Mistress of the Manor – Page 3

The clock strikes one. Mrs. Eckhart rises to leave. I hear Julia greeting John by the front door in the same moment, and am glad for his return. But the squeaky floorboard and subtle click of the lock in John’s study tell me he’s made a hasty retreat. I smile, knowing he is shielding himself from Mrs. Eckhart’s inquiries and continued conversation. She is droning on now, asking me to contact a distant cousin who lives in Leeds. I decline. “I’m afraid I’ll be quite bound to the manor, Mrs. Eckhart, or I would be delighted. Perhaps another time.” Being civil is required of me, as the social representative of my husband, but sometimes, when I allow myself, I daydream of being too caught up in a society of painting or poetry to care.  

Mrs. Eckhart is safely out the door, down the stairs and helped into her carriage before John peers from the study. “Are we free to leave now?”  

God help me, I am hopelessly in love with my husband. At thirty-five he has just enough gray in his chestnut hair to afford an air of authority and distinction. His mind in sharp and clever, his stature tall, thin and fit. I run my hands beneath the tweed collar of his jacket pulling him close. I love the smell of him and the way my face fits in the warm nest of his neck. How is it, I ask myself, that after five years of marriage we have not a single child to show for our love?  These thoughts rise from a dark place in my heart, landing like a knife in tender flesh. I push them away.  

 “My dear husband,” I demand. “How can you be such a fearless advocate in the House of Lords and cower before the likes of Mrs. Eckhart?” 

He laughs. “In her majesty’s government reason and science dominate, which makes us ill prepared for ladies tea and gossip. Mrs. Eckhart, for all her finery, I believe would be just as comfortable attending a public hanging at Tyburn Gallows.” 

We are interrupted by a parade of porters coming to hoist trunks for transport to Paddington Station. They will be sent ahead and unpacked by attendants at the estate. Our London house will be closed and shuttered, with John living at The Gentleman’s Club when he returns. Unfortunately, affairs of government will require his return with regularity. Those are the details. But my mind has already arrived at our new home, where I imagine myself bounding into the countryside with the sole purpose of gathering grand bouquets of bog rosemary, wild heather and bracken. Our house will be awash in colors and aromas from the highlands, and in no time at all, if I am fortunate, I will learn to put those colors on canvas. 

A forgotten valise peers from the hallway, as I stroll toward the dining room. “Julia, come quick. See if you can catch the men. They have over looked one of John’s trunks.”

She hesitates. “Oh, I wouldn’t do that Madame. The men have already set out. To call them back would be unlucky.”

“Nonsense. They are still in range and must be held responsible for all items they were contracted to carry.”

Julia bounds down the walk, her apron catching the breeze, just in time to flag the men. They unwillingly rein in the horses. The biggest man is coarse with roughly sewn clothes. He gets down, makes a cross-mark in the dirt and spits in it. He is reluctant. The sound of Julia’s voice travels back to the door. “I told her that but the Misses doesn’t care. She wants you to come back.”

The men look at one another. “That does not bode well.”

They whisper among themselves. Begrudgingly, one of the smaller men walks in, picks up the valise and leaves, averting his eyes.  

John is making final arrangements for the servants in the parlor. I weave my arm through his, whispering. “The peasants are so full of superstitions; it is difficult to get anything done. I hope it is less so in the north.”

Mistress of the Manor – Page 2

Mrs. Eckhart is prompt, as always. She is elderly with only her daughter, a grandson and three nephews for company. A widow for sixteen months, she is still wearing the dark crape of mourning. 

Julia, our maid ushers her into the drawing room, a fire-warmed space full of gold framed paintings, grand piano and walls of leather bound books. Julia draws back heavy curtains, admitting the outside world. 

“Oh Ivy darling,” she says, extending a glove in my direction. “How I have missed you. And how charming you look in white cambric and lace. It accents the red of your hair and the green of your eyes. Have you found a new seamstress?” 

“Thank you Mrs. Eckhart. Allow me.” I pull out the chair nearest the fire, inviting her to warm herself. “My seamstress remains the same as yours, although I’m sure you use her less since the loss of your husband.”

“On the contrary my dear. She is in steady employ. This crimped and stiff texture is not easily maintained, nor the dull looking silk gauze beneath. Only last week I was carried up the stairs to her flat for a final fitting, a tedious affair to be sure. But enough of clothes.  Rumor has it, you’re off to the country this afternoon.” 

Mrs. Eckhart positions her parasol against her chair, sitting heavily down, as if releasing the weight of the world. Long sleeves drag over china cups as she plucks her handkerchief from its cuff, wiping her troubled brow. Her grieving period will be finished in eight months, but she is the type to continue in subdued shades of grey, Alfred’s death giving her a spotlight of attention she has long craved. 

“I hear dear,” she continues, “that you’ve bought an estate in a little hamlet in the north, one previously owned by the Viscount. I traveled that way years ago but must admit I am neither fond of sheep nor heather. I find the moors bleak in every season, preferring the bustle of London. Why ever have you decided to abandon us?” 

“My hope is to paint, Mrs. Eckhart, and I believe that country air and exercise will provide added benefits. I’ve already engaged a fine teacher who lives near Scarborough tower, a Mr. Whidbey.  His excellent reputation and references precede him. Of course, I’ll miss the society of London but will return in the fall, and be delighted to receive you at that time.” 

A steaming basket of cranberry scones with freshly churned butter is placed on the table, and to each of us in turn. Sweet efficient Julia is pouring tea as Mrs. Eckhart continues to talk; a pastry crumb unknowingly adhered to the side of her mouth. I listen, stealing glances at the grandfather clock, not so subtly willing that her departure be as punctual as her arrival.

Mistress of the Manor

 

The room is quiet; the only sound the soft rhythm of the woodcased clock.  Light is slowly, slowly spreading its wings through the lace curtains on my window, splashing intricate patterns against my companion pillow. My bed is warm, the sheets white and crisp, relaxing me more fully than a bubble bath of rose pedals and gardenias. My nightgown lies soft and silk against my skin. I must get up, but nothing in me wants to, even with the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting into the room through the heat vents from the kitchen. Tabby sleeps near my feet, stretching her paws as she extends across the quilt. We warm our faces together in morning’s first light. 

The wardrobe door is ajar, a peacock blue robe draped over the attached mirror. I gaze at my dresses, wondering which to wear. Something white, I think, something for the countryside. My shoes wait below in strict rows of attention, except for the teal ones from last night’s dancing, tossed in before falling asleep, my mind too busy with swirling and laughter to care. Memories of the party send me deeper inside my sheets, as I recall the ballroom, the human churning of finery and jewels, the orchestra and tables of pheasant, candied plums and champagne. 

I’m brought back by the sound of carriages in the cobbled street below, their drivers calling to one another, while coaxing their horses around the turn. The view from my window is memorized, the sounds telling me everything I need to know about the weather and the day. I love the echo of their hooves against the stones, the rattle of the buggy and the squeak of warm leather. I picture the blinders squaring off the eyes of each mare, keeping her focused and straight, and the drivers in their black hats, and waist coats, with carriage whips raised, each one in a hurry. The street is busy now, but it will quiet soon. By eleven social calls will begin. We will only receive Mrs. Eckhart today, so we can leave for the country before two. The fire in the drawing room will be set, scones will be made and the finest black tea steeped in the Devonshire pot. The thought of our new country home with its vast landscape rolling like great emerald waves for untold miles, brightens my imagination.  I will miss our London home but it will not be abandoned; only vacated for the summer season. 

The crystal doorknob from the hallway turns quietly to the right. If I had not been daydreaming in that direction, I would have missed it. John tiptoes in.

“Oh, you’re up,” he smiles.

“Not exactly” I counter, reaching for him. “Awake but not up.”

John sits to stroke tabby, who is bathed again in warm slumber. Bed springs yield to his weight as he extends his hand in my direction. “Are you ready to become the Mistress of Yorkshire Manor?” 

River of Light

I’m thinking about the women in my bloodline tonight, women I loved, often disagreed with and unfairly judged. I’m thinking about my mother having five children because there was no birth control and how her dreams of personal fulfillment were dashed by that responsibility. I’m thinking about the talk we had one evening in the back of the restaurant, as I followed her from the kitchen, her tiny high heeled shoes tracking grease along the dining room floor. We sat together, her hands overflowing with end-of-the-day receipts, black curls stuck to her forehead from the heat of an industrial stove. “I don’t want this life for you,” she said. “Be something better. Be something more. Get out of this small town. Go far away.” 

I listened to my mother’s lament and left my rooted place. In fact, I traveled as far as I could without falling into the sea. I made a life 3,000 miles away, a life I think she’d be proud of, although she never understood it during her lifetime, the words, psychic, healer and artist falling dangerously far from accepted norms. She needed familiar occupations, like doctor, lawyer or business owner, titles to give her bragging rights with friends as they gossiped about their children over glasses of evening wine. 

Her words and desires dance in memory, as I look into her life and the lives of those before her, acknowledging that I stood on the back of her broken dreams to make my own. I think of my mother’s mother, Ada, and my father’s mother, Lottie, and their mothers before them, and their mothers as far back as I can imagine. I try to sense their radiance and gifts, ambitions, sorrows and longings as a river of light, each life flowing into and through my own, each person’s existence a kind of sacrifice for the next and the next and the next, each new foundation an expression of hope.  

Saying Good-bye

I have to let go of an old friend this week and it hurts my heart, a friend that has seen me through 22 years of my life. This friend is my sofa, couch, or settee. 

It was a hot day in August 1989 when I presented my partner, Thom, with a brand new sofa as a birthday gift. It was perfect for our country farmhouse in the Columbia River Gorge and I was thrilled. He was less so. Come to think of it, he was downright disappointed.  (I may have even purchased it with his money.)

“You got me a sofa? For my birthday? You’ve got to be kidding. I don’t want a sofa. You want a sofa. You bought it for you.”  I was silenced by the truth of it. 

Thom was never fond of the sofa. He was not home long enough for one thing, his career as a naturopath, instructor and politician kept him away. But when he was home, that was our spot. We curled up by the woodstove, watched the gold pendulum of the grandfather clock tick away the evening, talked about homeopathy, hemorrhoids or the latest growth on Mrs. Collin’s back.  

My first grandchild Britan was brought home from the hospital in November to nap on that couch, her mom and dad sitting on either side, exhausted and proud. It held Thanksgiving guests, and later serious discussions between my son Clay and I about their decision to move back to Los Angeles, taking Britan with them. The couch held midnight tears and the pain of disconnection that followed. 

Women gathered in my living room for seven years learning psychic development. They found insight, sisterhood and bravery on that couch, our black cat often leaping in and out of their laps. I’ve dropped sticks of incense on the fabric and patched the resulting holes. It’s been my place for watching movies, writing books, and starting each new day.   

My mother, her husband, Joe and Thom’s father, all dead and gone, each reclined there when they visited from afar. Unwanted and unwelcome guests rested there as well, guests whom I cooked for badly and sent away early. My daughter Kristen and I sank into the cushions on week-ends to taste hummus and dream up vegan menu items for a part time catering business. 

When Thom and I separated, the couch went into Susan’s basement until I could find a new life. When money ran out I tired to sell it, but did not succeed.

In 1995, I went to live in the home of a Cherokee Indian named War Eagle, putting my sofa in the spare room, where I slept on it, prayed, meditated and wrote memories. Britan came to visit and cuddled with me in the evenings. She asked if she could sleep with me in my bed. “I’m sorry sweetheart. I have no bed, this couch is my bed.” We made a pallet on the floor.  

When I opened an office in SE Portland, the sofa was carried up flights of stairs to anchor the coming years of truths and confessions, cleansing tears and transformation that followed. It was the vehicle for relaxing into other realms and a place to feel safe and secure.  

A client once used the sofa to distract me from issues he feared. “Do you ever curl up on the couch between sessions and take a little nap?” I told him I did, his question buying him a smile and a little time but no escape. Another afternoon I found a gentleman from Japan had arrived early for his session and fallen fast asleep, his feet propped over the back, recovering from jet lag. Then there was the woman who got up from the couch to counsel me one winter morning, when the pressures of my life broke through my therapist’s veneer. I remember a conservative woman declaring, “Coming to see you is better than doing drugs.” This followed by a young playwright. “You really kicked my self-pitying ass, Karen. Thank you.”  At least one thousand clients have sat on that couch to make peace with themselves and their lives, their honesty, love and intention creating a sacred place, more holy ground then furniture.  

When that office outgrew its usefulness, the sofa was moved to a spare room in the Salmon Street Writing Studio. The doorway was narrow and my furniture would not fit. But it had to fit. The couch was my healing place and I needed it. I called a carpenter to remove the legs. It still wouldn’t budge. The camel back frame was cut by half against his better judgment. “You don’t understand,” I told him. “I have to get this in there!” It was reassembled but never regained its sturdy structure. 

In 2005, I was melting from seeing too many clients, so I found a home in the forest for rest and recuperation. And that tired old couch moved right along with me, supporting my healing as I starred into tall pines and emptiness. When I met my friend Gib, we sat shoulder to shoulder for three months doing sound editing for my audio books. The sofa held our laughter, accomplishment and lively disagreements, as well as sensual meals and sensual pleasures. When my mother died and Gib left, I wept for them both on the cushions of my long time companion.  

A second granddaughter, Isabella, has flown across the length of the couch, turned summersaults, jumped up and down on the cushions, balanced on its reconstructed back, taken naps and used it to support near-perfect headstands. Isabella’s favorite game is playing store. She removes everything from my closet, explaining the virtues of each piece, sells it to me, wraps it and pretends to call a taxi so I can transport it all. I pay her with monopoly money and she gives me deals.  

So, you see what I’m going through? What I’m giving up and letting go of? I’m losing a friend, a witness to my life, my family and the lives of all those who have come for healing. I hope this old girl goes to a good home because I’m sure going to miss her, gonna miss her like crazy.

Open Wide

 

One of the ‘gifts’ of my lineage is having bad teeth. Every person in my family has been plagued by excessive treatment, leaving us all a tad fearful of the chair. No pain killers or anesthetics were offered where I grew up. The drill ran hot and our tears the same way. My mother having horrible dental treatment herself, dutifully marched five children up six flights of stairs to be tortured by the dentist, until he had a bad day and let the drill slip inside my sister’s cheek. Then she found a different dentist.

White knuckles clasped firmly around the red leather padding of his chair, as I repeatedly gazed through four large-paned windows. Masonry walls of a downtown building lined with gargoyles stared back, a procession of half beast, half human figures with open mouths, their presence forever associated with anguish and bravery. I looked into their eyes and they into mine as we both opened wide.

A black tube held a supply of miniature paper cups, which were periodically filled with water for spitting pieces of silver and tooth into a tiny porcelain bowl, where they were instantly swirled down an ivory drain. I braced myself. Time stood still after each rinse, as the dentist’s large hand lowered the spinning drill away from its stand and into my mouth, then audibly pushed new mercury fillings into place with masculine force before whirling again to round the edges. This experience became easier to endure when water drills were invented, or at least our dentist became prosperous enough to invest in one.  

My mouth is currently an archeological dig of dental history both good and bad. As an adult, when offered anesthetic, I declined, seeing the pain of a needle as an unnecessary addition.  I didn’t see the point, finding it easier to meditate, breathe deep and go to the gargoyle place in myself that learned to open wide and surrender. “This will be over soon,” I tell myself. “You can do it.”  People conclude I have a high tolerance for pain, but the opposite is true. I’ve just learned to be with the pain in each moment, then let go immediately.

When it was time for my latest crown, my friend Susan referred me to her dentist, who works from an office in NE Portland in a building that looks like a time capsule from 1970. The dentist, Doctor Southworth, his receptionist, Carolyn, and most of the clientele appear to be my age. As usual, I was quietly and privately terrified as I walked through the door, his assistant ushering me to a treatment room before my butt hit the waiting room chair. “We’re all ready for you.” She smiled. “Oh, but am I ready for you?” I quipped.

Doctor Southworth was a gentle man who asked how I was. “Scared.” I replied. He sat next to me. “Have you always been scared to go to the dentist?” I shook my head. “Oh yeah.”

 For a moment, I feared he’d be like the unicorn doctor I had six months earlier, who decided he was really a superpower dental therapist in disguise. That guy sat on the edge of a stool with magnified bulging eyes and an incredibly long scope of light running down his face where his nose should be. He wanted to have theraputic discussion instead of properly fixing my teeth. When he sent his bill, I refused to pay because he was so inept, but he said I had to, so I did.

No, Doctor Southworth was not Dental Therapist Unicorn Man, or the dentist I had before that, who seemed to be in a contest with his assistant to see who could crawl the farthest down my throat. 

Doctor Southworth was in fact the best dentist I’ve ever seen, and trust me, I’m an authority. It was all the little things, like making a cast of my teeth and deftly freeing it in seconds from my mouth, instead of cheering me on to do it myself, which feels like drowning in taffy and pulling my bottom and top teeth out by the root. Then there was the satisfied moment when he held the impression to the light exclaiming, “Ah, a thing of beauty.” He and his staff were quick, efficient, professional in every regard and obviously enjoyed their work.  I was in and out in record time completely without trauma, possibly for the first time in my life. How could I not love a dentist like that?

 

Malaise

Is Oregon the viral-respiratory-crud capital of the world, or is it just me? One week ago, in a warm climate, I was vibrant and healthy. Now I’m swimming in germ stew again, blowing my nose and looking into another damp unresponsive day. My sister, Kristen lives in upstate New York and is excited because enough snow has gone for her to find the compost pile again. I would hang myself if I lived there.

The idea of travel was that it would make the winter seem shorter, but I fear it made my attitude worse. It was like giving a meal to a starving person and then pulling it away. “Okay, you can have that again in say…late June or July. How does that sound? That’s only four months away, then we’ll bring the dark again.” I count the minutes, the hours and the days. My friend Susan thinks a light box would help. But that would be like meditating on a cut out of a palm tree, a meager substitute.  

Being sick yet again makes my life quiet and the hours slow, allowing me to listen to the language of the land. The butterfly bush spikes upward looking for spring, still dressed in last years dried blossoms. It carries endless optimism. The dogwood is covered with so much moss it looks like a specially fashioned garment, but the evergreens don’t change. They just sway in the breeze, drop some cones and make shelter for the deer, coyotes and raccoons that pass below. A stray snowflake moves past the window but is uncommitted. Then there is the sound of the rain, the unrelenting sound of the rain, like the ticking of many clocks. I put a teaspoon of local honey in my mouth to sweeten my day, as I grab more hot tea and think of the library books I can check out to help pass the hours until my body heals and I am not as dark as the sky or as grumpy as my age. I give my thoughts to the wind, the water, the stones and the witch hazel that blossoms in yellow outside my front door. And they reflect it all back, holding me like I belong here and I guess for now I do. 

 Everything is wet and brown and moss green. The birds are busy on the feeder and that single snowflake has found some friends. I have nothing to say but I’m saying it anyway, because if I don’t write, I’ll concentrate on blowing my nose and desperately missing the sun that so recently kissed my face. I send my letter into silence before transforming my home into an office and my frown into a smile.

Post Cards from Mexico

 Car Rental

We rented a little blue car with too many dents to count, the windshield was cracked and the rear door didn’t open. The gas tank was empty. The woman at Dollar Rental had me draw a line where the gas gauge rested, instructing me to return it the same way. This was their economy car. Tires barely touched down as Kristen drove washboard roads to our lodging at Tree Top Bungalows. The car was parked at the bottom of a steep drive beneath coconut trees.

“If you park there,” Jeffery told me, “coconuts will fall on it.”

Coconuts hung like giant orange basketballs above our heads, so I drove it to the top of the hill, but the emergency break didn’t work so it rolled down again with me chasing after. Jeffery drove it up this time, putting a cement block behind the tire. Jeffery is our host, an expat who left the United States 24 years ago.

“Let’s just say that the United States and I agreed to disagree.”

His smile is broad and his manner easy and gracious. He is the only one on the property that speaks English.

Lodging

 Our bungalows have roofs thatched from palm branches opening to the outside allowing mosquitoes entrance for evening feed. Netting drapes over a lumpy “matrimonial” bed, beautifully made up and cared for. Think camping in a structure on stilts. My bed is in a loft, at a height I am afraid of. A rope dangles from the ceiling to help me up, but after one night I ask him to bring the bed to ground level.

Isabella and Kristen occupy the large bed because I still have vivid memories of night time kidney punches from Isabella’s young feet and waking thrashed, like I’d crossed the Rocky Mountains in a buckboard.

The sea is at our elbow crashing day and night. “Don’t want to go in there now,” Jeffery tells us. “The squalls are high.”

I imagine galleons from the Spanish Armada firing endless rounds against the British in great blasts of sound, back and forth through a sleepless noisy night. Kristen fears a tsunami. Morning brings relief and a fresh start. Isabella plays with Bago, Whereas and Lady, the resident dogs. They play soccer, share hugs and the hammock.

Food

A stunning Mexican woman named Maggi cooks for us in an outside kitchen near the sea. She prepares fruit plates of mango, banana, pineapple, green grapes, coconut and papaya with a kiss of honey on the top. Later she sautés shrimp with garlic, lemon and pasta, makes pina coladas (no alcohol please) the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted served with homemade chips, then finishes with bursts of ice cream.

We inhale her offerings as Kristen pulls out her language book to make a friend. Her assistant is a woman with eleven children and a husband too ill to work. I slip her assistant fifty bucks.  Kristen promises to mail children’s clothing from the States.

Language

I hand Kristen the car keys because she is bold and unafraid. (I miss that in myself and wonder when it left me.)

I give her the keys and the money and the language and she does well with all of it, launching into vocabulary she has never spoken, determined to be understood and to understand. She smiles, she tries. She extends a warm heart and open hand. Soon we are surrounded with new words and new friends, while I remain a shadow, a witness at the scene. I ask how she does it and she tells me it’s from living in Greece.

“You just have to dive in.”

But the only diving I do is into the swimming pool, because words get stuck in my throat. The Spanish words I do know surface too late from memory, coming out as French or Italian instead of salsa and chips. This inability makes me seem distant and aloof, uninterested and invisible. I am not a social person. Words come from my eyes and my hands but rarely from my mouth.

Exploring

Colors shout at us from buildings in bold shades of unashamed. Even plants are screaming in notice-me reds as we travel winding roads into Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Troncones and Playa Linda. We pass a mother driving with a new baby in her arms and lots of trucks filled with folks standing in the rear. The simplicity and lack of regulation in Mexico is appealing.

Old women line up to buy produce from the rear of a delivery truck as Kristen maneuvers through cobbled streets as aggressive as the others. She shoulders her camera with an exhibit in mind. Old men smile at her above mountains of dried red chilies and young men ask her name near mounds of freshly picked corn.

We change money, buy hand sewn blouses and gifts for friends, stopping to admire children sleeping in hammocks and eye-bulging Mexican dogs. Isabella has her hair done as we lunch by the sea. It is woven by a mother-son team who fashion long locks into delicate micro braids with colored beads at each end.

Isla Grande

Older dark skinned men with Aztec blood ferry us across rocking waves to Ixtapa Island or Isla Grande, where we do what we’ve come to do, be pampered, play in the sea and make mother, daughter, granddaughter memories.

Kristen drinks salt-rimmed margaritas trimmed with bougainvillea and lime as we sit underneath red and white sun umbrellas that dot a bragging blue sky. Kristen reclines in the shade, while Bella and I run into the waves like we were born there, salt water traveling in our ears, our hair and our smiles. We play until we turn the color of the sun and then stay longer, layering sun block over aloe, over vitamin E. There is no coming out. There is no will for it. We order more food, breathe it in and run back to azure waters. Small yellow stripped fish lap at our feet near coral shores.

I snorkel, then get an hour long massage costing only $25. I have two. We go on a banana boat and  Jet Ski. I am healthy and alive here, more 21 than 65.  My medicine is left behind in the drawer and I hope it rots. I am myself in this place. The sun sees the woman in me and invites her out. I feel my body soft and sensual. I am no longer layered or hidden beneath fleece and rain. I can show myself and I like it.

The Combi

The combi is a small pick-up truck with standing room in the center and wooden boards for seats on either side. We decide to take it to a local fishing village. It travels a dirt road sounding the horn. Riders appear from nowhere, surrendering shade as they hop aboard. Getting off involves moving to the front and pounding the roof above the driver’s head to indicate your stop, very simple and direct.

Our cameras are full of alligators, iguana, parrots, lizards, snakes, stingrays, snapping turtles, white birds, dogs, sunsets, sculptures, indigenous people and Isabella, always Isabella.

Hammocks wait near each restaurant table to be enjoyed with chips and cervisia (beer). The simplest order will take an hour to prepare so we might as well doze. Isabella resents our forays into town because it takes her from the water. We are the same that way.

Coming home we board the wrong combi and head to parts unknown. I stand with the wind in my face taking photos as we travel too far on unknown roads. Kristen yells through glass at the driver.

“We are lost,” she says in Spanish.

“Si” the driver yells back.

We finally get off with a woman meeting her boyfriend. The woman invites us into the cool interior of their modern car and tells the boyfriend to take us home. We make it to the dirt road leaving us two miles to walk in midday sun. We walk and sweat, putting one foot in front of the other, being cooked by sweltering heat.

A couple from Montana circle back after passing, pick us up and take us home.  Isabella springs from the car yelling, “I love water. Water is my friend,” as she jumps in the swimming pool with her clothes on. I follow but not in my linen skirt.

Evening

We have lived our days outside, unplugged from cell phones and computers, clocks and distractions. It’s been great never knowing what time we fall asleep or what time we get up. Jeffery has taken pity on me and given me a cabana of my own with privacy and my own lumpy matrimonial bed under mosquito netting, a precious and much appreciated gift.

Stars blanket evening sky inviting us to gather, share stories and visit with other guests from hammocks and dining stools as Maggi dishes out more love and nourishment. Isabella has an unending sandbox, a swimming pool, animal friends and the sea to play in. She has homemade ice cream and people who love her at every turn. We make a mountain for the sea to wash away. She is happy and so am I.

A friend of Jeffery’s has met Kristen and fallen hard. He wants to date her and speaks of visiting Oregon.

“Yes,” Kristen jokes, “I attract very young men and the very old.”

Maggi offers his address but I tell her to keep it. The man is my age. I find his attentions disgusting and tell them so. They laugh at me but I’m serious. I want to get a stick and beat his legs as I chase him away.

I want to yell, “Find some other young woman to make your aging spirit feel whole.”

Leaving

I wait in a busy airport with hot skin, listening to many voices, my sunhat above a white dress, a dusting of sand frosting my toes. We are the embodiment of a stolen summer in the middle of a northern winter. Our plane is an hour late. Kristen pays $5 for a small can of potato chips from the airport because Bella is hungry but I refuse. I can not be robbed in that fashion. I will give $5 to the old woman who waits in the restroom to hand me a towel and beg for change, but not to overpriced airport concessions.

We board. An old Mexican woman in the seat across the aisle begins to fan herself and breathe hard. She is going into heart failure. Stewardesses gather. A nurse is called from the passenger list. We don’t go to Los Angeles as planned but put down in Tucson where we wait for hours as she is tended and eventually taken from the plane. We miss our flight to Portland and regret leaving our cell phones for the first time.

We’re tired and hungry. The folks at customs are unspeakably awful, first a young man and later a woman. Kristen begins to break under pressure; she is ill and hasn’t eaten. I step in to calm the scene. The customs officer is large and black, ready to sit on Kristen’s head.

“You don’t want to be messin’ with a federal officer!”

I have visions of spending the night in jail or a small unventilated room, but we are released to wander the airport in search of vouchers that will allow us to stay in a hotel and board another flight the next morning. The shuttle bus is full of Portland folk arriving from Mexico, humor improves, the people are exhausted but kind.

The hotel has white sheets and a deep bathtub.

“Look mom. The bed goes down when I sit on it,” Isabella says.

We rest, we eat, I soak in the tub and we fly home the next morning to a sky heavy with grey and rain.

I am not glad to be back but I will adjust.

Chinese Medicine

A tall pink candle burns on the table next to a vase of orange and yellow-crested tulips, as the aroma of freshly made applesauce wafts near my nose. Life is good again. I’m emerging from the dark underworld of disease. I have my life back. Half the month I’ve been ill and today about five o’clock it lifted. I could speak again and felt like doing something besides sleeping and complaining to anyone who would listen.

Yesterday I went back to my doctor insisting she pull out all the stops. “I leave for Mexico in two days, what shall I do?”  Nina is gentle and soft-spoken, competent and knowledgeable.  “Take what I prescribe and this should be gone before you leave. In Chinese medicine they say that your liver is biting your lungs.”  She inserted more needles into my body, as I imagined a big brown gooey organ with a fiery temper reaching up to nip at my lungs, like some ill-tempered dog. When the treatment was finished, she offered medicinals.  

First came a sweet little bottle of tablets from Seven Forests called Qing Yin Bai Du Pian. Who knows what that means, but it’s suppose to help my lungs defend against the attack, then she added individually wrapped throat lozenges from Golden Lotus in shiny green paper with artwork worth framing stamped on each piece. I  love the art and poetry of Chinese medicine. The finale came in a large red box from Hong Kong, the splendor of which is difficult to describe. The box contained a cough syrup delivered with foldout images of Chinese architecture, colored illustrations of each herb used to make the formula and a circular graphic of medicine being offered on a tray to a man sitting in bed, light streaming through a near-by window. I don’t know about you, but seeing and receiving beauty in the medicine I take has a very positive effect, not unlike the tulips and candle light gracing the table.  

For me it’s a no-brainer. I can be treated tenderly and with respect, receiving ancient remedies from the hand of a gentle healer or stand in long pharmacy lines to receive prescriptions delivered in cheap plastic bottles with labels spit out by computers. The cost of drugs is ten times the amount and the possible side-effects even higher. “Here’s your medicine. Oh and by the way, this can make you sterile, drowsy, impotent or bald, cause a heart attack, or make the roof of your house collapse on your head. Have a nice day!” 

If I get splattered on the highway by a passing truck and arrive unconscious, I’ll let the medical establishment sew me back together. Anything short of that, I vote for a competent healer, herbs from the arms of the earth, and beauty, always beauty, especially in illness.

Putting down the hay

 

They say you can never go home again, but I can come closer than most, when I return to the village of Horseheads, New York. Oh, the winding gravel road that led to my uncle’s farm has been paved, and many cherished buildings and people have vanished, but the small town spirit of the place remains. These are tough farm folk who would give you the shirt from their backs but don’t want to hear you whine.

There was a complaint yesterday in the local newspaper, the Star Gazette, about sending children to school in 18 below zero weather. One reader’s comments summarized the rest. “Suck it up buttercup.”  

Horseheads is a place unto itself and must be experienced to be believed.

On my last trip I stopped at the Jubilee Market on Westinghouse Road, where a sweet old woman I had never met walked away from her cart, turned me around and slipped frail little hands in mine. “Can you believe how cold my hands are?” She said, completely baffled. “My circulation must be off. I can’t seem to get them warm. What do you think?”  

I smiled. “Yep, kind of cold, all right. Do you have gloves?”  She moved even closer. “No, don’t need gloves.”

“Maybe if you rub them together for awhile, they’ll warm up,” I continued. “Try sticking them in your pocket. That might help.”  She gazed into space for a moment, trying to figure out how to shop with her hands in her pockets. “Well, good luck,” I said, moving down the aisle. I glanced over my shoulder, enjoying her complete lack of boundaries and innocent air.

We met again at the checkout or maybe she was waiting for me there. This time she placed her right hand against my cheek. “Can you believe it?” She continued, “Still cold.” I was the long-time trusted friend she had never met. “Yep, still cold.”

The checker was busy going through my items one comment at a time. “Why ya buying aspirin? Ya got a headache? My cousin gets headaches and has one heck of a time getting rid of them. She likes Advil better. Have you tried Advil? She swears by it.  And Drano? Got a little clogged drain at home, huh? Better be more careful with what you put down there. You’re not shoving food scraps down the pipes are ya? Don’t do that. My husband worked as a plumber for awhile. Believe me when I tell you that nobody in town knows more about clogged drains than he does. He just retired but still goes out on service calls, you know, for friends. And neighbors sometimes, not that neighbors are not friends. Are these yours too?  I’m surprised to see you buying feminine products. You look well into menopause to me. These must be for someone else. Is your daughter with you, waiting in the car maybe, or did ya leave her at home?”

I grabbed the bag and left, wanting to tell her I was just visiting, and that none of the items were for me, but that would have taken another twenty minutes of explaining ancestral lineage, which I was not willing to do. 

My next stop was the graveyard to visit the men in my family. My eyes welled with tears as I stood by the cold stone slabs that marked their lives. I searched my pockets for tissue but found none. Another old woman stood near a grave a few yards away. I asked if I could borrow a tissue and she furrowed her brow. “Use your jacket. That’s what I do.” Then demonstrated by running her nose the length of her sleeve.   

My Aunt Ethel was typical of these coarse women, having her hair cut in the local barber shop, closing her coat with a giant safety pin and traipsing about in tall rubber boots covered in mud and cow manure.

Her words still ring in my mind: “When you go off to that fancy boarding school, don’t go giving yourself airs. Don’t come home callin’ cow shit, manure.”

And another favorite when I struggled with writing essays in school. “Honey, just put the hay down where the cows can get it, then you’ll be just fine.”

 

Stopping

I am sick today, recovering from an insistent virus that canceled my life and ordered me to bed. I find it difficult to allow the luxury of utter stillness, to withdraw and rebuild my strength. Illness is a demanding guest. I must stay in the moment and be vigilant, guarding against negative thoughts I mistake as my own, when they are nothing more than missiles weighed down with infection.  

The sun is out, shining bright, inviting me into the world, but I won’t leave the quilt. My job is to eat chicken soup, drink immune system tea and take more herbs than I can count. I see Hannah’s outline near the front door. She’s been waiting for the past several days, sleeping on the welcome mat and wondering if I have forgotten her, wondering when we’ll walk the library paths again. I slip her a treat and shake my head. “Not today, sorry.” 

I saw my acupuncturist, Nina, yesterday who told me to breathe into my belly and get out of my head. She asked me to be mindful of my body several times a day, so I don’t die of a brain cramp sorting through my To Do list. She placed needles in my legs and arms while quoting the Buddhist teacher Dipa Ma. “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” I thought of the folks I nearly crashed into on the drive over, and knew she was right. So I slowed down, let it all go, and began to breathe, breathe into the belly and up though the soles of my feet. I thought of my own favorite saying, “There is so much to do, I must go very slowly.”  She gave me a prescription for Oregon Grape and I left better than I arrived, driving home in a different state of mind. I took time to feel my hands on the steering wheel and the heated seat against my back.

 I hadn’t realized I’d flown so far out of my body before illness brought me home, like a jet crashing on the runway. Now I need to stop, repair and recover, not what I want to be doing. But I yield, with little choice. The wind is gentle and soft as I reach for the mail before climbing back into bed. The sun is gone now, leaving with undelivered promises, just like me.

Stuck…

 You have no idea how many times I’ve sat at this keyboard with the idea of writing a post, but nothing comes.  I start paragraph after paragraph, but it’s disconnected and dull, putting even me to sleep. Where did my writer go? 

I wanted to write about the new rooster that appeared outside my kitchen window today. I named him Big Red and really like him, but so what?  

I could write about the joy grandchildren bring in allowing us to revert to childhood as we take them sledding, roller skating and swimming. Yeah, okay. Yawn.

What about Poekoelan, Isabella’s martial art? I love watching her train, moving her body as tiger, crane, snake and monkey, her sweet willowy figure learning to take an attacker down, kick and eye gouge. The studio on Hawthorne Street is world class and is masterfully teaching Portland’s children to protect and defend themselves. There are 11 year olds walking the streets who are registered as lethal weapons. How I would have loved that. “Hello, this is my daughter Karen. She’s a lethal weapon.” Wish I’d known how to kick butt as a kid.

We’re leaving for Mexico February third for a mother, daughter, granddaughter trip, sleeping in cabanas on the beach in Zihuatanejo. That could be fun, as long as I don’t eat  the food, drink the water or breathe the air. I did notice mosquito nets around our beds and don’t imagine they were draped inside to look romantic. But I can’t write about that yet, it hasn’t happened.

The chicken soup on the stove is nearly done and it tastes a lot like my efforts to write lately. Not so good. A suite for solo cello fills the living room. It’s in D major, by Bach. That transcends all things stuck. I guess I’ll just listen to it and forget about writing until I actually have something to say. Sorry folks.

You did what?

  

 

There is something so satisfying and empowering to me about standing under the raised hood of a car and gazing at the engine. It gives passers-by the idea that I might actually comprehend and have some problem solving knowledge of what lies below, sort of like George Bush standing in a pilots costume making his speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier. “It’s all under control folks.”

Hadn’t I added fluids all by myself only six months ago? I did it standing in the parking lot at Safeway gazing knowingly under the hood for all to see. I imagined them thinking, “Wow, she knows what’s going on with the engine, how impressive.” I smiled that smugly superior presidential smile and slammed the hood. “No problem folks, all under control.”

I was in a hurry this morning, my mind full of errands, my hands wrapped in red leather gloves. I balanced a basket on my arm filled to the brim like a purse as I grabbed coolant and headed to the car. I popped the hood, feeling kind of proud because last year I couldn’t figure out which lever that was. I’d asked my buddy Gib where to add it and he told me. “The radiator, Karen, coolant goes in the radiator. Just make sure the engine is cold first. You should see a plastic container to pour it in.”

 

Yep, there it was, the plastic container, just like he said. I flipped open the top. The liquid inside was orange and mine was green, but I allowed for that, thinking that coolant might come in a variety of shades, sort of like nail polish. I filled it to the top, snapped it closed and noticed for the first time, the bright blue windshield wiper symbol. My heart sank, but I still had coolant left so I tried the radiator cap. It wouldn’t budge, it was immovable. I spotted a lever on the side, pressed down hard and it broke in my hand. This was not going well. I closed the hood feeling sick, hoping I wouldn’t accidentally engage the wipers in my new found panic as I drove to town.

 

I stopped at the tire store. “Do you think someone here could get a big wrench and unscrew the windshield wiper fluid container under my hood, empty it out, and clean it up for me?” The woman looked in disbelief. “Ahhh, that’s not what we do here. Try Jiffy Lube.”

 

It was a slow day at Jiffy Lube, so all the guys were standing around looking for something to do. I repeated my story about needing a wrench and a good scrub, but the manager shook his head, “Nope. “ Every man in the place came over, starred at the windshield wiper container and asked the same question. “You did what?” From their disbelieving looks you’d think I had the Virgin Mary stashed under the hood. When a new guy wandered over and asked, “You did what?” I was ready to break. “I refuse to have this conversation one more time! Can you fix it?” The manager got out a big hose and sucked all the fluid out, then filled it with something blue, which was not the orange it started out to be or the green I added. I asked if blue was okay and he assured me it was.

 

Meanwhile the last guy decided to comfort me by explaining the virtues of Joy detergent, telling me how well it cut grease and how he never traveled without it in the cab of his truck. And I had no idea what he was talking about or why he felt the need to inform me about detergent at that moment, but I smiled because the green was almost gone and the blue had replaced it and I could be on my way again. The manager even washed my windshield by hand, telling me to have a nice day. “No charge.”

Solstice

 

Hannah waits outside my door now, in case I forget that dog-walking is on her mind 24-7. Whenever I get in the car to go to Portland or the bank or any other errand, she imagines I am going for a walk without her. I suppose some dogs require psychics to interpret what they think but Hannah will never be one. She is an open book.

I put on my warmest coat, adding sweat pants to long underwear, give into her big eyes and drive to the library. No one is walking the paths, so I let her off leash where she wanders, smells, stays close and eats bird poop. Her spirit is so gentle that ducks cross her path without hurrying their step. The water is perfectly still. Day turning to night is mirrored in miles of calm water, as hundreds of Canadian Geese swirl above our heads in silhouette. It is such a fine thing to walk the paths in the evening, to breathe the air, wash away remnants of work and escape holiday madness.

The faces of shoppers seem so pushed and tight now, as they add celebration dinner, finding and wrapping presents, family and visiting friends to already full schedules. Add to that a lunar eclipse and a month of mercury retrograde and it’s a wonder anyone is sane. If we are taking on the finding and purchasing of a tree, replacing last years lights and writing out Christmas cards, the least we can do as a culture, is to declare a national work freeze from November 30th, to January 1st. Then folks might actually enjoy the holiday, the solstice and festival of lights.

A great blue heron perches on one leg as Hannah and I walk past, only inches away. I wonder why she doesn’t fly off and decide it’s something about the coming of night and the need to stay put. My mind goes to a homeless man I met the day before, who sat on a cold windy step, a single glove covering his face as he tried to sleep. I had just bought Isabella a massage. We were smiling and laughing, getting into our warm car with heated seats when I saw him. I pulled what cash I had from my wallet in the hope of buying him dinner, walked over and tapped his shoulder. He looked up, surprising me with the intelligence in his face and eyes that shone with light. “Thank you,” he said softly. I thought about his pain, felt grateful for the many blessings in my life, turned my back on him and drove away.

The world is so full of contrast. How does one hold happiness in one hand and suffering in another?  It feels like the winter solstice where the dark and light sit side by side in equal measure. No wonder we illuminate our roads, houses and trees to fend off darkness and beg the light back into our lives.

Our walk is nearly over. I put Hannah on her leash as we near the car, searching the contents of my pocket. No keys. My pocket is empty. I suddenly feel very tired and discouraged as I imagine going around the paths again, the time it will take, and the probability of finding car keys in the dark. My car sits on a hill in the lot under a street lamp. I glance in that direction, noticing a glint of silver on the roof. My keys are perched there, right where I left them, graciously untouched. They say there are spirits who watch over fools and children. Apparently they watch over preoccupied women as well.

Fit and Strong

 

Fit as a fiddle. Where did that saying come from? I’m sitting with an ice pack on my back congratulating myself on having resumed a workout routine. I bought several DVD’s in my attempt to want to care again but each was quickly cast aside and mentally labeled, “too much effort.” When it was time to put them on, I thought a little lie-down might be in order instead.

When I was on Amazon ordering a new calendar, (Wolf Kahn – watercolors – my favorite artist) they flashed a picture of Jane Fonda’s latest offering with a little note. Karen, we think you’d like this one. Actually, Jane is right up my alley. We spent our youth together, burning, bending and stretching into limber form.

When I was a single mom, I used to sleep in a big upstairs kitchen. Hey, don’t knock it. Do you know how great it is to be that close to the refrigerator in the middle of the night? I had a great view of tree tops through vast banks of windows, as well as two cockatoo’s that kept me company. My son, Clay, was sleeping in the only bedroom and his friend Byron, who’d been kicked out of his father’s house, made a home in Clay’s walk-in closet. My daughter, Kristen, was back from Greece with no place to land, so she was sleeping in the living room with her boyfriend, Tyrone. We got gold stars for making good use of space in  those days. Anyhow, I used to slip into the living room while Kristen and Tyrone were sleeping, mute the television, and kick, sweat and stretch my way into another day with Jane. It was great. 

I punched up a sample track for Fit and Strong, Jane’s new offering, and marveled at her admission of being 72 years old. The material and pace were exactly what I wanted. I needed a workout that was far from the realm of the young and enthusiastic, since, save walking, I have all but atrophied.  The workout is gentle, but thorough, and goes slowly, as she says things like, “This exercise will strengthen the muscles you need for lifting grandchildren,” and “I can’t bend this knee the way I used to because  it’s titanium now. Isn’t it wonderful what a little surgery can do?”

 I’m not surprised she blew a knee, the way she used to go at it. Still, she looks great. I do have a little trouble with my exercise model being wrinkle-free, air-brushed and tucked, but that’s Hollywood. I’m just happy she made a last DVD, because she feels like an old friend and I trust her.

 Now I need to have a talk with my body about going slow so I don’t need as many ice packs, epson salt bathes and arnica gel.  

See Me Beautiful

Long client day today, full of beautiful people finding their way out of bad situations.

Every work day I see people who are buried under years of trauma. Many of them have swallowed so much pain, they’ve mistaken hurtful experiences for their identity, believing themselves to be bad, broken or incapable. After the veil of adulthood is pulled away, a client’s work is almost always about repairing and integrating the child self.  

The greatest gift you can give anyone is to see beyond the garbage they carry and their accumulated pain, to see beyond anger and acting out, until you find the core of their being and the truth of their soul.  If you are looking for a gift this holiday season, try that one on for size. 

Red Grammer wrote a song that expresses this better than I ever could. Many thanks. 

See me beautiful.  Look for the best in me.

It’s what I really am and all I want to be.

It may take some time, it may be hard to find, but see me beautiful.

 

See me beautiful, each and every day.

Could you take a chance?

Could you find a way, to see me shining through in everything I do?

See me beautiful.

 

Comments

 

I want to thank those of you who take time to comment on my posts, because I sit most days, and wonder why I do it. At first it was a marketing idea. I had a new website. The strategy presented by my marketing guy was that I’d write a blog, lots of folks would read it and my presence would pour into the universe bringing new clients, while enriching their lives and mine. That never happened. I don’t think I’ve gotten a single client from my blog and it certainly did not bring the viral fame and fortune promised as it tweaked and twittered and facebooked its way into life. Funny, really.

Last year, the blog owned me. I went through each day searching for content and felt terrible when I came up with nothing. This year I have a more relaxed view, because you all obviously missed the memo about making me rich and famous. Now I’m over the moon if someone leaves a comment that says they actually read the damned thing. (Today I had 3 comments, an all-time high.) Thank you, thank you!

I was afraid of comments when I first started to blog, thinking the grammar geeks would leap forward, swiftly draw pens from their pocket protectors and reprimand me for poor grammar or word usage. That didn’t happen either. 

My most popular post was called, My Grandmother’s Hair, a piece describing a visit to my grandmother near the end of her life. That piece got lots of email comments, not blog comments, but emails. Grown men told me it made them cry and my friend, Pat in New York said she put the piece in her family bible for her children to inherit. Now that’s pretty special.  

When I wrote my book, Wolf Medicine, I wondered again at the effort and reward ratio. I spent several years birthing that book, and the financial return is usually enough to buy myself a cup of tea, or on a good month, an almond croissant and a cup of tea. When Big Bear, the man on the cover of the book, died last year, I attended his funeral. It was held on the top of a wind-swept mountain near Mill City. I was making my way to the gravesite when a woman I had never met approached, asked if I was Karen Banfield, then threw her arms around me weeping.  “I can never thank you enough for writing that book,” she said.  “Now he will always be with us.” At that moment, with her tears wet against my cheek, all the work, hair-pulling frustrations and lack of profit made it completely worthwhile. 

It’s dark in Oregon now and nasty, wet and uninviting. Four o’clock in the afternoon feels like the end of the day. I close my door and don’t want to venture out. I’m tucked in a hillside house with a warm cup of tea and a blanket. And I want to write to you. And you know what?  I love it when you write to me too.

A Jumble

The way I mess with food, it’s amazing I’m still alive.

I just downloaded a recipe for a warm winter soup which called for an onion, so I went to the frig. Nope, no onion, how about a leek? Mace was a required spice but sadly missing, so I left it out, using cinnamon and ginger instead. I needed to cube 6 cups of butternut squash and only had one acorn squash, so used that, adding yams to make up the difference. No turnip, so that didn’t go in and I replaced chicken broth with vegetable broth. Coconut milk was added instead of skim milk and a splash of orange-mango juice just because. I always add more spices and herbs than required because most of mine have dulled from a long shelf life. The result? Surprisingly good. I am sure the writer of the recipe would not recognize the finished product as her own, but it made a great dinner.

 When I was 19 and first married, (I know- a mere babe in arms) I asked my husband what his favorite meal was. “Chicken, corn and mashed potatoes,” he replied. I learned to please his palate through no small effort on my part, then served the same meal every night for two months. When he complained I was dumbfounded. “What do you mean? I thought those were your favorites.”  Poor guy. “Not anymore,” he moaned, a little blue in the face. “I may never want to eat this meal again.”

 I grew up above my parent’s restaurant which was one of the finest in the area. Dinner meant a trip through the steam table to pick out prime rib, seafood, fresh veggies, and potatoes. Homemade pies waited in racks next to coolers of ice cream, strawberries and chocolates. I miss those days, those days of being cooked for with no thought to allergies, weight or waistline.

My friend Kim sang and played the harp at a concert last Sunday, accompanied by her husband Bob on mandolin and her son Dylan on guitar. The sound was magical. The director spoke of the evil Oliver Cromwell who banned Christmas in 1649. I was with my daughter, Kristen, who leaned toward me and whispered, “I wish somebody would ban Christmas here. It would save so much time, money and trouble.”

When the concert was over we moved downstairs to the refreshment table, where I eagerly ate every single item that is bad for me. I started with brownies, moved on to truffles, ginger cookies, a strawberry crisp and then started all over again, elbowing innocent children aside. By the time I left I couldn’t breathe and my vision has doubled, but hey, what’s a holiday for? 

This blog post is so out of focus. I’m writing about winter soup and my early marriage, my growing up years and last Sunday’s concert. What a jumble, all headed for the same pot. Is it better than nothing at all?

Lost

Today I feel caught between worlds. I grew up in a country place that has not changed much, a place with an easy rhythm, lots of land and an uncomplicated approach to life.  

My sister, Kristen, wrote this in her letter today: I decided to find a new home for Mom’s sewing machine. A Mennonite friend picked it up the same day. It will be shipped to Romania where machines will be distributed to women who need them. I love the idea of mom’s machine traveling and being used like that. Funny, you wrote about not having an iphone. I have found that communication with my Mennonite friends is one of my greatest pleasures, because they have not lost their reverence for face-to-face communication. They honor the person they speak with, giving them eye contact, attention and thoughtful responses. Their social skills are a breath of fresh air, a balm to my soul. 

My sister’s village is unadorned and rural, a single flashing light marking the center. Rush hour comes on Sunday mornings when Mennonite horses and buggies make an austere stream of uninterrupted traffic on an otherwise empty road. This environment lives in my childhood soul, informing my frame of reference. Part of me really wants to live on the land, go into town with horse and buggy and stop the pace of modern life. 

This view sits next to the bustle of Los Angeles, where everyone is in a hurry, dressed to impress and focused on serious career paths. I tried to imagine myself as a resident during my visit. It would require a modern hair style, fashionable clothes, a shingle hung in a good neighborhood and tripling my prices. I could brag about movie star clients and eat sushi in the best restaurants, while sucking up car exhaust and sunshine. 

The last time I flew from that tiny village into the heart of Los Angeles, the shock was so great my back collapsed. My son was not successful yet and had an appointment of his own, so I had to drive his car to the chiropractor… all by myself. The car was old and the doors broken, meaning I had to climb through the passenger seat window and crawl to the driver’s seat in order to get anywhere. Then I got lost, and drove in circles. When I pulled to the curb to ask for help, folks either ignored me or ran away, unless they were deranged, then they wanted to crawl in next to me.

After an hour of lurching around the city, I pulled over, crawled out the window yet again…on the passenger side, walked in a shoe store run by an Italian man, sat down on his shoe-trying-on-bench and wept. “I don’t know where I am! I’m supposed to drive toward the ocean, but I can’t find it – or see it – and nobody will tell me where the damn thing is! I can’t do this anymore.” He offered his phone. I called my son’s office and one of his friends answered. “Help,” I said,” I’m lost.” He listened, then asked. “Where are you?” I couldn’t believe it. I was on my last nerve. “If I knew where I was I wouldn’t be lost.” I hung up on him. The Italian man calmed me down, took the address and helped me crawl through the window again. “Its okay lady, you’re almost there.”

I’m stuck today between a flashing red light and the pull of Los Angeles memories.

End of a visit

I have been remiss, I know. I haven’t posted for a long time having taken myself on a much needed vacation, a writer’s vacation, where I’ve done 75 joyous hours of work. Ha! My new memoir is well on its way. My apologies to the two people who actually read this blog. 

I’m still in Los Angeles with my son Clay and his partner, Khrystyne, so my work breaks are filled with sunbathing, and walks down neighborhood streets under shouting sapphire skies.

I go home tonight and will miss them both, but must admit that my favorite part of being here was having my son to myself, as we drove three and a half hours to San Luis Obispo for Britan’s 16th birthday. I can’t remember when we’ve had that kind of time. Brit is my granddaughter, nearly six feet tall and lovely, sometimes called giraffe by unkind friends. But this birthday brought another kind of gift, a boyfriend who is six foot seven. She walks proudly by his side, even shopping for high heeled boots. My son’s card to her touched me:  You have always been more than I could have ever wished for. You are an amazing person and I love you. 

Clay and I sang, laughed and reminisced as we drove up and back. My son and daughter had a hard time of it growing up, resulting in a stagnant pool of parental guilt, but my son had a different take, “Oh no, Mom. It was all valuable life experience. I’m so glad I had it, all of it.” His words gave me a  “Get Out of Jail Free” card. 

Khrystyne is a tiny Vietnamese beauty who missed the party for a job interview. She has three passions: cleaning, cooking and my son. The house sparkles, cooking shows run back to back on a kitchen television and we all waddle from room to room nursing over-fed bellies. We returned from our trip to an excited Khrystyne, who’d discovered a new method for flea removal. The shop vac! Their dog, Cowboy, sat patiently as she ran the vacuum up and down his fur.  You’d think he was paying for a spa treatment, but then who wouldn’t behave if you were being given steak and turkey on the side? 

Yesterday Clay and Khrystyne told me they needed to go off by themselves, said they needed an afternoon alone. My alarm bell went off. “Oh no. I’ve overstayed my welcome. They have to leave their own house to feel comfortable. My visit has been too much.” But today they proudly displayed the birthday gifts they needed to get rid of me to buy. My heart opened in gratitude.  My dear son,  You have always been more than I could have ever wished for. You are an amazing person and I love you.

 

 

Melrose

 

 

It was snowing in Portland with a high of 27 degrees, and more of the same on the way. I printed my boarding pass in Los Angeles ready to get on a 9 p.m. flight, the idea of returning to Oregon as appealing as a root canal. Khrystyne looked at the weather and suggested I stay. My son concurred. I listed all the reasons I could not, but there was that sun shining from a bragging blue sky. I took a leap and said, yes, deciding to stay, not a few more days but through the end of the month.

I took a walk on Melrose at dusk to clear my head and integrate my decision.  A well-dressed young woman in black approached needing bus fare. I reached in my wallet and gave what I had. Browsing, I stepped into a Sugar Free Bakery and discovered it was the name of a Hello Kitty Outlet, with no food in sight. Outside,  I watched a man cross four lanes of traffic from a side street by willfully inserting his car, then honking an entitled blare until he was allowed passage. Very, not Oregon. I walked on. Shop windows displayed clothing I couldn’t imagine a real person wearing, on mannequins with hair the color of food dyes.

The scent of flowers pulled me into a vast open-air market where rows of elegant white orchids reined on high rise shelves. I was awash in nature and just as quickly back on the sidewalk.  A young man approached, handsome, fit and Latin. We smiled. He stopped, taking his guitar from his back. “I want to sing for you. Would you allow that?”   I was taken in by his dark eyes and movie star looks, wondering if he had an available Grandpa tucked away in his life. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I just gave my cash to a young woman needing bus fare. I have nothing to give you.” He stepped back.  “I am not after money. I just want you to listen. I want to make you happy with my music.” Traffic roared by as evening blanketed our meeting. He gestured toward a dim horizon as night fell over the street. “I want to coax the sun from the sky for you, because your spirit is as pure as the sun.”

He played and sang for a long time, light, grace and sound flowing between us on an otherwise empty sidewalk.  He seemed a celestial guest sent to reward my decision to stay. When he finished, he pulled a C.D. from his pocket.”For you!”  I thanked him and walked away.

I was excited to share his music with Clay and Khrystyne when I returned home, but without the man and the night, the magic and the moment, it sounded a little empty.

Lottie

I saw a funeral van parked in front of a Los Angeles house today, as two men carried an empty stretcher inside. “That old lady must have died,” my son said, as we drove past. I thought about my mom being carried out this time last year and my father’s mother, Lottie, before that.

I never knew Lottie as a young woman. To me, she was always the white-haired, square-figured woman with wire rimmed glasses and a kind smile, living on the top floor of my uncle’s farmhouse. Lottie gave birth to three amazing men, all of whom rose to the top of their professions like cream. Still, I knew nothing of her young life, not a single thing. I saw no photos of the lovely woman she must have been, the young wife or the delighted mother – not a single image.

Lottie kept our photos on the kitchen table, laid flat, under thick glass. Every time she wiped crumbs from her morning, noon or evening meal she spoke to the photos like they were real people. 

To my oldest sister, the conversation went something like this. “Hey, sunshine, we got a little snow here yesterday. One of the cows came up lame so we called the vet, but Johnson Hollow road iced over. Glenn got the tractor stuck near the pond trying to clear a path and had one heck of a time getting it out. His gloves were froze solid by the time he hit the house and he was cussin’ up a storm  How are things in Philadelphia? Are they good? Ya got a nice clean face now. Can you feel that, me scrubbin’ up your face today?” 

To my brother, Doug: “Had a new bi-plane delivered to the airport this morning. The fella who bought it has more money than brains. Wants your dad to teach him to fly, but that fella won’t last. Your dad tested him out, dipped down, then spun a few times over Schweitzer’s field. The man lost his lunch right off the bat. I know you’re clear over there in France with that little bride of yours but we’re thinking of ya over here. I just wiped mashed potatoes off your forehead. Did ya feel that? “

Lottie spent most of her days rocking back and forth in her bedroom chair, watching life from her upstairs window, the glass old and wavy. She watched seasons change, cars motor by and the birth and death of each annual harvest.  

After she reached one hundred, she asked me to pray for the end of her life. I put my twenty year old hand over her weathered and gnarled one and agreed. But I lied, because I could not imagine life without my grandma Lottie. I wanted her to keep rocking in that tired old chair for decades to come. But two years later, when I’d become just another photo under glass, a funeral van pulled up to the farmhouse in the same way and she was gone.

Being Clear

 

My half-price holiday special brings new clients that don’t always know what they’re getting. The word psychic has many associations, but mostly an expectation of predictions and fortune telling. That is not what I do. I used to, decades ago, but found it unfulfilling, because predictions tend to leave people wanting more of what they believe I have, and they do not. In short, it can create dependence.  

I am called a psychic because I see who people are to the bone, but the goal is empowerment, not prediction. I use my gifts to provide insight, understanding and perspective, so others can walk the earth in a stronger way. Opening a path to health and happiness has my attention, because finding the expression and purpose of ones soul will last a lifetime. It means waking up and once we become conscious, we can not go back to sleep – nor do we want to. 

My goal is to uncover the radiance you carry and to extract any energetic influences that interfere with the expression of who you’ve come to be and what you’ve come to do. I’m here to support your gifts and honor the finest parts of you, until you recognize and claim them for yourself.  

A soul reading is the beginning of that work. It reveals your essence, defines your current situation, the issues you’re struggling with, what needs to happen to heal them and what past life influences are affecting your behavior. 

It is not a psychic guessing game. It is a partnership and sharing, resulting in an energetic shift which allows change. I am often given specific information, but don’t look for it, because it’s not my passion.

 I’m your girl if you’re looking for a way to bring your light, unique gifts, creativity and wisdom into the world. But if you’re dying to know what Aunt Norma in Montreal is up to or how much longer her cat will live, I can make a referral. There are a lot of wonderfully gifted psychics out there, each with their own focus. So do a little research and make sure the one you’re employing is really the one you want. 

 

Cody

Kim and Bob’s home is an animal house, alive with dogs, cats and kids. It is one of the most welcoming, loving, accepting homes I have ever entered, but I don’t usually stay long, because I’m allergic to animal hair. Kim supplies a wet washcloth, so I can clean my hands after each caress, since I can’t resist.

When Kim emailed to say they were putting Cody down, I knew I had to be there. He was the oldest dog and my favorite.  Cody was Bob’s companion, found abandoned many years ago in the Columbia River Gorge. Bob was sitting next to him when I arrived, not ready to let go, since Bob was already heavy with grief from his mother’s recent death.  But Cody’s desire was clear. He had stopped eating, drinking and moving, staying on the circular bed that had become his universe. Bob and Kim recounted memories, as I sat inches from Cody’s head, looking into his mournful eyes, telling him what a good job he had done tending the family, how he would be missed and that it was okay to let go. His eyes were like an open door, pulling all my words inside. 

His passing was quiet. A vet came to the house so Cody could die surrounded by folks who loved him. The woman was respectful and efficient, moving skillfully into the family circle as an unmet friend. After the last injection, I felt his spirit leave his body and automatically closed my eyes to track it.  While Bob, Kim and the vet were loading the body into a van for later cremation, I was caught in the experience of Cody’s spirit hovering in a twilight mist toward the ceiling.  

Kim and Bob made conversation when they re-entered, but I couldn’t open my eyes to join them. In that moment I was spellbound, more present with Cody than I had ever been.  He’d just realized that his spirit had passed. I could feel his surprise and relief, but also a deep sadness. I sat with him in the quiet for a long time without words or movement. Finally, I asked Kim to bring a large kitchen knife to help his transition. Standing in the circle where he ended his life, I physically cut lingering ties. Then she brought a small Tibetan bell, so I could summon and speak to the spirits of the four directions in turn.  

“Spirits of the South, this is your son, Cody. Open your arms and receive his loving soul.” 

A whisper told me that his essence would stay in the house for three days before moving on. If any words were left unspoken, they could still be heard.

 All of this was very emotional. Tears ran down my cheeks, my breathing was labored. I had not intended to do a death ritual. I had intended to sit by Bob and Kim to be supportive and that was all. But Cody’s spirit had other ideas, so I listened to his needs and felt honored to do so.

Letters

 

 

I got a letter in the mail from my sister, Kristen, in New York today. Yep, a real letter. When was the last time you got one of those?

I asked nearly one year ago, if she would do me the kindness of writing to me on paper instead of email and she agreed. It is one of the best gifts she could have given. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to seeing that envelope in my letter box. It stands out like a diamond among bills, political fliers, mailings from alma maters asking for money, and constant AARP mailings, reminding me that I’m no spring chicken. 

There is something so precious about a handwritten letter arriving by post. I watch for it like a child waits for a holiday morning. I envision my sister taking time from her busy life to sit down in a quiet place, gather her thoughts and reflections, and move pen across paper as she shares them with me. Being environmentally conscious, they arrive on the back of papers from her office recycling pile, which I also read because they are further clues into the state of her life.  

I don’t rip her letter open and read it right away. I wait, make a cup of tea and then choose just the right moment when I can be still and alone, to fully savor our written visit. I like knowing that her hands have held the same paper only days before, imagining it on her dining room table or balanced on her lap.  Sometimes she writes from the backyard, so birds and garden news are included, sometimes while waiting for her grandson at an art class and sometimes just before or after dinner.  

 People’s failure to write has always baffled me. Friends I love dearly will not write a real letter. They say it’s too hard to find an envelope, a stamp, and place it in the box. I’m grateful for email because I get to hear from those who would otherwise be gone from my life. Of course, email is wonderful in being so immediate and now, but I don’t always want immediate and now. 

I remember how sad I felt when friends stopped sending me birthday cards and gave me ecards instead. I don’t require gifts, but the idea that someone made a card for me or went to the store with me in mind, matters. The idea that they spent a few minutes at the computer and then pushed the send button feels different, not so special.

I saw an old British film last week, where a woman went to her letter box and took out five or six envelopes from friends. I remember those days and it makes me sad to think of them as gone. Maybe that’s why I need to write so much. I don’t want to think of tangible correspondence going the way of the man who used to deliver ice for our freezer or the milkman whose bottles clanged their way to the doorstep. But I have a feeling that’s just what’s happening. For now, I comfort myself with my sister’s letters, and these blogs pieces, which are my letters to the world.

Universal Compassion

 

Saturday was a dreary pouring-down-rain Oregon day. Lunch with a friend was canceled because she had a cold. The flu is settling over the city as damp, moist and wet find lodging in the lungs of local residents. In search of an alternative plan, I drove to the downtown library and climbed those majestic marble stairs to the top floor, where monks from a monastery in South India were making a sand mandala. It was so exciting to see the entire lobby festooned with prayer flags, a large picture of the Dalai Lama and the rich burgundy of the monk’s robes. Music enriched the space as children busied themselves filling in duplicate mandalas with crayons. Adults stood enraptured and awestruck at the artistic mastery before them.  

I stood inches from a monk who rasped a metal funnel, releasing finely colored grains of sand into a four foot creation of universal compassion. The concentration and focus on his work was total and complete. I noticed other monks along the wall and decided to visit, being drawn by their open-hearted smiles. I was having quite a conversation about Tibetan art and their tour through the United States, enjoying a complete sense of grace in their presence, when I began to realize they couldn’t understand a word I was saying.  I grinned and walked away, grateful for the moment.

Thirty years ago I had a meditation teacher on a ten day retreat who left a similar impression. She’d been the only survivor in a room of one hundred people after a bomb dropped. When I sat with her, everything became more pronounced. I could see the air, leaves on trees lit with life, exploding in shades of vibrant green; the wind between us seemed tangible. That was the feeling I got in the presence of the monks today. I wanted to crawl in their suitcase and spend time in Tibet. 

They were visiting from the Drepung Loseling Phukhang Monastery (if you can pronounce that, you’re a better person than I am) finishing in Portland today, with a consecration ceremony, then on to La Verkin, Utah. The mandala will be swept away after 21 hours of devoted work, to symbolize impermanence, then placed in the river to send healing energy throughout the world. It is said that wherever a sand mandala is created, all beings and the surrounding environment are blessed, and whoever views it experiences peace and joy in their hearts.

“The colorfulness and harmony of the millions of sand particles in the mandala gives a powerful message that we all can live in peace if each of us work to create a little more space for others in our hearts. Children in particular receive a very positive imprint which will later germinate as sprouts of peace.”

 

Hold it!

 

 

I attended a two room country school in upstate New York, walking two miles each way on a narrow-shouldered road. Being young and completely uncivilized, I stopped on the road’s edge, lifted my skirt and let it rip whenever I had to pee. I squatted and waved as cars passed and thought nothing of it. But one day, a friend of my parents drove past and reported me for bad conduct. I was instructed to use the bathroom at school before heading home and never to pee alongside the road again.

I was confused. I didn’t have to go at school. I had to go halfway home along the road. How could I regulate that?  I tried skipping my bathroom recess break.

Minutes before school let out I raised my hand to use the bathroom. In those days you had to indicate exactly what you planned to do in the restroom before you were excused.  One finger raised, in view of the entire class, meant you had to pee. Two fingers raised, meant you had to poop. I raised one finger and Mrs. Rathborn, (who lived up to her name by being full of wrath) told me that I could wait. But I definitely could not, so I did the only thing I could do and peed in my seat. When the bell rang I ran out the door, making it half way home before being summoned back. “Mrs. Rathborn wants to see you,” a school chum yelled. “You’re in big trouble and have to go back.”

Mrs. Rathborn towered over my chair, arms folded above her ample chest, gawking at the small lake that filled the carved wooden indent where a butt was supposed to be. “What is this?”  I hated it when people asked questions they already knew the answers to. We both took a moment to stare at the lake. “I had to go and you told me I couldn’t.”  

She glared at my wet skirt, then dispatched me to the girls’ room to retrieve copious amounts of towels.  “If you ever have to go that bad again,” she said, watching me clean it up,  “just excuse yourself and go to the girls’ room.”

Easy for her to say, a person didn’t just do what they needed to do with Mrs. Rathborn hovering.

The Indigenous Council of 13 Grandmothers

Grandmother Maria Alice will be speaking in Portland this month on November 23. She is part of the Indigenous Council of 13 Grandmothers; women who have come from around the world to share ancient healing practices. Last year I went to Sedona with my friend, Dicksie, and sat in council with Grandmother Rita from Alaska, Grandmother Aama from Tibet and Grandmother Mona from the Hopi Nation.

Grandmother Aama used an interpreter, a man from Nepal who traveled with her and translated as she spoke of sisterhood and healing. Aama walked the circle giving each of us a blessing in the fierce way the Nepalese have for invoking the Gods. She stood before me and thumped her wooden prayer beads on my head, heart, shoulders and knees. “Give thanks for joy, give thanks for the pain, it is your chance to grow, give thanks for your life. It is your gift.”

Grandmother Mona was on her homeland in Arizona. She beat the drum, called the spirits from the four directions and burned sweet grass and sage.

“When a Hopi person is ill,” Mona said, “and has to go to the doctor, the whole family is expected to be there. Each person is instructed on the role they must play to help the healing process. A person is never expected to go alone because it would be too overwhelming.”  (Sounds just like our medical system, don’t ya think?)

Mona wore a green shawl, print skirt and deerskin moccasins as she spoke of her own healing. “I had a heart problem; the community came together and made a fire. When the coals burned down my husband took a stick and arranged them in the shape of a heart, then bowed before me and waited until he had a vision and feeling about the place in my own heart that was damaged. When he knew, he returned to the heart-shaped coals and added new ones where the weakness had appeared. In that way, my heart problems were cured and I was able to recover my health.”

Grandma Rita was my favorite because she had the same bubbly spirit as the Dalai Lama. She wore a white dress embroidered with ravens and spider webs above fringed leather slippers. Rita could not walk easily or hear well, but danced like a little elf and laughed as she sang native songs with her Alaskan sister. She was sent by plane from Alaska at three years of age to learn English. She returned at six and was given the job of lighting candles beneath the statue of the holy mother for the duration of a thirty-one day religious festival.

“My mother asked me why I wanted to go church so early and I told her I wanted more time with the Holy Mother. Each day as I was lighting the candles I said the same prayer: “Holy Mother, I have come to your world about which I know nothing. Give me those things made for happiness so I may be a blessing in your world, and Mother if you would ask your son Jesus, to ask his father God what I will be when I grow up, than I will find my way in this place. At the end of thirty-one days – you can believe this or not – ” Rita continued, “as I came to light the candles for the last time, I noticed a tear on the forehead of the Holy Mother. I took it in my hands, wiped it on my forehead, over my eyes, across my shoulders and against the soles of my feet. Thank you, I smiled, now I will surely find my way.”  

These women are good examples of living outside the cultural trance of aging, stagnation and limitation. Grandmother Maria Alica will be at the First Unitarian Church November -23 from 7-9.

Home Economics 1950

This is not my usual offering, so I apologize to those of you looking for originality, but when I stumbled on this text from a home economics book printed in 1950, I couldn’t resist sharing. I was reminded of a few lines from the B.B.C Comedy, Doc Martin, when he asked an old lover if she had ever been married. “Not long enough to do any permanent damage,” she replied.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against marriage. God knows I’ve tried it often enough.

As challenging as this is to read, (you may need a vomit bag) reading it gives me hope that the unchangeable really does change given enough time and intelligence.

Ready? Got your bag handy?

  

Instruction for future wives: 

1. Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him, and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

2. Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work- weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

3. Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

4. Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces if they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

5. Minimize the noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.

6. Things to avoid: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.

7. Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

8. Listen to him: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

9. Make the evening his: Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment; instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

10. The goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax.

Parties

When I turned fifty, I had a birthday bash. I asked folks to sing their favorite song, write a new one, or read me a much loved poem. Those were the gifts I wanted. I asked them to pretend I had died, and to get up and speak about my life, the way they would talk at my funeral. I wanted to hear what folks were going to say. Otherwise, how would I know? I draped photos from different chapters of my life around my sister Susan’s palatial house, giving folks something to laugh about and a way to focus conversation. There was a fire in the fireplace, friends played fiddle, mandolin and guitar. We ate well. A small bubbly Jewish friend named Sharon was one of the last to leave. I remember her making her way out the front door, her arms heavy with dishes. “I bet you never thought you’d look this good at 50, did you?” I was stunned. Was I supposed to look bad? 

When I lived in The Columbia River Gorge with my friend Tom, we had summer parties on acres of land. Folks hung clothes they no longer wanted on the line to be exchanged for the offerings of others. I hired a caller. We contra danced in long lines, laughing as we swirled and kicked our skirts up. We ate well and smiled openly. We sat on hay bales around an evening fire and munched handfuls of raspberries from the fifty acres that grew in the back field. 

B’lou, (short for Betty Lou, a name she hated) and I used to give all kinds of crazy parties. Our last one was, The God Party. We all came in character, dressed as our overseeing angel and talked about ourselves like we weren’t there. I was Mother Superior and had a delightful evening reprimanding those less perfect with a ruler. B’lou had a costume closet where a pantry used to be, and had turned the dining room into a dance floor with large mirrors and millions of theatrical hats. You were never expected to be yourself when you entered. Do you know how refreshing that can be?

When I turned 55, I asked friends to parade down Salmon Street in their pajamas. Ten women showed up, plus my daughter, granddaughter and a few neighbors. We put ivy in our hair and walked a short mile playing instruments, but it lacked something – a brass section, I think.  

I’ll be 65 on the last day of November; an age I can’t believe belongs to me. I guess there will be no party, because I have no ideas or motivation. I’ve planned a trip to California to visit my granddaughter, Britan, who will be sweet 16, and my son, Clay, who is pushing 40. We share the same birthday season. Then I’ll return, and have a quiet week-end at the coast with my buddy, Susan.

I’ve become solitary and hermit-like in my old age, living in the forest and doing little but working as a healer, teaching, writing and more and more healing work. I’ve also begun doing really dumb things, like searching for the phone while I’m talking on it. And putting on my sunglasses at night, instead of driving glasses, then freaking out believing there is something horribly wrong with my lights. I don’t feel as brave, as tough or as social as I used to. I miss that. But the worst part, is that people I don’t know keep sending me letters about cremation, hearing aids and hospital services. My mother was hang gliding and riding camels until she was 90. Why don’t they send letters encouraging us to do that?