Stephen Fry, I love you

...but do they bubble and froth and slobber and cream with JOY at language?"


There were no math pages posted

We homeschooled our kids. Not for the whole time, and not from the beginning, but we homeschooled. Our daughter had a disastrous first grade year, and I couldn't handle dealing with the Seattle Public Schools anymore, and I couldn't afford private school, and so I brought her home the same year her brother would've been in Kindergarten.

For months, she fought every plan I had, while her brother taught himself to read, via Green Eggs and Ham, which he read at the top of his lungs, lying on the floor upstairs in the hallway, with his top half yelling into the echoing bathroom. That worked out all right. I had my hands full with his sister, Reluctant Student Sally, down at the table near the kitchen. I'm lucky she didn't strangle me in my sleep, considering that I thought we could start the school day promptly at eight in the morning with a flag salute. (To my credit, I did not continue this insanity for very long, and soon discovered that math really could be learned while the student was still in his pajamas, that a routine didn't have to be bound to a bell system, and that a love of learning is the key to the kingdom.)

We didn't set out to do the homeschooling thing. My husband thought it was elitist, and I was trained to teach in classrooms and I was quite worried over test scores and other measures of academic conformity. Besides, most of the homeschoolers I knew back then were too weird for words. The whole idea seemed absurd until our poor daughter had to put up with such a rotten situation as a tiny little first grader. (Okay, she was not all that tiny. That was part of the problem. A girl tall enough to be in third or fourth grade doesn't get cut a lot of slack.)

Maybe because I didn't really want to homeschool in the first place, and maybe because I'm not all that cutesy as a teacher or a learner - whatever the reason, we didn't post kid work all over the main living areas of the house. We did post it. We just didn't let it take over. I have always needed my nest to be a place in which I can completely relax, and I just can't completely relax with wobbly capital and lower case B's and D's adorning the dining room, or while looking at shelves of notebooks and lapbooks and reading books and math books crammed into a living room area. It's too much like living with a perpetual tapping on the shoulder to have all that stuff staring at me all the time. I needed to be able to put it away at the end of the day (huge paper timeline running up the stairway wall notwithstanding).

Then, one by one, the kids turned 16, and each found a way to meet the wider world. Community college and the local high school, jobs, cars, even dates for the social lion of the family. One by one, they've up and left the house where they finished growing up, and now, one by one I've repossessed their rooms.

And now

the whole house

is mine.


Yesterday I brought home my first large painting. It's a Kat Ostrow original acrylic. I love it.

Kat Ostrow is my cousin. We met for lunch at Multnomah Falls, and after lunch, I put this portrait into my car and took her (the portrait) for a ride up the Old Highway to Troutdale because I needed gas. And the gas station is next to Home Depot. And Home Depot carries paint.

This is quite a beautiful painting in person. The employees and customers in Home Depot kept commenting on it as I stood there in the paint department, with the huge canvas leaning against the swatch display so I could match colors.

Now I've unscrewed shelves from the wall across from my desk. I'll move the other books and baskets tomorrow. I'll wash down the wall. When it's dry, I'll paint it a deeply saturated dark aqua color. When that's dry, I'll hang this painting.

This is my office in my house.

This is my painting.

Hanging it has reminded me that I didn't want to be immersed in homeschooling stuff, back in the day. Perhaps the kids themselves needed to be able to put it away as well. So, I've been wondering. Why do I want the constant presence of my inner writer's Muse hanging here in my office? Why do I want to decorate around her? Get appropriate lighting and furniture to make this painting the most important thing in the room, when her very self is a call to work? There were no math pages posted, but a portrait of my Muse is going to be hung tomorrow.


The Delicious Laura Calder

Oh, my my my. Fan! Fan fannity fan fan fan!

With Good Friday's griefs passed through once more, and Easter and spring (and actual sun!) streaming in, we watched episodes of French Food At Home, and I'm more hooked now than I've been on any cookery or housewif'ry show in ages. Laura Calder is wonderful!

Her shows are currently broadcasting on the Cooking Channel, and her "Top Recipes" (all one hundred and eleven of them) are on their site.

For the first time, I am seriously considering owning a whole set of cookery DVDs. She makes my mouth water.



This is Holy Week. This is the music of the soul as she approaches.

"O My people, what have I done unto thee? Wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against Me."

"Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal. Have mercy upon us."

It's odd to move through Holy Week in this culture. We have no daily parades through the streets, no Passion Plays, not even days off from the world of commerce as we sometimes have for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

But ... this is not a party.

On Palm Sunday, our tiny band of parishioners went outdoors with our palm branches as always, singing, following the cross and incense. The Starbucks customers, as always, bemused by us ... the TriMet bus at the stop across the street giving its passengers a tour of the oddity. This year, passers by on the street came with us as we filed back into the building.

Today I will work at the library. Throughout the week, there is school work to do. The Great Husband goes and sits at his desk at work every day, and makes the deposits and talks to the account managers and patiently deals with the next interruption - and the one after that. It all just keeps going, and woven into the relentlessness of it all, we will go to church.

On Thursday, we hear again about the night in which he was betrayed. Our Lord gave "a new commandment," and so, to show this new Maundy, the priest washes the people's feet. The altar is stripped bare. Bit by bit, each thing we love and use in the worship is taken. Gone. The service becomes more raw. The sounds of the busy world fade away. The Watch begins. For that night and all the next day, parishioners take it in turns to "watch with me one hour" where the holy Presence waits quietly for Friday's sacrifice.

We drive home on Thursday night. The roads are the same. The cars are the same. We need a little to eat before we go to bed. We stop at the traffic lights and speed up to merge. We park near our door and put another bag of pellets into the stove and we go to bed. Warm. Safe. Dry. Befriended and free. Jesus wasn't.

We sleep fitfully and wake at three in the morning. It's dark and cold and hard to move. Mostly in silence, we drive back to take our watch. Each of us, alone with the Presence for an hour. Each of us in prayer. Quiet. Sometimes in tears. We wait.

Breakfast, and a drive home, and a shopping trip for Easter's feast. How is it possible to go to the store and buy groceries? It is as if nothing has happened. This world does not know about the Presence still there, waiting, patient in the glow of candles and the scent of warm wax and yesterday's incense. I act my part and pay the person taking the money and we go to the car again. We drive a lot in Holy Week. Each trip feels just a little more surreal.

Good Friday service goes through me like knives. The altar is bare. "Behold the wood of the cross," the priest intones, "on which was hung the savior of the world." - the melody of this chant more complex and difficult. We answer him, stumbling a little on the tones the first time. "Oh come, let us adore him." He says it again. We answer him again. And once more. And each one, alone in his turn, walking, kneeling down three times, venerate.

The Passion is told - by them, and by us, singing out, "We have no king but Caesar." "Crucify him. Crucify him." We say those awful words. We did this to him. There is no wine in the cup. There is no music at the last. There is no light. We have crucified our king, and we go out into the night, weeping.

This is Holy Week. Every year, not in a movie, and not in a book. This is the Passion of our Lord, and now we move through it again, approaching, weeping.


Good Night, Virginia. I'll see you in the morning.

Last month, Virginia died. She was 98 years old.

It's hard to believe that she was that old. I saw her most Sundays, after she'd attended the early Mass, and I was coming in for the later one. She would be waiting for a kind parishioner to take her home, or she would be calling a taxi. "Hello, this is Mrs. Chester Ott. I would like a taxi at the Parish of Saint Mark, please. Ten twenty-five northwest twenty-first avenue. My account number is ...."

A few years ago, when the new VW Beetles came out, she bought one in bright banana yellow. She drove it without any sort of problem and with a lot of enjoyment. I mean, what's not to love about a bright yellow VW Beetle?

But one day, she read in the paper about a man who'd crashed his car into things, and she thought to herself, "Why, the old fool. He shouldn't have been driving at his age!" ... and then, "Oh dear. He's younger than I am." So Virginia sold her yellow Bug before she became the old fool in the newspapers. That's why she had an account with the cab company.

In recent years, she had acquiesced to using a cane - but that might have been only since her fall and subsequent broken shoulder. She certainly never was seen hunching over or hesitating when she walked. And once her shoulder had healed, she continued on with her several service projects and responsibilities.

Awhile back, after we had both been at the same midweek Mass, we had a conversation. She told me she was sorry she couldn't come to the ladies' luncheon, but that she couldn't do everything she used to be able to do. She wasn't complaining - more just noticing it. It was like she was describing the limitations of a new raincoat, not suitable for colder weather. But she could still read, she said. She was very grateful for that - she still had the full use of her eyesight, and she could read all she wanted to. When I remember all other things she did, I suspect that she did not do much of this leisurely reading during daylight hours.

One day last month, she made a phone call from her apartment in the assisted living complex. She told the nurse who talked to her that she didn't feel quite right. They said she should come on down to the clinic so they could check her out, but she said she would not be doing that. "Do you need an ambulance?" "No. No, I don't think an ambulance is necessary." They sent someone to her room to find out what was going on.

When they got there, they found that she had hung up her phone, sat back in her chair, and gone to God. Peacefully, quietly, and, Virginia-like, only after cheerfully informing someone that she'd be leaving now.

Virginia Ott fell asleep in this life and woke in the next. She has joined the others from our parish who wait for me - this group of smiling and contented people with whom I've knelt to pray. These people who have wished me a Happy Easter and a Merry Christmas - people who have shown me what duty and real happiness have to do with each other - people whose confidence in the goodness of the Lord has taken them through World Wars and widowhood and losses they never fussed over.

Someday I will join them.

Good night, Virginia. I'll see you in the morning.

O LORD, support us all the day long,
until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging,
and a holy rest,
and peace at the last. Amen.


Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma

It's not just the raw beauty of it ... it's not just that Charles-Camille Saint-Saƫns would love it ... it's not just that Lil Buck can do a vibrato with his body while Yo-Yo Ma does it on a cello ... it's that Ma is watching the dancer and not his cello at all! This is breathtaking!


Press Release (my first one!)

Too excited and jumpy to sit still ... too tired to think or plan for it.

Tomorrow morning, I have an interview with the local paper! The Skamania County Pioneer is going to interview me about the classes I'm trying to get started down at the community center, and I very much need to think about what I'm going to say. But, of course, this is the week everything sort of imploded at the library (so I've had a lot of sub hours), and I've got a PLA essay barely started that was due on Tuesday, and this cold, nasty, beastly rain is practically mulching me.

What shall I wear? What shall I take with me for visual aids? I need a list of talking points - catch phrases that will get people interested. It's time to launch Words & Ways for real.

I hope.

But all I can think about it how very much I hope she does not want to take a picture tomorrow morning. Flattering photos of me ... they're as rare as dodo sitings.

So ... what's wrong with THIS picture?




"Socialism" is NOT a synonym for civilized cooperation. (I really like Deval Patrick!)


If a Cantata plays in the forest ...

(Hat tip, Kara)
This is so cool! (in a wow, you've got a lot of time on your hands, relaxing, intricate kind of way)


Life's Little Ironies

Today's task: write a PLA essay for the course, Interpersonal Communication. Today's challenge: write, dammit! Write! It's all uphill today. I can feel it beginning to gather momentum, though. I remember how to do this. It's taken me all day to get to this remembering. Ugh.

And I want the library to send me a copy of the book, Improv Wisdom : don't prepare, just show up, by Patricia Ryan Madson. It has suddenly hit me that what I was talking about was "improv" - the way musicians and comedians think about it.

Okay. FVRL. (Fort Vancouver Regional Library)

Log in.

Title search.

Good. There's a copy on the shelf. Maybe I can get it by tomorrow when I'm working at the library anyway. Super.

Place hold.

So ... need to go back to the essay now. Really don't have any extra time here. Already running late.

Hmmm ... so ... what is near it "on the shelf," in this search engine?

Oh good grief.

Confused about communication and life skills? Maybe this is part of the reason. These are the books next to each other in the library, which means they're about the same subject.

Book #1: Improv Wisdom : don't prepare, just show up

Book #2: Today matters : 12 daily practices to guarantee tomorrow's success

(I shouldn't have looked)

For all my whiny, snarky, fearful, and fussy friends

I TOLD you happy was better than snarky! I knew it! I just knew it! Happy is not stupid! Happy is smart, and healthy, and a genuine fountain of youth.

Don't worry! Be happy!

Cultivate adaptive competence instead of whining!

See this woman? She's one hundred and NINE years old! She still lives in her own home. She's sharp as a tack, and she knows what she wants and why she wants it.

You don't get to be 109 without life hurling a few curveballs at you, and Reichert has had more than her share: bereavement, gender discrimination, medical issues. And after each, she dusts herself off and moves on.

Go here - read Dr. Mark Lach's report about this. Especially if you're afraid of old age.

Isn't She Lovely?

Sew Liberated has a blog! I didn't realize!

And her patterns are on sale right now, and she's all that's cool and inventive and modern and competent and stylish about our culture at the moment.

Her philosophy: Sew Liberated is a way of looking at craft that is, at once, traditional and completely modern. Depending on who you are and your own preferences, you can find solace in the "traditional crafts" either as a return to a slower lifestyle, or as a fist-held-high statement of non-conformism with today's commercial culture. Personally? I identify with both reasons and don't see them as mutually exclusive.

See what I mean? I love all her work.

Here's one of her many delicious aprons. Pretty, useful, happy, modern, traditional, practical ... Hooray for Montessori teacher Meg! She's Sew Liberated!


What's Wrong with our Food?

Here it is. In less than nineteen minutes, a clear and concise presentation delineating many of the reasons I've got a Health Hunter category in my writing on this blog. Go, Robyn O'Brien!


A few of my favorite (library) things

These are a few of my favorite things. When my back hurts, when the teens preen, if the patron's crazed, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so dazed.
  • The gentle disabled man whose sister brings him to the library so he can borrow another book of house plans. He knows exactly where to look for them. Today, as they left, he stopped in the doorway, clutching his book, and said "Happy Easter" to me and I figured it out really fast and smiled all the way while I said "Happy Easter" back to him because that guy just makes me happy.
  • The little boy who rides on in here on his plastic vehicle - and then is so sure he wants to take a book out with him that he just grabs whatever is handy, never mind that it's in the adult non-fiction section and he doesn't have a clue what it's about.
  • The fact that the UPS man can find the post office lady in here when she's on her lunch break.
  • That enough people know me in this town that when I had to walk to work because the car wouldn't start, I ended up getting a ride. (He pulls over - "Were you supposed to be at work at nine?" "Yeah." "Well, hop in. You'll have to get in the back, though. I've got a chain saw up here.")
  • Bookmark contest winners.
  • The look on people's faces when they figure out what WorldCat is, and what that has to do with Interlibrary Loan.
... and when I can remember to be aware of it, the whole idea that it's possible for people in a community to own a library together. To pass tax levies, and find volunteers for the board, and gather together the vast array of fascinating and silly and stupid and amazing and ridiculous and right wing and left wing and old and new and microfiche and ethernet that there is in the world, and make a public library out of it. Libraries are good.

Do you know this book?

Cynthia Voigt - know her? I do. I mean to say, I know her books. She writes. She wrote the Tillerman series, beloved in our house, and a lot of other things too ... but this is an adult novel, and I love it. I found it in the sale rack at a tiny little bookstore in Seattle a long long time ago, and I bought it and I've read it several times.

And I want MORE of this. Another one. I want another one, do you hear me? But my Ms. Voigt only wrote this one adult novel, and apparently "it didn't do very well," which means that the audience that would have have been clamoring for more if they'd just known about it didn't know about it. I know about it. I want another one.

I read somewhere that she wrote it like an old movie - a Cary Grant sort of movie. It most certainly feels like that. The reader isn't sure exactly what's going on until the very end, and it's quite romantic in a non-gushy, brisk and art deco kind of way, and the main character is a butler - or is he?

Do you know this book? If you do, do you know another one like it?



...after love, after love, after love

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.


Happy Birthday, Honey!

Happy Birthday to The Great Husband. Today, because it is his day, we shall eat carrot cake (after I make it in our new stove). Today, because it is his day, he shall watch his new, enormous, you gotta be freakin kiddin me that thing's huge, television, and I shall make sure all the laundry and ironing and such is all done so that tonight we can both sit on the couch to say repeatedly to each other, "That picture is really huge," and "We're all alone," and "Good grief, that television is enormous," and I'll try to get him to watch The 39 Steps with me quick, before the updated stuff arrives from DirecTV and all our recorded shows are lost. Today, he gets to take the garbage and recycling to the dump and recycling place, including the large pile of paper from my office clear-out, work on house remodeling projects with his brother, and peruse the hard-to-find book his daughter found in a university library, then found online, and then ordered with speedy delivery to be sent to him, because it is his birthday. No party (he's not a fan of parties), no balloons (because what would we do with them?), and none of his offspring in sight. Happy Birthday, honey. Today, you're all mine.


At the top of the stairs I reach

My hand, flat on the painted wall.
He is not there, I say to myself
about the boy who used to live on the other side.
He is grown now. Moved.

I feel the years under my palm,
sliding along the wall as I start
And she is not there, glancing across the hall.
And now he is not.
The door at the other end is shut
because he is not in.
He has gone

Here is the hallway where I sat on the floor
the book on my knees
my back against the wall
and every room holding a listening child
in pajamas
at night.
Huck Finn, one time. Odd silence no reaction
until she burst out at last
"He's such a liar!"
Yes, he is. That boy's a liar. She figured the liar

Games they got for birthdays and Christmases
are in the closet behind me
and Klutz books in that cabinet there.
I think we've lost a state from the USA puzzle.
Kentucky, I think. Kentucky fell

I know - because I looked - those drawers
contain a lot of things, but mostly photos
and crayons, pencils, markers, erasers, paints and brushes
ways to make the pictures
and the words and keep the light
from going

Each one all grown.
My house that once held Uncle Art and where
Aunt Nita died. In my room, I think. But only once
her work was done. Her brother Mel had already gone

I know, H.D. I know. The wall do not fall
the body lives
the Palimpsest is written again and again
and in my wall
in this hall
the writers have gone

I feel them
in the palm
of my hand.


Dear Kids

How are you? We are fine.

The weather is starting to get a little brighter, and we expect spring to arrive any day now. We can tell that it will be soon because the buds in the lilac hedge are starting to open.

Our new kitchen stove and new television will be arriving this afternoon. We are sorry that you are not here to enjoy them with us, but you are welcome to visit at any time. Bring a sleeping bag if you come. We have cleared out your rooms.


P.S. We go to bed at 10:00, and we get up at about 6:30.

P.P.S. That's 6:30 in the morning.

Where There's a Will ... There's a huge inner fight!

What do you do when your own worst enemy is...you? This hour, Radiolab looks for ways to gain the upper hand over those forces inside us--from unhealthy urges, to creative insights--that seem to have a mind of their own.
For anyone who's ever tried to break a habit or addiction - and for all who've never heard of radiolab ... You just have to give this a listen!