Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We all have human failings, right? Please tell me you said yes or I do not believe I can go on.
Today I am sharing one of mine with you, in the category of “Things that other people do beautifully, normal everyday things that everyone does even without practice.”
I’m sharing in the hopes that there’s another one of you like me out there, another person who cannot do a simple household task, no matter how many degrees you have, how many gifts you have, how many skill sets you’ve accomplished. I don’t want to be the only one.
My failing? Nine times out of ten, I cannot open a Kleenex box without ripping, shredding, mangling the first three Kleenexes in the box.
Let me show you:

That is even better than my first-opened box of Kleenex usually looks.

Compare that to how an un-afflicted Kleenex-box opener prepares the box:

My Buddhist friends explain that life is full of challenges that really are gifts to us disguised so we get the fun of figuring out what’s so damned great about our struggle. Well, woo-hee!
I understand the truth in what they say and I know ALL of us, even the perfect Kleenex box opener, face challenges with daily-life tasks. I have a friend who cannot cook. She tried once but her whole family found her meal inedible, including the family dog who growled at the glop when she put it down on the porch.
My sister has the talent of somehow picking up the toilet seat liner with her butt cheeks when she stands up. She doesn’t know how it happens or how to make it stop. When she complained to me about it, I suggested that she find a way to make that talent work for her. She did not appreciate my optimism.
I’m told it doesn’t matter so much what happens to you but rather what you do about it. Hmmm. If I can’t fix the plumbing, I call in a plumber. My electrical system, an electrician. However, I’ve never seen a professional Kleenex box opener listed in the yellow pages.
What I’ve decided to do instead, is do my very best (see photo above), laugh, thank the universe for my gift, and if worse comes to worse, use cloth handkerchiefs.
I’m great at running the washer and dryer. And in the meantime, I’ll be waiting to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Treasure


On my knees in my under-the-eaves storage space, I pawed through the box of Christmas books stored there where they’d been stuck five years ago when we moved to this house.
I searched for something to read at a friend’s tree-lighting ceremony later that night. As the real candles on the tree were lit, those assembled would listen to thoughts gathered on Christmases past by those long past celebrating.
I found a book, Christmas Treasures, and before I could begin reading the poems and essays to find just the right one for the party, I saw several sheets of folded, yellowed notebook paper stuck into the pages of the book.
Pulling them out and scanning them, I saw the writing of my high school English students from long ago, so long ago I couldn’t remember exactly how far back. I read them once again, this time not having to worry about editing and grading. In my hand resided poems and favorite Christmas memories. I saw their young faces in my mind’s eye.
One of the young writers wrote about his favorite Christmas memory up to his ripe age of 16. His parents had bought him the motorcycle he wanted. He’d seen it beforehand and assumed his father had bought it for himself. Then when his last gift was opened, it was a key, and he knew his wish had been granted.
If you have a teenager, you know how difficult it is to wring much information from them, especially one that involves emotion and gratefulness for family. Here was an opportunity for me to pass on that information. Enlightenment 20 or so years later is still enlightenment. I knew what I would do.
Back downstairs, out of the attic and standing upright again, I looked up his parents’ address, put the paper in an envelope, stamped and mailed it.
Continuing to read through the book of Christmas Treasures, I found just the right poem to share with fellow celebrants at the festivities that night.
Even so, it came to me that though I’d found my piece by a professional writer to read, the real Christmas treasure of the day had been a son’s 16 year-old favorite memory I could gift to his parents.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Gifts


Lingerie, perfume, slippers—the usual presents for women can’t hold a Christmas candle to the best gift I received back when we were a younger family and our son was still at home. The gift had no wrapping, and because it came disguised, I didn’t know what I had received at first.
My husband, son, and I rode the train from Portland to visit my parents and sister in La Grande. We chugged into the cold, icicle-clad station, irritable and rumpled after the six-hour trip.
Looking out the train window onto the dark, snow-frosted platform, we saw among the large crowd a Santa Claus waving. The mittened hands of my father and sister held a white banner with broad black letters reading, “Welcome: Karen, Neal, and Sean. Merry Christmas!” With that, my exhaustion dissipated, and a lump formed in my throat. My sister and my dad and…where was my mom? Why wasn’t she here too? I supposed that she stayed home, baking sugar cookies for us to frost, or preparing spicy, chunky chili as only she can make it.
I wove my way down the aisle, through departing passengers and bulky luggage. As I stepped off the train, Santa Claus, who was handing out candy canes at the train exit, stuck a candy cane in my coat pocket. “Merry Christmas,” he said, in a gravelly voice.
“Thanks,” I muttered, thinking that this was a great service Amtrack was providing, and rushed off to meet my family. We all hugged and helloed. To my surprise, I noticed that Santa Claus, who hadn’t gone inside the station with all the other disembarking passengers, embraced Neal and Sean.
Then Santa sidled up to me, hugged me, and said, “Merry Christmas!” again.
How nice, I thought, and hugged my dad and my sister again. Santa continued to stand next to me. “Why is he still standing out here in the cold with us?” I wondered. “Isn’t this overplaying his role a bit?” I kept chatting and all the while Santa remained at my elbow. Why was Santa so attentive to us?
I couldn’t figure it out. The chatter died out and my entire family stared expectantly at me, then laughed as Santa pulled off his beard. Only then did I finally understand. In my excitement I hadn’t seen what they had seen. I screamed and threw my arms around the red and white padded body. You see, Santa Claus was really my mother.
My vision always blurs when I think back to this incident. It taught me two things. First, presents don’t have to be wrapped to be just what you need. And secondly, parental acts of love don’t stop when you leave home, but continue the rest of your life in the form of some of the best gifts you’ll ever receive.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Orphée, The Opera

I saw Philip Glass’s opera Orphée last Friday night. I had seen the Jean Cocteau film many years ago and being a former student of all things French, I knew what was coming from all directions except one: the music.
My friend Misty had said the night before she was a fan of Philip Glass and that she loved the music. My hopes, therefore, were high.
Opera music is generally BIG. In your face. You can’t miss opera music, usually. You can take a cat nap and still hear every note of the music. That’s how BIG it is.
Glass’s music was, to my taste, bland. I forgot it was there. I tore myself away from the story, tugging myself on the sleeve so that I would listen, but always, it was not much more than white noise. The “schrrrsch” of the radio onstage when it was not broadcasting. The sound a radio makes when it’s between stations or when a station has gone off the air.
I was ready for the mirrors, the illusion, the funny parts like the sentence saying poets are not writers. The motorcyclists of Death whose outfits I would like to wear for a day just for the thrill of being sexy and faceless.
I was not ready for zombie music. I don’t care that the five bloggers in the lobby that night liked the music. I don’t care that the reviewer for the newspaper loved the music. I don’t care that Glass probably scored the music to fit with the themes of the play. He should have known that when you take a film’s dialogue line by line and write music for it, there will be empty spots where nothing happens.
In the theatre, in opera especially, empty spots are boring. In a regular opera, someone is always singing. The only quiet moments are when someone is taking a breath in order to be able to sing again. The singing in this opera was about as interesting as those meaningless broadcasts on Death’s radio. The singers were vocally fabulous but what they had to sing was as much nothing as something.
Yes, the singers were fabulous, the set was fabulous, the Cocteau script was fabulous, but the music…was not. And this was an opera. A zombie opera. Oops.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The best thing about seeing Julie and Julia this weekend was being with my sister Susie, my brother Eric, and my sister-in-law, Julia. All of us laughing and crying together felt unifying and potent.

The next best thing about seeing Julie and Julia was watching a film about two women who lived their passion. We all should be so lucky to do the same. What is life about if it’s not finding your passion and living it?

Notice that to do so is not easy but even through all the work, one’s soul is satisfied, always.

Both chefs learned, cooked, wrote, and then published. They forged ahead despite life’s vagaries and disappointments. By the time they reached their destination, their journey meant something important.

One of my childhood acquaintances has decided like several other artists to complete a small painting every day. Every week I check his website for the treat I know will be there, often scenes of places I know in Eastern Oregon. Sometimes he paints onions and other vegetables, but those are my familiar friends too.

In 2006 I wrote a poem every day about whatever I saw before me no matter where I was.

What happened to me, besides my pride of accomplishment, of actually doing what I said I would, was that I fell in love with our natural world. Everywhere I looked, I saw beauty. Every day I awoke with joy anticipating what wonders I would witness if I just opened my eyes and looked. Looked with intention. Looked deeply and long.

Finding a poem every day wasn’t easy. Living where we normally have 200 days of rain per year, I strained to find different ways to describe rain, clouds, and wind. How many shades of gray are there, anyway? Traveling to Alaska, Hawaii, and Central Oregon that year I got a break from the bleak coastal weather from time to time, but all too soon, here I’d be again trying to describe what I saw.

Day after gray day seemed the same, so I was forced to search for the one thing that was different, unique, or awesome.

Summer was more fun because of my garden. One plant came up when another left so there was always something to talk about. A new insect here, a giant slug there.
That year of poems has given me my own weather and planting almanac. I can always check the dates on each poem to see if the peonies and dahlias are blooming at the same time. I know exactly how old the cherry tree is now. I can find out how long I have to wait for the first daffodils to appear. I know how much wind, rain, and snow we had and can compare each passing new year to 2006’s poetic calendar of events.

Some of the poems I have entered in contests and won awards. The garden-based poems I plan to assemble in a chapbook. My favorites of the year I will collect in a book entitled, En Plein Air.

Every week I sent seven poems to my family and friends if they wanted to see them and the most amazing thing happened. They also began to really see outside their own back doors in depth and I started receiving their poems. None of them are poets by vocation. They are engineers, teachers, escrow agents, housewives and students. They became poets by watching and sharing their images with me. Sometimes a second can be spectacular. Our everyday life is so filled with beauty they had to tell about it. My passion inspired a passion in them.

When I’m around others who live their passions, I can feel a humming excitement, a connection to my own soul. I think that force is love connecting us all.

Passion is crucial to living well. Living your passion means honoring a commitment to oneself, saying I believe I am important enough to follow this through to the end in order to find satisfaction.

Living your passion means loving yourself and in so doing, love discovers you. Even in the rain.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009



One of my jobs after my mother-in-law had died was to prepare her clothing to take to St. Vincent de Paul. In all her pockets I found used Kleenexes. Sorting through pocket after pocket, I realized that even though we die, our snot stays.

Our skin cells still on the sheets, stay.

The scum on the shower door stays.

Out there in the septic tank our shit stays.

All our effluvia, the stuff that shoots out from us in our daily whirling like dervishes, stays.

Our recipes stay. Our to-do lists with things still not crossed off, stay. The depression our head made in our pillow, our body made in the bed, our butt made in our favorite chair, stays.

Our appointments on the calendar stay. Our plates with the knife and fork cuts across the top stay. Our basket full of vitamins and medication vials stays.

The quilt, the vase, the painting we loved, stay. Our earrings, bracelets, belts, stay. The handkerchiefs our grandma sent us every year for our birthday stay.

The books still bearing our fingerprints, our tears, our breadcrumbs, stay.

Our e-mail, our address book, our Christmas card list, stay.

The fruit we canned, the bench we built, the tree we planted, stay.

Our guitar, our mandolin, our banjo, stay. The music we wrote, the music we sang stays.

Those whose lives we touched, our friends, our family, our husbands, wives, lovers, children--all with their hearts broken, stay.

We go, but not entirely. We linger there just out of the picture right where the frame obscures us, part ethereal, part dust.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Part One:

Sprayed across the upper kitchen cabinets.
Decorating the blender and the toaster.
Adorning the counter top.
Clinging to my knees, toes, arms, and hair.
Nesting in my cleavage.
Resting on the floor.
Soaking in salt water.
Sauerkraut-making day.

Part Two:

The fragrance of fermentation
Like when my father says,
“Pull my finger,”
Permeates the garage.
I cut short my errands past the crock,
Become a mouth breather.
Six weeks passes like eternity.

My father knew a family of 11
who lived in a one-room cabin
and ate sauerkraut all winter
from a Hogshead barrel.

Still, there’s a reason
My ancestors celebrated
The new year with pork roast,
Potatoes and sauerkraut.

I can taste the salty succulence now.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


My husband wanted me to pick up 20 pre-stamped postcards as we needed them to mail off in some contest materials. If you send a self-addressed, pre-stamped postcard, the person at the other end will send it back which assures you that your entry got to where it needed to go.

At our local post office, there were no pre-stamped postcards to be had. The postal clerk said some guy came in and bought them out, over 100 cards. Come back next Monday.

I wonder why someone needs that many?

Not one to wait, I sat in my pickup and wrote out my contest submission checks, attached them to the various stories and poetry, and licked shut the envelopes. I drove to a neighboring city where it hit me that even if I got the postcards, it would do no good since I had LICKED SHUT THE ENVELOPES. Drat, dang, and crap!

So I thought, well, I drove all the way here and my husband wanted the postcards, so I'll get them and mail off the envelopes, which is what I did. I hope.

The clerk seemed spacy, off in woo-woo land. She didn't ask any of the 15 questions the clerks at the local post office do, like do you want express or priority or first class, etc. Is it hazardous, dangerous, or will it stink up the whole post office like a bad fart? She just weighed the envelopes and started sticking on stamps. On two of them. I asked for 20 pre-stamped postcards which have some lovely fish on them, by the way. I paid. I left.

At my pickup, I realized I needed verification for my taxes, so I went back in and asked for a receipt. She tore off what she'd done on the adding machine, stamped it with some official stamp, and gave it to me. But my other envelope sitting on her counter still had no stamps on it. As I left, she was looking at it as if it were an unrecognizable species from another planet.

"Hmmm. What do I do with this?" she seemed to be thinking. I swear I felt her woo-woo vibe clear out in my vehicle.

Now I'm worried. Especially with no pre-stamped postcard coming back to me saying my contest submissions were received. Did she actually put stamps on that last envelope and put the three packages in the "out" bag to be mailed?

Only time will tell. It does not pay to be a ditz. Or go to a post office where one is working.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Magnolia in Savannah

In May, I went to Georgia to visit my friend Martha West at her lovely Lake Hartwell home.

After that wonderful experience, I joined my friend Roseann for an Elderhostel tour of Savannah. If you like learning when you travel, I can't recommend Elderhostel highly enough. It's the only way to go, for me.

This is a magnolia I saw during a Savannah stroll.


Sprayed across the upper kitchen cabinets.
Decorating the blender and the toaster.
Adorning the counter top.
Clinging to my knees, toes, arms, and hair.
Nesting in my cleavage.
Resting on the floor.
Soaking in salt water.
Sauerkraut-making day.

Monday, April 20, 2009


--for Stephen

You came to us
on broken wings,
settled warily
to convalesce
in our sanatory

You rode your skateboard
fast and high
that painless instant
of peace
where nothing intrudes.

Now, a monitor of purity,
you climb smokestacks,
eradicate abuse.

you glide higher still,
you and the hawk on your shoulder
soaring far above us
in search of what sustains you--
a profound quiet,
two synchronous hearts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Maybe Vance Can't Dance But I Can

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” Martha Graham, dancer

Kathy Anderson, me (my red back) and Susan Bartron Reents

“Vanz Kant Danz”—John Fogerty


An acquaintance recently made a chance comment that set me off down a path where I’d been before, a path I didn’t like the first time. I liked it even less this time.

The blithering acquaintance said, “The last thing I wanted to see was some fat person out there sweating and dancing.”


I am a fat person, what Alexander McCall Smith calls a woman of “traditional build.” I love to dance. When I dance, I sweat.

The vacuous, insensitive comment took me right back to the day I sat in the faculty section of the auditorium at the high school where I taught. Next to me was a small-boned and slender teacher, a lover of the arts, a runner. She ate fiber crackers and maybe a few grapes for lunch, and a soft-boiled egg for dinner, tiny bits in order that she might stay thin.

We were looking at the stage where the high school dance team was performing a number. One of the young dancers was more robust than the others.

The non-eater said to me, “That is ugly. Fat people should not dance in public.”

She said that to me as if my largess was invisible. Her BIG-otry shattered me.

I always find dancing magical and mesmerizing. Music and movement in their exchange of molecules elevates us to a higher place. In a blur of bodies and rhythm, synchronicity resides. To my eyes, the young woman of traditional build was by far the best dancer on the stage, entranced and entrancing. She was joy personified. How ironic to hear Miss Thin say this dancer out of all of them onstage shouldn’t be there.

Stunned, I kept quiet but I was sure the dancer and I had just been put down by a big chunk of fatism.

No wonder people are afraid to dance when critics like these lurk, waiting to strip them of their joy.

I have to endure “women-sized” clothing designed as if giant squares of cloth sewn together is considered stylish. I have to endure outdoors companies telling me, “We don’t make winter coats for women your size,” as if we shouldn’t be allowed to hike, ski or snowshoe along with our friends.

I will no longer endure rude comments by those who also feel other fat people and I should not be seen dancing. Hello? Have you seen Queen Latifah dance? How about Marissa Jaret Winokur, that cute woman from Hairspray? How about sports analyst Warren Sap, who made it to the finals of Dancing With the Stars, not because of his precise technique but because people all across America loved witnessing his absolute joy of dance?

Dancing is what humans do to show who they are and how they fit into this world. Dancing is how we demonstrate happiness at being alive. Dancing is ritual and tribal trancemaking. My favorite music is the kind that makes me want to jump up and dance. I do.

Nobody’s going tell my sisters and me that we can’t break into dance when we hear a good song at the grocery store. Not only do we dance that song, we sing it too and we have BIG voices. We’ve been dancing amongst the oranges and grapefruit for years.

A bunch of folks have taken our lead. On the internet, check out Antwerp’s Centraal Station in Belgium or “Brian and Katie’s Evolution of Dance Wedding.” Watch Judson Laipply in “Evolution of Dance,” or “Matt Harding’s World Dancing Tour.” Have you seen those videos on You Tube? If you need more, watch T-Mobile’s ad made at the Liverpool Street Station or the Grand Central scene in the film, “The Fisher King.” Everyone, from large to small, is having a good time.

I’m older now, besides being fat. Next thing you know, we old, fat people are going to be told no one wants to see us dance. Those Nasties better not be coming to my Zumba class then because nobody is gonna stop my feet or my hips once I get them started!

As prescribed by his doctor, my 85 year-old uncle dances three times a week and he’s still going strong. I’d say that’s a hell of a lot better way to die, if it comes to that, than sitting in a stupor in front of a TV screen.

The truth is that we’d all be healthier if we danced every day no matter what our size. We’d be more joyful. Dancing is a blessed felicity that builds on itself.

When I get hit by happy, it just has to come out and the best way it comes out is by dancing. If seeing me bouncing about bothers you, just turn your head because I’m not stopping. I’ve got a move on.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Northeastern Oregon Women

When I first met my friend, Elaine, I was a high school English teacher in a rural coastal town. She ran the office. Her daughter was my student. Maybe it was my black tights that fooled her or my bookish ways. Maybe because I can speak French.

Now she tells me that she still cannot believe that I garden, she cannot believe that I dig in the dirt, that I pull weeds, that I haul manure. Even more fabulous to her is that I then preserve, either by canning, freezing or drying, all that I grow. She loves my pickled beets and blackberry cordial.

“It just doesn’t seem like you,” she says. “I saw you growing up in a loft in New York, not in a quarter-acre garden in soil-encrusted jeans, an old straw hat on your head, a red bandana handkerchief hanging from your pocket, with sweat dripping off your forehead.

“You’re not carrying around a bucket full of hand tools and a bottle of water, a hoe and a shovel. No, in my mind’s eye, you have a bag from Neiman Marcus or Macy’s or Filene’s Basement and a bunch of flowers. Maybe a cheesecake from Junior’s.”

That she pictured me in a New York loft, so cosmopolitan, so cultured, makes me smile. That she saw old farm-girl me as a sophisticate pleases me.

Truth to tell, I no doubt could live that way, in a loft with books and art all around, good restaurants and even better theatre within walking distance. A place where I could find poetry and movies and stores providing every item I might want without driving two hours over treacherous mountain passes. Imagine the symphonies, the ballets, the lectures. And yes, the famous cheesecake might make its way to my hands and further yet.

A month maybe. If it were spring, maybe three. I could last that long. But then, oh then, my need for an open, flat valley with sun morning, noon, and night, a valley ringed by hills and evergreens, a valley full of pastures, crops, and animals, a valley of crossroads lined with turn-of-the century farmhouses and weathered barns, that need would overcome me. I would have to fly home where I could reach my arms out and not touch anyone; home, where I could walk a quarter mile and not touch anyone. Home, where I would not have to look straight up to find the sky.

We Northeastern Oregon women are like that. Our love of land is epigenetic, bred into us, I’m convinced. Elaine knows. She’s a Northeastern Oregon woman too. Even though we both live in Western Oregon now, as far west as you can go without falling into the sea, we chose a rural town in which to settle. We live on farms in valleys encircled by hills and trees, in places that look as much like Northeastern Oregon as we can get. Still, something is not quite the same. The sunlight year-round, the summer heat, the smell of dust and wheat? Sitting around the bonfire at night next to the slough catching catfish? The rustle in the grass that means snake?

Growing up when and where we did, we learned to be thrifty, to be gleaners. Instead of throwing things away, we saved things and figured out other ways to make use of them. We lived in a way that’s now back in fashion, now called “sustainable” and “organic.” Back then it was called making something out of nothing because nothing was what our parents had a lot of.

We Northeastern Oregon women can catch a chicken, chop off its head, pluck it, gut it, and cook it up, all in the same day. We can drive in snow up to the hoods of our vehicles and call it a good day outside. We can spend the day herding cattle and whip up a barbecue that night. We can sew our own clothing and have it win awards at the county fair. Our houses are decorated with natural treasures such as birds’ nests, rocks, and oddly-shaped wood. Moss and dried twigs, plumes of dried grass and cat tails.

We find our joy in other people. When you grow up living long distances from another human being, you cherish the times when you get together--dances, 4-H meetings, weddings and funerals. You care. You share, willingly, because you know each other. You come together because you want to, not because you are forced to by small or crowded spaces. Even if you move away, your Northeastern Oregon cells locate each other.

We find our joy in nature. We are poets and essayists, women of words, spoken or written. We are painters and musicians. We live where there is land between houses. We grow flowers. Don Gray’s paintings of Union or Cove or Joseph, rounded brown hills and bird-filled marshes, bring tears to our eyes.

That loft in New York would be nice and exploring would keep me busy. Just not for too long. I’d get nervous, needing my fix for home.

When we go home to visit, we breathe easier. We feel at peace. We may not live in Northeastern Oregon any longer but Northeastern Oregon is alive in us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Here's a little poem I started writing in my head on the way home. It's not finished (or maybe it is) but I couldn't wait to share the sentiment:

Don't shush Rush.
We need an idiot
to know we are on the right track.
Kings had fools, right?
We have ours.
The Republican Party

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Feline Poetry Fest


Birdie, Birdie, in the sky,
Fly to me, I’ll tell you why.
I want to look a birdie in the eye,
Then cook me up some birdie pie.


Come to me, you skanky vole
Or I will claw you from your hole,
Bite off your head and spill your guts.
Escaping me is really nuts.


Where’s my food?
Turn up the heat,
Cuddle near and warm my feet.
Don’t dare to tell me that I’m sweet.
My four legs are fully clawsome
And my aim is more than awesome.
Where's my food?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Remnants—the pieces of fabric left over from other projects which you cut and shape, then sew to form a quilt.
My childhood friend Janis’s father Bob was my father’s best friend growing up. Their fathers had been best friends too, thus, it was no surprise that Janis and I spent parts of our youth together as well.
Janis lived with her grandmother for her first five years and then, uprooted, went to live with her father and new stepmother. After that I saw her only once a year or so, when she came to visit her grandmother for summer vacation.
From the time we were in the 4th grade on, we enjoyed ourselves while the adults talked by designing paper doll dresses and accessories out of paper toweling. Regular paper must have been in short supply so we created our special designs on this soft, bubbly paper. Did we color the dresses we drew? I don’t remember but I do know we made fabulous gowns for our Lennon Sisters paper dolls. Our girls had extravagant events to attend where they consorted with such handsome types as Ricky Nelson and Tony Dow. Many hours Janis and I spent on the front porch with blunt-nosed scissors creating lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Don’t you hate it when you make a mess, a horrible mess that needs immediate attention, and there’s no one to blame but yourself?
Not only do you have to take the time, energy, and resources to clean up, but you lose the self-righteous indignation mustered when someone else makes the mess.
I exploded tomato soup in the microwave. I heard a few pops but was not prepared for what I saw when I opened the door. I thought a blood-filled vein had exploded in there. I was sore afraid. Jackson Pollack would have been proud of my creation.
How best to clean it up, and clean it up I had to do, since the housekeeper was coming and it wouldn’t do to leave that for her to see. She might think it an exploded blood-filled vein, too, and call the cops. I couldn’t have that.
I began unrolling the paper towels, one, three, five, ten. I’ll start there. Here’s where the absorbency issue gets resolved. After 15 towel segments, the microwave was ready to be wiped out with soap and water. The revolving plate had to be washed off. Dried, replaced. Good as new.
I burned the evidence later in the burn barrel. I would not be responsible for a garbage collector’s shock at seeing those red paper towels upon opening the can lid. Lesson learned: for one cup of soup always use a four-cup measuring cup.
January and February are the worst months for me as the annual depression slides into place, my SAD Northern Light notwithstanding, and refuses to be shaken. These bad-weather months are when I should be able to take advantage of free hours I don’t have to work outside. A lot of things should get accomplished but these are also the months when I don’t feel like doing a damn thing. Even if I want to, I just can’t. My lists go undone.
This year besides the depression, I had anxiety so bad I needed medication and a flare-up of hiatal hernia hurtness so bad I couldn’t bend over or lift anything or breathe deeply. I take palliative steps, mind you, but that all takes time. Getting better doesn’t happen overnight.
This year, though, the universe was watching out for me, and I began to reap what I had sowed. Every few days gifts for no special reason came my way, gifts that showed I had friends who loved and cared for me. I had visits from family that included laughter and love. I started a new class that gave me hope. All those gifts helped me to wait knowing I was loved until I cycled back out into the light. Just what I needed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Telling the Truth

Portland Mayor Sam Adams has told the truth. How refreshing. Now, if only all the CEO’s, managers, principals, superintendents, superior officers, judges, law partners, owners of businesses who have also had sex with one of their adult employees told the truth, the world would be truly refreshed or at the very least, shift on its axis.
I want those who hold or have held the power of a job over another and who have abused that power by demanding sexual favors to admit what they have done. Their apologies should be printed in the Oregonian in an issue dedicated to just that purpose. More than one apology issue may be needed, I realize.
If we hold Mayor Sam Adams to a standard of decency that is appropriate in the workplace, then we must hold all those in positions of power in the workplace, public figures or not, to the same standard. Urge those you know to have committed the same misdeed as Sam Adams to confess the truth of their actions. I weary of stones thrown by tainted hands. I am ready for a refreshing shift.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009



Skeeter and I often stood
on the colossal floor heat register
outside Grandma Eva’s bedroom
directly across from the towering oak buffet.

Waiting for the rush,
we looked up at the sculpture
of the brown-skinned brunette in a blue underskirt holding a corner of her red jumper to her mouth.
Placed on the buffet corner doily, her bare feet straddled a rock.
She gazed at an ocean that wasn’t there,
her golden pocket bulging,
maybe with agates and sand dollars.
I know she wanted to join us
but we didn’t speak the same language.
We wanted to see the ocean too, but instead, we flew.

When the fan blew,
our dresses bloomed open
like little parachutes,
our feet dangling jellyfishlike
straddling our own doily
of crisscrossed ferrum firma.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Karen's World

Andrew Wyeth died this week. I mourn his passing and I mourn the loss of the teenage me who lay in my father’s pasture looking back at our home the way his young girl does.
I loved Wyeth’s open spaces that reminded me so much of the Grande Ronde Valley where I grew up. Rolling hills of grasses where a single oak tree sprouted. Brown, weathered houses on the top of a hill backed by blue mountains and a bluer sky. Sun reflected by everything but shadow.
Why does every mention of the painting “Christina’s World” speak of the disabled girl in the field looking at her house in the background? The model for this girl, Andrew’s wife, was fully able to stand and walk. True, the real girl who lived in the house he painted was disabled, but why assume the girl in the grass was as well, just because she was reclining there gazing upon her house?
From my own experience, I can tell you with great certainty that Christina was not disabled. That you thought she was is fine with her. Your mistake gave her more time to be by herself out there in nature, her quite able body in repose.
When I’d had enough of the familial innards of my home, those grinding gizzards of parent versus child, I’d hike down to the bottom of our farthest pasture and lie down. In the spring, I’d smell the plowed dirt and feel it all crusty from the sun before it crumbled in my hand. I’d watch clouds scatter across the sky. Summers, I’d sit by the little creek looking for frogs under grassy clumps and pick watercress leaf by leaf to savor the peppery goodness. I’d watch birds bring food for their babies in the nests overlooking the slough. Come Fall, I’d lie on my back to watch the leafless limbs of the Alders rubbing against one another in the wind and when I stuck my legs straight up I’d notice how muddy, brown, and big my shoes looked framed by sky. I’d see the rusted barbed wire coils, iron rake and harrow and think about Time. Thoreau said we need room for our biggest thoughts and lying out in my father’s field I had space. Out there my mind was not defined by limits, I was not someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, or someone’s student. I was a soul who belonged to everything I saw. I let myself go into it, molecule by molecule. Out there, everything was possible. My thoughts were so big I sometimes had to let them pass, to roam some more until I could build a mind with stronger fences.
I could hear my sisters playing and calling each other names, hear Trixie and Stubbie barking, hear the Banty chickens clucking, the sheep bleating, my mother yelling—I could hear all that while pretending to be deaf so I wouldn’t have to go back quite yet. Lying belly to belly with the earth I heard a different sound and just then I could be part of both worlds at once or neither at all.
And who says Christina’s looking at her house by the way? She could just as well be looking somewhere beyond her nose in the space where it points towards her house, out there where thoughts swarm and you have to write fast to catch them. What we can’t see from our vantage point looking at the painting is that she has a small notebook in front of her in which she is composing a poem to lock in her diary that she will open only to show her true love when he comes along.
We can only imagine what Christina’s poem said. Maybe it was about unrequited love written in a Victorian tone. Maybe it was a simple one that floated in on the wind, like the one I wrote to my field.
“I never would stay
Because of your thistles.
Now I have them
Mostly dug away
In your lap
Cloud and sky
Water rushing
Just beyond
My fingertips.”

I know what’s going on with Christina, and so do you, really. That’s why we all like Wyeth’s painting. It’s a landscape where we’ve all been, lying in the grass or the beach or on a park bench, lost in a tornado of our own thoughts, looking toward home—or not.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Loving My Poet

Left to my own devices at lunch time when I was in high school, I became a reader. Having already devoured anything in my literature text with meaning to me, I stalked the shelves for something more I might like. Mrs. Goss, my speech contest coach, suggested that poetry might be my performance milieu, and so I sought poems. The poet I found, read, and adored has stuck by me all these years hence. His words spoke volumes to me about the place I felt I dwelt and he dwelt.
In “Mother to Son” I learned perseverance and determination despite the denigration I felt daily being poor, lacking the clothing, opportunities, and social skills my classmates took for granted. I set out to excel in the three stained outfits and the rubber boots I sometimes had to wear because there was no more money for shoes.
In reading “A Dream Deferred,” I first had to look up the word “deferred” and from then on owned the term that explained how I felt looking in store windows. This is how I felt when my cousin Allen got my grandfather’s old car instead of me when we both turned 16 because he was a boy and that’s the way things are. This is how I felt when Ann spent her spring break lying in the Nevada sun and Lynn spent summer break swimming in the pool and reading books. I spent mine working on the farm doing both men’s work outside(no sons for my parents then) and women’s work inside. No summer camp, no movies, no sleepovers with friends. No friends, period.
Thanks to my poet, however, I held fast to my dreams. He had told me that if I didn’t, I would fester, stink, and explode. If I didn’t hold fast to my dreams, I would not fly. My life would be a barren field, frozen with snow.
So I held and held and am holding still.
When you dance to a poem, you never forget it. In my college modern dance class, I choreographed a dance to “Dreams.” Every word and movement is a part of me today. “Hold fast to dreams…” Realize that every closed fist does not signify violence but rather holding on for dear life to what feeds your soul.
Looking back after so many years, I’m amazed my poet was allowed on our library shelves full of old, white European writers. What rebel librarian chose to put him there?
In my rural Eastern Oregon town, his people and my people were kept separate by the railroad tracks. His people and my people were kept separate by accepted and (mostly, to my young ears) unspoken social expectations. So much I didn’t know when I took him off the shelf. I fell in love with his writing before I knew. I’ve never been so glad about my own ignorance since. Or so thrilled about what I learned and hold close to my heart even now.
“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.”
--Langston Hughes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dismantling Christmas

I started taking violin lessons two weeks ago as there is a teacher here again. I sound like the beginner I am and I get really, really nervous over the whole thing which is ridiculous since I'm not being graded and will NEVER perform in front of an audience of anyone but my cats. My ulcer is acting up again and I can feel the acid start running the minute I pick up that instrument. I took some stomach acid reducers and they made me break out in an itchy rash all over my body. I am persevering anyhow between scratches because I want to be able to at least graduate beyond "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie" by March. Right now Aunt Rhodie is damn sick of me being such a tattletale and she can't stand to hear what I'm saying anyway. Miss Emma runs and hides in the closet when I play and the other cats hide out in Neal's room. I don't think my playing is THAT bad. But I was wondering--are bows still strung with cat gut and could my cats possibly know?

All good things must come to an end and so we have been dismantling Christmas here at Happy House. We took down the tree three nights ago and put away ornaments and took down the other few decorations we had up. However, 2/3 of the tree is still lying on the floor because we can't find the place where it should be pulled apart. Old eyes and dark house with not enough light. We have just left it lying there until we can see better, maybe later on today when we aren't rushing off here and there during the daylight. Very attractive. The cats find it intriguing. Hopefully they won't pee on it. I can just see it shorting out next year when we plug it in.

In all the tidying furor, I broke the flame off the candle of one of my wooden Santas. I thought I could leave it but when I looked really hard at it, painted white with simulated candle wax dripping down the sides, I decided, no, that way it looked too much like a used dildo, so I glued the candle flame back on with super glue. Writing that phrase just now was a lot easier than the real thing. First I glued a couple of fingers together, and then I got those unstuck and glued two other ones together, and then I glued my fingernail to my finger and somehow my palm to itself. How do I function in life anyway? Maybe this explains my violin playing. Then I tried to get the glue off my hand with nail polish remover because that's supposed to work. Except if it's me. Then the cotton ball stuck to the re-moistened glue that was on my palm so it appeared I was foaming at the hand. Of course, I had just minutes before I had to be, yes, at violin lessons. Remnants of glue remain on my fingers even this afternoon but I'm assuming that they will wash away with time. Or flake off into the broccoli I'm preparing for dinner.

Must go now. It's time to put decorations away in the attic rafters which means crawling into a dark space meant for someone the size of, oh, a Welsh Corgi, which is not anywhere on the spectrum of size where I am located, as you well know. I did buy a stick up light and batteries to go in it, so I will attempt to attach that to the sloping ceiling before crawing in. Since I had lots of practice attaching things yesterday I should be able to accomplish this task and get on with it. If I'm not successful, my husband will be back at 4 and can take the little light off my back where it may have fallen and stuck.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Faith--January 1st

FAITH—January 1st
You place the fingers of your left hand on the guitar strings, hold down, and you know when you strike the strings over the hole with your right hand fingers, you will make the sound you want—if not at first, with practice, eventually.
You place the seeds in the soil you’ve prepared at just the right time and just the right depth and you know, given sun and water, a plant that gifts you with nourishment or beauty or both will arise.
You give your child love and guidance and you know, with enough patience and understanding, he or she will be someone to be proud of someday.
You receive a roomful of children who can’t read and who don’t know their numbers and by the end of a school year you know they will be able to read you a story and tell you how many eggs you’ll have if your chickens lay 2 eggs one day and 3 eggs the next. They may even cook you an omelet.
This knowing, this certitude in a world full of uncertainty, is faith. Even those people who are certain there is no faith are displaying a kind of faith, aren’t they?
When I was a teen-ager and unhappy, I looked out my window and imagined a white knight riding up to save me from my desperate life. As if, right? I had faith, though, and kept it going. No white knight ever came but something did come to save me from my desperate life eventually, and it was my self, the discovery that my ideas, intention, and action could change my life, that I didn’t need to rely on anyone else. All I needed was faith that my life would change. I set my goal and forged ahead.
I’ve done it this way many times in my life. How about you?
Five years ago my husband did not play the guitar or sing or paint. Then he decided to do those things because doing so would make him happy. He told himself he could do all those things and he began to learn how. He practiced every night, he took classes, he sang in the shower. Now he is a happy strumming, singing artist, thanks to faith.
You don’t need religion to have faith. Anyone can have faith. We all do. It’s what connects us all to one another and to all living things. It’s what joins us in unity and purpose and creativity. When you find your faith, you just know.
You know your intention will lead to action and from there to a result. You know you can make this world a better place, at least on the paths where you walk, for starters. You know your creativity will produce something wondrous. You know you are never alone.