Thursday, December 31, 2015

Miracle on New Year's Eve

A small miracle today: On my jog, a pit-bull mix came growling up behind me. I stopped, turned and said, "Whoa, that's not nice. I'm not bothering you."

He cocked his head, puzzled, then trotted back into his yard. Whew!

Does that make me a dog whisperer? Probably not. But I will give wide berth to that particular house.

Later, gazing at blue sky through bare trees above a pond by my new home, I realized how blessed I am to end this year unharmed.

That evening, I watched the sun slide away and wrote:

New Year’s Eve, 2015

Horizon glows amber, backlights bare trees,
casts shadows onto steel-tinted pond.
Fog that worried our weatherman failed to arrive.

The squirrel-proof birdfeeder replenished,
I cozy into winter quiet, grateful
this year ended clear and dry
and safe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Monday, November 30, 2015: The movers stashed my stuff in their truck and drove it to the warehouse. That night, I stayed in my empty apartment, sleeping bag with airbed on the floor.

Tuesday, December 1: I paced and prowled, waiting for the cleaning woman. We arranged that she would do the walk-through with the landlady. I began my journey north that afternoon under sunny California skies.

I made it as far as Morgan Hill where an old college boyfriend has lived for years. I decided against attempting contact.

Wednesday, December 2: Ashland, Oregon! In my motel, I commemorated with a new Oregon poem –

Last night I slept near
an old lover and dreamt us
young again
then spent today
chasing rainbows north,
toward the place we met.

Now I wrestle with dark hours
before dawn,
eager to complete my journey:
An old poet, homeward bound.

Thursday, December 3: Oregon welcomed me with green hills, warm rain and scattered blue spaces overhead. I rolled into Eugene early in the afternoon.

Friday, December 4: I got the key to my beautiful condo and called the moving company. When would my goods arrive?

Well, they hemmed, the driver was to pick it up yesterday. He never showed. Never called. They would reschedule. They would let me know.

So, not until next week?

Yeah. We’ll contact you.

Saturday, December 5: I bought a nice oak captain’s chair at Goodwill, a small table at Freddie’s and a camp cot at BiMart – no more sleeping on the floor for me!

Sunday, December 6: I moved into my empty new place.

Monday, December 7: Running out of clothes. I started the washer and was soon awash in water!

The drain hose had not been connected and water simply ran in, then out. Turning the machine off was little help. This would have been less of a problem had the washer been on the ground floor. Instead, water found its way down, down, down through a light fixture to the hall below.

I threw all my dry clothes under the washer, and raced downstairs, dialing the landlord as I ran. Thankfully, he answered my distress call and promised help.

I was borrowing towels from my neighbor when he called back. His friend would be arrive in minutes to begin the process of ripping things up and drying them out.

I moved back to my friend’s house and called the movers. Still no plan, no schedule. They would let me know.

Wednesday, December 9: The house was a dry 85 degrees, like a sauna. I would stay away another night.

I’d been told they would redo the floor and re-tack the carpets on Thursday.

Thursday, December 11: I trundled back early and waited. The floor guy called at noon. They would be here at noon - tomorrow.

“I was promised you’d be here today,” I groaned.

“Tomorrow,” he repeated.

I used the afternoon to get cable equipment, start newspaper delivery and haunt resale stores for ‘necessary’ items.

The moving company called. Someone named Monroe would pick up my stuff on Saturday and deliver on Sunday – the final day of their estimated delivery schedule. The weather threatened snow in the mountains.

On Saturday, with the washer still not set in place and running out of clothes, I made a run to the laundromat. No word from this Monroe guy.

Sunday, December 13: I woke at 5 a.m. excited as a kid at Christmas. But had Monroe-the-mover has made it safely over the Siskiyou Summit? Is he sliding closer in his oversized sleigh?

Then the texts began.

8:38 a.m.
The passes have too much snow on them right now, going to wait until later and see if they clear up. Probably won’t be there till tomorrow . . . don’t want to be stuck on a mountain in the snow.

(me: Okay, thanks for letting me know)

You’re welcome. I’ll let you know later.

(me: okay, so where are you?)_

Weed, CA

(me: lovely spot! It’s cold enough to snow here, too. Hope things warm up soon)

Monday, December 14: more texts

7:27 a.m. Still stuck in Weed. Chains required. If they lift the chain law today we’ll head up and be there first thing in the morning tomorrow. Thanks for your patience. As soon as I can head north I will let you know.

(me: so, you don’t have chains?)

Can’t chain my truck. It has fenders that are too close to the tires . . .

(me: okay)

I called the moving company just to note that they would deliver outside of the promised time window. Later, Monroe called. They would be here by 8 a.m. in the morning.

Tuesday, December 15:

7:30 a.m. A huge moving van rolled up. I went outside and met Monroe and his partner. I was embarrassed to have questioned the delay. I wouldn’t have dared move that rig two feet!

And Monroe parked it so well that my neighbors could get in or out, if necessary.

9:15 a.m. The van rolled out, all my good delivered. I’d spent just under two hours with a couple of really nice guys who clearly enjoy what they do.

I called the moving company to retract my earlier complaint.

“Give those guys a gold star,” I told the woman on the phone.

And then I started really getting re-Oregonized!

Monday, October 12, 2015

McKenzie River

She bubbles from Cascade crest,
then bounces through canyons
down, down –
cold and sweet and pure.

I traveled the length of her
uncounted times,
rounded every curve as
my heart danced to her music,
and names of camp and trail
and waterfall,
sang in my mind –

For fifty years, she flowed from my tap
and I drank her straight.

Then I abandoned her,
sought sun and sea
and tried to forget.

Yet here, seven hundred
miles south – where I squint
in white brightness,
watch lakes evaporate and
bare peaks shimmer with heat –
even here, the taste of her
lingers on my tongue
and lures me back.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Another Early Autumn

I felt it the other day, that subtle shift as summer slides into September.

Early Autumn! Not as early here as farther north.

But I’m energized by the new slant of light, by cooler mornings and longer evenings, glad of the end to long, hot summer days.

I mentioned it to a friend.

“Oh, no,” she assured me. “Not until October.”

I didn’t argue. Not verbally, anyway. But I’ve always been puzzled by the lag between when I feel the shift and the official change-of-season dates. A few years back, I adopted the medieval calendar, marking the summer solstice as midsummer, the beginning of fall sometime in August, and the onset of winter in November. Nothing really changed except my attitude. Imagining December as the dead of winter just made sense to me.

So yesterday I jogged happily in a misty morning, as though finally able to breathe.

Today, my birthday, I hiked with a friend to an overlook, the view still hazy from morning fog. It reminded me of the first day of school when I’m eager for the lessons to come my way – lessons not yet defined.

A perfect start to my next loop around the sun.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Transparent to the User

A couple of months ago, my credit union sent me a new debit card, complete with its own microchip.

I continued to use it as before, sliding it in machines at the grocery, inserting and withdrawing it quickly at the ATM.

Then a couple of weeks ago at Target, their machine told me to insert the card into the chip reader – and kept my card until the transaction cleared. I was a bit nervous until it released my card.

Progress, I suppose, though I’m not sure my account number is any more secure than before, since most places haven’t instituted the chip-reading technology.

Then, on Sunday, I stopped by the local credit union to get some cash. I pushed the card in – and couldn’t pull it out! I fumbled through an attempt to get cash. The machine allowed everything up to the point of spitting out my money.

The message was typical techno-speak, but I did understand it couldn’t process the request. I breathed a sigh when that naughty ATM released its death grip on my card.

But it was Sunday. The bank was closed. I raced home and checked my account on the computer, fully expecting the balance to be zero.

Nope. No notes, no blocks, and a nice fat balance.

Thursday, I stopped in at the credit union. They were surprised that the machine had hung onto my card. The teller came out with me to see for herself. We tried several times, each time getting through all the questions, then being refused my money.

She called her IT department. They confirmed that a change had been implemented and the machine would hold the card. They didn’t know about the refusal to disperse funds. How had this gone four days without anyone noticing?

It reminded me of an incident years ago, in my mainframe-nerd days, when system upgrades required extensive planning and users were notified beforehand.

Tom, the system programmer in charge of one of those upgrades, sent a memo stating, “the xyz.99 upgrade should be transparent to the user.”

Unfortunately, that upgrade took weeks to fully implement. Not transparent to anyone! Tom never lived it down.

But now, in this advanced technological age, are we expected to roll with each new process with no forewarning? Are we so inured to technological gliches that we don’t complain? I’m not sure that’s progress.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Last Road Trip, 7-15 to 7-21-2015

Barely two hours up the highway, a familiar voice demanded, “What the hell were you thinking?”

Since I was alone in the car, the voice must have been mine.

I was on my way to Eugene, Oregon from San Luis Obispo. I’ve done much more ambitious solo road trips, including one from Eugene to Yarmouth, Maine.

But I was younger then. Much younger.

Now I found I had underestimated the effects of my seven decades circling the sun.

Still, I pushed on, determined, stubborn, clinging to pride in my driving skill and my historic stamina. I had a hotel reservation in Redding that night and a lunch planned for the next day in Ashland. I hadn’t been back to Oregon in more than two years and was eager to revisit the place I’d called home for more than half a century.

Most of the route is familiar. At one time, I could name every town from the Winters cutoff to the Oregon border as well as what I call ‘The Four Bumps’ between Medford and Eugene – Sexton Mountain, Smith Hill, Stage Road and Canyon Creek.

I blame my dad for my obsession with knowing the road and where I am on it. He loved to drive. After a road trip, he could recite routes taken and towns visited, often in great detail. Our family laughs about Dad and his fascination with maps and directions, but I’m grateful for his example. More than once I’ve found it important to know exactly where I was, whether to summon help or simply estimate distance and time to my destination.

On this trip, I stopped more often than on previous trips, more tired than exhilarated by the journey. I no longer relished the idea of chewing up miles, spewing them joyfully behind.

And I knew this would be my last solo road trip. Last as in final. This would be the last time I would pass Louie Road and warble “Louie, Louie,” the last time I would catch my breath at the sight of Shasta, my last laugh at the bellowing cow, now joined by a shiny, silver calf, my last slide down the Siskiyou Pass.

Even though I-5 North is closed to me now, I will still find my way to the green forests and blue skies of my beloved Oregon.

Monday, July 6, 2015

I Sent Her Away Last Week

Last week, after 52 years together, I sent her away. Neither of us shed a tear. But it was time. Like me, her skin had become fragile and her complexion dulled. Still, she retained a certain regal bearing and I knew where she would be treasured.

When I heard she had arrived safe I shared my decision with a friend.

“Do you have a picture?” my friend asked.

That’s when I realized I’d never taken a photo of her, never named her, had no record of our lifetime together.

Yet I knew I had done the right thing.

She’s a doll, you see. An unusual one, but a doll just the same.

Here’s how she came to live with me.

In 1963, I was a resident advisor in Hamilton Hall at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I received room and board in exchange for some fairly simple duties – a way to ease my parent’s financial burden.

A student from Japan was assigned to my dorm. She didn’t speak English well and asked me to help her with some forms.

I went to her room. She had a collection of dolls of all sizes and shapes displayed on her bookcase. I was blown away by one particular doll. And I said so. Out loud.

I immediately regretted my outburst. My freshman roommate, Mary Sue, had majored in Asian Studies and had told me about Japanese customs: if you verbally admire an item, the host is obligated to give you the item. I attempted unsuccessfully to refuse the doll but returned to my room, doll in hand.

I felt awful, even though the young woman’s dolls were probably intended to be given away. But this doll was the largest and most unusual of her collection. The doll’s head was solid wood the size of a baseball and she was tall – ten inches at least. A birch branch formed her ‘body’ – no arms or legs – with a scene painted in a cutout area. The doll’s ‘skin' was the fragile, paper-thin bark of the birch tree. She was gorgeous!

The student’s name is lost to me now, but the doll has traveled with me ever since.

Until last week, that is, when I sent her away. Mary Sue emailed me the day the doll arrived.

That’s how I learned that the doll is a kokeshi doll.

The description I found online – handmade from wood, simple trunk, enlarged head with thin painted lines defining the face, no arms or legs – doesn’t hint at the variety of designs. Still, I saw few that resembled the one I’d had.

It’s nice, though, to learn that kokeshi dolls are given as tokens of friendship. Mary Sue and I have had a very long friendship. Maybe Mary Sue can give her the perfect name.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Conserving Water

Downtown the other day, a young couple walked toward me, hand-in-hand. The man sported a T-shirt emblazoned with “Conserve water. Drink beer”

No feather tickled my funny bone. Am I humorless? Not about most things. And I don’t mind folks who have a glass of wine or beer with a meal or for relaxation. But touting alcohol as a solution to water shortages? Only a comedian with impeccable timing could make me laugh at that.

I thought of the old Olympia Brewing Company slogan, “It’s the water.”

But this is not the Northwest. Besides, the guy was far too young to have heard it. And far too young to have a belly bigger than his chest, but there it was.

I’m reminded of a euphemism for urination. Make water. That’s what beer or any other alcoholic beverage does. Makes water. Inside you. Which must then be released. And flushed. Using more water.

Now there’s an image for a water conservation campaign.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Female Dress - a poem

I studied the invitation.
Black tie optional.

What does that mean, I asked my sister,
the bride’s grandmother.

Tuxedos or dress suits, she said.

No, I mean for us.

Oh, formal. She wants us all
to wear long dresses.
I groaned.

When I was young, my husband said
I looked good
in female clothes.
Feminine, I countered.
No, he insisted. Female.

He brought some home
for me to try,
slinky dresses
that revealed too much
or emphasized places
where I had too little.

I took them back.

Now, I return the sage green dress bought days ago,
the one with gores at knee-length hem
that gave a kicky show of leg.
The rest of the dress?
Matronly. Dowdy. OLD.

Challenged now,
I flew in and out of shops,
slipped in and out of gowns
seeking the perfect size
and style
and color
. . . and me.

Then, on a whim,
I ventured to a big box store.
And there it was,
though nothing
like I had in mind.

Plain and simple,
this navy blue spaghetti strap –
this filmy slice of midnight sky –
exposes fragile, mottled skin,
undeniable evidence
of vanished youth.

And yet,
with shoulders draped
in creamy cloud of shawl,
this very female dress
is me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Wisdom of a Certain Age

I was eight in 1951 when Grammy broke her hip. A bus door clamped her coattail, tossed her down and broke her hip on Boston’s frozen ground.

Back then they put you in a home to wait for broken bones to join, not concerned with shape or form.

Mom and Dad and Beth and I had moved to Los Angeles when I was four, but my grandfather refused to leave Boston. So, when it happened, we took the train across the country.

I don’t remember seeing Grammy then. Our trip was long and full of exciting adventures for an eight-year-old. If I did see her, the moment has dropped from memory.

Afterward, it took five years for Mom and her sister to convince them to come West.

Everyone deserves a Grammy like mine, sweet and cheerful, always ready to see your better side. I wondered at her fingers, bent with arthritis, and her soft, wrinkly earlobes. So old, I thought. She was short and stout and slow to move and even dressed old: Long hair parted in the middle then coiled on top. When she went out, she wore hats, gloves and sturdy shoes. Old lady shoes, I called them, though not to her. She walked uneven, descended stairs at an angle. And she never complained.

But the main thing I remember most about Grammy is that time she scolded me. I would give anything to undo the reason.

I was a very immature twenty-three year old. Well, immature, but not innocent. I was about to marry the first person who had actually asked.

At the time, I lived 900 miles from my parents and Grammy. My new boyfriend pushed for a quick wedding. I was amazed and didn’t want to miss my chance. We planned a courthouse ceremony a bare two months after our first date.

Grammy wrote, urging me to slow down, saying that my mother wanted to participate in plans and preparations. My family is not famous for direct communications, so I had no experience handling this kind of thing.

I don’t know whether I responded. But I resented her intrusion into what I believed was strictly my business. And what did she know - she’s old! Besides, Mom had said nothing to me.

I marched on, only delaying the event by a week so both sets of parents could attend.

I know now, these many years later, that Grammy was wise and I was wrong. My mother had been excluded from my sister’s wedding. Actually, we were all excluded from that one. Though I made sure she could be present at mine, I had robbed Mom of the opportunity to participate. And Grammy couldn’t be there at all!

Today I’m only two short years younger than Grammy was when the bus snagged her coat. Even though I began jogging before I was thirty and have maintained an active lifestyle, I’m beginning to understand how it happened to her. She’d reached a certain age.

All the fun runs, half-marathons, racquetball, and skiing didn’t stop my age clock. I still walk up to 20 miles a week, jog occasionally and have a daily strength-and-stretch routine.

And yet I often tip, sway or stumble for no apparent reason. I no longer like to drive – or even walk – at night. I’m cautious with stairs and need more light to read the small print.

I've reached a certain age.

My Grammy died in 1969, a couple years after breaking her hip again. Mom died of melanoma in 1984. So I can’t undo my youthful selfishness, nor make amends in person to either of them.

But Mom gave me Grammy’s engagement ring, a half-carat diamond solitaire. After my divorce the same year Mom died, I reset it in my own design. The diamond sparkles from a teardrop shape. It’s always on my hand. My sun-speckled, arthritic hand, just like Mom and Grammy had when they reached a certain age.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

No Longer a Nerd

Years ago, my female co-workers and I joked about being nerds without looking nerdy. We were attractive, well-dressed women, confident and competent in our profession: computer programming.

But those were the dinosaur days of Big Blue, days of Fortran, Cobol, Assembler, and PL/1.

And until recently, I’ve felt only a bit less confident with new technology.

Last week that changed. I am no longer a nerd.

Here’s what happened. I decided to trade my iPhone in for a new model. I’d been told that Best Buy was the place to go.

When asked what phone I wanted, I showed the salesman my old one.

“I need a new one,” I told him, failing to add, “of these.”

I happened to be standing in front of the Samsung display. He guided me to a desk.

The clerk there did a great job, changing my plan to one that costs less. As an ex-nerd, I should have asked more questions before accepting the new Galaxy 5S. I didn’t realize I was moving to a new platform, a totally different system.

That was a Tuesday. I called my sister that day, told her I had bought a new phone; I texted a friend the same information.

My phone was silent for the next two days. When my sister called on Thursday, I learned that my voice mailbox had not been set up. With some effort, I thought I had accomplished that task.

By Friday, I was beginning to wonder. My friend usually texted back quickly. I called her. She had sent a text and wondered at my lack of response.

I began to doubt my decision. I struggled finding my way around the mass of symbols, searching for clues to set up the missing pieces. And I signed up for a class, to be held on Monday.

Finally, Sunday morning, I surrendered. At my age, I’m not willing to spend hours fiddling with something – phone, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – just to make sense of it.

I use my phone as a communication device. I have no land line and the Galaxy had cut off my only source of connection with anyone not in the room with me. Yeah, I could have learned how. But why?

I returned to Best Buy and traded for a new iPhone. Before leaving the store, I verified that contacts, voice mail and text were functioning.

Whew! No longer a nerd - and I’m good with that.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


I couldn’t miss the small flat envelope, my only mail on Saturday.

I had just come from a writing critique group where one of my poems had received much praise. A member there had invited me to join a new group, just forming. I left feeling validated as a writer.

But there it was, self-addressed and stamped, a tiny envelope that could have been lost had it arrived on junk mail day. Poor little thing!

I knew before I opened it.

“Where is this from?” I muttered, not thinking to look at the postmark for clues. Instead,I marveled at how neatly I had printed my name and address in both to and from spaces.

Slicing it open, I found a half-sheet rejection letter tucked inside, one more to add to my collection.

Disappointing, especially this one, from a journal produced in Corvallis, Oregon. I had been sure they would like at least one of my poems, carefully selected to reflect my years in the Northwest.

But no, my submission “does not meet the editorial needs of the journal at this time.” I wonder to myself how one can divine those needs in order to meet them. I’ve read the journal and checked online for direction.

I sigh, and slide it into my expanding rejection folder. Maybe next time.