Thursday, April 30, 2009

The edge of sleep

We must learn to reawaken and keep
ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids,
but by an infinite expectation of dawn.
-- Henry David Thoreau
Image by David

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Birthday presents today:

Beautiful weather
Regular work hours
Tender memories
Dinner with Mr B, eldest son, only daughter, and Sarah Jane
Dark chocolate graham crackers and love-filled Obama-mama card
Water color painting of trees along Lake of the Isles by talented Sarah Jane
Phone call from youngest son
Birthday e-mail with fantastic pictures from Amy darling
Happy pups with tails a-wagging
Silly birthday song voicemail from beloved nieces in Houston
Text message from Julia dear
Sweet e-mail from Princess Sherry
Hilarious e-card from NWD
Birthday e-mail from WintermoonSummersun
72-point font "Happy Birthday" from colleague Aaron
"Eye-pod" card in the mail from CCR
Post of the Day citation from good-hearted David at authorblog
Delightful, funny, inspiring, insightful comments from friendly bloggers
A good-night kiss from Mr. B

All in one day! Just doesn't get much better than that.

Thank you one and all for making this a very fine day.

In gratitude, this one's for YOU . . . go ahead, take 5:

Image from here 

Bearly awake...

Yeah, so I'm a little sleep-deprived?
You'd be, too, if you hadn't slept a full 8 months.

Image by Michael

Sunday, April 26, 2009

And sing "Happy Birthday" while you're at it

Highly recommended by smart people everywhere!
Especially now.

Image by Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Photos

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A rogue and a scoundrel?

Oh, the tales I could tell about my father. Problem is I don't know them all yet.

His life is a mystery slowing revealing itself to me. 

He died in 1993 at age 66 from a heart attack, the kind a pack-a-day of smoking earns you. He died alone, a hermit who had led a fascinating life, then abruptly withdrew from it. From what we've pieced together, he did so to think, and record his thinking, and help administer morphine shots to his dying sister, and be a comfort to his mother when she "survived" the death of her ony daughter to pancreatic cancer.

He died on a Sunday; his body was not found till Thursday. No, not a pleasant scene to enter.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. And I didn't want to make this a long post. I've had a stranglehold on my keyboard this week, ever since news reports of the swine flu "situation" began to emerge. My job is to help businesses prepare for just such events. (I've got lots of blogvisit catching-up to do, and may for a while.)

Back to Daddy 

(Is it a southern belle thing to call your father Daddy? My kids call Mr. B  "Pops," which I prefer.)

Daddy's life: an outline

Born in East Texas, Cajun country (close to where pieces of the shuttle landed)
Kicked out of the home at 14
Hard-drinking days
Serves (in more ways that one--a story to tell later) in World War II and Korea
Earns degree in chemistry
Marriage #1
Hobby: oil painting
Has son, gets divorced
Meets my mom. Marriage #2.
Two years of medical school at Baylor
Wins fiction short story award from the Atlantic
Has me, surprise!
Hospitalized for months. Why: Semi-BLANK
Drops out of medical school
Switches gears, gets PhD in chemistry.
Dissertation on origins of molecules that make up life on earth
Teaches his 4-year-old to play chess
Ends hard-drinking days
Postdoc work at Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto
Insists his daughter introduce him to her friends as Dr. Kimball
Hobby: reads piles upon piles of science fiction
Takes daughter on Saturdays to look at jewelry, pens, books with his name in them
Claims he's an atheist
Makes yearly retreat with Jesuits
Tries unsuccessfully to teach his 9-year-old how to do calculus
Adopts twice, one girl (half Mexican/half slavic), second girl (half Mexican/half Irish)
Brings home brand new car, never having consulted his wife
Brings home mice to inject 'round the clock for his research
Moves back to Texas for tenure-track position at University of Houston
Hobby: Painting with acrylics
Hobby: Making perfumes
Hobby: Making fudge
Grad students love him, some a bit too much
Divorce #2
Very popular lecturer; gets lots of grants, awards, recognition
Hippy stage, wears toupe & denim
Conducts ground-breaking research
Develops drug that cures a form of childhoold leukemia (still used)
Marriage #3
Earns tenure
Walks first daughter down the aisle
Develops heart troubles; gets angioplasty
Not asked to walk second daughter down the aisle
Walks 3rd daughter down the aisle
Diagnosed with narcolepsy
More heart troubles
Divorces 3rd time
Hopes for Nobel Prize
Does not receive Nobel Prize
Retires early
Moves close to sister and mother

He didn't have many belongings in his apartment when we 3 sisters arrived to clean it out.  He had books, though. Lots of books. Lots of books on dinosaurs. We couldn't find a will. We kept a few of his books and belongings, but his clothes clung to the smell of death, so we couldn't donate them. We did box up most of the books to give to charity.

On the day of his funeral, I decided to go through the boxes of books one last time. Though we'd each flipped through them searching for his will, which we knew he'd been working on, we never found one. In looking for that one thing, though, we missed a few important others.

Until the morning of his funeral.

That soggy August morning in Houston, I walked out to my sister's garage where we'd lined up the boxes. I wanted one last look at his books before they were to leave our sight forever. I ran my fingertips slowly across the terrain of hardback spines. Maybe it was a way of trying to be close to him by touching some thing that he treasured.

It worked.

To my surprise, I found the following:

Item #1.  A King James bible with a card tucked in marking a page. Printed on one side of the card was a picture of St. Francis; the other side held the lovely peace prayer attributed to him.  I wished I'd paid attention to the pages the card marked, but that's one mystery that will remain unsolved.

Item #2.  A journal he'd kept for 10 years beginning in 1981, when my oldest son was born. The weathered blue canvas cover had a blank spine, perhaps why we missed it. But the first page bears the the following inscription: "To be given to my daugther Kathleen Kimball-Baker, who is instructed after my death to give this to my first grandson, Sean, when she deems him old enough." It is filled with a carefully numbered potpourri of musings, theories about life, observations about society and all sorts of things, quips, and a few choice remarks about women. Just like a scientist to index his observations!

Dr. Kimball always called himself a "rougue and a scoundrel." I am quite sure he was right. But I'm also convinced there's much more to the story.

So much for a short post.

Image 1 by Chemical Heritage Foundation
Image 3 by maximolly
Image 4 by guldfisken
Image 5 by Chocolate Geek

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

May your 10 toes curl as our earth does a twirl

Know how you can get a song stuck in  your head?

Well, now that I've discovered David McMahon's delightful authorblog and his verse-and-worse feature, I can't seem to stop myself  from thinking in rhymes! Helpful, though, for not taking oneself too seriously. Thank you so much to all who stopped by with a bit of wit. 

And in honor of our lovely planet today, I turn to the charming Minnesota poet John Caddy, who calls himself  "an aging poet whose spirit is more lively all the time."

April 20, 2009 Morning-Earth

Beaver rummaged under the pond bank
and came up with a root treat.
Now, as beaver rolls against his teeth
the tasty root, it satisfies so entirely
his eyes closes and his flat tail curls.

Makes me wish we had tails to curl
We must make do with  our ten toes.

(A frog, why'd it have to be a frog?)

And now for a little story about John Caddy . . .

Not long ago, quite by coincidence, I signed up for a daily photo and poem known as morning-earth. The idea sounded great to me. (How many people take the time to
write and publish a poem and offer a fascinating photo every day? Besides David, of course.)

I'm so glad I did. This is not an e-mail I plunk into virtual trash when I'm overly busy. In fact, when I'm overly busy, it's one of two e-mails I find I must open. Every morning, I'm treated to bit of the wild and some lovely words to accompany one of John's photographs, which he often takes on walks near his home a bit north of the Twin Cities.

It's been great way to start the day. So when I began to blog, I asked for his permission to use one of his pictures from time to time, and thus began some of the funiest, mosty pithy e-mail correspondence I've ever had.

Doing his due diligence before granting me permission, John checked out easy for me to say and discovered from one of my grumpier posts that I was recovering from a bad concussion. He wrote back and shared that he knew a bit about brain trauma because he'd had a stroke. He reminded me that our brains are largely made of water and that we must be kind to our "organized puddles."

Point well taken.

Not long after that, I attended a reading by my friend, wilderness guide and poet Chris Heeter, who'd just had a book of poetry published. The event also featured Jim Johnson, poet laureate of Duluth, who was reading when I arrived (late as usual) midway through the event.

I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, which is not so easy when you've got to shed 3 layers of outerwear in a room packed with people listening to a poet.

The gracious Louise Erdrich, author of Love Medicine and The Beet Queen, who owns
Birchbark Books, where the reading was held, kindly helped me find the one unoccupied chair at a crammed table near the door, and I squished myself in to hear some very fine poetry, unfortunately never paying attention to anyone sitting around me. (I really must work on this paying-attention thing.)

The next day, I e-mailed John to ask him if his ears had been burning the day before. Jim Johnson had mentioned him. John wrote back immediately and said he had actually been there. And as it turns out, he was sitting at the very same table that I was. 

Such a small world, this planet. 

It's still Earth Day somewhere (in California, I think) so I'd like to do my part to honor our planet, and I can't think of a better way to do so than to blantantly plug Morning Earth, in John's own words, of course: 

"Morning Earth's focus is to help people of all ages to discover and adopt an eco-centric world view. Such a view sees humanity not as above nature or in conflict with it, but as a literal part of the Earth, with a body made of Earth . . . 

Art and artmaking have the power to heal--as we experience the arts, we learn that none of us is alone. When we take our pain out of ourselves and transform it into a poem, a song, a dance, it becomes outside of us, which enables us to deal with it in a way we couldn't when it was locked  inside.

Turning the leaf, when we celebrate our joy and transform it into a poem, a sketch, a twirl around the room, our celebration becomes shareable, our joy passed to others. It expands. It makes our single selves become part of a larger whole.

Poetry is a path to the heart. Engage the heart, and the mind will follow.

Amen to that. 

I hope you'll pay a visit to Morning Earth, especially if you're a teacher, a poet, an artist/naturalist, an artist of any ilk, or just a very nice person or a philanthropist.

Here's to all who help us connect art, healing, and the home we call Earth! May your toes curl often.

Image and poem printed with permission from
Image of John Caddy by Pioneer Press

(Thank you, John.
Yours truly,
Smiling Woman, aka Curly)

Lighten up, already

After 24 hours of pointless brooding, I have concluded that I am taking my life and predicament of the month far too seriously.
All jokes, riddles, links to wildly funny posts, and quips are hereby requested. 
In the meantime, I'll keep myself entertained with these fine goofballs:

Image 1 by D'Arcy Norman
Image 2 by Linda Hartman
Image 3 by phae
Image 4 by mybloodyself

Monday, April 20, 2009

Vicissitudes of Spring

The Wind
by Robert Louis Stevenson

I saw you toss the kites on high
And blow the birds about the sky;
And all around I heard you pass
Like ladies' skirts across the grass--
O wind, a-blowing all day long,
O wind, that sings so loud a song!

I saw the different things you did,
But always you yourself you hid.
I felt you push, I heard you call,
I could not see yourself at all--
O wind, a-blowing all day long
O wind, that sings so loud a song!

O you that are so strong and cold
O blower, are you young or old?
Are you beast of field or tree,
Or just a stronger child than me?
O wind, a blowing all day long
O wind, that sings so loud a song!

Image 1 by dps
Image 2 by meanest indian

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I swear

Not really.

Well, OK, sometimes.

But not in front of the kids.

One of the house rules was no swearing. I wanted, still want, a civil home. We definitely were NOT the Waltons. But those kids sure policed their friends in this house. Mr B, on the other hand, was not policeable.

I know my kids cuss with the best of them now.  Even caught one of them using the "F" word on a very funny YouTube video, horror or horrors. But they still keep it clean at home. And I appreciate it.

I had a friend in college whose parents gave her permission to swear all she wanted on one condition: The swear words had to be original. She came up with this: "Ah, sizzlebritches!" Kind of fizzles if you ask me. Just doesn't have the bite-your-bottom-lip-and-let-'er-rip blast that goes with "f."

As for me, most of the time "Shahzbat" does the trick. Kinda like this (19 seconds in):


Image by O2b

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My little secret

I overheard a therapist in a gift shop once carry on about how delighted she was to find the perfect sculpture for her office. I couldn't bring myself to look at it, but I knew what it was by how she cheerfully described its features.

And I knew how very wrong she was in assuming she'd found a perfectly "safe," nonthreatening object to use as decor in her practice.

I milled around a bit, pretending to look at things nearby. I bit my fingernails, tried hard to mind my own business, but in the end, I caved. I did it for humanitarian reasons. If she had a patient like me, they'd both regret her purchase. 

So I told her. And she looked at me like I was crazy. She was about to purchase a frog sculpture. That's right. A frog.

They terrify me. Toads, too.

Stupid, irrational, ridiculous, nuts -- and true.

No one in my family can explain the orgins of this fear, but everyone is well aware of it. I guess my frog-terror shrieks are memorable.

My dear mother, God rest her soul, thought she'd help me conquer my little quirk when I was about 7. She enrolled me in a community ed class on amphibians and reptiles. We were supposed to handle them. I think I may have touched the tippy top of one horny toad head. And I'm pretty sure that kicked my fear up a notch to full-blown phobia.

To my horror, toads in summer think they rule Houston's grassy patches as soon as the sun sets. Any young man who dared date me between May and October had to carry me across our infested lawn to the front door so that my feet never touched a blade of grass. And even then I kept my eyes squeezed shut until we got inside, because toads tended to lurk beneath the doorstep. And they never jumped away from me. Never! Always at me. Explain that. Thank God my steady beau in those days was a lifeguard with sizable shoulders and I was barely 100 pounds soaking wet.

Which reminds me, imagine how many pool parties I had to skip for fear of seeing the little urchins hopping their way into aqua-blue heaven.

When my first-born was about 3, he came running up to me full of glee, wiggly toad in hand. I had to think fast that time and put on a brave face (as we all know what little boys are made of).
 I believe that's when I first dabbled in the art of guilting my children.

Oh, honey, that poor little frog. I just bet his mother is terribly worried about him. She's probably crying her heart out now thinking she will never see her little frog boy again.

All happiness drained from his sunny face and big fat tears welled up as he turned to take froggie back home. Not that I waited to see where that was.

Yes, I preyed upon my preschooler's lovely sense of empathy. Do I regret it? Not one bit. I suspect I nipped in the bud years of torment. (He turned out just fine, not to worry.)

If anyone has ever tried to tease me with a frog, I'm sure I've repressed the memory. I wish I could say I've felt remorse seeing flattened frogs on roadways. Never have. More like pure relief, one less creepy hopping thing in the world. And, yes, I've heard a thousand times how perfectly harmless they are. Doesn't matter a whit.

Mr. B once told me that when he first learned to golf, he'd find little frogs caught up in his cleats. You can be sure that's one sport I will never take up, no matter how beautiful the courses are supposed to be. I'll run the Iditarod 5, 10, 20 times before I set a spiky shoe on a golf course.

So the secret's out.

Maybe that's why I moved 1,300 miles north. Not that we don't have toads or frogs in Minnesota, but I wear big honkin' boots and make sure my pants are thoroughly tucked into my bulky socks if I'm going to be anywhere they might be. And I don't look down. Ever. Easier that way to spot bears, which I much prefer.

I have to say, the arctic circle sounds better and better every summer. They don't have frogs in Alaska, do they?

Global warming? can't hear you.

Illustration by Tony Segale

(I couldn't look at pictures for this post. And Mr. B just told me I'd never make it in Australia or New Zealand, because frogs there can get to be 3-5 pounds! Does anyone know if that's true?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grace, or something like it

This post is inspired by a question raised by Pyzahn, author of Prattle. . . from the Flatlands.

I had a few minutes before I was to meet a friend for coffee, so I stopped at a sweet little store that recently opened. It's called the Heart of Tibet. New to meditation, I thought it might be interesting to try out some prayer beads. I browsed and picked a strand made of sandlewood.

Ringing up my purchase was an older woman, on the short side, her hair shaved to tiny bristles of gray, her smile wide and inviting, her face lined with story. She fumbled a bit with the register, then decided to do the math by hand. She took the beads, rubbed them briskly between her hands, and handed them to me.

"Here, nice smell. You like?"

Oh yes, I liked the smell, and their warmth, her warmth. I told her what I was doing and that I planned to use them to meditate. She clapped her hands together as if I'd just told her she had a new grandbaby. And then she took the beads back from me, brought them close to her lips, and began to chant something softly over and over. When she stopped, she grinned and opened her eyes.

"You know Buddhist prayer compassion?"


"You want to learn?"


"I teach you." That smile again.

And thus began a very slow phonetic lesson.


I did pretty well with the first 5 sounds, but that last one stumped me, so she rummaged for a discarded register receipt and wrote each word down. And then she explained the meaning behind each one, most of which made sense, except something that sounded like nasty, ill-tempered little creatures who were not happy but whom we must still love.

I was beginning to worry about the time now, and had to excuse myself before I completely understood the full meaning of the prayer. She let me go without hesitation and invited me to come back any time and learn more. With full intention, I said I would.

I've seen her since then in the neighborhood, buying something at the co-op, and another time as I waited by the bus stop, which is in front of the store. I was looking at the window display, crammed with stuffed animals, and I almost missed her. She nearly blended into the dark interior of the shop, still like a statue, eyes fixed on something that I certainly did not see.

Weeks later, when I did return, the owner of the shop, a younger woman, maybe of Scandinavian descent, was at the counter. I inquired about the compassion-prayer woman.

"Oh, that's An. She's my sister-in-law."

"Ah, well I was wondering, is she actually from Tibet?" 

"Yes, in fact she's a nun. She even lived in a cave for a while in Tibet. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a nun. Isn't that amazing? An is a term that means sister."

"I see. Well, will you tell her that the woman she taught the compassion prayer has memorized it and says it everyday on the bus now?"

"Oh, she'll be so happy. Yes, I'll tell her."

. . . . . . . . . . .

Most days, I jumble prayer and meditation together.

And some days, when I'm very distracted, I close my eyes, breathe deeply the way Thich Nhat Hanh says to do in the Miracle of Mindfulness , then recite a few Om Mani Padme Hums to quiet down and make sure I'm remembering to send compassion to everyone/thing who/that needs (didn't say deserves) it.

Almost always, I begin with the serenity prayer, move through a few other favorites, and arrive at the lovely peace prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

By this point, I'm pretty mellow, and I can go in different directions, depending on what's going on in my life. But I always close by turning my will and willfull ways over to The Great Unknowable, adding formally (mostly for my own benefit) that I'm letting go of the outcomes of my requests and making a leap of faith that what is best will happen, even if I don't like it or can't understand it. And I always try my best to listen, but I've got a long ways to go.

That's on my good days.

On harder days, I think I have a running conversation with God, frantically asking for help minute by minute. And sometimes, I wail till I exhaust myself and reach the soft, puddly stage where I can give up, wave the white flag, and just go to sleep.

I have plenty of stories of what has happened when others have prayed on my behalf. But I'll save those for now.

As of today, I have no clue if there's a right or wrong way to pray or meditate. Don't think I ever will. Well, maybe, if I study Buddhism, but I think my Catholic nature will always stick around.

Still, I do know with dazzling clarity when I've touched that holy place inside where I feel connected like a trail of star dust to all that is good (and bad), but most especially to grace.

Image by neocorsten

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Favorite last lines

Spoiler Alert:

Simply put, I adore this final passage from
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston. 

"The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon line like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much life in its meshes. She called her soul to come and see."


"Zora . . . had a fiery intellect,
an infectious sense of humor,
and 'the gift' as one friend put it,
'of walking into hearts.'

--from The Official Zora Neale Hurston Website 

Image 1: "The Sun" by Natalia Wilms, available from imagekind

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Got a code in my noathe

and a cough in my chest and tummy troubles and I think I'm just going to go to bed now.
Night, night...

Image by Digital Explorer

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Yeah, that

The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water,
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.

Image by A1ik

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I miss my teens

I'm not talking about my teen years, but the years my kids were teens.

For 24 months, Mr. B and I had 3 teens under our roof. More if you count the friends who swept through, too, during those years. As a parent, the teen years truly were the most delightful. My children could feed, dress, and put themselves to sleep--and even wash their own clothes.

These years were not without gut-wrenching sorrow and heartaches, to be sure (the ones you often hear about involving sex, cars, booze, bad choices, and the like). And they most definitely tested the mettle of my parenting self-worth.

But they were not at all what I expected.

Had I been thinking rationally, I should have known better, the first clue being the unquestioned assumptions and generalizations people tolerate: teens are rude, teens are selfish, teens are druggies. Tell me, when have generalizations about anything been airtight?

They're such easy targets for criticism, teens. So few people sing their praises, except for the occasional story of one who has started a nonprofit to feed hungry children worldwide or triumphed during the national spelling bee or shown virtuoso artistic abilities while still wearing braces.

But what about the teen who bags groceries, or waits tables, or walks down the street with the hoodie pulled over his head out of shyness rather than sinister motives?

What I've come to understand is that people by and large accept the negative assumptions about the teens they don't know. Their nieces and nephews and grandkids apparently are of a different ilk, one that earns them bragging rights.

So, it wasn't dread exactly that I felt when my children advanced into the double-digits. But certainly nobody slapped me on the back and said "Congratulations!"

I wish they would have.

On the whole, watching each of my kids swirl through the teens years was magnificent and rewarding. They seemed like stem cells, full of potential, just ready to spin into something unforeseen and grand at any moment. They could be philosophers one day, wicked comedians the next.

They introduced me to music, fashions, vernacular I would not have found or understood on my own, ever. Their friends trusted me with information I thought reserved only for priests and lawyers. They filled our home with contagious laughter and energy that crackled and rivaled the force of Hoover Dam.

While helping chaperon a group of 120 teens to Manhattan one year, I was "mom" to 12 girls. Ten minutes before bed check, I called ahead to my 3 rooms and gave them a heads-up that I was coming. They herded themselves back to their quarters and were always present and accounted for when I showed up.

One room of talented warblers asked me to sing them a lullaby. Most intimidating, but I gave them my best, and when I tried to leave, they clung to my sleeves and begged me not to go. I had to run down the hallway to escape as they gave chase with me shouting hollow threats about calling their teachers and putting them on the next flight home. Five minutes later, just outside my door, I was serenaded with 4-part harmony of "Hush a-bye, don't you cry." Right. As if the lady who wants to be a professional recital attendee could possibly keep a dry eye.

OK. I should have stopped myself earlier; I can really get my rant on when I talk about teens, because I adore them. I admire the courage it takes for them to get out of bed each morning and face their insecurities and high or low expectations of their parents and ride their white-water emotions.

I love them for how different they are, even as they try so hard to fit in with each other. I even like them when they get snarky, surly, or standoffish. And that's because, by and large, I like most anyone, young or old, most of the time. Alright, there are a few exceptions, who shall remain nameless.

So why am I shouting from my soapbox now, given that all my kids are adults?

Because today I watched my beloved nieces and nephews hunt for plastic eggs, prance about in their Easter finery, and soak up the love and adoration of their family.

And I want the rest of the world to love them as much as I do, even when they're teens.

And I believe in the Easter Bunny still, too.

Image by uh-bob
Painted rock image from a library opening
Image by teachandlearn
Image of Nina by Mr. B

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Discovering fire, again

"Someday, after we have mastered the winds,
the waves, the tides and gravity,
we shall harness for God
the energies of love.
Then for the second time
in the history of the world,
we will have discovered fire."

Image 1 by Dale Keys
Image 2 by Daniel Green

Friday, April 10, 2009

Back in the swing of things

I imagined that I'd be jumping for joy right now.

I got the "all clear" from my doctor today; I've recovered sufficiently from the concussion to resume life. So why am I not swinging from the rafters, shouting alleluia?

Perhaps because I feel cautious.

After two months of being on "brain rest," I no longer know what "normal" is. But my hunch is that not know is actually a good thing.

Before crash-landing on my "Sarah Bellum" that icy day in February, I charged at life full tilt. I had no patience for limitations, no perception even that I might have any. I frequently heard at
doctor visits the following question, "Why did you wait so long to come in?" And truth be told, I just didn't recognize pain or discomfort until it was unbearable. Or I ignored it.

I'm beginning to understand now that I have a neck bone connected to a back bone connected to a hip bone connected to a leg bone. But that simple jingle from childhood was lost on me--completely, for decades. I've been mainly headbone. Which is really more like bonehead.

If my head said, "Yeah, sounds like a great idea to go kayaking in the choppy waters of the Sea of Cortez or climb the nearest what if I've never lifted a paddle or even a single weight to build some upper body strength or walked or jogged farther than a few blocks," I simply marched my body straight ahead, blinders on, no questions asked.

I have a certain admiration for the woman who did that. Always will. She was mighty lucky to have made it as long as she did. But I'm leaving her where she belongs.

It seems I've been given the the opportunity to recreate, to have a lick of sense, to move forward tempered and still joyful, still wild but in a different way.

And rested, much more rested.

I'll accept that as a gift from The Great Unknowable and cherish it like the babies I birthed. I'll do what is asked of me, rather than what I demand of myself. Seems fair enough.

(Though I still plan to go mushing come winter. Godwilling, that is.)

Image 1 by bartt
Image 2 by brit

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Overheard today...

'Tween boys arguing about "the rules" while standing underneath a basketball hoop attached to the garage:

"Come on.
We don't need a psychologist here.
We just need to play ball!"

Image by ellievanhoutte

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dove or woman?

Thank you to knitting nurse for the inspiration...

The last time I spent a weekend at my favorite escape, a retreat farm called Clare's Well, I managed to quiet my head by Saturday afternoon. I sat on the narrow little bed along the south-facing windows, utterly guiltfree, just staring outside as the sun warmed me almost to sleep.

I always notice birds when I'm there. And on this visit, a dove caught my eye.

Just steps away from my hermitage, she sat on a bare tree limb, perfectly balanced. From time to time, she'd come down, take a few steps on the ground, stand about for a bit as if transfixed by something, then fly back up to her leafless branch.

All her movements were so slow and measured and patient. Even when the chilly March breeze swayed her branch, she simply kept her balance, unruffled, able to shift and adjust.

What is like to be so present, so unbothered, so still, I wondered?

Funny how it took me till now to realize how gently she was guiding me.

Image by Eric Begin

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Childhood memory

Palo Alto Morning
April 7, 2009

A pouty shroud
of morning fades,
her time today gone

and gloss arrives to
lounge about every
dark, waxy leaf

moving like some
grande dame who
simply must cast off

a slipstream of ivory
scent, more delicate than
lemons thinly sliced

I know what this means.
I squint and sneeze;
Magnolias have opened.

© All rights reserved.
For Mom, who introduced me to these beauties
Image by machado17

Monday, April 6, 2009

Could I be devolving?

I admit I go overboard with dogs, but this is too much even for me.

I bit Mr. B. On his hand.

Not on purpose, but hard. Not hard enough to break his skin, but plenty hard to cause pain.

I don't know how it happened; I was asleep.

I was having a nightmare and dream-shouting, "No, no, no." Mr. B reached over in a daze to gently nudge me awake and I chomped down on his hand. He tried to move it, but I clenched harder, so he left his hand between my canines till the nightterror passed and my jaws gave way.

At least that's what he tells me. Assuming he was not hallucinating himself, I'd sure like to have a word with whomever selects my dreams. 

If I'm going to be a dog, I'd really prefer to be an Alaskan Husky, not a pitbull.

Is that so much to ask?

(Please note: I have nothing against pitbulls. In fact, I really like them. I even rescued one that followed me home one day, and I paid $75  for the option to make sure she would be adopted. I would just rather run like crazy in the snow than bite things.)

Image by faster panda


"...laughter is carbonated holiness."

--Ann Lamott
from Plan B

Image by apdurruti
Image by cams-not-in-lux
Image by =[michael]=

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Saturday's soundtrack

My soundtrack today has been the song Nature Boy. Not sure why, except I love the last lines.

So I watched a Nat King Cole clip on YouTube and it struck as way too eerie, though the man had one seriously gorgeous voice. Then I played the version from Moulin Rouge, and it sounded off key, and I don't have the slightest sense of pitch.

But I finally I landed on this performance, which captured exactly the mood that was humming around in my head today. Good lord, how is it I've never heard Lizz Wright before? What a talent. She's accompanied by a gentleman on the bongos, and watching them perform together felt like seeing a candle flame burst into a bonfire.

We're talking H-O-T.

I've just got to get out more.

Hope you enjoy!

Image by consumerfriendly

Friday, April 3, 2009

She showed us

When she was about 7, my little sister caught a bird. I'm sure that doesn't sound all that remarkable. But here's the deal: She was considered a bit, well, hyper.

She'd get so wound up at times, she'd do things like build a "fort" in our backyard, complete with perfect lines, hardwood floors, and a shingled roof, all in one weekend. And that was when she couldn't sit still in math classes, so how she learned to use a ruler is a mystery to me. 

Our Uncle Simone, a Frenchman from Martinique, thought she was the best thing since chocolate croissants, which was good, because my dad didn't find her wild nature all that amusing, and it always scared me when I'd see her start to wind up and his patience approach its very short limit.

But Uncle Simone never tired of her antics. He was a huge tease, and once, he suggested that she could never be still long enough to "catch a bird in a tree."

Not one to walk away from such a challenge, she marched outdoors and shimmied up a tree just outside my aunt and uncle's picture window. I was doing homework at the time, and I'd glance outside every so often, fully expecting to see her to kicking a ball around or engaged in some activity that involved full-body movement. Ultimately, I had to put my notebook down and simply watch.

I kid you not, I witnessed her press her wiry little body flat against a branch and maintain complete stillness for more than two hours. Felt like I was watching the 8th wonder of the world. 

At some point, a bird apparently mistook her for the branch, and she burst back into the house, bird proudly in hand, huge grin stretched across her face.

The label hyperactive doesn't begin to describe the range this girl had. Today she's one of a small group of female firefighters in Houston. It suits her well, a lot better than any other label she acquired growing up.

And I still look at her in wonder.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


So there I was yesterday trying to act all grown up when I discovered something that brought all progress toward adulthood to a squawking halt. I found out that distracted by shiny objects (is that not the greatest line?) had "tagged" me to receive only the the grooviest award of my life, and this just made me what to stand on a table with a gaggle of friends and perform the funky chicken.

But seeing as how I was sitting up in bed, draped in dogs, and doing one last check of e-mail (and a couple of blogs) as poor Mr. B tried to get enough sleep to safely drive 3 hours to Morris, MN, pick up our son Erik, and drive 3 more hours back to the cities all in one day, I restrained myself. 

T'aint gonna be any restraint today, boy-howdy, cuz there's cause for celebration. Here's what I'm clucking about:

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all...

Now here's the kicker: In my current line of work, editing a Web site about pandemic influenza (known in the vernacular as bird flu), I'm among the first to know when masses of poultry around the world are headed to the great free range in the sky because they're cursed with a very bad virus and could sicken very nice people. Some day, all those "culled" poultry are going to rise up in one great zombie rebellion, and it isn't going to be pretty. I'm not sure what will be worse--pandemic influenza or the invasion of some very hacked-off zombie chickens.

Therefore, I'm not taking any chances, and I'm bestowing this great honor on the following:

1. Jennifer on the verge, whose wicked sense of humor and dazzling take on life deserve more light of day.

2. Johnjoiner, a self-described "peaceful guy with good hands and an unnatural appreciation for the smell of wood."

3. Tales of a big dog, because canines have feelings, too, and we can all learn how to get along better if we watch how they behave (when they sleep).

4. Juhnke's Junket, whose entries I dare not read when I have a beverage in my mouth and who will someday be our president because she has completed her senior seminar and will be moving to Washington, DC, and is smart as a whip.

5. This 'n That of Life, because the author wrote a 50-page novel in 7th grade, is a splendid wordsmith who should be honing his sharp talent daily (or I may have to "unbirth" him) and blogging may be the only way I can keep track of him now that he's graduating from college and going on a archeological dig in Portugal, and finally, because today is his birthday. 

There are others I know who deserve this honor, but they're shy and probably don't want public attention drawn to them. They know who they are, and they can let me know if I have had yet another lapse in good judgement.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

Image by Chrisirmo

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Such great heights

I had big plans today.

It's my mother's birthday, and I spent the afternoon thinking about her, revisiting journals, and just remembering, remembering. I wanted so much to write about her, but nothing downloaded itself.  And now I know why.

This evening my eldest son called to see how I was feeling. Sometimes I'm a mess on these anniversaries. But the spill I took Feb 11 may have rattled something loose in my head and made me less morose. Hope so. Or maybe it's just that time softens the edges of grief, like agates in a rock tumbler. Or maybe it's my beloved ones who are still alive. Yes, that's it. 

So, today is Sean's turn. He doesn't blog. He's busy tapping maple trees, making brews and mead with ingredients he's foraged in the city, inoculating our yard with mycelium, coaching soccer, and preparing himself to be something like an earth doctor.

Four years ago, however, he took time to visit his Gramma in her "apartment," and he invited her to write poetry. They brainstormed topics and came up with this one: the love of children.

I saved the paper she used. You really can't make out any words, but the sketch of her delicate handwriting is present, despite the Alzheimer's. Sean's poem, I think, speaks for both of them. He was her first grandchild and she adored him and doted on him, as she did with all 7 of her very fortunate grandchildren.

By Sean Baker

To take a piece of my soul
hand it over unconditionally,
nurture the seed until a new
person emerges, with her
own soul wrapped safely
with mine until enough courage
is summoned to leap free
taking small mementos of
the most memorable of me,
Ah, that is joy

And here's the lovely song by Iron and Wine that all 3 of my children sang and played for her as she lay dying. It always reminds me of her.

Image of seedling by Matthew Fang


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