about F Bomb, the zine by Tina Armstrong and Stephanie’s column called "The Eye of Nephthys", please visit

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Surprise – Told by Puddles the Cat

Out in back of the house, in the sparsely lit snowy alley there was a gathering of sorts, a gathering of the feline persuasion.  Many had gathered to hear about the latest exploits of Puddles the cat.

“So you see boys, I was upstairs in the Mrs.’s bedroom.  I was minding my own business when all of a sudden I couldn’t resist the call of those pretty parcels, and let me tell you, those baskets made some noise...”  Puddles shifted on the garbage can and began telling the story again.
“All that shiny paper holding in all those goodies.  Those goodies not only could I smell, but when I came upon that transparent paper and actually saw the booty, whooeee...what else can I say?  I just couldn’t help myself.  You know how it is right?  Like when they leave the meat defrosting on the counter, or better yet they leave the turkey cooling in the kitchen before they cut it up.  You’re sitting on the warm linoleum giving the soulful eyes, to no avail.  What else is a cat to do?  Year after year it’s the same holiday torture show.”
“But Puddles, they always cook up the gizzards for us, and if we are really good we get gravy too.”
“Hello?  Who said that?  You down in front?”  Puddles pointed a fury paw to the tabby in the third row.  Heads turned.  “Boy...are you new?  Have you been listening to me?  Don’t you see the plight I am explaining to you?  Who brought this kid?  Ya, I know, no one is gonna fess up to that one.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, so I ask you what is a cat to do?  Here is the opportunity of a life time, am I wrong?  You’re all looking at me as though I am floating three feet above you ... would you have passed up the booty in those baskets?  I don’t think so ... and if you did you’re a traitor to the feline fur coat!  Need I go on?  All right then, let me tell you how it was.  Okay, I am perched upon the bed right, and I have one hell of a view of the cheese.  Yes, you heard me right there was cheese and Damn if it didn’t taste good.  Before I knew it I was in there like a shot ... I clawed my way through that red cellophane paper and I was seeing through rose colored glasses let---me---tell---you!!  Somehow, it all made sense.  All those years of holiday torture, wrapped up in that one moment...it was like irony...What?  Okay, what fool piped up with ebony?  I said IRONY not IVORY!! I heard that.  You might think I don’t know who you are, but I’ll be dealing with you after.  Don’t kid yourself, Ebony my Wiskas...”

Friday, December 7, 2012

Interview with Steve Karpicz: Have you ever wondered about the guys and gals who keep our power on? Come and get an inside look!

Could you tell us a little about what you do for a living Steve?  How long have you been working in this field?

Transmission line reflected in pond
I started with the company in September of 2000 in the call center as my way of getting my foot in the door and eventually transferring to a field job. That opportunity eventually came, and on April 2002 I transferred to my current position. I work in Substation Operations and Maintenance, which means I work primarily in electrical substations. If you live in a rural area, then you’ve probably seen those big electrical yards out in a field somewhere. That’s what I work in. In Boston most of what we do is either underground or indoor, so we tend to blend in with all the other utility workers.
Transmission line bushing and cable
What kind of training do you need for such a venture?

The training is layered, involving two different aspects. First is the electrical operations side, which involves controlling the flow of electricity along the power lines, and second is the mechanical side, which involves everything else, from how to repair equipment, wiring, battery work, plumbing, pretty much anything you can think of. Substations are a lot more involved than just containing power lines. You’ve got relays to monitor and protect the lines, circuit breakers which come in various shapes and sizes (the bigger breakers are about the size of a small compact car), fire protection systems which involve either water or CO2, excavation for underground work...the list is endless. It takes two years to complete the mechanical training and a year for the electrical operations side, culminating with an oral exam at the end which you must pass in order to be qualified by the company to operate the equipment on your own. In addition to that, we have continuous on the job training for new equipment as well as refresher training for things you may not have done in a while. In the classroom you can only cover so much material. It’s really the field experience where you learn, and that’s always an ongoing process.
What is the scariest thing you have had to face on the job?
Harborwalk, Boston
I’ve had electrical equipment explode in front of me twice, both energized at 14,000 volts. Once there was enough of a warning that I was able to run to safety before it exploded, and the other time it was so unexpected and I was so new (and therefore naive) about what could happen that there wasn’t even enough time to be afraid. It wasn’t until much later on when I had more experience and time to reflect on what happened that I started playing around with the variables of the situation. What if I was standing a little to the left? What if I was the one who threw the switch when the explosion occurred? What if, what if, what if. It’s a question that haunts me now.
What do you find the most challenging about your job?
 Intersection of Kingston and Bedford St
One of the most challenging things is battling complacency. Like any other job, the routine of doing the same task over and over again builds a sense of familiarity. Muscle memory, paint-by-numbers, could do this with my eyes closed sort of routine. But in this business that’s the one thing you have to avoid. You go to open a circuit breaker not paying attention and oops, you’re at the wrong location and you just dumped the Back Bay or the Prudential Building. Or the State House, or air traffic control for the northeast. Or worse, you’ve operated something that wasn’t safe to do so and now you’ve blown something up or injured somebody. I’m certainly not alone in this either. Having been a union steward for a while, I’ve heard my share of stories and sat in on plenty of hearings where the one thing that went wrong was that the person doing the job wasn’t paying attention. Despite all the obvious reasons to do so, staying focused is a constant battle.

Equipment from one of the original substations built in 1903.
I have seen some of the photos that you have taken of old machinery that was used. Is this a hobby of yours?

Photography’s definitely a hobby, which fits in nicely with my fascination with history. The utility I work for dates back to the 1900s. In fact, there’s still equipment in service from that time, back when (as cliché as this sounds) things were built to last. We have equipment on our system designed and built by Thomas Edison. Some of our older equipment has ended up in the Smithsonian. We have substations that are decades old, and an archive with all sorts of historical artifacts. I can go to a substation and look in the station log from 1918 and see what time the street lights were turned on and who did it. Not to mention the insider’s view I’m provided by working here, that glimpse into the inner workings of how things get done. It seems almost offensive not to take pictures of some of this stuff, to document in my own sense how things were and how they’ve changed. It’s not just the historical aspect either. The artistic side of me is constantly drawn to the lines and curves of power lines. The gentle rise and fall of cables strung from pole to pole. I’ve developed a whole sense of aesthetic beauty around what I do, and that’s part of what I try and capture with pictures.

Top of radio tower, Sudbury
I have also seen some of the photos of you up in the high towers looking out as you were doing repairs. Can you tell us a little about that and did you ever have troubles with heights?

The best I can remember I felt a little dizzy the first time I went up on an aerial lift. It was a surreal moment, partly due to dealing with the fear for the first time, and partly because of the excitement of the experience. It didn’t take long until I got used to the heights, until the first time it got a little breezy. That was a harder adjustment to make, but in the end you learn to trust your safety harness and all the other equipment you use. It also helps that we can refuse to do a job should we deem it unsafe for any reason. Safety is taken very seriously, and no one is ever forced to do anything they’re not comfortable with. That being said, the only fear I really have going up in the air is that I’ll drop my camera.

You work with a source of power that could kill you with any wrong step, or if any of the people around you miss-step, how do you deal with that? Is the fear something you just put at the back of your mind or do you just find a way to deal with it?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I have at the very least a preoccupation with death, bordering on mild obsession. Thinking about it comes and goes in spurts, and I’ve written about it ad nauseam, or at least that’s how it feels to me. Yet I still return to the subject of death and work over and over. That’s part of how I deal with it. As for when it comes time to work on electrical equipment, I’ve developed a routine around it. First, I’ll usually spend some time thinking about what could go wrong and how to handle it (example: if something catches on fire: where’s the nearest exit?). Next is making sure I have what I need to do the job, including any tools and / or safety equipment. Then when it comes time to operate the equipment, like crank open a set of disconnects energized at 115K volts, it’s a combination of staying focused on the job, paying attention to what’s happening, and faith, which for me would include belief that both the equipment will work as it’s intended and that everything will turn out all right.
Rooftop sunset, Ave de Lafayette

Do you have special suits that you wear on the towers and in the helicopters?

Unfortunately my department doesn’t deal with the helicopter aspect, so I don’t get to wear one of those fancy mesh suits needed to work on the high lines, but as far as the towers are concerned, we don’t need any special protective equipment. Tower work in our department requires that any line be both de-energized and grounded, so the only safety equipment required is your fall protection, although some guys do prefer using rubber gloves when going hands-on as well.

If you could change any aspect facing you on the job what would it be?

The same thing that almost every job in the world has to deal with: office politics and bureaucracy.

Do you see evidence that we are going to need to cut back on our use of energy or be "in the dark" so to speak?

I think the evidence is pretty clear that changes need to be made in all aspects: how much we use, how we use it, how we deliver it, and most importantly, how we produce it. There are three basic things you need to generate electricity: a magnet, a conductor, and relative motion (i.e. some way of moving the magnet over the conductor to propel the electrons). Using fossil fuels to generate electricity has several drawbacks, all of which are well-known at this stage of the game. Fortunately, interest in renewable energy is on the rise. Solar panels are increasing in popularity, and some people are even able to sell excess solar power back to their utilities. Same goes for wind turbines. There’s also great advances in battery technology which look very promising. These types of advances on the individual level will also alleviate the other big issue - our infrastructure. The only way to keep up with current demand is to modify the existing infrastructure (aka the band-aid approach) as opposed to completely starting from scratch, which when you consider the age of our infrastructure would actually make more sense. There’s no conceivable way it could be done at this point. Despite recent federal funding into infrastructure upgrades it’s like trying to fill in the Grand Canyon with a shovel and pail. We’re too far behind. Would reducing our energy consumption help? Of course, and new advances along that front are being made. But we also need to be innovative with respect to our infrastructure in order to be able to keep up with current demand as well as plan for long-term projected use. The combination of dwindling resources as well as infrastructure is really a two-headed monster.

Thanks so much Steve, for taking the time out and giving us a behind-the-scenes look as an electrical utility Operator.  I have learnt a lot from your candid answers. 

For our readers, please check back with us in the coming weeks as Steve and I will be tackling another post about his time working through Hurricane Sandy, and the devestation she left. 

*** All photographs provided by Steve Karpicz.


Swirling Sea Dervish

Storm ravaged,
sand strangled,
swirling dervish;
a graceful sea ballerina no longer.

Why this longing to mourn?
Where have your lush locks shorn?

Gentle mother of the sea,
tossed amongst rock litter,
while stoic logs and reeds
cried silently to wailing winds.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Interview with Katley Brown; A woman with a passion for Bulgarian folklore!

I understand you are from Bulgaria, and you have a love of Balkan Folklore?

Believe it or not, I am not from Bulgaria! I was born in the United States, in New York City. My dad (who is deceased) was from Puerto Rico. My mother’s family is also from Puerto Rico, although she was born in New York. My love of Balkan folklore started many years ago. I used to listen to shortwave radio in the 1970’s, and in New York there were many foreign radio stations that played music from all over the world. My favorite music was from Latin America and Eastern Europe. My relatives got together on holidays, danced, and played music from Latin America. They had a collection of old LP’s (records, remember those?) My first excursions into folk music outside Latin America were to Germany, Hungary, and what used to be Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. I didn’t discover Bulgarian folk music until much later, when I started dancing.

I enjoy your blog where you share Bulgarian Folk Music and all sorts of interesting things that are included with it, the costumes, and the instruments.   

I love it when people read my blog. Maybe because my goal is to make a relatively obscure subject accessible to everyone. I have read blogs on folklore that were scholarly and downright boring. Don’t get me wrong, they provide valuable information the problem is how it’s presented. 


How long have you been writing about this?

I have been writing about Balkan/Bulgarian folklore since 2008. The blog started as a private journal that I kept on the computer. It went public in February 2010. The first few posts were rather silly, I wasn’t taking it seriously. I take it more seriously now, although my funny side always comes out. My family called me the “Alien” because my taste in music was definitely unusual. So I called my journal “Alien from the Planet Bulgaria.” Later when I created the blog I named it “The Alien Diaries.” At first people thought it was about extraterrestrials and UFO’s! Those are on my blog, too, the Bulgarians have an avid interest in these things. There is even a Bulgarian folk song which went into outer space!

You also dance don’t you? Could you tell us more about this, and how long you have been dancing? 

I’ve been dancing since 1984. During that time I was working in Manhattan. A friend and colleague of mine used to go to folk dances held every summer in Central Park and she gave me the name of a place downtown where I could learn to dance. The class that best fit into my schedule was the beginner Balkan class on Friday nights. The first time I went I was hooked. Being part of the folk dance community was very rewarding. I had a lot of fun and made a number of friends. Three of us get together almost every Friday night for the dances in Amherst Massachusetts, and there is another group of friends that get together every summer to go to ethnic festivals in this region. When I visit family in New York, sometimes I go to the dances there. I have been amazed at how many people remember me even though I haven’t seen them in years!

Do you have a favorite song, instrument and dance?

Now, that’s a tough question. One of my favorite Bulgarian folk songs went into outer space on the Voyager spacecraft back in 1977. The song is Izlel e Delyu Haidutin, sung by Valya Balkanska. My favorite instrument is probably the gaida (bagpipe) although I couldn’t play one to save my life. It requires a lot of lung power. I like the accordion and the clarinet, too. I played the clarinet for two years, it was part of a course required by my school. Because of this I have a basic grounding in music theory. When I transferred to another school, I never took it up again and haven’t played clarinet in many, many years. My favorite dances are Dospatsko and Mitro from the Rhodope region of Bulgaria. I am also very fond of rachenitsa, of which there are many different varieties, my favorite in this group is one from Kyustendil.

Why do you find Bulgarian music so attractive?

I find Bulgarian music attractive because of its unique sound and unusual rhythms. It is definitely an acquired taste, and many non-Bulgarians love it (except for my family). For a small country, Bulgaria is quite musically diverse. There are seven folklore regions.

Have you ever been to Bulgaria yourself? Do you have family there?

Unfortunately I have never been to Bulgaria. A trip there is definitely on my bucket list. I did live in Germany many years ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Back in those days, there was an “Iron Curtain” between the West and the communist controlled Eastern Bloc. My husband was in the U.S. military and in a field where it would have been difficult, if not impossible to visit the Communist-controlled countries, of which Bulgaria was one. My German co-workers, many of who were from East Germany, discouraged my from visiting the East, and told me a number of horror stories, so I never went. I like to visit places off the beaten path, and in Eastern Europe tourists weren’t allowed to do that. When the wall fell, I had three small children. I haven’t been to Europe since. I’m hoping to go back when I retire.

Thanks so much Katley for taking time out of your busy life to give us a look at your passion!  If you, our readers, would like to see more of Katley and find out more about her blog "The Alien Diaries", please follow this link.

*** All photos provided by Katley Brown