Things I'm Happy About

Below you will find a shameless list of Happy Happenstance and Real Rewards and brow-sweat flinging Phew! Findings. As I keep going on and on about, this is it for us. It's a sort of Finals Week for the Parents, Class of '07. So here it is. This is what I'm glad about.

1. All three kids understand the difference between ranting at general injustice (or bad luck or momentary disappointments or personal pain), and whining. In this house we do not do whining. It displays a lack of gratitude, and a deficient perspective on the world and one's own place in it, and on top of that, it's bad manners.

2. See this painting? It's by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and it's called L'Innocence. I am very pleased to take note of the fact that all three of our offspring have been able to learn the difference between being an unaware child (no matter what your age is) and being deliberately innocent. They know the difference between art (which this is, despite its politically incorrect draping of the subject) and things that are lewd, titillatingly, and gratuitous. So now we live with young adults (for just a little while longer) who protest (loudly) when the Globe Trekker or Rick Steves have to use a fuzzing filter just to show museum art or people on a beach. That's stupid. The kids know it.

3. It is Ernest Hemingway who is credited with the saying that "courage is grace under pressure." I note with pleasure, that each in his (and her) own age-appropriate, still-growing, and also firmly rooted way is a young adult who believes this. They admire people with self-control. They are becoming people with self-control. Recently, our young giants have been faced with older, and yet not wiser people. And they have been asked to listen to the lack of wisdom being imparted to them in some truly unpleasant ways lately. This has been a test, and I held my breath, waiting to see what would happen. Hallelujah, raise your hands, my kids have behaved with courage. In such pressure as that, they have neither stooped to disrespect nor compromised their integrity.

Three points of such gratitude and reward that I hardly know what to do with myself when I think about it. So many, many, many times we didn't know what we were doing. We just faced in the direction of stubbornly cheerful gratitude and optimism, and politically incorrect exposure to all the arts and creative endeavors we could find, and we tried to set a courageous example no matter what the pressures were. We prayed for wisdom. We said things like "we've never run out of food and money at the same time." (Yes, it was that dicey sometimes.) We believed the triad: God is good, God can do anything he wants, and God loves me - and we believed the corollary: this, therefore, whatever it is, is really and truly okay.

I do not write (and then publish) these thoughts in order to boast of my own triumphs -- I write (and publish) them to tell any parent of younger children who might be reading that even when it looks like there is no way - no hope - no prayer - no chance that this bit you're in right now - that even THIS will turn out for the best, you have a reason to keep believing. Face toward the Light and bring your kids along. They'll get the habit of the Sun on their faces. I promise.

The last echo of the last week of the last year of school

Well, this is it. Out of three, I got one kid who says so - and last night he said so. "I just found out that I'm done with school on Thursday of next week." (He's a senior, but not a conventional senior, so he hasn't been paying attention to all the senior activities. He's getting a state diploma instead of a local one because he didn't attend conventional school during his freshman year - thus, a lack of a specific kind of credits - thus the state diploma for Mr. Responsible and the Delinquents. Maybe they could start a band.)

So this is his last ordinary Thursday. Lots of theater stuff over these next few days. The performances are this weekend, and he's worked his head off for this play. He's also spent a lot of time raging over the lack of attachment to the outcome he has seen in his peers. "Don't they realize we will be on stage with everyone watching?" "The way they're acting is disrespectful to everything that has ever happened on that stage - it's disrespectful to the whole idea of theater! To everything creative! What is wrong with these people?" (Eighteen year olds don't much seem to have any setting between "Volcanic" and "Comatose" - I'd assert that it was just this one kid, but he's the third of three and I'm not senile yet. Then there's the written evidence of my own youth - I found my journals yesterday.)

Anyway, I've been thinking about the different perspectives that have evolved in my own head throughout the years. My own end-of-high-school experience wasn't my first. My sister is eight years older than I am, and when she graduated from high school, I was nearly ten years old. At that time, I thought that "high school" must surely be some sort of earthly Nirvana - some sort of cross between a fantasy amusement park and a library - something very, very "high." I mean, just think about the name of it! It's called "HIGH school." It's "school" (which is as good as life gets, unless you can find a way to stop time completely - whenever you want - so you can read without getting interrupted), but it's "high" - what couldn't happen in a place called High School?

Plus ... there was this other thing.

In Portland, Oregon, where I grew up (me and Beverly Cleary), every spring ends with the Rose Festival. It's the City of Roses. There is the International Test Garden and Washington Park up on the hill where the Oregon Zoo is - the the Zoo Train runs between them. And Rose Festival includes the Grand Floral Parade. And the Grand Floral Parade includes ... ta!dada-daaaaah! ... Rose Festival Princesses! Princesses, I tell you! There were princesses chosen from ... (guess -- guess where the princesses are --) High School! So, excuuuuse me, but what is not to love about High School? They've even got princesses there!

Eight years later, and a thousand thousand miles away in perspective, my own high school graduation came. And from the murky mists of my childhood, a deep longing came with it. Not only was I in a small high school that didn't participate in Rose Festival, but there was the hard and inescapable fact that I wasn't Rose Festival Princess material. So ... my perspective on "my last week of school" had all the usual things. It was my last week of a life all laid out and decided for me, with my only actual responsibility being to turn up and do the assignments given. It was my last week of being constantly, week in and week out, with the friends I'd known for years - many of them since fifth grade. It was my last week of going to school in the morning with my little brothers in the same car. It was the last week of a lot of things. And ... (sigh ..) for me, it was the last week of the Long and Lovely Dream. No escaping it now. I was really and truly never going to be a Rose Festival Princess. Shoot.

And now here we are. My other two kids went around this rite of passage. They didn't go to high school - just enrolled in community college at the age of sixteen (with varying degrees of success), and so they didn't do the Last Week of High School thing. But this kid - this last of the tribe - this vocal and verbal and very vibrant guy - whose trademark statement is the fact that he wears dress socks but makes sure they do not match - he's doing it. And he's talking about it. (This too makes him different from his siblings. He says stuff.)

And so now here I am. This time I'm not the little sister - and I'm ready to admit that high school is often neither high nor school. And I'm not the disappointed never-crowned princess wannabe ... well, not much, anyway. This time I'm the mom. It's not my last week. This time I am off to the side, hearing echoes of the past, and still able to hear so much more of the music than I could back then. This time I see the fear and recognize the frustration and remember the eagerness to just get on with it and to finally be done with all the setup.

And now I know. Many times, in many ways, over and over in this life, this is how it will be for our son. He will feel eager to get on with it - wish that he could just click on the "fast forward" arrows for this last bit - and at the same time have a kind of exhilarated fear roiling around inside him because you can't know what happens next until you get there. This isn't the last time he'll feel like this. But it's the first big one.

After this, these almost-but-not-yet moments won't ever again be quite so sharp and sweet and strong for him. There will be more settings on his emotional scale - a lot of them as time passes - all the reactions between "Ballistic" and "Lethargic" will be added to him. That's what makes this first one in a class by itself, maybe. Maybe the sharpness of this time is simply the fact that there are no incremental settings in an eighteen year old's emotional reactions, and there has been no time yet for a sense of proportion and perspective. Maybe when it becomes possible to anticipate at least some of the possibilities, it also become impossible to feel things like that.

I wouldn't change that fact of life even if I could. We would tear ourselves to pieces and eventually melt and flame and burn away in a heap of emotional heat if we had to live all our lives at the age of eighteen. Just like with love, we need the deeper roots and the weathered storms and the sorrows and the tough times, and we need the joys that come from something we can't yet name when we're eighteen. We call that a marriage - not just a date. But also just like love, this beginning time is really something wonderful.


Memorial Day Poppies

In search of some good photos to use for this topic, I found what I think may be the most succinct version ... at Kathy Ireland's site, of all places!

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 to honor and decorate the graves of fallen soldiers during the Civil War. Later on, this holiday came to include fallen soldiers from any war.

To honor Memorial Day from the gardening world, Moina Michael wrote a poem about Poppies and War in 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields." She then began to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during any and all wars.

Later a Madame Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women, which became a tradition that spread to other countries as well.

For some lovely photos, see this site.


Woman's Work on Memorial Day

Some of us do the part that helps the ones who do the soldiering.

And some of us have seen an opportunity to join more personally.
Sometimes the men do the supporting role.

And sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.
And some of us are the parents who are startled to discover heroism in our own children. We all know - war is hell. From the gates of hell, oh Lord, deliver us.

For the Army.

O LORD God of Hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the soldiers of our country; Support them in the day of battle, and in the time of peace keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty; and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


ABC news needs to get out more - just my own opinion, of course

Meet the New Millennials
They're Young, Cool and Not Keen to Get to Work Before 10 a.m.

That's what ABC thinks, anyway. I must beg to disagree with the conclusions, though. I have great hope for the future when I look at the "kids" coming into adulthood today. Here's why.

1. People who moan about the inadequacies and mindlessness of an incoming generation are always OLD. They are attached to old ways - old thinking - old solutions - old paradigms. New is bad for these people simply because it means that they no longer know what's going on and can't control it.

2. The peers of my children seem to fall into categories more clearly than our generation did. We had a lot of structure that the people before us invested in -- we rebelled at the parts we were asked to play, but we saw parts. The new adults of this world do not have that - and they are choosing their own parts. There are more clear strivers and more clear slackers. And they know who each other is.

3. Because so many of our generation dropped the ball when it came to paying attention to their families (having ourselves grown up with "as long as you're happy, dear" being one of our accepted family values), today's new adults are oddly competent in many cases. They have had to be. Somebody's gotta make dinner.

4. The creativity bubbling up in the arts is a great heaping pile of evidence that these kids have stormingly large imaginations. Formidable. Stunning.

5. More than ever before, there is less and less patience for what we here in this house call "moooo." The herd is full of mavericks who won't wear suits if they don't really need to.

My husband and I look around, and we are GLAD that the upcoming generation will be in charge one day. We think they'll be better at it than we ever could be. Hail the Revolution. It's not being televised.

Brilliant! Turkey dung can heat your home

Thursday, May 24, 2007
Poultry Power: Plant in Minnesota is on track to begin operations in June

BENSON, Minn. The sandy mix of turkey droppings and other bits and pieces flowing through Greg Langmo’s fingers back onto the floor of his barn is more than just funky dirt - it is fuel.

With 16,000 hens gobbling around him, Langmo is standing on a 15-inch layer of turkey litter - about 750 tons of the stuff - that represents a new source of energy.

It will help fuel a $200 million power plant scheduled to begin full-scale operation next month. The 55-megawatt Fibrominn LLC plant will be the first poultry power plant fired by poultry litter in the United States, tapping a novel source of renewable energy to produce enough power for 50,000 homes.


I find this strangely comforting

A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating.
The worse their rhymes, the more picturesque they look.
The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets make a man quite irresistible.
He lives the poetry he cannot write.
The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.

Oscar Wilde

Back to basics

It must be a personality glitch or something. A bad habit from childhood. A human tendency away from moderation and into extremes. Whatever it is, there is apparent within me a very limited ability to pace myself.

When I started writing a full-blown story, I had the felt experience of falling off a waterfall or going through the Bonneville Dam. That is what it felt like. Caught in the flow of a powerful current and pulled into the crashing water, down into the depths and suddenly popping out again down the river a way. It sort of took my breath away.

Okay, fine. I can live with that. It doesn't scare me any more to have that underwater sort of "in another world for awhile" experience. It feels a lot like being pregnant, actually. The rest of the world is visible - sometimes audible - but I'm not in it. I can deal with that.

It's this whole business of getting BACK INTO the river, and paddling a way each day that always stops me. I want that big powerful river to carry me some more. It's okay if I can't breathe properly, or see properly, or even choose my path with any kind of awareness or control or perspective. I can just go with the flow.

But it's apparent that this Calgon, Take Me Away approach is not going to get me very far. Time to row. I don't like rowing. It's really really really hard. (Read that over again if it wasn't heard in your head in a petulant whine.)

What a badly chosen default for my Life document. This formatting stinks. I must have Fred Flintstone's computer chip in my head or something, because I have to set the formatting every blasted day! Open the document, start to write, and suddenly the words run off the edge of the page - or everything ends up in capital letters - or it fluctuates between single, double, and 1.5 spacing between the lines - or the font changes unexpectedly. Aaaagh! You get the metaphor, right? My LIFE will not assume a format that accomodates my

Now I know that there are people in this world who have a much more natural tendency for presets and defaults that have lovely borders and dependable structure to them. These people have a sensible rhythm in their days. They get all their work done - and have time to spare. They do not have to go back to the basics every time they attempt to do anything at all with the projects they're working on. I very strongly suspect that those people don't even need their tidy little daytimers and Covey habits and mottos. They just gather that stuff like magnets gather iron filings.

Well, enough of this. Mario's right. 1K a day. Follow Heinlein up that hill. I suppose that since I'm simply not a natural at the daytimer stuff, I will simply have to get in the habit of setting my own margins - every stinking day - but I'm fine with that - really - I don't mind a bit - it's no problem. Back to basics today.

Robert A. Heinlein's rules for being a writer:

1. You must write.

2. You must finish what you write.

3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial request.

4. You must put it on the market.

5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

Anyone can do it. It just takes perseverence.



Have you heard?

World Wide KIP DAY 2007 is being celebrated on Saturday, June 9th!

And what is "KIP," you ask? It stands for "Knit in Public" - that's right. Saturday, June 9, 2007, is World Wide Knit in Public Day. So grab your yarn and needles, tuck a lawn chair under your arm, and get out there! If you live in Portland, you can join up with the hilarious proprietors of Close Knit.

So go outside and knit!

Spring rain

This has been the perfect spring. It has been long, and chilly, and often sunny, and very very reluctant to get too close to summer. When the weather is like this, the lilacs and rhododendrons remember that this is their own, their native land, and the new growth on trees and fields is a very specific shade of green. My own native land is Portland, Oregon, and although I now live about fifty miles closer to the high-rainfall line of the mountain range than I did then, I seem to have retained the sensibility of the girl who loved growing in the "urban forest" of Portland.

All winter, it is breathtakingly beautiful here where I live. For some very realistic, un-enhanced pictures, take a look at this site. That really is what it looks like here, and I love it. You will note, however, that at the top of the picture, where many people would expect to see "sky blue," we very often have sky but not blue. The color of the sky in the picture is the color of sky that makes green things happen on the ground.

In the spring, the whole world seems to turn the color of that fern in the lower part of this picture. New growth on evergreens, and new growth on leafy trees, and new growth on every bush and fern and patch of wild grasses - all of it glows - especially when the sun gets lower at the end of the day.

On the way back up the Gorge on Sunday afternoon, the rain in the air and on the ground shone in the sunlight because the rain and the sun poured down on us together, and the woods seemed to be made of rain turned to trees and plants wherever it got near the surface of the earth. That light, and that green, and that rain, when it happens all at once, feels to me like the dreams I have in which I can breathe underwater. Perhaps I was a mermaid in a previous life.

Not everyone here is happy to soak in the spring this year, though. Our youngest son was sitting in the living room yesterday, and he looked quite ordinary and content. But then he suddenly erupted into, "I hate this weather! It's too warm and too cold at the same time! Where is that draft coming from?"

So now I have a theory. I think that this weather we've been having, poised between old cold and new warmth, neither sun nor gloom but equal parts of each, is weather that appeals to a middle aged woman who enjoys the season of Almost. Wait. Soon enough.

For a young man who cannot see the end of the school year come soon enough, this season is just plain irritating. It feels on his skin like some sort of restraint. He can move neither forward nor backward. The future he leans toward is overflowing with unanswered questions and unlimited possibilities, and the past he is trying and trying to walk away from still does call to him and remind him that he has been a happy child. And so he sits in a draft instead of a breath of fresh air, and he stuffs himself into a sweatshirt and glares at the windows where the sun sparkles on the raindrops.

Poor kid. I can remember feeling like that. But there is nothing to be done about it. He will stop feeling like that once time passes him from this phase into the next, and there is no other path to take from here to there. So I will sympathize when he erupts in irritated frustration. I do remember.

For me, though, the knowledge of impending summer is in my bones, and I am not in a hurry. For me, this is beauty and I will luxuriate in long, slow moments of glory as I drink in the spring. This year is a really good one.


Word "collage"?

Um ... (a-hem) ... uh ... well, I went to a class today. Two hours of Introduction to Art Therapy. We made collages. The other collages were completely "full" - if you know what I mean. There was no backer paper showing through the other ones. But mine? Well, I didn't really look at what other people were doing - and my pictures were more like floating islands of things on the white backer paper, and then I cut word and phrases out too - and those were on top - and then I took the Sharpie and wrote all over it. Lots and lots and lots of evocative words. (Silly teacher didn't have colored sharpies ... who expects collages to happen with only black sharpies?)

Anyway, I got to thinking about the Art Therapy thing. We asked a lot of questions about her career and how it works for her ... and I thought and thought and thought (and wrote and wrote and wrote) ... and I still think it would be fun to be the Art Lady. But maybe the peak I was using as a way to orient my travels isn't where I want to go. Maybe I'm about to take a different route.

I mean ... well ... I wrote all over my collage!

A very few decades ago, this would have worried me. It would have felt like "quitting" or "being flaky" or something. But now I think that it happens all the time in this life. We use a peak or some other landmark as a way of keeping our sense of direction, and then sometimes, just when we think we can see a clear path straight in and up, we look around and notice where we are. Sometimes the map just works better upside down. (With black sharpie all over it.)


Stubborn story

Take the whole storm, with every lightning strike and every clap and reverberation of thunder that had an echo in your own sternum, scoop up every drop of rain and breathe in every shift in the air currents ... and then pour all of that through a funnel and onto a canvas to paint the storm.

That is what it feels like to try to write a story.

Hold your fragile new baby in your arms, up close to your face where you can smell him, and know in your being that his being is as strong as it needs to be for his life of temporary dependence on you, and that all of your love and tenderness and crushing sense of helplessness in the face of his frailty will be only so much food and water to him as he outgrows you.

That is what it feels like to want to be writing a story.

Go again into your recurring and disturbing dreams where the classroom full of students will not be quiet, and your little brothers will not leave you alone, and your mother will not listen to the thing that you are saying with all your agonized being. They will not listen. They keep telling you about other things. You cannot get their attention to turn toward your meaning. Wake yourself with the sound of your own voice saying, "Be quiet!"

... damn.

Maybe I should read what I have so far. Maybe I could get a run at it.

Photo 1
Photo 2

Take a few stories ... mix well ...

Okay ... so ... If Ramona the Pest had been the oldest child, and if she had been allowed to run around as if she were one of the boys like Caddie Woodlawn, and if she never did learn to be happy in a group of people moving more slowly than she wanted to move (or sitting still for any reason) ... and if she had then been fed a steady diet of J.R.R.Tolkein and C.S.Lewis and E.Nesbit and L.M.Montgomery (and it occurs to me to wonder what effect it might have had that all these authors have initials for first names!) ... and then if that girl had been "ready" to leave home before her seventeenth birthday ... and if she had gone on to admire the work of Sedaris and Potok and Ira Glass, and most of all, above all others, the towering J.D.Salinger (leading us back to the initialed name ... what is up with that?) ... and then if that same person turned into a woman while working out in the woods and building trails and sweating and thinking and being pulled pulled pulled out of herself and into her life (which gave her herself) ... well, apparently that person turns into someone who does the public speaking part at graduation from the Army's Basic Training. That's what our girl is doing tomorrow. She's the Narrator at graduation. (Only the Army would "narrate" a graduation!)

I'm very proud of her - I'm sure that's obvious. But I'm equally bemused. Kids are like a box of choc'lates, apparently, and you never know what you're gonna get.


Three in one blow

You know the story, right? The Brave Little Tailor? It's a pretty good story ... and the part of it that's going through my head is the claim of "three at one blow." That's how our family looks this spring. And we didn't plan this any more than the slightly manic tailor did. It just happened this way.

Three kids in the space of about 47 months. When #3 was born, #1 wasn't 4 years old until the next month. So in the following months (months that felt sometimes like glacial eons and sometimes like lightning strikes), we did the baby thing.

Then we started to spread out a little ... we sent one kid off to school. But this turned out to have been one of the most idiotic decisions we ever made, and we idiotically stuck to it for the full two years, for some idiotic reason. By the time the next school year came, we were doing our schooling at home. (That girl? That girl that's in the military now? She wasn't any better at conventional education when she was seven than she is at twenty-two, but she was a lot more dependent on the grownups at the time, and classroom school was a hideously bad idea for her.) So ... we did the kid thing.

Everybody learned to read. Everybody learned to do some math. Everybody played outside a lot and painted and colored and built stuff and mastered the two-wheeler. There was a kingdom of stuffed animals, each member of which had his own back story and particular relationships and unique voice. (I never got it all straightened out and always needed a translator - but they never argued over who was who, so I think they really did know all the parts.) There were friends and sometimes cousins - there were annual customs and weekly duties. We did the kid thing.

Then we did the teen thing and everyone learned to drive and to decide a lot more of the schedule (if you can call the way things are around here by the word "schedule"). The screens joined us - movies and computers and reruns of the Cosby show for some odd reason. Other old sitcoms too, now I think about it. It was almost like stages of sophistication or levels of maturity or something. Older sitcoms got watched by younger kids, and as the kids grew up, the newer and more subtle shows were better appreciated. It was fascinating for me to watch my kids watching these shows. Something about all of this seems to have nurtured a certain kind of brain, regardless of the individual personality of the individual child, too. They don't all like the same thing, but the all despise stupid stuff - with all the passion and heat of youthful scorn, they hate stupid stuff.

So here we are. This summer, the baby will be nineteen, and that means we're really and finally and unquestionably done. Now we're just in consultations - or ... we will be after high school graduation. Until then, the poor guy is in Age-group Limbo. He's legal for a lot of stuff, but not for his pre-arranged absence permission slip from the high school. The secretary called me yesterday. She knows our kid - and she knows me - it's a small town. She signed the form for me once she got my verbal consent ... but she had to have it.
Him: "But I'm eighteen."
Her: "Yeah, but we don't care."
Oh, man, is he ever ready to get out of there.

But back to the point. The point is ... THREE at one time! None of it is normal or conventional - we're really pathetic about anything normal or conventional. But for us, this is very conventional and it's all at once. #3 Kid graduates with a state diploma (not a Stevenson High diploma because his credits don't include freshman year because he was still schooled at home for that year, and I didn't have the inclination to enroll him in anything accredited -- never mind why). #2 Kid is finishing his community college Associate of Arts - which means that his first two years of college are in the bank, and he can transfer that into a university when he gets around to it ... but he will take some time off because he has never not been in school. And #1 Kid is standing on the line at the End of the Beginning as well. Basic Training is over (and she didn't think it was hard enough - no joke - she hasn't gotten any better since first grade at staying with the level of the group), and it's time for Advanced Individualized Training in Arizona, and she's champing at the bit.

But do you see what I'm getting at? It's all three at once! Time to buy "graduation" presents - all three at once - this month - even though none of these graduations is entirely an "all done" sort of thing. The graduates are done right now with their beginnings.

I think I'm looking at the finishing touches here. Back in the day, we decided to be the kind of parents that didn't insulate ourselves from any part of the parenting job or delegate many of the responsibilities. There are lots of ways to do a family - we did it by our own total immersion. The kids were weaned and they were in their own beds for the whole night when they were ready to be (different for each one) - they got support and approval for any and all independence, but no amount of autonomy was ever dumped onto them before they took it for themselves. We decided (at first, we only decided one year at a time) to directly oversee even the academics department. We stood like llamas, my husband and me, looking out over the sheep pen, ever ready to kick the life out of anything that invaded, grazing calmly with the shorter animals, and we just let them graze. We watched.

I guess what I'm surprised at is that we got to do this last bit at all! I think I expected that we would be made redundant by now. But we got to finish the job we started. Our offspring have each practiced living the Adult Life while we stood there, watching for predators and doing less and less about it even when we did see dangers at the edges of things. They got to practice, but they didn't have to leave to do it. I am very grateful for this part. Huh. Interesting. I hadn't realized that until just this moment. We did not choose this. This was a gift. This last bit was pure gravy. (Do guard llamas eat gravy?)

Walk this way

If only we'd stop trying to be happy
we could have a pretty good time.
Edith Wharton


Larry, this one's for you

Readers ... gentle, loving, supportive Readers,

This post is a belated birthday gift to Larry. Once, a long long time ago, we were young and there was a ball team. And once, at a game, the score was close, and we were in the last inning, and I cheered in the stands and then joined in the collective groan and cry of disappointment when Larry dropped the ball in the outfield, and we lost the game. I sure hope he remembers that day - if he doesn't, I hope he keeps reading this until we get to the point. That was the day Larry taught me a lesson. (Only I didn't realize it until just now.)

After the game, Dan and Larry and I - we went to the Original Taco House. I have no idea why we didn't join everyone else at Burgerville, which was a more usual post-game activity. I also do not remember why it was just the three of us. But I do remember - really really clearly - that Larry was pretty much a walking, barely breathing human version of the word Dejected. He was barely speaking. We thumped him on the back. We walked with arms across his shoulders. We agonized with him. We felt his feelings. We went for tacos.

After some period of cheerful banter between me and Dan, supportively ignoring the Dejected One with us in the booth, after the chips and salsa, once the food came, hard hearted wench that I was, I said (cheerfully - with no compunction or remorse of any kind), "Okay Larry, that's enough. Crap happens. You made a mistake. But you're one of the best players on the team and you know it. So snap out of it and eat."

Dan flinched and looked at me like I'd just recommended that our dejected friend rid himself of unremitting hiccups by means of harikari and said something like, "easy! Give him a minute, why don't you?" To sad and sympathetic Dan, I think I just made a face. To Dejected Man I repeated what I had just said. I don't think he liked me very much at that moment. ... But he stopped moaning and started eating. He let himself be okay.

Thanks, Larry.

Yesterday I lost the game here by dropping the ball. When you did that, you spent some healthy time being Dejected Man ... and then you snapped out of it and ate your damn tacos. Yesterday my failure was filling up all the emotional air in the house, and that too was a failure. Today I've tried about ten times so far to write Dejected Girl out of my brain and body, and she refused to go away. She's a pouter. She sulks. She's very likely to say horrid things to her husband like, "Easy for you to say," and "You have no idea what I'm talking about." (It isn't easy for him to say, he's really really sick of hearing about it, and he knows exactly what I'm talking about. Over and over again, he knows exactly what I'm talking about. ...sigh ... Sorry, honey.)

Now, suddenly, I can just see her. Your blog about friends from your olden days and Carol putting a comment on there ... and it all came back to me. I can just see that uppity Snap Out Of It Girl sitting in that booth in the Taco House, and she's just as uncompromising as ever, the little chit. She's demanding the same thing of me now that she did of you back then. She still says, You blew it. So? You usually do okay and you know it. So get over yourself. Eat your tacos.

She's right. (I don't like her very much. Why didn't you throw something at her?) Pass the salsa.

Postscript: Larry says he doesn't remember this -- but I bet Dan does! And I do. It's not because I have a great memory of the mistakes of other people either. It's because we loved him and he was in pain. That's what has been coming back to me - how very much we all loved each other. It's the memory of love that snapped me out of my funk. So ... NOW will you please just pass the salsa?

Bikes in Paris

There's a plan afoot -- or rather, astride! Parisians are trying out a plan of Bike Rentals. You use your bank card, take your bike to where you want to go, and drop it off in the bike place when you get there. Nice! (Image from The Sartorialist)

It works well in Lyon, apparently. But the Parisians themselves have some doubts about its translation into Parisian life. A delightfully French lawyer woman says (in this report) that "Parisians are the spoiled children of France." For some reason this lovely, succinct, matter-of-fact statement has made my day -- probably because it is in the same context as the observation that the sophisticated Parisians will not want to trade four wheels for two. Both are true. It makes me very happy that there is such a place and such a people.

And if Decaux wants to come to America, I think he should start in Portland, Oregon. They'd eat this up with a spoon!

JCDecaux runs similar schemes in Vienna and Brussels, as well as in the southeastern French city of Lyon.

In Lyon, users must pay a 5 euro ($6.48) registration fee for a one-year subscription. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free, and up to 1 euro is charged for each subsequent hour. The average trip there lasts less than 30 minutes.


Our house

From the top part of the field, down the field, over the trees, to the Oregon side of the Gorge. That's my view.

The first time I ever saw this view, my not yet even a fiance had been showing us slides of Norway. When I saw this one, I said, "Ooooh! Where is THAT?" He was a little embarrassed, and said, "Well, that's Stevenson." Brazen hussy that I am, I shot back, "And why haven't you taken me there?

To the left, you can see "the woodshed" which was actually where great grandpa and great grandma lived the second year they were here (she'd had enough of the Indian shack they lived in at first), and beyond that, you can see the roof of my tumbledown little house. My living room windows face that downhill view.

Like it?

I wanna know what love is ...

A little secret - I love love love the Bravo Channel's Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton. (I do not love love love Lipton himself, despite the fact that the man does showcase the artist he is interviewing - I can't get rid of my deep-seated urge to ask the man to get out of his own way.) I had to move the box of Kleenex to my lap when I watched the interview with Juliette Binoche - something inside of me knows the inside of her. Matt Damon is probably going to get more and more formidable as an actor, I think. And the interiors of Al Pacino and Forest Whitaker are like a kind of masculine room that is immediately comfortable to my feminine self. Not all the interviews are like that - and I'll admit that if I do not much enjoy the work of a particular artist, I do not much enjoy their time at the Actors Studio either.

My secret's second half: I often ask myself the Bernard Pivot Ten Questions. I think about the answers to those questions. I think - a lot - about the artist's psyche and soul, and I cannot spend my time watching anything more personally fascinating than the beauty of it. The beauty of the artists themselves. Through my own lenses, artists look like human art. Artists look like poems. They feel like tapestry and they sound like music and they pull me into themselves like Flemish paintings.

Lately I have been reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and the very natural result of this reading has been my wondering about the fiction authors - the word artists - I love the best. Take Elizabeth Goudge, for instance. I read her words often. And repeatedly. And meditatively. Every book she writes is about the freedom found in duty done for love's sake - and the love found in duty. Her books are the perfect antidote to our modern notions of creativity and love being something we find spontaneously arising in the human soul, needing only release. Humans are not so one-dimensional as that. It works the other way - we build from the outside in as well as from the inside out. To remember this, I read Elizabeth Goudge.

Madeleine L'Engle writes about love too, and the first three books of her Time Quintet helped me show my children some of the most important things I wanted them to know about life. If we will take root, we will be free. If we will understand that the measure of the power of a thing is the measure of its love, we will be strong with the power of eternity. If we can learn to love the thing we most despise, we can redeem it. When I want to remember the fact that Love is the strongest thing there is - because God himself is Love - I read the fiction art of Madeleine L'Engle.

And this brings me to the point. What do I want to write about? Me. My words. What art do I want to create with my own words? What is my own art? On the way to church yesterday, alone in the car with my husband (still a rare occurrence, but less rare now) and in another of our best and most satisfying conversations about all things temporal and eternal and the places where the two touch, the thing came into focus for me. I want to write about love. I want to answer the question in as many ways as I can. What is it? What is love? And what is not love? Is it love when the other people have what they want? When I do? Does that matter at all? That is what I want my art to do. What is love, and what is it not? I want my words to be answers to that question. I want to be an answer to that question.

And this explains the loop tape in my head today. "I wanna know what love is. I want you to show me." Dated music - perfect sentiment. There are dozens of memorized hymns in my head and heart, some of which might explain this notion of mine, but it turns out that pop music says it most succinctly and most basically. I wanna know - I want you to show me.

Here are the Pivot questions. Try answering them for yourself if you never have before. I think this might be my own version of using the shampoo bottle as a microphone in the shower. I've heard of people doing that. Or picking up a figurine while you're dusting, and making your acceptance speech to the Academy. When I play, I answer the obsequious Mr. Lipton - after I've been brilliant, of course.

1. What is your favorite word?


2. What is your least favorite word?

Fine. You know ... like when someone says, "fine" in that voice that means "I no longer want to talk to you about this, but I'm giving in because you're more stubborn than I am." It's one word that means "have it your way" and "I don't care what the truth is."

3. What turns you on (creatively, spiritually, emotionally)?

Seeing a thing that is exactly what it is in its most real self - when something is most true to its nature or its reason for being.

4. What turns you off?

Abuse of power - any time anyone uses their advantage for personal power.

5. What is your favorite curse word?

Shit - in any language - I trade off.

6. What sound or noise do you love?


7. What sound or noise do you hate?

Ignored babies crying.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I'd like to make beautiful fabrics.

9. What profession would you not like to attempt?

Anything medical.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant."


What I Want

(from the front pages of the book Madeleine L'Engle Herself)

"Madeleine L'Engle is one of the wise women not only of our time but of the ages. She would be comfortable in the company of Sappho and Sophocles, Dante and Chaucer, Macdonald and Dostoyevsky, and they would rejoice in hers. She understands, as they did, that, confronted by the mysteries at the heart of the cosmos - the mysteries of union and separation, of progress and retreat, of good and evil - one must enlist in the struggle with all one's might and at the same time bow in awe before the unspeakable beauty and pain and all that is inexplicable."

Thomas Cahill

Oh my my .... git OVER here!

Pretty nice, eh?

And how 'bout

this one here?

Also a really good shot.

But wait!

There's more!

These amazing shots are not from the olden days. These were taken by "Pioneer Woman," who, for the record, has just about the most hilarious, well-written, utterly gorgeous blog in the world. You just gotta see it.

And to whet your appetite, here's an excerpt. (I swear I have died and gone to heaven with writing like this! ... Even if the whole sacrificing things for Lent is supposed to be giving up luxuries and other good things. I mean, if it's a bad thing, you're not supposed to be doing it when it's NOT Lent either.)

What's your favorite swear word?
I gave up swearing for Lent this year because it had really gotten out of hand. I didn't necessarily swear in front of other people so much (except at church), but I'd so much as stub my toe or drip coffee on my shirt and I'd mutter all manner of highly offensive expletives to myself. Bad ones, too. Real, real bad ones. So, since I really didn't want to be disciplined about going without wine or chocolate or anything culinarily enjoyable, for Pete's sake, I gave up cussing. And you know what? It stuck! The demon is exorcised. The spell is broken. The filth has left my trachea. Only now when I stub my toe, I utter these really bizarre mutations of formerly offensive cuss words. Words like "crudacious" and "fracunktious" and "schneikaloomba" and things I frankly feel more embarrassed saying than the old cuss words.

What's your favorite swear world of Mike's?
That's easy: TurkeyDamnButtHellAssFartNose. Simply rolls off the tongue.

What will be your final words of wisdom you'll tell your kids on your death bed?
Please, please go clean out my panty drawer before someone sees it. And I love you.