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26 November 2015


Thank you to the moon for lingering in the sky until enough light crept over the hills for me to take a photograph. Thank you to the two sweet Standard Poodle-boys who made friends with Yeti, and for their owner for walking his dogs on leash this chilly morning. 

Thank you for the author of the book I am reading, Sandra Cisneros, whose mother, like mine passed in 2007. Somehow that explains a lot. 

Thank you to the gulls resting onshore and the ravens overhead and the young eagle, not yet in adult plumage. 

Thank you for the east wind blowing waves over backwards and for the frost melting before we have to drive anywhere. 

Thank you for all the colors and the beautiful sky, the smoke pouring from chimneys and for the fire keeping us warm. 

Thank you for the food we will share later today and the conversation that makes the meal full.

Thank you for writers and singers and dancers and lovers, those who make and those who smile when I pass them on my walk, the cheerful and those who offer kindness to the distressed in our world, to those who value giving over getting, sharing over scoring, and those who offer a hand, just in case it is needed, because often it is.

Thank you for my husband and sons and daughters and grandchildren and all our families. Thank you, too, for the ones who are not here because they reside close in memory and affection. 

25 November 2015


Earlier this week, on our morning walk, I saw the local raven pair and snapped their photo. Their child seems to have left but ravens are social birds and it's likely that their youngster has moved next door rather than completely away. 

My mother was always concerned that I was "trying to do too much." Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I made the last two dishes for the holiday meal today: wild rice and mushroom casserole and bread stuffing. I already had cranberry bread, pumpkin custards, twice-baked potatoes, with Brussel's sprouts in the fridge, cooked wild rice for today's casserole, homemade veggie stock for the vegan dressing I also made today, and macaroni and cheese with crab stashed in the freezer for later. There is Chex party mix made vegan, and everything with as many organic materials as possible. So far everything is gluten-free because we have family avoiding gluten and another actually allergic. Fingers crossed for the gluten-free bread stuffing—the texture is a little different.

I slept in till 6 this morning, the second day in a row. That might not sound like sleeping in, but in my world, it is an accomplishment. By the time I'd checked out Facebook, sent my greetings, read some news, and was out on the beach, I would have been at school making photocopies. Nearly my entire life was arranged around teaching. My husband said I was never off the clock, and he was neither joking nor complaining. 

It has been a struggle to find a rhythm to my life without school. For most of the last twenty-five years I woke by 5 after seven hours of sleep, and writing—always writing!—curriculum and class assignments, completing graduate work in English and then an MFA in writing. I was running and coached cross country for a few years. I advised the yearbook class for about half my English teaching years. I stayed Wednesday evenings for twenty of them. I taught two design classes and classes on Film and science fiction that had wide-ranging effects. I generally completed ever assignment I demanded from students, often many times year after year. I may have worked harder than my students, but I made them work very hard indeed.

Other than that, I will say that I never intended to retire this young, but so far I notice that I am healthier—not sick once so far since retirement and I always had a cold or flu in the fall. I walk every day. My husband and I look at one another in the evenings: "What do you want to do tomorrow?" I am not idle, but when I am tired I can stop. 

How I ever managed to cook holiday meals while teaching is a mystery to me, though I have a better understanding of why I was so stressed sometimes. 

"Doing too much" my mother would say. It seems she was correct. 
Yeti plays with sticks on the beach. She never does more than she should.

24 November 2015


Emma Lazurus
Most anyone born in the United States is automatically a citizen of our country. Children of diplomats or theoretical occupying forces are specifically exempted. Anyone else born on U.S. lands is granted "birthright citizenship." People born here are citizens. That has been in the Constitution since 1868 when it was clearly defined for the purpose of granting former (adult male) slaves citizenship. 

Birthright citizenship is a New World notion. Most Old World nations do not recognize this pathway to citizenship even today. Most often, children are not a citizen of France or Germany or England because they are born there unless their parents are already on the path to citizenship. According to NPR: "Most of the rest of the world, for example, gives people citizenship based on a concept known as jus sanguinis, literally 'by right of blood.'" 

Bloodright cuts two ways. For most of European history, bloodright limited rights for almost all people. The United States is not a European nation with a long history of granting birthrights that include obligation to work the land (commoners) and the right to rule (kings), either born to bow or to have all others others bow before them. Just as we have never determined who we can become by birth as commoner or king, we do not label citizenship that way. (It is unAmerican, whatever Trump might say.) 

Take a look back to the roots of my granddaughter's princess-obsession. (I blame Disney. Disney has romanticized the notion of such privilege, but it is abominable in its assumption that only a few people are born to rule, to be pretty and powerful and interesting.) The idea was the God chose a few people to rule and others to serve. This is their destiny. The obligation to rule or to serve is divinely chosen. Not so long ago, in all European nations, a few people by birth had the right to sentence someone to death. And the vast majority of the rest of us had the right to prostrate ourselves in service and to die at another's will. 

It is an unAmerican notion. 

My father was a factory worker, a soldier, and then a librarian, and my mother was for part of her life a housewife and worked in businesses for the rest of it. By bloodright of birth in the Old World system, I would be a citizen, but also a commoner. I would bow and curtsey before those born to a higher station in life, people like Donald Trump who are born to wealth. I should, if born to a laborer, accept that I will be a laborer for the whole of my life and as such do a great deal of bowing and scraping. That would be the tradition that my country broke from so long ago. That is what we left behind. 

Times change. 

Most European nations are no longer true monarchies. Beyond a few constitutional monarchies which retain the figurehead, such as Queen Elizabeth, and traditional monarchies such as Saudi Arabia run by one (Saudi) family, most old world nations today are nominally democratic. They are run by and for the general populace. There are still literal princesses, but in a democracy anyone may grow up and become whatever his or her skills and opportunities allow. 

The United States was founded on that principle. We are what we become. We are born only as citizens (jus soli) and are free to determine our own destiny. As American citizens our lives prove our worth, not our status at birth. 

Do not underestimate the enormity of the radical change in principles upon which our nation was founded. Our founders looked to the Greeks and the "Five 'Civilized' Tribes" for a system that allows people to become whomever they will. We began with that grand ideal as the goal and an imperfect reality that made exceptions in citizenship rights for slaves and women and people without property. It also made an exception for American Indians, the only indigenous and rightfully native peoples, who were not granted the right of citizenship until 1924. We are perfecting our path in the direction laid down by our nation's founders more than two hundred years ago. We have often failed, but that does not mean we should stop pursuing our noble ideal. 

We have set the bar. We and the world hustle to catch up. 

It begins with our birthright as citizens born in this country. "The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.' "

We should be proud of our history and our national ambitions and we should recall the ideals that we willingly protect with our lives. We are born Americans and we are free to become whatever we will. At the very basis of our nation's notion of liberty is that right.

The New Colossus
     —Emma Lazurus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

22 November 2015


I began helping my mother and grandmother cook holiday dinners when I was a little girl. It was what girls were expected to do in the 1950s. Many girls of my generation understandably resented this obligation, and I know women of my age who can barely cook a casserole, as well as not enjoying any part of the process.

On the other hand, some of us really love baking. That would be me. I read recipes as a girl, watching Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet on television, checked out cook books from the library, and did a reversal on my mother—I became a more adventurous and far more enthusiastic cook and baker than she was.

A "technical" round of The Great British Bake-Off involved baking an angel food cake. The contestants knew less about angel food than I do about truffle—most could not even picture what it was supposed to look like and had only the written recipe to go by. I enjoyed that one.

My mother used to bake an angel food cake every week until my father admitted he had eaten it too often as a child and didn't care for it. Nevertheless, it was a favorite of mine and I was about eleven when baked my first angel food cake—a dozen egg whites and cooled upside down hung from a soda bottle because it rose higher than the legs on the pan. In high school it was my show-off dessert served with strawberries folded into whipped cream.

On Thanksgiving, however, I made pumpkin pie and sometimes apple or chess pies. I canned mince meat made with venison, when I could get it. I was responsible for roasting the turkey from my early teens. I was good at that. (My recipe for roasted chicken is still the best I have ever had.) For years, I was the one in the family who made the turkey dressing and gravy, the Waldorf salad, green bean casserole, and sometimes cranberry sauce from scratch. I made carrots gilded with turmeric, added fresh cranberries to the stuffing, and made cranberry bread and twice-baked potatoes.

The best holiday meals I have ever had were at holiday parties at the Fire Arts Building at the University of Washington in the early 1970s, and they still speak to my tongue. I will credit Howard Kottler and Patti Warashina and grad students from around the world. We celebrated Yom Kippur and Passover. We had Sikhs and Swedes at the table. Our potluck meals were diverse and gorgeous. Nigerian peanut and chicken stew. Curries. One of the most beautiful and tasty sides I ever had was put together by a sculptor friend of mine who had traveled alone through the Far and Middle East. It put every stodgy canned-sweet-potatoes-and-pinapple-covered-in-marshmallows dish to shame. As best I can recall, she fine-chopped sweet potatoes with minced fresh pineapple and coated the thin, baked casserole with a hard clear glaze of melted honey and sugar, ghee, and sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds flavored with turmeric. The orange color of the sweet potatoes contrasted richly with the golden, nutty creme brûllée-like topping that cracked as it was served.

There is not just the challenge of making a great meal, which in those days was shared between many of us, but always the challenge of eating the meal. We figured this out early in our relationship. Gary's family had holiday meals early, mine late, so we would eat with his parents and then with mine. The first year, my belly ached from all the food, and I learned to pace myself. Once we had our own home, Gary wanted turkey leftovers and they were Ann Ann's favorite (our first Afghan Hound), so I would put a 20-pound turkey in the oven by seven, baste all morning and tent it with foil before heading to the Anderson's at 2, home to attend to our turkey, and then to my mother's in time to get her small hen turkey into the oven for another Thanksgiving after six.

By the time I finally became a vegetarian in 1990, I had prepared at least 25 Thanksgivings, sometimes twice in one day, and I was relieved never to have to touch raw turkey again.

Mom was not happy.

We have barbecued wild salmon for Thanksgiving. We have purchased smoked turkey for other members of the family. We celebrated Thanksgiving with family most of all, but also with neighbors invited over for a meal, with friends, and once alone. We have contributed to potluck Thanksgiving suppers and one Thanksgiving after our children were grown and it was just the two of us, all my husband had was pumpkin pie. It is the pie and cranberry bread that Gary cares about.

This year, Thanksgiving will be in Portland. I hope to make a feast without making myself crazy. Garbanzo beans are steaming just now because I mean to make hummus. I already have gluten-free crackers and party mix I made last week. Perhaps we will buy some local smoked salmon, certainly I will make vegetarian stuffing with cranberries and vegetables and gluten-free bread, Gary's favorite cranberry bread (half of us will eat that), wild rice and mushroom casserole (a family staple), twice-baked potatoes (only some with cheese), roasted Brussel's sprouts from the Farmer's Market, and certainly "Ruby's pumpkin custard" with whipped cream on the side.  Most everything will be gluten-free and vegan except for butter. Ian might make an apple pie. Emily's mother may bring a fruit salad. I made grenadine from pomegranate juice the other day. I am wondering how I might include that someplace. Probably not everything on my list will find its way to the table on Thursday. I tend to plan more dishes than I find energy to make. But since I do not roast a turkey, most can be prepared in advance, over the next days prior to the holiday.

And that way, at the last minute on Thursday, I will not, as my mother used to say, be running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

20 November 2015


Gary is downstairs listening to sad music from the 60s and I have come upstairs to pretend I am working on a sewing project that I will enjoy once I actually get going on it. 

This morning on our walk Gary and shared memories from the years before we met. These conversations always seem to start with Janis Joplin. I stood on the floor of the Arena, not a dozen feet away from her. Gary was there too, though we did not know one another yet. Earlier she had let him in to Eagles to see Big Brother and the Holding Company. Gary saw all the bands back in the day. Today my husband would be the designated driver. He did not smoke, drink, or use drugs, but he was pretty much high all the time on music. 

So I mention Janis and Gary talks about Haight Street in 1967 when he insists the San Francisco music scene was already dying. He runs through a list of the San Francisco bands, including ones that are still new to me. My guitar teacher had followed her band-member husband south and came back disillusioned. "It was crowded and dirty." Gary called the streets filthy. He saw a high school friend standing on a corner in the Haight-Ashbury District. They chatted for a time and then he went back to find his family, which had gone south to visit relatives in San Diego and Sacramento. 

My mother and her older sister lived on Haight during the Second World War. They would move to Berkeley when they entered University after the war. My aunt Marcia must have been on the G.I. Bill from serving in the Marines. Both my mother and her sister would marry veterans. My uncle Harry lost most of his family in the war. As German Jews, they found it difficult to escape the Nazis. Harry and his brother came to the United States on student visas and joined the Marines as soon as our country joined the war. Their mother survived the war. The rest of the family did not. 

They are all gone now. And I miss my sister-in-law, my mother and father, Gary's parents, and my grandparents, my aunt and uncle. I missed meeting Gary's grandmother, but I have heard so many stories, I miss her too. 

But it is the cat we are missing today. 

One of our last photos of Leakey.
We began saying to one another that if we outlived the pets we might travel. Yesterday we drove to Tillamook and didn't worry about the cat stressing and throwing up on the floor. Gary slept through the night without getting up to attend to her. The kitty litter and cat food went to our neighbor. The closet with her cat door is vacuumed and we have plans to paint it. Gary put other things in the attic, because chances are will will have another cat some day. It does not make us miss her less.

I think about the deaths of our dogs and cats and family over the years. I wonder how many more I will survive. I am the oldest in my immediate family. Gary has older cousins, but is in much the same boat. We have become the older generation. 

Some years I taught a novella by Jane Smiley, "Good Will". Today we would say the point of view character lives entirely "off the grid" and with almost no handling of money. Bob says he no longer keeps many animals because he is not willing to be involved in too many deaths. The man is a veteran, and I suppose I connect him to the men and women I have known who were veterans and who never quite shake off the deaths of comrades. He wants his life entirely under control, everything about his farm balanced and known. Bob is controlling and narrow, a bit of a bully, but I feel for his need to create paradise. 

Leakey arrived one afternoon a couple of weeks after the death of our nineteen-year-old gray cat, Zora. Gary blamed me for picking her up and bringing her into the house. I blamed him for opening a can of tuna for her on the front deck before I got home and found her. She was skeletal-thin, long-haired, had the tiny voice of a newborn kitten, and the longest sharpest claws we'd ever seen on a domestic cat. We never knew how old she really was, but celebrated her birthday with the dog's. She preferred to hunt rats and never killed a bird. When she realized that Zora had trained the dog to be afraid of cats, she quietly commenced her own campaign to maintain that fear. She shredded furniture and slept on Gary's back sometimes. Sometimes Yeti and Leakey even shared furniture. We loved her very much. 

We all mourn in our own way. But the need to love must not leave us. Our desire to have the world exactly as we want it flies in the face of reality. The world moves on. 

There is no paradise but the one we create and share with others. The way to overcome grief and loss is through love.

19 November 2015


The other day, like millions of others, I watched the video of the French father explaining to his son that there are bad people everywhere, but they did not need to move away from the guns of the "bad guys" his son was so afraid of, because they have guns, "but we have flowers."

And then yesterday I found three of my Facebook connections had posted the same meme above. One is a family member by marriage, one I met because our Salukis are related, and the third is a former student.

I mean, isn't that kind of wonderful?

In Edgar Allen Poe's story, "The Mask of the Red Death," wealthy Prince Prospero locks himself inside his palace, throws a gorgeous party, and the Red Death comes to find him anyway. Poe was a drug addict and married his adolescent cousin, but he was not completely stupid. Poe understood that when we try to lock ourselves away from the trouble in the world, that trouble will track us down and strike us dead. It's a metaphor, but a powerful one.

I believe when we give in to terrorists, they win.

"New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has said his state will not take in any refugees – 'not even orphans under the age of five'." I believe it is the statement of a man who has passed cowardice and entered the employment of the enemy. 

A member of my family, who evidently reads unreliable news sources, posted on FB that 73% of the refugees from Syria are males between the ages of 18-30. That is not true. The truth, something approaching reality, is that 49.7% are male, which is pretty much what you would expect in any population. And more than 38% are under the age of twelve. From Huffpost:

But when people are very, very afraid and anxious that others should also be terrified, they sometimes not only believe the propaganda, they promote it.

Many nations in the world have stepped up to do their share and so have charitable organizations such as World Vision. When tiny Iceland refused to take more than a handful of refugees, its citizens rose up and individually volunteered to take 80,000.

Further, according to The Guardian: "Each [refugee] candidate is vetted first by the UN’s refugee agency, and then separately by officials from the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department. The process takes between 18 months and two years." There is a detailed explanation of the process from immigration lawyer Scott Hicks. It is exhaustive prior to entry into the U.S.

If we had allowed Jews to come here during WW2, my uncle's family would not have perished in Germany. Instead they died without hope.

That is not what my country stands for. That is not what I believe in.

Unless we want to live behind razor wire—and some of us do—but unless most of us want to live that way, huddled in a bunker and behind razor wire, we'd best deal with the world and its troubles, because the world is where we live.

Dying in a locked palace while all around me suffer is not my idea of a glorious way to go. I do not want to live so afraid that I am afraid to do the right thing.

[And in case everyone else failed to read a reliable news source, my husband points out that only one of the attackers connected to the Paris bombings even has a Syrian passport, which would not be the point anyway.]

"Open doors."

18 November 2015


Toward the end of one of my favorite science fiction novels, a child is chilled from exposure. A doctor has someone mix a white powder into warm water. "What is it?" the man asks as he stirs the water with his finger. "Sugar," the doctor says. The man wipes his fingers on the grass.  

That's the future, but not realistic today. Today we would suck our fingers. 

Sugar. We love it and we crave it, but it is not good for us, no matter how we disguise it. 

There is no doubt that Americans eat too much sugar, but when we only avoid high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetner, we might be missing the point. "We are eating too much of everything, not just sugar," according to cardiologist James Rippe. "Over the last three decades, the average American has increased their calorie consumption by 24% and physical activity has declined. People are singling out sugar as the one smoking gun in the obesity epidemic when there are guns everywhere." Rippe works for the Corn Refiners Association, so his bias may be evident here, but pretty much everyone would agree with him that we eat too much sugar.

The three sugars doing us damage are fructose, which is broken down by the liver and is the sugar most likely to turn into fat; sucrose which requires insulin and is the one that gives us the most extreme sugar high and sugar crash; and glucose, which is the sugar your body creates to use for energy. "High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn and can be found in numerous foods and beverages on grocery store shelves in the United States. High fructose corn syrup is composed of either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, with the remaining sugars being primarily glucose and higher sugars." 

Many "natural and healthy" foods these days are sweetened with apple juice concentrates, for example, which is higher in percentage of fructose than HFCS and has little left in the way of actual nutrition. 

Ironic, huh? In trying to fix one food problem, we create it all over again with another food.

Sugar is sugar is sugar. 

I recently found a recipe online, promoted as a "less sweet" carrot cake with a strong carrot flavor. It only had one cup of grated carrots plus two kinds of raisins, pineapple, and no added sugar. Well, no added granulated sugar, though the fruit added a lot. And then one other ingredient: the recipe called for a 12 ounce can of thawed apple juice concentrate. That is about the same amount of sugar in another cup of white granulated sugar, and more than half of that sugar in the form of public enemy number one, fructose. The frosting had another can of undiluted apple juice concentrate. The website has altered their text since I first read it, deleted most of the comments, and while I figure it probably is a tasty cake, it is not "no-sugar" or even "low-sugar" as it claims. 

That pretty eight-inch carrot cake would have to be sliced pretty thin not to top an adult's recommended sugar intake. The raisins and sultanas, canned pineapple, and apple juice concentrate have 340 grams of sugar. Add the frosting and it tops 500 grams. Cutting that cake into 12 servings would yield over 40 grams of sugar per serving. (And who would eat just one slice that small?) 

The Sugar Association has worked for decades to convince us that our recent habit of daily sugar consumption is doing our body good. They also worked hard to convince mothers that the sugar highs and lows they witnessed in their children were imaginary. 

The truth is that sugar is one of those things we need to eat in moderation. 

The World Health Organization recommends no more that 25 grams of total sugar for a healthy adult, no more than 10% of total calories coming from sugar. That amounts to about 6 teaspoons, a single 2-tablespoon scoop. "To put that in perspective, a can of soda alone can have as many as 40 grams, or about 10 teaspoons of sugar." 

The problem is not having a sweet on a holiday or birthday a few times a year. The real problem is that Americans eat this way every single day. While we have cut fat, we eat more sugar than any nation on earth—on average 126 grams a day! A single cup of ordinary apple juice has 27 grams of sugar. The smallest caramel Frappuccino has 45 grams of sugar, the grande has 64. On average we're having our grande twice each day. 

There is a lot going on in nutrition that scientists have not even noticed yet. We have been slow to figure out what should be obvious: we need to eat a variety of healthy foods to be healthy ourselves. And sugar, by any name, is not good for us. 

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