Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Slightly Belated...

hb terms 2011

Since September 25, 2003.

From famine through feast and back again.

Good Morning

It was foggy this morning. Foggy, cold and damp. The world seemed a physical weight, pressing me down into the depths of my soul. Depths which contain deep pools of anger, fear, resentment and hopelessness. The pools have always been there, I suppose. But my journey of the last five years has deepened and overflowed them.

I don’t want to go down there. It frightens me. I want to believe that purposeful rest and a drastic change of routine will cause those pools to shrink and recede. This morning’s grayness had me spiraling downward. I held my nose and prepared to dive; sat down at the computer to compose an essay of the drowning soul. I stared for a long time at the screen, the blinking cursor, and wrote…nothing. My trembling hand could not soil that pristine whiteness with even one maudlin letter.

So I exited the blank “Word” page, sighed and called up a game of solitaire.

It was a hard one. It looked like one of those that was going to take me an hour of “ctrl+z” to solve. I sighed again. I so did not want to fool around with an endless game of solitaire this morning...

But wait… A couple of smooth moves cracked the puzzle of the “hopeless” solitaire game, and I wrapped it up in a matter of minutes. I win!

And in the meantime, the sun came out. The sky is bright blue. Like the miserable gray fog never existed.

Monday, September 26, 2011


One of the facts of 21st century life that helped make me an ex-restaurant owner was having to deal with the preponderance of ridiculous food fads and media driven prohibitions that are out there. It got to where I wanted to shoot the radio or TV every time another “food-borne-illness” report came out. When tomatoes killed a guy in Texas, suddenly every sandwich in the restaurant was going out with “no tomatoes” (which didn’t really bother me much, since fresh tomatoes grown outside of their normal season are gross and tasteless.) A salmonella-in-spinach scare torpedoed sales of the most popular vegetarian offering of my concession business for over a year; though we make the filling with frozen spinach (which is blanched), and the things are cooked in a 400° oven for twenty minutes to boot, you couldn’t talk folks out of their paranoia.

In the waning days of my term as a restaurant owner, the food fad that drove me absolutely crazy—and not only persists but is picking up steam—is the anti-gluten craze. Yes, I understand that the inability to digest gluten was found to be a problem for a subset of people with painful digestive malfunctions that had eluded diagnosis until celiac disease was recognized as the cause. But in the past few years, everyone with any kind of digestive complaint seems to have hit upon gluten as the source of their problems. Gluten has become the dietary devil. The demand for gluten-free this and gluten-free that borders on hysteria.

Bread has been around for something like 30,000 years, folks. Bread and bread-like products were independently developed by hundreds of cultures once human beings figured out they liked grain and it wouldn’t poison them. A food crop with a rich history, one whose cultivation symbolized the transition of mankind from hunter/gatherers to farmers, has suddenly been labeled poison by a hysterical portion of our pop-culture. Just goes to prove the kind of havoc that a lot of people with a little information can wreak.

Of course, I really don’t care if you choose to eliminate gluten from your diet. Knock yourself out, if that’s what you think is going to solve all your health problems. Because of the mysterious connection between our minds and bodies (which is the thing upon which we should really be concentrating if we want to advance our ability to heal sickness), merely believing in a particular health regimen can make it work. Like people who bury potatoes in their back yards to make their warts go away.

But, here’s the problem engendered by our fanatically entitled society: once I’ve decided that something is bad for me, I demand that the entire market place tie itself in knots to pander to my issues. If I’m going gluten-free, the whole world needs to figure out how to make it easy for me. Subway had better cough up gluten-free bread. Pizza Hut had best figure out how to make gluten-free pizza dough. Oh and, by the way, I don’t want to have to PAY more for any of this stuff…

But I digress. The whole reason I began this piece is because a couple of days ago, I had an experience that provided me with a sort of epiphany about America’s bread issues. When I left to go on vacation back in August, I decided I would take with me some extra bread I had left over from the restaurant to feed to the birds on the beach. So I grabbed it out of the freezer, tossed it in a box and threw it into the back of the pick-up. That was a month ago.

Last Friday, I suddenly remembered that I had neglected to unpack the back of the truck when I got home. There was nothing but a bunch of tools, tarps, and camping supplies back there—things that I don’t use when I’m not camping. But…oh no. There WAS that box of bread. Ewwww.

With distinct trepidation, I opened up the back of the canopy and crawled into the truck to retrieve what I was sure was going to be a mass of smelly, powdery green stuff, unrecognizable as bread. What I found was undoubtedly worse than that. Not only was the bread not moldy, it was almost pristine. It wasn’t even stale. I probably could have unwrapped a couple of slices and made a perfectly passable sandwich. It scared the hell out of me.

So I submit to the gluten-fearing American public: It’s probably not the wheat that’s screwing up your health. It’s what we’re doing to it before we eat it that makes it poisonous. And unless you consume nothing but what you have grown, prepared and cooked yourself, you are not saving yourself from anything.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Pelican Encounter

To tell the truth, I very rarely visit the Oregon coast during the summer. First of all, the quaint little towns are all packed with annoying tourists—reminding me that our beautiful scenic Oregon does not belong solely to those of us who live here year round. Secondly, the weather is often iffy in the summer—it can be dank, cool and foggy on the beach when hot weather strikes the inland valleys. Or, if the sun does shine, the wind blows a gale out of the north, making beach-walking an unpleasant, dermabrasion sort of experience. So, oddly enough, though the weather was fine and sunny during our vacation, we didn’t really spend a lot of time on any actual beaches.

A few days into our visit, my sister had looked at me quizzically as we gazed out over the ocean and asked, “What’s happened to all the pelicans?” I hadn’t really thought about pelicans until that moment, but when I considered her question, I realized we had not seen any little parades of feeding pelicans dipping in and out of the waves just offshore. Normally, they are simply…out there—a comforting constant of the seascape. What indeed had happened to the pelicans?

I remembered hearing somewhere about a brown pelican die-off (which, it turns out, was in January of 2009. Yikes! I HAVE been out of touch…) So I wondered if we were not perhaps experiencing the consequences of that event. After my sister’s observation, I found myself searching the sky for them, and I saw no more than one or two lone birds diving in and spurting out of the spray. I had come to love and appreciate the nearly constant presence of undulating queues of the big brown birds, and I was saddened to think we might see no more of them.

On the last weekend of our trip—as it happened, on my husband’s first full day with us—we decided we were going to walk on a beach, come hell, high water or sand-laden gale-force wind. We parked at what turned out to be a small spit of sand at the mouth of a creek. The wind was insane—enough for the wind chill to subtract about 15 degrees from the non-beach air temperature of near 70°. Determined, we bundled and hoodied up and sallied forth.

As we literally blew across the parking strip and gained the sandy beach, my sister pointed to the sky to our left. Fighting their way through the vicious headwind came a stalwart string of pelicans. Not in their usual location, out just beyond where the waves begin to break on the shore, but close in, above the narrow strip of beach. Right over our heads. Nearly close enough to touch. The powerful wind impeded their progress to the point that they practically hovered, stuck to the sky above us. As if to say, “Um…you were looking for us?”

I cursed that I had left my camera in the car, almost turned back to get it, reconsidered…sighed and stood in the wind, rapt, as they floated slowly over us and up the beach. They were magnificent. I even remembered to thank The Almighty for that extraordinary treat. But after we left the beach, I thought no more about it.

Until a couple of days ago, when I recounted my experience with the crows. And I realized it might be wise to consider other special encounters I’d had after my solitary campfire ritual.

Oh, yes! I thought. The pelicans! Maybe I should consult my resources about what a visitation by Pelican might mean.

And here is what I found: “This is an opportunity to forgive either yourself or someone else and release any built-up guilt or resentment.”

Ah! Pelican had showed up on the first full day I’d spent with my husband since I’d left him behind more than a week before. And I’d say there has been plenty of that built-up guilt and resentment splattered all over our relationship of late. I have painstakingly sidestepped those emotions since arriving at the place where I could achieve the necessary amount of physical and emotional restoration to deal with them. I just haven’t been able to go there.

The thing about this encounter is, Pelican’s special connection was exactly what I needed, though I did not know it until weeks later. But the work of healing and forgiveness seems to have gone ahead anyway; husband and I have been getting along much better, and I’ve been able to release much of the bitterness that has kept me distant from him even though we’re no longer separated by the chasm of the cafĂ©.

So perhaps The Universe sends Animal Spirits not merely to guide, but as symbols of the work being done on our souls even when we are unaware. And as signals to those of us just discovering our connectedness to those spirits—to keep our eyes and minds open to any and every animal encounter.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Squash Watch Continued

What with all my vacations and work weekends this summer, the weekly squash watch thing kind of fell by the wayside. But I know the gardeners out there are dying to know what has happened with my three hapless little butternut squash plants.

Well.... The plants themselves are thriving. This is what my "squash garden" looks like now:

But, you say, can you really call it a squash garden? Where are the squash?
Squash? I have Squash.

I have A Squash.

Here it is, two-thirds of September gone, and I have one little squash about three inches long, out of all that greenery and all those flowers.


But at least there IS a squash.

So we shall see how big it gets before it is compromised by autumn rains and/or frost.

Breaking News: I have discovered another baby squash, about a third the size of this one. Now I have TWO.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waiting for Crow

What an amazing summer I had! A little more than a week into the season, the ties that bound me to an adventure upon which I had embarked with great anticipation and joy were severed irrevocably, with almost equal anticipation and joy. Tempered by exhaustion and frustration, because that venture had almost proven my utter undoing. I felt lucky to get out (mostly) alive.

For nearly three months, with a couple of unfortunate yet unavoidable lapses, I’ve gone about the business of regaining my strength—with a vengeance. If one could be said to be “aggressively resting,” that is what I’ve been doing. It wasn’t easy, at first, to shed the habit of the perpetual “to-do” list. Once out from under the never-ending, ever-increasing “Things I’ve Gotta Do To Stay In Business” list, I merely replaced it with “Things I’m Gonna Do Now That I Have A Life Again.” When that list started to weigh like a cement block around my neck, I figured it was time for a really fresh start. So I packed up my mess kit and went camping.

Not long into that adventure, I discovered I had sneaked yet another list into my baggage: “Things I’m Gonna Do On My Vacation.” When The Universe decided to rip that list out of my hands and lead me to the things I really needed, I finally got that making lists is not what I’m supposed to be doing.

It’s been hard, though. I don’t know HOW to not do anything. I was never very good at it, and then I spent five years immersed in an orgy of busy-ness. I’ve been on “fast-forward” so long, I think my “stop” button shorted out. So…yes. Do nothing? Wait for The Universe to give me what I need? It’s like quitting…something…cold turkey. Possible, yes. But neither simple nor particularly pleasant.

Even the thing I was convinced was on The Universe’s agenda for me—to study up and choose a spiritual path—turned out not to be part of The Greater Plan at all, but rather a by-product of my own inability to relinquish control. It seems I’ve been basically told to “Cool it.” The information and the guidance will come when the Spirit decides. So I have sat back and waited. But not without feeling guilty about it.

I’m never sure if my reticence to jump headlong into alternative spirituality is a result of my waiting upon the Universe, or of my own hang-ups. Though I feel drawn to animal spirits and shamanism, I’m still very much bound to not only old mainstream religion, but “fact” and “science,” as we Westerners have learned to worship them as well. It’s extremely difficult to break through half a century of “knowing” that animals don’t speak, and animals don’t have souls, and animals are somehow dependent upon the aegis of human beings for their very lives. I can look into the eyes of a crow and almost hear its message for me…and suddenly a little voice in the back of my head somewhere will taunt, “What do you think you’re doing? It’s just a crow.”

Yet I know Crow is one of my Spirit Guides, if not my power animal. Alone one night on my camping vacation, when my sister and her husband went home to take care of some business, I was determined to indulge in a ritual about which I had read, but had not yet attempted. I built a fire and enjoyed my solitary meal while gazing into the friendly flames. After I finished eating, I dug into my jewelry bag and pulled out…my rattle. An artisan-crafted ceramic rattle, carved in the shape of a crow. The books I’ve read mention rattling, drumming or chanting while meditating, to court contact with the Spirit World in general and Spirit Guide animals in particular. So I sat by my fire, closed my eyes, shook my rattle and tried to empty my mind. Tried to concentrate. Asked for a guide. Rattled and emptied, meditated and asked.

I’d like to say something magical and mysterious happened. I’d like to say that I had a dream or a vision, or that I was visited by some great insight. But mainly, I felt…silly. Sheepish. That little voice in the back of my head was having a field day. “What DO you think you are DOING? Rattling? Puh-leez!”

I was determined not to let that voice dissuade me. I kept at it, for what I guessed was an appropriate amount of time to do justice to the ritual. Until my fire dwindled to a few flickering flames. Then I scattered the coals, stowed my rattle, and went to bed. Thinking a Dream might be wonderful, but not really believing it would come. And it didn’t.

But the next day, I drove to the beach with a loaf of bread for the gulls. I got out of the car, sat at a picnic table, and was immediately surrounded. Not by gulls, but by…

Crows. There must have been a dozen, maybe fifteen. No gulls. Just crows.

Now, I’ve been throwing bread for birds at beaches for decades. And this was the first time ever that only a mob of crows showed up for the party.

I can’t explain it. But The Universe can.

And It will. In time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Heart Spiders. People...Not So Much.

In June, I was introduced to the concept of Spider as a power animal. For one who spent the first thirty years of her life deathly afraid of any creature possessing more than four legs, embracing this possibility has been an uphill battle. When I was a kid, my older sister—who thought nothing of handling beetles, snakes, bees, frogs—used to get a huge kick out of chasing me around with bugs. I nearly fainted when she threatened to slip a grasshopper under the bathroom door I had slammed and locked against one of her onslaughts. It’s interesting to note: Now, she’s the one who screeches and stomps on spiders, while I catch them in paper cups and release them out into the wild.

My old knee-jerk “ew!” reaction upon encountering a spider has tempered somewhat since discovering the possibility of Spider as a spirit guide. I’ve certainly overcome my desire to run, screech or squish. But I still find spiders singularly unattractive at close range, and can’t deal yet with the idea of one walking on me. So I won’t share my sleeping quarters with any arachnid larger than a dime, and cannot tolerate showering with one of any size.

I’ve begun to collect stylized representations of spiders—a pair of earrings, a brooch. Things that will help me call to mind the particulars of Spider’s guidance. And, though I have a long way to go before I feel anything approaching warm and fuzzy about arachnids I encounter in my daily life, I understand their appearance and their presence have significance. In just a few short months I have made tremendous strides toward actually embracing spiders—as creatures at the very least worthy of notice and care, if not messengers carrying special wisdom for me from the Spirit World.

But, here’s the rub (and maybe it’s a large part of the lesson the Universe is ramming at me through spiders): I can’t help but notice that, though I’m making all kinds of progress in the direction of spiders, I don’t seem to be able to duplicate that success when it comes to my relationships with people. Specific people, as well as people in general. What gives?

Looking back, I don’t think I’ve had a much better opinion of humans than I have had of spiders for most of my life. Oh, yes, I’m fond of my own family (most of the time), I have had a few human friends, and I am married to a human being (I think.) Apparently, I can carve out places in my hard heart for a very few specific people. And I can care deeply for the rights of human beings in general. But when it comes to relating to strangers or acquaintances I encounter every day…most often I have no use for them. My knee-jerk reaction any time I’m required to interact with other people is to immediately suspect the worst about them; or at the very least to view them as a waste of my time, or an effort I am not inclined to make.

So, while I can read things like the article to which I linked in my previous post, and the truth of the premise can smack me in the face and move me to tears, I can’t live it. My head understands that human beings are every bit as worthy of notice and care as spiders. But I’m having the devil’s own time seeing The Spirit in other people.

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I can fantasize anything I want about a spider and it will not do anything to disabuse me of that romantic notion. Whereas human beings can, and almost invariably do, open their mouths and say something, or act in such a way that lets me know immediately that they are what they are, and not some fairy-tale version of what I’d like them to be. I can’t make them pretty enough to be worthy of my affection and attention. I have to appreciate them for what they are. WAY harder to do that than to embrace a spider as a spiritual messenger. Apparently.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Blessing in the Words of Another

Since becoming a "woman of leisure," I have been studiously avoiding watching television, listening to the radio, even doing more than a surface scan of "news" on the internet. I just don't want to go there. The news is all bad.

This morning, I found blessing in one of the only sources of outside information I still frequent without fear and disgust: the blogosphere. More specifically, my personal "blog list."

Go read this:

Looking for Love

You will be blessed, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Style Out of Time

I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this about myself: I am an inveterate second-hand shopper. I have been haunting thrift stores, flea markets, consignment shops and rummage sales since I pocketed my first babysitting money over forty years ago.

Buying second-hand has been the perfect solution for one as addicted to clothing, shopping, and changing jobs as I have been all my life. My closet is always packed; and if something loses its appeal or goes out of style or “shrinks,” it simply falls off the hanger and into the “donate” bag, making room for the fantastic finds from the next trip to Goodwill.

I don’t know how other cities rank on the “resale bonanza” scale, but for my money, Eugene is right there at the top of the list. There are eight Goodwill stores and probably as many St. Vincent DePaul’s (resale shops run by a Catholic charity) in a metro area with slightly more than 200,000 folks. And it seems that there is a privately owned second-hand or consignment shop in every strip mall or on every other street corner. I don’t know if my fondness for thrift stores blossomed into a full-blown love affair because I lived in Eugene for thirteen years, or if I fell in love with Eugene because I love thrift stores. Either way, we are a perfect match, Eugene and I; even though I no longer live there, I have family that does. So I visit often enough to get my resale fix.

This past weekend, I was in Lane County to attend the Coburg Antique Fair (a nearly rapturous assemblage of peddlers of old stuff which takes over the entire town of Coburg, just north of Eugene, on one Sunday every September.) And, of course, I managed to squeeze in a visit to one Goodwill Store. And I did something that, now that I look back on it, is becoming more indicative of my current incarnation of “used stuff” addiction:

Flipping through the sweaters on a well-stuffed rack, I came upon one that I knew I had owned. Now, I have taken bags to the donation site on Monday only to visit my local Goodwill Store on Friday and find my own (former) clothes tagged and ready for their next adventure. That is kind of a surreal experience. But in this instance, this wasn’t a sweater that I had personally donated. But it was an exact carbon copy of one I had worn and loved—one of my special favorites, in fact—back in the 90’s.

I have no idea how long ago I sent MY sweater away. I’m not sure if it got too small, went out of style, shrank, got holes in it… Or maybe it was during one of my mourning periods, when I tend to divest myself of anything that reminds me of a person, time or place no longer part of my life.

But I looked at that sweater, and I thought:

Wow! I used to have this!

And I still really like it!

And I have two or three of similar style in my closet right now that I bought new within the last year. (You know the old adage… “everything old is yada yada yada.”)

So guess what? I’m buying this!

I have to wonder if my second-hand habit is now enabling me to pick a part of my past and live in it.

But, no… I think it’s more the case that, if you’re around long enough, anything and everything comes back into style. At my age, I know what I like and I’ve figured out what looks good on me. I’ve earned the right to choose whatever I want and just rock it, regardless of what decade it’s from.

Haute couture is for the young. Or the rich.

Take that, Heidi Klum…

Monday, September 12, 2011

Full Moon

I was born under the sign of Cancer the Crab. My “planet” is the moon.

I’m always fascinated by the soaring white, full face of the moon. Time after time I’ve tried to photograph it, but have yet to come up with a very remarkable image. But does being a “moon-child” mean that the full moon should be a time of special energy for me? I wonder.

I remember summer full moons many years ago, when I was a teen-ager; the air would be so soft and warm and the light would be so bright that my sisters and I would pad outside in our pajamas, sit on the grass and bask in the moonlight.

Those were magical nights, nights that affirmed our youth and whispered “Yes!” to all our possibilities. In those days, the path of moonlight on any body of water—even a puddle—seemed to lead to every wonderful thing the future might have in store for me. I was lucky then; I didn’t know sadness or want, hadn’t tasted real grief or heartache.

Tonight, I peer up at the full moon—tinted orange from the smoke of many wildfires in the east—and I don’t see possibilities. What do I see?

I see the coming of Fall, the season I have always loved. I love it still, but not for the same reasons as I did years ago. In my youth, Fall was more about beginnings than Spring ever was: new clothes, new shoes, a new school year; new faces to populate my life; new things to learn and accomplish. For decades after my last day of any school, I felt the newness and promise of Fall.

But now—especially this year—it’s about slowing down and cooling off; doffing the sunglasses and breathing deeply of crisper air. It’s about birds, at my feeders and returning to the wintering grounds on Sauvie Island and the marshes of the Columbia backwaters. It’s about the beautiful, protracted show of turning leaves in the Pacific Northwest; snuggly old sweaters that are the good friends of many years, soft blankets and fluffy comforters. Fall is no longer about newness and beginnings. It’s about comfort and familiarity and nesting.

I realize now that the full moon has not been a great friend to me for several years. She has taunted me with possibilities to which I could not measure up; urged me to newness I could not accept. Was it she, or was it my memory of her shining a path to my future that made me so exasperated with her? During my most difficult years, her bright face was simply a nuisance. I rolled down thick blinds and closed heavy curtains against her; I could not abide her taunting white beacon cutting into my precious few hours of barely restorative sleep.

Now, it seems we’ve come to an understanding, she and I. Tonight, she understands that I am older and tireder. Her orange face is smiling gently down on the me who is much happier thinking about comfort and familiarity than change and beginnings.

I think she and I will rest awhile before she gently begins to nudge me in a new direction.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Climbing Old

It was so inviting. The tree.

Small and squat, yet its hefty trunk bespoke age. A pine of some sort; placed by The Universe through the hands of man. A park tree.

Stout branches reached almost to the ground, like stairs. Or thick rungs of a woody ladder.

I had to. Climb it.

I strode up to the tree, threw my arms around a shoulder-high branch, and lifted my foot to step up to the lowest limb.

But my foot just wouldn’t raise off the ground quite…high…enough. Who knows which muscle or joint betrayed me this time? The hip? The knee? The ankle? The toes?

The arms that couldn’t heft me up a few inches higher to compensate for my compromised lower appendages? The abs that refused to contract sufficiently to haul my butt and legs off the ground?

You have got to be kidding me. When did stepping up onto the branch of a tree that was practically lying on the ground taunting me become beyond my physical ability?

At that point, nothing short of the threat of six months in traction was going to keep me out of that tree. I grunted, strained, scraped and contorted. Finally, I stood in the crook of the lowest branch, my back jammed against the trunk, my fingers gripping the nearest handholds for dear life. Wishing I could savor the victory, but mostly feeling incredibly O.L.D.

And I knew that the simple action of dropping out of the tree was a compound fracture waiting to happen. I would have to holler for the husband to help me get down.

Indeed, I learned a lesson at Nature’s knee that day. But it was not the one for which I had gone looking.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I’m back.

And the only thing I can feel, that I will allow myself to feel, is that I was not ready to come back.

I still had three pairs of clean underwear left.

Lots of lightning flashes of thought shooting around in my brain. None of them that will not, when put to paper, look whiney, sad or regretful. I think I’ll just put all that on the back burner for a little while more. How much easier to do that if I were not…here.

I guess I’ll just go and unpack my wood-smoked laundry.

And plan my next escape