I’m spending the week-end with Cooper, a gentle Buddha in a dog’s body, who’s been teaching me since I arrived. At first we were distant, studying one another from across the room. I was tired, having driven miles out of my way, convinced I knew better than the GPS. Like the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But I did arrive, saw some beautiful countryside and stopped to buy a gift of flowers, which unfortunately had rotten water-logged stems that I hadn’t noticed.  

My afternoon client session had gone well, if I didn’t count the gardener mowing outside the window, my client yelling above a leaf blower, and an occasional ambulance blaring up Melrose Avenue. Not the quiet sessions conducted deep in the forest I’m used to, but she was helped and I enjoyed working again. Unfortunately, the recording of her session produced a wave file instead of an MP3 (the mysteries of electronics), and I could not figure out where the file landed (the mystery of my computer) so that necessitated an unscheduled stop to see Stan, the computer man. I waited while Stan explained what was happening (operator difficulties) which is a nice way of saying I’m electronically brain-dead, which I already knew. He fixed the problem, sent off  the client file and I bolted out the door, inching on to the Los Angeles freeway. Just another mercury retrograde day. 

You get the picture, so when I met Cooper I was less than congenial. The dog studied me, waiting for my emotional levels to move from explosive to simmer, then paraded his stuffed animals past my feet. I let him smell my hand, then stroked his head.

“So, where is your food, Buddy? Looks like we should start there.”

He promptly got up, led me through the kitchen and into a back bedroom, where I found both food and feeding dishes.

“Okay, that was a little scary. What other languages do you speak?”

Cooper gobbled down copious amounts of food while I made a bed on the couch, cursing the fact that I’m still homeless. My dream rental fell through on Thursday when I opened the door into a space so small I had to hold in my stomach to get inside. I was coaching myself away from open windows and kitchen knives when a friend connected me with Teryn, a local queen of real estate, who not only took me to lunch, promising to help me find a new place, but also opened her home while she and her husband Bart went away for the week-end. So that’s where I am, rooming with Cooper.  

I woke at six ready to walk and discovered Cooper felt the same. Teryn said he needed no leash, which was a tad unthinkable, but I took her word. I untangled night time hair and put on a jacket as Cooper stretched and waited. Before I opened the door, he nosed toward the poop bags lest I forget, then waddled out in front of me. The old gentleman shuffled down flights of brick steps looking back to see if I was following. He was also making it very clear just who was taking who for a walk! 

Trotting ahead, Cooper peed on a bush, then waited patiently, like a parent with a lingering child. When I got close enough to touch him, he took off again, up a side road and around a hedge. I began panting and wondering how distant a walk he had in mind, when he dropped last night’s dinner in the grass and turned around. ( I got to do the part of dog walking I don’t like. Enough said.) We returned home the same way, with Cooper serenely waiting every few yards until he nosed his way to the front door. 

After wolfing an abundant breakfast, he urged me to play tug of war by dropping a green stuffed monkey at my feet. I grabbed the other end expecting a little equal competition. But actually thinking I had an unfair advantage, you know, being human and all. Ha! Not so. Cooper had the strength of a bull. That dog pulled me across the room like I wasn’t even trying. Not one to settle for defeat, I challenged him again. And again he won. And again and again. This dog could pull a car.  

We both took a snooze, then had lunch in the yard, where I read Tapestry, Barbara Hollander’s memoir about life in Spain. Cooper munched an apple. We mellowed in afternoon sun, a gentle breeze lifting the romaine in my salad. When Cooper finished his fruit and wanted to play, I refused.

“I’m not going to play with you. You never let me win, what fun is that?” 

Once inside Cooper burst with excitement, pushing against my side and stepping with a horse’s weight on my feet.  He loped to the bedroom, bringing out a brown monkey which he dropped until I agreed to pick it up. (The dog may be mellow but he’s extremely persistent.) Finally, I relented, grabbed the monkey and pulled hard, expecting to fly across the room again. But he surprised me. This time, he was gentle, pulled me a few feet, then feigned weakness, letting the toy tumble to the floor. The dog was letting me win!    

What kind of a dog does that? What kind of dog knows that? What kind of a dog takes me for a walk, shows me where his food is and the poop bags? Cooper, who in heaven’s name are you?

Tarantulas, fudge and altered reality

It was a doomed week from the start. Michelle Godfrey, an astrologer on facebook said, “There’s a big X in the sky right now, best to lay low.” I tucked that caution in my back pocket as I headed from Los Angeles to Phoenix to spend a week with friends, Suzanne and John, whose house is paradise. Being there is always a treat.

I arrived safely on Saturday night, eager to take a Sunday morning swim when I noticed something black floating in the pool. A large tarantula (the size grows with each remembering) was suspended in the water inches from my foot. I called Suzanne, who assured me it was dead, as she fished it out with a rake, plopping it in the stones three short feet away. But once his little tarantula feet hit dry land, he shook off the water and began moving around. That was enough for me. I no longer wanted a swim, was definitely not going in the pool and decided that the backyard was off limits as well.

As it happened, that same afternoon was the twenty-first birthday celebration of John’s youngest daughter, so the backyard was overrun with splashing grandchildren, drink-carrying adults and a very cautious me watching from the door. When I did step out I was served up like an imported delicacy to mosquitoes, who had trouble penetrating the tougher skinned locals. John assured me there were mosquitoes, but they did not bite, this assertion came as I was being bored into like a piece of swiss cheese, welts rising like a sudden case of chicken pox.

That evening I passed the hot tub and noticed a light blue salamander belly up on the bottom. Confronted with two dismal omens, I went to the internet for definition. The tarantula said something about bringing past and present together but the meaning that stood out said simply, dangerous and sinister.

The next day I decided to “man-up” and get in the pool anyway. Suzanne and I were floating when John came out of the house in tears. His 29 year old daughter had been fighting cancer for the past year and the disease had gone into her spine. She was in the ER, in the terminal stage of cancer. The rest of that day was spent in unreal turmoil as phone calls poured in, decisions were pondered and grief showed in everyone’s eyes. Three little boys ages 6, 5 and 3 would be left behind.

Tuesday afternoon opened a window for me to do a soul reading for Suzanne but not before an afternoon nap. The blazing sun, the trip over and family events were taking an energetic toll. Everyone else simply plied themselves with coffee but my body was too sensitive for caffeine, so I searched the freezer for a sweet that might give me energy. There was plenty of ice cream but that didn’t appeal so I dug and dug until I reached the bottom of the drawer. Then I spotted it, a Christmas tin, something I assumed had been stored and forgotten. I pried the top off and found cookies, fudge, brownies and some mystery sweets in silver foil. I took the fudge, ate it, replaced the tin and settled down for a short nap.

When Suzanne came out, we spread cards on the table and I began to read. I was nearly finished when I noticed my hands becoming clumsy, words spilling in the wrong direction and my mind lifting dangerously away from reality. I sprang from the sofa alarmed, couldn’t finish the reading, then burst through french doors, pacing next to the pool. Suzanne followed. “I’m sorry, I can’t finish. Something is wrong with me,” I said, “terribly, terribly wrong.” I feared I was having a stroke or psychotic break.

Suzanne was by my side every minute, inquiring and trying to comfort me, but there was no comfort. I was clearly out of my mind and knew it. Did I get caught in another reality? Was I being transported to another dimension? Would I ever be normal again? Would I be able to get my mind back, my life?

“Karen, if you were anyone else I’d take you to the emergency room but I know you wouldn’t go. What do you want me to do?” I sat with my feet in the pool staring into space. I thought of going in, but another part of me warned against it. You are not yourself; you may not come out again. “I don’t know what to do,” I told her. “Something in me has snapped.”

Suzanne put her arm around my shoulder and began talking about my future, the wonderful new life opening before me, my beauty, my spirit, every good and positive thing she could think of. She worked to weave a net with her words, a web of safety for me to rest in, while my mind raced in this unknown landscape. When she stopped, I knew I needed to be on the earth, to let earth energy hold me, but where? This was not the grassy Oregon countryside I knew; this was a yard of cactus, brick, palm trees, prickly aloe and desert rock.

I walked toward a gravel clearing as something exploded inside me, something fierce, an explosion that propelled me to my knees. I reached for white border stones, placed them on my heart and power center, and willed them to bring my energetic field and mind back to earth.

Suzanne talked of food poisoning, but I remembered nothing out of the ordinary. I feared my spiritual work had snapped the gossamer thread that kept me tethered to this place and decided I needed someone with mastery to bring me back. Suzanne found my phone book and called Lexi Parrott and Rebecca Singer, the only healers I knew capable of helping in those dimensions. She left phone messages as another violent wave hit my body. Then I remembered the fudge.

“Oh my God Karen, That was medical marijuana, very potent, made into a kind of butter and then confections. It’s been down there for two years. We keep it for my mom who has M.S.

This did not feel like my days of marijuana, this felt like rat poison, but there was comfort in understanding the break with reality.

John came outside eager to help but all I could think of was asking him to shovel vomit away from my face, since moving was out of the question. Both ends of me were busy expelling, and no one wanted to address what was happening ‘below.’

I opened my eyes into searing light and saw John’s face looking at me through the branches of an orange tree, his ever present white brimmed hat casting shadows across his face. I smiled up at him, having a fantasy of John showing a perspective client his tile work with me sprawled across the walkway, my face planted in the dirt, puddles of liquid flowing in each direction, looking like road kill on a heavily traveled thoroughfare. “And this,” he would explain. as they carefully stepped over me, “is our houseguest. Apparently a little sensitive to food.”

I thought of the Buddhist tenet. Do not take what is not given, and how often I’d played fast and loose with that one, and how I would not be in this mess if I had inquired, instead of taken. But Suzanne did not agree. “Oh darlin’,” she said in her southern comfort way, “You know you are welcome to anything we have.”

When John returned to the house I asked Suzanne to clean up the ‘other end’ of me, and bless her heart she did. All the time gagging and explaining why she could never be a nurse and how this whole thing explained the shit dreams she’d been having – which took our friendship to a whole new level, as you can well imagine!

When she’d finished I found the strength to make it inside to the bathroom, where I expelled for a few more hours. Too weak to remove my dress, I asked her to get scissors and cut it off.

Lexi called at the end of my purging, six hours later, and thankfully at a time when I was able to speak in complete sentences. Suzanne placed cushions on the bathroom floor and I settling down for the night, while Lexi and I talked and laughed. She began guiding me through a healing session. “Where ever you are,” she said, “is becoming sacred space.” I could not stop laughing. I looked up at the white porcelain of the toilet bowl, the tub and the war zone of the bathroom floor. Damn, I thought, if I can make this sacred space, I can make anything sacred space!

Rebecca called when Lexi hung up, offering to get on a plane to come help, but I couldn’t call back until the following day, couldn’t figure out how to make the phone work, so I listened to her message, feeling blessed to have loyal friends.

I spent two days in bed recovering my strength, while the household swirled with activity around the news of John’s daughter. The house was awash with visitors, many of their moods lightened by the story of my misadventures into the freezer drawer.

The morning I left, I swam in the pool, tentatively peering around the corner beneath the grapefruit tree to visit the scene of the crime. I was delighted and surprised to see that John had placed branches from a tree in the dirt where I had fallen and a pile of stones to heal the violence that had taken place. It felt like an apt memorial for a strange and perilous visit. 

Becoming Modern

I managed to go for 65 years without pumping my own gas, and now, wouldn’t you know it, my decision to move to California has pulled me out of my car and my comfort zone. I’ve filled up my tank six times and still don’t have it right, but each time I get better.

Last night I watched a guy hop out of his car, push the nozzle in the tank and walk away to wash his windshield, as if it were the easiest thing in the world. I was impressed, since my machine had already stopped three times. Once, because I didn’t shove the nozzle in far enough. Twice, because I tried to use the silver clip hidden in the handle to hold the lever up – and failed. And a third time, because I got distracted by the show-off guy and tried to do the same. I envied his wife sitting idly in the passenger seat examining her nails. One should never underestimate the gifts that come with relationship. 

The other thing I’m getting used to is a GPS, which came without an instruction manual of ANY kind, like a person should just know how to use it because of genetics, gender, or maybe age. Isabella, who was 11 years old at the time, gave me a quick lesson before I left Oregon. (She flies her dad’s airplane and is used to navigation systems.)  But she did not have the hang of allowing me to do it myself. Instead, she ran through the buttons quicker than a teller at the grocery. “See Ma? You just go here, here, here and here, and when you’re done, you push this.”

The GPS and the gas pump have been colossal challenges, with me tackling strangers to beg assistance. But when I reached Los Angeles, a one on one lesson from Clay, my son, helped tremendously. “You can always play the old lady card, if you get into trouble Mom.”

My biggest breakthrough with the GPS came when a bartender showed me a symbol that looks like a tiny bed in the lower right hand corner and announced it was the space bar. Ha! What a difference a space makes. In my defense, I will say that the clerk at the Morro Bay B&B could not find the space bar either. Anyway, the GPS and I have been doing very well – except for yesterday, when the hot California sun melted the glue that held it on the dash and dumped it in my lap.

Like my computer, I’m sure I’m only using one fourth of its capacity and that it has little GPS nighttime imaginings of belonging to someone who is worthy of it. But I am thrilled. After the initial shock of having a moving screen on my dash and another voice in the car, I have grown dependent, even delighted to be safely guided through the chaos of southern California traffic.

I still live in avoidance of gas station trauma and freeway madness but am adapting and getting better every day.


Dreams – Mine and yours

It was late, almost midnight. Mark and I had performed two evening shows and neglected to book a hotel room. “Don’t worry,” a young patron said. “Here is a key to my place. Save your money and stay there. I’ll be gone a few days, so slip the key under the mat when you leave.” We’d been touring for a year and I was delighted by the idea of staying in a home instead of a hotel. But my visions of warmth and welcome quickly faded when his key opened into a bachelor pad full of clutter, dirty dishes, soiled rugs and a hungry neglected cat. The bedroom was dark and fearful. “What shall we do?” I asked. “It’s too late to find another place.” Mark shook his head, “Nothing to do but crash here.”   

To say that I am sensitive to space and energy is a monumental understatement, so this was like dropping into the jaws of hell. I went to the van, found a packing blanket and placed it in the center of the living room, then sliced lilacs branches from a bush near the entry, making a circular mound around the blanket. With resignation and anger, I lowered myself onto the hard surface, willing nature and beauty to transport me into protected sleep. The scent and sight of the flowers helped but could not prevent absorption of the indwelling essence of the owner. 

That was an extreme case but unfortunately not unusual, since staying overnight anywhere other than home, can have dire consequences. A year of hotels and restaurant food left me ill and unable to continue. I had too many evenings sleeping in my car like a pretzel, rather than submerged in the unwelcome energies left in hotel rooms, where sheets are changed and tended but rooms are seldom aired or cleared. I have only to touch the bed spread or walk on the rug in bare feet to feel the energy of all who have passed before. Such heavily used rooms are an energetic Chernobyl for an empath or energetically sensitive person. 

The Oceanside Inn has been my only vacation place for decades, because the owner leaves the windows open between renters, allowing strong ocean air to whirl and spin-clean the space to pristine levels of purity. When forced to stay in difficult lodging, I have tried sage and candles, chanting and intention, which all help but can not rid the space of left over dreams. When I am in these environments, I slip into another’s dream field and wake unrested and worn down. Being in someone else’s dream field is like sleeping in a scratchy shirt, while experiencing the heaviness of their emotions, hopes and unfelt pain. It is tolerable with a life partner, but extremely unsettling with an absent stranger. 

The only time this trait has been remotely useful was when I accompanied my partner Thom to a therapy session and he could not remember the content of his last dream, so I did it for him. It took no effort to recall the whole thing, since I had been in his dream field. In this way my retelling helped him remember and gain understanding from the content. In case you hadn’t already guessed, having a live in partner can be difficult for an empathic person. For example, when Thom got a toothache, I was taking aspirin for the pain without understanding the pain was his. 

Today I’m traveling again so the awareness of this problem has returned, otherwise, I conveniently forget. My room at the Land of Medicine Buddha Retreat Center was clean and lovingly tended so the unseen effects were minimal, but still there was disrupted sleep and little rest. The lingering dream voice that remained in my room had a loud masculine quality, not at all like my own. This voice was bold and without refinement, as if stomping through a meadow in uncaring boots.

Pondering this puzzle makes me think of Collette, a student I met teaching an Intuitive Wisdom class at Marylhurt University.  “You know, Karen,” she said, “when I first had a session with you I thought it would be so wonderful to be as open and knowing as you are. I wanted to have the skills you had, but now that we have finished the class, I am grateful that I do not, because I see and understand that yours in not an easy road and that every gift comes with a price.”


Starting Over

My room has a gold framed photo of the Wish Fulfilling Healing Buddha sitting above the desk. I smile up at it, extending arthritic fingers. “Okay, here you go Buddy, give it your best shot.”  

I booked three days at The Land of Medicine Buddha Retreat Center in Soquel California. The LMB, as it’s called is an oasis of conscious people, organic food – lovingly prepared, Tibetan teachers and kind actions. It is also a hospice care facility and day school for children.  

Yesterday was a day for self-indulgence, an attempt to repay my body for the herculean effort I demanded while moving, lifting, packing, not sleeping, having primal scream anxiety about pulling up Portland roots, seeing too many clients and driving twelve hours from Hillsboro to Santa Cruz. My body forgives me now, but it took a two hour massage, acupuncture treatment, thirty laps in the pool, a sunbath, meditation and a relaxation tape. That’s how much I owed! 

I will stay in Los Angeles with my son this week-end, then go to San Diego where I’ll have a room in a house of musicians, with no idea where I will find a home of my own. I only know that I could not find the place I wanted sitting in a little house in the forest in Oregon, so off I went, like the fool card in the tarot, carrying few belongings and lots of trust and faith. 

Feelings of liberation washed over me as I drove away from Oregon – a sense of celebration, like a prisoner released after a forty year sentence. Vast open landscape, mountains, and a horizon full of possibility brought elation, as music by The Supremes danced in my ears. I found myself smiling as feelings of deliverance burst through my senses. Sun-warmed shoulders through an open roof anchored my gratitude. 

So why did I stay so long? I was paralyzed by love. Love of friends, home, clients and my daughter, but most of all by Isabella, my heart. Her entrance into my world twelve short years ago froze my attention, making me determined to be fully present for each breath of her young life. But now I’ve left. I’ve done it and it’s not because I love them any less, it’s that my body and spirit were rapidly crumbling in an environment I had outgrown long ago. 

These thoughts sit gently on my mind as I look into a redwood forest, a sanctuary that grows green and lush outside my window. The grounds have meandering paths, prayer wheels, bamboo chimes, a wish fulfilling temple and open meadows, but there is a warning to beware of mountain lions. If you see one, the pamphlet in the guest house reads, pull your jacket up over your head and try to look bigger than you are. Then they won’t hurt you.

That won’t be hard for me now, because I feel lots bigger and more myself than I’ve ever been.


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.


 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.

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.”


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.






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.

The dark days

I’m beginning to feel these dark days in my bones. Daylight savings time is upon us, so it’s going to get worse. I don’t know why it’s called ‘saving time’ because it takes the light away. Where is the savings in that? I complain every year, bitterly. Everyone who knows me expects unceasing grumbling and whining. I’ve practically made it an art form. The light goes away and I open the protest box that lives in the basement of my life. No, it used to live in the basement, now it lives on the top shelf of my brain, ready to spill out at the slightest provocation. I dream of living elsewhere, have announced my bold intentions to vacate to anyone who will listen. I’ve acted on my goal over and over but boomerang back with embarrassing predictability. 

I seem to be karmically rooted to Oregon. Why didn’t I land in a warm place all those years ago, when I was fleeing from my crazy past? Why did I choose a rainforest instead of sunshine, white sandy beaches and palm trees?

A responsible person who is unhappy does something about it, so I set off to change my life. Twenty years ago, I was going to live in the four corners, which is an area that defines Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. I packed my car, said goodbye to friends and was off, but the place didn’t feel right, so I came back. A few years later, I decided that Santa Cruz would do. I had a good-bye client special and took off, but when I arrived, there was too much traffic and it was… well, just too California, so I came back. I left for Mexico in 1995 giving myself a full month to see if that was my place. Everything I’d read about San Miguel de Allende sounded exciting and inviting. I was hopelessly sick from the water in five short days.

My latest leaving was for Hawaii. I made plans, told my daughter, Kristen, she could have my car and refused to schedule clients into the future. Kristen was unconvinced.  “Okay Mom, I’ll believe it when I see it.” I was insulted. How could she doubt me? I told my friend Dicksie I was moving to Kauai in October. “Really Karen? I thought that was just something you talked about but never did.” Ouch!

Well, I’m not living in Hawaii and my daughter is not driving my car, if that tells you anything. This failed attempt to escape the dark and rain has become humiliating. My inner escape artist is obviously inept.

Determined to solve my predicament I contacted a business woman to help organize my teaching and healing schedules to include more travel. That sounded like a great idea. Don’t you think? I was up for it, but then she got sick and couldn’t meet and now I’m doing rewrites on a new book that is going to take most of the winter, so I’ve lost my motivation. What is a person supposed to do with a person like me? It’s really quite a quandary.

Meeting the mafia

mafia car

 1979  Boston

I wanted to take Kristen to Vermont to show her where I’d gone to boarding school. I was entirely comfortable with hitchhiking and mentioned my plans to Keyo, but he became concerned. Keyo, I said, I’ve always hitchhiked and enjoyed it. I’ve met some incredibly good people that way.  I’m a good judge of character. I know who to trust and how to talk my way out of trouble.

He knew he wasn’t going to change my mind so he pulled me gently over to his pack. Karen, I want you to carry my knife. If anyone gives you trouble, you’ll have it to protect yourself. You won’t have to use it, but wear it on your belt and when people see it, they’ll know you mean business. I laughed, Yes, and when they ask me what I do for a living, I’ll say, I’m a spiritual teacher and here is my switch blade knife. He insisted. I took the knife to make him feel better and headed out the next day.

The knife was big and deadly, like nothing I’d ever seen. I pushed a button and a long sharp blade sprang into action. The metal shone of polished silver and frightened even me. I fastened it to my belt, like Keyo had recommended and prepared for our trip.

It began the next morning when a small pick-up pulled over to give us a ride and a policeman materialized from nowhere. He peered in the driver’s window and delivered a lecture about delivering us safely to our destination. No foul play, he warned. The driver was  put out. Man, I stop to do somebody a favor and the next thing you know, I’m being pulled over and treated like a criminal. I apologized and we went safely on our way. We had two more short rides and then climbed into a car driven by two young men, who talked about the Mafia like it was the Boys Club.

We talked easily, laughed and seemed to have a lot in common. They lived near by and offered an evening meal, shelter for the night and a swim in the pool. It sounded good, so we agreed. The car left the highway and threaded along a tall cornfield,  loose gravel pounding the window. Dust blocked my vision. When we reached the house, Kristen and I climbed down from the cab. The boy’s mother came out, asking who we were and where we had come from. When they explained that we were hitchhikers, an already heated conversation exploded. It was in Italian, so I don’t know what was said, but certainly got the drift. It was something like, these people are scum, get them out of here.

One of the men broke away and said, I apologize for my mother. She is very old fashioned, but it’s ok for you to be here.  His mother was heavy set, with thick black hair pulled away from her face, and a mind that measured the world in threats and dangers. This may not be a good idea, I said. No, no! He insisted. It’s late, we’ll swim and then you can stay in the guest house above the garage. You’ll be fine here, don’t mind my mother. I minded his mother a lot and so did he.

None-the-less, we changed into our suits and cooled off in the pool. It was a nice contrast to standing in the hot sun and being bathed in car exhaust. One of the boys went into the field and picked fresh corn. We tore back golden husks and ate it sweet and raw, while lingering in the pool. The sun was going down when we climbed out. I made my way to the changing house, put my hand on the door knob and turned it hard, but it didn’t open. I pushed again. That’s odd, I thought, I must have locked it by mistake. I turned around to ask for help and discovered that the boys had been sent into the house on an errand – their mother was standing in back of me.

She grabbed my arm and led me to a bench, I have locked the door, she told me. You can not enter. You must leave my house at once. Do not harm my boys. You are a mother, you know what I mean. She pointed to my clothes, which she’d piled on the ground outside, then lifted the knife from its holder. You are a dangerous woman and must leave my house at once.

I was speechless. I’d never been seen as a dangerous person and the idea that I might over power her sons with a knife was incredible. Her sons emerged from the house once again, and Italian words flew hot and fast. They stood nose to nose, each pleading their case in shouts and bursts of emotion, without anyone being heard.

One of the boys broke away, grabbed my clothes and showed us to the guest house. It will be all right, he assured us. It’s too late to leave. Rest well and go in the morning. Kristen and I looked at each other in bewilderment, as we hung our wet suits on the shower and talked about the events of the day. We were settling in for bed, when a car came screeching to a halt outside the window. Doors sprang open in unison. Six large Italian men got out, all of them carrying guns. The boy who had shown us to the guest house flew up the stairs.

I’m sorry, you’ll have to leave now, he said gasping for breath. You’ll be all right, Momma has sent some friends to make sure you go back to the highway. We didn’t even retrieve our suits from the shower wall, just grabbed our belongings as we were hurried out the door.

Kristen and I sat in the dark along the road, glad to be gone. I thought about throwing the knife away, but knew it was expensive and that Keyo would want it back. We cuddled together on my suitcase and sang songs, while we waited for some sign of life in the traffic lane.

We were picked up moments later by a man who was on his way home to his four children. He was generous and kind, invited us to stay the night and we accepted. We climbed the stairs to a guest bedroom, pulled back covers on a queen size bed and quickly fell asleep. Only I didn’t stay asleep. I tossed and turned and dreamed violent dreams of people being stabbed by knives. I was so angry with myself for agreeing to carry a weapon, because it was doing the opposite of what it was intended to do; it was endangering us.

In the morning, over a breakfast of orange juice and muffins, I learned that our host was vacationing with his children, because his wife had been brutally murdered only one month before. I offered my sympathies and asked how she’d died. Someone broke into our home while I was away, he said with tears welling in his eyes, and stabbed her to death. I listened to his sorrow and realized that my dreams had not been produced by anxiety, but were images resulting from very real terror.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We were delivered safely to Vermont, walked around the school grounds, looked up acquaintances and got a ride back to Boston with an old friend, who had career-shuttled from musician to CPA. Upon returning I looked up Keyo and delivered his knife, glad to be free of it! I had learned an important lesson about the energy objects hold and attract, and that my personal safety had more to do with my outlook and essence, than it had to do with carrying weapons.

The Leaving Time

orange airplane

I have that ache I get in my heart when the leaving time comes. The hugs, unspoken sadness and the drop off at the airport, all pull at me in the core of my belly. I was not designed for modern life. I need friends and family at my fingertips, not scattered in far flung locations around the globe. 

My son’s wife, Khrystyne is in Los Angeles. She has the flu today, a raw throat, fever and headaches. I want to walk over with chicken soup, tea and flowers for the table, bend down, kiss her forehead and tell her not to worry. 

I want to walk an ocean beach, share lunch and talk about writing and poetry with Dicksie. I want to see her paintings take shape and listen to the dreams she dreamed, but she is in Arizona. 

I long to sit at the large wooden table in my sister Kristen’s kitchen, soak in stories about the children in her life,  and watch as she rides her bike to school and back. I want to feel our 60 years of history and know the open place in her heart that remembers ‘us’ and expands to embrace me whenever I appear. 

My empty house will fill in quickly with work assignments, clients, phone calls and challenges.  I’ll welcome them, as I blend again inside my days, the fullness of friends, family and routine. But there will be that raw place first, that invisible surge that pushes against an old aloneness I work to live above. It will hit me like cold water as I open the door.  

The mother hen in me wants to gather the people I love around me, enfolding them in my wings. I send emails instead. 

The clouds form a solid cover outside the window in shades of iridescent pearl. They perch above an expanse of blue mountains and rust covered earth. It’s seven o’clock in the morning. The blast furnace that is Phoenix sits unfelt inside the cool cabin of the plane. Another lift off.  Another coming.  Another going.  Another touching down.

The right to survive


I’m sitting by the pool trying to think of a blog piece. I have time to write, I have energy, but nothing springs to mind.

A dove flies from white desert rocks over the water and into a flowering shrub. The birds are busy this morning and noisy. Hanging ferns cascade near my chair in perfect abundant health. Peppers sprout in the garden, next to perfumed rosemary, and a grapefruit tree that shelters fruit the size of basketballs. How can anything grow here? I’m confused. This is a brown place where houses have rocks instead of lawns – yet life springs forth in radiant colors and profuse blossoms.

When I wrote my sister Kristen about visiting Arizona, she said, it’s a different world with its vivid colors and dry, strange landscape. I never felt it was a gentle place but one that challenges your right to survive.

She’s right. The temperatures have averaged 109, which have been ten degrees lower than Phoenix. The result is like being under house arrest because nobody in their right mind would go anywhere to do anything for any reason – with the possible exception of my host, Joe.

Joe has the desert in his soul, its essence shines from his eyes. He grew up here and slept under the sky most of his childhood. Joe heads out the door like a lizard ready for a sunbath.  No problem. He and his brother Steve used to spend their day catching snakes when they were kids, snakes bigger than they were. They collected them in pillow cases and thought nothing of picking up a rattlesnake until one bit his brother and nearly killed him. Joe and a passing motorist cut open his brother’s finger and took turns sucking the poison from his young body.

Lucky the snake had a belly full of rabbits, Joe says, or Steve wouldn’t have made it.

A few months ago Joe was making sweet talk to a king snake. Come here baby. Come on pretty girl. He found it in the front yard and moved it to the back, where it could eat rodents and other rattlers. I think of myself as a nature girl but stories like those reflect the core of my inner wimp.

I am soaking in the light and beauty of this place today. I will need to remember it when the dark months come. Winter in Oregon is like having a fat lady in black pants sit down on your head, plus it goes on forever! I will long for this place in winter, and be willing to save grocery money to re-experience it. Just don’t tell me any more stories about snakes. I don’t like having reality interfering with my ideas about life.

Brave New World

ceramic pot

Isn’t it amazing how you can step on an airplane and when it sets down, walk out into a completely different reality? I love that! I dislike the airport security-tin can-claustrophobic plane part, but thrive on the adventure of being someplace new. 

I left Oregon in a jacket, cotton top and long skirt. When I stepped into the state-wide sauna that is Arizona, I wanted to run into the ladies room and strip down to my underwear, but I don’t wear underwear, so I couldn’t do it. Thankfully my friend Dicksie ushered me quickly into her air conditioned car and then into the radiant hues of her life.

Dicksie is married to Joe, an award winning architectural landscape designer. Look him up on line and envy me my get-away, his talent is amazing:

Dicksie and Joe make a charming couple who fit easily and smoothly together, the way a cup fits a saucer. They have fashioned a place of such gracious beauty, it rivals the best resort. The walls are splashed with bold Arizona colors which serve as backdrops for the paintings they have done in shades of purple, greens, reds and rust.  My forest home whispers in pale blues and restful greens as it sits quietly among cedars and pines, while their house is bright, unashamed and blends with the splendor of a southwest sunset.

 I spent the morning floating in the backyard pool while feasting on the visual delights that met my glance at every turn. We swam without our tops, talked like girls at a pajama party and sank into a sweet connection that continues to deepen and expand.  Did I mention she’s a fabulous cook?  How does it get better than this?

I packed for summer in Oregon, which means a shopping trip is in order, because half my suitcase holds an array of sweaters, long pants and warm shirts. Inexperience and disbelief informed my selections. A day which is 109 degrees is as foreign to me as finding a camel in my bathtub, but I am learning.

Today I saw oranges spilled over a city sidewalk. That would only happen in Portland if someone dropped a grocery bag. Apples on walkways are common, as are figs and walnuts, but never oranges. The simplest things astound me, like the beauty of mesquite trees, lavender colored bushes that balloon like the top of dandelion puffs, and birds of paradise that burst fully open in shades of on-fire red.

Tomorrow we will join their friends and go to the mountain. I always hike in flip flops because I like to be as close to barefoot as possible. This is causing great distress to those who climb in regulation boots and do things according to the rules. I am told I will hear about it from their friends – or maybe snakes will bite my toes – or rocks will reach out to snag me, but I don’t care, because in the end, I have to walk the earth, the way I walk the earth.

New York City


statue 5Every few years my parents treated us to a cultural week-end in NYC.  We drove four hours through vineyards and rolling acres of farmland to the heart of a cosmopolitan environment that was as different from our barefoot childhood as I could imagine. 

We stayed at the Hotel Astor, which in 1955 was the finest hotel in the city. The Astor embodied old world elegance, sat in the heart of the theater district and towered over Time Square. The Brooklyn Dodgers had just won their first world series and the city was alive with excitement. Cab Calloway and Fats Waller were hot stuff and the Cotton Club was birthing a new musical sound. But it was the Broadway shows that interested my folks.

Evenings found us in our finest clothes with fresh gardenias from a street vendor pinned to our coats. The smell of that delicate white flower can still bring back vivid memories of Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, sinking into red velvet theater seats, watching chandeliers dim against a ceiling of gold and holding our breath as plush curtains whooshed back to reveal a magical world of song and dance. We sat spellbound by every theatrical gesture and perfected vocal score. Those performances began my admiration and love for the theater, and also spoiled me for anything less professional. 

I was ten years old when I watched long rows of women called the Rockettes, high kick in unison at Radio City Music Hall. They were wholesome family entertainment, while a trip to the Latin Quarter opened our eyes to the exotic. Women on flower-covered trapezes, descended from the ceiling wearing high heeled shoes, seamed stockings and little else. The undeniable points of attention were their breasts, where long tassels adhered to each nipple, leaving their fullness bare and exposed. The tassels were smaller versions of the fabric ends that held back the drapes in our living room. I was stunned! I could not take my young eyes off them – grown women who amused themselves by swinging naked from the ceiling of a darkened theater. Was that really okay? Was that what women did when they got older? Apparently it was not only approved of but applause worthy.  I began to wonder about stringing ropes in the hayloft and doing some undercover surgery on my mother’s drapes.

When the performance finished, my sister Kristen and I had to use the bathroom, but the lines were too long, so mother encouraged us to wait. We’ll be home soon, she promised. We hopped in a taxi, which vigorously whisked us through busy streets and hairpin corners. When we screeched to a halt, my father’s angry face matched the burgundy coat worn by the doorman. He was complaining about the driver as my sister and I pushed through revolving glass doors, past walls of glossy walnut, expensive paintings and potted palms. We jumped up and down in the elevator in our urgent need, reaching our fourth floor room before the white gloves of the elevator man disappeared behind us. Doors were never bolted at home, so we were stunned to find we’d been locked out.

I’m peeing my pants, Kristen told me. What should we do?

I had pushed my winter coat aside and was dancing up and down in a desperate attempt to wait.

We can’t pee right here, I said, it will make wet puddles right outside our door. We’ll surely get caught and get in big trouble. I have an idea. You run that way, and pee as you go. Run all the way to the window drapes. I’ll run to the marble statue. We’ll spread it out in long lines, that way nobody will be able to figure out what we did.

And so, on that eventful Saturday night, in one of the cities grand hotels, two little girls were pushing aside their fancy lace dresses to leave a bit of themselves in the lavish carpet at the Hotel Astor.


abbey near salzburg 

I have always loved the Catholic Church, not the religion, the philosophy, or the services, but the shelter of the sanctuary.

My level of sensitivity is extra-ordinary. A loud voice or shrill laugh can be physically painful, groups of people are over-stimulating. I can’t lay my head on a hotel pillow without knowing the character of the person who was there before me.

While other kids clamored from their desks for recess, I couldn’t wait to slip across the street into the quiet shelter of the Catholic Church, the only building that kept its doors unlocked, and welcomed all people at all hours.

Once inside I was transported into gentle stillness, a world I longed to live in and never leave. Light filtered through colored glass, frankincense and holy water filled my lungs, and banks of candles flickered in neat little rows near statues of Mary. The only sound was the occasional creak of golden oak yielding under the weight of a bent knee.

There were never loud voices in the church or groups pushing, shoving or competing. The people who came and went were few, and always internal and reverent. The Catholic Church was my oasis and sanity. It was a place I could breathe and rest until the school bell rang and I was summoned back inside to endure.

Last weekend I went to a baby shower. When it was time to return home, something in me recoiled. I pointed the car in the opposite direction and kept on driving until I reached Mt Angel Abbey, which sits high on a mountain with a panoramic view of pastures and forest.

Being away from civilization, computers and conversation was just the medicine I needed. I had not realized my exhaustion until I sat near the bell tower and looked out into the serene fields of the Williamette valley. The quiet was tangible; I could reach out and touch it. A few Benedictine monks walked by in silence like black shadows, humble and privately engaged, while the sun rested on my shoulder like a friend’s hand reminding me to unwind and let go.

That was all I needed. I picked up my cell phone and called my husband. I won’t be home tonight, I told him. I’m at the Abbey and it’s too lovely to leave.

Father Vincent was in the garden among a symphony of goldfinch. He was filling the birdbath as they darted over stalks of yellow and white iris, and on to the budding branches of mimosa trees. Father Vincent has been at the abbey for forty-seven years. He tells me he’ll arrange a room, so I go back to my car for my checkbook and hair brush, the only luggage I have. When I return he is gone. The woman at the gift shop hands me my room key. I ask how much I owe and she says she doesn’t know. It’s Saturday. Someone should be around on Monday. Call when you get home and find out. You can mail us a check then. I’ve gone to the Abbey for the past twenty years. It’s the way they do business.

The room is simple, a bed with white sheets and spread, cream colored walls and windows that look into a sky dotted with tiny cotton clouds. There is a desk and gold lamp. I look out and watch a red-necked hummingbird feed on small blue flowers nested in rambling ground cover.

 I unpack by placing my hair brush on the bathroom shelf and walk to the church for vespers. The monks chant five times a day. When I sit down, the sound of it travels through the pores of my skin and settles at my core.

I stand looking up at the domed ceilings, the pink front wall of the sanctuary and the aqua and purple colors that grace the side walls above arched chanting stalls. The room is full of white linen and candles above a foundation of marble and oak. The organ is one of the finest in the world.

Being there is filling me up, it’s filling an empty space I didn’t know I had. How strange to be so at home in a place I have no business being in at all.

Abandoning Ship


The plane landed in England where we were to disembark and spend a week sightseeing. Extremely uncomfortable with the idea of being herded around in a group, I got busy devising a plan of escape. As we claimed our luggage in the London airport, I went up to the tour director.

This is where we part, I said. Guess I’ll be seeing you later.

She looked at me in astonished wonder.

Oh, didn’t Mother tell you? We have relatives here and I’ll be staying with them now. I’ll catch up with you in Austria.

I had received a London address from my older sister for a friend she’d made when she was an exchange student in Denmark. I displayed the address with confidence.

This is where I can be reached if you need me.

The address was a good ten years old and I had no idea who lived there now, but I was like a horse too tightly reined, sensed freedom and was moving towards it. 

I waved goodbye as the others caught the bus from Heathrow. A great relief at being free washed over me as I stepped into a taxi and handed the driver my address. I planned to knock on the door, ask for my sister’s friend, visit and be off, exactly where I didn’t know. Or if I were really lucky, he’d be fun, handsome and interesting; maybe we’d have a night on the town.

The driver pulled over at the house. I reached in my travel bag to pay him, but he was not happy to see American currency and refused it. Payment became an ordeal as I convinced him to, first, find a bank that would exchange funds and then continue to drive around while I tracked down the missing resident. He reluctantly agreed; I changed my money and we drove from house to house to inquire. Turns out this fellow had moved some time ago, but it was a small village and everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone who might help. It became a rather expensive game.

Finally, I knocked on the door of a quaint English cottage. An older woman with carefully pressed curls, a plaid dress and flat black shoes stood in the entrance.

Yes that’s my son, she told me, but he moved away years ago.

I was becoming weary and travel worn; my adventure was wearing thin.

I bring regards from my sister, a friend of his from long ago.

That was all. I turned to leave.

Don’t go, she said. Come in and have some tea.

I dismissed the taxi at last and settled at a doily-covered table to visit.

I told her about my family, boarding school and being on my way to Austria to study music. She took golden framed photos from the fireplace, and dusted each one with her napkin as she spoke of her son and other grown children who were away at universities. When she asked where I was staying, I told her I didn’t know. I hoped she would offer her guest room and she did, but first she insisted we go to Western Union to wire my mother. When I wrote the telegram, I was careful to word the message about my safe arrival so my parents wouldn’t suspect my decision to abandon ship. 

That evening my hostess cooked one of the worst dinners I’ve ever had, which she made with great love, attention and care. I ate with appreciation, then excused myself and went to sleep – for twenty hours.

Food trays covered the floor when I woke. Plates and bowls were stacked on linen covered trays, which contained more unidentified dense, creamy, mushy stuff. They had been generously delivered for three missed meals for an entire day. I was recovering from the effects of travel vaccinations, jetlag and exhaustion.

The next day, I was introduced to people my age and asked to join them at political meetings, where they questioned me about the politics of my government, the Vietnam War and the recent death of John F. Kennedy. They wanted to hear my views, believing my thoughts represented the entire country. We had all grieved the death of the president, were alarmed by racial upheaval in the south, and wanted to get out of the war, but I had little knowledge of American policies, domestic or foreign. I wasn’t a watcher of television, and reading was no friend to me, so I came up disappointingly short, having known little more in my life than the interior of bedroom walls, mucking stables, music classes and boarding school. Government had been my favorite class in high school, but that was due to a hopeless infatuation with the teacher. Teenage sexual fantasies and exploding hormones had blocked the retention of any useful information. 

My hostess was proud of having a foreign visitor and openly announced my presence. This is my visitor from America, she said, like she was showing off a prize plant at the county fair.  Eighteen years old and traveling about on her own. She showed me off when we went in and out of shops, visited her friends, and met acquaintances on the street.

She was sweet and generous, but I became restricted by her good intentions and decided to head out on my own again. My brother had married a French woman and I had the name and address of her sister in Vincennes.  I thanked the dear woman, said my goodbyes and made Paris my next stop.

Czechoslovakia and Rome

captive Mid-July, 1964, I was traveling with Jesuit Priests to Czechoslovakia with other students from Georgetown University. We boarded an old bus and were given specific instructions about passports and behavior. When we reached the border, we were greeted by three armed guards who stood fingering their rifles as we shifted nervously in our seats. Wooden watchtowers housed two more guards, feet firmly planted, guns aimed in our direction. The border was laced with barbed wire, and signs I couldn’t read which were meant to fortify the landscape. They could have retired for tea with the threat we intended, but they were of a different mind. We were intruders who could be smuggling contraband or planting bombs. They walked up and down the aisles of the bus, examining one person and the next.

When we were officially waved through, we found ourselves in a small town with empty storefronts. The feeling of poverty was tangible. While the priests went about their business, we walked time worn masonry roads, and waited by an ancient circular fountain which marked the center of town. The visit itself was uneventful, it was the coming and going through military zones that captured my attention and imagination. It provided my first experience of the wealth we take for granted in the states.

 School ended in late July, but I was scheduled to remain in Europe until September first. Utterly homesick, I called New York and asked my mother if she could change my ticket for an earlier arrival. I would attend music school in Cambridge shortly after I returned and wanted time to adjust.

Sweetheart, this is the chance of a lifetime.

The phone crackled and buzzed as I pushed my hand against my left ear to shut out exterior noise.

What did you say? I gave the phone my complete attention.

I said, stay where you are. Enjoy it. You’ll be back soon enough.

I knew she was right, but the years at boarding school created a feeling of a being a homeless pilgrim and I had, quite frankly, reached my limit. My heart sank, as I replaced the receiver and prepared to continue to Italy.

 nun-in-romeAugust first I arrived in Rome. I’d been booked into a building run by nuns and shown to an ominous room the size of a train station. Its vast expanse and sparsely furnished interior amplified my feelings of being small and on my own. At one end, a single bed, at the other, a weathered wardrobe, a small desk under street level windows completed the room. Opening outward, the wardrobe revealed a waist length mirror. My image, reflected near a bare ceiling light, provided a startling portrayal of the loneliness I felt.

I examined in detail the sadness in the face I saw before me. Unexpressed feelings took on a life of their own. I felt threatened and powerless to stop them. Was I not privileged and fortunate? How ungrateful of me to be so downcast. I pushed my truth deeper inside and went about the business of distracting myself, which wasn’t difficult as my funds had run out weeks ago.  I was never good with budgets. I blew my money shortly after it arrived on gifts to take back home. To compensate, I made the rounds of expensive hotels and gathered the discarded leftovers that lined the halls on room service trays. I brought them home to fill my cupboard.

I discovered Italian ice cream that summer, “ice” which was the absolute best, ate spaghetti until my waist threatened to spill over the sides of my bikini, wrote at sidewalk cafes, visited the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and learned how to say ‘Go Away’ in Italian, to protect myself from the aggressive advances of local men. I traveled on trains to visit out laying areas, and pretended not to understand the language when conductors asked for my ticket, since I had none. Once in awhile, I would meet a diplomat, or a refined stranger who would invite me to their home for dinner. It was a time of being financially creative. When the weeks had passed and I was free to return home, I had acquired too much luggage. I’d bought a black hooded cape in Austria for my mother, lederhosen for my brothers and other gifts I no longer remember. The clerk took pity on my lack of funds and passed me through.

Traffic Criminal

old-carOkay. I got a ticket. I had it coming. There are two places in my life where I consistently break the law. The first is waiting for a left turn signal on a country road near my house. If no one is around, I just go for it. I tell myself it’s silly to sit on a quiet road and wait for a light that takes too long to turn.

 The second place is a left hand turn of another sort. This one is in the city and is poorly managed. A motorist can grow old at that light waiting for great waves of traffic to flow through an overcrowded intersection. There is a No U Turn sign posted as clear as day, but that has never stopped me. A simple veering in another direction and I miss the intersection, and arrive promptly at my destination avoiding traffic, two red lights and one stop sign.

More tedious detail than you need to know, but I have to set the stage.

It was Wednesday night at ten o’clock, after an incredibly long day. I had not eaten since three and my belly was making friends with my backbone. Newport Bay had a happy hour that lasted until closing. I couldn’t wait. I made my usual radical U turn at the intersection and noticed overgrown Christmas lights flashing in my rear view mirror. I pulled over before he caught up. I was guilty, caught dead-on, fair and square. Besides, I knew I deserved a hundred tickets for the same weekly maneuver, not one.

The policeman came to my window and introduced himself like a blind date on prom night. The guy was polite, even sweet. He tried to give me an out, but I was too dense to lie.

Do you know why I’m stopping you?

Well, Yeah!

Did you see the No U Turn sign? It was dark; I thought you might have missed it.

Nope, I didn’t miss it. I knew it was there. I was starving and wanted to get to Newport Bay, so I just went for it.

Could I see your driver’s license, insurance and registration, please?

Please, like could I have the next dance if you’re not too busy?

I had no idea where the registration was, had my license in my wallet, and an out of date insurance card.

This one is expired, do you have another?police-lights

I searched knowing that I did somewhere.

It’s okay if you don’t, I trust you.

Who was this guy? I trust you!

I found it and handed it over, while he returned to his Christmas tree car and wrote me a whopping ticket.

I’m afraid I have to ticket you tonight, he said handing over my copy of a yellow summons, but you can go to court and have it reduced.

Go to court? I’m dead-on guilty. I’m going to go and plead guilty and they’ll reduce my fee?

Unless you’re a repeat offender, which you don’t look like to me.

Oh…if he only knew. I was the Queen of Repeat Offenders, who hadn’t yet been caught.

He handed me the ticket. I said, Crap, I can’t believe this.

Don’t feel bad, he said, in his sweet blind date voice. It happens to all of us.

I thanked him. I actually thanked him for my ticket!

I wanted to invite him to happy hour so we could discuss different career options for him. He was obviously too nice to last long as a policeman, but his car was off and away before I gathered my thoughts.


When I got off the plane everyone hugged. It’s a family ritual. We hug when we meet and when we part. After that, conversation is limited. ‘Did you have a good flight? You must be tired. Are you hungry? Is everything going well at home?’  Curiosity prompts limited inquiries into one another’s lives, after which we settle in like strangers waiting together in a bus station.

When we reached my mother’s house I unpacked and spent the evening in front of the television. My mother’s partner, Joe sat across the room in his recliner, my mom on the sofa and I near her feet. She stretched once, her foot touching my lap. I thought about pulling her slipper off and massaging her foot, but didn’t. Any sign of random affection was against the rules, and the rules were all the stronger for being unspoken. I would be seen as perverted or needy. I lived on the west coast after all. People did all sorts of strange things out there.

We sat together in a small over-warm room and gave our full attention to the television. An audience applauded and smiled. A game show host with too many teeth coaxed contestants to greater heights, and was interrupted at intervals by commercials of Jeep trucks careening down steep terrains, and people eating hamburgers. We watched. No one talked. I had come 3,000 miles and no one talked. We didn’t know how to reach each other. There was no vocabulary. We were inches away, but it could have been a continent. I excused myself and went to bed. 

dinner-tableThe next evening, we had a family reunion in a near-by restaurant. We started in the lounge with numerous rounds of drinks and the standard apology to the bartender. This is my daughter, Karen, she doesn’t drink. I was an oddity. Well, how about a coke or something, he would answer. You can’t just sit there with nothing. The evening wore on as I got more and more hungry, and they got more and more social. Grabbing my mother’s arm, I said, do you think we could eat soon? I’m really starving.

Oh yes, dinner. The light of recognition returned. That’s why we’d come. Of course honey, we’ll be right there. There would be twenty minutes more for breaking off conversations with barroom regulars, rounding up drinks and finally the migration to our table.

When the waitress came to take my order the table fell silent, as I inquired about the ingredients of a dish. My oldest sister, having her tongue loosened by alcohol gave me a sharp poisonous look. Don’t be a problem, she yelled from the head of the table. Just order like everyone else. I don’t know why you had to come home anyway.

I waited a few minutes more before excusing myself to sit in the Ladies room. I didn’t want her to have the pleasure of knowing her arrow had reached its target. I breathed deep, closed my eyes and tried once again to compose myself. Her attacks came without warning. I retreated into silence and counted the minutes until my plane left.

Susan picked me up from the airport and spent the night. Her love, words and assurances were like healing suave on freshly opened wounds. I talked most of the night, while she listened and offered compassion and insight. I cried with a child’s voice, while she comforted me like the mother and sister I never knew. I started my period after dropping off to sleep. Blood stains as I woke in the morning seemed a fitting symbol for the wounding of another visit home.

Finding Balance

 When I was in my thirties, I lived in Seattle, or rather crash-landed there after two exhausting years of being on tour with the theater.  Travel, hotel rooms, performing and restaurant meals left me ill and defeated. I had to leave the theater with no idea what to do next. At that time, I did not see my intuitive healing work as a career, it was just something I did for the people I met who were in need. I seemed to always have a small stream of folks coming to my door for help. My Aunt Ethel had encouraged my sight in a playful way, by reading my fortune in tea leaves. It was a game we played together. I moved on to using cards and eventually to nothing but my own knowing.

tightrope-walker1Because I was new to Seattle, I took myself to a psychic fair at a local yoga center to meet kindred spirits. After an afternoon of readings, a man approached and asked if I would come on NBC to demonstrate my skills. I told him I’d think about it. Not being a television watcher, I had no way to judge if the experience was meant for ridicule, so I asked neighbors if the show was reputable. It was, so I accepted, hoping the experience might provide a few new clients to tide me over.

 I was broke the morning of the program, so I borrowed bus fare from the man who ran the neighborhood market across the street. I grabbed a large paper bag, stuffed my belongings inside, and ran out the door. Others came in limousines.  When I arrived, I was ushered upstairs to a waiting room, where I met interesting women with similar abilities.  The television hostess took me aside, and asked if I would give her a quick sample of my skills. She was scurrying around in a frantic state of disarray, looking like she could have a nervous breakdown at any moment. Every hair had to be perfect, as well as her clothes, make-up and voice. She was on a fast-track to the top, despite personal cost. I told her as much. She declared me a genius, and that was that.

When I was escorted into the television studio, she was calm, confident and inviting. I know that psychics have many rituals they use in doing their work, she told the audience, and noticed that you carry your special things in a brown paper bag. Could you tell us about the significance of that?

I sat in a moment of disbelief. The only significance, I laughed, is that I could not find my purse this morning.

Well folks, she continued, Karen blew me away with the accuracy of her reading earlier, so I am excited to hear what she will see for us now.

Another moment of disbelief. ‘Blew me away?‘ Reading for her was like asking somebody if a house was on fire. Not a tough assessment.

I shared with the audience what little I knew about the history of using cards for divination, then read for a woman about a new business she was opening, what it would involve, and what it could mean to her personal life. 

The producer had arranged for the same woman to stand up and ask the same question of each of us. We were kept in isolation until we read, then taken off again, so we couldn’t hear what the others reported. We were being publicly tested.

Long story short, the show was a success. I had never watched television in the morning, and had no understanding of the number of people who did, so when my phone started to ring, I was pleased. I did not know that the phone would not stop ringing. The phone did not stop at any time during the day or night. It did not stop for a full month! At first I left the receiver off the hook, so I could have moments of peace, but eventually I unplugged it all together. I thought I should be able to manage the calls, but it was like trying to stop a human tsunami. And so, I walked away. 

I began doing haircuts for neighbors to make ends meet, and put up signs to help as a Girl Friday along Lake Washington. An older woman named Margaret was my first client. She was my idea of a Norman Rockwell style grandmother. She spoiled and loved me to such an extent that I dropped other clients, and worked only for her.

I felt unsettled by the television experience, and guilty. I knew my sight could help others, and felt a strong sense of duty. But I was only one person and my inner resources were already dangerously low.

I remember being frightened during this period. I felt I should be able to create or read or sculpt or write whenever I pleased. I was afraid there was something wrong with me when the activities that gave me comfort dried up and went away.

Margaret was wise at these times. She would remind me about cycles and seasons over tuna casserole, warm cookies and coke. She helped me understand the timing of things, and that it all came down to keeping my balance, no matter what cycle I was in.  When life is abundantly good and showering you with gifts, stay humble and centered. When life is throwing stones and pulling you into the mud, stay humble and centered. Watch it all. See it for what it is, and never let it define you. I learned that year that receiving too much, was as dangerous as receiving too little, and that if I centered and waited, well, pretty soon, all that I needed would come back around again.

Saving Daylight

folded-umbrellaThrough the window I see nothing, darkness, black. It’s six in the evening and the day’s as gloomy as midnight sky.  Daylight savings time. What’s the point? The days get shorter, the hours of light rationed. Sweaters, long underwear and fleece migrate to the center of the closet, while summer disappears into memory.

I do not like this time of year. The months between December and May could be permanently erased from my seasonal calendar without a moment of regret. What freedom there would be in ridding myself of holidays, winter viruses and persisting rain. Winter months sit on my head like a fat woman in black pants. My spirit longs to be elsewhere but emotional roots, habit, endurance and inertia keep me here. Not a list I am proud of. 

Maybe tomorrow  I will wake with a new resolve, a resolve that allows change. Maybe I’ll become a person who likes airplane travel and has an overflowing bank account. Perhaps a villa in a foreign country and oh dear, dare I dream? Sunshine to warm my bones, azure waters and a big open bed. Or maybe not.

My New Car

I bought my new car thirteen years ago, a Nissan Sentra, because it was red, had a sunroof, was good on gas and reliable.

I still have this brain freeze that allows me to think of it as my new car, even though it has become an embarrassment to friends and family. 

 The roof is caved in from allowing my granddaughters to stand on it, to better reach the yellow plums that line the driveway.

My hubcaps burst free after six months of ownership. I happened to glance to my right and there they were, in tandem, making a run for it through a farmers field.

The windshield cracked coming over the mountains, a gift from a gravel truck, lengthened by a defroster on the inside, meeting ice and snow from without.

My daughter broke my sun visor, but not on purpose.

The dog chewed through my seatbelt, definitely on purpose. (He was angry at being left in the car, while the rest of us went to breakfast. I don’t blame him.)

Someone did a hit and run job on the side mirror.

Ocean air has peeled the paint.

The seats are worn, no longer a comfort to my back.

I reversed into a post, which left a dent. I decided to repair that one myself… with a hammer. You can guess the outcome.

Long story short, I’m getting pressure to replace it. My friends in new cars say they are worried about my safety, a kind way of saying they are worried about my esthetic. I will replace my new car some day, but not soon.

For now, I’m going to drive fourteen hours south to LA, so I can have Thanksgiving with my son. And it will make it, because it runs like a top, although the outside might need a little duct tape.

tree tops

 When I look into the tops of the trees I feel possibility, freedom and expanse. The space is open and without restriction. 

I am familiar with tree tops, sky and scope. My spirit, more bird than human. I look longingly at flight, angry that my feet are attached so heavily to earth. I try not to gaze too high or too long, because that is not my work. My work is to be acquainted with the tree’s roots and solid trunk. The gypsy in me does not understand roots, and the dancer in me does not understand immobility, but my lessons are there, at the base, in the earth, in being here and not above.

I took my daughter parasailing in Mexico. We rose into the sky, above the trees, mountains and ocean. I never felt so at home. My whole body said, YES! This is me soaring free like an eagle, while my daughter was terrified. We had a serious talk after that. Mom, this is it! All of my life I’ve followed you on your crazy adventures. Now I’m old enough to say, no more!

written 10-16-08

Song for Keyo

I have trouble remembering what happened yesterday, but my brain has forever stored the lyrics to useless, senseless songs from the 1950’s.

Dungaree Doll

I wanna make a chain of paper clips and chain us together while I kiss your lips.

The kind of slow sensual song I listen to now reminds me of packing seven of us into a Volkswagen Van to drive from Portland, Oregon to New York City. Big Bush was the driver, named for the Afro that filled most of the front seat. They were street musicians who performed in Harvard Square. They played music and I read Tarot Cards.

The lyrics to Lean on me floated through the square sung by Keyo Morales, my wonderful Puerto Rican friend from Spanish Harlem. Keyo had a shaved head. He wore a hoop ear-ring (before men did such things), a tuxedo jacket over Army fatigues and red high top tennis shoes. I loved Keyo with all my heart, but so did ever other woman whoever met him, because Keyo’s love was universal, too big to be contained. Keyo sang because he wanted people to stop fighting and start smiling and dancing. His music opened their hearts.

What a lovely troupe of friends I traveled with that summer. My daughter, Kristen was there too, but I missed my son, who stayed with his disapproving father, my thankfully X-husband. Everyone welcomed Kristen as part of our traveling family.

Eager customers formed lines around the block waiting for comfort, healing, and a view of their future from the woman in the blue velvet dress. I gave each person 15 minutes and they gave me $5, which actually meant something 30 years ago. After a long night of work I hid in the public restroom and counted my money. Great wads of five dollar bills made me rich. It was enough to get us an apartment for the summer and keep us in food. Transportation was provided by Keyo, who gave me a ride to Harvard Square each day on the handlebars of his bike, my nine year old daughter perched on the cross bars between his protective arms. Women were always lined up to see him when we arrived, but I was the only one coming and going on his handlebars.

When I hear dreamy loving music I remember that summer, the summer of being a nomad. How ironic that I led a gypsies life only blocks from the French Music School where I’d prepared for a career in opera. My life seemed to veer farther and farther from the mainstream every day.

Once I asked Keyo if he had ever done acid. “400 times,” he answered. Some part of me thought I should be worried, but it was the baldheaded man in red tennis shoes I felt most comfortable with. He was the person who taught me about love with no sexual expectations or conditions.  Keyo was love. His life was loves statement and his music its expression. His audience recognized the lack of it in their own lives and flocked to him like a pied piper of the heart.

I returned to Portland in the fall on The Grey Rabbit Hippie Bus, all of us crowded together like bunched asparagus. No room to move or breathe. They let us out in California and we hitchhiked back to Portland. Keyo stayed. I heard he moved in with a Native American woman in the winter. I tried to imagine a female vast enough to encompass his energy and love.

I felt sad and more than a little jealous, yet I knew he’d been there as my teacher and deepest friend; holding him was like holding the wind.

written 5-21-08

Are you coming?

We weren’t supposed to be there. The house was condemned but I could not resist. My best friend, Roberta lived in that house. We snuggled together in her bed, played on the floor near french doors and stood at the double sink resenting each dish her mother told us to wash. The place was a palatial estate in a depressed Appalachian way. It sat up high on acres of land next to an equally large barn supported by thin layers of slate. The land was bordered by rutted fields and deep woods. I told my husband I wanted to visit but it was more a dare than expectation. I was surprised when he pulled our rental car up the dirt driveway and opened my door.

I stepped out into tall wet grass feeling brave and criminal. There was no evidence of a path as we moved through weeds growing in tangles around our knees. We climbed rotting stairs near plywood covered windows, listening to sounds of the wind fluttering autumn leaves near the large yellow poster that hung on the door. Stay Out, No Trespassing, Violators will be prosecuted ~ the usual threats. The house was weather-beaten grey and pulled me so powerfully into the past that I expected to see myself there. The door hung crooked on rusted hinges and would not close. My husband was immediately uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but I was entranced. If anyone comes, I told him, wedging myself through the door, I will simply explain that I was Roberta’s friend, and they will give me news of her. Of course, I had not seen or heard from her in 50 years, but in such a small town someone would know.

Inside we found hundreds of boxes covering the floors in various stages of decay, looking as if someone had prepared to move, thought better of it, and simply walked away. The frame of the double sink pulled my attention to the kitchen. I remembered cleaning eggs from blue metal dishes speckled with white, and eating bowls piled high with sweet frozen cream from the ice box. The double sinks stood alone and erect in an otherwise gutted room. I continued to walk into what used to be the parlor, where I found the piano we once gathered around to sing. I walked over more rotting boxes and pressed against keys that resisted touch. The tone that whispered back was distant and sleeping, as if it were trying to remember its voice after a half century of silence. A sadness filled me at its loss. It stood in its splendid German casing holding firm to its place in the corner.

The french doors opened between the living room and the parlor, each rectangular glass still whole and intact, except for one near the floor which was completely missing. I remembered that cracked pane because I played next to it as a child, watching sunlight dance in its disfigured face. Those days stretched and grew into endless hours. Now all that remained was covered in dirt, with musty smells clouding water stained walls.

How amazing, I thought, to visit a house from my childhood. How astounding to find it standing with many of its contents unmoved, while real estate in my world was unaffordable and scarce.  This would have been torn down decades ago in the west, with dozens of houses erected on the land. My life in Oregon seemed a dream away. Here I expected to see Roberta’s father dressed in dark trousers and boots, and hear the sound of his ax striking logs for the fire, as he piled his arms high, the smell of fresh cut birch in his path.

On the other side of the archway stood the family’s china cabinet, the wooden doors askew, the drawers toppled and crooked, the wood still rich with studied craftsmanship and quality, like a war-torn ship that washed ashore from another century.

My husband followed in my footsteps eager to bolt. Let’s go Karen, he pleaded. There’s nothing here but decay and junk. Let’s leave. But I could not pull myself away. I was following a thread from my youth like a determined detective.

Yes, dear, go, I answered. I’ll be right behind you. But I lied because I could not stop. As he turned to leave, I pulled a fallen door from my path and climbed up uncertain stairs until I had a view of the second floor. My eyes drifted across the room, and up to a glimpse of pale sky. The structure was all brick and lath, exposed beams and foundation lumbers. No boxes up here, just decades of neglect and a past taken down to the bones. I recognized the hallway and could see into the empty spaces that use to house beds, handsewn quilts, wash basins, and chamber pots. For a moment I saw the girl I used to be in her flannel pajamas, bare feet and dirty face, her blonde hair springing free from the tight french braids her mother labored over each morning.

Are you coming?  my husband asked again. Where are you Karen? This is so unsafe. Don’t go up there.  And so I listened, turned and left, thinking as I walked away, that the house was forever changed and at the same time unchanged, just like myself.

written September 30, 2008


Seemed like a good idea. Everyone said it was – go to Mexico, learn Spanish, soak in the sun. I’d indulge and spend an entire month, maybe even live there. 

Things don’t always turn out the way we plan.

 I arrived at the airport without my passport. Last time I crossed the border one wasn’t needed, so I scurried, finding someone to make a notarized copy of entry from my drivers license. While running around, I saw a picture of a man whose name I recognized on the front page of the paper, the same man who provided bags of designer clothes to my granddaughter, clothes his kids had outgrown. A multi-millionaire, now featured on the front page of the Oregonian Newspaper being led away by a law officer for embezzling funds. That was the forerunner of my take off.

The four hour trip to Houston became a trip to Austin because Houston was having a big storm. No one could land. We sat in the plane in Austin for three hours. When we finally got to Houston, all flights were off schedule. I was asking about the flight to Leon, when a retired contractor named, Calvin came up behind me and said, I’m with you! I’m going to Leon too. Calvin stuck to me like glue.

We ran to make the gate, but the flight was delayed – again. We waited four more hours to leave. Calvin sat next to me. We visited. He was on his way to San Miguel to visit a cousin he had not seen for 40 years.
It was two in the morning when our flight landed in Leon. The shuttle that was supposed to greet us, with handy little placards with our names printed on them, was nowhere to be found. We were stranded. We could however, take a taxi for $100 to San Miguel. We split the fare. At 3.30 in the morning we were in San Miguel with a taxi driver who spoke no English. We spoke no Spanish. I showed him my address, as did Calvin. He drove to each door and knocked like a crazy man to wake up the occupants. First my address, then Calvin’s. We found out later he was knocking on empty storefronts, as lost as we were.

At  four in the morning, my now good-buddy Calvin and I decide to share a hotel room. Two beds please. We split the cost again. I’m handed a bill for $816. and flip my lid until I’m told it’s pesos. Still high for Mexico. Calvin, thinking the taxi driver had done us a service by not abandoning us gives him an extra $20. One born every minute. In the hotel room the water doesn’t go down the drain in the sink, Calvin can’t figure out how to turn the light off, and I’m too tired to care about either one. Finally I climb on a desk and unscrew the damned thing. Calvin says, Why didn’t I think of that. I tell him, it’s because I’m smarter than you are. We had lots of laughs, hysteria will do that.

Calvin rises early, anxious to see his cousin. I try to call my contact people, Wayne and Susan, whom I’ve never met, friends of friends, but can’t phone out. Meanwhile, the water is backing up and threatening to overflow the sink.

Calvin, call room service!

No, he says, Won’t do any good.


 I pick up the phone and use my best Spanish, Aqua, blub blub, blub, No go down. Someone knocks at the door, but as SOON as I open it, the water goes gushing down the drain. Of course. No problema, Senora Karina. Calvin rushes off to meet his cousin. We trade in-town phone numbers.

I look out the window and see the swimming pool of my dreams. Life is good after all. I rush down and dive in. It is SO cold I nearly have a heart attack. I’m told it’s been in the high 90’s for months, so I can’t figure it out. It is like swimming in pure ice. Worse maybe. But I am determined to swim. Guests are watching in disbelief. The Gardner puts down his tools to stare at the loco gringo. I’m breathing hard and moving slow. I will swim, damn it! I nearly die in that pool. No sleep, pure ice and high altitude take me to another dimension.

 Point proven, I return to my room, dress and take my phone number to the front desk. Using advanced pointing and pleading gestures, I convince the clerk to dial the number. Wayne, a retired teacher from Washington lives only blocks away and arrives in ten minutes. He takes me to his beautiful home to meet his wife Susan, a retired CPA. Very dear people, and very sleepy people, from staying up waiting for my sorry butt to arrive. Their maid Carmen has made chicken enchiladas, which I dig into like a starving woman. Carmen came with the house. In Mexico it is considered bad form to do your own housework, since there is so little work to go around. Within moments, Karen, of the bland diet, is reaching for water to squelch the fire. No, that wasn’t the hot one. It was the mild one. Okay. Ground rules established.

These generous folks have a palace of a home. I think they paid $150,000. It would be worth half a million in the states. It has courtyards, a roof garden, and came furnished with wall hangings, art work and beautiful wooden furniture! Let me back up.

San Miguel is a 15th century town. Milk is delivered by a man on a donkey, as is fire wood and garden soil. You walk your garbage to the corner when a guy bangs a metal bar against his truck. There are NO traffic rules. Well, maybe there are, but nobody follows them. Not even the cops. The cops ride around on horses and oversee the fiestas that happen every week. They are a presence but no threat. Stop signs (ALTO) are everywhere. I don’t know why. No one ever stops. A few times I pointed out to my driver that he was going the wrong way on a one way street. He shrugged, It’s a slow day. Dogs roam and sleep in the street. They all look healthy and run in packs. It is considered bad form to hit them. Pedestrians are just above dogs in consideration.

 San Miguel is a walled city. All you see are walls with doors. That’s all you see! A door can lead to a home, business, school or library, but once the door is closed, you don’t know where anything is. They have the running of the bulls in September. It’s perfect for that. Also, every street looks exactly alike – to me anyway. The sidewalks are only wide enough for one person to walk at a time, and the streets are made of stones. It’s VERY bumpy on foot or by car. Wayne showed me around but I was just as confused when he finished as I was when he began!

At the top of the hill is a large public square pronounced, Har-dean. A public gathering place for music and the selling of wares. Large churches tower over the square. This, and the street I lived on are my only landmarks. Everyone walks or takes a cab. You can go anywhere in town for $1.50 American.

 Okay, so on Sunday, Wayne delivers me to my Mexican host family. They speak NO English. I speak NO Spanish. Bad idea. Plus they have NO aesthetic what-so-ever. The woman, sweet lady in her 70’s, Senora Theresa makes beautiful cakes for celebrations. All through the house are dark angry pictures of Jesus, the Virgin and some bad looking Greek Orthodox guys. Crucifixes are ever present, even on city buses. I quickly realize that this is not a host family, the way we think of a host family.  This is how they make money, I was one of many who came and went. No need for them to be social or attached.
I was somewhat shocked by the realization and went into survival mode. I walked to the jardin and bought fresh flowers for my room, took down their religious pictures and put as much of my own clothes and art work as I could around the space. Still I felt awful. That was not helped by sitting at dinner with 12 people, feeling like a large white giant and not being able to understand one word when spoken to.

Monday: School! First day of a two week course.

School was great. The class was small, the teacher, Socorro, was animated and friendly. Her advise was: Do not suffer in this class. No crying. Life is short. Have a good time. All this I got from sign language, as not a word of English was spoken. OH…and they lied about it being a beginners class.  Everyone there was talking to each other in Spanish already. I was in way over my head, but I just went with it. NO, Nope, don’t know that one. Can’t say that. Have NO idea what you’re asking me now. Long four hours! I learned the word bathroom but often confused it with the word bank, which did me little good in a pinch. (The Mexicans never give you toilet paper, by the way. You’re supposed to bring your own. Be warned.)
Monday night I got a Spanish – English dictionary and stopped strangers on the street. How do you say this? I was ready to take the bull by the horns.

Tuesday:  I woke up with, I-want-to-die dysentery. That didn’t take long to get, even with the pills from my Naturopath. We were not supposed to use the phone in the house. No calls in, no calls out, but after a long time with a dictionary I convinced Senora Theresa to let me use it to make one call. I really needed to speak English to somebody, anybody. I needed support and medicine.  I was supposed to have dinner with Calvin and Margaret, his cousin, that evening so I rang them up. When I told them what was happening, Margaret said, We’ll be right over!

 San Miguel is the playground of the extremely rich, which describes Miss Margaret, who became my new best friend. Here take my bed, I’ll call the doctor. What do you need? Nothing is too much. No problem.. Her house made Wayne and Susan’s look like the wrong side of town.

The doctor came that afternoon. He was the rich young, handsome doctor to the rich Americanos. He wore designer clothes and gave me two of the worst shots I’ve ever had. I was bruised for days. I suppose if you look that good, you get points that make up for poor medical skills. Anyway…the door to my room often blew open in the wind, so when Calvin left he locked it from the outside. (I forgot to mention that when I arrived in San Miguel, it was the beginning of the rainy season. It poured every day. Just like being home in Oregon.)

Thanks to Calvin, the doctor found himself locked in my room. He paced and panicked, wondering who to call. He was probably swearing, in his elegant way, but I wouldn’t have known. Finally, I got smart and pushed open a window by my bed, which was wide enough for him to climb out of. He smiled as he stepped through. How romantic, he said, Only in San Miguel does the doctor leave by the window.

Meanwhile, I was crummy with stomach pains and throwing up and not caring about anything. Miss Margaret tended me. Calvin stayed in the guest room, and checked in. At one point, I asked for someone who could do energy healing. Drugs are nice, I said, but I’d love to see someone who could tend my spirit and energy. Do you know a Shaman or curendero?

Well…You’d think I’d asked for the devil himself to come into the house. Calvin launched into an adamant statement of his faith, thinking my request had somehow threatened it. I tried to explain that this was about my healing and not about his faith, but that only made it worse. I’d stirred a hornets nest.
If you have ever seen the movie, Driving Miss Daisy, you have the character of Miss Margaret. To her credit, when I asked if she knew a healer, she made a phone call to a friend who might know, but didn’t. It was Calvin who freaked. When asked what I needed at the height of my illness, I said, I need to be held. She did. I trusted her completely at that point.

By Wednesday afternoon I was sitting in the courtyard watching hummingbirds buzz around her feeder, feeling much better. (San Miguel sells the best hand squeezed Orange Juice in the world. I’m sure that was part of my speedy recovery.) I’m still trying to figure out HOW I got dysentery, considering I arrived early Saturday morning. Two days? I never drank the water, ate from street vendors, had no salads or fruits. I did brush my teeth from the tap. I can only think that was it.

By Thursday I was well enough to tour with Raul, Miss Margaret’s driver. He took Calvin and I out of town to visit an ancient church. The paintings were priceless, the walls painted with silver and gold. It was one of the few buildings left standing after the revolution. In one part of the church, if you are approved by the priest, you can stay and do penance. They sell whips so you can spend days beating yourself up in the privacy of your room. (I thought my vacation was extreme.)

After that Raul dropped Calvin off and took me shopping. I came to Mexico with a list of things to buy, which was a huge mistake, as purchasing anything while not understanding money or language was absurd. With Raul as my guide and interrupter it was all possible. (Raul learned to speak English from Chinese people, and still says lice instead of rice.)

That evening Calvin got his first manicure ever, at Miss Margaret’s request, since they were going to a very fancy cocktail party. Calvin took me aside before they left.  Margaret is going to ask you to stay on, so you don’t have to go back to the Mexican family.  Generous idea, I thought. Calvin was excited. She’ll be in soon.  Margaret did come in asking if I would like my shoulders rubbed. Sure! Putting lotion on, she said, I want you to go home, you don’t belong in Mexico. Go home with Calvin! (Not what I expected.)

I told her that I still had two weeks left and that I was happy to return to my host family. I might engage a private tutor in Spanish, take an art class at the Institute or take a bus (12 hours) to Puerto Vallarta to sit by the beach and have a real vacation. I havn’t decided yet.
She frowned. Nobody goes to Puerto Vallarta this time of year. It’s not done.

I told her not to worry, that I would not stay on.
The conversation left me feeling odd and cold. I was not invited out with them that evening, which was fine.

Calvin left at 9 the next morning. We sent him off with hugs, smiles and morning tea. But as soon as the taxi was out of sight Miss Margaret looked at me like so much garbage and demanded I leave immediately. I was stunned. I had planned on it, but her attitude shocked me. My driver is away, he will not take you. I told her I would call a taxi, but she pointed down the street to the corner. You can take the bus, there is one in fifteen minutes.

I hopped on the bus (which was actually a great ride) heading back to my home stay and wondered what the heck just happened. I searched my mind for something to explain her change of attitude, but found nothing.
I spent one night at my host family, which also felt cold and unwelcoming, so I told them I would be leaving, then walked to the school and did the same. I decided to get a hotel. I called Wayne and Susan to confirm a date we had at the local hot springs for Saturday, and told them my plans. They would not hear of me staying in a hotel so I lodged again with them. We soaked in hot springs on Saturday and went to the Fiesta de Loco’s on Sunday. The parade was amazing, I’m glad I saw it. On Monday I visited a travel agent to book my return to the states, because really, I wasn’t having any fun.

 To get home, I took a bus for an hour and a half, a taxi to the airport, two planes, a train and another taxi. On the bus ride across Mexico I saw an old white haired woman doing her laundry on a rock in the river, and farmers plowing fields behind oxen and horses. They guided hand plows and scattered seed as they walked. They are centuries behind.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, except for a woman who threw up next to hundreds of people roped in long lines waiting at immigration. I thought that was fitting. Embezzlement at the beginning of the trip, vomit at the end.

written July 2005