Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ramblings On A Beautiful Morning

I am sitting on my deck typing this on my lap top. The sun is shining warm, and the temperature reads 60 degrees! I have on just a light jacket. There is a light breeze causing the wind chimes to tinkle, and the birds are twittering. It is quite a contrast to the recent snow and ice we just experienced here.

So I am enjoying this little interlude.

I have before me some flowers that my sweet daughters gave me. My family took me out to dinner (Chinese, of course - my favorite) the other night to celebrate my debut as a newspaper columnist. They are so sweet. My son gave me a Starbuck's card that I can register on-line so I can get coffee and free wi-fi at our local coffee shop, while I write. I love that idea.

One of my daughters also gave me chocolate bon-bons she said I would need. So thoughtful, because that is surely the most important thing to fuel my creativity.

So while I am hyped up on chocolate and caffeine, I can whip out my columns in no time!

But seriously, it is so endearing to have such support! I am not used to getting all of this attention and it is somewhat embarrassing. I am the one that is supposed to be cheering them on. That has been my number one priority my entire married life.

It feels kinda good, though.

But tinged with guilt. I grew up in a time when you were warned that the worst thing you could do was to be a 'show-off'. We were raised to be modest and keep our accomplishments to ourselves. Being humble was a virtue.

And I believe that is the truth.

And so, it is very hard for me to accept attention on my behalf. I squirm. I feel uncomfortable. And I like it that way. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble. There are so many, much more important issues going on. It keeps things in perspective.

Can you believe that this little pansy is blooming right now? In fact, I have pots and pots of these little charmers blooming all over my deck. They have survived and continued to bloom even after being buried in snow and ice for weeks at a time.

A perfect example of how resilient nature can be.

And remember the humming bird that I was surprised to see in the middle of the snow? I thought she had somehow flown off course and mistakenly ended up here. But I have since done some research and discovered that she is an Anna's Hummingbird, and that yes, they do winter over! She has been coming to my feeder every day. She snacks on my pansies. I keep trying to get a picture, but she is so fast, by the time I get my camera turned on, she has flitted away.

I can't even imagine how such a tiny and delicate creature has survived this terrible winter.

But if you think about it, aren't we all tiny and delicate? As tough as we sometimes think we are, we are really very fragile, surviving on a sometimes inhospitable planet. It is amazing to think of what the human race has been through.

I love to see pictures of our beautiful blue and white swirled planet from space. So tiny and fragile in this immense Universe. I wish everyone could look at life from that perspective every day. Maybe they would understand how precious each day is.

It is not because we have fought each other and killed each other that we have survived. It is because we have joined together to build lives and cooperated with each other, that we have come this far.

We are all the same.

We all came from the same place and will be leaving the same way.

We are in this together.

Fragile, yet resilient. Like the pansies and the hummingbird. Who need each other to survive.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A New Opportunity

I have been chosen as one of six reader columnists to the opinion - editorial page of The News Tribune newspaper in Tacoma, WA. !

I have been reading this newspaper since I was a young 20 - something when we moved here from Oregon.

I particularly enjoy the editorial page.

When I saw the announcement for new writers, I thought I would submit a couple of articles as a lark, just to see what would happen.

Hubby and 'the kids' were so encouraging.

When I received the call that I was one of 6 chosen, I was so excited!

As anyone who has been reading my blog knows, last year was a difficult year for me. This opportunity has come at a welcome time in my life. It gives me something positive to focus on, a way to move forward, to reach out to others.

This blog has helped me step outside of my sometimes isolated life, as a stay at home wife and empty nester, living on the edge of the wilderness. Losing my Mother last year and watching my Father's slow decline battling Alzheimer's has only added to the isolation. They lived but a stone's throw from me for the last 30 years.

Writing satisfies my need to connect with others, gives me a voice, allows me to share my little world here on the edge of the forest.

I hope you will join me on this Journey. Because it is all about the Journey, isn't it?

And to my small group of faithful reader's, Thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate you.

(Read my column by clicking on the link at the top of the page)  

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I woke up this morning to this misty scene. There is a light rain falling. It is very quiet.

I love how mist can change from moment to moment. One minute it is there, the next it is gone. It illuminates the landscape, highlighting the peaks and valleys that are unnoticeable at any other time.

A monochromatic landscape suddenly becomes three dimensional.

All in a matter of moments.

It is something you can witness, yet not touch.

'The mists of time'

'Misty watercolor memories'

The backdrop of a melancholy mood.

When all is shrouded in mystery.

Its secrets unrevealed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Books - An Escape from Reality into Another's World

During our recent ice storm and power outage, there wasn't much to do. The television was silent. There wasn't enough light from our candles and oil lamps to see well after dark.

But Hubby had these handy - dandy head lamps that he uses for bringing in firewood after dark. They fit onto your head like a headband, with an amazingly bright LED headlamp attached to the front. (You can buy these at LL Bean)

And no, you are not going to get pictures. Suffice it to say, we looked ridiculous. And when we looked at each other, it was like looking into the sun. But, they were the perfect thing for reading when the lights go out.

I had started reading the most wonderful memoir shortly before then, by  Elena Gorokhova, written in 2009, called "A Mountain of Crumbs".

It is about growing up in the Soviet Union. She was born in the mid 50's. She grew up in St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad.

I loved every sentence and didn't want it to end. She had a way of narrating her story in a stoic, yet poetic way. Very much like reading her own personal thoughts in the very way a child would think.

I love reading about other people's lives. Especially if they have overcome difficulties.

Another excellent memoir is "The Glass Castle", by Jeannette Walls. This book was published in 2005. She writes about her childhood growing up with a lovable, drunken, but brilliant dreamer of a Father, and an artist Mother who resides in a world of fantasy; who drag their family from pillar to post as they barely survive. She writes with such tenderness towards her unfortunate circumstances and parents; a child having the role of parent. Another book I did not want to end. Despite her childhood, she became college educated and writes for a living.

 And then there is this gem of a book. Shirley Jackson was best known for her short story, "The Lottery", which generated the largest volume of mail ever received by The New Yorker after its appearance there in 1948, which continues to spark controversy, admiration, and terror - perhaps becoming the most famous short story of our time.

She also published six novels and countless other short stories.

But it was this book that led me to her. Her personal account of her life as the 'perfect professor's wife' and mother of 4, living in Bennington, Vermont in the late 40's and 50's.

Of course she wasn't the perfect wife or Mother, and her hilarious accounts of raising 4 children in small town America is priceless reading for anyone who is a parent.

This book is a compilation of short stories she wrote for various publications, spanning the time between 1948 to 1956, but the timeless quality of her experiences transcends any time-line.

It was re-issued in 1998 for Quality Paperback Book Club, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

If you want an endearing and hilarious walk through parenthood, I highly recommend this book.

This incredible work of fiction, "Memoirs of a Geisha", is amazing in two respects. That it is a work of fiction and that it was written by a man. An American man. And if you have seen the movie, try very hard to erase it from your memory because it doesn't even come close in capturing the essence of this book.

This book will transport you into the world of Geisha in a personal, first hand way. It is the story of one young girl, growing up to learn the ways of Geisha, with a powerful story of her own. Read this book if you are interested in Japan, its rapidly vanishing old world customs, subtleties, and way of life.

You will not put it down.

Another work of fiction that reads like a memoir, but from a very surprising perspective is "The Lovely Bones", a first novel by Alice Sebold. Again, this was made into a movie (the very last movie I saw with my Dear Mother). But please, disregard the movie, although it was very good. Because the book is sooooo much better.

Written from the perspective of a murdered girl, this is heartbreaking in its view into the life she left behind and the shattered family left in her wake. But do not get me wrong, this book is uplifting and hopeful with its message of love and healing. This book touched my heart. Very well written and will hold your interest to the very last page.

My glass door bookshelf in my living room holds my very favorite books from childhood to adulthood.

Two worth mentioning, as they fall into the category of 'Memoirs' are "How Green Was My Valley", by Richard Llewellyn and "Green Mansions" by W.H. Hudson

The first, a classic novel, written in 1940, are the reminisces of Huw Morgan; of his golden days as a youth in South Wales in a small coal mining town. This book is so powerfully bittersweet, you will never forget it.

The next book, "Green Mansions" is a haunting tale, hinted at being true, but no proof revealed, of a man lost in the South American Jungle, who eventually finds a remote British outpost and falls in love with a fairy-like young woman. Told in the third person, the foreword reads: "A story actual yet fantastic, which immortalises as passionate a love of all beautiful things as ever was in the heart of man." Hudson, the author states, "The sense of the beautiful is God's best gift to the human soul."

This book was written in 1916. It is not a long book, but it is one that will stay with you forever.

Finally, the last book, "The Land of Painted Caves", is one I have yet to read. The final installment of "The Earth's Children", series, written by Jean M. Auel

This takes  you into the world of Ayla and Jondalar, as they live in the world of Woolly Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers.

These books have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, (even before the last book in the series was released last year) appealing to a wide audience.

Jean M. Auel started writing "The Clan of the Cave Bear" more than 30 years ago on a typewriter at her kitchen table while her 3 daughters were away at college and her two youngest sons still lived at home. She wrote mainly at night (she is a night owl), while raising her 5 children and working full time at Tektronix, designing circuit boards, in Portland, Ore.

She started out with an idea for the series late one night after reading an armload of books from the Multnomah County Central Library about Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.  She quickly became obsessed. It was 1977 and she'd quit her job at Tektronix to get a master's degree in business administration and turned down a well-paying job as a bank manager to see if she could write a novel. She worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and wrote half a million words, an outline for the entire series.

She is 76 years old now and says writing is the hardest thing she has ever done, harder than raising her children, harder than working, harder than going to college.

Thank you, Jean for all of your hard work.  

Books have the power to transport you to places you have never been, times you have never lived, and experiences you may never have. They can take your mind off your troubles. They can entertain you, make you laugh, make you cry, give you new perspectives, and even give you hope.

What are you reading today?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

World's End - Our Favorite Place

When Blue Eyes and I were in High School, the world was a rapidly changing place. The old 'Establishment' order was being questioned, rigid rules were being overthrown, and the country was in a turmoil. The 'Counter Culture' was born sparking a social revolution as a reaction against the conservatism and social conformity of the 1950's and the US government's extensive military intervention in Viet Nam, with a commitment of half a million troops and the eventual deaths of over 58,500 young Americans. All viewed nightly on the 6 O'clock news. In living color. Nearly everyone we knew had an older sibling, cousin, or friend sent to the front lines. Everyone over the age of 18, if you were male and single, were required to sign up for the Draft. Protests were raging on College Campuses against the draft.

The youth involved in the social aspects of the 'Counter Culture' created a movement toward liberation in society, including the sexual revolution, questioning of authority and Governments, and demanding more freedom and rights for women and minorities. These youth were known as 'Hippies'.

College students became a powerful and disruptive force, staging 'sit-ins' and marches against the war and against the Draft. Voter age-limits were challenged by the phrase - "If you're old enough to die for your country, you're old enough to vote".

The morning of May 4th, 1970 started out like any other day for us. A typical day of classes, lunch in the cafeteria, standing around outside, waiting for afternoon classes to begin after lunch, joking and laughing, and horsing around. And then everything changed. A steady murmur rose up in the crowd. The rumors were spreading. Students were shot at Kent State University. Everyone demanded to know more. We refused to go inside until we were told what happened. After much discussion, the faculty allowed us inside the classrooms where televisions were turned on. We sat in stunned horror as we learned the truth.

Unarmed college students at Kent State University were fired on by the Ohio National Guard. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing 4 students and wounding 9 others, one of whom, we later learned, suffered permanent paralysis.

We walked out of our classes. We staged our own 'sit-in'. We refused to go back inside.

There was a significant response to the shootings. Hundreds of Universities, colleges, and high schools closed due to student strikes.

Then, on May 8th - eleven people were bayonetted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard in a confrontation with student protesters.

Just 5 days after the shootings, 100,000 people demonstrated in Washingtion, DC against the war and the killings of the students at Kent State.

Things at home were not much better for Blue Eyes and I. His parents were going through a divorce. My parents started objecting to our relationship, refusing to allow us to see each other.

We started skipping school to be together.

Blue Eyes would pick me up at the bus stop in his Chevy Van and off we would go.

To a beautiful place along the Atlantic Ocean called 'World's End'.

Where ancient trees grew

Alongside gurgling streams

Where we would sit on the sun-warmed rocks overlooking the beautiful ocean and plan our life together.

Far away from the turmoil.

Next Time: Consequences

Monday, January 23, 2012

As Cold as Ice

Our enchanted Winter Wonderland took a terrible turn last Wednesday. A warm front from the South stalled over us and changed the beautiful fluffy snow to freezing rain. All night the sleety drops fell, encasing everything in a coat of ice.

At first it was like something from a Fairy Tale. Everything sparkled and shimmered in its icy cocoon.

But soon the weight of the non-stop icy rain started bending down the branches of the trees. Then night fell and we couldn't see what was happening.

But we started to hear it. Pop, and then an icy crash. Branches were breaking. All night long, like some nightmarish war zone, we stood out on the deck listening to the forest all around us exploding like gunfire. And then whole trees started to fall. Boom! Pop, Pop, Pop, Boom!

We woke up to a cold, dark house. And a devastated landscape. Every few minutes the unmistakable sound of tree limbs crashing to the ground kept us inside. Smaller trees leaned over from the weight of their ice encased limbs. Others were simply sheared of all their branches.

Terrified birds huddled close to the ground, rising up in panic with each crash.

For two days we stayed inside, watching our beloved forest disintegrate before our eyes.

And when we at last were able to venture out, we surveyed an impassable driveway,

A crushed gazebo amid the ruins of the cherry tree,

And a crumpled utility shed.

It was miraculous that the house, Hubby's tool shed, and both of our vehicles were unscathed. It was like an invisible hand gently moved aside the very large tree tops that fell just inches away from all of them.

And the good news is this. My whole family is safe and sound.

For that I am grateful. Is it right to feel grateful when so many others have suffered so much loss? There have been deaths and terrible damage. My heart goes out to those suffering the losses.

Some still have no electricity. It has been cold. We just got ours back today. Almost a week later. But we were cozy and warm with our two wood burning stoves. We made do.

Today the skies were clear and the sun was warm. My thermometer registered 61 degrees. I had to check it twice to make sure it was right. I think Mother Nature took pity on us and gave us this beautiful day to recover from her fury.

The dogs and I spent the day outside. Gathering broken tree limbs and piling them high. We have our work cut out for us. It will take weeks. Maybe even months. All of my plans have changed. My focus will be putting our little world back together.

Like everyone else around us.

Because we have no choice.

But, to look on the bright side - We will have plenty of firewood. And we just got a lot more light in the yard.

I think I'll plant more roses. And maybe some small trees that have berries for the birds.

Like my ancient Holly tree that weathered through without a scratch.
 A true survivor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter Wonderland

It's still snowing here! It is very still and cold. This is the view from the little room where I am sitting. This was 'the boy's' room when my children were young. Now it is our office. The cats love this room, too. There is a futon sofa with a feather mattress here. But of course they sleep on top of the pillows!

This room has two windows. One looks out over the little river valley and Mt. Rainier. The fenced in area is my closest neighbor's horse arena. The other looks out onto the front yard.

Or up into the branches of this large cedar tree.

Looking down you see the little arched gateway Hubby built. I planted a scented 'Don Juan' rose below the arch, but it refuses to grow over it. It wants to go the other way and drape itself along the fence line. So I let it grow that way. It has gorgeous red roses. I can't wait to see them again and breathe in their wonderful scent.

The dog kennel is just to the right of there and the Stellar Jays love to eat the dry dog food I leave out for Little Bear. I think the birds eat more than Little Bear, although you would never know it to look at her. She loves her chow! She has the thickest, woolliest coat you can ever imagine. She is a Heinz 57 variety. Somewhere in her lineage is Chow, Rottweiler, and Labrador. She has her very own heated dog house and we rarely close the kennel gate, except when we have large truck deliveries or on big holidays when everyone comes and leaves the driveway gate open. She stays outside because she is so large and because her coat is so thick. Whenever we try and keep her inside, she panics and hyperventilates at the door. So we have made her special accommodations. We love her.

She smiles. She actually pulls her lips back and shows her teeth in a real smile. To strangers she looks like she is baring her teeth. But no, she is only smiling.

She doesn't have her 'full smile' here, but you get the idea.  She is getting old now and every year we have with her is a gift. She is fearless with a loud, resonating 'woof'. She chased the bear up the tree. Wagging her tail. Her only fear is having a bath. She hates them.

I guess we won't be having any picnics here any time soon.

This beautiful fellow is a 'Varied Thrush'. In the winter we have a little group who come to stay here. They scratch the ground under our large trees, searching for grubs. They are insect and fruit eaters. They also like the dog food, especially the canned variety. So I leave a little dish of it out for them where the dogs can't get it.

Their little tracks are everywhere. They have a one-note reedy call that is very distinct. They are rather slow and easily caught by predators. The hawk that caught the bird a couple weeks ago on my front lawn, caught one of these. But the birds are not so easily fooled, now that they know the hawk is around.

Every morning I go outside with bird seed for the feeders and hot water to fill the bird baths. This is what it looked like before I filled it.

The birds were so hungry this morning that they stayed perched in the little bushes just feet away from me while I filled the feeder. You can see two Junco's sitting together on a little branch above the Jays. I love listening to them twittering and chattering all around me.

Hubby has stayed home from work yesterday and today, so the little walkway to the vehicles has no foot prints. He has been keeping the wood box filled and the fire roaring and we are warm and cozy inside. The roads are treacherous and the television has been airing non-stop news of the hazards of travel. My son, daughter and loved ones have made it safely home from Mexico last night. One more day and they would have been stranded, as they have cancelled most flights in and out of the airport. My little kitten has gone home and the house is quiet.

My small stack of fabric is washed and ironed and ready to be cut for my applique wall hanging, so I must get busy.

I hope you are warm and dry today. Don't forget to feed the birds.

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