Sunday, December 28, 2008

Letting go . . .

We're in the final throes of packing, that stage when I throw everything that hasn't been packed yet into the remaining boxes, seal them shut, and hope for the best. We pick up our rental car tomorrow and will drive to Sea-Tac, leaving Vancouver family and friends behind. Early on the morning of December 31st, we'll be standing in line to go through security checks for international travel. And then, laptop, baggage and travel Scrabble in hand, we will begin the flight to Brazil for six months of travel through South America.

Several people have told me they'll follow our travels via this blog, so I'll be updating various adventures (as internet access becomes available). If you'd like to see an overview of the trip, go to our South American homepages at

For now, let's hear a grand hurrah for the Philadelphia Eagles as they advance to the finals. And let's hear another grand hurrah for 2008, another year ending and a new one beginning. May you have the very best of New Year's. Beth

Friday, December 26, 2008

And from North India . . .

We're packing intensely now, and I'm trying to finish up on those projects that pile up next to the printer. I tasted this wonderful desert at an Indian restaurant in Corvallis several months ago and begged the name of the dish from the owner. The Internet never fails! Here is Gajar Ka Halwa, a northern Indian sweet made of carrots and garnished with roasted cashew nuts. Manjula charmingly teaches us how to make this dish, starting with Namaste! Her recipe:


1.5 pounds of shredded carrots (about 2 cups)
2 cups of hot milk
3 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup sugar
pnch cardamon
10 cashew nuts (split in half for garnish)
Ok to add a handful of raisins

Melt butter in large fry pan. Add carrots, cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Roast cashews in small separate frypan. Add milk to carrots, cook until the milk is fully absorbed (about 7-8 minutes). Again, stir frequently. Add sugar and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add cardamon. Serve and garnish with roasted cashews. Note: This is often served with Diwali.

If you make this, let me know the results! I really liked Manjula's welcoming style, just as if I were in her kitchen. And, yes, it finally stopped snowing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Farewell to the Gorge . . .

Yesterday we drove out along the Columbia Gorge for our last visit to the Multnomah Falls, taking along three-year-old JoePa (and his father). It was JoePa's first visit to the falls. "Oh, wow," he said. Oh, wow, I thought. These falls thrill me every time. And I'd like to think I see these falls with the eyes of a child.

You can hear Allen and JoePa talking over the roar of the falls. He was simply delighted by the falls, easy to hug, quick to laugh. We ate corndogs and drove back to Portland in the dark. Then after a family dinner and stories of how we met so long ago, we drove home to Vancouver, over the bridge, ready for the next journey south.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sunday Musings . . . and an update

We have just three weeks now before leaving Vancouver, Washington. We'll be truly on the road, flying from Seattle south to Brazil for a meandering trip through South America, not returning until June 1. Yes, I'm taking my writing with me (laptop and backup), and I'll hope to keep two blogs up and running, this one for trip notes, and Beth and Writing for poetry and occasional thoughts about writing. My website at Google has travel plans if you want to look.

I have loved living near the Columbia River. As we cross the bridge into Portland, Mt. Hood seems to float in varied splendor, sometimes with clouds obscuring her face, sometimes fully revealed with snow covered heights. We've tried to walk daily, and in this warren of modern apartments, we see so many true evergreens, firs and cedars abound. And we've been closer to friends.

So many people ask when we're going to settle down, perhaps like "normal" people. I'm not sure. When Allen and I were first together, some 30 years ago, we learned to be careful about who said "Let's go." Teaching allowed us to visit Canada, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador in the summers. And sometimes our friends have joined us, enriching our adventures.

Now, we already have the next two years blocked out, 6 months in South America (Jan 2009), a resting stop of perhaps a month in Spokane (June 2009), then a drive across the US or Canada to Philadelphia. A six-week trip to Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness and the Orkneys, Sept-Oct 2009), and then, because we're there, a meandering trip down to Spain, to a town I promised myself I'd return one day -- Granada (Nov 2009-Mar 2010). We'll stay in one spot perhaps four to six months, and then return to Philadelphia for the start of Allen's four-month cross-country bicycle trip (April 2010). I'll be driving the sag wagon, once again with laptop, arranging camping sites and motels along the way -- and writing.

So these next few weeks, I'll pack down the house (kitchen and books, primarily). Yes, it is possible to sleep comfortably on cots. Saturday was my birthday. Pam and Kayla took me ice skating; I must have fallen 6 times. Allen charged my Starbucks card (how could I not like Starbucks; their logo has a mermaid?). The writing goes well; revision is rather like peeling an onion, layers and layers. And life is good.

P.S. The quilt is finished. You can click on the image to see details.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving note . . .

We're back in Vancouver from a six-hour drive up to Spokane and first snowfall, too much delicious turkey and three kinds of pie. Ah, all wonderful, three generations celebrating a good year together in Rachel and Nick's new home, two floors up and down, four bedrooms, lots of room for everyone and everything, even massive Mario cat and Jack the kitty. On the back porch, this view of gnome and Buddha:

Tomorrow Grandmom Leah goes back to Philadelphia on the plane, hopefully with pictures already printed out and stories to tell. I've posted pics on WEBSHOTS if you want to go look. And maybe tomorrow afternoon, we'll be back to relative quiet, some writing time, and now the real preparation for South America begins.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Celebrating President-elect Obama . . .

We're on the road in Spokane, helping Rachel and Nick pack to move. I've never seen so many boxes, and we ran out of packing materials! Oofta! But I still feel like celebrating the election, so here's a wonderful song, "There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama," wittily written by Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys, and starting off with appropriate Celtic riffs. What a lovely welcome the world is giving us once again!

This week Sunday Scribblings asks us to write about change. What change can I imagine? I think President Obama will ask each of us to change in the great tradition of J. F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask instead what you can do for your country."

Obama has the vision and the discipline to lead our country back to its highest ideals, and at the core, freedom with responsibility for others. He will ask us to sacrifice, perhaps money or time or a way of life. Capitalism without vision, I have come to realize, leads to selfishness (the "mall" syndrome) and corruption (think "big oil buyouts" and tax breaks). We cannot afford to not "see" what changes are needed to avoid becoming a country of the rich. What I really think of this change is hope. I am remembering those young people and people of every generation and background who were pulled in by Obama's charisma. They stayed to work on his campaign because of his ideals. They will bring change.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Happy Days Are Here Again . . .

It's definitely Monday morning, with less than 24 hours to go before results from the polls start pouring in. One station will begin coverage at 5 am. We can see last moment fervor in both candidates as the tension ramps up. President Bush has retreated to Camp David, Obama and McCain are off and running to multiple states for a final push, even on election day itself. We see long lines in those states with early voting. Paranoia increases over robo-voting, that is machines that switch the voter's choice.

So it's time for a humor break. This one is to our friends, Henry and Jamie, over in Redmond, waiting out the election.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Waiting for the election . . .

We're home from Ashland and now are hoping the last 48 hours before the election will simply pass without "surprises" or drama. The networks all pump up their 24-hour coverage, and we watch and hope. Tomorrow we'll work on Obama's campaign. "Hillary sent me" rings in my head and heart.

The last play we saw in Ashland was "Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner", a lovely, bittersweet reflection on marriage, overeating, obsessive watching of sports, and sibling rivalry -- all woven through with magical realism. Kudos go to Luis Alfaro, the playwright, as he confronts issues I think we would rather not think about. It's easier to take those we love for granted and to not look at how we run away from confronting either truth or death, in all its forms. Still, the play was not easy, though the writer used vaudeville riffs and humor very well. I'd see this one again.

And then we drove home, fall foliage brightening the road. The oaks in the slide show are at Linn-Benton Community College, my teaching home for many years.

Ashland Oregon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On Coriolanus and peace . . .

It's a red dawn. We're in Ashland. Last night we saw Shakespeare's tragedy Coriolanus and were both depressed by this intense production of arrogance and war. We both want to read it now to see past the spectacle. But this morning, a friend sent me a link that made me laugh and think of the future with hope.

Thank you, Linda Smith.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guys and Dolls into Fall . . . October

Last night we saw the best production of Guys and Dolls at the Portland Center Stage with Dan and Myrna. Imagine Prohibition era street guys with crazy names (Nicely Nicely Johnson) and Italian accents pursuing a floating crap game and wooing pretty young strippers from Brooklyn. Our hero, Skye Masterson, loses his heart to a misisonary, Sister Sarah Brown, and entices her to dine at a hot night club in Havana.

Drawn from a story by Damon Runyon, the dancing and the singing ("Luck be a Lady," "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," and "Sue Me") made us laugh and cry. What an era of innocence and love in a gritty city setting.

Afterward, we walked out into the Pearl District in Portland, the warm October night around us, after theater drinks at Palomino's, though a happy hour that began at 9 pm was new to me.

Every distraction seems good to me as we move to November 4, Election Day. It's not just the economy, though the extreme slides of the market make grown men and women cry. I'm seeing profound uncertainty about the outcome of this election -- and the credibility of our electoral process. Both Democrats and Republicans are crying "Foul!" for reported irregularities in robo-counting the vote. Will we once again question the election process itself?

On the left, Rolling Stone's article, "Block the Vote" summarizes liberal fears. Even Fox News reports results of a poll that 60% of voters believe some level of fraud will occur. And last spring, the New York Times ran a story highlighting state laws that require voters to prove they are citizens before they vote.

This article from the British Guardian seems to counter accusations with facts.

So is the issue of voter fraud a real one? I can still remember trying to vote in Philadelphia about 20 years ago. The levers on my voting machine would only work if I pressed Republican. When I protested, a big 6-footer offered to come into the booth to "help me" vote. I said, "No," and at my complaint, my voting machine was taken out of service, making the lines longer. Does voter fraud matter? Until this election is over, I think we will be watching, waiting, hoping, and doubting.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

So don't vote . . .

If ever I believed now was the time, then yes, now is the time. Watch the video. Pass it on. Talk to your family and friends.

We have 15 days before the election to make sure people are registered to vote. Are you registered?

Wall Street. Main Street.

I woke up this morning, thinking about money. I know a few people now who've taken money out of their bank and hidden it in their house. If the economy tanks to some pre-Depression era level, money won't help. We'll be back to barter.

I went to Target yesterday to buy garbage bags because they looked pretty expensive at my regular grocery store, as did the olive oil, for heaven's sake. I found just the right roll of garbage bags for $1.35 and cruised the clearance racks while I was there. I saw lots of people there checking the mark-downs. I apologized to the gray-haired cashier for my small purchase. She said, "Don't worry, honey. Every dollar helps."

I know from government reports that more older women (that is, over 60) are "wage insecure", but I don't know how many. I just know that at some point, I need to stop fearing that I will become that gray-haired cashier at a Target-like store and make sure there's enough food to go around.

Everyone has a sense of uncertainty about the future; these seem to be unprecedented times. This is not the "October surprise" I anticipated before the election. Every day makes it more important we study the economic policies of Obama and McCain.

Check out Obama's policies affecting the elderly. McCain has no information about the elderly under issues on his campaign website.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A visit to a a garden . . .

Whenever we come to Portland, I'm somewhat dismayed by the traffic. City traffic. Lots of people. Bumper stickers that say "Keep Portland weird." Sidewalk cafes. Panhandlers. One of the most beautiful libraries I've ever visited. Lots of monumental sculptures, including a massive bronze, the spirit of Portland. Sides of buildings decorated with murals. The park splitting through cityscapes.

And then we come to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, enter its rounded gate and find ourselves in a floating world of stone boats, a tea house, and winding paths. The garden takes up an entire city block, some 40,000 square feet. The trees are much taller than we remembered, yet the sense of absolute peace remains.

Chinese gardens are meant for reflection. Every few steps, the visitor stops to admire a new perspective. Plants are arranged to juxtapose shapes, colors, and textures, all to invite a slower pace. And so we stroll and stop in the tea house for cups of a piquant white tea, once a favorite of the imperial family. We admire the red, white and pink lotus blooming in the small lake and finally can name the mystery flower, Rose of Sharon, flowering next to the Zig Zag Bridge.

You can enjoy and download pictures of this wonderful classical Chinese garden by going to my Webshots.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fort Vancouver

Friday, we explored Fort Vancouver, an outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company from about 1830. The buildings have been carefully reconstructed: a blacksmith, a bakery, the offices and home of John McLoughlin, and stores, though only the blacksmith was staffed with re-enactors.

Of most interest to me were the gardens and the surrounding farm/village areas, where, surprisingly, men from Orkney labored in the fields, alongside Hawaiians, French Canadians, and Native Americans. As the air cools down to autumn, we stroll through the replica gardens, filled with flowers and squash and corn far over our heads.

Is there any connection to my writing project? Yes! Orkney men! And in the officers' quarters, a plaid hung on a hook. In the far corner of Fort Vancouver, we discovered a jail, complete with heavy iron waist shackles chained to the wall, a slops bucket nearby.

Most likely class distinctions could be made by clothing and the level of dirt underneath fingernails. For Dr. McLoughlin and the officers, every comfort. For the rest, tents and temporary shelters. Overhead, passenger jets from nearby Portland Airport passed. We came home to hot running water, electricity, and cable TV -- all the comforts.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Home in Vancouver WA . . .

After a 10-day hiatus, internet is hooked up once again, the boxes are unpacked, and we are enjoying our new apartment, sunny, bright, and quiet. Though it will be 91 today and 93 tomorrow, this last gasp of summer coming mid-September makes us want to go off to the movies and sit in air-conditioned comfort.

Minimalist living. How can I describe it? I have two pots to cook dinner in (including a frying pan). We bought chairs from Ikea AND assembled them ourselves. They are comfortable, and we're sleeping on an inflatable bed, which does have a depressing tendancy to deflate. Easily fixed. All else that I acquire at garage sales between now and December will go into storage to make setting up housekeeping (somewhere?) a little easier next time.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not working, though I'm working on writing projects. No volunteer work yet. And without my sewing machine, I feel a little lost. So, off to the library we go. Do we have reading lights in the living room??? Not yet!!! Here's home sweet home!

Friday, September 05, 2008

On the road again . . .

This is it. Today is our last in Corvallis. We leave our pleasant room at the Days Inn, drive over to Philomath for a quick check-in at the doc's, and then head north to Vancouver, just over the Columbia River. By tonight, we'll be sleeping in our new apartment, which, at the moment I can barely remember. And I don't know when we'll have internet again.

In a few minutes I'll begin repacking the car, a simple four-door sedan already loaded with a folding office desk, a folding bookcase, and a collapsible kitchen table, two lawn chairs, an inflatable queen bed, two cots, and several boxes of necessaries for the kitchen, the bathroom, an office, and, of course, books. I'm always amused when people say, Oh, you're traveling in an RV. I can't imagine driving the thing. The packing should be interesting as we can't eat until AFTER the doc, and I may bite someone.

Thoughts of McCain and Palin swirl around, post their convention bounce. I can't imagine a candidate less likely to inspire Hillary supporters than Palin, a woman, that would be the only comparison. I don't even want to go there. Her lack of experience scares me, and though I'm a feminist and a great believer in women having the right to choose their life, I can't understand her. I've always worked hard and had visions of expanding my responsibilities. Most times I achieved my goals at the cost of 70-hour workweeks. But if my family needed me at home, I like to think I would have pared back my workplace ambitions. So I'm not being fair about Palin. My sister likes her. I like Hillary's pantsuits better; Hillary's articulateness, her compassion, her commitment ring true to me.

My friends are already talking of leaving the country if McCain/Palin win, and I'm seeing a more divisive two months ahead. Regardless, we'll float out of here on December 31st, headed for South America. But I'd rather read of Obama/Biden's transformations of our country with hope and affirmation than watch her deconstructed by fear, anti-science, and cronyism.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesday Morning.

I read somewhere that a stand of aspens, those beautiful shimmering trees, are connected by a common root network, and so they are, in fact, just one organism. Even their leaves decay at the same rate. Their white bark glimmers in the sun, and sometimes to my untrained eye, even their trunks look similar.

This is not like their cousins, the paper birches. We hiked through a stand of paper birch trees last fall, just about a year ago, and I'm thinking of the peacefulness of that stand of trees now, this morning, for we are close to fall once more. I can feel it in the edge of cold that morning brings, that cold that's more than a respite from a hot summer day, but the cold that says your bones will know winter.

I found an interesting online writers' resource at The Muse Online Writing Conference, starting in October. The conference promises a series of handouts and chats, and so I registered.

This morning, Rachel and I will have breakfast at Frank's Diner (she menioned blueberry pancakes), and then she'll go on to teach her violin students. I'll return to begin seriously packing. Maybe today is the day I take down my office. Do we really have 40 books to return to the library?

Allen and I worked over the Peru itinerary last night -- so much to see in only six weeks. I think we'll be tired, as the timing brings us to Peru at the end of our six months in South America, BUT we will be able to visit some of our favorite sites we've only read about so far. I did knock those places off the list that indicated "treacherous roads", and there's one place during Semana Santa (Easter Week) that features locals throwing pebbles at tourists (somehow that doesn't sound fun), but I still want to fly in that little plane over the Nazca lines. And I started a planning web site for Allen's famous Bike-Across-America trip planned for 2010.

And can you tell, I couldn't write this morning! Maybe tomorrow. One writing muse (of conference fame) says write 500 words a day, every day. Why do I feel good if I only write 300?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More tagging and meme-ing?

Vicki, a blogger with spirit from Sunday Scribblings has tagged me to list 6 unspectacular quirks of mine. Whoosh! Who in the world would be interested???? But I'll try. Six?

1. I have a library card for nearly every city we visit and would love for some organization to put forth a national library card. Some cities ask for $$$; others look at a postmark and call it good. My first date with Allen occurred when he took me to a branch of the San Francisco public library because that's where Richard Brautigan, the author of Williard and the Bowling Trophies wrote. We only saw a homeless man sitting in a wing chair. He looked pretty comfortable.

2. I straighten those labels that stick out of clothing, even for strangers and especially on elevators. How can we go forth untidy? Somehow I feel the universe is a little more orderly, and it's only a label. But when I'm far from home and family, tucking in a label makes me feel like I'm in a world where people can care about such silly things, even with all else.

3. I turn off the news when President Bush appears. I don't think I've heard the man complete a sentence for the last eight years. I rather wish this quirk were a more spectacular rebellion. I probably should have moved to Canada.

4. I hate paying more than $3.00 for a box of cereal. Sometimes I'll eat really dreadful stuff for breakfast or wind up buying four boxes of cereal, especially Kashi (when it's on sale). I've done comparison shopping after some supermarkets upped the price on Kashi to $5.00 a box to find the cheapest providers in town. That's probably really silly. Demand isn't that elastic for cereal, and raisins aren't that good for you.

5. My parking skills could be improved. I always turn slightly too soon and end up with my car razor-close to the line, making it sometimes difficult to get in and out on the passenger side. Of course, this quirk doesn't exactly bother ME!

6. Ah, the last quirk and perhaps the quirkiest: Bird calls. Due to a series of unfortunate childhood experiences (which I won't explain), I startle easily and squawk, like a bird. This quirk startles others, perhaps even more than my parking skills.

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this AND laughed a little. Now I'm supposed to tag six others, and I can only draw on writers I've come to know from Sunday Scribblings and maybe one more. I'll tag Vicki, Gary Presley, and writers I've come to appreciate so much -- Goddess Diana, Nonizamboni, Bellamocha, Inland Empire Girl, and thank you! Here are the rules from Vicki:

1. Link the person who tagged you.
2. Mention the rules on your blog.
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours.
4. Tag 6 following bloggers by linking them.
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.

That's it! May your day go well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On Perseverance . . .

The outdoor grand finale of the Spokane Symphony at Sand Point was superb! We were seated outside in a natural ampitheater, the symphony under a large tent, as dusk faded to night, and the sounds of ospries perched atop their nests mingled with the all-Beethoven concert. The triple concerto was beautifully blended with piano, violin and cello, and the symphony sounded so harmonious and mellow. We listened with pure pleasure as the moon rose.

The second half featured the very moving "Pastorale", the composition turning again and again on itself, in grander circles of beautiful sounds. Young children danced in the dark, some turning cartwheels, but they never detracted from the swelling sounds of the symphony. And for an encore, fireworks filled the sky, perfectly in synch with the orchestra. We left, floating.

Now for the perseverance part. It was a summer night. Hot. The only lights were those under that white tent. Rachel said after the concert that she never would have supposed the focus required to create a perfect sound from her violin would have her ignoring the hundreds of bugs that swarmed under that tent. Flying, crawling, and biting bugs drawn to the lights, crawled under her glasses, down her blouse, up her sleeves. At those very moments the audience was appreciating the glorious music, the musicians were ignoring the bugs to concentrate entirely on creating a pure and beautiful sound. Bravo!

The video of the first movement comes from U-Tube.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday morning.

Today promises to be hot, 102 degrees. We're going to Sand Point, Idaho for the Spokane Symphony's outdoor concert. We'll sit outside in our lawn chairs and hear Rachel and Nick play under the pine trees, hoping for a cooling breeze.

Already, I'm starting to let go of Spokane. I won't miss its bumpety arterials and intense city driving. I will miss blue sky, hills, and a sense of peace that comes from living in a second floor South Hill apartment that seems to float above the city. Each night, lights dot the horizon, and I can hear the faint wail of police sirens. And I will miss Rachel and Nick, being able to see them so easily; at any time, they're just a phone call away.

What's calling us south to Vancouver WA? I'm no longer sure. We'll have a lovely apartment just ten minutes away from Portland, and an hour and a half from Corvallis, closer to friends all down the Willamette Valley and inland, Redmond and Salem. We can be driving along the Columbia Gorge within minutes, and, finally, we'll have access to a good library. Allen's busy with plans for Brazil and Argentina. The itinerary is shaping up nicely, and we'll be back on the road for real on December 31, the turn of the new year. The traveller in me wants to go. The mother in me wants to stay.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday Meme-ing

I just learned about meme-ing. I've seen these lists on various blogs but Anno from Sunday Scribblings posted a list of questions, ending with "How is your Monday going?" Here's my response:

Tuesday Meme-ing: Feeling Optimistic

What I’m allegedly reading: I’m allegedly reading Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding. Though I love the detail and vividness of his ability to bring history to life, the book sits on my current reading shelf, and I pass over it again and again. I’m also trying to read Lecturas Basicas as a way to review Spanish. I enjoy this once I get started. Lecturas Basicas is propped next to The Epic of Australia.

What I’m really reading: David Stone’s swashbuckling spy thriller, The Orpheus Deception and Gail Tsukiyama’s The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, both for fun and to think about style. Stone can write so vividly the blood jumps off the page as his characters (of course “with colorless eyes deep-set in a haggard face”) slash, hack and burn their way through international conspiracies. Tsukiyama’s story is a masterpiece of subtle style, each detail building on the inner life of a sumo wrestler.

What I’m eating: Pretty much the old 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day in an effort to stop the upward spiral, which means carefully choosing those grains, fruits and vegetables and remembering that portions of meat remain at card-pack size. Last night we split a heavenly seafood risotto, glazed with some French butter saffron sauce, at Scratch, a Spokane restaurant. Dessert: crème brulee, the burnt sugar topping lightly crisp and delicate.

What I’m drinking: Cold water after all that.

What I’m watching: The view out my temporary office window, mine for just another three weeks before we move to Vancouver, also here in Washington. Here I sit at my folding desk and see a line of what I call bottlebrush pines, interspersed with aspen, their leaves shiver in the slightest wind. The sky is beautifully blue and today only 84.

What I’m listening to: The drone of announcers for the Summer Olympics in Beijing that occasionally, when the crowds cheer, draws me away from my computer to appreciate anew the gifts and tenacity of these young people.

What I have scheduled in the week ahead: Writing that begins each day. Beginning to pack and re-ask what is essential, how many crates of books can I take this time? Lunch with my daughter on Friday at an Indian restaurant (think curry), another trip to the library, and a concerted attempt to read at least four more books on Scottish history this week. And maybe I’ll finish the Mermaid Quilt this week. Where’s my organizer? Ah yes, a Mexican birthday cake for my husband.

What I’m feeling: Probably ebullient. Missing dogs and cats, and a good Scrabble game.

What I want: What does anyone want? World peace. A new president.

And how is your Tuesday going?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

We're back in Spokane after spending three very intense days at the Willamette Writers' Conference in Portland, my first. Whew! Imagine some 300 writers gathered to pitch their work to agents and publishing houses, as well as much talk about craft over lunches, in hallways, and between workshops.

I felt like a sponge, most inspired by Elizabeth Lyon, gifted teacher and author of Manuscript Makeover, among other writerly works; Jessica Morrell, another compelling writer for writers; Stella Pope Duarte, pushed to write by a prophetic dream, and author of If I Die in Juarez, and Bharti Kirchener, author of Shiva Dancing and Darjeeling. Mark Schorr expanded my sense of the criminal personality, and Greg Kompes introduced new ways of working online.

Following echoes of "I already heard that pitch," I met Ellie Gunn, an Oregon writer who just happens to be working on a novel about the Scottish clearances (set in 1813 and along the southeastern coast of Scotland). We may be sisters-of-the-written-page, writing just a few hundred miles apart figuratively and literally.

And now we're home again, 90 degree weather this week. I have new books to read, mountains of ideas to think about, and lots of writing ahead. Yet, would I go again? Yes. For this once, the conference brought together writers, agents, publishers, practitioners of craft, film-makers, motivational speakers. All of this was a fine balance to working each morning alone.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yesterday Rachel and I dropped off the African quilt to the Cozy Quilt shop for quilting. On larger quilts, I can't do the machine stiching that will hold the finished quilt together, but Lisa was wonderful and showed me this lovely leaf tracery pattern that will embellish my quilt -- by October. Just in time for the annual Quilt Show held by the Washington State Quilters' Association on October 17, 18, and 19, here in Spokane.

How does it feel to finish a quilt? Like most quilters, I'm guessing, I feel a little sad. The challenge is behind me. I know all those dangling threads, the two places that needed patching because I ran out of fabric, the several places that needed reseaming, and the hopes and history that were stitched in each line, not the least being the chance to research African history as well as other family memories that come with certain fabrics.

This week's writing prompt on Sunday Scribblings is about solace -- what gives us solace when all else seems to crumble. Perhaps it's quilting for me, though that's not really an answer. Solace digs deeper. I'm thinking about the view out my office window and how for moments I just like to look at the sky, watch the wrens fly about young aspen saplings. The leaves quiver in the wind, just like the wrens themselves as they hover, land and rush about. Perhaps there's too much of rushing in our lives so that solace comes unexpectedly, in such moments. I don't need long conversations with family and friends to feel settled in myself somehow. Just a word or a look, sometimes a hug, and I feel centered.

I was heartened by two texts this week from Barack Obama -- the inspirational text of his speech in Berlin and his very private prayer this week released to the press amidst great controversy, though, of course, it should have remained private. He asked that his family be safe first, and I feel sad we still have to worry about assassinations. Then he prayed that he not be prideful or carried away by a sense of despair; he asked to be the instrument of God's will. Scribbled on a sheet of paper from a hotel, how his simple words reveal the private person who has such a keen awareness of his weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and yet who sustains a vision of hope. If he is successful in being elected, I think we can take solace in his presidency. At last.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Quilting and writing. Writing and quilting. Both seem to balance each other. Since we've returned to Spokane, out came the unfinished African Quilt top from storage, inspired by Kaye England and Mary Elizabeth Johnson's colorful Quilt Inspirations from Africa. This book was about $25 when it first came out and is now a quilt collector's classic.

Thus, off I go to the library. Two chapters were especially helpful to me as I started this quilt last July. The top is comprised entirely of Fulani stars (I can find nothing online about this technique, though it's explained beautifully in Quilt Inspirations). The design is inspired by quilted armor Fulani cavalrymen wore into battle to protect them. Here's the top:

Inspired by this panel, I wanted to make an "almost" quilt for the back.

But somehow I also wanted to work in Adinkra symbols from the Ashanti, those applique shapes that convey additional protection and meaning. So, I chose four: osrane (the moon, full of positive female qualities, love and kindness); kuntin kantan (humility); gye nyame ("except for God", the immortality of God); and duafe (a wooden comb, again a female symbol for patience and care).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The travel bug has bitten. We're just beginning to plan for a six-month trip to South America. Allen's devoured numbers of Lonely Planets and I have started looking for apartments and fretting over how to carry my laptop.

The plan: We leave January 3, 2009, for Brazil (thankful every moment for airline miles). We'll spend Jan and Feb in Brazil (key stops include Salvador, Ouro Preto, Rio, possibly Sao Paulo, Florianopolis, and Iguacu Falls).

We'll spend all of March in a Buenos Aires apartment (Recoleta district), leaving on a 14-day cruise around the Horn on the Norwegian Cruise Lines on March 29. This ship will pass through the Chilean fjords and the Strait of Magellan on its way to Santiago, Chile, calling at Montevideo, Puerto Madryn; Stanley; Ushuaia; Punta Arenas; Puerto Chacabuco; Puerto Montt; and Santiago (Valparaiso).

We'll spend the last two weeks of April traveling through Chile, north to Bolivia. May, we'll travel through Bolivia, and June is reserved for Peru (with a focus on Incan and Moche cultures).

Every museum we've visited, we've found ourselves hovering over the artifacts from pre-Columbian cultures. One example is from the Dallas Art Museum, this foot high sculpture from the Jama-Coaque culture (Ecuador) about the years 200-400 AD. We've seen common motifs everywhere in the Southwest and connections between indigenous peoples in Mexico and the Southwest, so this trip will be a grand opportunity to visit every museum we can and to appreciate the rich diversity of art as well as the grand vistas of nature.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Today after writing, I read through a few 19th Century shipboard diaries kept by passengers on sailing vessels from England to New Zealand. I'm guessing most ships at this time to Australia were convict transports, where conditions were brutal, so I was pleased to find these diaries where the voice of the average person comes through (a little tougher to find in history books!).

What a wealth of material. People wrote about singing every night, dancing on the foredeck, whether church services were held or not (depending on weather), details on meals (people were grateful for fish after a steady diet of ship's biscuits and estatic when a passing steamer brought fruit). Passengers mutinied over food. Sailors fought over rum and were occasionally found in the women's quarters, and babies were born and died. Boredom was noted often.

Once the ship passed a certain point in the Atlantic, repeated storms and strong winds often made journal keeping nearly impossible. I notice a class difference between passengers (in cabins) and emigrants (down below in holds). I need to find some maps of ships to understand what parts are where.

One writer told of a passenger jumping up and climbing up the rigging with three sailors up after him, trying to catch him. Everyone watched with humor the young man's progress. When he was finally caught, the sailors bound him in irons unless he apologized -- and paid for some rum.

Today we go to the library. My African quilt is out of storage and I'm needing to come up with a design for the back. I read online that some original African designs avoided straight lines as evil spirits could then enter that way. So I'm maybe going to use the Fulani Star pattern that appears on the front (see pic). It would be wonderful to finish this, but perhaps like writing, the pattern will appear as I go.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Just two years ago a student brought this evocative You-tube posting to my humanities class to share. Since over 470,000 people have viewed just this video, the combination of Don McLean's "Starry, Starry Night" with a montage of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh is more than compelling.

There are no words to explain what we feel when someone we love dies, though we may try. We fall back on cliches and sometimes song. The Greeks spoke their poetry; the Celts call speaking from the heart, mouth-song. Here, the technology brings together a visual summary of Van Gogh's works with song, a moving tribute.

Artists and writers often work without recognition. What gives any person the strength to persevere through self-doubt? A friend told me to simply persevere. Perhaps what I see in my mind will never make it to paper, but parts will. Perhaps no one will read my work, but I'm writing, have a wonderful open office in which to write, and time without the pressure of a day job, so I can say, so far, most days, all goes well.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Portland, Oregon, rose city by the river. A wedding, a birthday celebration, hints of scrabble games, and time to visit friends in Corvallis, Dallas, and Portland, brought us south from Spokane for a week of house-hopping. Last night we went to Andina, a Peruvian restaurant in the Pearl, and were welcomed by long-time friend Doris Platt, owner. What a thrill to see her again after so many years, charmed as we were by the music (Cuban Jessie Marquez and guitarist Mike Denny) and an an old family recipe for lamb shank slow-cooked in Northern Peruvian style with cilantro and black beer. We dipped our bread in a spicy mango puree and simply relaxed, back home on the west coast.

Doris explained that some of the unique flavors of Peruvian cooking were first brought to Spain by Moorish cooks, perhaps women servants after the expulsion of Islam from Spain in 1492, later again carried to the New World. The resulting fusion is tantalizing, prepared with such love of culture and family, almost recognizable, and nicely balanced with a sweet sangria. Ah! City living.

Upcoming event: October 25 at Tommy Mac's jazz club in Portland for a concert with lyrical singer Jessie Marquez and Mike Denny.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spokane. A city on hills. Our home for the next two months. I'm settled in, my office is set up, and the writing goes well. Each morning I work from about 6:30 to about 8 in the morning, and then the day begins, filled with the commonplaces that I hestiate to write about. Except that yesterday we began walking again. Spokane is hilly. We live perched on the lower side of Hatch Hill, and the view above is the view out our front door. Spokane, I learned, was settled by Protestants in the late 1800s), and its name comes from the Native American word Spokan (Sun People), as indigenous peoples favored the falls here to fish for salmon and had done so for thousands of years.

Yesterday we passed old mansions, I'll learn more about them in time, and I didn't bring my camera. I also wondered about how to keep the blog current when not much happens in everyday life. Yet this is where we truly live, in the ordinary. We bought a loaf of home-made fresh rosemary/garlic bread from the Perry Street Farmer's Market, a tiny farmer's market of about 10 booths open only on Thursdays from 8 am until 2 pm. Rachel introduced me to Value Village, an immense and unique kind of recycling store that carries everything at Salvation Army prices. I found a night light, a whimsical teapot made of delicate china and decorated with flowers for 99 cents, something to banish shadows.

Last night, a friend called from Portland to protest the violence in Zimbabwe. The election frenzy seems quieter now, with vice presidential recruiting going on behind the scenes. These seem far from Spokane Valley, far from Portland or Seattle, though I notice a slight inferiority complex in the local newspaper as an article now and then will tout "Just as good as Portland"! We may go to the downtown library today and see the very full Spokane Falls. And this time I will take my camera. For now, here's a pic of my new office, a little sparse but with a view of the valley stretching out, a sight as restoring as simply being here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We're finally in Spokane, after a hectic cross-country drive. Rachel found us a lovely unfurnished apartment, surrounded by trees and with a fine view out every window, cluding a little office for me. We move in today and will "camp out" for this week, with next week in Corvallis at a wedding, perhaps Scrabble, and then back for two months in one place. Whoopee!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tornados in Minnesota? Dark clouds filled the sky. We stopped in a MacDonald's for a quick coffee in Wadena and the town sirens went off and a U.S. National Guardsman told us a tornado was headed our way. The staff at MacDonald's herded all of us into the ice box. That's past the french fry stand, past where the hamburgers are cooked. About 20 people stood shivering and waiting for the siren to stop for 10 minutes, the longest 10 minutes of the trip so far!

We got the all-clear, and I had the most delicious chocolate shake to go as we wanted to get past the storm. The sky looked clear, so we began driving north to Fargo, North Dakota, only to see this ahead of us. Allen kept saying, that's not really a bad storm. Then the radio kicked on with a severe thunderstorm warning. This time, we drove right through it. This picture is taken right out our front window; the storm filled the sky. Heavy rain, lightning, bits of hail, clouds so dark we couldn't see the horizon, and a constant threat of tornados kept us focused on our driving for the next 20 minutes as we made our way (along with a few other commuters) to Moorhead. And that's as close as I want to get to a tornado!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Greetings from Mackinaw Island in Michigan. We drove here yesterday, up through the rolling farmland of Michigan, past the turn off for Travers City, and noting how small towns dominate here, the largest being about 3,000 people. We're in Mackinaw now over night after spending the day biking on the Island (no cars are allowed). We took the winding bike path up the hill to Arch Rock and saw lots of white and pink trillium and these lovely yellow ladies slippers along the way.

We're still headed west, through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan tomorrow, then on to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Gas prices here are averaging $4.04 with lots of rain predicted for Friday, Saturday and Sunday; my heart goes out to those in the midwest now fighting floods. We're skirting the top of the bad weather AND only 1800 miles to Spokane!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We left Great Falls at 8:30 am yesterday and covered 400 miles, crossing from Virginia through Maryland and Pennsylvania, over two turnpikes to Ohio, past rolling fields, smack into a thundertorm which spread over several states and which has now thankfully passed on, leaving our car very, very clean. We were at the very edge of the storm, near Lake Erie, and the clouds were beautiful, with opposing winds pushing them in large circles, reminding me of the dragon paintings by Daoist monk and painter, Chen Rong, who lived in China in the 13th Century. His works are not often exhibited in the U.S. and I only discovered him several years ago online. His most famous work is Nine Dragons, a 50 foot long hand scroll painted in 1244. It is said the master painted while deliberately drunk, but the dragons float on clouds that shimmer with life.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Gettysburg. A Civil War battle site where Confederate troops met Union troops over three days in July 1863, and Robert E. Lee's drive north was stopped. We spent 5 hours touring the different aspects of this three-day battle in these hot, humid, rolling hills, fully a month before the actual battle occurred. At first the plans on both sides of attack and retreat were balanced, but Union troops withdrew to high ground, and with the Confederate troops' last attack over Pickett Field: some 12,000 men advanced in a line nearly a mile wide, with no cover, into canon and rifle fire. Lee's frontal strategy failed. Some 5,000 men were lost in one hour, 51,000 died over the three days.

The Gettysburg National Park tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg from both sides, with monuments dotting the landscape. A Visitor's Center took us three hours to view the many artifacts, letters, and commentary. The fields are peaceful, and a solemn air pervades as we drove through the 24-mile auto-tour, coming to know the physical reality of McPherson Ridge, Pitzer Woods, Spangler's Spring, and the High Water Mark, all places where individual acts of great courage took place. Major General Meade devised a fish-hook strategy that put his troops on high ground and that allowed him to move men as needed quickly inside the fish-hook. The attacking Confederate forces were on the outside of the fish-hook, on low ground, with a wider perimeter to move troops.

Here in November, 1863, Lincoln spoke his 227-word iconic Gettysburg Address to heal the nation, following a two-hour oration by a prominent politician. His words, taking just a few minutes, were mocked by some but have lasted and still reverberate.

The many monuments large and small, several by 20th Century sculptor Gutzon Borglum, of Mount Rushmore fame, capture the sense of dedication, sacrifice and loss, as Borglum's memorial to North Carolina does.

What I will remember most from this now peaceful national park, with fields and forest edged with wooden fences, is a time of great effort and sacrifice, to affirm, as Lincoln said, "the proposition that all men are created equal." Like today, hidden economic interests in the north and south propelled us to war, but both sides were driven by ideals and a sense that government should be "by the people, for the people." What this means today is that no matter how large our country, we should all have a say in the decisions that are made, politically, economically, socially, and strategically.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A day at the zoo. Same day as gazillion grade school children, dragging their parents, smiling or crying through elaborate face paint, the day a lovely stroll past animals indifferent to our parade. Lost in their own worlds, they pursued their interests, a drink of water, a nap under bamboo, playing wildly with cage mates, or building a house within a house.

I can watch the big cats with fascination, their langour matched by eyes that know they have no natural enemy. A nature film makes me turn away, the rapid chase, the one fierce bite at the back of the neck. That reminds me of rabbits mating, the male holds the female by the back of the neck. I saw birds mating at the zoo as well, flamingos ruffling feathers and calling raucously. It must be late spring for them.

My favorite: a large rhinocerous bathing, coming up for air, delicately making room for his/her roommate, much like some people I know in a crowded house, so polite, so much weight, one avoids drama. This was a totally lovely day with friends and family spent in the sun, captured in a photo at the end of the day by a fanciful raindeer fountain, Philadelphia in the early summer.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In an afternoon of wandering at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, I found this small sculpture of Avalokitesvara, the boddhisatva of compassion (and also the patron saint of Tibet). His 1,000 arms are shown in the upward position of prayer, and his 11 heads in meditation. Here in Philadelphia, family concerns swirl around us. Some family and friends are seriously ill, so this time in the museum felt like an island. Just now a songbird welcomes morning, and so another day begins. May you and yours be well.

Friday, May 09, 2008

An afternoon drive down to the Philadelphia Art Museum led us to a small yet fascinating exhibit of Art Deco and Japanese kimonos from the 1930s and 1940s. We are used to seeing exquisitely formal Japanese kimonos with richly detailed embroidery, but here the surprise came in seeing kimonos designed for men. On the outside, expect austere black, but on the inside beautiful paintings and stenciled art delight the eye. Perhaps like a tattoo, unexpected and provocative.

This first kimono (a man's formal jacket from 1930s to 1940s) is shown inside out. I'm noticing most likely a poem on the right, with two little red "chops" (marks of the writer of the poem?), and then a wonderful painting of a Buddhist monk on a journey across water, perhaps to Japan's sacred island of Miyajima. How many provisions he takes for his journey!

A pair of infant boys' kimonos called Miyamairi (1920-1930), worn on the infant's first visit to the family Shinto shrine, drew my eye. Here the designs are hand-painted, recreating marvelously graceful carp (symbols of strength and perseverance) that float among willow leaves.

These simple lines are so beautiful. We'll be going back next week for the Frida Khalo exhibit, but this first dipping into current exhibits was wonderful. Happy Mother's Day to everyone!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Yesterday we wandered through Chanticleer Garden, billed as a 30-acre pleasure botanical garden. Flowering cherry, dogwood, and magnolia trees were matched with tulips, orchids, hydrangea, rhododendron and wild flowers everywhere. Every step brought new sights to see, and we simply wandered slowly throughout, appreciating the creativity of the plantings.

My camera was busy (photos are uploaded in webshots), but what a wonderful day, romantic and serene. We'll bring Rachel and Nick when they come in and return with Gordy and Lynda. Unforgettable. I learned a new flower (the brilliantly blue Himalayan poppy), but I don't think I'll be seeing it often. We also spotted this mystery orchid.

The writing goes well IF I start first thing in the morning. And I'm going to continue writing poems, though maybe not a poem every day. We're back in the big city. That means drivers do not use turn signals, stop at stop signs, or follow speed limits. At least on the east coast. It also means really fresh bagels and Sundays free entry at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. May your day go well.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Now we're in Philly with family and friends coming in from every direction. Great times, too much good food, lots of talk, and late nights. Tina and Anton came in from near Redding for the last night of Passover (and dinner with 12), and shared this YouTube of Joe Pa playing guitar. He's nearly three, but his favorite movie is School of Rock, and he has the genes. Check it out to appreciate kids and music.

This film clip makes me laugh and also makes me think about creativity and how we nurture it. Joe Pa is a very interesting kid, capable of great concentration, and he's very sweet.

I don't expect to keep up the blog every day while we're in Philly. It's lovely to be in one spot, but life seems more ordinary, if that doesn't sound too strange. There's a house to care for, errands to run. Today we go to the library (more stuff on the 1840s) and to the AAA office for maps back to the Pacific Northwest.

I'm reading The Nun's Tale by Candace Robb; she writes a mystery series set in Scotland and 14th Century York. I like how she delves into characters and writes about her time period authentically. And she provides a neat bibliography for the medieval period as part of her website. So my writing continues, quilting is good, and yesterday we had our first cheese steak.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Today was a travel day, up from Charlotte to Aberdeen, Maryland, just 82 miles outside of Philadelphia. We stopped in Madison, Virginia, at That Little Quilt Shop in a restored Presbyterian church. Richly detailed quilts hung from every open space. My wanderings through this beautiful shop inspired today's poem "For Rachel". My favorite quilt was the Broken Star pattern, perhaps adapted from the difficult Texas star wheel pattern. Maybe someday.

Just now I'm hand piecing from a older quilt book Allen found, Joyce M. Schlotzhauer’s The Curved Two Patch System (EPM Publications 1982), withdrawn from the New Orleans Public Library. She teaches how to use the simple square and block to create flowers, so I’m using batik fabric to build something, I’m not sure yet what, but I’m working square by square to master this. Today’s picture shows one block completed. Don’t look at the wrinkles; I’m traveling without an iron!

And we’re truly tired tonight, not just from watching the returns from Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary (and hoping for good news for Clinton), but also from driving through Washington suburbs at 70 plus miles per hour, with drivers talking on cell phones and not using turn signals (how much can one do, after all), and trucks barreling right along with the rest of us, 70 plus even in a 55-mph zone. I’m shocked, shocked to find speeders on these freeways. Tomorrow, home to Philadelphia!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Today we drove to just outside Charlottesville, here in Virginia, to visit Mitchie Tavern, built sometime in the 1730s to serve people coming down from Philadelphia, through the Carolinas, and moving out along the Appalachian Valley to the frontiers in the West and the South. We were entranced by so many details of colonial life covered in this hour-long tour. Like other colonial enacters, all guides were in period costumes, but the quality of the information and the warm Southern charm made for a lovely day, despite the heavy rains.

Mr. Mitchie began his life in the colonies as an indentured servant; there’s a hint that his family back in Scotland sent money so he could buy his freedom. He quickly purchased land and established a tavern, mill and general store. At the tavern, customers could expect food, drink, and a bed (all for a price), as well as the chance to catch up on gossip, a more reliable source than rare newspapers.

Travelers could refresh themselves by drinking hard cider or beer on the front porch from an outside bar, or they could step inside, into the gentlemen’s parlor. In reality, Mr. Mitchie would lock a slave into a box-shaped room, where that person would be responsible for serving drinks until the tavern closed. Perhaps locking the person into this small workroom/bar was a way of protecting the inventory, but to 21st Century ears, it sounds another reason to dislike slavery.

If travelers preferred punch, they could sip from a large common bowl, passed hand to hand, much like a pipe would be shared.
Bread, meat, and cheese were commonly served on plates that were ceramic on one side and tin on the other, made something like a flask so that hot water could be poured inside the “plate”, keeping the bread and meat warm. Women retired to a parlor specifically for them, though they could join those in the common rooms if they wished, to warm their tired feet by the fire.

Where did they sleep? Most slept on the floor, wrapped in their own bedding, propped up on a side bed (and sharing the space with two or three others), or in an upstairs room where beds were commonly shared with strangers. I’m thinking not much privacy here. If people were traveling in a larger party, they would simply camp out in the woods, perhaps only taking a meal. A fine room (the owner’s room) was maintained upstairs, and could be rented out for a price to the wealthy.

The tavern was a center for religious, political and social gatherings, with dances and music a highlight. We danced a Virginia reel. I curtsied and Allen bowed. Apparently the ladies were quite taken by a man’s calf as the men wore pantaloons, so here’s where “put your best foot forward” came from, as the men “made a leg” at the beginning of the dance.

We heard harpsichord music and played a number game popular with sailors of the time called “Shut the Box” (Allen won), which consisted of rolling dice and matching numbered tiles until they were all used up. Our lunch was delicious: Just a little fried chicken, barbeque, chilled beets, coleslaw, stewed tomatoes Southern style, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, and hot biscuits with honey. No room for peach cobbler!

The tea intrigued me. Apparently Chinese tea became moldy in the long journey to the Americas. To solve this problem, the tea was pressed until all moisture was removed (see the picture above). To make tea, you simply scraped off some tea from this cake. The pressed cake above had about 40 sections; each section could make over 80 cups of tea. In fact, at the famous Boston Tea Party, these were the cakes of tea tossed over the side, left to slowly disintegrate in Boston Harbor.

We ended the day at the Kluge-Ruhe Museum of Aboriginal Art at the University of Virginia. No photography was allowed of the artwork. These paintings by Australian aborigines near Alice Station in the 1970s, were complex “dream” paintings of beliefs and stories, so very different from Western or Native American art. Similar to African culture, these aboriginal people had male and female secret societies, each with their own stories and symbols. Beautiful stuff and the topic of today's poem.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The sweet strains of "Clementine" echoed through this small blacksmith's cottage at the Frontier Culture Museum, here in Charlottesville, Virginia. We spent three hours touring four working farms set in Germany (1710), Northern Ireland (130), England (1690), and the colony of Virginia (1773). Each one featured one or two "re-enacters" who eagerly showed their crafts and answered our many questions. We smelled home-made cheese three months old (kind of like Parmesean), watched a couple eat lunch while chickens hopped around at their feet, and then this blacksmith played his violin for us.

While I took many pictures and will struggle to remember all the details of this daily life, what I'll most remember, other than the love for the past and the enthusiasm of all, was how work percolated through every aspect of life and how everyone was needed for a farm to be successful, regardless of the level of technology or skill. The period furniture was also especially well carved and/or painted with the tulip motif (then immensely popular). In most houses, the smoke hung in the kitchen as women cooked over fires atop a stove or in an open fireplace. These carefully reconstructed houses include much original framing, including in the English house, original daub and wattle construction (a kind of stick-woven-with-mud) for the walls. Most families kept their animals (pigs, chickens, cows) close, even bringing them right inside the house during cold weather or at night, if times were uncertain.

Because I've been reading of crofter life during the 1840s, these farms felt very wealthy to me, though each family seemed to feel they were just getting by. I suppose that's what we all feel, that we take our comfort for granted and forget that for most of the world dirt floors are more common than stone, or brick or carpet over wood. But the quality of life is not measured by these comforts alone, for in every historical period, people dance and dream.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Today we drove from Hillville to Staunton, Virginia, up the Blue Ridge Parkway and into the famed Shenandoah Valley. We saw flowering pink dogwood and blossoming cherry trees everywhere. Here in this great valley, European settlers traveled south and west from Pennsylvania, gradually displacing native Americans between 1700-1750.

We drove along the ridges of the Appalachians, a narrow but beautiful parkway with great sweeping vistas, stopping at Mowbry’s Mill to see restored buildings from the 1840s and catching glimpses of what life was once like. I feel much more aware of our history here in the eastern half of the US. Everyone worked to the bone to survive. I cannot imagine the tremendous hope and energy that went into moving into frontier lands.

During yesterday’s visit to the Moravian community in Old Salem, we visited (among 15 other buildings) a tavern (more a way station in a long journey) to find a very well organized kitchen. A typical meal of the 1830s might include chicken with herbs, fresh baked bread, meat pasties, boiled cabbage and gingersnaps (very dark because of the sorghum molasses).

Rain and more rain for the next several days will have us mostly driving north and east. Gas has now topped $120 a barrel, bringing, Allen says, the retail base price over $3. This does not promise any financial dips in the heavy travel season this summer. But the economy and the war seem lost in the current sniping between the two Democratic candidates in the lead up to the Pennsylvania primary. Obama seems more ephemeral than ever, and Clinton (sans Bill) seems every day more shrill. Only Indecision 2008 makes fun of all and helps me remember that the real contest is not now but in the fall.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Somehow now it’s already evening. This morning, we walked to Mingo Falls, up a very steep flight of wooden stairs, some stairs muddy from the recent snow, our hearts thudding with exertion. The sound of the falls was a constant, rhododendron everywhere, large tree-sized shrubs not yet budding, yet the promise of spring everywhere in the palest of green leaves shimmering in a hardwood forest.

Yet the sound of the falls pulled us forward into warm morning. Ahead we could see the wooden bridge and a trail’s end. Above, the falls maybe 50 feet high (the stairs were higher), but we saw several lovely connected cascades, mossy rocks, a few fallen logs, not as majestic as those we have seen in our own Pacific Northwest or along the Columbia Gorge, but still a respite.

Then we drove out of the Great Smoky National Park, along curving roads, past very isolated farms and houses, the road so curving I couldn’t watch the landscape change from forest to fields to towns, but dodged trucks and slowed for two accidents. No one follows the speed limit here of 70.

We only drove about 200 miles and then here to a Quality Inn near Winston-Salem. We settled into our room, double bed, cable tv, fridge, a room with a view of a field and a swimming pool covered up as it’s not the season, and yet we heard the sweetest bird song we cannot name.

We laughed through a barbeque dinner at the nearby Sagebrush restaurant, a cowboy theme everywhere, including a fancy tooled saddle somewhat like Grandad kept in his office, though his was weather beaten and plain leather, well worn. This country reminds me of why my family moved west, west to Oklahoma and Missouri, then west to California. All this finally led me to write today's poem about my grandfather. Whew!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

‘T’was a sunny day and altogether lovely. Today we hiked to Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains, some 6,643 feet high, visiting the Mountain Farm Museum on our way to Cherokee, a small town on the edge of the Cherokee Reservation, here in North Carolina.

Everywhere we saw the palest of early spring leaves and wildflowers, including the very tiny Spring Beauty that carpeted the hardwood forest dry floor. We met hikers headed for Maine along the Appalachian Trail; Allen was ready to go.

I was entranced by the layers of blue mountains in every direction. The Cherokee story of dancing bears I turned into a poem, in memory of my grandmother who (family rumor says) was part Cherokee. She never spoke of her history, but this is the country of the Trail of Tears in 1838 which moved hundreds of Cherokees to western territories. My grandmother grew up in Fort Reno, Oklahoma. One day I’ll be able to do more research.

The Mountain Farm Museum near Cherokee was fascinating for the glimpse we gained of olden ways of farming and later logging in these Appalachian hills between 1830 until the park was established in 1934, displacing some 1,200 families.

Buildings from these old communities were moved to the Mountain Farm Museum, some as old as 1899, and including a house, woodshed, meat house, apple house, chicken house, cane mill and molasses shed, corn crib, blacksmith, springhouse, pig sty, and barn. Old photographs and wandering around this afternoon helped me visualize how much work these people did to survive and how dependent they were on their own skills. Yet these traditional ways (including quilting) are nearly gone. So we wander down paved trails and catch glimpses of a way of life that was once common. Tomorrow we'll visit Mingo Falls and head east. May the sun shine where you are.

We're at Pigeon River Inn, right by a small creek. Outside, I can see the first leaves on willow trees, with apple and cherry trees in full bloom. I think it's spring. We've stopped for 3 days here in Pigeon Cove, just outside the Great Smokey National Park for the weather is just still too cold to camp, dipping down to the 30s every night, with threats of snow. Yesterday we hiked 2.5 miles along Laurel Falls trail to see our first waterfall since Arizona. We then drove through these beautiful foothills to the Appalachians.

The town itself is considered a vacation resort, with 11 million people visiting every year. Dolly Parton's early efforts have brought many businesses here, with musical shows (including Cirque de Chine) for nearly every taste, NASCAR rides, and Dollywood. We've mostly hung out in our lovely hotel, off season rates at $29.95 before tax. But I think we're headed for Philadelphia sooner with stops in Winston-Salem and Roanoke.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dogwood flowers here seem to float among the trees along the Natchez Trace, just before we arrived in Tennessee. It was lovely to spend time with Aunt Bobbi and Starla in their homes perched on a tree-covered ridge and down in a hollow, way out in the country, well past any town larger than a gathering of 5 or 10 houses. Yesterday I heard five different kinds of bird calls and woke to a sunny morning. No time for writing today. We sat around the round oak kitchen table and talked and talked.

By afternoon, it was a different story. We all gathered in one house to watch the Storm Tracker on television, with alerts listing the precise times the storm would pass each tiny community. The voiceover said, "Take cover. This is serious."

So we watched the maps shift and change, the storm highlighted in green and red and yellow, with the announcer pointing out the cup-shaped indentation that indicates a possible tornado. The storm seemed to move in a trajectory right for us. Starla said last year, a mobile home had been hit just three miles away. So at the proper time, with hailstones falling around her double-wide mobile home, we stood in a tiny hallway, making jokes and petting Rosie, a white Llasa Apso, and the devil-dog, a little mean chihuahua, two tiny dogs who stayed quiet and close.

Then the storm passed, and it was over. I made Happy Family stir fry for dinner, and all was well. This morning, we're back in the world in Knoxville and headed to Gaitlinburg. Snow's coming tonight.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We traveled up the Natchez Parkway, an amazing stretch of 440 miles, not freeway, but undeveloped land on either side of this winding road that follows the original Natchez Trace that hunters, traders, explorers, and finally settlers followed from the Tennessee Valley down to the Mississippi. Spring is the best time for this journey, as we saw flowering dogwood, the famed Southern redbud, and the palest green of new leaves.

We're most likely going to be out of the range of internet for the next several days as we visit Tennessee cousins, so we took advantage of our new webcam and Skype to catch up with friends all over the country. Whew! It's so good to actually SEE these dear friends after so long.

Some of you know that for April, National Poet's Month, I'm trying to write a poem a day. If you'd like to read the poems, go to Beth and Writing or click the link to Beth's poems on the right. Otherwise, all goes well. Allen enjoyed the final four in men and women's basketball, and I'm plugging along with the writing.

Every so once in a while, I meeet someone online or here in the world who's traveling much as we are, nomadic, and I'm thinking there is one skill to develop and that is the ability to live with a great deal of ambiguity about the future. Even with a very structured life, we can't know the future, but we can know our innermost dreams.

As we travel around the country, so many people do say they wish they could simply let go and travel as we are doing. Some say they couldn't give up their homes, their friends, their "things," their routines, their way of life, so carefully constructed after years of effort. This may sound morbid, but what is death but such a giving up? If living in the same way year after year is your heart's dream, so be it. I hope to return to the west coast as, yes, I want to be close to family and friends, but the world beckons.