Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sugar on top

As far back as I can remember, my mother had gorgeous hair. She developed a swath of white in the front that contrasted with her black-blue hair when she was pregnant with me.

At least half her strands had turned when I was a preschooler, and by the time I reached middle school, it was completely white. Like a mound of sugar in sunlight. More glittery than a blingee. 

Everyone raved about her hair, and she wore it proudly. Not once did I hear her contemplate coloring it. With all that white, she looked at least a decade younger than her chronological age.

I will always remember the Tibetan nursing assistant who was the last person to wash her snowy cap of hair, just days before she died. Somehow the act seemed reverent and fitting.

All said, my mother was the quintessential role model for going "gray."

So it puzzles me why I haven't done the same.

If I'm lucky (and my roots give me every reason to believe so) I appear to be keeping under the wraps of sepia and golden highlights a show of cool steeliness.

Each month, as I watch the march of white push back the pretend brown, I ask myself:

Is it time?

Image: Artic wolf "seeker" by Mike Lentz

Ahhhhhhhhh . . .

"I teach my sighs to lengthen into songs."

--Theodore Roethke

Image by racytay

Sunday, June 28, 2009

For Katayoon

When I attended the University of Texas at Austin, our dorm -- Newman Hall -- was home to many girls from Iran.

I will always remember one: Katayoon. She was sunny, kind, thoughtful, and a builder of bridges across cultures. From Katayoon I learned about Zoroastrianism and how my friend was a minority in her country because of her beliefs.

She also told me that in Iran, I would have the same name as hers. I always liked that.

As so often happens with college pals, we lost touch after she finished her studies. But she has never left my thoughts.

Katayoon: Please know that I am thinking of you and praying for your safety and your rights. I am and always will be your friend. 


Image of Katayoon Moghadam pottery by sfseperh.com

Hurricane grrrls

The backdrop

The year: 1983.
The season: Hurricane.
The place: Houston.
The month: August, hotter than a glassblower's furnace and a whole lot more humid.

I was 6 months pregnant with the Precious Grrlchild and shaped like a rain barrel. Being 5 ft tall and short-waisted (read more legs than torso), the act of carrying what would be a 9 lb 2 oz baby inflated my everything and then some. 

To a casual bystander, I looked ready to pop. That was to come in handy.

The big event

Out of the Gulf of Mexico came a fury named Alicia. She spun the warm waters into hurricane strength and churned her way toward us. The requisite run on hardware stores began, emptying shelves of batteries, flashlights, and candles.

We X'd our windows with masking tape, filled tubs, sinks, and pots with water, stowed away all that could fly away (tricycles, plastic shovels, lawn chairs), and hunkered down in our south-facing sunroom to watch the show.

And what a performance it was. Trees bowed to the east as branches snapped and flew with leaves and other debris like projectiles. Sudden torrents of rain would blind our view and deafen our ears for what seemed like hours.

And then, eerily, the drama paused. We stood up to take a closer look and grasped at understanding; the eye of the category 3 hurricane was passing directly over our neighborhood.

Men, women, and children poured out of their houses and stared up at sunlight filtering through a haze overhead. The air felt uncannily still. But strangest of all was the silence. No birds, no cicadas, no mosquito buzzing, no traffic sounds, nothing. Like extras in film, we stood around awestruck, dumbstruck.

The intermission was short-lived, though, and the wind picked up again, shooing the spectators back inside. Soon, the wind, the rain, the clamor resumed, and this time the trees bowed to the west under the force of Alicia's 100 mph spiraling winds.

On this side of storm, the real damage mounted. Downed telephone and power lines. Flooded bayous spilling into streets. Roofs impaled by trees. Shards of windows littering yards and sidewalks.

And a city of millions ground to a waterlogged halt.


We had to boil and bleach our water for days. Electricity was out for more than a week, so we operated on battery power as best we could.

This was when no one other than doctors carried pagers, before cell phones and texting and skype. Land lines were life lines. And going without phone service for going on 3 weeks was outrageous, not to mention insanely frustrating.

So when I caught a glimpse of a phone line repair truck passing our house, some kind of madness overcame me. Forgetting my girth, I scrambled aboard Mr. B's bike, peddled with all my might, and huffed and puffed my way after the truck.

The combination of hormones, relentless heat and humidity, and too many days of "making do" turned this preggers citygrrl into a category 5 beast on 2 wheels, and the phone line repairman had no idea what was barreling toward him.

Oh, the look on that poor man's face when I pulled up beside him on that bike. A cascade of shock, horror, pity, and what had to be a valiant effort not to burst out laughing. Then I let loose my pent-up storm:

Would you look at me! I could go into labor any day now!!

(Not exactly true, but a mother tiger must protect her young.) 

Tell me, how am I supposed to let anyone know so I get to the hospital!? I HAVE to have my phone service back!

By this time, he had stopped the truck, and I was trying to balance my heft on a too-big bicycle, staring at him with my round red face, full of self-righteous indignation, just waiting for him to give me some lame customer-service line.

Oh, I was ready, Hurricane Kathleen, big belly and all.

Yes ma'am, I can see that. I'll see what I can do right away.

Smart response. No sassy comeback required. Wind sucked right out of my sails.

Well, then. Please see that you do!

And off I rode back home to where my 2-year-old wild child, by the grace of God, was still napping. (I told you it was madness!)

The dénouement

I checked the phone immediately. And yes, after 3 weeks of waiting, I finally had a dial tone. Bless that man.

Three months later, impossibly bigger and rounder, I gave birth to the beautiful Precious Grrlchild.

She can be stormy, that one. Beautiful and tempestuous.
Or as her high school theater teacher described her:
"Brilliant -- and maddening."

I wonder why.

Image 1 by Weather Research Center
Image 2 by a healthyview.comImage 3 by masslive.com

Friday, June 26, 2009

Through the looking glass

I marveled tonight at what pleasure my little point-and-shoot gives me.

Since I've had it, everything seems illuminated, framed differently. I see composition all around and beauty in the strangest places.
My little electronic companion is doing something wondrous for me -- the visual version of what I heard Mary Oliver say when someone asked her how to become a poet.
Her response: "Cultivate astonishment, and then write about it."

I cannot see myself as a photographer or a poet, but I do believe the act of taking photos is helping me cultivate astonishment.
Yesterday and today, stripes of all kinds requested my presence.
Like these:
 . . . A traffic light post by my morning bus stop . . .

 . . . base of a street lamp . . . 

. . . sewer grate . . . 

. . . empty seats on the 6E bus . . . 

. . . milkweed in Mr. B's pollinator garden . . .

 And last, for Pyzahn of Prattle . . . from the Flatlands, who helped me add some sparkle to my life . . .
Light show

A light show, courtesy of Mother Nature and Blingee

May we all find what peace we can in beauty, even as our world is spinning with sorrow . . .

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What awaits us?

by Chris Heeter

Hanging in the balance
with delicate flower petal wings
the butterfly waits . . . and dries.
Soon she'll launch herself upward,
abandoning her milkweed worm world
for sky and air --
did the caterpillar ever ponder this --

She awakens the dreamer in all of us,
begging the question:
what can we leave behind?
What unfathomable possibilities await
as we transform along the way?


Reprinted with permission
published by Yileen Press.

Image by Harvard Avenue

Monday, June 22, 2009

'Ancora Imparo'

About this time 4 years ago, the big sledgehammer in the sky made a mess of my notions of what my year should be like. Members of three generations in my family were not at all well. Two would slowly mend, and one would die.

It was also a period when the workload of my paying job quadrupled. In the evenings, after making sure my loved ones were safe for the night (or worrying when I wasn't sure), I'd resume my work "day," sometimes finishing around 3 am. I carried on this way for 10 months.

I admire people who can keep up such a pace. But I was not one of them. Eventually I hit the wall. And that was a good thing. I learned that no amount of will or effort on my part would completely restore their health, heal their wounds, or save their lives. 

As much as I loved them, as pure as my intentions, as hard as I tried, I could not make them better. It was the first time I careened head-on into the limits of my personal power. I've always been a willful little thing, and until the year of the sledgehammer, that character trait had reliably helped me muscle through tough times or inspired just the right solution.

It even prompted what I'd considered till then one of the greatest compliments of my life. I had worked side-by-side with a Vietnam vet on a campaign to improve our community for teens. Our efforts ultimately failed, but he said the following: "If I ever have to be in a foxhole again, I hope it's with someone like you!"

But during the year of the sledgehammer, I would finally stand toe to toe and  nose to nose with a harsh truth that had escaped me for decades: Some things are simply out of our hands. 

And those things belong to what I've come to think of as The Great Unknowable. God to some. A higher power to others.

I also learned that when you pour everything you've got into everything you do, you leave nothing in reserve for life's surprises, especially when they show up like wrecking balls.

These days I go out of my way to keep a little something in reserve. I no longer feel guilty about acts of self-care, like getting massage or going on retreat or simply staring at my feet for 30 minutes. It's not a luxury; it's survival.

I wish I could say I've got the lesson down flat. But every so often, that willful little creature shows up again and tests the boundaries.

And that's when I have to remind myself of a beautiful quote attributed to Michelangelo: 

"I am still learning" 

Image 1 by DianthusMoon
Image 2 by Wild Goose Studio - Designs

'Someone to watch over me'

I wasn't feeling 100% this weekend, but this little lady kept a close watch over me, sometimes draping her head on my legs as I rested, sometimes just snuggling up against me.

Every nap from which I awoke, Charlotte's watchful eyes were upon me. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On the longest day of the year . . .

. . . in 1980, I wed Mr. B.

He still calls me his "bride."
He also calls me:

Katie -- when he's jovial
Katherine -- when, well, I haven't really figured that one out yet
Catheter -- when I'm being a pain in the patootie
Cadillac -- when he thinks I'm spending too much money
Katie-cakes -- just because

He still makes me laugh till I cry with his flex-face antics and his inimitable storytelling.
And nobody knows like he does how to simply "be" with me when I'm insufferable.

His children love him. His students love him. Animals love him. Plants love him. And so do I.

Happy 29th anniversary, Mr. B! 


Image 1 by Samantha Lawrence
Image 2 by Erik Baker

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Meet me at the field?

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.”

-- Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Image  by Robb North

Thursday, June 18, 2009

'See the dark lady smile'

Lyrics from Burn It Blue*

by Caetano Veloso & Lila Dawn

Woman so weary 
Spread your unbroken wings
Fly free as the swallow sings 
Come to the fireworks 
See the dark lady smile
She burns…

And the night sky
 blooms with fire
And the burning bed floats higher
And she’s free to fly…

*If you'd like to hear the full song performed,
here's a clip from the Academy Awards performance.

Frida Kahlo mosaic photos shot with my iPhone

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tony's words

My friend Tony is going through a tough time. You can see it in his tired eyes, the slump of shoulders, the clench of his jaws. 

His mother is dying, and not so gracefully, I'm afraid. He talks about wanting to do right by her, and how hard that is when her anger flares and she hangs up on him.

So something he said Sunday pierced my heart like an arrow.

"I'm doing the best that I can."

I get weepy every time I think about the surrender in his voice and his faraway look.

And I've been thinking about why those words reached inside so deeply and made a haunting sound like a  bow across a cello.

I think it's this:

For all their courage and love and endurance, people of great heart like Tony sooner or later stumble upon the limits of their power, like someone in a dark room who can't find the light switch no matter how hard they try.  It's not the kind-one's fault; some rooms simply don't have lights.

But how can a person who's never been in the room before possibly know this? And when dawn's light exposes the bare walls, will Tony be able to forgive himself for not finding what could not be found? Will he hold himself to impossible standards?

Or will he still believe he did the best he could?

I pray he does. I pray we all do.

Image by [xinita] is Oliver Twist!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Peace and the poet

"At times,
each of us needs
to withdraw
from the cares
which will not
withdraw from us."

-- Maya Angelou

Image by tharenddra

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Guest blogger: Charlotte speaks

Wow! I'm beat. So is Cora. Kathleen took us to the dog park two days in a row. And we ran ourselves silly. 

People always laugh at me because I guess I have the longest tongue of any dog at the park. It's funny to zoom by them and hear them burst out laughing.

Cora did something I've never seen her do before. She went up to every little kid at the park and let them pet her. I think she was hoping they had something sticky on their faces so she could "kiss" then clean. But let's keep that our little secret; everyone thought she was being sweet. I was way too busy running, getting games of tag started, and smelling stuff -- you know, the stuff we dogs like but you humans think is gross -- to bother with little kids.

And then there were the squirrels to herd. Have you seen the movie "Up"? I highly recommend it.


I just noticed that Kathleen has two blog rolls now. She's created one that is just dog and Yukon blogs. Sweet! She really is obsessed with us. But maybe the topic of dogs is boring for the rest of you, so I'll try to think of something else to talk about when she invites me to be a guest blogger again.

How about . . . 


Oops, sorry 'bout that. Lost my train of thought.
I'll get back to you on that one.

Hope you all have a good week. And cross your fingers Kathleen gets us to the dog park again before the weekend!

Bye for now,


-- Charlotte

Image by hegtor

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lost anything lately?

Today is the feast day of 
St. Anthony of Padua,
an early Franciscan from the 13th century, 
often considered the patron saint of lost things.

"Tony, tony look around.
Something's lost and can't be found."

I've never invoked St. Anthony's help,
but Fr. Chuck Tally, OFM, of friarside chats
has, "more than once."
Check out his post for a nice little
history of St. Anthony of Padua.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ode to summer

The Base Stealer
by Robert Francis

Poised between going on and back, pulled
Both ways taut like a tightrope-walker,
Fingertips pointing opposites,
Now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball
Or a kid skipping rope, come on, come on,
Running a scattering of steps sidewise,
How he teeters, skitters, tingle, teases,
Taunt them, hovers like an ecstatic bird,
he's only flirting, crowd him, crowd him,
Delicate, delicate, delicate, delicate--now!

Image by churl

Thursday, June 11, 2009

That which connects us

I've had so many conversations about love this week, there must be something in the air besides dandelion fluff and cottonwood fur.

And I'm not talking about romantic love. I'm talking about something more ephemeral, like molecules or wind or stardust. Each conversation seemed to wind itself to this idea: that love connects us all in some way only poets grasp and that maybe science will, too, one day. 

And the other night, as I walked home from seeing some friends, I remembered a moment I had many years ago when I was flying back from a business trip.

The plane encountered turbulence that tipped us downward, fast. Pens and papers and empty wrappers became airborne, and we strained against our seat belts. You could hear, see, and feel the fear all around, a breathless sensation that death was close.

Looking back, I'm sure it was a moment that my life might have flashed in front of me. But that's not what happened.

Instead, I recall a sense of time slowing down and exquisite quiet encircling me.

I've only felt that one other time in my life, and that was when my mother died in my arms in the wee hours of the morning, when her labored exhalations turned into whispers, and slowly, slowly they faded and then stopped.

Moments later, I felt bathed in warmth and glow, as if her spirit had expanded into light and washed over me, leaving only peace.

And on that airplane what came to me with perfect clarity was one simple thought: I have loved and I have been loved. And that is enough.

I have never been afraid to fly since.

Image by wetwater
Image by gari.baldi


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

'Ain't it good to know . . .'

With each true friendship,
we build more firmly the foundation
on which the peace of the whole world rests.

-- Mahatma Gandhi

Image 1 from zbill
Image 2 by carf
Image 3 by Ronai Rocha
Image 4 by MilkaS

Monday, June 8, 2009

Playing with 15 lines

One of my favorite rainy day activities in grade school was a simple art project.

The teacher would take white sheets of construction paper and make one scribble with a black magic marker on each, then hand the papers over to us to create something using her wavy line as a starting place. One look at that mark, and off I'd go with my imagination! Whales and Dr. Seuss-type character and flowers galore.

I've needed something like that lately; the well is running a bit dry at the moment. 

So, thank goodness for Distracted by Shiny Objects who tagged me with a meme that has 15 "lines" I can play with! Thank you, my dear. You spared me from the dreaded blank-screen syndrome!

Here's how it works:

respond and rework
answer questions on your blog
replace one question
tag eight other people.

I'm tagging the following delightful bloggers:

1. What is your current obsession?
One? Seriously? Surely you jest. Besides figuring out how to not stay up so late blogging, I'm obsessed with trying to figure out if I can get myself to the 2010 Iditarod or Yukon Quest to volunteer as a handler. I want to be somewhere in the middle--and get a little mushing in, too. Anyone want to carpool?

Iditarod image by Mike (Picassa)

Yukon Quest image by Yukon White Light

2. Which item of clothing do you wear most?
During the spring and summer: my red Keens sandals. They've hiked through Arizona and kept my toes out of the muck (and away from frogs) when I went kayaking in northern Minnesota last summer. So, how did I ever walk in non-Keens shoes before?

During the winter: my warm, comfy, tromp-through-anything Steger mukluks. (I have the white ones.)

3. What's the funniest knock-knock joke you know?
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Sam and Janet.
Sam and Janet who?

4. Last thing you  bought?
A brownie on a stick (It's a Minnesota thing)

5. What are you listening to?
Grrrrr . . . ringing in my left ear. Started up when I slipped on an icy sidewalk this winter and bonked my head. 

6. If you were a God or Goddess, who would you be?
Cupid. (How fun to make people fall in love!)

Image from chicks57

7. Favourite holiday spots?
  • Wintermoon Summersun -- 40 Alaskan huskies, 300 gorgeous acres of boreal forest and dogsledding trails, Finnish sauna, and so remote you can't even get a cell phone signal there! )

Image of Gabby inside a Wintermoon Summersun cabin by Kathleen Anderson

Islander East  - Galveston -- sand dunes, memories, a new treasure every day

Image from Islander East Condominiums

8. Reading right now?
Fledgling by Octavia Butler. I'm on page 74 and still interested! YES!

9. Okay . . . what were you thinking just then?
Vampires, nice ones with morals and such.

10. Who's your hero/heroine
I can only narrow down to 2.

Victor Frankl: I could read the first half Man's Search for Meaning every year for the rest of my life and still be inspired. I got to hear him speak once -- amazing. I happened to have a copy of his book from the library and was able to his autograph. The "lost" fee on that puppy was $25 and worth every penny!

Thich Nhat Hahn: His very voice lulls me into tranquility and his gentle book, the Miracle of Mindfulness, helped me learn so much about the beauty of meditation.

11. First spring thing?
Looking for weeping willows branches to turn first gold, then chartreuse

Image by birdfarm

12. Funniest thing you saw in your life?
Silly faces Mr. B makes when talking about his adventure as a substitute teacher. He has what I call a flex-face. And there are some movie scenes I can't show, particularly from My Cousin Vinny and a Fish Called Wanda. But for good, clean fun, I've always loved Simon's cat animations. This one got to me tonight!

13. Favourite film?
Oh, that's just impossible. I've been going to movies for a VERY long time. So, in the order that I recall having seen them (which probably isn't accurate but if I research the actual dates, I may never get this posted!), here are a few:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The African Queen
  • The Pink Panther
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Charade
  • 2001
  • Star Wars (the original!)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Bladerunner
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Gladiator
  • Nowhere in Africa
  • Up (just saw it last night--fabulous!)
14. Share some wisdom?
If you ask, "how could things get any worse?" chances are you'll get the answer!

15. If you could be a tree, what tree would you be and why?
Two-way tie.

Up north: A white oak because they're so beautiful, dramatic, frothy, and tall
Tile by Sporck Tileart

Down south: A saguaro (which isn't technically a tree, though they call a bunch of them a forest) because I'd live so long, be home to so many interesting critters, and sport a funny-looking crown of flowers in the spring.
Image by poweron

16. Fictitious character who made a lasting impression on you?
Two-way tie, again!

Captain James T. Kirk -- I had one crazy adolescent crush on the guy and even arranged my college schedule such that I could catch 4 pm reruns with my trekkie friends. (And, yes, I am pleased with the new younger version of him.)

Image from Wikipedia

Anne Edwards -- (from The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell) because she's everything I've always dreamed of being: a physician, wickedly funny, compassionate, a gracious hostess, friends with a Jesuit priest, tall, lean, and a space traveler.  

Image from Wikipedia

So there you have it! And if anyone wants to give this meme a go, have at it! 


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