Friday, December 26, 2008

Chicken gods

6AM on the 9th day of being snowbound: I bless my IPod, Skype and my cell phone for keeping me in touch with the world all these days. I have cleaned cupboards, watched DVD's, worked at my desk, conducted business for my job, improvised ways to exercise. I've eaten well because the gods took me to Costco to stock up on frozen chicken, shrimp and salmon just before the storm hit. I do take personal credit for buying toilet paper in bulk.

My most frequent non-electric entertainment is watching the maneuvers of my co-condo dwellers navigate the steep ice and snow encrusted road to our buildings that has a curve thrown in at just the wrong spot for bad measure. No matter the intensity of my heavenly beseeching, I will not suddenly become 15 years younger and get out there and take a shovel to the snow on the road so I can get out of here. I wait.

I just think the gods must be crazy for sending about a foot of snow to us living here in this marine/mountain climate. What possible purpose could they have in tethering us this way?

Shalom Auslander on This American Life just gave me a huge hoot on Day Nine in describing Chicken, the god beyond understanding. He describes an out of body experience where a guy floats to see -----------Chicken, who is gee oh dee. Gasp! But when he gets back in his body, he doesn't have the heart to tell his loving, grateful to god family that they are grateful to a Chicken.

Isn't that great!? What if all those people who won't talk about their out of body experiences share that guy's reluctance to share and spoil it all?! Well......Over and over we try to figure out what the heck the purpose of all this is, and some of the ideas are terrific! This one's just perfect to tease out a smile and warm the heart of a snowbound chicken. Wait. does that mean I'm............?? Back to waiting....

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thunder Snow Leftovers

Stuck indoors because of the Thunder Snow storm that slickered up every square inch of the Northwest and was coming back for an encore. Called that because some reporter heard thunder during the snow storm. Got food, got heat, got all the comforts. But I want out. Gotta send Christmas packages. Call with Tom: he said use a walking stick to take you over the icy sidewalks. Good idea! How about my long handled scrub brush sans brush--I used to clean the outside of our old house with it in the Spring--screwed a screw into the tip of the pole--wa-lah! I'll get the pro version from REI Tom mentioned later. Off to Staples/UPS in a 3 legged trot to send the Christmas gifts that weren't going to make it before Xmas because of the storm.

Surfaces along the street for walking: 1) dirty ice resembling what leftover lumpy oatmeal would look like frozen. 2) Mini snowy mountain tops you had to balance on or walk between covered with a thin layer of ice. 3)Broken up ice that looked like what a shattered windshield looks like. 4) Then there was that lumpy souffle, rigid with defeat that I made in '66--that stuff is what the thrown up snow at the curb edges looked like. 5) Predatory ice covered with a thin layer of lacey snow--a trap.

I had new warm boots with furry tops to keep me connecting to the earth. Sticking the washing I mean walking stick in the snow at the edge of the sidewalk helped transport me over the sheer ice. I paused at every driveway to wait for cars that might turn and not be able to stop. People did seem anxious to stop for a 3 legged woman, that is, with a walking stick walking in a hesitating fashion wearing little round sunglasses. The two miles went by quickly. Package delivered to the heroes at UPS, I took the long way home, carrying a new surge protector for my new laptop to meet the next wind storm coming after dark. I abandoned the snow cement on the street for the sweet powder on the creek trail. The ducks clustered in the middle of the iced over lake I passed, their bodies warming just enough water for the clan. What keeps them warm?!

The sun did not have much of a point of view from behind that gauzy overcast lid. Hard to imagine it's radiant beams from Heaven above. Easy to imagine the insides of a freezer full of beef and corn, some frozen oatmeal, cookies. Hmm. The brisk air at 20 degrees put a spring in my walking stick and I got hungry. Thought I'd turn on the holiday music on my IPod when I got home and make some old fashioned Christmas cookies to eat when the power went out. Food and snow and little adventures, that's what I'm thinking about. And, back at home, the joy of a challenge met, with the help of my bro. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The WPA Built Grand Coulee Dam

Fast on the heels of my publishing the 1950 editorial on the Coulee Dam, the Seattle Times brings the subject to the present in today's paper: Monday, Dec 15, 2008: Northwest may blaze U.S. path to green grid. Reporter Les Blementhal writes that the WPA built the Grand Coulee Dam and other public works projects during the depression, a possible model for another major public works project for the Northwest, delivering green wind power to the region through the Bonneville Power Administration. The BPA, a not for profit federal utility that Ted Berry editorialized on 50 years or more ago, may provide 50,000 local jobs. Keeping public power public was a subject that often appeared in Ted Berry's editorials. Blementhal writes that US Representative Jay Inslee is emerging as a leader in the green energy issue. Washington State may become a model for such projects around the country. Pundits warn of comparing the Great Depression to current events, but this news is more than deja vu. Handled well, it would be a good idea, one I know editor Ted would relish.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Heart of America

Riding with a presidential motorcade to Grand Coulee dam last week, we noticed a little girl standing beside the road with her mother. In each hand the youngster held a tiny flag and we wondered how long she had stood there, waiting for the President to come by. Of course little kids like that couldn’t be allowed within the roped off areas surrounding the President at each stop, nor to mingle with the photographers, Government brass, Secret Service operative and local welcoming committees.

The whole show is cut to fit an exact pattern of time and space. The President and all the supporting cast must move strictly according to plan. The press must be given priority, for the eyes and ears of America are waiting to see and hear about this visit to Grand Coulee. The President obediently follows the instructions of the photographers to “look this way, Mr. President” or “raise your head a little, Mr. President.” The procedure must have become exasperatingly monotonous through endless repetition on the 10 day trip.

The little girl at the crossroads wouldn’t know about that. She probably was waiting for the United States of America to come by, her little heart swelling with pride in her country.

Among all the newsmen and cops and soldiers, the congressmen and high Government officials were a dime a dozen. Sometimes you would see them standing alone, with nobody paying any attention to them. But the photographers were everywhere, taking enough pictures to paper the White House. Sometimes the flash bulbs created a continuous, prolonged light—there were so many being fired at once. The President had not much opportunity to talk to anybody, outside of the Governor, the former Governor and a few other officials who rode with him or sat beside him on the platforms.

The little girl with the flags saw them go by in the open car. Perhaps the President saw her and smiled as she waved her flags. We hope so.

Your country correspondent wishes that this little girl, and other kids, and a few working men and farmers could somehow get inside of the roped-off areas; that they could talk a while to the President of their interests and problems, and what they think about things.

Seems to us as if our institutions would be safer that way, and maybe the President would be too. -- B

How long did it take you, reading the editorial above, to realize how dated it is? Ted F. Berry (AKA Dad) wrote it as Editor for the May 20, 1950 issue of the Washington State Grange News. The President was Harry Truman. Some things have not changed in 58 years....some have. Little girls still wave flags. But Presidents need those Secret Service more than ever. Was my Dad right? If our Presidents were more accessible, would we now live in a friendlier world? Too simple a conclusion. Never mind. I just want to put this article out there because of its connection to history and to my Dad.

Truman said in a speech at Grand Coulee that "the Columbia River is the greatest source of power in the Nation. Today we are well on the way to harnessing that power. The Northwest is no longer a backward colony. Its population has increased more than 30%." Mr Truman went on to tell of 11 new major industries that had been established, bringing $135 million in payrolls and $50 million in new tax revenues to the Government. They are new enterprises, he said and did not "hurt the East." In fact, he continued, these industries have created bigger markets for producers in other states. The aluminum mills produce nearly half of the national output which in turn supplies materials for some 600 factories across the country.



My cheap violin leaned in its black case against the hutch in my living room, chastising my neglect, like neighborhood dogs coming out to bark a while at my passing. The mental rocks I threw at their voices defended my position--I play horribly, like the neophyte I am at age 65 with all of 6 violin lessons under my belt, and I abhor inflicting auditory pain on my condo co-dwellers. I am a singer and can recognize fine notes.

So I carried my violin outside and walked in late evening to the valley below my condo along the path to the creek to whom I am grateful for singing me cheery ditties on my mandatory health walks, forgetting for the moment that it might be possible to torture a creek as well.

Later I thought better of that and sat to play on the grassy knoll by the freeway away from the creek so the traffic noise would drown out the strident A's and G's, the not quite on the note notes, the grating squawks and crashes against the ear drum.

Later I played at my brother's country house because he has a big field with no other houses in sight and he promised he and my sister-in-law wouldn't listen.

Later I played with no caution at my friends' farm and stayed too long in their pasture of gold and pink and purple blossom-topped grasses, lost in each slide of note to note, senses awakening moment by moment under puffy clouds in a vast sky the deep blue color of a shirt I stole from my daughter 20 years ago.

Later I played boldly on my own hillside so that my violin, now coming to live, tail wagging, as a being in my world, would have a view.

I think it may have been on that hillside that I played one fine note.

Most of this is not true. Most of it is a combination of fact and fiction I stumbled upon whilst thinking of my violin and letting my creative juices simmer a while. To embellish what’s real with what could be—now that is super dreaming! I slide from taupe to gold and red on theoretical strings of imagination that may be connected to….who knows what?! Yehudi Menuhin or a violin on a dump heap.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Old gods

James Mitchener described the Hawaiian culture over 11 centuries. My dog-eared copy of Hawaii, read and reread when I was 16, is long gone. The paperback binding was broken apart and the cover was elsewhere, by the time it left me. I looked for it years later, not remembering I had finally let it go. Occasionally now some snippet of Mitchener's story comes to me - like one main Chinese character, Char Nyuk Tsin, whom I can rediscover on the Internet! In 1959 the idea of the world of information at my fingertips on my laptop, including the very passage from the book that I needed, would have sounded like science fiction. We only had TV and radio.

But on the net I find Wu Chow's Auntie to help me craft this essay. One of Mitchener's main characters in a long saga, her devotion to the lepers of Molokai despite the dangers of contracting the illness herself amazed me. It revealed "her loyalty and compassion to her fellow humans. This experience begins a habit that will last until her death the night she achieves American citizenship at age 106; every night she examines her body for signs of leprosy, and when no such signs are found, she can continue on her hard working way." (Hansen's disease is now curable, but only since the mid 20th century.)

I was interested in Hawaii at age 16 for two reasons: my friend Gail's grandmother lived in Hawaii and she talked about the place with affection. In a time when trips to Hawaii were taken maybe once in a lifetime, Hawaii became more real to me. Then I met a boy from Hawaii and my study of things Hawaiian became a passion. I married the boy and had two children by him, one born in Hawaii, both children blessed with the grace of the royal Hawaiian characters in Mitchener's book. I'm not kidding. In 2004 I toured the Hawaiian island of Molokai as part of my trip to my son's Kauai wedding.

Now I am 65. A few years back I found Moloka'i by Alan Brennert. The story of the lepers came alive again - of Father Damien, who spent sixteen years ministering to patients before he himself died in 1889 of leprosy. At 16 I had no concept of the many things that happen in one long life. Char Nyuk Tsin showed me that. Then Brennert drew out my sorrow for the ignorance that causes such suffering.

A new Mitchener memory popped up recently and is the reason I started to write this essay. Where all that other stuff came from, I don't know. I recalled that when the Christian missionaries convinced the people that their old Hawaiian religion was barbaric, there were a few stragglers who still worshiped their old gods in secret--because the old gods were more comforting! (Never mind that the "new" god also had some strange ideas about punishment.) I love this secretive bent of some of the old Hawaiian people, given my current hesitant affection for the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and The Power Of Now. My old "god" I turned to when I was upset and got immediate comfort. Now Tolle says I don't ever have to be upset! And he is right, given my so far limited but impossible to deny spiritual growth from his teachings. But leaving the familiar? I'm working on it.

Oh, what a comfort it was, to turn to what never failed me in my usually self imposed but nevertheless miserable case: my own brand of "god". Now I find myself on the edge of what appears to be an evolutionary movement. I'm trotting along with the others, wondering if we are either lemmings or brave warriors, sure only that we are leaving the old gods behind, only occasionally slipping back into that secret comfort. Well, time takes time. And persistence. 'And bravery because it's getting a little, um, unusual out there. I've heard Chuck Yeager quoted twice with the same quote in the last week: He was the first person to break the sound barrier. When he landed from the flight the media ran to him and asked what he had to say. His first comment was “just before you break through the sound barrier, the cockpit shakes the most.” On Tolle and the world in general right now? I can hear a kind of escalating vibrating hum, can you?

Humming away, I push the past into the present and try to figure out what the heck this essay is about: well, if I live to 106, I now have 41 more years to perfect my spiritual growth, checking myself nightly to see if I'm still aliiiive. I need every minute, let me tell you. Rather, every current moment. And with so much personal history- well it's not a saga, but 65 years is a lot for me to keep organized-- I am living what would have amazed me at 16. If I make it-- and my age is the age you really begin to wonder, I bet I will gasp- agog at the constantly accelerating evolution of life. But in this moment--gotta --wanta!! ---live in the now. Get out the meditative eraser and wipe away the random thoughts to let the more creative ones show up. Now I know what I think, just for now. What's next?

Geez. What was all that?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sweet Melodies

From my iPod, my daughter’s voice blends in perfectly with the harmonies created by her friends Michael, Erin and Rick. I listen again and again, enraptured, loving that they are improvising yet know exactly when to add their voices and when to pause and be silent, when to sing the words, when to hum, when to tag on a repeated end line. This music “Deep in My Heart, Oh Great Spirit” brings me such sweet gentle fascination…could it be the genetic recognition of my cellular structure as a Mother?

Whatever the call, the notes and words come to me as sweet sadness for our struggles in this life. The phrasing combines melancholy with hope, with regret, like a kind of high spiritual blues that cries to show how hard life is…..and yet….oh, and yet….! Like parallel pendulums, the voices fly though time and space, brushing each other at each apex with perfect timing. The low male voices mourn and rejoice; the women fling their high notes into a peal of hope born of anxiety and weightless energy. Giving voice to the perils and intensity of living, the singers draw me in again and again. Hmmm hmmm……..

Saturday, July 26, 2008

You Like Roller Coasters?

I drive a 2000 Acura Integra that gets 37 miles to the gallon on the highway! Electric sun roof, low to the ground, it's a sportier model than I've ever owned. Acura ad: "Makes any driver feel like a hero." Yes! I am the most heroic 64 year old female computer department admin grandmother in the West!

This car is pretty much a departure from my previous choices. I have the Acura because I have a son who brilliantly thought of me when his Dad's wife was ready to sell hers. I would never have picked out such a sporty model. I was going for a used Subaru Forester or a Toyota Camry. At 64, economy and reliability were at the top of my list. How many more cars does one buy in the last half of life, anyway? I wanted a car to last! I was ready to choose reliability over coolness.

But here I am driving around in this little gem, getting great gas mileage at a time when it's needed not just by me but by the country, enjoying plenty of accessible storage, parking in tiny spots, enjoying the electric sun roof and leather seats.

It took a little getting used to the new body style, for I sold a 2001 Nissan Frontier pickup for it. Spying the truck on the car lot, it was an immediate done deal because it was the same model my brother had picked out for himself. It was pre-researched and tested. That's all I needed. I got occasional envious looks from teenage boys that would have revved my jets much higher 30 years ago. Now it just kind of tickled me. There was lots of back seat room for bringing my son and his wife from the airport. I could take naps in the back seat and enjoyed the smoky windows for privacy as I snoozed for 15 minutes. (Naps are big with me.)

My daughter and I used the truck for hauling bark and boards and furniture and garden supplies to our suburban house. I liked sitting up high, looking tough. (ha ha) But here at the condo, I have other needs. Like looking cool driving to the nature trail. Best part is I traded price-wise straight across. No more car payments. At least for now. Yes!

Before I had the Nissan, I really had fun with a 1984 Volkswagen Westphalia. That vehicle came to me on a moonbeam! How I loved the Westphalia! My family has always enjoyed VW buses. I went back and forth over the mountain to visit my sister, camping in her back 40 by a stream. I camped with my daughter and granddaughter and hauled stuff around. I took naps in it too--an auto-immune disorder laid me low for a while. The stove worked, the tent worked, the sink worked, the back heater worked, the upper bunk was cozy and fun to set up.

I bought it from a gravestone carver from Denmark who was staying at the YMCA downtown. Very handsome. Just a little extra effort needed in keeping the engine in top shape. Actually I could have bought a new car for what I spent on the cost plus repairs, but I never could have found anything like my Westfalia!

When ready to sell my wonderful Westfalia, the buyer turned up in the form of my nephew who seemed to love it as much as I had. He's still tooling around in it in the summer; 'ol "Punkin" is enjoying the music of the bands that my nephew plays in around the state, like with Panda Conspiracy at the Summer Meltdown every year in Darrington. Lots of stories still to come for the 'ol camper. She even sat right next to the stage in the summer concert he staged on the other side of the mountain! Title: star dressing room.

Before the Westfalia was a 1986 Ford Tempo, a twin to my daughter's car. We went off one day to the south end of the city and bought identical Fords, one white, one red, from the Hertz rental outlet. $7500. Seems like a lot. How could we afford that!? Well, we did.

The Fords took us to work and around town for a while. Not the most beautiful cars in the lot, but pretty reliable. It was a lark having matching cars. I kept the Ford for a few months after I bought the Westfalia. I liked having two cars. The internal prestige waned and I sold it. My daughter went next to the auto love of her life, her Mitsubishi Montero.

Before the Ford, I bought a 1979 Honda Civic 3D hatchback. It was a Lemone. I took it to a mechanic who had a home shop and he took me for what I was--no experience to know what end was what. All I know is I spent a lot of money on the silly thing and still dislike the whole memory.

But for now I'll stick with the thrill of the first real independent auto purchase in my new life. I made the deal on my own and that was really exhilarating! The car had a little style compared to its predecessor and so felt like success. It took me to work and parties and to get haircuts. Ha ha.

The Civic's predecessor was a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger slant 6. A sweet little car that my friends and family raved over for its quality and dependability. I got it at 35, a particularly self generated hard time for me, when my Mother rescued me by selling me her old car. She had stored it in a friend's barn after my Dad's death, and wanted only $50/month until the $500 price was paid off. I am still grateful for her generosity 30 years later. Maybe she was relieved to get it off her hands, but still.

I don't think that in 1970 "Swinger" meant anything except someone using park play equipment. Dad was a rowdy guy in his day (the 30's) but more conservative as he got older. Pretty sure that "Swinger" got its bad rep later.

The Dart always felt like a rescue mission to me, a gratuity from the Universe, and I didn't like the idea of selling it but my advisers said I ought to upgrade and get rid of the aging Queen. Which I did. For the Civic! Oops.

After musing over all this car buying and selling, I do feel kind of like a hero. It's such a pain in the patooka to buy and sell cars. They cost so much and so much is at stake, if you don't have extra money to play the game and lose. But here I am where I am and enjoying a few years of Acura happiness, courtesy of my son. One thing I observe: the cars I relied on other people for, turned out the best!

I am settled into the Acura's zippy factor now. My niece, however, apparently was not, for when she rode with me last week, heading down the hill from the condo, she actually squealed and said "This is fun! Boy!" I looked over and she had an ear to ear grin on her face. I loved her reaction, enjoying the feeling again myself. Down on the flats I sensed I was talking to air, looked over and there again was that eyes wide, ear to ear grin. "Fun, huh?" I said. "Do you like roller coasters?" she said. "No!" I said. "Me neither," she said. Yet there was that marvelous grin, just shy of a roller coaster squeal. I grinned with her.

Maybe I like the roller coaster syndrome. Looking back at life's constantly changing and challenging courses, I can say it's a good life, requiring constant heroic responses--a squeal, then action. One goes on and on, buying the next vehicle to get to the future---this time an Acura courtesy of my son, a hero to me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Windy Flats

Yesterday I found myself at 8am, crouching to yank weeds from the fertile brown earth at Windy Flats in the Skagit Valley in north central Washington State. I have the gardening gene, from my Mother’s side, for which, because of some fool notion, I only became grateful as I turned 45. Mom died last year at 85, and I smile now to think that I, at 64 ¾, love forcing out the weeds as she did, roots intact, with a satisfying thonk. Ahh! Next one!

I was at Windy Flats enjoying a friend’s recently purchased gentleman’s farm…..or hobby farm one might call it. The tired farmers in training were still sleeping after a long day in the sun the day before. I didn’t want to wake them, hence the trip out to their new corn field.

A few weeks earlier, my friends had planted 3500 seeds of corn specially selected to germinate and produce ears quickly, in 10 rows 200 feet long. They had had the ground plowed by a neighbor, but with no tractor of their own yet to speed the planting work, the dropping of each seed into its row and covering it with the rich loam was truly a labor of love. Now 8 inches high, the corn stalks needed the rows between them freed of a dozen kinds of weeds, or native plants, as my friend calls them. I weeded energetically in the cool morning air. Looking back I was astonished to see how little progress I had made. It was as though the rows lengthened in front of me and shortened behind me. Standing at the end of the patch, I recalled the lesson in foreshortening from my drawing classes. Far end narrow, near end 5 times as “wide”. And in the middle? Still confused! Fascinating!

There is often a marvelous wind at Windy Flats, hence the name. It is surrounded by 5000 foot high mountains, snow capped, stunning. Looking at the valley from a nearby mountain on a summer day, one neighbor described stillness over all, except for the waving branches of trees in the flats. The earth in which the trees and plants live is incredibly fertile, lying next to the river as it does which has been known to flood, bringing along with the worries of too much water the rich, loamy silt that produces banner crops with no extra fertilizer.

But worry was far from my mind as I enjoyed connecting again with Mother Earth. It has been one year since I moved to a condo from a house with a garden that I loved. I miss the guaranteed pleasure that comes from making a landscape beautiful, trying new plants, watching leaves sprout, plants flowering on queue. It is a remarkable pleasure I’ve only enjoyed in the second half of my life. In addition to rekindling the pleasure of gardening, the setting for the corn field astonished me in the way it brought back memories of my childhood visits from Seattle to my grandfather’s hop farm in Eastern Washington.

As in the 50’s in Yakima, I loved the sighing of the wind in the giant trees, like the wind across the corn field that could make me grab at my hat. As in those long ago days, I took the time to watch flocks of barn swallows swerving and diving, changing their minds of a piece, landing on the fence and then rising over and over against the blue sky. (The birds at my condo are rugged individualists, like me I guess.) I loved the still, dank smell of the empty barn, sturdy at its base but full of future projects for making it a working barn again. Two stories tall and twice the size of my condo unit, it’s dusky interior holds odd bits of lumber, a ladder, a loft that needs shoring up and dust motes floating in thin shafts of light.

Perched on the barn’s cement foundation, I looked beyond the corn field to watch the wind play the field grasses, like a visible manifestation of musical notes of harmony. The grasses sported six or more hues of tan and brown and rose and blue and amber, as restful to the mind and eye as sweet music is to the ear. At the far corner of the pasture, I saw the flashing of red from a 15 foot tall heritage rose bush straining to escape the background shrubs, covered with old fashioned deep pink and pinker roses.

These pleasures of the awareness of the natural world were all as they happened to me when I was at my grandfather’s farm. My friend of the corn field too, had a similar vision created when she, as a girl, visited her aunt and uncle’s dairy farm in Kansas. Oh we are lucky to have such memories! The pull of the land and the quiet is so strong, but it is more than that. It is unhurried talks on the front porch, the slow way of moving, but accomplishing so very much, the willingness, no the desire, and sometimes the courage or patience, to stop whatever you’re doing to talk to a passing neighbor. It’s the strong pull of the cool dim parlor and kitchen, when it’s so very hot in the field, and the sense to come inside for a rest in mid day.

It’s the steadiness of working with Nature instead of ignoring it or denying its existence. It’s using your body and mind to create beauty and order, and wanting to learn what farmers have learned for centuries. It’s a desire to acquire the practical confidence of our grandfather and uncle mastering the tools of farming, to learn to care for what feeds us and gives us health, to complete the circle of the land feeding the body feeding the land.

My friend’s vision does not stop with the corn field. She can imagine more crops and animals gracing the ten acres that she and her husband have already come to love. At 60, she is no fool, but very much the realist, and knows that challenges, sometimes great, will become part of their time at Windy Flats. But she can see them abandoning their city home and moving permanently to the country. She sees plants and trees making the place a real Paradise. She can see different buildings, driveways and connections to the local community. I love drifting with her visions, sparking my mind and heart. Here she is in her corn field. ---->

It is 8am now, and I am back in the city at my computer, writing these words, because I don’t want to forget this gift of finding peace in a corn field. I have more to say, but for now I am stopping at being grateful for time created by gracious friends who are following their dream and have asked me to come and enjoy it too.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In The Now

When I was 18, it was important to be In The Know. To be up to date on the latest ideas, fads, clothes, and activities. Living in our heads was the norm. What a person thought about was primary. The left brain was in charge. 47 years later, in my world, it's important to be In The Now. Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now and The New Earth are on sale at Costco for $8.95. It's becoming common. Or it seems to be from where I sit.

I am delighted by Eckhart's teachings because of their effect on stilling the 36 plus voices I've been carrying around in my head all these years. I realized they were there 30 years ago, and our means to quiet them worked short term. We called the voices "my committee" and we could could conjure up a new committee peopled with those we fancied could give us unconditional love. I chose my sister, a dear friend named Roxie, artist/author Barbara Berger and feminist Gloria Steinham. Whenever I got low, I'd imagine them standing in a semi-circle all telling me in turn "you are doing so great! I can't believe how strong you are! Go for it!"

It helped. It made me laugh, to play like that, which was good and lifted my mood so I could get back into action. But Eckhart's books describe something much deeper. Ever hear the phrase "become the chair", or "become the flower"? I read about that years ago when dabbling in Asian wisdom--and getting nowhere. My writer sister treasured her Zen learnings. But it was all Greek to me. Well, now I think (!) I get it. I'm not sure I could explain it to you, but I tell you I have been there. It's unforgettable. And easy. Is this making sense? Hah!

I understand that my mind/ego is out to get me. A majority of my thoughts are repetitive. Blah, blah, blah. Over and over. And that quieting the mind, dwelling on the now, throughout the day, brings me to a place of quiet presence. No past, no future, just now. The chair, the window, (if I'm indoors, as I am now) the air, the table, the sounds of traffic and birds, the energy pulsing throughout. It's there. It can keep my attention, bring stillness within. It's in the pause between breaths, which I can hold for moments on moments. It's in concentrating on the space present in my body and in everything. We are all mostly space.

The still part of my consciousness, which I am deciding at the moment is "located" in my right brain, has a mysterious energy. When I give attention to the stillness, or non attention, however you want to say it! -- it follows that I am calmer and more creative. Later, ideas fly into my mind so fast I am stunned. I stop worrying about my aging body, or my retirement, or regretting any action I've taken. I'm letting the world be, surrendering to what is.

My mind becomes a useful tool. I say to myself, "wow, where did that idea come from?"

The best part is I don't have to sit down and meeeeeditaaaaate....altho I don't mind that. But I love meditating, or staying in the now, in moments all day, knowing that probably 75% of my thoughts are repetitive. Clearing them out throughout the day leaves room for so much more.

My adorable grandson just had a temporary little blip in his growing up scenario. This is a challenge for his parents and us supporting cast of characters. Living in the now, as I am certain babies do, he will handle this challenge better than everybody else! And I want to transmit my surrender, that is, acceptance to what is, to him and his parents. What is, is always what is, most imperfect and unexpected. Today's challenge is always what we do with what we didn't plan on. I fancy I can affect the presence in us both from afar. So I put it in writing here to give it life, for myself and maybe for someone who reads this. Probably the truth is that I will help baby G by being like baby G!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Graham and Me on the Punee

Soft Spring breeze on our cheeks

Solid chunk of baby boy in my arms

Out on the patio, bamboo screening on the roof above

The whole house empty except for one lady, a boy and his dog

Soft rhythmic rattle of wind through the banana and palm leaves

Patterns of dappled shade playing over us on the punee cushions

Little white dog napping on the sunny deck

Songs of a dozen kinds of birds from all sides

Water fountain gurgling as the flute section

Sparrows, finches, towhees flying about in an air show

One hovering hummingbird observing us from both sides

The whole hour soft and supporting

Nature’s heart disguised as breezes ruffling our clothes

Like a show performed for just us two

We talked--

4 month old Graham: “ouh ouh bl bl aaa”

64 year old me: “boo bah boo pa oh oh tu tu

G: “bl wa ouh nn aah

Me: “tut ah pa pa pa mm oo oo

G: “wuh uh wa ehhhh

We were considerate, waiting for the other to complete their thought

Our conversation covered many things

With words of peace and connection

I could never have imagined such a scene

Yet it was there for us, with my full presence as perfect as an infant

Languid, quiet, the moments of stillness lived perfectly

Nothing to seek or change or be off to do

A few moments sublime, unbidden, a gift.

I can be there now and wonder at it again.

April 18, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Empty Book

Would you like it if, when you were a girl, the older women in your family wrote a little book of hints and tips for life and gave it to you? Well, that is what my family is now doing for our youngest cousin/niece. It is an adventure in writing for all of us, the idea created by my writer sister. My sister wanted to give something that would last to the niece’s she enjoyed so much, as balance to her own four boys. She wrote what she called an Empty Book, or Nothing Book, for my daughter when she turned 12 in 1986. My daughter was instructed to buy the next empty book, empty, for the next girl, who was her cousin. My sister filled the book and gifted it. That cousin bought the book for the next in line, it got filled and so on. My sister passed away the October after she wrote the fourth book. There were two more girls to go.

The family encouraged me to organize the project to keep it going and I did so. Together we women relatives wrote the 5th Empty Book in 2005. That cousin got her Empty Book and has purchased the new book for the 6th and last book. Next year my young grand niece turns 12. We have a year to do the writing.

My sister’s journals and letters are a source of material for what I put in the empty book. Our version includes pithy sayings, a little advice, some silly jokes and stories, tales of our family she should know and love, pictures of the rest of us at 12, what we liked at that age, on and on. Since the now 11 year old impending recipient lives in a very different world than even the younger cousins, I want to stay close to the origins of the project, yet write in a timely way. We want to have the book honor the vision of my sister who, with her journals, newspaper columns and newsletters, inspired so many women to be brave and daring and gentle and thoughtful and fun loving. Reading through her stories of humor and social comment and rural life and family tales I go back to those years we all lived, larger than life as it’s said, in her stories. My, the descriptions were fun! Full of the best or funniest events, always with passion and wisdom, the writing is still usually timeless.

Tonight I chanced upon the story of a time I hold closely in my heart and often think of when I am missing my sister. She described how one time I visited her when I was ill—with a non-communicable ailment that had me very low in spirit.

“….she came here to the farm and I made her an old fashioned pot roast, with carrots and potatoes and onions. I didn’t eat beef usually, but it felt like the right medicine. I made her bed with sweet sun-dried sheets because I love them so much—and she has never forgotten. She mentions it, time to time. Once in a while I wonder: if all of us women made soup or pot roast or chocolate chip cookies for each other, and massaged the backs of our necks, right where it’s tense…would the world’s cruelty be healed? Would men, as well as women, gather wisdom from our growing strength, and be healed too? My sister nurtures me continually. She sends me articles she knows will be of interest, and goes around telling people I’m special and gives me great gifts, like Magic Mikes and when only a few local people showed up for the party, she drove 230 miles to be here. We women can care for each other when we are sick…..and show up on each other’s doorsteps with pots of soup and bright smiles. ‘You look so cute, honey…’ 1995

I can still taste that pot roast, smell its heavenly aroma, marvel at her love and attention, sun-dried sheets and all. Having a writer sister was always a pleasure. I guess we were a mutual admiration society and I always peeked ahead in her newsletters first to see if she talked about me to the world. Then I started back at the cover and devoured her ideas, word by word. Now I cherish these old stories and smile to think our lives are in print for us to enjoy forever. She tantalizes me still.

I regularly swing from acceptance to sorrow to irritation, 5 years after she died. I suppose it will always be a little like that, despite all my efforts to stay “timely” and let her go. The Empty Book project brings it all back again, and I can marvel at her ability to stay with me in this way, and this way she had of gifting her ideas and spirit and love to her descendants.

We women will put in our 6th Empty Book the imprints of our minds as they are this year. And our young cousin/niece will have them to keep as a cherished possession, just like the other cousins treasure their gifts from our gone missing, but with us in print, writer.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ski Trip Via The Frontier

I followed the young man who was buying my truck up the hills east of Everett, climbing ever higher. I saw the snow topped Cascade and Olympic mountains lying like immense parentheses around his neighborhood. I was mesmerized by the view. Under that immense blue sky, he pulled into his driveway, collected some things from his old car and brought them over to the truck. I had his bank check in my pocket and happy thoughts of closing the deal. During a few days of negotiations with him, we came to know and trust each other. Tales of disaster in these transactions nipped at my consciousness. But he was the one to first suggest meeting in a public place for my safety. Pretty quickly I could tell he was “ok”, a person more rural than urban. He ferried me to repair shop, bank, his home and mine, to make the transfer, all with good manners. I admired his ability to think the thing through as he went along. At my condo to get the title, he said,

“You have a great view.”

“Yes, but no mountains.” I said.

Later that afternoon, son Scott, who had given me tips on the sale along the way, asked me: “So how do you feel now about the selling experience? Would you do it again with more ease?”

I haven’t ever had a dream of victory that I can recall, but I did on the night I handed the truck keys to that young man---

“It’s a pleasure to hand these to you,” I said.

Though I have never down hill skied, I dreamed I was in the snow smothered mountains. I skied/flew down the paths and glaciers with the expertise of an Olympics star. With narrow misses down curving channels of snow, I was exhilarated by the whole thrilling journey. I came to a swishing stop. I looked over the front of my skis to see a 2000 foot drop. I had known without thinking to end my decent with my ski tips at the edge of the snow cliff. Chuckling with pleasure, I admired the view.

Waking, I remembered rushing to my window to watch my old truck drive off down my hill and onto the road and thought,

“I can see the mountains from my neighborhood; all I have to do is climb to the top of my hill.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What I Find Renewed in Obama's Views

Barrack Obama has my attention. To me he is someone who, like Hillary Clinton, has a platform I like, advocating reform in our American policies, but who has more: the ability to inspire Americans to change our thinking, as John Kennedy did for us in 1961. JFK got us into physical fitness and sent us to the moon and more. In 1961, I was 18 and had to take PE in college. Having never thrown a ball or run a race I hated the physical fitness, but now only a fool would disparage physical fitness. At first reluctant, I eventually watched with my family and friends every move of the astronauts, thrilled at every stage of discovery. President Kennedy's ideas affected us on a very personal level. He inspired us and changed our thinking. In two plus years, he churned things up. He and Jackie gave our emerging media based culture something to look at. Nothing wrong with that—we had a soothing role model for classy behavior. Perhaps with some limits in our understanding and his intent, we woke up a little, remembering.....we the people....

The stuck, depressing 50's became the turbulent 60's. We continued to look at things differently. Historians say JFK was not unflawed in his policies. To me, at his best, he got us interested in politics, the first step to social progress. That is what I hope Obama can help us do. He speaks of our constitutional rights as protection for our hard won freedoms. My understanding of freedom is I make decisions about my life, not a King. Now freedom is what corporations have, for they determine our actions. Many of us have been beaten down to hopelessness about political change concerning health care, education, and the environment. Could that change? I want to hear more from Obama on the definitions of freedom and democracy. What I am so very encouraged to observe is that he seems to understand the powerful human need for contribution, which, recognized and encouraged, gets problems solved so that human progress can inch forward. I am excited to think of the possibilities arising from this new viewpoint!

I know there's never anything new under the sun, and the situation is complex, more than I can address in 4 paragraphs. But here's my take: I have a sense that the message of other politicians is: let me help you get what YOU want. For YOU. And let's beat those other guys. Obama's ideas seem to come from a different place—a place of collaboration and contribution, with a focus on democracy to make the politician the employee of the voter, not the other way around. He said he will rely on the people best able to help make decisions.

Obama speaks firmly in support of the US Constitution. I agree that democracy is not perfect, but is a highly evolved social effort, its principles protecting individual rights. World views change—this is not 1961 and the challenges are new, but I look with hope to Obama for taking us to the next level of our education--he's already started. Heck, after listening for just a couple of months, he got me puzzling out my ideas in this blog. Although my heart skips a beat in considering I may have to change some core beliefs---I got through PE....will I have to stop using plastic or attend political rallies or study more simply?---so be it. I want to support him as he challenges our thinking, in his hero’s journey.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Giants Manual

How To, Step by Step, for Brand New Boys

Section I: Introduction
Welcome, little boy, to the earth. We are all so incredibly pleased you are here. And it is such a beautiful place; you are going to have a really great time here. I know, there’s a lot to take in, right at first, but trust me, you’re going to have some fun. Let me give you some of the basics. You have two handsome and beautiful giants at your command who are called parents. They love you more than anything they have ever loved, akin to their love for each other, which of course you may not know about yet, but you will see what I mean soon, and so you can feel safe as you discover your new place. They will protect you and care for you while you are here on Earth.

Section II Sounds, Dogs and Boys
There’s a lot for you to get used to but, there, there, my little one, everything is going to be just fine. Your new place has light and temperature changes and textures and tastes to learn about. It has soft fabric and warm liquid called milk that’s really delicious on your tongue, flickering shadows at the window and the sounds of little creatures up high called birds. They sound sort of like a little chirp. But, well, you will see. It’s really a beautiful sound. I think you will know it when you hear it.

You have in your middle some feelings that are really going to take precedent for you over a lot of stuff at first, and those come from what’s called a tummy. It’s ok, just remember that whatever’s going on there changes constantly, so don’t get too upset about it, honey. Your handsome and beautiful giants will help you with that. In fact they’ll help you with everything.

You will be amazed at what you learn every day. You know what your giants have? A dog! A dog is a little creature, a breathing creature like you, but different, sort of in the same category as the chirping bird, only he’s furry and wiggles and loves to play with little boys. Play means throw a ball and the dog catches it. A ball is a round thing that rolls. Ummm…...round is a shape. Catch is when the little dog gets the round thing in his mouth. Little boys are what you are.

There are more little boys! Isn’t that great? Play is what you will like best. Best means how you feel when your mouth goes kind of wide which is called a smile. Your mouth is what goes for the milk I mentioned earlier. Your giants have mouths too which they use for what we call kisses, which you will like to feel on your skin. Skin is the package you came in.

Section III Water
This section is about water, because there’s something I want to tell you about your giants. They are nuts about water. They like it like you like milk and kisses. Water is something you know about---you came from it not too long ago. This water that they like is very much the same but in a different place. Your giants like being in the water and on the water in, um, things kind of like bassinettes (the thing you sleep in) you’ll learn about later, and flying over the water and just gazing at the water. Water that makes a sound like what you heard before you met them.

There’s a place called beach that has a lot of that sound and they will take you there when you are no older than a minute. They will show you water that waves and moves just like the water music you knew before. And now you will learn about this new water in a place called a city that has weather that is very soft. Soft is what your blanket is. Blanket is what you have over you in your bassinette. Weather…..let’s wait on the weather for now, ok? This all might seem a little complicated right now, but believe me, you will know and love the sound of water when you hear it. And I mean forever, beyond 10 million giant kisses.

Section IV More Sounds and Noises
Your giants might surprise you. Heck, there’s no might about it. Sometimes they’ll come close and wiggle and you’ll think they look pretty goofy, but its ok, go ahead and laugh by making your mouth really wide, because oddly enough, that’s what they’ll want you to do! Then you’ll see some really fun stuff happen! You’ll wonder some days what they’re doing. But don’t worry, just look at them steadily and they’ll do something different. They never met you before either, see —and you are the first little boy they have ever had, so they will take some time to get to know what you like.

Your giants will teach you little by little what stuff is for, and how to do stuff, and they will really like doing that. Isn’t that the coolest? Really, you have got it made. And you’ll like it when they make lots of noises with their mouths as they look at each other and then they’ll come together and look at you, over and over. When they look at you together, you will be so happy you will wiggle. Wiggle is what your dog does, remember? It will be very nice. Oh yes, and sometimes you will hear your giants make their noises from far away, like behind something called a door, hum, hum, mmm, hum, and it will remind you of the same gentle, familiar sounds like the ones you heard before you came out of the water, and you will smile and nod off. That is, close your eyes and go dreaming. And if your guess is that the hum, hum, mmm, hum is them talking about you, bingo!

Section V Giant Eyes
Boy, there’s a lot to learn all at once, but just remember that, when you enter earth’s atmosphere, if it seems a little scary and bright and noisy, and stuff happens that you never knew about before, just look for the eyes of your two handsome and beautiful giants and you will feel much better. You will see something in their eyes (look near the tops of them—their eyes won’t be hard to find because they’ll be holding you near them a lot, looking in your eyes) that looks like the happy dreams you had in the last few months, full of stars and joy and peace and delight in all that is seen and unseen. Just look for the light in their eyes and that memory will be yours again. Your mouth will go a little wide and all will be well.

About the Author of This Manual
Well, there’s more to be written in this manual, because there’s a lot to tell you, but that’s all for now. Welcome, little one, I love you before I know you. That’s the magic of a grand giant, me, which I will tell you about when I see ya. We will have to fly over the water and the waves to see each other but we can be together in our minds any time. See ya.

For Graham, Born December 4, 2007


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Connecting with compassion

A man I met at a party today likes to walk in peace demonstrations. He was musing over the fact that the peaceful peace demonstrations got no attention. But violent peace demonstrations got a lot of attention. He was not unaware of the irony of demonstrating violently for peace. He said it could be his imagination, but it seemed to him that the police were acting more quickly in violence to the demonstrations he attended. Their peace group had discussed this and some of them decided to attend classes on peaceful demonstrations. ( Creeeeek! Did you just hear our old world evolve a little? )

I have been listening to an interview of Thich Nhat Hanh today and joyfully listened to him describe walking meditation --- his phrase on looking at the miracle of "the blue sky" reverberates in my mind. He says that we cannot possibly effect change unless we change ourselves. We all know this. But somehow his gentle voice, and at 80 plus years of age he has been at this at least since before Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, penetrates my busy busy mind.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindful meditation as a way to increase compassion for ourselves and others. He says that when we are attentive to our own suffering, we will know that of others. That knowledge can break cycles of suffering and violence in the world around us. If we are mindful, we can transform the suffering within us and around us.

This experience for me included the marker of my daughter's image of an open heart that she described in her blog. I have been noticing myself noticing my responses to stimuli with a gesture towards my heart. I move my hands to my heart, as she said, and then open them and notice the change in perspective. A simple thing, but somehow as soothing as the voice of the monk.

Thich Nhat Hanh presented his ideas at a retreat for police officers. One woman police officer was the one who brought the retreat into reality, after having the practice create remarkable interactions with people she had to arrest. When she had doubts about sharing the idea of compassion with fellow police officers, who have to carry a gun, she was told by Nhat Hanh's assistant: who else would we want to carry a gun except one who will do it mindfully?

What had happened in her own case was that with Nhat Hanh's practice, her heart began to soften --she had become very mechanical about her job. She had had no idea that she had shut down that way. And she realized that as her energy changed, the energy of the people around her began to change, even the people she had to arrest. She realized she was witnessing crime that involved misplaced anger because people are in incredible pain. And giving that pain a voice transformed it.

I am loving the heart symbolism as our popular national holiday comes up next week--Valentine's Day. Shall we transform it to Hug A Cop Day? More realistically and practically, training on compassionate listening for police officers would be money much better spent than money spent on bombers for war, which break the hearts of millions. Demonstrators training in compassion and police officers training in compassion. Maybe they will meet them there.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Anatomist

“They're transparent...” I said to myself, looking down on my spread fingers. I could suddenly vividly visualize the tendons and muscles, the connective tissue.

“This is a fabulous new view for me of the human body” I thought. I just finished reading The Anatomist by Bill Hayes. In telling the story of Gray’s Anatomy, Hayes writes in detail about med school dissections he audits to make his book more poignant. Phrases like “Leaving one side of our cadaver intact, we carefully dissect the other, exposing the intermediate and then the deep back muscles….” changed from abhorrent to fascinating. My ghoulish viewpoint became an observant one. Mr. Hayes described in words the amazing techniques of dissection, making them interesting and easy to imagine. I could not believe how clear his descriptions were.

The author says that after the gross anatomy experience, “You see life with a kind of picture-in-picture feature..” And I agreed.

I read half the book, then put it down for a few days. Picking it up later, I was surprised to see how low my retention was. What was so fascinating had become a little hazy. But then on page 172, an anatomy instructor, concerned about fewer anatomy classes as part of the MD curriculum, tells Hayes,

“…..there wasn’t really much new to discover in the body. It had all been found………but the real deal is, you can’t do medicine without it. ….Of course, you can make it a lot more streamlined. Teach it in a much more focused way. Doctors don’t remember any of this stuff. Ninety percent of what we throw at them doesn’t stick.”

Comforted, I read on to the book’s fascinating conclusion, boldly identifying with the student doctors' forgetfulness! And then I was entranced to see how all that anatomy on cadavers only helped a little to understand death. That death was still a mystery. I have seen two loved ones die and I have witnessed the shifting of consciousness that occurs at death. Like a light going out. Or happiness leaving the material world…Or….and oh yes! How the experience of the loss of a loved one is what you most anxiously want to share with……oh! but the one you want to share it with is gone!

I admire Haye’s attitude of respect for the cadavers and the people they used to be. I know a little more about anatomy now, and The Anatomist brought me a new view of the work of doctors, physical therapists and other medical technicians.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Education as Inspiration

Education As Inspiration

Rev. Father Stephen Sundborg underscored my view of education on a personal level today. In a Seattle Times editorial, he said this:

Never underestimate the power of education. A university education yields the best "return on investment" of any investment a person can make. Graduating with a $20,000 debt pales next to a working-lifetime earning power of $1 million or more compared to that of a high-school graduate. This doesn't account for the inestimable return on investment in the reflective and intellectually engaged quality of one's life. Even more important is the multiplier effect our graduates have in bettering society. One of the most satisfying parts of my job is knowing the significant things our alumni are doing and realizing that the university contributed to the human beings they are. This is the greatest return on an investment.

Having begun a community education class at Cascadia Community College, above, after a couple of years of not attending classes, I am again happily reflective and intellectually engaged! Also his ideas on mission:

Say who you are, then live by it. There is nothing more important for a healthy university than a president's clear articulation of its educational mission. The catchphrase is, "No money, no mission." But equally true for a complex, values-oriented university is, "No mission, no movement." The most important thing I've done in 10 years is articulate and embed in all we do our mission of empowering leaders for a just and humane world.

Again on a mini-local level, I influence my small world, and education helps me stay on track with my own developing mission.