Thursday, October 24, 2013

Our Mother's Gifts

My mother tells her daughters she wishes she would have, could have been more like us. What she means is she wishes she had been an independent woman, a woman who goes ahead without fear.

Her daughters are women who have followed our passions. We are women who have worked in “men’s” fields. We are women who are perfectly fine going to eat on our own, going to see a film on our own, or traveling on our own. We can repair our toilets or our cars, even though we don’t always want to. We make life-altering decisions and follow them through, even though we don’t always want to. We chop wood, hoe giant gardens, put by food. We can fish and come home with something for dinner. Well, one of us has trouble with that, I admit. Among us, we have raised families, taught school, managed a cemetery, run non-profits, remodeled houses. In other words, we are today’s typical, marvelously ordinary women.

When our mother tells us she wishes she could be more like us, we laugh. Why? Where the hell does she think we learned to be that way? Helloooo.

Our mother did the typical mom things of the 50’s, cooking, cleaning, sewing, preserving foods, etc. She also taught 4-H classes in cooking and sewing (in which I was her least-gifted student), and she was president of the PTA and my father’s union auxiliary. I still have a newspaper clipping of her and her friend Lorraine wearing red-lipped smiles, in their nice dresses, heels, hats, with purses hanging from their arms, surrounded by swarthy, unsmiling union officials. She was somebody important and didn’t even know it.

Then we moved to the farm—“the place”-- between La Grande and Island City. My father began working nights at the mill because that paid more. That way he would have more money to make the yearly  “place” mortgage payment and he could work around the farm during the day.

However, that meant my mother’s job expanded from basic housewife, to unpaid laborer and overseer of everything that needed doing NOW and manager of we three sources of even cheaper labor. Who really ran the farm and made things happen? Mostly, my mother.

She raised chickens, turkeys (for a year—they were too stupid for more), and pigs. She sold eggs and fryers for banquets. We had rabbits and later, sheep, for 4-H projects. Dad milked the cows, (and later, we three girls milked), but Mom sold the milk and made the butter and cottage cheese. When buyers came for the milk and eggs, she gave them a cup of coffee and entertained them. If there was a customer my dad didn’t care for, he lit out for the bottom pasture. We hid in the background and listened, especially to the one guy who swore continually.

Dad slaughtered every large animal we grew to eat or those game animals he shot, and Mom was right alongside him through every bloody step right to the end with the packaging. Except killing the chickens. Then Mom ran the show. Dead animal parts in white, waxed butcher paper litter my young adult life.

Dad planted the garden, but Mom, and we girls, hoed the weeds and preserved the food. What we didn’t grow on the farm, such as apricots, peaches, and plums, she gleaned or purchased and preserved.

What’s amazing to me is that she did all this and still had a hot, well-rounded meal on the table every night for Dad before he went to work. I’ve tried doing that the last twelve years since retirement—work outside in the garden and yard all day and then come in and have energy left to prepare a substantial, healthy meal—It’s too much for me, and I don’t see how she did it.

Among her other amazing accomplishments, my mother was always lovely every time she went out in public, dressed as she said, “to the ‘T’.” “Like stepping out of a bandbox.” (I’m still not sure what those phrases mean, but I assume they mean that a person looks good.) When we asked her why she took such care, just to go buy toilet paper and paper towel at the store, for example, she said, “I never want to embarrass you kids by how I look.” I think there might be another story behind her comment, but I have never asked.

She sewed our clothing until I was in high school and then we were expected to buy our own with the money we made selling our lambs at the fair. I don’t know when she would have had time to sew, anyway.

I remember most of the dresses she made for us, especially the ones for the Easter season. When my sister Anita and I were little girls going to church, we had new shoes, hats, coats, dresses, gloves, and little purses every Easter. One year the dresses were lavender organdy, another year, turquoise chiffon. One coat was lemon yellow seersucker with a white collar trim.

We had school clothes, too—the yellow and black plaid dresses that my sisters and I wore, along with our aunts who were my age. In their separate towns, my grandmother had sewn the dresses of my aunts, and our mother, ours. Then we all came together at our home for picture taking. The five of us girls lined up in front of the red house look like smiling bumble bees. My baby sister looks like she’s thinking, “Where am I? Who am I?”

Another favorite was my fourth grade dress with the red top and red and white vertically-striped skirt sporting a big tie in back. I was forever stepping on the untied tie and ripping it from my waistband. My sister’s dress was always pristine.

The year I was asked to a college formal, my mother sewed me a turquoise satin and lace, A-framed, below-the-knee dress with wide, swinging sleeves in the style of the late 60’s. My little brother had arrived in the family by then, so she was even busier and yet, on the night of the formal, there was the dress.

In those years, there were things about being a woman we girls saw and didn’t like. We saw Mom didn’t have her own money; that she had to buy gifts for Dad with the money he earned. She was so proud each time she had a project and made her own money and could buy a gift on her own. We learned from her situation that we should be able to take care of ourselves by having a skill we could market, that if we could take care of ourselves financially, we’d be beholden to no one. We also learned from our entire childhood how to save and how to live cheaply, yet well. How to cook with a few, healthy ingredients and make something from whatever was in the cupboard or freezer.

Mom was Martha Stewart before her time.

I often wonder what she would choose to do or be if she found herself a teenager right now, in this time. She studied to be a nurse. Would that be her choice? Would she be the CEO of a company? Would she be a scientist? Would she work for Intel or Micron? After all, she was a highly organized multi-tasker in her early days. She loved the sciences. Would she have been in a band? She could play the piano and read music without the benefit of lessons. If she could live for just herself, what would she choose to be?

Growing up in a different time, she didn’t have that luxury. As her daughters, we were told things like “a woman’s duty is to her husband” and “you make your bed, you lie in it” beliefs from her parents’ time that kept on coming through her lifetime and maybe through ours as well, statements meant to keep women second class citizens. But we never believed, growing up her children, that women could not accomplish what they intended to accomplish.

That’s not what we saw. Yes, we saw fear—Mom didn’t drive until she was 29, but then I didn’t learn to swim until that age, either. We saw fear of change every time she was given the gift of a new appliance and had to learn how to work it. We all have fears like that. But we never saw fear in not being able to accomplish what she set out to do.

Watching our mother is how we daughters learned that a woman has the ability to do whatever she wants to do. Why do you suppose we refused to believe anyone who told us we couldn’t do a particular job? Why do you suppose one of us laughed in the face of a “superior” at work who said “you don’t know your place?  Or at a business owner who told one of us she should just go home and take care of her children instead of applying for a job?

Our mother showed us women aren’t less, just female.

I’m sure she has no idea she taught us that. She would say she was just doing what needed done at the time. But isn’t that the reason any of us accomplishes what we do? It needs doing.

I often wonder what she would choose to do or be if she found herself a teenager right now, in this time. She studied to be a nurse. Would that be her choice? Would she be the CEO of a company? Would she be a scientist? Would she work for Intel or Micron? After all, she was a highly organized multi-tasker in her early days. She loved the sciences. Would she have been in a band? She could play the piano and read music without the benefit of many lessons. If she could live for just herself, what would she choose to be?

What we know from her example is not to judge people by male or female but by skills and gifts and to appreciate what each of us brings to the world. Things get done by doing.

What we learned from was not so much what our mother said, but what she did.

Truth in action.

 The yellow and white bumblebee dresses. I'm second from left. Love my purse and the Ionic porch columns.
 The turquoise chiffon dresses, accessorized with hat, purse, gloves, shoes. I'm second from right.
I'm on the right. The red and red and white striped dresses. Anita, Susie, and me.  My first permanent.

Monday, May 13, 2013


            After spending both a morning and an afternoon session in the presence of His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama, my mind was reeling with what I wanted to remember.  I told my husband that at our age, it wasn’t so much that what he said was new to me because I try to live a well-examined life (even though I sometimes fail) but that it helped to hear and be reminded of the right ways to live, along with 10,000 other people.  Because His Holiness spoke to two groups of people in Portland each of the three days he was here, certainly there should be soon an upsurge in better behaviors and right action in our communities, right?

            What I enjoy most about His Holiness is that he giggles. I would like to be there when he sits and chats with his friend, Bishop Desmond Tutu, because he giggles, too. I imagine that giggles are joy burbling from souls focused on unconditional love. 

            Also, he didn’t try to pretend to know something, to have an answer, when he didn’t.  He said, “I don’t know. That I will have to leave to the experts.  I can answer only as far as I know.  They have studied more.”

            He wasn’t about blind acceptance, however.  He said that we should analyze and study before coming to a conclusion.  In other words, the scientific method is very important to follow.

            Most of what The Dalai Lama is about is common sense. If you are living from your soul, from the part of you that is the part of me, you will be full of joy and helping others. Nothing worthwhile is about acquisition of objects and money; everything worthwhile is about compassion for others.  We need to show affection and receive affection.  Those deprived of early affection grow to be insecure adults who lack self-confidence. Those assured of affection, no matter how poor, grow to be happy, confident adults.
All people, religious or not, should be compassionate.  All the major religions have compassion as their basis, but that gets lost in the delivery.  Instead of focusing on a specific religion and saying it’s the only one, we should focus on the message instead and make it secular.  Everyone should practice compassion because it’s the right thing to do, not because the religion says it is.  Our soul knows the right thing is to practice compassion for others.  Making the choice to show compassion, affection for others, is what makes you happy.  Affection is necessary for survival.  The mother child bond of nursing, for example, makes for a happy person.

In the morning session, the topic was our environment. Our own personal environment, our community environment, and the global environment.  The Dalai Lama was joined by Andrea Durbin, Executive Director of Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, David Suzuki, all of whom were introduced by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.

All agreed that the focus on consumption as a measurement of economic growth was ruining our environment, personally, in our country, and globally. They suggested that we determine a system whereby our focus isn’t on money but what really makes us rich.  That we re-use, re-cycle. That we do not export natural resources that will pollute another country. That we ban toxic chemicals and products. That we find other ways to obtain the energy and food we need. That we learn ways to shrink our carbon footprint.

I always enjoy hearing a discussion on re-purposing and recycling.  I grew up in a household where our carbon footprint was no bigger than the piggy who went wee, wee, wee all the way home.  We were poor and being poor necessitates knowing how to grow your own food, how to wear hand-me-downs, how to make your own…anything.  How to can, freeze, and dry food products.  How to make what you do buy last, how to think before you toss.  I remember my mother telling me that after my father’s mother cleaned up vegetables for the table, she took the scraps and boiled them to make broth.  The same with chicken bones. 

My father could fix almost everything and invent almost everything he needed on our farm.  I’m hopeless at that, but my sister can do it. My brother does that.

Most of what I learned from my parents and grandparents growing up, I do myself, not because I have to, but because it’s fun.  I preserve the food we grow so I know what’s in it.  No Roundup-infused or GMO food on my plate. I make my own laundry soap, cleaning products, and some beauty products. I grow my own herbs and make my own teas.

When I noticed my friend Linda washed her Ziploc bags and used them over and over, I realized this made sense and I’ve done the same ever since. My mother washes and saves plastic wrap. She washes and saves plastic silverware.  I don’t do those things. I don’t save the dishwater and throw it over the flower beds like my grandmother did, but I think it makes sense. I wish our house had a retrieval system for gray water so it could be re-used.  Why aren’t houses built that way to begin with?

For that matter why aren’t houses built with solar panel roofing materials? Why aren’t little windmills in our backyards?  Why don’t our exercise bicycles hook up to the electric grid so we can generate our own electricity while we pedal? Other countries do this.  Why don’t we? My friend Rosemary and her husband tried to do some of these things when they built their new home but they found the costs involved were prohibitive.  Why is that?

I love that in my little town the young mothers get together once a year and bring all their outgrown baby and children items to swap and trade.  I love it when grown-ups do the same thing with their clothing.  That’s what my parents, their relatives, and friends did when I was growing up and it just makes sense.

I love that in Portland young people are embracing this lifestyle rather than one of full-out consumption without regard for finite resources. They’re finding out that this way to live is meaningful, productive, creative, and fun.

In the afternoon session, His Holiness was introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer.  The Dalai Lama was presented a Trailblazer cap and jersey with the number 14 on it.  He said he couldn’t use the jersey, but the cap came in very handy, and then he put it on so the light wouldn’t be in his eyes.  He spoke of the need for compassion and understanding we all are interconnected, so what we do to one, we do to all. Therefore, we are all better served if we treat others as we would like to be treated. Treating others with compassion means that compassion will come round to you. My husband has found his joy in mentoring neglected and tortured youth. Teaching was my career, which also often requires mentoring neglected and tortured youth, being compassionate even though the ego feels something else entirely. I know lots of people who love unconditionally day after day and so do you. Those are the people you love.

When asked what to do when confronted with the overwhelming negative news stories we see daily, he said that if you can make a change for good regarding a negative matter, then work to make the change happen. If it’s not possible for you to make a change for good to happen in some matter, then work on something else where you can make a difference. That will bring you joy.

When asked what we can do to help make Tibet its own country again, he said that 400,000,000 people in China are practicing Tibetan Buddhists even though they are Communists.  In other words, China is becoming Tibet instead of Tibet becoming Chinese. Hee-hee-hee. (giggle) China now needs, with all its pollution and climate problems, the Buddhist solutions.

            When asked what to do when things change, like climate change for example, he said that if change happens and there is no way to reverse that change, then you need to change yourself in order to deal with the new.  It’s that simple.

            Here’s the thing.  If we are interconnected and your soul and my soul are from the same place and if nature is also like that and connected to us, then why would we want to hurt ourselves?  Why would we disregard ourselves?  I think compassion and taking care of ourselves, others, and the Earth are the things we are here to learn.  They are also the things I forget from time to time when I'm ensconced in my ego.

          I’m so glad, then, to be reminded of them in the books I read, the music I listen to, the films I watch, the relationships I have—which are all, by the way, my choice, the way yours can be your choice—and I am honored to have been reminded of essential truths once again by a representative of unconditional love and right living, His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Last Sunday I did something good for the planet, something I’d been planning to do when recovering from my knee replacement. Pain pill effects got in the way, so sooner became later, but determination and the two-foot tall pile of catalogs we kept having to walk around and move from place to place on the couch finally sealed the deal. 

In the last two months my husband and I have received 105 unrequested, unwelcome catalogs in the mail. I had noticed the pile burgeoning during those two months, but until I actually counted them, I had no idea there were so many. I knew they arrived in our post office box every day, giant wads of them that we then were obliged to carry to our car and home and then our garbage can and that alone irritated me. Now that I know how many avalanched into our mailbox, no wonder I felt aggravation mounting. 

The past holiday season, when the baskets I lugged were full, not with gifts, but with catalogs, I decided I needed to give Catalog Choice another chance to ease the barrage of unsolicited marketing in our mail. Have you heard of Catalog Choice?

Back in 2007, wondering what to do with my proliferating pile of waste junk mail, I came across the website and voilĂ , there was my answer. I typed in the proper box the name of the company sending me the catalog, any numbers and codes associated with my name, hit the “submit” box, and my problems would be solved, or so I hoped.  The amount of catalogs force-fed into my mailbox dwindled.

Some companies, however, did not comply with my wishes to terminate the one-sided relationship.  Their spokespeople told Catalog Choice that they made more money by sending out catalogs willy-nilly than by any other form of advertising, so they refused to stop. Those catalogs I kept receiving.  Even though I refused to buy even one product ever again from those companies, mailing lists containing our address were sold to other catalogs, and again we’d arrive at the post office to find a box crammed with mailings we hadn’t asked for.

While that was inconvenient, what really bothered me was the thought of so much waste of resources, all that timber being cut, all that hauling on our already overtaxed highways, and all the flying using so much gasoline, a non-renewable and shrinking resource. The accumulation of printing by-products so toxic to our environment upset me.  I thought of the metals in the ink used and wondered how that broke down in the landfills, and here on the coast where it rains most of the time, the watersheds.  (In my dad’s time when outhouses were common, at least the catalog pages could be used for another purpose, but we don’t have an outhouse, and I wouldn’t want to use the toxic ink and tough, slick paper for such a delicate task anyway.)

According to Wikipedia, three main environmental issues with ink are volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), heavy metals and non-renewable oils.  I don’t know that the ancient Tibetan techniques of making ink from soot, earth, puffballs, dung, fruit and a yellow fungus were any better. 

Working as a printer can be hazardous to one’s health, a fact I wasn’t happy reading since my son spent several years in that occupation.  VOC’s are emitted as the ink dries; the metallic pigments can result in environmental and worker health hazards; and the main oils in non-vegetable based inks are petroleum-based, non-renewable resources.

I felt gratified to read that in recent years more companies in the UK and USA are reverting to vegetable-based inks again which have lower VOC’s, use renewable resources, and utilize non-metallic inks which come off when the paper is recycled. Also, the process doesn’t use water in the print process where it had been before, thereby rendering it another toxic by-product.

I’m thrilled to see that our post office now has a row of recycling bins lined up to take the catalog offal away where I assume it’s being re-used in a beneficial way.  But still, what a waste of resources and time to produce something undesirable and rejected.

Worries about sustainability aside, I also thought about all the human labor in writing, photographing, printing, and assembling a catalog.  The postage.  What must be a huge cost for a company, all totaled, so a catalog could be sent to someone who didn’t even want one. 

Because by 2007, and even more so now six years later, most of our shopping in our little rural town is done online.  We google the product we want and go from there.  Yes, we use electricity and a computer /keyboard made from toxic materials, but we’re not tossing them out every day.

That’s why last Sunday I sat down for a couple of hours and typed 105 names of companies into my Catalog Choice account. Two companies have already received my message and one has responded with an assurance I will not see another catalog from that source. The planet and I are awaiting some relief.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


That was the best advice I ever learned, the most empowering message I ever received as a teacher,  and it came from one of my teaching colleagues, Bryan Marvis.

In the midst of a day-long misery of classes in a workshop designed to teach us yet another new method of writing performance goals and student objectives (which came along every ten years, torturous state mandates designed to waste time better spent in the actual act of teaching), Bryan burst from a classroom into the hallway where I was chatting with another colleague.

“What are you doing?” I asked, because he was a dedicated and excellent teacher and I was surprised to see him not involved in every second of what the district had planned for us that day.

“I told my superintendent that my time is valuable and if any session I attend is not valuable or well-presented, I’ll be walking out to do something more useful with my time.”

Wow!  Up until that time, while I’d felt the same way, I’d never actually got up and left.  Wouldn’t I be considered impolite?  Wouldn’t I get in trouble should my principal hear about my actions?

Bryan taught me that the action goes both ways.  A teacher owes it to his or her class to be prepared, informative, and structured. Every step of a new learning needs to be presented and measured before the next step is taken. And while every teacher had to take a methods class so we’d know how to teach to a variety of learning styles, the “experts” brought in to instruct us adults rarely used any method other than the “read the overhead transparency while I say it aloud” method. 

Since that day, I have left workshops, sessions and classes if they did not deliver what their advertising said they would. I’ve left if the teacher did not employ several learning-style methods. If the instructor was not structured, telling me where we were going and where we’d end up. If the educator clearly did not know his subject matter or blew off questions asked by students.

I hold the firm belief that if a person is going to teach a class of any subject matter, he or she needs to know how to employ all methods of learning styles and multiple intelligences.  At the very least, he or she needs to tell the students what they will accomplish during the class, what the final outcome will be, and the steps it will take to get there.

At first, I felt I needed to make up a reason for leaving a session, such as simulating an uncontrollable cough or intense need for the restroom.  Often I said, “Excuse me,” as I went.  Later, I felt such untruth was not fair. The person in charge needed to know he or she was lacking in some way, otherwise how would subsequent change occur?  Now, I just go.

And that’s what my husband and I did last Saturday after enduring 2 and ½ hours of a workshop we hoped would improve as it went along. Who was it who said hope is nectar in a sieve?

“Winging it” is not an acceptable teaching method.  Neither is rambling. Neither is rampant self-promotion or story after story about oneself. If the announcement of your class promised learning the specifics you need to know in your chosen career, let’s say, how to set up a blog, how to use Facebook and Linked In to market yourself as a writer and how to tweet, then those are the exact things your attendees are there to learn. Each person should know how to do that at the end of the workshop.

We had arrived at the hour the workshop was to begin only to find it in session and the section we’d signed up for set an hour ahead.  We left to explore a section of town about which we knew nothing except that I’d lived there until the age of three and where my house had been was now an industrial warehouse.  We drove about and got turned around in our discoveries.  We made it back to the appointed spot five minutes late but it didn’t seem to matter.  The part we’d come for had already started at some point earlier. People got up to make tea or have coffee or use the restroom when we came in and a few minutes later we all settled in for the rest of the workshop where we would be taught what we'd come for.

Only teaching never occurred.  We were shown (the only teaching device of the entire workshop) on a computer screen a curve that was supposed to show us that if we weren’t famous, our blogs would never be read by very many people anyway.  That was mighty inspiring.  Then the entire class was not shown how to develop a blog.  But if we really wanted to write one, we were given the name of two blog hosts and it took other class members to mention several more.

After an hour I used the restroom again.  I couldn’t sit there surrounded by emptiness of fact any longer.  I came back and it was as if I had not left.  Nothing was still happening.  Then I checked my e-mail accounts and Facebook, not so surreptitiously.  Nothing was still happening.  The woman at the end of the table sitting between my husband and I was furiously typing through all of this, probably creating two or three chapters on her next novel.  Once she instructed the instructor on some point the instructor misconstrued.

When attendees asked specific questions as outlined in the advertising matter, the instructor either blew them off saying an e-mail with that information would be sent, or telling them they really didn’t need to know that aspect of social media to be successful.

We moved on to the topic of Facebook, and attendees were not shown how to set up a Facebook account or use it for marketing. My husband left to use the restroom.  Because a student asked a specific question about privacy, another student showed her the settings cog so some did learn about that.

Someone asked about Linked In and we were all told it really wouldn’t help us at all since that was for business.  Even though, for some of the people in attendance, writing IS their business.

Another asked about Twitter and was told that tweeting wasn’t important in spreading the word about our books. In other words, according to the instructor, everything every person came to learn how to do in order to market their books, as advertised, was not necessary and was not taught.

I looked at my husband.  He looked at me. We both nodded, gathered our empty notepads, rose from our chairs, and departed. We gave it the old Bryan Marvis play. We agreed the best part of the whole afternoon was the town tour we'd given ourselves and the lovely building in which the workshop was housed.

Bless those other attendees who, like us, paid their $70 to learn not much of anything.  I want to tell them not to give up and to keep their ear out for someone who really CAN teach them what they want and need to know. But if they choose another session where nothing is being taught by someone with negligible teaching skills, I hope they get up, gather up their belongings, and leave.

As for Bryan, he was a great teacher. 

Monday, January 14, 2013


I learned from Mrs. Dietrich in my 9th grade Home Ec class that one should spread the butter or mayonnaise or mustard or peanut butter—whatever is on your sandwich—clear over to the edge of the bread.  Of course.  That makes sense.  Who wants to eat bites of just two pieces of bread, unadorned?  I might not want to eat the crusts of my bread but I want the good stuff going all the way up to the edge.  Why hadn’t I thought of that on my own?  Spreading the filling to the edge of the bread was one of the best things public education taught me.

I feel sorry for people who haven’t learned the proper technique.  Why haven’t they figured it out yet?  Wouldn’t the results have told them? Some of those people work in the restaurant business. Don’t you just hate that teaspoon-sized plop of spread right in the middle of your sandwich, bordered by dry bread? I make the server bring me extra spread.  I don’t buy that sandwich a second time.  I’m not a fan of shoddy output, especially if it takes my time and energy to make it right.

What I learned is truly a life lesson, a metaphor for making your life the best it can be.  If you do things half-assed, you are going to end up without the richness and fullness of doing something the right way.  Why bother to do whatever it is in the first place if you aren’t going to go all the way with your endeavor?  If you are doing something for someone else, you are going to receive a lot more approbation for your best effort than for a sloppy, halfway attempt.  You save yourself a lot of work, too, and maybe money, if you do the job right the first time.  You feel better about yourself because the inner you knows the difference between halfway and the right way. You can taste it.

Everyone notices the difference when you spread the filling to the edge of the bread.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013




Clothing styles today make me growl like a caveman in despair. Reasons aplenty abound for my angst. 

The fabrics are all thin now, even in jackets and sweaters. That means instead of one garment, one must layer, and layer and layer in order to stay warm. Great for the profit margin of clothing manufacturers, but not so great for my budget bottom line or closet space.  Those fabrics are all stretchy, too, so a person has to pull and pull to get something off.  Getting naked takes a long time.  One does have those occasions when speed is of the romantic essence.

I enjoy modesty.  I do not enjoy necklines revealing what very few of us should be seeing.  I’d like to pick and choose who gets to see my cleavage, thank you very much.  And yet, I find it difficult to find dresses and blouses without necklines plunging deep into body crevasses.  There are times, and places and I want to be the one deciding.

Wool and some synthetic fabrics and I do not get along anymore.  I don’t want to be pricked or slimed. What’s worse, that slimy fabric reveals every ounce of me and I don’t like it. Again, there are times and places and I want to be the one deciding. I like soothing fabric, the kind that hugs or drapes and billows.

The sleeves on blouses, tops, tunics (whatever you call them), dresses and even some jackets are short, short, short, about the size of those colonial-style, polished silver drawer pulls you can fit all four fingers under.  They are little afterthoughts, flaps of material that don’t deserve to be called “sleeves.”  If a person happens to have fat, fat arms like I do, they look ridiculous.  If a person has medium-sized or even normal arms, they still look ridiculous.  They look fine on the arms of 10 year-olds, but that’s where I draw the line.

What sadist thought of putting two buttons above the zipper on a pair of pants?  When I have to go, I have to GO and I don’t have time to unbutton two buttons and THEN unzip my pants.  I understand the buttons on the waistband, which now is really a hip-band in most pants, can keep the crack-baring slippage to a minimum.  And really, I like the hip-band kind of pants, the “mid-rise” I believe is the term, because that’s how my body is shaped and normal pants set the waistband close to my bra band in order that the crotch not be at my knees, but that two-button thing has got to go.  In the meantime, I button only one, and hope for the best.  I confess, this method is for going out in public pants, only.  At home, I have reverted to the elastic waistband stretch pants. I can do yoga at a moment’s notice, for one thing.  But the most important reason for this fashion decision is that with one tug down and over, you are ready to go.

Every color of fabric is not available every year.  And anyone can tell what year you bought a particular piece of apparel by its color.  Remember the pink (gack!) and purple years? The brown and turquoise years?  The peach and turquoise years? The orangy-reddy-peach with brown years? This past year was the darker hue of turquoise tending toward teal but lighter (turqteal?)with several colors year.  I’ve enjoyed this year.  

I like red.  Red hasn’t been the color of choice since when, the late 60’s-early 70’s? That makes it difficult to find something new in a color I like.  For that reason, I wear a lot of black.  Black goes with everything even though people think you’ve been in mourning the last 20 years.  It goes with my coloring and makes the wearer look thinner, so I’ve been told. Black is my go-to color.  Just not on my bathroom tile grout.

I love fashion and I love style.  I know how to mix and match and use single pieces for years so they still look fashionable. I wore a collarless blazer for 20 years that my mother had worn in high school and then passed on to me after she'd worn it 20 years. I passed it on to my niece who wore it forever.  It was red and warm. Clothing used to be like that.  Please, could we have that again?


Today I was telling my water aerobics friend about another of my students who had just sold the movie option rights to her book.  My friend said, “You must be very proud of her.”

I said, “I am.  I’m proud of so many of my students, the choices they’ve made and the lives they lead.”  I feel like a big sister, a good friend, an auntie, a mother or a grandmother to so many of them.  If you teach, you can’t help loving.

My friend sighed, and said, “You did BIG things with your life.  All I did was little things.”

I’d never looked at it that way because I’d always thought I’d done little things, gauged by the BIG things other people had accomplished.

Then I thought back to when I had to turn my gut feeling and an ugly truth into action.  That is the most difficult thing for me to do in my life because I want my actions to be the right thing to do according to the situation. It’s always been hard for me to make a decision and act on it. To act, you have to believe in yourself. You can talk to friends until they are sick of seeing you coming, but nothing changes unless you take the action. 

I needed to divorce my husband and I needed custody of my son because too much damage had been done already.

My father-in-law’s attorney, the only one I knew, said he couldn’t help me but he knew an attorney who could, and he took me to the other’s office.  The attorney listened to my story, so difficult for me to tell, and he believed me.  What’s more, he believed IN me.  That “little” thing was the one thing I needed.

As life unfolded before I left that town, friends and other professionals came to me and told me how glad they were I had taken the action I had.  My friends said they hadn’t felt they could say what they knew because what I did had to be my choice, although one of my friends did spur an investigation I learned later.  The professionals kept quiet because my father-in-law was an important, powerful man in that little town, but they all knew of the depravity in which my step-children, child, and I lived.  Once I acted, these townspeople felt free then to comment how glad they were I had escaped.  I felt free and my son and I fled to another life.

When we are in a world of hurt, sometimes all we need is one “little” thing to escape, just one person to affirm and validate us.  I tried to be that person for my students.  I try to be that person for the people in my life today. 

I told my friend that she may see the things she does as little things, like daily checking on a 90-year old neighbor, or taking care of a friend’s dog, or mediating in a dispute.  But to the people she helps, that little action is a BIG thing.

Little things add up to something huge. Usually they cost nothing but time and love.  They cause a tide of goodness and kindness. It’s the little things that facilitate the big things. If you do the little things right, you change the world into a better place to be.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


(My nomination for newest literary genre)

Our spiritual teachers have advised us that we cannot achieve inner peace if we complain.  I understand that we should instead feel gratitude and seek out ways to feel grateful.  We do feel better and our world does better with our change in perception.

However, I believe that in order for gratitude to find its place within, take seed and grow, we must empty out whatever is taking its place, and the best method for doing that is a literary genre unto its own, the rant.

Dylan Thomas urged his father to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”  What more proof than that do you need?

Once you get things off your chest, then you have space to breathe.

My friend and I, who both had careers in education, employed this technique for ranting:  We packed an overnight bag, headed for the nearest big city for some shopping and some theatre, and then we jumped in either her car or mine.  We called whichever car it was the “Ventmobile.”  Each one of us got at least five minutes, maybe ten if the story was complicated, to rant at our heart’s content.  We listened intently to the ranter, either quiet or cheering like call and response, “Amen! You said it, Sister!” 

When we finished, we were detoxified.  We’d accomplished an energy shift and we felt incredibly better than when we’d boarded the Ventmobile.  We had space to be happy and giggle and breathe and wonder and be inspired. We filled that empty space with fun and happy memories.

One of my writer friends is an expert at the rant.  I love listening to her whether I share her peeve or not because her energy crackles and sparks in the telling of her story.  Even if she’s writing the rant, I can feel how involved she is right then in her life.  She’s not sitting comatose in front of her TV.  She’s engaged and alive.  And usually funny. Speaking her truth and getting over herself.

Holding anger in destroys the liver.  If we don’t rant, we fall ill.  Rants are like taking a spiritual poop.  They help us get centered, make a change, feel grateful.  Often I find connections with others as well, because they share the same pea in the shoe, thorn in the side, bur in the butt gripe that I do.  Conversation ensues.  A good rant leads you at its end to the question, “So now what are you going to do about it?” The answer will help you form a plan of action.

Messages from recent meditations have told me in various ways that now is the time for me to work on the throat chakra, the speaking the truth chakra, that turquoise Adam’s apple.  If I’m receiving the message, I feel honor-bound to heed its intent.

The Universe is ready for me to rant.  I’m going to have me some fun. Stay tuned for rant number one, soon to follow.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Sunlight gone viral
eats the frost hour by hour,
shrinking roof lines
shadowed on the lawn.

Consider my tilt, the ice.
Mark, too, your searing flare,
the void between.
Our bodies
so close
so far away.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Endings, the ones you know are coming, are never what you had supposed they would be.  Sometimes, another day passes and what you were, you aren’t.  Sometimes there is fanfare and a big to-do, but when the door closes, life on the other side keeps going without you. It’s up to you to figure out what to do with this side. And sometimes what you thought would be ending, doesn’t.

What I’ve enjoyed the most about my husband’s retirement from the Justice Court bench is that there will be no more middle of the night phone calls asking for a search warrant. That’s an ending I can sleep right through, night after night.

Today I accompanied my husband on the last day of his monthly stint as Cannon Beach Municipal Judge.  However, what was supposed to be his last court day, wasn’t. Instead, he was asked to come again next month because his replacement has not yet been chosen.  We didn’t know that, though, before court, so I sat through court and watched him preside for what we both thought was his last time. 

He asked a young man to take off his hat in respect for the court.  The kid had gotten a ticket for taking his parents’ car without their permission, and driving.  He wasn’t apologetic for that at all.  Will I sound like an old geezer if I say that no one teaches manners anymore?  Even geezier if I say no one teaches the difference between right and wrong?

I remember (yep, here it comes) back in 1968 when I began teaching in Burns, Oregon.  The judge, who was also the judge for the neighboring county, came once a month and the first thing I learned in that town was that the judge was loved and feared.  Everyone wanted to behave just to not have to appear before him.  The courtroom had to be absolutely silent during all the proceedings (not even whispering) and men had to remove their hats.  If either rule was disobeyed, he shouted at them and sent them from the courtroom.  A standard for proper behavior was set and expected.  If parents didn’t teach that, or teachers, or Sunday school teachers, someone did.  People still made poor choices regarding right and wrong as they have since Adam and Eve, otherwise why would there be need for a court of law?  But everyone with a lick of sense in Harney County took off his hat and shut his mouth in that courtroom. And they wore decent clothing as well.  No tank tops with rather indelicate language and logos splashed across the front.  My judge has had to ask young men to turn their offensive shirts inside out and leave their manure-laden barn boots in the hallway.  But, I digress.

Another young man appearing before my husband today had not done any of the work he was supposed to do in order for his MIP to be dropped, not a lick of it in seven months.  He asked for another month in which to complete his assignments.  He said he’d been moving to another city, and settling in, looking for a job. The judge was not pleased with the young man’s laissez-faire attitude but gave him another month, along with a reminder of the six-month jail sentence he would receive should he not comply. The judge did not comment on the young man’s earring holes the size of 50-cent pieces.  Self-torture is not against the law in Cannon Beach, I guess.

I remember (yep, once again) when one of my students returning from traffic court told me she believed no judge should never let off first-time speeding or MIP offenders because then all they learn is that they can do something at least twice and get away with it. Out of the mouths of…teens. And SHE had just gotten away with speeding for the second time.  I think she was wise beyond her years.  A terrible driver, yes, but wise. This is what I learned from my parents: NO! means NO!  The truth is, difficult as it is to stick to what you say as a parent, teacher or official, those receiving the NO! appreciate, sooner or later, that big STOP sign at the end of their noses. 

Yes, I digressed again.  After all, I didn’t get in trouble for it the first time.

The docket contained more miscreants and scalawags who either expected to be forgiven for driving 68 mph in a 55 mph zone “because it’s impossible to see my dashboard when it’s dark” or who just admitted their guilt and paid their fine. The court room finally emptied of all save the judge, the city attorney, the clerk and me.  Just when the judge prepared to adjourn the court, the city attorney worried that the woman in the red coat way in the back had not been heard.  The judge said, “That’s my wife.”

That has happened every time I’ve gone to watch my husband perform his duties.  Apparently to every attorney and official of the court, I look like a rogue, a scofflaw, a knavette.  An antique delinquent. 

The last day that wasn’t a last day yet ended with a laugh.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year Treats

Every New Year's Day since my husband and I have known each other, 34 years, we've enjoyed a celebratory walk.  And on every walk we take, at the turn-around point, we kiss. Here we are in Oceanside, Oregon, on the beach. It's a small thing, our ritual and who knows why we started doing it, but we like it.  Our society sorely needs positive, loving rituals.  My friend, writer Martha Goudey, says to celebrate the small things.  It's the small things that lead to bigger things in the long run. At least 34 years so far.

Sometimes it's important to change our perspective.  Look down instead of up.  Find something of beauty, something to love where you've never looked before.  We take our cameras everywhere we go as a matter of course because we never know what we'll find.  We take the normal "isn't that cool!" photos, and then, we find the extra-normal, the super-normal, the "Wow!" photos.  Here's what we saw when we looked down:



Beauty Salon
Change your perception and amazing things will occur!  And you'll still see the everyday beautiful like this:
Our first day of 2013 was glorious.  I hope that every day of this year will be, for all of us.  If we remember to celebrate the small things, change our perception, and be full of gratitude, they will be glorious days, indeed.