Saturday, December 24, 2005

Backyard visit

Forty-seven years on Eastridge Drive, and I never ever saw a hawk in the backyard. Owls, yes, but a hawk, no.

Dad and I have shared a week of memories and good meals, with Mom always in our minds. Much of the time I sat in her chair looking out at her swing in the backyard, watching the squirrels.

One morning I put disc one of this cd in the player. When a dearly demented friend shared this recording with me, it seemed to give my buried grief a powerful, beautiful escalator to a higher level.
Dad had gone to run errands. My plans to read were detoured as the music demanded my full attention. As the Elgar Concerto for Cello in E Minor shivered my timbers, I glanced up to see a large hawk fly low from around the corner of the house where I sat across the backyard to land on the down-curving branch of the locust tree. Supremely formed and informed in gray feathers with a prominent eyebrow, it glared down at a surprised squirrel in the grass and laser-beamed the cosmic pronouncement, "You are so lunch."

My heart expanded with joy, awe, and a profound connection to my mother. This was her force and focus, her opinion, discerning eye, and discipline. This was the Mom we did not cross or disappoint.

The gray hawk continued to glare as I raced down the hall to get the camera, and just as I centered it in my view finder it took off in a low swoop up the hill into the next yard. My photo is an empty branch.

Later, I got out Mom's bird guidebooks. Hawk, gray, eyebrow, low swoop and perch...Northern Goshawk? Harrier?

The harrier has the uncharacteristic flight: Description - This long-winged, long-tailed hawk is usually seen gliding unsteadily over marshes with its wings held in a shallow V. The rump is white and the wing tips black; the male has a pale grey back, head and breast and the female and young are brown above and streaked below. It is a usually silent bird but at the nest it utters a "kee-kee-kee-kee" or a sharp whistle. Distribution - The Northern Harrier occurs throughout all of North America, breeding as far south as California and wintering from South America to British Columbia. It prefers marshes and open grasslands. Biology - This bird hunts its prey, which includes mice, rats and frogs, by flying close to the ground and taking these small animals by surprise. They lay 4 or 5 pale blue or white eggs on a mound of dead reeds and grass in a marsh or shrubby meadow.

Paul Johnsgard's guide to Nebraska birds keeps me wondering if the bird was a goshawk or a harrier:

Northern Harrier -- Circus cyaneus A common migrant and permanent resident throughout Nebraska. Although in cold winters most birds may leave the state, in most areas and years the species can be regarded as a resident. It is probably most common as a breeder in the Sandhills. It breeds locally almost throughout the Plains States, and is a regular throughout during migration. Migration: Thirty-nine initial spring sightings range from January 1 to June 2, with a median of March 13. The wide spread of the records suggest it is a resident over much of the state. Thirty-six final fall records are from September 14 to December 31, with a median of December 9. Habitats: This species occurs in open habitats such as native grasslands, prairie marshes and wet meadows. Nesting is done in grassy or woody vegetation ranging from upland grasses and shrubs to emergent vegetation in water more than two feet deep. Comments: Northern harriers are graceful predators, that are usually seen sweeping low over marshes and fields, and showing white rump patches in both sexes. Adult males are otherwise silvery gray with black wingtips, whereas females and young males are mostly chocolate brown. Breeding Bird surveys between 1984 and 1993 indicate that the species has undergone a significant population increase during that period.

Northern Goshawk -- Accipiter gentilis An occasional winter visitor and spring migrant nearly statewide. Probably less common now than earlier, but there have been recent observations from Box Butte, Cherry, Custer, Saunders, and Lancaster counties according to Game and Parks Commission records. The only areas of breeding in the Plains States are the Black Hills and northern Minnesota, but it is a migrant throughout. Migration: Forty-eight spring records range from January 1 to June 1, with a median of March 15. Half of the records fall within the two periods January 1-11 and April 14 to May 16, suggesting this species is both a winter visitor and late spring migrant. Twenty-two total fall records are from September 16 to December 31, with half of the records occurring within the two periods September 21-October 17 and December 25-31. Habitats: Throughout the year this species is rarely found far from wooded to heavily forested areas. Comments: The Latin name of the goshawk may suggest it is "gentle", but the name really refers to the royal nature of the bird. The common name goshawk refers to the species' ability to attack and kill geese and similar sized birds. Breeding Bird surveys between 1984 and 1993 indicate that the species has undergone a significant population decline during that period.

A full day later, I realize the backyard hawk was the real life model for the Japanese scroll print that has hung in the bathroom for thirty years. Fritzi no longer frets about the condition of the dark green and peach bath towels and wash cloths. I won't either.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

My happy Thanksgiving visitor

The turkey is in the oven. The stuffing is made. I've added a dilly swiss green bean casserole to our traditional menu in honor of the fiftieth birthday of the Campbell's mushroom soup green bean casserole.

It's too soon to start the sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. For one thing, the college freshman won't wake up for at least an hour. I'm not sure when the grad student will be over from his dad's house. It's quiet, in a homey way.

While checking my email I realized a bird was chirping at me in a very close and insistent way. As I scanned the patio and the shed roof the chirps got even more emphatic. Look! Look up here! I'm here! I'm here!

When I spied the little tannish-grey-green bird at the top of the fence, just ten feet away, it chirped twice more, then did something quite surprising. Like an Olympic triple-jumper, it hopped in three huge hops, each over three feet along the fence top, making sure I could notice its dark eye stripe. Then it was gone behind the shed. It hasn't been back as I've typed this.

I felt a huge wave of happiness and closeness with Fritzi. Then the tears just flooded. I will talk to my dad later today, buy I won't be able to voice this experience. Some experiences have to be written.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

For Altoids You Do

This Blog's For You

I want to thank everyone who saved and contributed "good junk" for my art classes this year. We just completed a project about shapes and shadows, and the sculptress Louise Nevelson. Two hundred students used "good junk", and we still couldn't use up our stockpile.

We've got to clean out the storage closet at work. It is a very scary place, reminiscent of the Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Fritzi would be pleased

A dearly demented friend and I celebrated New Year's 2005 by emailing back and forth about recyclables collection in Seattle, and wishing we had a similar service in the DFW area. Old Dearly Demented passed some of our comments on to city council members, who passed them on to civil servants. My concerns were assigned to a young Commercial Diversion Coordinator named Christopher. We set up an appointment to meet at my condo, tour the complex, and brainstorm recycling collection options for January fourteenth. In a surreal moment of hyper-practicality and blasted-through-a-cement wall emotion, the first call I made after learning that my mother had passed away January fourteenth was to this young man to cancel our appointment. (I couldn't cancel the appointment with the equally young plumber, since I couldn't leave town with my kitchen sink clogged and leaking.)

It was over a month before I could think much about recycling. Waste audits of the complex dumpsters' contents showed nearly sixty percent of our garbage was recyclable. Christopher and I finally met in February, and began our plan to convince the condo owners association and board, the management company, and the city that recycling collection in the complex could be feasible. Only one apartment complex in the city has regular pick-up, and no condo communities. This was a chance to change the city program as well as make it easier for me to recycle all my junk mail!

Mom was so involved in collecting items for me to reuse in my art classes, and was a can-crusher from way back in the early days of recycling. I think she would be pleased that eight recycling collection carts were delivered to the condos and conveniently placed around the complex on the eve of her birthday. Work remains to inform and encourage residents to participate. If we can make recycling work, the city is willing to expand collection to other complexes. If Plano can make it work, maybe Dallas will be encouraged to expand services to its large apartment and townhouse population.

Please join me. Honor your mother and our Mother Earth.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Grief sneaks up

Sometimes it's a flavor or a smell. Other times it's the news. Thanks to a dear, watchful friend, today it's an op-ed. My buddy caught Maureen Dowd's return to the New York Times opinion page, and her wonderful column about her mother, Peggy Dowd. I wasn't expecting the column to be a eulogy as I read along learning about this alert, informed, creative woman who wanted to be a writer.

Tonight I feel honored that Fritzi considered being our mom a meaningful career and performed it with such generosity, practicality, respect, firmness, and love. How did she understand the importance of the Sunday family rituals, and celebrate them with us so consistently? Our family was anchored by the Sunday lunch of crackers and cheese in the living room, and the Sunday evening broiling of steak. We knew what to expect, and what behaviour was expected of us. Sunday was not set aside in the church-going sense, but it was always our special family time.

NASA launched the space shuttle Discovery yesterday morning. Fritzi spent a fabulous Grandma Day in Omaha, January 28, 1986, with precocious three year-old Jeffy, baby Mike, and I. We were so lucky that Mom was able to drive up and spend relaxed days with us often. That particular day, as Mom got settled in her car to drive back to Lincoln, I opened the evening Omaha World-Herald. Challenger had exploded on its launch. I can still see the five p.m. winter sun on the snow as I showed Mom the headline through her car window. Our reactions were mirror images of shock as our sense of a perfect day spent together was unable to accept this news.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Arcing upward

My sister reports that Dad is doing pretty well--not letting himself or the house go. She also says that "Fritzi is in the shade all day". Somehow, I don't think of Fritzi or of her spirit as being in the niche in the columbarium whether it's in the shade or not. Still, it's good to know that it's a beautiful spot for Howie to visit. My sister says the pilot banked the airplane just perfectly after take-off for she and her daughter to look down on the church courtyard before the wing blocked their view.

It's been a weepy day.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Device Circle

I'm pretty sure we had this jigsaw puzzle set out on a card table in the living room during the blizzard when we saw the snowy owl in our backyard pine trees. The puzzle of Jasper John's oil painting was a family favorite. Fritzi enjoyed working jigsaw puzzles with us almost as much as she liked playing Scrabble or going along to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. I am glad my sons will always have the memory of playing Scrabble together, three generations sitting at the round dining table with the board on the big lazy susan, their grandma basking in the shared moment.

Just opened my Dallas Museum of Art member magazine for July-September 2005. There's an intriguing large exhibit called Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg coming up after the Gordon Parks' photography exhibit ends 9/4/05. It sounds as fascinating as the 2000 exhibit The Artist and the Camera: Degas to Picasso. [I checked, but there's not much on the DMA website yet.]

My parents came to visit during the 2000 "Camera" exhibit, and three generations were wowed. My folks drove down again during the spring of 2001, and we were awed by the DMA's Henry Moore exhibition. I will never forget Moore's drawings of the people in the underground subway shelters during the London blitz of WWII.

I'm marking my calendar for a lecture by filmmaker Larry Jordan on the films of Joseph Cornell, Thursday, 9/15/05, at 7 p.m. in the Horchow Auditorium. There will be a screening of the experimental silent films of Cornell, and rare footage of the artist at work. It's only $5 for DMA members, $10 for the public. Make reservations at 214-922-1826. I'll look for you there!

This is the info from the DMA magazine:
Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg
J.E.R. Chilton Galleries

This fall the Dallas Museum of Art examines the complex and textured artistic dialogue among four seminal modern artists...

Dialogues will study the artists' incorporation of found and assembled objects, with the central work of the exhibition being Duchamp's Green Box, a piece that had a profound significance throughout the century. The intersection of these artists draws from different sides of Dada, Neo-Dada, surrealism, minimalism, abstract expressionism, and pop art.

The exhibit will include more than forty works by Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg. More than half of the works will be drawn from the Museum's own holdings and from the Marguerite and Robert Hoffman Collection, which was recently committed to the DMA.

Dialogues will go beyond the artists' real interaction and knowledge of one another's work to examine how the both adopted and contested different aspects of each other's creations. The exhibition will delve into the artist' use of appropriated icons, language, simple machines, circles, and mechanical movement, providing a rich intellectual exploration of major currents in 20th-century modern art.

Dialogues will push the viewer to reconsider the work of these seminal artists of the modern tradition through a new lens.
Out of town visitors welcome at Miz Nancy's Empty Nest B&B!!
Motto--You don't go barefoot in my kitchen, and I won't serve you Pop-Tarts.
Alternate motto--That tickly thang between the sheets is just a piece of Bounce.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Death of a student

Children die. All over the world. Every single day. From malnutrition, disease, birth complications and genetic disorders. By suicide. From land mines half-way around the globe, and from random bullet sprays in gang violence a few miles from my home. From swim pool accidents in gated communities, and horrifying abuse by mother's live-in boyfriends. They are left in locked cars in the Texas summer, or thrown from cars because they weren't properly fastened into a car safety seat. Children without life jackets at the lake, or active supervision on the playground. Some are attacked by the neighbor's Rottweiler, and some by the neighbor. They find loaded guns at home. They are victims of unspeakable crimes by parents who swear God told them to do it. Not the concern of the current administration, but impacting families every single hour of every single day.

It shouldn't happen. Not here. It shouldn't happen anywhere, but it always will. It shouldn't happen now, but our species is not as civilized as we fancy ourselves. In our fantasy mental version of modern medicine, children don't die. But they do. It's the pits. Life has no pause button and no rewind, and there's no guarantee that it will make sense.

When a child dies, it is "time out of whack" for the parents, my coworker explains. This week has given me cause to consider the death of a sweet, sweet child, of a student, and also to wonder about the siblings of the deceased. That concern for the young brothers has been lurking just off stage in my brain all week. What could I possibly say to the boys after the sudden death of their sister?

It was so difficult reading cards and writing letters when Fritzi died. Conversations were even harder. It didn't make sense. It shouldn't have happened. It hurt, and it still hurts. What helped me? I didn't "get on with life", or "get over it". Mourning is not like that. One doesn't just "get back to normal life."

The thing is, "normal" has changed. There's no rewind or pause. I work to accept the changes in the frustrated person holding the remote control and clicking without results. I am not in control, but I'm less remote.

Writing posts for this blog has helped me find a calm, safe spot. No answers or explanations. Just little hints at finding acceptance for myself, and some courage to explore changing relationships. Tiny glimpses of my life's purpose.

Writing has also been a way to Photoshop the mental images of my mother to find enhanced meaning and resolution. Some images needed to be blurred or to have the shadows softened. Other images needed the colors and definition adjusted. Sometimes the midtones had overpowered the highlights. The saturation levels required fine-tuning. Writing. Writing....

Woke up in the middle of the night knowing what I could tell the young brothers. I could tell them how I wrote stories about Fritzi. I hope I've written the letter in vocabulary the young brothers can understand. I hope they will consider my suggestion that they write stories, or make drawings. Writing has helped me more than I can describe. May these young brothers find a creative way to send their feelings, energy, sadness, creativity, and memory outward in a way that helps their larger family.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Lincoln Lunch Gang

Dad went to lunch at Wendy's with two friends after playing nine holes of golf this morning. I'm thrilled that he has connected with these guys who visit about their experiences and feelings in old age and loneliness. Next week they are upgrading to a steak and baked potato lunch at Lone Star.

I bet the old guys tip better than my students. Had to use the waitress analogy in classes yesterday. Kids were shouting across the room that they wanted red paper, or purple, or they needed glue, or a long list of other demands.

"Wait," I said. "Imagine you are in a restaurant. Do you shout your order across the whole dining room? Or do you wait until the waiter comes to your table and quietly asks you for your order?"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Go ahead. Make my day.

Being a seriously frustrated FDR New Deal Democrat, these are difficult times for my dad. He's disgusted and, yes, outraged. How could he not be? He's eighty-two, and the country's in the worst mess he can recall. He's paying attention to the news. It worries me, since most of the news is bad for anybody's blood pressure. So I found a bumper sticker on-line and had it sent to him, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Dad's so excited he went out to the carport and slapped that puppy on the car bumper. Never in my fifty years has my dad allowed a bumper sticker on his car. He wouldn't even let me paint daisies on the '54 pea green Chevy when I was in high school. I love his big, bold, what-the-hell attitude. The car may outlast him. The bumper sticker may hold the car together. It's going to be more aesthetically pleasing than my Buick, which is held together with bird poop and bug guts, weathered by the harsh Dallas climate and poor air quality. [Remember learning about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks??]

Dad's more informed than 98% of the American population. I had to forbid him watching, reading, or listening to any news story about the Kansas science curriculum. It's difficult managing his news intake from three states away!

Now, if Dad could get a Nascar sponsorship from Miller Genuine Draft, his car would be a source of income and enlightenment both.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Bachelor Chefs

My eighty-two year old father talks on the phone with my twenty year old son about the ice crystals in the bag of frozen hashbrowns. They are just two guys cooking for themselves, separated by 576 miles.

I suspect both of them sometimes use the infamous "sniff test" to decide if their clothes are really too gross to wear again. Nobody likes doing the "sniff test" in the refrigerator, though. That's why I was pleased to find this storage safety chart for keeping foods in the refrigerator and the freezer. It comes from the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education.

I like Mrs. Cookwell. She reminds me of my mom and my grandma. I liked this tip, too, even though it goes against my upbringing. I think Mom used to worry that the hot leftovers would warm up the refrigerator too much, so she let most foods cool before placing them in the fridge. She must have been pretty savvy about bacteria growth, though, since we were never bothered by food poisoning:

Should you cool leftovers before refrigerating?
No, you do not need to cool hot food before you put it in the fridge, but very hot food (e.g. simmering chili) can be left out for 30 minutes before refrigerating. The key is to cool hot food quickly to prevent bacteria growth. Bacteria grow very well in the temperature range of 4ºC - 60ºC. Food should be cooled to 4ºC or lower as quickly as possible.
Fast cooling tips include:
  • Store food in shallow containers (3 inches (8 cm) or less).
  • Stir hot foods occasionally to speed-up cooling.
  • Do not stuff the fridge - allow cool air to circulate around food.

If I had ever studied an instrument, besides the piano, it would have been the sax. Piano lessons provided plenty of evidence that I probably didn't need to study another instrument! That is why I push the buttons on the blender and sing "Born to be Wild" to the revving sounds...
Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild.

We don't like growing wild green fuzzy stuff in the refrigerator, or even purple haze on the leftovers. It's not safe to eat!

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
’scuse me while I kiss the sky

'Scuse me while Jimi Hendrix and I go clean out the Frigidaire.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Nearing this first Memorial Day has been difficult, perhaps more than the first Mother's Day. We had not ventured into the tricky discussion of when we could get together to place my mother's ashes in the columbarium, or niche, at the church for some time. Still, the thought that the box containing her ashes might be sitting on a shelf in some closet at the church was nagging me. I knew it had to be bothering my dad. I felt very guilty that I had not been able to fly home at the same time as my sister to meet my brother and help Dad put the ashes in the niche.

I finally brought up the subject last evening, and Dad mentioned that the church might have already placed the ashes in the niche and done the engraving once the temperature rose above freezing. It didn't seem likely to me, but I said I would call the church today.

The kind church secretary who answered my call walked out to the columbarium in the courtyard to visually verify that the engraving had been done and the niche sealed. What a weight lifted off me. I hoped Dad and my siblings would feel the same, but I worried that Dad might be upset that he hadn't been there at the time the niche was sealed. I wondered, too, why the church had not informed any of us that the ashes were placed and the engraving done. Then I realized that there must be many times when no family is left for the church to notify when ashes are placed.

When I called Dad with the news, he wept with relief. My siblings are both feeling lighter now. The columbarium is a lovely place, in fact, it is next to the lovely courtyard where I was married, a place I have always loved.

My brother plans to take Dad to "visit Mom" at the columbarium very soon, then drive him out to the Lee's on Cottingham and West Van Dorn. Lee's has always been our family's restaurant for commemorating significant occasions.

My parents very practically planned ahead, and secured space in the church courtyard columbarium when it was constructed, which was a wonderful gift to their children. It's been a gift, too, that they so realistically prepared their "Five Wishes" a few years back.


The Chapel Courtyard, to the east of the main courtyard, was redesigned as a memorial garden in 1990. The east and south walls contain columbarium niches for urns containing the ashes of those who have been cremated.
The area is intended to be a welcoming place of peace, reflection and remembrance in the midst of a busy city.

My regret now is that I didn't ask enough questions to know the ashes would be placed in the niche by the church, and to request notification when it was done. Many sleepless hours could have been prevented.

In a strange way it helps me to know that the memorials for Mom to the Morrill Hall State Museum contribute to the Museum's programs at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. My mother loved this park and the State Museum's ongoing excavation of mammal fossils buried in a volcanic ashfall ten million years ago.

Our sense of control is an illusion. We are all grazing on a grassland, oblivious to the volcanic rumblings. Mom would have said, "Graze well".

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Dutch door

Fritzi is in the kitchen now. Her kitchen. She is carefully and skillfully mounting our butterfly specimens on corrugated cardboard. She is concentrating, but also relaxed, in the flow.

The kitchen and the butterflies and Fritzi are all in my memory, but how welcome these images are! I just realized that these are the images of my mother that come first to the surface now, replacing the images of her suffering and illness. This is the Fritzi that I casually chat with about little things while I drive to work or the store, just letting her know how the boys are doing, or the nice lunch a student's mother brought for all the teachers on the last day of class. I know Mom would have enjoyed the tortellini salad and croissants.

I've been looking at photos of my mother in happier times for four months now, trying to reset my memory. Writing about fishing and butterflies seemed to help me over the bump.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Take Me Fishing

Did I ever mention how I cried at the end of the "Mary Poppins" movie the afternoon of Easter Sunday 1964 at the Stuart Theater in downtown Lincoln? There are so many things I don't or can't cry about, that I forget the many times I've tried to pretend I wasn't really crying over Hallmark moments, real or commercial.

Usually I cry very quietly. "I've got tears in my ears from lying on my back while I cry over you." I pretend it's allergies, or a nosebleed. By contrast, my sister went on a loud and inconsolable sobbing spree at the conclusion of a play of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" at the Lincoln Community Theater when she was about three. My youngest had a similar reaction at the same age because a rainbow was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He didn't want to lose the rainbow because he was afraid he would never see anything that beautiful again. How interesting that he finishes high school with plans to study photography.

This experience of grief and loss changes us. Our emotions stay closer to the surface, and express themselves more obviously. The phrase "permeable membrane" always pops into my mind. We are in a state of openness, even when we would rather not be. We are left ajar. We hug more, and say, "I love you."

I spent so many wonderful hours sitting in front of our house with my dad waiting for a storm and counting out "one milk bottle, two milk bottle, three..." after each flash of lightning. We didn't always have to talk. We could just sit in the webbed lawnchairs near the congregation of boxelder bugs by the concrete stoop and watch the sky turn greenish gray. How fortunate I was to have a father to teach me about being still and watching nature!

Dad is greatly touched by ads in the Take Me Fishing campaign in print and tv. The ads get him all choked up, and I can see why. They get to me, too. That PR company should get an award from Kleenex!

Dad did take us fishing. We started off with bamboo poles and red/white bobbers, catching sunfish and crappie. It wasn't important if we caught anything, but it was very important that we were quiet, patient, and observant, and that we were respectful of the fish and other fishermen.

We graduated to fishing with rod and reel, and catching northern pike at the then new reservoirs in southeast Nebraska. It was a moment of enormous pride when I received my very own fishing rod for my tenth birthday. The rod was a beautiful dragonfly blue and delivered the tacit message that I was worthy of this very grown-up gift. I don't think I've ever felt more proud.

My parents also took us butterfly hunting. I used to watch a tv show called "The American Sportsman" narrated by Curt Goudy while my dad dozed on the couch on late Sunday afternoons. Celebrities would hunt for trophy animals, with a soundtrack of heavy breathing and footsteps through tall grasses. Later on Sundays we would watch "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" with Marlin Perkins.

Dad probably crafted the first butterfly nets so I could earn a Campfire Girl bead. Before long we were all learning about butterflies, their host plants and life cycle, patience, and a bit of coordination. I have mixed feelings about hunting, but I know that this butterfly hobby gave me a permanent connection to nature. I hope that I honor the butterflies and moths we collected every time I teach an art project about insects or other animals. I hope that some of my students are entranced by the poetry of plant and animal names--swallowtail, sphinx, milkweed, rainbow, painted lady, question mark, bullhead, red spotted purple, sunfish, red admiral, Queen Anne's lace, cattails.

Dad helped me be a rockhound, too. The rock tumbler was the impetus for many magical father-daughter visits to the lapidary shop.

As I write this I get a bit Mary Poppins-ish. I'm seeing time spent with Dad in the basement at his workbench learning to hammer and saw....the building of the wonderful treehouse where I spent so many hours being creative and enjoying solitude, the screened house for raising praying mantis babies, and time wading in lakes and creeks. Dad doesn't know how inspiring his tales of trying to dam Willow Creek with rocks in his childhood were to me, even though the attempts were futile. The unsuccessful results of his early engineering efforts may have been the most enduring message: Get your bare toes out there in the mud and work with the wonders of nature!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Warm and cold memories

The little grey-green bird flitted through my patio for a few seconds this afternoon. All the birds are agitated. Maybe the weather is changing.

Instead of thinking spring Mother's Day thoughts, I am remembering a favorite event from childhood. Fritzi would be wearing a soft charcoal winter coat that wrapped instead of buttoned.

I wonder if Eastridge Presbyterian Church still sponsors a Boy Scout troop. When I was a kid the troop held an annual pancake feed fundraiser. The Boy Scout Pancake Feed was a red letter, capital letter event on our calendar. It was pretty much guaranteed to be held on the very coldest night of the year, and was a major Eastridge social event. We would all come out of our igloos bundled to the max, drive to the church, have to park so far away that we should have just walked through the snow and ice, to stand in the serving line for the pancakes and sausage. The scout leaders would be whomping up the pancakes, the Boy Scouts would be busing tables or helping carry plates for little kids. Adults would be visiting with neighbors they hadn't seen since lawnmowing season ended, and the kids would be hanging out with their friends from school. It would be so cold in the foyer of the church with all the people coming and going, stamping the snow off their boots, but downstairs in the fellowship hall it would be so steamy warm and filled with the smell of syrup, coffee, and sausage. The hall would be a beehive of voices, and the energy was so good. Excitement would eventually give way to the sleepiness of a tummy full of pancakes, and daddies would have to carry little ones home to bed. Makes me want to tie a neckerchief and get out the Log Cabin.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My Mommy is a Picture

The first art contest I ever won was sponsored by the Gateway Bank at Lincoln's first shopping mall. Gateway Mall was built at 61st and O Streets in 1959-60. "My Mommy is a Picture" was the name of the contest, which doesn't always translate to meaning one's mom is pretty as a picture. The neighbor kids told me that my painting of my mom was really ugly, but I won. My mom did not have a flip hairdo, or magenta lips in the picture. I hadn't handled the paints very skillfully, and I had a lot of trouble mixing the apricot/peach color of Fritzi's dress. This was the early Sixties, and I was eight years old or younger. The painting was probably done on a piece of shirt cardboard or scrap paper from Dad's office. I know it was covered in Saran Wrap to look more "professional". Presentation is so important in competitions! The big prize was either one dollar or three. Gateway Bank might have hoped I would open an account with my winnings.

My sister and I found the costume jewelry that went with Fritzi's apricot/peach dress in January. The short minutes we spent looking through Mom's jewelry box were a very powerful reconnection for us. We both felt like we were little girls waiting for the bridge club ladies to arrive and eat dessert.

It was so exciting for us to greet those ladies, to stay up past eight although already in our PJs, and to help carry the plates of ice cream pie or blueberry dessert out to the living room. Once we were tucked into bed, the sounds of the ladies visiting and the cards on the folding tables lulled us to sleep against our will.

My elementary art students are making "My Mommy is a Picture" portraits to give their moms next Sunday. The cut and torn construction paper efforts often bear a surprising resemblance to the students' mothers. The portraits don't have magenta princess lips or flip hairdos. They look like moms who drive carpools, get sunburned at t-ball games, deal with the kitty litter, and somehow forget to carry in the last grocery bag from the car trunk, the bag with the pound of ground chuck.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Tote Bag

I convinced Dad to fly home with just a canvas tote shoulder bag for a carry-on. He arrived here ten days ago worn out from hauling a duffel packed to the brim with stuff he didn't need to be dragging all around the Denver terminal just so he would have the Ted Kooser book, Delights and Shadows, snacks, and his prescriptions.

When we got to DFW this morning, I tried to get him checked in curbside so we could get rid of his luggage ASAP. The checker said he couldn't issue Dad bag tags. Fortunately, I decifered the mumbo-jumbo to mean Dad had been pre-selected for full security screening. He's eighty-two years old and looks really menacing. He's been known to rant about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Sam Walton, the pope, Bolton, Tom DeLay, The Media, Condie Rice, Saddam, and many more since back before Richard Nixon told the nation that sad, sad story about Pat's cloth coat and Julie and Tricia's little dog, Checkers. We went inside to the United counter to check in. I hadn't wanted to do it on-line in case the counter agent could give Dad a better seat than I had purchased for him. That's what happened on his way here. Since I was doing most of the talking to the counter agent, she asked if I would like to accompany Dad to the gate. This is a great thing to remember. I didn't know it could be done, but it made a huge difference. My savvy flyer friend didn't know it could be done, either, so that is why I am posting this. Maybe someone else can ease a departure for a relative. When I told the agent that I would like to accompany Dad to the gate, she checked out my ID and gave me a pass to go through security. That way I was there to interpret for Dad about his full belt buckle security screening, so he wouldn't get worried. I wonder if the baggage x-ray on his flight down here showed his fiendish fingernail clipper, so he was coded as a terrorist instead of a delightful Old Fart with chronic nail fungus. Once through security we went to McD's for coffee. We relaxed, and I figured out the timing for visiting the restroom and going on over to sit at the B30 gate. It's very different flying out from an international airport, than flying from the little airport in Lincoln, Nebraska. The flight boarded at least twenty minutes late, and Dad said he would have been very antsy waiting by himself. Many things have changed in the fifteen years since he last flew.

We chatted about the time my parents won a trip to New York City with some other engineers. This is one of my first major memories. I was in kindergarten in 1960. Mom sewed all the outfits she would wear on the trip. I still have tiny fabric scraps from the purple and gold irridescent weave for her cocktail dress, and for the lovely matching purple stole. I thought the outfits were incredibly glamorous. Just like today, the airline was United. Passengers back then received navy blue canvas bags of flight amenities--peanuts, matchbooks, barf bags, and possibly playing cards. I remember the canvas bags, since they soon ended up in our childhood play "dress-up box".

My parents visited FAO Schwarz in NYC in 1960. They brought back one toy for each of us. My toy was a Hasbro Fizzies Fountain. My brother got a toy airplane. My baby sister got an awesome wooden spinning merry-go-round toy with wooden people similar to later plastic Fisher Price people.

Mrs. Schidler was our babysitter while our parents were off on this amazing trip. Mrs. Schidler was pretty amazing, too, even if I can't scroll up an image of her from my memory data bank. She was a pancake batter artist! She could make any shape of pancake you could imagine.

When my parents returned to Lincoln, Mrs. Schidler and we three kids were watching from the open air observation deck. We could see Howie and Fritz walk down the roll-out stairway and across the concrete to the terminal. Looking back I realize they were two young sweethearts returning from a second honeymoon in the Big Apple.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Statement of faith

My ancestor, the Unknown Liska, left the Ukraine in the early 1800's, and walked to Bohemia. In some stories, the Unknown Liska took all his belongings in a wheelbarrow. In other versions he pushed his mother all the way to Bohemia in the wheelbarrow.

I don't have much experience with wheelbarrows, but I have read the story of Mr. MacGregor and Peter Rabbit aloud many times. My ancestors were variously Catholic and anti-Catholic and who knows what else. They may have even been foxes. Liska means vixen in Czech.

I am not a world traveler, but I am an intellectual resident of the whole Earth. My core connection to that Earth is through a certain type of landscape that is vast and open to the sky and the far-off horizon. I am connected to creation and to preservation, to curiosity, and respect. I am descended from the early humans who moved out of Africa to the steppes, and who developed the skill and compassion to care for that toothless old man and not leave him for the saber tooth tiger to finish off. I do not believe that God is on my side, or yours, or anyone else's. Fifty years old, and I still don't get the whole religion thing.

Fither Pellows

Dad is coming to visit. He only sleeps on a feather pillow. At least that is my recollection, and I need to have all bases covered.

Dashed into Super Target this morning on the way to work. Scooped towels, sheets, pillows (feather and foam), Honey Nut Cheerios twin pack, Trident peppermint, and two cheapo plastic wastebaskets into my cart. Dang. Why don't friends give showers for relatives' visits instead of when you get married? Believe me, thirty years down the road you really appreciate new sheets and towels! Dewy-eyed love has faded, and a new rubber spatula makes you quiver with delight.

Speaking of covering bases, I am washing the cushions for the kitchen chairs. They look like baseball bases. Don't worry. I won't be sliding into second or third. Haven't Swiffered yet, so the floor is way too sticky for sliding!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Boy Orator of the Platte

In third grade our teacher, Mrs. Alschwede, read us the story of Howard Carter's discovery of Tut's tomb. She was reading it the day we got word that President Kennedy had been assassinated. "Assassinated" is a big vocabulary word for a third grader, but then, so is "Tutankhamen".

I was blasted even further into the larger world by the 1964 Good Friday Alaskan earthquake. I didn't really have a grasp on the "Good Friday" religious concept then, and I'm still pretty shaky. Our Sunday School teachers, Mrs. Mohlman and Mrs. Schwartzkopf, made sure we sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" every week in third grade Sunday School.

I got confused when Walter Cronkite reported on Viet Nam. If God ever speaks to me, I am sure it will be in Cronkite's voice.

We had a small black and white tv, but it still had the power to confuse Agent Orange and "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored."

On the way out the door after church, Mom would slip each of us a butterscotch drop to "tide us over". It's been forty-plus years, but if I go into a church I instantly crave butterscotch drops.

Mrs. Alschwede's third grade class went on a field trip to the Bennett Martin Public Library downtown. I can still see exactly where the biography shelf was in the Children's Room. We were encouraged to read biographies. Specifically, we were encouraged to read the Bobbs-Merrill Childhood of Famous Americans series:

Moore, Clyde B. J. STERLING MORTON ARBOR DAY BOY Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1962. J. Sterling Morton is a Nebraska hero. You can visit the Arbor Day site at

By the time HARVEY S. FIRESTONE YOUNG RUBBER PIONEER was published in 1968, I had moved well beyond the series. Still, I wouldn't want any of my sons known as "young rubber pioneers."

I was scissoring around some postage stamps Fritzi saved for me in a cake frosting can. I got to the Knute Rockne stamp. Van Riper, Guernsey Jr. KNUTE ROCKNE YOUNG ATHLETE Publisher: Bobbs-M errill 1952. It's funny the things that set you off. Rather than cry, I ventured forth on a search for those biographies of my wonder years:

Myers, Elisabeth P. GEORGE PULLMAN YOUNG SLEEPING CAR BUILDER Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1963.
de Grummond, Lena Young, and Delaune, Lynn de Grummond BABE DIDRIKSON GIRL ATHLETE Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1963.
Monsell, Helen A. DOLLY MADISON QUAKER GIRL Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1944.
Myers, Elisabeth P. F.W. WOOLWORTH FIVE AND TEN BOY Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1962. Stevenson, Augusta GEORGE CUSTER BOY OF ACTION Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1963.
Weil, Ann JOHN PHILIP SOUSA MARCHING BOY Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1959.
Wilkie, Katharine E. GEORGE ROGERS CLARK BOY OF THE OLD NORTHWEST Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill 1958.

It was about the same year that Mom and her buddy, Marilyn, decided we kids all needed a cultural outing. On a pouring-rain-steamy-day-sweating-in-your-plastic-raincoat day we were piled in the car and taken to the William Jennings Bryan house, "Fairview", on the grounds of Bryan Memorial Hospital. It's a black and white memory of Mom and Marilyn gasping when we all directed our attention to the Victorian sawed-off elephant leg umbrella holder!

I worked at Bryan Memorial as a volunteer and as kitchen employee. My dad would pick me up after my shift at the Lab Door just to the left of this spot. He was a Lab Door Retriever. If I was lucky, he would take me to Kings Drive In at 48th & O to get a deluxe cheeseburger.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The view from DQ

Picked up my new spectacles this afternoon, and these bifocals are working great so far.

The shape is slightly different, much like a Dairy Queen logo, so I feel like an eye-fashion trendsetter! Mom would have orchestrated the eyeglasses pick-up for at least a DQ Buster Bar on the way back home.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Bonnets

"In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.
I'll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I'll be the proudest fellow in the Easter Parade.
On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you'll find that you're in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I'm taking to the Easter Parade."
Irving Berlin

My sister found the box with our Easter bonnets in the closet of the room we shared as children. The two hats were packed in tissue paper. I am sure the box was tied with white string, although she didn't say. She had been in a lot of interesting boxes in that closet Wednesday, finding many sentimental gems.

In this photo from Easter 1960 I'm wearing a little blue hat with flowers and an itchy net tie that made a big bow under my chin. I think the dress is coral pink with little bees on it. I'm not wearing the matching coat, though. The hat might have been a gift from my maternal grandmother. I say that because it was not something my mom would have chosen for my coloring, but Effa Dale liked blues and lavenders. My brother wears a little blue cap. He is two, and I am almost five. We are holding the begonias given to children at First Plymouth Congregational in the hallway after the Easter service. Just thinking of it brings the scent of clay pots with nursery dirt, the feel of purple florist foil paper, and the sound of high heels on the stone floor of the hallway. My sister was only seven months old.

Over the phone she tells me how the hats are still in perfect condition, then surprises me by saying she was always so envious of my Easter bonnet. That blue hat with the big bow became HERS, probably by Easter 1961. I reverted to my original bonnet, which looked like a one-layer round cake frosted in fancy pleats of white chiffon, and accented with black velvet ties. The ties were more like a stuffed cord than a ribbon.

The neighbor girls told me my hat wasn't a real and proper Easter hat, as it wasn't straw, pastel, ribboned, or flowered. I was always very self-conscious wearing it, and secretly wished I could wear the more normal blue hat with flowers. My sister wore the blue hat because she got blue eyes, and I wore the black and white hat because I didn't. That was how I saw it. I think it was also that she had such a square jaw as a little kid that the big bow was pretty darling softening the bossy look.

How strange. I always thought I was the sister who had to wear pink because I didn't look good enough in blue. "Purple and blue," Mom told me, "accentuate the dark circles under your eyes." Turquoise was the only blue for me.

There was one Easter when we didn't wear the bonnets. Mom made us look-alike spring coats with little hats that looked like inverted tulips. Mary Jane's was light blue, of course. Mine was a pale yellow. I only remember the coat in black and white like a photo, but I know it was yellow because my Barbie had a coat made from the yellow scraps. Barbie didn't get a tulip hat, probably because of her bouffant hairdo.

For most of my adult life I refused to wear pink in passive-aggressive rebellion. I shied away from turquoise and coral even though I know they do look good on me. I was leery of blues and florals, and avoided purples like the plague. Stripes and plaids, red and greens were what I chose. What strange and ancient limitations we hold tight! I'm breaking free slowly. Nearly fifty, I bought a pink striped shirt, and a blue floral one. What distances over insecurities and old envies...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Fabulous news

My sister called this morning just as I climbed out of the shower. She says our dad is getting crusty, opinionated, and intolerant again. Praise be! Howie's getting back to normal, our very own troll under the bridge, and we love him for it. [I can't help it. The little kids are acting out the Three Billy Goats Gruff this week.] Dad has enough energy to be pissed off, to tell it like he sees it, to follow his own motto, "Don't Hold Back", to be the guy with the long perspective on our current short-sighted, self-serving administration, not to mention cuss the jerks who drive too fast in his neighborhood.

It was great to hear, and fun to share the excitement with her. I had to get ready for work, though, so I was trying to get dressed while holding the phone and talking. It is very tricky to pull jeans onto two legs using only one hand, and just forget about zipping. I felt an almost physical blow to my chest as an awareness dawned of all the young soldiers being so glad to be alive but missing arms and legs...The old people whose villages were bombed or shelled "by mistake"...The child victims of land mines...So many people who will never put two legs into a pair of pants using both hands to zip.

The Three Sillies was my favorite folktale as a kid. It features a memorable Silly who hangs his trousers on the dresser drawer knobs at night, and makes many running attempts to jump into them in the morning. What about the Sillies who decided we should run and jump into Iraq????

Thank heaven for an old fart with enough gusto to rant and shake a finger.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Got my hair chopped short over spring break. The perm I had at Thanksgiving was okay, but now it was time to get back to the real me. Like most of my contemporaries, I could spend a thousand bucks easy on psychotherapy for my hair issues alone.

Came home from the Walk-Ins Welcome salon, and looked in the mirror. Fritzi looked back at me. My always slender face has become quite round. For forty-nine years I resembled my dad, and suddenly, I am the spitting image of my mom.

I could do worse. Mom's photo shines with enjoyment of the moment. Compare it to my scary anorexic-wannabe photo from 1989. Anxiety is the only vibe from the Ghost Dance photo sending out an SOS. I wore that little black dress twice. Somehow, I don't want to fit in it again!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Extreme dreaming

A young student in a difficult family crisis created this lovely picture when we painted to music. It seems like a road map for my dreams this week. My brain is working overtime in parking garages, subways, golf carts, race tracks, and Intensive Care. I wake up exhausted, wishing I had eight hours to decipher the dreams, to run parallel with my eight hours at work.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Sam-I-am in clover

I would not could not at the play. I will not will not Tom DeLay.

It's Ides day again, but time is playing tricks on me. Beware of hidden emotional quick sand and tar pits. Teaching five year olds makes me feel like Alice big and small. I don't know how they got off on the subject of mothers dying. Under intense cross examination I explained with remarkable composure that my mother had died two months ago. "Was that before you were born?" Well, no, that wouldn't work quite right! Did she "pass off?" No, that's in soccer, not Mayo.

The older girls on the block when I was growing up preached the gospel of the news-worthy four-leaf clover and daisy chain. Fame would be ours if we could just find the perfect four-leaf clover. If individual fame proved elusive, we could go for the media discovery of the fabulously long clover chain we were connecting while we sat out on the driveway. We spent a lot of time sitting in the grass looking for the four-leaf clover(no fire ants back there!). We played hide & seek, kick-the-can, or jacks. We jumped rope, and sometimes folded paper "fortune tellers" requiring the selection of favorite car color and predicting our family size. We never were "discovered" by a newspaper reporter.

As for Tom DeLay, he makes me embarrassed to live in Texas. As for the play, it's at Theatre Three. Jeffrey Stanley's play, Medicine Man is about a NASCAR fan whose mother is dying of a mysterious illness. According to the press release, Stanley says the play is, "hopefully universal to anyone who has lost a loved one and hit the boundaries of faith medicine and faith in medicine." I certainly qualify, but just reading the press release brought on weird nightmares.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Four guys, three generations

My oldest son, Jeff, phoned home a little bit ago to say he had arrived safely in Lincoln, and was now hanging out with his Gramps, aka my dad Howie, his uncle Roger, and his cousin Brian. They are having Harp Ale, Roger's homebrew in honor of Brian's birthday, lots of cheese, and crackers, and probably a major storytelling/bullshitting festival. Perhaps the opportunity will arise for Jeff's two brother's and his younger cousin, Sky to join in a future family stag event. I hope Howie will tell stories about his own dad and brother.

The possibilities are interesting. Our culture lacks male tribal ceremonies. The generations of men do not retreat into the dark recesses to channel the group consciousness and oral history ala Clan of the Cave Bear. Admittedly, I am viewing this event from a female perspective. There seems to be a void instead of a significant ritual or extended dialogue for imparting from one generation to the next what it means to be a truly adult man. Most male "rites of passage" are conducted by peers and involve heavy drinking, hazing, acts of violence or bravado, and dangerous stunts mixing cars and high speed. The television male character is usually a buffoon, an under-achiever, the butt of family jokes, or a strutting rooster showing off his cars, women, and plasma t.v.s for his entourage before his next end-zone dance.

Somewhere in the last half century, the interpretation of the word "respectability" tilted heavily toward the qualities of being conventional, ordinary, boring, and having a recent haircut. What about being able to be respected, being worthy of respect, to merit the esteem, appreciation, and honor of others due to one's manner of conducting life, work, business, and relationships?

These issues apply to both genders. My core feeling is that both my parents made their decisions with consideration of future generations of life on Earth. They made choices and acted so as to be worthy of the respect of previous and future generations. That did not make them slaves to the regard of others or to the conventions of the moment. It made them honorable mature adults with clear moral compasses and a long-range perspective on actions and consequences.

May my sons be as worthy of esteem.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Fuzzy snapshots

Snapshot photos are deteriorating, yellowing, in the photo albums under the clear "protective" film. They aren't held in place by little photo corners purchased at the Ben Franklin for a quarter like my first albums. The 1965 photos from my Kodak Brownie Starmite camera are still clear. Snapshots of Grandma, her house, her older sister, Myrtle, Camp Fire Girl cook-outs, and slumber parties when we packed our nightgowns in our moms' Samsonite cosmetic cases are all well-preserved. How bizarre. We thought nothing of taking a bubble bath, three nine-year-old girls in a tub back then. We would bake a cake, lick the beaters, or eat tuna fish sandwiches and watch Alfred Hitchcock Presents...

These yellowed photos are more recent; color Kodaks from the summer of 1985 taken on a visit to hotter-than-hell Tyler, Texas. My brother was back from England with his wife and small son. My sister, mother, two sons and I drove down from Nebraska to see them. We arrived in Tyler, and went to McDonald's. Jeff, approaching his third birthday, tried to slide down the metal slippery slide in his little Carters outfit. Yow! It was hotter than McDonald's coffee, but in a less litigious era. The snapshots look like they were baked on that slippery slide like Jeff's little legs. Just remembering nursing the four-month-old Danger Baby in the backseat of the car parked on the asphalt at the Paris, Texas, DQ overheats a mama.

Who are those young, skinny people in the hazy photos?

Tomorrow I will drive across Oklahoma to find a college for a son who wasn't even born when this photo album was arranged. Sunday, Jeff will meet up with my brother and nephew at my dad's house. I hope they will take snapshots, make memories, and stay off the slippery slides.

Butter Tarts

Coming home from coffee with friends today, I kept thinking I should get the recipe for delicious butter tarts for Fritzi. She could make it for the bridge club ladies. That got me pretty choked up when reality kicked in. I will still get the recipe from JJ. Maybe you know some bridge club ladies who would enjoy a tasty, warm, buttery and sweet treat with coffee.

JJ got the recipe from her granny-in-law who lived in a rural Louisiana house with no plumbing and seven or eleven sons. With no plumbing, seven wouldn't be much different than eleven. Probably had kerosene lamps. Told her sons scary tales of the Red Eye, or loup-garou lurking in the bayous at night.

Fritzi always said her nose was crooked because of kerosene lamps. She bent over to light a match on the wooden floor of their farmhouse (only five kids, no indoor plumbing), and hit her nose on the back of a kitchen chair. My nose is crooked because of riding a saucer sled over a retaining wall. Sent my nephew an old, old lantern recently, to play Wild West or Lewis and Clark. I forget how his dad got a crooked nose, but we will all say a deviated septum is a low-level aggravation in the big scheme of things, but worth the effort of avoiding.

On my dad's side of the family there are also wise words on the subject of noses. He had an aunt, or maybe great-aunt, who used to holler out her screen door to approaching children, "You can come in if your nose is clean!" Teaching preschoolers in winter often reminds me of that saying, even if I can't use it.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The little grey-green bird returns

Did some dirt therapy yesterday, fussing and digging in my little patio container garden. Planted two miniature rose bushes from Home Depot because one I received as a gift has proven so hardy and bloomed often. That one was pale pink. The new ones are red and coral.

I want to have fewer containers this year, and only terra cotta ones. Dumped out the white plastic flower pots back along the fence. This morning the little grey green bird returned to fuss and dig around in the myrtle looking for bugs in the dumped and dug up dirt. It's a very little bird, about four inches in length. The closest image in my bird guidebook is an immature Tennessee warbler. The bars on the wings aren't prominent, and the bird doesn't have a yellow rump.

I walked the Katy Trail with my exercise buddy today. We have been talking about doing this for at least a year. On our walk we met a bird watcher. I told her about my mystery bird, and she asked about the yellow rump. No yellow rump. The bird watcher suggested my bird was probably a pine warbler. Maybe so. My feeling is still that the little bird is a link to Fritzi, a message of hope and love. I have such a powerful connection to Mom flow through me when I see this little bird.

In one of my dreams this week I came upon a row of bushes with purple leaves. Red-spotted purple butterflies were floating and landing briefly on the purple bushes. My dream self stood and watched them, and I had a powerful sense of my mother beside me but unseen also enjoying this beautiful scene. Recalling my dream images, I am surprised to find the dream had a scent of warm dust, wild flowers, and an undefinable essence of Estes Park, Colorado!

A white cabbage butterfly floated about the emerging redbuds as we walked the trail today, but it is still early for most butterflies. The mourning cloak butterfly is usually one of the earliest in the spring. I am not wearing a mourning cloak. How could I when Fritzi is so close, reminding me to look for new life in my own backyard?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Fears For Tears

Tears are such scary things to women of my preferred label vintage. We try so hard to manage our homes, careers, children, elderly parents, money, health, weight, relations with spouses or exes, communications with extended family or in-laws. Tears seem uncontrollable, so we fear and loathe them, as Hunter S. Thompson might have written if he had a sex-change operation in Las Vegas.

Nearly every woman I know is in this strange region of caring for others, loss, and grief. It is exhausting emotional work, but we are afraid to let our emotions do their best work. We shut them down, when they can serve us best by flooding.

The ancient Egyptians knew the annual flood of the Nile provided the fertile growth. A flood of tears can move us into a new growth of creativity, sensitivity, and awareness. It's a new experience for me, and I resisted it to my utmost. I'm pleased to find it is making me a richer human being, and a better teacher, too. Letting the tears flow doesn't remove the loss or lessen our honor of our parent or relative. Letting the tears flow irrigates and energizes us to use our loss. It makes us more approachable and inspiring adults. The tears let us unload many large black yard-size trashbags of unimportant garbage from the mildewed cardboard storage boxes in our worry-laden emotional basements.

Shoo Fly Pie And Apple Pan Dowdy

Lisa, Dad's next door neighbor, brought over a huge pan of apple pan dowdy in the first few days after Mom passed away. We had some other pie, so my sister and I divided the apple pan dowdy into many freezer containers for Dad to enjoy for bedtime snacks. He is still enjoying it many evenings like last night. You can't help singing the song, and it does put you in a happy mood:

If you wanna do right by your appetite,
If you're fussy about your food,
Take a choo-choo today, head New England way,
And we'll put you in the happiest mood. with:
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy."
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff.
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan dowdy makes the sun come out
When Heavens are cloudy,
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy,
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!
Mama! When you bake,
Mama! I don't want cake;
Mama! For my sake
Go to the oven and make some ever lovin' Sh,
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy,"
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!

(words by Sammy Gallop; music by Guy Wood)
Best selling records in 1946 by Dinah Shore (Columbia); Stan Kenton and His Orchestra (Capitol); and Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (Decca).

(Recipes for Apple Pan Dowdy)

In the very, very olden days I was an only child. This would be 1955-1958. After that I became the very, very big girl big sister, a title I still hold. (They can't take that away from me!) Both of these roles conveyed certain privileges and responsibilities*. In the beginning, the main privilege was staying up very late, after 8:00 p.m. CST, to watch the "Dinah Shore Chevy Show" on the little black and white t.v., and to eat Skyline Dairy Swiss Almond ice cream with my parents. Ms. Shore used to end her show by singing, "See the USA in your Chevrolet", swirling about in her Barbie fashion dress, and then tossing me a big kiss. Our car was a Chevrolet, a pea-green 1954 to be exact, and even if we weren't seeing much of the USA in those days, I knew this t.v. show was being sent directly to me in the egocentric way a preschooler understands the world. The "Dinah Shore Show" went off the air in 1963, about the time Roberts Dairy purchased Skyline Dairy. After that the ice cream just wasn't as good. President Kennedy was assassinated, and then the Great Alaskan Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 changed my world view. Television wasn't about me. It was about "stuff out there" as reported by Walter Cronkite.

*If you can remember the gravity with which Bert Parks explained the responsibility of the Miss America runner-up to take over if Miss America should be unable to fulfill her duties, you will understand that I seriously believed from age three that I might have to take charge should my parents be unable to complete their duties as parents for my younger siblings.

They Can't Take That Away From Me
(Written by George and Ira Gershwin)

There are many many crazy things
That will keep me loving you
And with your permission
May I list a few
The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No they can’t take that away from me
The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No they can’t take that away from me
We may never never meet again, on that bumpy road to love
But I’ll always, always keep the memory of
The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No they can’t take that away from me

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Big File

Housework is not a time-consuming chore when it is done a little bit every day and no unsightly mildewed confusion is ever allowed to grow. In much the same way, studying mathematics is a manageable endeavor as long as one does the homework everyday and never gets behind or fails to have a confusing concept promptly explained. I used to be a pretty good math student, and even expected to major in math and minor in actuarial science in college. That didn't happen, I ended up an art major, and then I became a pretty good homemaker.

The last few years the whole housework discipline has escaped me. I can't always balance my checkbook the first time through. Things pile up; stacks of bills, piles of files, stacks of unsorted images torn from magazines that I use for teaching, images I used in class last summer but didn't refile, other stacks of the papers I use for my collages, lots and lots of letters, clipped newspaper columns from Leon Satterfield and Molly Ivins, "Get Fuzzy", "Zits" and "One Big Happy" comics, small appliance owner's manuals, old report cards and team rosters and drink schedules.

My friends know that when I finally embark on The Big Clean, The Big Cook, or The Big Iron, I will be off the radar for at least two days. They know I am jousting with dust bunnies the size of Abyssinian cats, or blowing fuses in the kitchen. They probably don't know the ugly truth about The Big File, however.

The Big File is like being sucked down Alice's Rabbit Hole. I keep painting myself into a smaller and smaller circle until I am kneeling in a spiral of paper stacks. When the phone rings my legs are too cramped for me to scramble up and answer before the voice mail kicks in. I'm very close to running out of file folders, and the file cabinet drawers are crammed to overflowing.

Fritzi's letters and lots of other correspondence had been saved in a Rubbermaid shoebox since I moved to this condo in 2000. They hadn't settled into neat and tidy strata, however. I spent a good hour arranging the letters by date this afternoon. I hadn't saved all of Mom's letters, and I didn't use any clear specifications when saving or discarding. I especially want to read through the last two years some other day. I think it will be a very positive experience, but I can't do it right now. I have all those other pictures stacked all over the floor, and I can't walk in my room.

As kids we had some plastic circle gizmos for fanning out and managing a hand of playing cards. That is what I need now on a much larger scale. I saw the Texas Ballet Theater's Jayme Autrey Griffith performing the classic Don Quixote fan dance last weekend. Why can't I flick this semicircle of files in a coquetish manner?

Interestingly, I received a letter from my aunt today that included a delightful letter my mom had written her a couple years back. Mom was dealing out the full update on all her kids and grandkids and travels. It was fun to read. I feel sorry for people who have no pen pals. A long-lasting written relationship is a fabulous gift. Now I just have to figure out how to get out of my "wheelie" home office chair without rolling over any of the stacks!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hung up in the decisions

Yesterday I gave my dad permission that he didn't need (but seemed to want) to buy a small electric skillet with a non-stick surface on sale at Shopko. Apparently my mom did not approve of non-stick surfaces. My sister and I discovered the current electric skillet in their kitchen is quite large, uncoated, and doesn't work worth diddly. My mom was a wonderful person, but she had very black/white opinions on absolutely everything from the most trivial on up. If you lived with someone for fifty-five years who told you to cut the ring of sausage into 3/16" pieces to fry for breakfast, you might find yourself a bit adrift. Dad may find he is free to make quite different choices now. He may also find that lots of choices aren't nearly so earth-shakingly important anymore. How important is it???

It was a huge relief to me when someone commented about one of my agonized decisions, that the selection would "never be seen from a galloping horse." Fritzi had the gift of knowing what made her really happy. I hope through all this grief we can find some peace in making easy choices about the small stuff, and find some clarity about what's really the big stuff.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Emotional weather changeable without warning

After a couple weeks of being calm and philosophical, I started to think I was "coming out of the intense grief". Instead, I was about to become the target of torrential meatballs and mudslides:

Tuesday--My hard shell has been penetrated and my cold core altered by the wonderful thoughtfulness and generosity of friends and family. My body seems light and aerated. My energy is really high when I'm teaching. My students find me more open, accepting, soft, and huggable. The phrase "permeable membrane" keeps popping into my consciousness. Had to get out the dictionary, of course. Permeate... to pass through the openings and interstices, to spread and flow throughout, diffuse... Clearly not a scientist. All the plants I grew in Dixie cups for Biol 101 lab died. Does permeability allow for flow both in and out?

Thursday--I've been just exhausted this week, and don't really know why. Feel like I'm on a planet with much more gravity. I'm being triple-teamed by hayfever, hormones, and grief. My head is stuffed with Brillo pads. On the drive home from work this afternoon, in the time spent just waiting for a red light, I became absolutely furious that Modern Medicine failed Fritzi, and indirectly failed everyone I love. Perhaps I had tried to sidestep that phase of grief, so it waited to hit when I wasn't looking.

Saturday--Answered the doorbell with tears streaming down my cheeks and didn't even care. Writing notes to people who have been so kind, sharing happy memories about my mother, and about times our families shared when I was growing up. 100% chance of precipitation. At the door a neighbor waits to give me a handheld vacuum. I appreciate the gift and the distraction. I sent my oldest back to grad school with the Dust-Buster, so I've got stairway crevices and corners that look really gritty.

Sunday--Went wandering through Stein Mart just looking at clothes and colors. Never even tried anything on. Senses of time, urgency, purpose all suspended. I haven't done this kind of numb wandering in the nearly nine years since my divorce. I felt quite refreshed, except for my sinuses. Listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan's "The Sky is Crying" twice.
Monday--Still don't know about permeability, but I dreamt of energy moving in and out of me as I was connected into a huge stream of people traveling on a huge airport moving-walkway. The energy looked like bubbles, or like Steven's photos of glass marbles. Very peaceful and clear, really.