Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Precious Lord

I meant to get this up last Saturday, for Alice's birthday. A belated happy birthday, Alice.
Today's selection is "Precious Lord," composed by Thomas Andrew Dorsey(born July 1, 1899, Villa Rica, Ga., U.S. — died Jan. 23, 1993, Chicago, Ill.) He was a songwriter, singer, and pianist, known as the "father of gospel music." Born the son of a revivalist preacher, Dorsey was influenced by blues pianists in the Atlanta area. After moving to Chicago in 1916, he appeared under the name of "Georgia Tom," became a pianist with Ma Rainey, and composed secular "hokum" songs (those peppered with risqué double entendres). In 1916 he moved to Chicago, where he attended the College of Composition and Arranging. In the 1920s he toured with Ma Rainey and his own bands, often featuring the slide guitarist Tampa Red.
He wrote his first gospel song in 1919. In 1931, Dorsey experienced great personal tragedy. The death in childbirth of both his wife and newborn son devastated him. As he related in the documentary "Say Amen Somebody," "People tried to tell me things that were soothing to me … none of which have ever been soothing from that day to this." Out of that tragedy he wrote "Precious Lord," the song for which he is best known.
In 1932 he abandoned the blues completely and founded the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago. His more than 1,000 gospel songs include "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," "Peace in the Valley," and "If We Ever Needed the Lord Before." He recorded extensively in the early 1930s. Many of his songs were introduced by Mahalia Jackson. He founded and directed the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.
Credits : Frank Driggs Collection/© Archive Photos;]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mary Sings the Rose of Tralee

Well, dear hearts, this is an experiment.
I'm not writing much of my own these days - too busy running around to all the appointments and other obligations which life has so rudely imposed upon us. So I thought I might start recording some songs here on the blog.
This is my first effort - recorded with the headphone mic, so it's a little over-driven.
Aside from the technical roughness, this old song is a favorite of mine (and Rick's). I learned it to sing at the funeral of Alex Brannon. She asked me years ago to sing it at her funeral - it was her father's favorite song, she said, or at least one of his favorite songs, and that's what she wanted. When someone asks you to sing at their funeral you answer, "Of course! Yes! You bet I will!"
But that was years ago, and you can imagine my astonishment and consternation when Alex died last winter and I was called and told I needed to sing this song for her funeral. I had not learned it, alas.
But I learned it then, and sang it for the funeral, and have sung it a lot since. Once this tune wends its way into your head, you're hooked. It is charming, that's all I can say, and I hope you enjoy it.
And please get back to me with whether you think posting song videos is a good idea, and any suggestions. I'm on track to do it. I don't think I can do any material that is not my own, or public domain, and that's OK because I'm not getting any younger and when I go so will my songs. Except of course for The Way of Sex, which seems to have got up and flown around the world. Not that I get any credit for it, but it's nice to know I was the channel for a song so many people can relate to, and laugh with. Maybe that's the one I'll do next, if this works.
If I can't get it up on the blog, I may have to go to YouTube, but we'll see.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Greetings from the Northwest Kidney Center in West Seattle. We are celebrating Thanksgiving with a round of dialysis for Rick. We're feeling good because the urologist found no new cancer yesterday (yay).
I would have to say that this is the strangest or at least more out-of-character Thanksgiving I've ever experienced. Instead of working all day Wednesday and Thursday to put up a meal with all the trimmings, we spent Wednesday going to the urologist, trying to go to Costco but giving up because the parking lot was crammed full and it didn't seem worth the effort, a stop at Daniel Smith's artist supplies to get Rick some non-photo blue pencils and some pencil water colors. He told me that the last time he got some of those was in Germany, almost 50 years ago.
Then we stopped by Staples to get him some pencil-top erasers, because the non-photo blue pencils are eraser-less, and Target so I could get some naproxen sodium, and then we headed to the ferry after our full day in town.
And this morning we got up and caught a ferry back to town so Rick could do dialysis. I have been waiting to talk to someone about scheduling. Yesterday while we were gone we got a call from the scheduler here at the Kidney Center informing us that Rick would change to a Tues-Thurs-Sat schedule next week. Unfortunately, he is already scheduled for surgery next Thursday, so that's a conflict.
His surgery is to have an arterial-venous fistula put in. This is a procedure that ties an artery into a vain in the arm so the vein is made larger by the increased volume of blood, and then the vein is used for plugging in dialysis needles. Aren't you glad you asked?
Sooo...we need to work this out. Rick said yesterday that the hardest part of renal failure may turn out to be scheduling conflicts.
Yeah. That and the fear of DEATH.
It's almost one o'clock and Rick is about halfway through his dialysis. Roy & Becky invited me over to Roy's Aunt Margaret's, so I need to get moving here. I have not been able to get the attention of the charge nurse to talk about the scheduling problem. I need to do that, as well.
More later, as always.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I have been blessed with the friendship of another writer, Susan Bardwell, who lives down in Angleton, Texas, which is south of Houston. We were introduced by David and Jane Shepherd, who thought we might hit it off. We did.
Once in an email to Susan, I remarked that I always wanted to be thin, tall, and elegant, and instead I turned out to be fat, average, and sarcastic. She replied that we fat, average, sarcastic women are much more prevalent than thin, tall, elegant, women, and we should embrace ourselves as we are, and have a fat, average, sarcastic women club. After that we occasionally joked about being fat, average, sarcastic women.
Then one day Susan remarked that we are “tough old broads.” Yup, we're that, too, and after that we would talk about being tough old broads occasionally, and would buck each other up as we go through our rather complex lives by reminding each other of our tough old broadness.
Until one day I decided to combine the two and make them into an acronym. Fat average sarcastic tough old broads: FASTOB, for short.
So that's what a FASTOB is. Many of my best friends are FASTOBs. I'm a FASTOB. Are you a FASTOB? Welcome to the world of the FASTOB.

You can read Susan Bardwell's weekly column in the Angleton Journal, an online "paperless" that she and her husband produce. Check it out:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's Happening with Us

I'm sitting here typing in my netbook while Rick has his first dialysis.
First I must thank everyone for all the love, support, prayers, and good wishes sent our way the last few weeks. We have felt upheld and loved, and we appreciate all of that.
Thank you.
It would be difficult to write about anything other than what we're going through now. It's as if someone has slammed us both between the eyes with a two by four. Wham! Life as you knew it is over, and renal failure is what is important to you now. You cannot argue with this.
You may wonder why Rick's kidneys have failed. If you think you know, tell his doctors, because so far they haven't been able to pin down a cause.
We think it's life. Life can cause of kidney failure.
It's a shock to have everything stop suddenly and realize that your life is in danger, or your spouse's life. Really gets your attention. At the same time, you start hanging around people and places that make you realize that you are not special – there are a lot of people fighting for their lives at any given time, which is a humbling realization. It's a part of life that is usually out of the public eye.
Watching medical shows on TV is not going to tell you anything about what it's like to have a medical crisis. Those people are actors, those situations are scripted, and as Rick's nephrologist says, those shows are phony.
A nephrologist, by the way, is a kidney doctor, and nephrology has nothing to do either with Egypt or having sex with dead people. I know how you people think.
I observed the difference between reality and TV the first night Rick went in to the ER. He was given a blood pressure medicine which may have worked a little too well, and every time he made a rash move like, say, raising his head slightly, his blood pressure would plummet down to, oh, 49 over 29.
If you watch “House” you know that at least once in every show, someone cries out, “He's crashing!” and then three or four doctors are running around the bed like a Chinese fire drill, yelling at each other to do this, do that, and then someone delivers a shot of epinephrine, or shocks the person back to life with paddles, and then the show goes on with the temporarily dead person revived to suffer more camera-friendly, viewer-manipulating drama.
That is not how it happens. The spouse (me in this case) notes the patient is looking punky, goes out in the hall and grabs Jeff, the nurse, and says, “He's not looking good,” and then Jeff calls for help and a contingent of nurses, aides, and one (count him, one) doctor come in and they move swiftly, quietly, intensely, professionally, and efficiently, to take care of the problem, because, guess what, this has happened before and they have a protocol.
So they pulled Rick's blood pressure out of the basement a couple of times, and by the next morning the drug he'd been given had cleared his system, and they went to a less drastic blood pressure medication.
That was the first and only time I'd ever seen a nurse wrap a blood pressure cuff around an IV bag and pump up the cuff so the fluid would flow faster. I wish I'd taken a picture to send to the “There, I fixed it” website, but I didn't. Still, if you want that IV to drip faster, there's your methodology.
Rick made it through a week in the hospital with the doctors and nurses keeping him alive and watching him for signs that his kidneys would kick back in, but alas, his kidneys are done. Renal function has left the building.
So here we are at the Northwest Kidney Center, with Rick starting dialysis. This is what we'll be doing for three days a week for the foreseeable future.
We are walking a well-worn path. Many before us, many with us, and many after us will be dealing with this particular medical crisis. We are hanging in there together, with the support of friends and family, taking one step at a time, one day and sometimes one minute at a time. One of the paradoxes is that there is nothing like having mortality stare you right in the eye and breathe on you with breath more fetid than that of a 12-year-old black Lab to let you know you are fully, completely alive.
Funny, that.
We're still here, still fully, completely alive, still cracking wise and thanking God. Stay tuned for further developments.
Photo: that's Rick in the dialysis chair, with his nurse, Jean, looking on. Rick says he's getting pretty fed up with pictures of himself laid out in bed. Don't blame him. You can send him a get well card at: Rick Tuel, P O Box 238, Vashon WA 98070.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

William DeWolf Hopper, actor

I had planned to pay bills this afternoon, but the bill-paying desk is in the living room, and Rick is in there watching “20 Million Miles from Earth,” a cheesy space-monster-from-Venus flick made in 1957. Rick says that all the questions posed by this movie have one answer: it was made in 1957. The stop-motion Venusian starts out as a peace-loving vegetarian, but is driven to rage by the dumb people who corner it, poke it, hit it, stab it, and shoot it. After a few minutes of that treatment the Venusian gets pissed off. I found myself rooting for this beleaguered alien, then I realized I wasn't going to get the bills paid and left the room.
Monster movies aren't really my thing.
The big dumb handsome lead is played by big handsome William Hopper. I don't think the man himself was dumb. His parents were an actor named DeWolf Hopper, and Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist, whose maiden name was “Elda Furry.” Wow.
He was in many movies in the 1930s, served with distinction in World War II, sold cars in LA after the war until he took a role in “The High and the Mighty” in 1954, and after that worked regularly as an actor, and is probably best known for playing Paul Drake, a private investigator on the Perry Mason Show, from 1957 to 1966.
He died young, in 1970 at the age of 55, of pneumonia following a stroke, and is buried in Whittier, California.
William Hopper, ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Short Essay on How It Is

Monday Morning October 12 2009

This date used to be Columbus Day. We used to get a day off from school, I believe, although memory does not serve as well on that score as I'd like.
Rick and I are celebrating momentous things this morning: he's home from the hospital, and he's alive. Yay.
Although, as Rick says, this thing is not over by a long shot.
He went into the hospital a week ago today, in acute renal failure. His kidneys were shutting down.
This has happened before. Back in 1997 he ended up in renal failure when he thought he would “work through” prostate cancer as if it was a cramped muscle. The kidney problem landed him in the hospital, which is where they discovered the prostate cancer.
This time he got bladder cancer first, and then renal failure.
The docs are mystified. They don't know why he went into renal failure, or why he got better, which they said they did not expect. I of course have opinions about both: I think that the cancer surgeries, cancer treatments, and stress from overwork, which he did because he was stressed about money, all accumulated until his weak points – his damaged kidneys – caved in. I think he got better because he has hundreds of people praying for him all over the world, and because he finally got some rest in the hospital.
Sit. Stay.
Rick says, yeah, sure, all of that, but the docs are looking for something “more sinister.” His blood was taken twice a day while he was in the hospital, and they ruled out a blockage, and they sent blood away for some in-depth lab tests, the results of which we're still awaiting. He was released with instructions to have blood work every other day, to monitor his electrolyte levels, and he'll be going in to see Dr. Oliver, the nephrologist, on Wednesday. He's still in renal failure - “underlying kidney disease which has been exacerbated” by something unknown – but he's feeling better and doing better. Except for the cold he caught from our grand daughter, but that will pass, also.
Meanwhile, I've pulled out the Renal Cookbook that I bought the first time we went through this. We have to get religious about his diet now – no fooling. It's a whole new world. The renal diet tends to be in many ways exactly the opposite of what I am told to eat. It's OK for him to eat sugar and white flour, for example.
It is too overwhelming to think about everything right now. We're on the one-day-at-a-time plan at the moment. Rick rests a lot, which is good. I'm trying to get through that “hit between the eyes by a two by four” feeling.
Rick is feeling very happy about quitting smoking this morning. He had cut back to almost nothing before this hospital stay, and of course could not smoke while hospitalized. This morning he is feeling downright sassy about being able to chug up to the paper box and back without huffing and puffing.
We are OK, or as OK as we can be with Rick, as he says, “functionally dead.”
Like it says in the old talking blues about hard luck, I'm just waiting around to see what happens next.
More later, of course.

Monday, September 28, 2009


It has been a big week at Casa Tuel. My friend Sonya came to visit, and as often happens when someone who doesn't live here comes to visit, I went to see some of the sights and places I only visit when I'm showing out-of-towners around.
First, we had Big Box Monday: we went to Ikea, and we went to Costco. Normally a trip to either one of these stores would be enough for one day, but I was trying to comparison-shop cheap mattresses.
Recently a friend told me about an internet show called “Ikea Heights,” a mystery/comedy/soap opera that is filmed in the Burbank, California, Ikea, using the store's displays as sets, without the permission or knowledge of the store's management. The show is extremely silly. You have to assume that the Ikea management knows what's going on by now, but fans can hope that Ikea sees the show as free advertising and will not put a stop to filming. David Seger, the man behind the series, says there will be a new episode toward the end of this month. You can see the show at
Back to our tourism. Sonya and I found the Ikea mattress department, and along with a few other customers tried out mattresses. One or two were okay. Most were for people much younger and more fit than someone our age.
We headed off to the Southcenter Costco, which, like Ikea, is a huge place, but unlike Ikea, with its winding layout that intentionally disorients you, is wide open so you can see how big it is. We learned that there were no mattresses at Costco that day, which was a disappointment. The Christmas decorations were in, but that was just depressing. We walked out without buying a thing.
That shot our energy for the day and we wandered home.
Tuesday we shopped Vashon – Granny's Attic, of course, and various collectible shops. In a bit of shameless booster-ism I will say that shopping on Vashon is much more fun than shopping ashore. Takes less time and energy, you get to see your friends, and you don't have to get in line for a ferry to go home.
Wednesday we went to Seattle because I had a cardiologist appointment. Don't panic. It was just a check up to see how I'm doing, and I'm doing well, thank you. After that we went to Kerry Park up on Queen Anne Hill to have a picnic lunch Sonya had prepared, and soak in the view. The view has changed since I first saw it in 1972 – many tall buildings have grown up in downtown – but it remains breathtaking, looking out over the city and Elliott Bay. It was a warm and hazy day and Mt. Rainier was not visible. You'd think something that big would be a lot harder to hide.
After our scenic picnic I took Sonya to a bead store up on Stone Way. Sonya loves beads, and makes jewelry, so this stop was a hit.
After the bead store I took Sonya to see the troll under the bridge in Fremont, and down the hill to see the statue of Lenin, and then circled around to go by “Waiting for the Interurban,” then across the Fremont Bridge and around Queen Anne on Westlake, pointing in the general direction of the “Sleepless in Seattle” house which can't be seen whizzing by on the road, and from there back to the ferry.
Thursday we hit Granny's one last time. Sonya loves Granny's. Then I took Sonya to the ferry and wished her a good trip home on the train.
It was fun being a tourist with Sonya for a few days. Fun, and exhausting. Now I'm ready to go back to unpacking moving boxes. We'll get moved in again some day. One box at a time, friends, one box at a time, with occasional breaks for tourism.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Health Care Reform: Now Is a Good Time

President Obama is trying to pass health care reform. To many of us, this seems like a no-brainer. Why doesn't America take care of its people at least as well as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Seychelles, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and The United Kingdom?
People in this country are suffering medically, financially, and emotionally, because we do not as a nation take care of our own. I have heard people screaming about socialism because national health care is being proposed. I beg to differ.
Socialism, like Christianity, is an ideal to which many have aspired but few have put into practice. I believe that people are not afraid of socialism. They don't have the first idea what socialism is. They are afraid of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is an idea that has been put into practice many times, frequently by people who have claimed to be socialists, and we have seen that we do not like it.
Threatening people with socialism is an old bleat, and for some reason, to some people, still an effective one. People toss the word “socialism” around like PETA members throw red paint.
Speaking of red, when did Republicans become red? To an older person like me, who remembers when being accused of being red was a vile slander that could ruin a person's business and life, this whole “red is conservative” thing is confusing. However, I do feel a certain perverse joy in thinking of someone as one of them Republican pinkos.
But I digress.
I have heard people saying that if this socialized medicine scheme goes through we will not be able to choose our own doctors. This is an empty threat to me – we had to stop going to our doctor because my husband got health insurance at work and our doctor did not have a contract with that company. The doctor I go to now is a great doctor and the nurse practitioners in his office are great, and it is more than great to have health insurance, but it would have been nice to keep seeing the doctor with whom we had a history and whom we trusted.
If we were rich we could. We could buy health insurance from some one who contracted with our doctor, or we could pay medical expenses out of pocket. There are always options for the rich.
Are you rich? If the answer is “yes,” then, hey, no worries. For the rest of us – worries.
I wish President Obama well with health care reform. It's a long time coming. As a country we are heartless bastards about our poor, our hungry, our widows and orphans, our handicapped, our elderly, our veterans, our children. We pay great lip service to ideals of respecting and caring for the weak, the heroic, the young, and the indigent, but in fact we allow people to languish in poverty, to starve, go homeless, and die without giving them a thought.
See, it's like taking care of your teeth. Say you go through life expecting your teeth to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and take care of themselves. You never brush, you never floss, you never go to the dentist. If you're lucky, your teeth survive. It is more likely that your teeth will go bad. You'll end up with a sick, stinky mouth and a few dingy, ugly teeth that can no longer do for you what teeth are supposed to do. The health of your entire body will suffer.
That's what I'm saying here. The country that does not take care of its own is not a healthy country, and has cultural bad breath.
Support health care reform. It's a no-brainer. Even if you don't care about yourself, you might have children or grand children you care about. Do it for them.
And now I feel an urge to brush my teeth.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Montana, Parts 1 and 2

Montana, Part 1

Greetings from Kalispell, Montana, where the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and a local resident can give you much better directions than Mapquest. My cousins Nancy and Charlotte and I are on the road again.
Before setting out I made a list of what I needed, and yesterday morning the three of us were dancing around each other, packing (“I'm ready!”), and unpacking (“On second thought, I don't need this, or that, or those”), and doing last minute laundry. Then we packed the car (“We're ready!”) and then we re-packed it (“Wait – this will fit in here”).
Finally we were off, heading east on I-90, bound for adventure, old friends, and relatives unseen for forty years who live in Montana.
We stopped in Idaho to see the Old Mission east of Coeur d'Alene, “the oldest building in Idaho.” The oldest structure partially built by white people in the four-walls-and-a-roof style, that is. It is a Catholic Church that was built between 1850 and 1853 by the Coeur d'Alene Indians, and the Jesuits who came to settle there.
The Old Mission is a state park now, and the church building is almost empty inside, with a few sparse exhibits. The altar is there, as are two side altars with iconographic paintings and decorations. The hand-hewn floorboards are shiny with age and care, and behind the altar you can see the mud and straw construction that is covered by wood elsewhere. There are two pews up front facing the altar, and one kneeler. Engravings of the Stations of the Cross were hung around the walls of the church, as is customary in a Catholic church, and there were a few iconic paintings of saints.
One painting is of a happy priest or brother and a happy nun, with joyful saints fluttering above them in heaven and tormented souls capering in the flames of hell below. This one bothered me because I have problems with “scare the hell out of them” theology. Just my opinion.
At several places both inside the church and scattered around the property were stations where you could push a button and hear recordings of Coeur d'Alene storytellers. Charlotte and I listened to one tale of going up the mountain with grandmother to gather huckleberries and make jam over the campfire. Inside the church an endless loop played liturgical music and Indian prayer and song.
The Mission has a public restroom which turned out to be an outhouse. Clean, well constructed, well maintained, and if you sit down, a nice cooling updraft. The first, but not the last, of this type of facility encountered on the trip.
We kept going east from the Old Mission and stopped for a late lunch in St. Regis, Montana, where we discovered we had cell phone reception for the first time since leaving Coeur d'Alene, and like E.T., we called home. We also discovered in St. Regis that we had crossed into the Mountain Time zone. I had not thought about this happening. Suddenly it was one hour later. Cousin Charlotte assured me that I would get the hour back on the way home. Good. I'm getting older fast enough without dropping odd hours here and there. Another thing I did not know was that cellphones KNOW what time zone you're in and adjust their clocks to local time. This gave me a little bit of a heeby-jeeby.
From St. Regis we headed north up the Clark River, and then up the west side of Flathead Lake. Flathead Lake is a large body of water with miles of shoreline, waterfront cottages, little marinas filled with boats, and scenic roadside lookouts. To the east beyond the lake stand the Rocky Mountains.
At the north end of the lake sits the city of Kalispell, in a broad grassy valley with the Rockies on the east side and the Bitterroot Mountains on the west. I would say it is beautiful there, and it is, but beautiful seems such a worn-out, overused, and inadequate word to describe the area. This was a problem I would continue to have in Montana. Words can't describe the scope, the magnitude, the sheer drop-dead gorgeousness of the land. We went when the weather was sunny and fine and not too hot, so that may have enhanced the impression of heaven on earth.
We stayed in Kalispell for a couple of days, catching up with friends and family, and then we went to Glacier Park.
Next time: Glacier Park and heading home.

Montana, Part 2: Glacier Park*

When last seen, our intrepid spiritual smart aleck, amateur tourist, was in Kalispell, Montana. Here we pick up the narrative:
On Wednesday we loaded Charlotte's Camry and pulled out of Kalispell on Highway 2 headed for Glacier Park.
Kalispell is located in the grassy Flathead Valley. As you are driving on the valley floor heading east, the Rockies are in front of you, and there is an abrupt change from flat land to mountains. There is no gradual ascension into the mountains. There are no foothills. You just drive east and bam! Suddenly you're in the Rockies.
Soon Charlotte announced that we had just crossed the continental divide, and she pulled into a rest stop there so we could contemplate this fact. I've never crossed the continental divide in a car, only in trains and airplanes, so this was new for me, but I have to tell you, the divide itself is not more picturesque than the surrounding mountains. I took pictures anyway.
We drove on a while longer and suddenly we came around a turn and bam! There were the Great Plains! I was shocked. It only takes a couple of hours including a rest stop to drive through the Rockies? I was raised on tales of the brave pioneers crossing the Plains and then crossing the Rockies, and I always thought that the Rockies were a pretty substantial physical barrier, but if you cross on Highway 2 from Kalispell, not so much.
At East Glacier we headed north on Highway 49 to Highway 89. By this time we were on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. They were called Blackfeet because they wore dark moccasins, I learned. I always wondered about that.
We came to where a forest fire has left untold acres of dead burned trees on both sides of the road for miles. Finally we passed through the burn and came to unburned landscape and then to St. Mary, a little settlement from which you can enter Glacier Park on the Going to the Sun Road. We entered the Park, and headed west.
Now, many people over the years have raved to me about the beauty of Glacier Park, but now I've seen it and realize that there are no adjectives that adequately convey the beauty, the wonder, the awesomeness, the steepness and wetness and snowiness that is Glacier Park. So now I'm raving about the beauty of Glacier Park. You must go see it, and soon, because the glaciers are melting fast.
The Going to the Sun road was completed in 1932. It is just under 50 miles long, and is currently being re-built, one section a year for the next 8 to 10 years. It is two lanes of narrow, sometimes twisty, sometimes hair-raising road clinging to the sides of sharp peaks above deep valleys, taking you past the falls and vistas and flora, and the deer, bear, and bighorn sheep, and road construction, of the Park. If you're afraid to drive this road, there are park shuttle buses and antique red tour buses. It took us about three hours to wander from east to west.
The only wildlife we saw was one deer, a young buck grazing near a rest room near Lake MacDonald. We saw none of the grizzly bears which Park literature, rangers, and signs warn you about repeatedly.
We returned to Flathead Valley at the end of our day, and stopped for the night in Bigfork. The next morning we got up and went to Kehoe's Agate Shop, where we saw more gem and silver jewelry than you can imagine is possible, and where we also realized for the first time that Montana has no sales tax.
Then we had lunch at the Hot Diggity Dog hot dog stand in Bigfork, and headed for home, and the Pacific Time Zone, and at least one casino where Nancy won some money, as she always does. At the end of the trip we parted sadly, saying, “Next year, the Grand Canyon!”
I can hardly wait.
*Note: Officially it is Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park because it straddles the border with Canada.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Treasure: My Father's Letters

My mother passed on in 2001, and my brother and sister-in-law have had eight boxes of miscellaneous stuff stored in their garage since. The idea was that I would go down to New Mexico to sort through the boxes with my brother, but I never got around to it. They are moving house now, and are sending me boxes.
Yesterday I opened a box that contained all the letters my father wrote to my mother during World War II. My mother kept them meticulously, numbered in the order they arrived, with the date she received each one written on the envelope in her careful book keeper's handwriting. There are 247 letters.
In April, 1942, right after his thirtieth birthday, my dad enlisted in the Army in San Francisco. His first message, a postcard, has a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on it. He wrote:
“Dear Nita: It's now 8:45 A.M. & we'll be leaving at 9:00. I guess we'll go thru town about noon. You'll address me as pvt. until further notice. Your private, John” The post card is canceled with a postmark that says: “San Francisco, Calif. Apr 27 5:30 PM 1942.” They must have been traveling by train. The main line does pass through Watsonville.
His second letter is dated May 1, 1942, from Camp Sutton, North Carolina. “Dear Nita: Well, here I am in camp, and is it a dirty dusty hole. We had a good trip across the continent...We came in Pullmans, three in a section. I was lucky to get a pair of brothers as partners and they wanted to sleep in the lower together. So I had the upper all to myself all the way.
“This outfit seems to be a swell bunch of guys, but they're having a little trouble getting used to the army, so you hear quite a bit of grousing. I really don't know what to write you as I haven't seen much of this deal yet. But, anyhow, maybe I'll have more to tell. Until then, All my Love, John”
On May 2, he writes: “Dearest Nita: I just came in from my first day of drill, & what a mess...My writing is kind of shaky but we have no desks & I have to write in my lap. This camp wasn't even here a month ago & it shows it. All the comforts of hell.”
Reading that one I pictured my father writing on this piece of paper in his lap. I've done a little lap writing in my time, and am amazed at how that image made me feel connected to him as I held in my hand the letter he wrote in his lap in May, 1942.
He says he doesn't know how long he'll be at Camp Sutton or where he'll go after. “They don't tell us anything and when they do, they change it.” He says they are spending a lot of time making sidewalks with gravel, using large rocks for borders. In letter #3 he writes, “We live six in a tent, and I happened to get a swell bunch. They're all common working scrubs, like me. There are quite a few fancy pants city guys in this outfit, but I steered clear of them.”
On May 12 he wrote two letters. The first one begins: “My Dear Wife: I got three letters today. They were all very nice. You mentioned hearing Kate Smith singing 'Rose of No Man's Land.' I was listening to her at the same time I guess, from the Charlotte station. They must be on the same network...I was on Regimental guard duty along with about 40 other men from H.Q. Co. from 1 P.M. yesterday to 1 P.M. today...I volunteer on almost everything once, just to learn the ropes. But I haven't had any K.P. or extra duty, on acct. of I'm too good-? Some change. I volunteered in this mess tho, so I have no one to blame, so I might as well do it right.”
Postmarked the same day is a second letter: “Dear Nita: I just wrote you a letter, but I forgot to ask for a few things I should have. I'd like to have my slippers. All of my medium weight dress socks like I wore away. Maybe you'd better send all but the lightest ones including which work socks are good, then I can throw away what I don't want. Also I want the soap box out of that other kit. That's about all I can think of. So goodbye again. All my Love, John. P.S. G.I. Socks are strictly N.G. Love, John”
That's a sampling of letters 1 through 6. They give me a look at my father and a first hand report on what it was like for him during the war. I'm grateful that my mother kept these letters, these treasures. Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Drew is 24 Today

Hang the flags! It's Drew's birthday! It's also Flag Day, but it's always been nice to see the flags up on Drew's birthday.
Drew was born on a warm beautiful day 24 years ago, at Swedish Hospital. His brother was born at home, delivered by midwife Susan Anemone. Drew was delivered at Swedish, caught by a nurse-midwife who was called in to do the honors because the doctor had decided I had an hour to go before delivery and he went off to make phone calls and run errands, or something. We don't know where he went or what he did. We just know he was gone, and that we had to pay him for delivering Drew even though he didn't.
I had to go to the hospital for Drew because I developed gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with him, and no one would deliver him at home.
He had what was called a “precipitous birth,” meaning that he came out fast. The doc looked at me, said I was at 9 centimeters and it would be about an hour, and walked out. And then my body started pushing the baby out. My conscious brain had no control of my muscles – the nurse yelled at me not to push! Hah. Dream on, protocol girl. It was about two minutes from the time he crowned until he was born. This is not usual, I guess. Babies are supposed to come down the birth canal slowly, being squeezed into life. The process fires up the respiratory system, I've heard. Drew didn't get that.
He didn't breathe well at first. The attending nurse (protocol girl, not the one who caught him) slapped the soles of his feet to wake him up and get him crying so he'd start inhaling and exhaling. After those first few dicy moments, he was okay.
We headed for home that evening and missed the ferry we were trying to catch. “Well, Drew,” we said, “a great start to island life. You've missed your first ferry.”
Drew was a sweet kid. He had ear infections his first year that affected his speech development. He prefers to speak with his guitar these days, but I gotta tell you that when Drew talks, I listen, because he has good things to say, and some of the driest, smartest wit I've ever encountered.
I could tell you more: how school sucked for him (for both our sons), how music saved him. What a pleasure he has always been to have around. How he went and aced the GED exams when he was 18. How he's been employed since he was 16 or 17, currently at the Bone Factory, but he lives for playing guitar.
You can see him play on YouTube. Search for paperboy128, and have a listen. Happy Birthday, our Drew. Love you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dick and Jane's Spot in Ellensburg

Sometime back in the mid-1980s there was a feature in the Seattle Times' Sunday magazine that mentioned, and pictured, Dick and Jane's Spot, a one-of-a-kind art happening located in Ellensburg. Soon after I read about it, the trio played a gig in Ellensburg, and I insisted that we go find this place.
That was the first of many visits to Dick and Jane's Spot for me. Every few years I'd go back to see how things had changed – what was different, what was the same.
The Spot was the house and yard of Richard Elliot and his wife Jane Orleman, both artists, and friends of artists. They began in 1978 to make their home and yard an ongoing, ever changing art gallery for their own work and the works of others. It was meant to be fun, and it certainly is.
Jane is a painter, mostly, still. Over the years Richard became interested in making geometric works of art with reflectors, and patented a process for protecting the reflectors once he had them in place. He did several public art installations of his reflectors, which can be seen at their web page,
Dick and Jane enjoyed how much people enjoyed looking at their house and yard, but had signs up saying that it was a private home, and to please respect their privacy, so all the public got to see was the front yard, the exterior walls of the house and garage, and the fences that circled the place. The first time the trio dropped by, the north side of the house featured a painting (of Native Americans, as I recall, but my recall is shaky), and you had to walk around in a dirt parking lot to get a view. Now the City of Ellensburg has set aside a strip of land on the north side of the house so that you can walk along looking at the reflectors there without walking into traffic. The public art extended from the house to a series of “totem poles” on the north edge of that strip.
On a trip to the mysterious east about a month ago I went by Dick and Jane's Spot to see what was new and take some photos, and sign the guest book at the front corner of the property. It had been a while since I'd been there, and when I got to the guest book I was sad to learn that Dick passed away last November 19, after a fourteen month fight with pancreatic cancer.
After arriving home from that trip, I went to the web site to learn more about Dick and Jane, and was rewarded with rich images and the stories of two interesting human beings, who happened to be artists.
Jane chronicled her process of recovering from childhood sexual trauma through her paintings and writings. That's something you'll never learn from looking at the Spot, but it's there on the website, and her sharing is a great gift to others who walk a similar road.
So – here are my pictures from my last stop at the Spot. It's still there, and if you're in the neighborhood of Ellensburg, it's well worth dropping by. The Spot is located at 101 N. Pearl Street. Going east on I-90 you take the 106 exit and head north on Main until you get to 1st Street. Turn right, and you'll see the house on your left at the end of the block. Going west on I-90, take the 109 exit, and follow the same directions from there up Main. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Singing at 61

There was a time when singing and my voice were my identity, my reason for being. It mattered a lot that people knew I sang, and sang well. Then the songwriting started, and that became important, too, but perhaps never quite as important as singing.
So I sang. I sang solo; I sang in choirs (secular and church); I sang with my husband; I sang in the trio, Women, Women and Song. I kept singing. I'd walk on a stage and look out at an audience and say to myself, “I was born to do this!” Then I'd sing.
Singing for fun is a joy. Singing professionally is hard work, and I never got it all together. Singing professionally is as much about bookkeeping, touring, photographs, bios, trying to book gigs, and keeping yourself mentally psyched up to handle all the rejection and poverty, as it is about singing. It's a heavy burden to lay on a talent, assuming you have talent. There are plenty of people who have the business side together and do fine with musical careers with very little talent. You know it's true.
I have a little talent, a God-given voice that is pleasant to listen to when I'm singing to please. I never was as talented as I wanted to be. I wanted to be Joan Sutherland. The position was taken, so I had to settle for being Mary Litchfield, and that was a process of acceptance. I used to be mystified that people liked my voice. I didn't think it was all that great, because I wanted it to be so much better, by which I mean I wanted to have four good octaves and be a coloratura soprano diva. I had to settle for about two and a half octaves, the middle of which were good. Turns out that's what a lot of people enjoy listening to.
One thing I had going for me was that I had pretty good pitch. I sang on-key most of the time, and I've learned that singing that is on-key is relaxing for people to listen to. Singing on-key makes sense. Your body goes ah, I'm safe here. Even if you are not a singer and don't have a great ear, I believe you enjoy someone singing on key a lot more than someone singing off-key. On the American Idol show contestants are often told that something they sang was, “pitchy,” meaning, off-key.
I have a tendency to go flat, especially when I'm tired, and have come to appreciate accompanists and other musicians who tell me I'm off, so I can get the pitch up where it belongs.
There have been people who told me that I was obligated to sing, because my singing and songs had meaning for people. I believed that – I wrote a song: “Give yourself to your gift, bring your gift to the world.”Singing as obligation. Sigh.
From the 90s on I sang mostly in the church choir. When I became ill with mononucleosis and a few other pesky diseases in the fall of 2007, everything stopped for me. Even singing in the church choir. I was shocked. I still am. I thought I was supposed to sing there every Sunday forever. But I had to stop everything, and the choir went on without me, and so did the church, and so, to the best of my knowledge, did God. How 'bout that. Turns out I'm not indispensable. Which was OK by me, because I was so tired.
For the last year or so the only singing I've done has been at the nursing home. Every couple of months I go in and sing songs I learned from my mom. The residents and I have a great time together. We like each other. They sing along, and some of them are pretty darn good, so it's a real give and take.
I sang there yesterday, and realized that my voice is pretty rusty. That's understandable when I only take it out every two months. Then I considered that maybe it's more than rustiness. Maybe it's that I'm 61 and time is taking its toll on my vocal chords same as on the rest of my body.
That's true, I'm sure, but the rustiness is real, also, so this morning I set the timer for an hour and sat down at the piano to do some vocal exercises. I would like to apologize to any neighbors who happened to hear that. Limbering up my voice is not a pretty process. Never has been. I sound like a loud strangling chicken. I hit a high C this morning, and I don't think the high C will recover. I was pleasantly surprised that I could squeak it out at all, but stayed a good five whole steps below that for the rest of the workout.
My voice is developing the gargliness of old age – or the old lady whoops, I've heard them called. A vibrato that would knock a squirrel off the bird feeder. I'm not quite there yet, but I can hear it coming. It doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. It's kind of a relief, to tell you the truth. Now maybe people will get off my back about how I owe it to them to get out and sing.
So I did my scales and jumps, and agonized through a soprano version of Gershwin's “Summertime,” which was originally sung by a soprano who sounded like she never got much below high C. I decided I would do it to stretch the chords a little. Definitely not something I would do for public consumption.
After a while I got out the guitar and played a few standards (“Sweet Georgia Brown”), and then worked on some of my originals. I was embarrassed to realize I had forgotten the words to one. I considered again that when I go, those songs will no longer be sung.
Oh well. “Somebody else will take my place, some other hands, some other face...” That's from Malvina Reynolds' song, “This World.”
For now it feels good to have sung this morning, and to plan to sing again tomorrow morning. I'd like to see what's left of my voice after some of the rust is polished off. I'd like to sing those songs a while longer. Maybe go out and sing them in public, as my retirement hobby, if I don't sound too bad. We'll see.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Farmer's Daughter Gets Back to Her Roots

Many people are planting vegetables this year, some of whom have never gardened before. I gardened with great passion and little skill before I had children. We had a near-sunless, sodden little yard, but I planted in faith. There were squash: zucchini, yellow crookneck, and patty pans, my favorites. The squash did well, and covered the yard with their odd splintery leaves. I also tried to grow lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and corn.
One year I planted two rows of corn. At harvest each stalk had one perfect luscious ear. That small crop was worth all the effort – there is nothing in the world, that compares to sweet corn on the cob fresh from the garden.
I heard that horse radish was easy to grow, and mail ordered a root. Probably the less said of that experience, the better. Horse radish isn't easy to grow – it's impossible to stop. My husband hunted it down and killed it with a shovel after a year or two, muttering about clogged drain fields and warning me sternly that I'd better not plant any more of that damn stuff.
The lettuce and other greens were clear cut by the slugs, so I put in marigolds to repel the slugs and the slugs ate the marigolds, too. Then I tried putting cups of beer out, and the slugs obligingly crawled in and drowned, but then I had to dispose of the slug-slimed beer, clean the cups, and refill them with fresh beer. I began to feel like the dead slugs were having a lot more fun than I was, and I resented having to pay for all that beer. One organic gardening book advised going out in the morning or evening and picking the slugs up and putting them into a container and then...what? Dispose of them, somehow. One morning I went berserk and starting impaling slugs on a paring knife. “Die, die, you slimy sonsabitches!” I caroled as I wreaked my havoc. Within minutes I was sick to my stomach and sick at heart. I just don't have what it takes to wage a successful war, I guess. It was soon after that I gave up on vegetables. I realized that I enjoyed communing with flowers in my yard a lot more than the losing battle that was vegetables, and decided to buy my produce at the store and grow flowers.
After the babies came I gave up gardening. I would read magazines in which strong young women were pictured, working in their beautifully tilled gardens, smiling broadly, with sturdy compliant infants bundled into packs on their backs. I envied those women, and hated them. I wished I had that kind of energy and organization and will, and that kind of cheery easy child, but I didn't, so I'd sit on the rug on the living room floor with the boys and stack blocks with them and try to keep them from killing each other, and left the yard on its own.
I still had the longing, so I would buy plant starts. I developed a method which I have learned is quite common among gardeners: you bring home a plant, you put it into the yard or pot, you water it and if you really like it you give it a shot of fish emulsion now and then. You say, “OK, pal, you're on your own,” and then you wait to see if it makes it. If not – well, it had its chance, and you've had your learning experience.
This spring I decided to grow some vegetables again, but on a scale I could handle. I bought four wide, shallow pots, filled them with soil, and planted lettuce, spinach, green onions, and radishes. I also got two seed-starter trays in which I tried to start tomatoes. Their little cotyledons came up, their first leaves began to sprout, and then – something ate them. So much for tomatoes.
The lettuce, spinach, and green onions are coming along. Today for lunch I went out and thinned a few sprouts to throw into my turkey wrap. Not bad. I felt the warm glow of the farmer enjoying the fruits, or in this case vegetables, of her labors.
I've got my eye on the first radish that is plumping up in the radish pot. It will be ready soon, and I'm watching closely because I don't want to miss the peak of its perfection. Which is odd, because I've never really liked radishes.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two Things

This morning I decided to start the day by reading scripture: Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. This slender little book is holy writ to editors and writers, and I read it like a born again Christian reading the gospel: “Oh yes! Oh, sweet Jesus, yes!” My grammar is far from perfect, but I love reading the rules and the examples of perfection. I was pleased to note that in a series of words, “red, white, and blue,” for example, there needs to be a comma before the and, but in the name of a business or partnership, like, say, “Women, Women and Song,” the comma is not used. That's the kind of thing I worry about, and I was relieved to see that the authority on punctuation said that the way I always wrote the trio's name was acceptable usage.
Of course, I have also come to believe that punctuation is an art as much as a science. How you punctuate is the way you apply your verbal brush strokes. I still believe that periods, commas, question marks, and exclamation points go inside quotation marks, not outside, although I'm aware that that is subject to personal and cultural opinion. My personal opinion is “outside,” and that's how I'm going to do it.

There are few things so pleasant as a cool evening after a hot day. We open the windows and let the refreshing breeze soothe us awake from the torpor of the mid-day heat. I have always regretted that the price for such a delicious evening is to live through the blazing day. But there it is, summer again, with its rewards and punishments.
Today was hot and I felt like I'd run a marathon even though what I really did was sit on the couch with ice on my bad knee, folding laundry and watching the last two episodes of season 2 of “Breaking Bad.” This series is not an upper, but it is so well done.
Then when Rick came home we watched the 1974 movie, The Taking of Pelham 123. A remake of this movie is opening in theaters right now, with Denzel Washington in the Walter Matthau part, I believe. It was fun to see several actors as their younger selves: Matthau, Jerry Stiller, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo. It was also fun to see 1974 again – the clothes, the hair cuts, the cars.
Having turned in almost four hours of television watching, I didn't really think I should feel worn out, but I did. Then the sun went down, we opened the windows, and now, at almost midnight, with a cool breeze passing through and frogs and crickets whooping it up out in the night, I feel downright alert and energetic. Just in time to go to bed.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Making History

Greetings from a bright summer Saturday on Vashon Island, or as the natives think of it, “another shitty day in paradise.” OK, the natives don't think of it that way. I saw that on a t-shirt a guy was wearing in a documentary about the South Pacific Islands a few years ago.
It was warm yesterday and is on track to be warm today and tomorrow. Rick is recovering from yesterday's BCG treatment, and at the moment is playing Go Fish with our grand daughter Allysan.
Our older son JD is at WORK! Yay! The kid has a job! He's going to spend the summer with a shift running the register at the Chevron station up in town. His friend and music collaborator Charlie has the same job at Mom's, the 76 station south of town, so they figure they will be the convenience store kings of Vashon and will have plenty of grist for the rap lyric mill from their experiences.
Drew is still asleep. It's what he does during the day.
We had a busy week. Friend Sonya (you can see her above, getting prepared to drive back home on Thursday) came up on Monday and we had a good week together, hitting Granny's and the Lost and Found store, celebrating my birthday and Rick's, and visiting friends Alice and Becky, both of whom were under the weather (surgery, and pneumonia, respectively). And we talked of old times and old friends.
It is a great thing to talk with someone you've known for over 40 years, remembering our youth and the people we both knew then, telling each other more current news about the ones we've each kept in touch with. Some of them are gone now, including Sonya's ex-husband, Randy.
Randy was a storyteller, a punner, a bluegrass musician, and a welding major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, when I met him back in 1967. In that arid place and time, he ended up playing rhythm guitar and dobro in the rock band I was in. Thanks to Randy we were playing country rock before it had been recognized as a genre.
It was a little strange, especially considering that Van Webster, the leader of the band, had announced that he wanted to form a blues band. I was in it to imitate Janis Joplin as much as possible without the drinking and drugs. Bruce Willard was the bass player, “as loveable as a speckled pup,” as Randy said. Drummers came and went, as drummers do. It was in college that I began to suspect that all drummers were crazy. Crazy or not, there's something different about them.
We played at a coffeehouse in Cayucos every weekend for the first year or so, and finally gelled as a band. In 1968 we started playing for dances, private parties, restaurants, and bars, for which I had to put on make up and pretend to be 21, as well as appearing at Poly Royal, Cal Poly's annual “country fair on a college campus.”
One month I made $100 from singing with the band, and felt like I was on the road to prosperity. Turned out to be a really short road. All you musicians know what I'm saying.
Sonya was Randy's on again, off again, sweetheart in those days. She occasionally came down from Santa Clara to visit him, and that's how I met her. We became friends. Sonya took me on my first trip to a Salvation Army, the beginning of a lifetime of second handing.
My mother was mortified.
There may have been women at Cal Poly with whom I could have made friends. I guess I never met them. I wasn't interested, at the time, in meeting girls who were there to get their “MRS degree.” It wasn't that I didn't want to get married myself; I thought there was more to life than that, that's all.
Randy and Sonya married in 1970, I believe, down at Montaño del Oro State Park. We ate the chili which Sonya had prepared, tossing in clove after clove of garlic. The cloves all disappeared in the chili, which was a mystery to me. Where did they go? How could a whole clove of garlic just melt? I guess if you apply enough heat and time, that's how.
In 1972 I rented a room from them in their house in Santa Clara, where they lived with their infant daughter Mackedie. During the months I lived there Sonya and I hit the thrift stores, the tofu factory (deep fried tofu cakes...mmm), and the store that sold Deaf Smith peanut butter (heroin in a jar). We got into my '58 Chevy and drove up to Skyline Boulevard to enjoy the forests and fields and views up there. We went to see Funny Girl at a drive-in. “The shoes are all wrong for that period,” Sonya said. We went to the Montalvo mansion in Saratoga, which is now the Montalvo arts center. We went to the Winchester Mystery House and took the tour. We went to Cost Plus Imports and looked at the goods, and I bought a red enameled silver ring which is long gone.
We went and saw Dave Van Ronk in concert up at the winery on top of the hill overlooking Los Gatos. When Mackedie began to cry at one quiet point, Dave Van Ronk growled, “Broil that child.” Big laugh from the audience. “Fuck you,” Sonya said. This was an appropriate use of profanity, in my opinion.
Good times.
I was supporting myself by working for a temp agency, so it is amazing to me that we did so much in the few months, less than a year, that I lived with Randy, Sonya, and Mackedie, but we were young and having a good time. Friends came over to their house and we played music and ate great food and laughed a lot. I'm not sure why I moved out and came up to Washington to live, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. I came up here and met Rick, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It's all history now, but it's great to sit down with Sonya to relive a little of the past, and to go out with her and hit a thrift store again, and make more history.
Oh my gosh - got all the way through that and forgot to tell you what that other picture is: that is Dick and Jane's Spot, the house and yard that is art over in Ellensburg. That is a whole 'nother blog. We'll get to it in time.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Contingency Plan

It was on an episode of 30 Rock that Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) turned to Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and said, “What is your contingency plan for a crap storm of this magnitude?”
Or words to that effect.
Most people become aware that life is full of surprises. You know the famous quotes: “Life is what happens while we're making plans.” “When we make plans, God laughs.”
It isn't that setting goals or making plans is wrong. It's just that we never have sufficient information in advance to know what to plan, or whether a goal will be attainable.
Lovers leave, toddlers throw up, cars break down, someone we love becomes physically ill, or mentally ill, or dies. Our house turns out to have rats, or burns down (well, at least that takes care of the rat problem). Many of us have life histories of which we hope our children will never learn the whole truth, and our children grow up to have lives of which they hope we will never learn the whole truth. A drug dealer moves in next door, or maybe we end up becoming the drug dealer. None of us talked about that career track with the guidance counselor, did we? How many of us planned to get fat, or become addicted, or disabled, or to love someone who turned out to be unfaithful?
Sometimes we make plans and they do come to fruition and we realize, hey, this isn't what I want. Then some wise ass will come along and say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Then we have to resist the urge to whack said wise ass a good one up the side of the head.
So life is not perfect; in fact it is quite challenging at times. We get used to that. We learn to live life as it comes at us, and we try to acquit ourselves with grace and integrity. Most of us. We still make plans, but life happens, and we have to change our plans.
The peculiar thing about hardship and adversity is that it can lead us to faith in something greater than ourselves. How many times have you heard people say something along the lines of, “I never would have asked for this to happen, but it has made such a positive difference in my life?”
It's true. There's nothing like a really horrible turn of events to open your eyes to how you are surrounded by love, how noble people can be, and how precious life is. Your priorities get shuffled, and you realize that what you thought was important was getting in the way of what is important. What's important? Your relationship with the infinite; the love of friends and family; the joy in your heart when you wake up and think, “Wow, I'm still here.”
It might seem like a stupid idea, having to suffer to appreciate what is important and real. I bicker with God about this: “OK, I learned a lot, but couldn't I have learned it from a less painful experience?”
Apparently not. Life is a harsh but effective teacher.
So make your plans. Set your goals. Just don't get too attached to them. Be prepared to become educated. Have a contingency plan for crap storms. My number one contingency plan is to close my eyes, bow my head, breathe deeply, and pray: “Help.”
I've read organize-your-life gurus who seriously ask, “Where do you want to be in five years?” and I can only seriously answer, “I have no idea.” I have vague ideas. I'd like to be alive, and at least as healthy as I am now, and able to enjoy a slice of marionberry pie, a good read, a good laugh, and the love and companionship of my friends and family. Not necessarily in that order.
I can get along without the marionberry pie. I just don't plan to.

PLEASE NOTE: I am assuming that the photo of Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin is an NBC publicity shot. I found it on the Chicago Tribune site. If anyone wants me to take it off, please let me know and I will. FYI, I am not making any money off the blog or the use of this photo.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Allysan is 7

Today is our grand daughter's seventh birthday. We will be going down to Dockton Park where her mom and other grandmother are throwing a party for her this afternoon. It's a beautiful day, so the various adults and kids who show up will be able to enjoy the park, which has picnic tables, a little playground, public bathrooms, a swimming dock, and public slips where weekend sailors come out and tie up. There are also a few liveaboards anchored there.
I tried to sing Las Mananitas to her this morning, but couldn't remember all the words.
"How lovely is the morning, as we sing hello to you
God's early morning blessing, we're pleased to bring to you
On the day that you were born, the flowers came into bloom
On the day of your baptism, the saints rejoiced with song
The morning sun is rising and...mmm...mmm...through
Rise early this bright morning as we sing hello to you"

Yup, I need to look those words up.
I am remembering the night she was born. She came into the world about 11:30 at night on May 16, 2002. When the moment came she almost literally flew out - when I said this to her uncle Drew later, he said with amazement, "The baby caught air?"
Well, sort of. And the doctor caught the baby.
And here she is.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Practice of Forgiveness

I saw an old boyfriend of mine yesterday. He was smiling and raising his arms to the sky and talking about what a beautiful spring day it was. Maybe a little irony there, as it had poured rain all day. I smiled and exchanged a bit of small talk in passing, and we went our ways.
Afterwards I thought about how differently I perceive things now than I did all those years ago. I was in my 20s then, and I was madly in love for a few months, and then he dumped me. I grieved the loss deeply and went around cursing men in general and him in particular for the next year or so. Gradually I moved on to other disasters, and I got over it.
When I saw him yesterday I smiled at his upbeat goofiness, which was always one of his most endearing qualities. Then I remembered his deep depressions. Almost 40 years on I felt compassion for his suffering, and whispered a prayer for his ease of mind, and marveled at how easy it is to forgive now.
What seemed like the end of the world 40 years ago is now the understandable passion of a young person who was subject to the whims of loneliness and hormones and insecurity. I was afraid no one would ever love me. I was afraid I'd never marry, or have children, or experience the fullness of family life.
I got over that, too. Forty years down the road the marriage, the children, and the fullness have all come to pass. Wow. Especially the fullness. Many people are experiencing this unexpected fullness of family life in these hard times, but that's another story.
The thing is, I worked hard on forgiveness over the years. I worked at learning how to forgive and let go of old hurts and resentments. The first time I was able to say I had forgiven someone who had scarred me in childhood, I felt such a lightness of spirit and joy, and thought, boy, if people knew what a selfish act forgiveness is, they'd do it a lot more.
What I had not understood is that in forgiving you are not letting someone off the hook for their sins; you're letting yourself off the hook of carrying your resentment for their sins. I've learned that you can't forgive out of hand, immediately or because the preacher says you have to forgive. It's a mistake to try to forgive without dealing with your feelings about what you're forgiving. Forgiveness is not an intellectual choice. It's a shift in the gravity of the heart.
It gets easier with practice, and with time. The hormones and loneliness and insecurity lose some of their power to whack you around. When you're an adult most people are hesitant to be abusive to you, but when it happens you're more likely to realize that it's about them, not you. It still hurts, because you're human and you have feelings, but you know it's not your fault.
I'm not saying you never do anything wrong – don't go down that road. You and I and all the world will be screwing up until the day we die. That's another thing I've learned in 60 years. When I screw up, I try to make amends, except for the times when I really don't give a rat's patootie. Not giving a rat's patootie is another gift of age, by the way. At long last I do not have to be responsible for everyone and everything. Ah.
It's always a good day to stop carrying around something that's weighing you down. Start small. Forgive someone for getting in your way in the grocery store. Not out loud – that would attract attention you don't want. Work your way up to old lovers and abusive family members. It won't undo anything, it won't erase the scars, it won't make life easy, but it will make your heart lighter and your life a little happier.
And that's worth a whole lot more than a rat's patootie.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Few More Quilts, a Few Thoughts

Here are some more of the quilts that were in the show last weekend. I took a lot of pictures, and it is a pleasure to share them.
We've had a quiet weekend. Our grand daughter was here, with a cold. Our older son was part of "The Mother of All Shows" on Saturday night, a variety show at the "O" performing arts space here on the island. The building is a former manufacturing building, and feels pretty much like a warehouse. This event went from 6 p.m. to midnight last night. JD and his partner Charlie Kimmel performed their set a little after 7 p.m. They do hip hop, I guess is the label, and they sounded pretty good, although they kind of puzzled the predominantly older crowd of hippies, artists, and activists. It is confusing to be confronted with a couple of white kids who grew up on this comfy island practicing an art that grew out of black urban experience.
I've been puzzling, too, but about angry right wingers, and how I always feel I must please them, and how impossible it is to please them. For me it's all about my mom, whose right wing politics were fairly irrational and often hysterical, and whom I could not please no matter how hard or what I tried.
The yapping, slavering dogs of the lunatic right have been in a frothing frenzy over the recent political events and a former shipmate of my husband's sent a lengthy screed about how Obama wanted military personnel to pay for their medical treatment for war wounds.
Now I read about this proposal when it came up recently, and thought, what a boner. How could the Obama posse get this so profoundly, disastrously wrong? The notion was quickly denounced by everyone on both sides of the political aisle, and it was retracted, and some one called it "a rookie mistake." A stupid, heartless, rookie mistake.
I remembered that veterans of the first Gulf War had to sue the Bush administration for their benefits - the benefits that were part of the contract they had with the country when they enlisted, but which the Bush posse tried to cut - and I shook my head at a government that asks people to die for their country but doesn't want to live up to the government's side of the bargain. I felt just as angry at the Obama proposition - hey, let's have our wounded soldiers pay for their care through their private medical insurance! Yeah! That'll save the government money!
It argues for a broader perception of "equality," doesn't it? Human beings are equally greedy, thoughtless, and hasty to benefit at the expense of other human beings. We knew that, right?
Which reminds me - a friend was telling me how disappointed she is with Obama. He has not lived up to his campaign promises. I told her that I didn't feel that way, and she said I was an optimist, but she was a pessimist.
I told her that I was probably more cynical than optimistic. I did not expect miracles when Obama took office. I did not have high hopes. I expected that a guy crazy enough to want to be president of the United States would assume the job and then run into the inertia of government. He's only human, and he's only one human. The Bush posse had been together literally for decades, making their plans since Dick Nixon resigned. Obama's posse is a crew of politicians of varying talents, values, and aims, who are being called in to work for the Obama administration's goals. They share that Democratic failing of not being a cohesive, focused group. As Dave Barry put it some years ago, Democrats have the administrative skills of celery.
So the new guys in DC have done some spectacularly stupid things, like commission airplanes to fly low over New York City and terrify the populace, and propose that wounded soldiers pay for their own medical care. They get in trouble for these stupid things, and some lose their jobs.
When Dick Cheney shot his friend in the face while they were out hunting, we laughed. He didn't lose his job for doing something so boneheaded, and he didn't apologize. As I recall, the guy he shot apologized for getting in the way of the Vice President's shotgun.
Oh yeah. Good times.
People screw up. I am pleasantly surprised when government does anything that I perceive as "good." I believe that is cynicism, not optimism. What I do like about the new administration is that it is not ruling by fear so much as the previous administration. That is something I perceive as "good."
Anyway, I got this email screaming about Obama's hatred of the military, and you know what I did? I wrote the guy, asked him where his outrage was when the Gulf War vets had to sue for their benefits, and told him to leave us alone and stop sending us hate mail. I know that his outrage has little to do with the rights of the military, but I had to try to talk to him. I knew I'd regret it. He wrote back that I was using pretty hateful speech for a confirmed liberal. This from a Swiftboater who once cussed me out for not hating John Kerry, and who swore to have nothing to do with us, but has persisted in sending us hysterical emails over the years. So I marked his email as junk.
I thought about it a lot. Why do I keep feeling like I have to try to get irrational people to see reason when I know it's impossible? I think it goes back to my mother, I really do, and it occurred to me that it would be nice if I could mark the old hate messages from her as junk, and not have to think of them or listen to them anymore. If only it was as easy to block that internal chatter as it is to block email from an angry man who can't handle black presidents or uppity women. It is such a disadvantage to try to be respectful and reasonable to someone who is neither.
These are some of the things I think about in the middle of the night when I'm not thinking about my husband's illness or how we're going to pay our bills or where we're going to be living in a couple of months. I'm feeling assaulted by life these days, and am wanting to be more careful about how I use what little energy I have.
I take my peace in the flowers blooming in the yard, and the beauty of these quilts, and the small graces that come to me, like my son who argued with me yesterday cooking dinner today for Mother's Day, and the sincere love of my grand daughter, and my husband thanking me for doing some small ordinary household chore. I am loving spring, and my family, and my friends. Thank you all. I appreciate you so much.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Shopping for a Computer

I went shopping for a computer at Fry's down in Renton today. I told myself that I was "just looking," but my old computer died a couple of weeks ago and I missed having a computer terribly, so going to Fry's "just looking" is kind of like going to the animal shelter and "just looking." Odds are you won't come home alone.
I did not come home alone. I came home with what I am thinking of as my Mother's Day present from me to me, a cute little Lenovo desktop PC with a dual core processor, 6 GB of memory and a 640 GB hard drive. It cost about $550, which was acceptable to me, and at least a thousand dollars less than the ones I was looking at online.
Of course it has all the latest bells and whistles, including the Vista operating system, which has had mixed to bad reviews, but I couldn't wait. Know what I mean?
I like that it has memory card slots, and can play and burn CDs, and has lots of USB ports. I like that I can connect it to my printer. I also like that it has the Microsoft Office Premium software.
I did look at the Macs, in what I think of as the "Apple Chapel" section of Fry's. They are beautiful, indeed, and I was tempted, but there was the price issue, and the fact that I've been using a PC for several years now and have liked it. I may have to get a Mac just so I have one. I started on Macs and I miss them, and there are things I could do...
For straight out writing, though, I'm good with a PC and MS Word. And for mobility I have my Acer netbook, which has Linux OS.
Ah, life is so damn good.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Quilts, Etc.

OK, here are a few more quilt photos. In order they are:
Six blocks of the sock monkey quilt.
The Community Quilt, which will be won in a raffle at 4 p.m. on Sunday of Strawberry Festival. Standing in front of the quilt are Catholine Tribble, on the left in the quilted vest, and Annie Miksch, on the right. Annie is also a gifted quilter, but none of her stuff was on display because she gives it all away. If you know Annie, you know that makes perfect sense. Annie does not do good; Annie does EXCELLENT. It's just who she is.
Next, a detail of the quilt that had the gingko-leaf shaped quilting. If you look closely you can see it.
Then, a close up of a square from the crazy frog quilt. I'm not sure why frogs would be wearing clothes or be flying through the air with the clothes flying off, but there it is. The person who made it said she had the fabric for a long time before the design came together for her. I apologize for not getting her name. I apologize for not getting anyone's name – mea culpa. I was so dazzled by the quilts I did not note the names of the quilters. Sigh. I'll make a note of that for two years from now.
Finally, the photo I attached to yesterday's email alerting people to the new blog posting, the one with my friend Becky, my unrelated twin, down in the lower left hand corner.
In other news, it is raining steadily here today. It varies from light steady to torrential, but it's all rain, all the time. At the moment it is torrential.
Rick went to work for a few hours this morning, then came home and went to bed, which is where he is now.
Woke up to a note from our son JD in the tabletop diary:
May 5, '09
Rick and I took notice. Rick said, “Well, he was the safety officer at his last job.” I said, “It's amazing to me that the kid who gave us the most grief is now the one who tells us how to behave.” My friend Becky told me for years that JD would end up being a bank president, or something like that. At this point I really see what she was talking about.
The dog – well, he always wants to go out when I get up to go to bed, and he did that last night, and when I went to the door to whistle him in a few minutes later, he didn't come. As Rick says, you don't feel like standing there whistling, clapping, and calling for 15 minutes in the pouring rain in the middle of the night. I thought, oh well, I'm going to bed, I'll hear him when he scratches on the door. Instead I went to sleep and did not hear him.
It was nasty out there last night. I could tell because there is a dog a few houses up the hill who starts barking every time I whistle for our dog, or call him, or toss a ball, or walk out the back door, or sneeze. I whistled and called for quite a while and all was silence. So even the neighborhood sentry couldn't be bothered to come out and do his stuff. I can't imagine where Jive was that he didn't come into the nice warm dry house. And he ain't talking.
I am re-reading a good book: The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey. It was originally published in 1951, the year before Tey died at the age of 55 or 56 – her birth year is listed as “1896 or 97.” If you have read her books you understand why her readers mourn her early passing and the loss of her potential for writing more books. Here is a list of her published novels: Brat Farrar; The Daughter of Time; The Franchise Affair; The Man in the Queue; Miss Pym Disposes; A Shilling for Candles; The Singing Sands; To Love and Be Wise.
They are considered mysteries, but more than mysteries. I am not sure if I've read them all; I'm thinking as I start this one again that maybe I'll just read all of Josephine Tey again. I will not betray here a word of plot; I merely invite you to read, or re-read, Josephine Tey, and if she strikes your fancy, you are in for some good reading.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Island Quilters Feed the Soul

Becky and I went down to Camp Burton last Saturday to see the quilt show. It happens every two years, and it is always worth the wait. The intricate patterns and passionate colors lift you up and make you feel glad to be alive in a world where quilts happen.
Patchwork quilts are one of the original recycling projects – using bits of worn out and used up items, as well as things like patterned flour sacks, to make new and beautiful covers for beds in a time before central heating and electric blankets, or electric anything. Many quilts were stitched by candlelight during winter evenings, I imagine.
Quilts now are not so much recycled material as new cloth that has been carefully chosen and coordinated to make stunning original works of art.
This show included quilts that the guild had done as a group – the “mystery quilts” and the “block of the month” quilts were the ones I noticed.
The mystery quilt is a project whose instructions are given out monthly over a year, and the quilters have to follow the instructions and use their imaginations and fabrics to put the whole thing together. The results are several quilts with the same pieces cut out, recognizable as all the same, but radically different from one another.
The block of the month quilts are made by quilters who receive instructions for one square a month for a year. They make the squares and at the end of the year they put them together and finish them in their own original borders. These quilts are not so recognizable as being part of the same project, because they vary so widely in their colors, composition, and borders.
Then there are theme quilts and the one-of-a-kind quilts: florals, orientals, children's; appliqué quilts; embroidered quilts. I loved some of the whimsical quilts – one quilt was made of fabric with sock monkeys, and another featured frogs flying through the air.
You have to look close to see the actual quilting, the patterned stitching which holds the quilt together. Patterns are varied and beautiful, done by machine or by hand. One of my favorites was a gingko leaf pattern.
Catholine Tribble was there with the Community Quilt which will be auctioned off at this year's Strawberry Festival. Catholine is featured in a square on this year's quilt.
I have a warm spot in my heart for Catholine. Last year she made an appliquéd and embroidered hand-quilted work of art, about the size of a pot holder, and on one side is a representation of Women, Women & Song in 1988, Then, and on the other side Women, Women & Song in 2008, Now, based on publicity photos of the trio. It was in a show at the Blue Heron Art Gallery last year.
The quilt show was as always breathtaking in its beauty. I am always blown away by the skill and artistry of these quilters, their eye for pattern and color, their patience and craft. I'll never be a quilter myself, but boy do I enjoy the works of the people who are. Hats off, ladies. “Beautiful” barely begins to say it. Only two years to go until the next show.