Swallows return

The miracle of the "Swallows" of Capistrano takes place each year at the Mission of San Juan Capistano, on March 19th, St.Joseph's Day. As the little birds wing their way back to the most famous Mission in California, the village of San Juan Capistrano takes on a fiesta air and the visitors from all parts of the world, and all walks of life, gather in great numbers to witness the "miracle" of the return of the swallows.

Each year the "Scout Swallows" precede the main flock by a few days and it seems to be their chief duty to clear the way for the main flock to arrive at the "Old Mission" of Capistrano.

With the arrival of early dawn on St. Joseph's Day, the little birds begin to arrive and begin rebuilding their mud nests, which are clinging to the ruins of the old stone church of San Juan Capistrano.

And every September, I find myself circling my academic pursuits once more, my thoughts like scout swallows, looking for viable nesting grounds in familiar places. I've been elsewhere for weeks now. I migrate in the summer. I think while I'm away from school that maybe I don't want to return. But then the end of August comes, and I find myself in the air again.

Too poetic? A bit sappy? Yeah, well the beginning of September is like that. Mothers around the globe mourn over their young, newly (and apparently suddenly) old and ready and expansive -- but these mothers feel proud, too. Pleased. Teary-eyed and pleased. College freshmen don't know whether to laugh or cry at feeling so lost and so ready to be. Harvesters feel buried under good harvests and groan under getting what they wanted the most. There's always a bit of the melancholy in September's excitement, I think, and you don't have to be a mommy to feel it.

So, here comes fall quarter. I'll be reading for a course in The Literature of Resistance this quarter. It makes me afraid to think of, but I want to do it. I've already been forever changed by a course called The Psychology of Transformational Narrative. Nice bookend courses for this degree, I think.

See, my degree is supposed to be about Composing the Human Experience. This is a writing and psychology degree - a literature and philosophy degree - a degree about people and the words they use. To this end, and in some sort of trick of the light (on the path I'm trying to follow), I keep discovering books within courses, but also outside of them. I am acquiring a library of compositions of the human experience.

Books from inside my courses include heavyweights like Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Opening Up have changed my life forever. I wrote a PLA essay for which Sonja Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness was one of the texts, and this led me to the research being done by Gretchen Rubin for her recent book called The Happiness Project, which has led me to bring home piles and piles of books from the library about happiness research. Most of them aren't worth much. But I am just now finishing one that has glimmers of things I want to use. Little flickers of light. The path twinkles with books like this one. It's called bluebird: women and the new psychology of happiness, by ariel gore.

There is a lot to recommend this book. I take issue with some of her trains of thought, but still ... there is a lot of good stuff in here, all the way through. And now, near the end, I find a quote I must use when I write my senior paper. Because I'm assembling a rock-paper-scissors model of the human being, in which the rock is the human inborn natural self, the paper is the socialized self, and the scissors are the human will ... and because I believe that the thing that defines the human being as unique in the world of critters is that "humans choose" ... this quote from a holocaust survivor is a little nugget of pure light for me.

Do you know him? Have you heard of Viktor Frankl? His book, Man's Search for Meaning, chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate - not exactly light, attractive, bedtime reading, right? But look at the conclusion he finds:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.


Yes, I'm ready for school to start again. Rebuilding my mud nest. Composing my own human experience. Using my scissors to shape the paper that covers my rock. Ready.


I know, I know, I'm a geek

...but I can't help it. I need to find some quick cash! I need to own the last one produced. When they release it, I want the cash handy. I wonder how much one of my internal organs would bring on the open market.


For post number 1,111

Yes, that's right. This is post #1,111 for this blog.
And because he's handy and could make my computer do what I want it to do, I've finally gotten access to the photos of that crrrazy graduation of our son's.


The man himself, in the middle of this photo, in the beige and brown and hat and beard.
And I told you there were juggling graduates! (Not to mention graduates who walked across the stage with their children in tow.)See the balloons? In the middle? There were lots and lots of balloons that day.And here we are. And that has to be the most horrible and unflattering picture of the daughter ever taken. She'd been back from deployment for less than 48 hours, and it shows, poor sleep-deprived soldier!


This morning, the earth has inhaled. The heat of summer is abating. A few more exhaling days of heat will come before the autumn begins in earnest, but still. There is a breeze that keeps making attempts to release and scatter everything paper tacked to the wall behind my desk, and I know what that breeze means. It's time to preserve the taste of the summer.

My daughter's been doing it for weeks and weeks. She found a farm stand local to where she lives, and she's got freezer jams (and ice cream toppings, aka, the jams that didn't gel) made of all kinds of berries. We've had samples - and man, oh man, is that good jam! Summer in a little jar. (And the lady of the house getting quite irritated with bad recipes and is learning her own methods and preferences so quickly it's like she's been doing this for decades, not days. I'll have to have her show me how. No reason for both of us to blaze this trail. Although, when "we" progress all the way to the pressure cooker stage, it'll be a race to retreat. Pressure cookers are scary.)

Meanwhile, I want to preserve a few things here. In writing. My life now feels reminiscent of the night I sat on our couch, third and last baby in my arms, and thought to myself, "Breathe this in. Remember it," trying and trying to tamp down the memory, embedding it in my brain and bones, knowing the effort was futile and that the only thing I would be able to remember would be the desire to remember.

So, knowing that the feeling will be elusive, but dates and years and diaries are still helpful, here's what I want to preserve from this summer.

1. This was the year the boots and BDUs came home. (A picture being worth a thousand words, the feeling attached to this picture still fresh, and tears have started to roll as I type, glancing at the bizarre feeling of relief and tension of that moment - because she was there - somewhere - (as The Great Husband murmured) "in the sea of sameness.")

She came home, all her body intact, her soul bruised and a bit in shock, but already healing quickly, even now, in this same summer. And for my part, the realization that our country and its military has not traveled more than a couple of psychic inches from the days of Vietnam and war crimes and soldiers stressed beyond imagination and leadership that could have acted and did not ... well, my soul has some healing to do too. But she's home. This was the summer our daughter came home.

2. Graduation at Evergreen State is graduation in a Fellini movie, and few celebrations I've ever seen or will see can touch it. Pure exuberance, complete with balloons, jugglers dressed as circus ladies receiving their degrees, and yes, the distinct smell of something sweet in the air, there, under the stair tower where I went to get pictures. My son in a hat of his own - spurning (with many, many of his classmates) the fee being charged for green rayon, and refusing to have a proper cap and gown. The band playing Dixieland music - in particular, a really tipsy sounding version of The Stripper. Me wondering where the (a-hem!) girl of interest might be in the crowd ... wondering if that boy will EVER introduce her to us.

3. The kid turned twenty-two and introduced us to his girl of interest. That's her - right there - in the red skirt and the stunning smile. We think the kid has great taste. That's what we think.

We also think that the ability of our three now adult children to have a party and dance and drink and laugh and have a lot of fun is ... well ... I mean, look at them! It's impossible to feel anything but unadulterated joy when I look at this picture. Bottles and bottles of unadulterated joy to be preserved this summer, and lined up, sparkling on the shelf, winking red and yellow and orange and purple in the shaft of afternoon sun that hits them right before it's time to serve dinner.

In the next couple of weeks, I'll add "insulated south wall of the house," "access to the attic," and "finished master bedroom" to my list of this summer's preserves. That's how it is at the end of summer. The heat starts to take an occasional break, and everything comes ripe at once. I don't want a morsel of it wasted this year. I want to feast on it this season, and I want to bottle every drop.


Almost there

At the bottom of my driveway is the road. At the bottom of the road is the edge of town. Past the edge is the river. The Columbia River, that flows out to the ocean. And here, in the Columbia River Gorge, the mountains rise up on either side of the mighty flow, and our little Pacific Northwestern fjord makes me feel all day - all the time - as if the ocean is close by. All I would have to do, I think to myself, is sit on something that floats, and I would come to the ocean after awhile. This river flows into the ocean, I repeat in my head. Sometimes I say it out loud.

The drive to the ocean, though, goes over another mountain range (one that looks a lot like this one), and the last bits of the road before the ocean first comes into view are winding, and turning, and I always think, at each turn of the road - even now, after I've gone to that ocean on that road for fifty years - is this the one? Are we almost there now?

The air changes subtly along the way. More mistiness. The smell of salt. Sometimes, even this far inland where Lewis and Clark began to record it, there is evidence of the effects of tides. Sometimes, even here at my house, the air makes my land feel like beach land. The air feels like beach air.

See these happy people?

White hat is our oldest child. Bushy beard is her first little brother. Blue shirt over the black T is her second little brother, and on this day he was turning twenty-two years old, and they were having a lot of fun at the party he set up at a pub. And see the stunner in the red skirt?

Are we there yet?

The air has changed and the road is turning another corner, and I know - I just know - the whole wide ocean is just around the bend. I can smell it. Things feel different. About two and a half decades ago, we piled our three kids - our one "gor baby" and our two "boy babies" - into the back seat of our car, and we started to drive. We've been following the river and the winding road and we've climbed the mountains and we've come down the other side of the range. This is "where the mountains meet the sea." We're almost there. Watch for it ... watch for it ...

I love the beach.


Happy Birthday, class of '78

Another friend turns fifty today. This is the year. We feel stunned by the passage of time, and equally stunned by the sense, when we talk to each other, that no time at all has passed. The more those two sensations grow, the more I understand the meaning of the word "eternity." All times are this time. There is only now, and now is always. That's what it feels like.

In our youth-adoring, productivity-chasing, nervous culture, it can be hard to know what being fifty is for. We're not quite ready (even if we could just walk away from jobs and kids) to pack up the motor home, don red hats, and set out for the nearest park with senior discounts at the gate. I'd like to think that "my" graduating class won't ever want to do that, but who knows? Maybe in another 25 years, it'll look more reasonable to some of us.

But we're not kids either. Our bodies remind us - daily - usually first thing in the morning - that we're not kids. Not young. Not anymore.

So who are we? What are we for right now?

I have been thinking about it, and I think we're for happiness. It's becoming easier (even for me) to assert this, in the face of the long and growing list of books on the topic. Gretchen Rubin has made a veritable industry of the studies and the practical aspects of the idea of happiness. University professors are studying it, and the sciences of the neurobiology, sociology, and psychology of happiness are joining hands with the tried and true and the folkloric to make a ring around the rosy view of life -- in the front yard of reality this time. Now that the generation of people blissed out on psychedelic drugs has reached retirement age, a whole crop of people has started to study the very notion of being happy.

This makes sense to me. After all, it is the baby and the small child who so quickly draw the conclusion that the missing parent is gone forever and the new state of the world is one of isolation and separation. And it is the teen who really believes, in every quivering, shaking, outraged fiber of her shouting being that, "my mother is ruining my whole life!" At the age when many people have young children of their own, the lasting effects of breast feeding or not breast feeding, co-sleeping or Ferberizing the poor child (who's too young to tell you how heartless you are), using cloth or disposable diapers ... it all seems so very, very, very lasting in importance. And then we get to the question of education - and (egad! already?) - for some of us by this time - dating and relationships and college and pairing off -- and how on earth did all of this happen so quickly? Can I really be this old already?

That's what it is to be fifty. Too young to be really old ... but old enough to know, from experience alone, that "this too shall pass." And, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be" (Abraham Lincoln), and we know now that we should "never complain, never explain," and we can even believe that "pretty is as pretty does." We've reached the age of the wisdom of proverbs and sayings, and if we have paid attention, fifty is old enough for happiness. And happiness is now.


To know how to grow old
is the master-work of wisdom,
and one of the most difficult chapters
in the great art of living.
Henri Frederic Amiel
(Swiss philosopher, poet, critic)

I was Mrs. Mitnik

In my senior year of high school, I was Mrs. Mitnik - Rose Mitnik's mother - and Rose was the love interest of Hyman, in The Education of Hyman Kaplan. Since Mrs. Mitnik was not in a lot of the scenes, I also watched this play, from backstage, through a peephole in the set. The year before, I'd watched all of the several performances of the The Diary of Anne Frank that way - through a peephole in the set.

I thought about these peepholes today because I stumbled into yet another person's narrative of those high school days. In recent months, I've had the chance to gather up a lot of these sorts of tales, as a bunch of us have gotten together after more than three decades of our own lives, far, far from high school.

If you watch your play through a peephole (and we all do), then you only have a view of certain things. You can see a lot of the set. You can watch the play. If you're Mrs. Mitnik, made to look older by way of makeup, but already sounding older by way of personality quirks and natural bent, and much much more believable as the mother of the prettiest girl in the class than you would ever have been as the desirable Rose Mitnik, then you also go out onto the stage for brief periods, and you see the play from the sewing table. You have your lines. You say (and you roll your r's), "Rosala, Rosala, you live mit a man a thousand years, you think you know him?" And then you burst into an impassioned song about the meaning of love (because you're 17, and passion is all you've got to put into the role), and you leave the stage again, to watch through your peephole.

And that pretty much sums up high school.

Limited viewpoints. Moments in the spotlight. Separated from all the other viewpoints by means of sets and makeup and lights and even by an audience that can't take their eyes off the drama in the center of the stage. I think we all felt a bit like we were the only ones at our peepholes - and that, too, is the nature of high school and youth.

But then the lights come up. The audience claps and stands and stuffs the playbills into their pockets and exits into the parking lot and drives away, and so does the cast and crew. We grew up. We all went and did stuff, and knew people, and couldn't believe life could be like this. I suppose a part of me will always be Mrs. Mitnik. Rose is still the prettiest girl in the class. And now I don't need a makeup pencil to make me look older (although ... how old was I supposed to be in that play, anyway? If I remember right, I looked about 70!)

This is the year my high school class turns fifty. And one of us got the bright idea that we could start talking to each other again. Thanks to modern technology, that's just what we're doing. After work, around kids and obligations ... but also around projects and creativity and adventure - and service, as well. I went to high school with some really nice people, who, despite some bad stuff that was happening behind the stage sets, turned into loving, caring, educated, useful, and happy grownups with good lives.

The play was good back then. We did our best. We loved each other, too. It's good to know, after all these years, that that part wasn't just drama. The people I loved loved me too. (Thanks, Fearless Leader. It's a real gift you've given us. And happy birthday!)


Your dreams will tell you

I woke up this morning in tears. I had just dreamed that my beautiful, capable, brave daughter and I were at a grocery store (but not the kind of store I've ever seen, except in the movie The Night We Never Met). She was carrying something to purchase - but she'd just come out of the restroom - and she noticed that people were looking at her arm - and in the dream, her forearm was missing, replaced by metal "bones" and a fake hand that looked and acted real. She casually put her sleeve back down to cover it - consciously casual - just handling the situation. And in the dream, I realized that she could not feel her upper arm - didn't know the sleeve was still up until she saw people looking at the metal.

I am in tears again, writing about this dream. My daughter came home from Afghanistan whole in body - and bruised in mind and soul, but not missing anything essential or integral to who she is. I do not cry over reality. I weep across the waves of fear that I could not watch while she was gone.

And I know that this dream is not just about my daughter. It's about all of my kids. All grown now. All looking at their 20's (or what's left of them), deciding how they want to live. And why. And with whom. And where. And there is nothing to do but see the dangers and possibilities from where I am now, decades older and wiser, but still only one person with one person's vantage point, and wait. If they loose limbs they're the ones who deal with it now. Not me. Being the mom now means, more than ever, seeing without acting. Praying without ceasing.

I had horrible dreams about the kids being in danger after a car accident I was in when they were little. The kids were not hurt in the accident. But in my dreams, terrible things happened. I dreamed then, as now, about what might be. What could be. What I was most afraid of. My dreams told me then what I was most afraid of.

But now there's a difference. Probably it's a good sign that in my dreams, my oldest child and only daughter is handling it. Now, in my dreams, I know my kids are strong. Brave. And ready.

So why am I still crying?


Because wedding pictures are forever

Twenty-eight years ago, when we were planning our wedding (and I do mean "we" - we were both in school, but on opposite corners of the country, and since we couldn't be in the same room, we did a lot of planning for when we could be) I got a good bit of advice from our pastor's wife.

"Pick a good photographer," she said. "When it's all over, what you'll have left is the man and the pictures. You got a good man. Get a good photographer."

Of course, this was the same woman who must've been a bit ... uh ... relentless? fussy? in her youth. She also once told me that on her wedding day, while she was getting dressed for the ceremony, she suddenly realized that she was missing either something old, something new, something borrowed or something blue. I don't recall which thing she was missing, but it was one of those. So someone brought her something, but she was merely confused by it.

She asked the giver, "What am I supposed to do with that?"

To which, the giver replied (through clenched teeth), "Why don't you eat it?"

Wedding days can be a bit frazzling.

Even for the pastor's wives whose reputations later become all about the kind serenity and the calm and all of that. But I digress.

We did get a good photographer for our wedding in the summer of 1983. Two, actually. One for the "pre-bridals" done for a picture in the paper (that's what this picture here is from - and we tamed the daisy head maisie flowers before the wedding day so they didn't look like they were sprouting out of my head), and also a team for the day itself.

On the day itself, this guy and his mother were the two left out of the team of three of their photography business, because his dad had passed away. And a truer team you never saw than those two. She arranged the people, and he took the picture, and he only took one with each arrangement. No kidding. One take was all he needed. And the album is beautiful.

And permanent.

The album is permanent.

Our pastor's wife was right. I have the man and the photos. I still wish I'd had my hair and nails done that day or the day before. Right there, in that permanent album of permanent pictures, pictures of such high quality that they will be here until kingdom come, is a record of everyone's appearance on that day of days - including the mother of the bride.

And this is where my thoughts have traveled of late. My mom looks good in all the wedding albums of all her kids - even the photos taken in the early 70's, with the ubiquitous chignon - the extra hair with a braid around the base of it, that lived on a white Styrofoam head on her bedroom dresser when she (my mom) wasn't all dressed up and wearing it. Back in those days, people thought that my mom, my sisters (8 and 10 years older than I am, and all shorter than I am), and I were all sisters. My mother looked really young for a really long time.

But all her kids were married by the time she was my age. This means, in case you're not following, that I will be older in the wedding albums of my children than she was in her kids' wedding albums. When the wedding days come, I mean. Okay, if the days come. But I'm telling you, I see winking and blinking lights over there on the ocean's horizon and this boat isn't showing any signs of stopping out here at sea, and those lights might not be what I think they are, but they might be, and if I don't lose some weight and get a more flattering hairstyle soon, I'll be caught forever in wedding photos in the very un-pretty appearance I seem to have taken on lately, and when my kids have their spouses and their photo albums, there I will be. In this condition. Because wedding pictures are forever.


50 Years Ago -- a $50 Bet -- and a story using 50 words! I do! I like Green Eggs and Ham!

I just found out about this! Did you know?

According to WKRC...

It was 50 years ago today that a publisher's bet turned into a children's classic.

Bennett Cerf bet Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, 50 dollars that he couldn't write a book using only 50 words.

The result of the bet... Doctor Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham."

"I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I am."

By the way, of the 50 words in the book, 49 of them are mono-syllabic.

The one exception is the word: 'anywhere'.

If you can't recall all the other words in "Green Eggs and Ham", here's the list:

Some other beginning's end

Okay ... I know ... it's a bit over-played. But it's perfect for this time of the year. We can see the another beginning's end from here. Right now, outside my window, I can hear a chainsaw biting into some logs. I can see the hay that was too poor to bale, lying brown against the greener field, and smell ripening blackberries. Summer is at the height of its aerobic workout. The sweat is rolling off, and the air is panting hard in rhythm, and everyone knows that the next part in the routine is the cool down.

I know that it's easy - and completely honest - for mommies to feel pensive when the summer starts to listen for the next song. I understand the sentiment. I do. After all, every new beginning is some other beginning's end. And so we grieve. At least a little, we grieve over the end of a beginning. I think this must be one good thing about celebrations for transition times. If you throw a party when your son is weaned, or give your daughter a QuinceaƱera, everyone's celebration can help the mommy a bit. She can weep and she will be understood.

But at the end of summer I am never far from grade school and new pencils and unopened packets of paper. The light at this time of the year reminds me of new clothes on a sewing machine. My own breath quickens with the increasing breathlessness of the air as the song's beat grows stronger.I know, you see. I know what's coming next. I know that when the air mellows, and the colors - colors even now beginning to fade from the outmost edges of the summer's juicy, lush glow - after this song - it will be after this song - the breathing will smooth out. We will stretch. We will cool down. We will lie still. We will find "corpse pose" again, and with the colors in the leaves, we will recede into thoughts again. School. Writing. Thinking. The scent of piles of leaves and sundried evergreen needles in the dust. Here it comes. It's after this next song.

  • 1. Finish and submit a completed PLA Portfolio
  • 2. Take three CLEP tests and don't put it off any longer
LIT 321E, 3 crs.
David Plotkin
This course examines the history of literary theory while focusing on significant contemporary approaches to literary interpretation. Students will explore the relationship between literature and various other critical approaches, such as in philosophy, linguistics, political-economy, historicism, post-colonial theory, psychoanalysis, and gender studies. Core requirement for major.
LIT 352A or CLS 352A, 3 crs.
Perrin Kerns
This course focuses on literature from around the world that testifies to political or social injustices, and, through the act of testifying, poses some form of resistance. In reading fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, students will look atmany of the issues that surround the act of bearing witness: the erasure of identity and the break of narrative sequences that adheres in surviving and/or observing traumatic historical events, and the healing (both cultural and individual) that can come through bearing witness. A World & Ethnic Literature course.
  • 5. (DANG it!!) I just figured out that the Philosophy course I wanted has a prerequisite I haven't taken. #5 ... to be determined.
Here it comes ...