On Dust and Rain

Nothing smells clean. Outside my window, the willow struggles into a fragile green sheen; the redbud is millimetering into tiny sharp arrow tips.

In the storms racing through Missouri this week, we missed being in a tornado, tornadoes being lazy creatures, all in all, in spite of their fierceness, and don’t like battling through a city for the most part. Their preference is for flat land. We did get a half inch of rain, which brings our grand total of moisture since the beginning of the year to about an inch and a half. We’ve had one mild snowfall.

Last evening, I cleaned the back porch, screened on two sides, buttressed into the house on two sides. We carried out the leftover firewood and stacked it back outside. I began sweeping up shovelfuls of dust and dry leaves, nose twitching at the reminder of drought creeping in from the west. Everything has a powdery coat.

I feel like one of the women Gordon Parks photographed during the dust bowl days: hand shading eyes, watching for locust or a rolling dust storm. But I’m probably being over-dramatic. It’s not quite that dry although dry enough.

When I lived in Hawaii at Kalani Honua down by Volcano, my job, in exchange for free room and board, was garden work (once the memoir is published, you can read all about it). In the nights, rain often pocked through the jungle and across the compound. I’d wake briefly, glance out the screened window beside my bed, think I won’t have to water the garden, and fall asleep in the soft green scent of jungle, leaves rejoicing, earth wafting its gratitude. I wondered, from time to time, how you’d explain the smell of dirt to someone who hadn’t stuck their hands in it: loamy, yes, but that presupposes knowing what loam smells like.

There is a word to explain the smell of rain, petrichor, a combination of bacterial spores and plant oils, but about as useful in terms of scent as describing loam.

We have city water and hoses. I water the yard, taking care to soak the ground close to the house so the old rock basement doesn’t shift and crack walls. You’d think a house this old, built in 1924, with a rock basement, would have gone through all the shifting it was going to do in its close to hundred years. You’d think.

I thought the same thing a few years ago when we had a summer drought. The ceiling in a dining room corner dropped nearly two inches and the stairway wall cracked. We found a company who restores old houses. They restored.

Hence, a pricey lesson in old home management. I learned to no longer think that way. I water the house.


January 20th, 2016

Inauguration Day. It makes me sad. Not sobbing sad but melancholy for a First Family that felt like mine. Like one of my kids has lost a job he was good at. And while I know there will be another job, this is, after all, a resourceful and diligent child, I won’t see him as often.

Yes, I know you know I’m white and you may think I’m being melodramatic. Perhaps I am.

Here’s the thing: I grew up in a family of six white Kansas farm kids with a Quaker mom who wrote stories, a hard-working step-dad who told stories, and his dad, Grandpa Albert, whose stories were of “trading with the Indians” and scary stories from his Bohemian immigrant father. We always had books in our home. The farm, an 1800s land grant farm, is still in the family.

This middle-America family raised wanderers. Likely, that influence came through my biological father’s family, the Sunderlands, who wandered: six brothers who wandered from England in the 1800s, whose children who took up the wandering, and whose grandchildren did the same. My biological father was one of those wandering grandchildren. (Although Quakers wandered, too, my great-great-grandmother, for example came across the country in a covered wagon, and my step-dad’s family wandered from Europe but stayed put once they found good farmland.)

By the time I was five-years-old, we’d lived in five different places. Unfortunately, heart disease wandered with the Sunderland family and my father died young, hence the step-father. But my siblings and I took up the heritage and kept traveling.

Our children, raised by this eclectic and wandering group of siblings, married a world: one Korean, one Filipino, one African-American, and two Hispanics, and a bunch of various background white folk. Barack Obama is two years older than my oldest son who now also has gray hair and a gray beard.

What gives me hope is that there’s more of us multiple-race families who love each other; more of us who welcome strangers and make them family; more of us who care deeply for the country and our family. I’m proud to say all of us were Obama supporters.

I hope Barack Obama has a good break. Sits and stares out the window. Sleeps late. That’s what I’d wish for any of my kids/nieces/nephews after a long stretch of work.

But I’ll miss him and his elegant wife.

Afraid isn’t one of the things I do much. It’s an over-used word that means nothing. I’m afraid it’s going to rain; I’m afraid the mail hasn’t come yet; I’m afraid it’s windy today; I’m afraid they were out of mayonnaise at the grocery store.

Really? You’re afraid? Do something about it. Write letters to congress – not blasting letters but letters well-reasoned; write letters to the White House – not denigrating but

reasoned; get involved with doing instead of fearing.

I’ll join the women’s march tomorrow but avoid the sections where yelling and anger are going on. It’s not my first march. There’s a trail of them behind me. I will walk for my mother who remembered when women were “given” the right to vote; I’ll walk for my mother-in-law who never took authority, church or any other kind, seriously; I’ll walk for my friend Willy’s mother who was, eight years ago, denied communion because she wore a Hillary Clinton button to church one day. My first women’s march was in 1972, so it’s about time for another. I will support the younger ones, women and men, who are determined to change the world.

But I won’t watch as the Obamas take off in the helicopter or however they are leaving. They’re not going anywhere.




A True (almost true) Indian Summer

The light drew me outside, after a nap, after a chaotic few weeks of new baby birthing and old elders dying, after a snap of cold days and frost that had me back into long sleeves and fleece vest, after looking at my writing space and seeing only chaos, the light called. Smoky and golden, as only light can be during Indian Summer.

firstAlong with the light, it’s the shadows that capture me, deep and mysterious.

As the Farmer’s Almanac says, Indian Summer comes after the first frost, and while we’d had spurts of late fall warm days in previous years, the frost hadn’t proceeded them and that frost somehow or for some reason, changes the light. The shadows deeper, everything a little fuzzy. Roses bloomed on the back fence.

Everything needs cleaning before winter really hits. The fence mended, the gardens cleared out and mulched, the volunteer trees here and there that have sprouted in random spots, the strawberries mulched, and the spent tomato vines pulled up and put into recycling. The list is daunting.

roses-3“A moving, cool, shallow polar air mass is converting into a deep, warm, stagnant anticyclone (high pressure) system, which has the effect of causing the haze and large swing in temperature,” so says the Farmer’s Almanac.

I don’t really know what any of that means, what I know is the shadows and the colors are mysterious. One year, maybe my freshman year in high school because I’d just stepped off the bus to walk up the lane, I saw a brilliant spread of red leaves, stopped and picked a bunch, and continued to walk up to the house carrying my bouquet under my chin, and presented them to my mother.

“That’s poison oak!” my mother shouted, grabbing up a paper bag in which to deposit my treasure.

My head swelled up like a pumpkin. I missed several days of school. And I learned to admire the beautiful leaves from afar. We have no poison oak or even ivy in our yard, just summer detritus. I am, as of yet, admiring it from afar too.

The Farmers Almanac says Indian Summer must occur between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20. For over 200 years, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.”

They may need to amend their saying now that climate change is upon us. Everything weather is a little wonky these days. I guess you could say that for people too.

The most probable origin of the term, in our view, goes back to the very early settlers in New England. Each year they would welcome the arrival of a cold wintry weather in late October when they could leave their stockades unarmed. But then came a time when it would suddenly turn warm again, and the Native Americans would decide to have one more go at the settlers. “Indian summer,” the settlers called it. Farmers Almanac

God willing, no one will jump from our bushes.

Something Old, Something New…

Redesigning a website is like entering into a marriage. You’ve come to a crossroad and things change. You stop and reevaluate, reconfigure, and wiggle around the bits and differences until pieces fit together, the old and the new.

This photo from Ocean City is part of the old. I couldn’t part with it. Now it’s the first shot in the new slider. I like the crossroad of land and sky and water. There’s an old couple who struggled together up the dune to look. They, too, are at a crossroad. I like to imagine they have come to the ocean for years on vacation and played in the surf. Now they stand and remember.

The second photo in the slider, Prairie Nights, is from our family farm. My husband and I live in a crossroad city, Kansas City, and travel to Ocean City, where my husband spent much of his childhood, and to the farm, where I spent much of mine.

The old blog posts are still here in a new format, but the sidebar is gone, so readers will need to scroll down to the bottom banner which has links to the categories. Another old/new is the Publication Page with old images but in a new and updated style.

I’ve often stood at a crossroad. My crossroads usually read STOP on the side I can see, but the destination is written on the reverse side in ink fated to remain invisible for an unknown span of time. I stop, reconfigure, and head off somewhere, not knowing where or why I’m going, but trusting I’ll eventually understand.

Sort of like now. I’m at the crossroad between finishing a memoir and finding an agent to walk with it and me into publishing. That’ll be new—I expect I’ll keep you posted. While there is no end to advice or lists to finding an agent, the bottom line, as in all the arts professions, is who you know. So if you know or have an agent who might like a woman who wanders, let me know.

The completely new and figuring-out-how-it-works on this site are the pages for Workshops and Services. Two years ago, a stop sign ended twenty years of adjunct college teaching. Now I’m teaching through Workshops. I like teaching and I’m glad it’s evolved.

A year ago, a stop sign left us without a place to hold church services, but the Services page will offer us as presiders at weddings and memorial services. I’ve been a Spiritual Mentor/Counselor for more than twenty years. It was time to make it more public.

Please wander around in the new site. Let me know if you like it or if something doesn’t work for you. At base, we’re all in this together.

One last piece of new: in this new design, I’m working with Jen Wewers who has a great eye and knows social media. If it’s time for you to reconfigure, I highly recommend her.


Social Evolution vs. Political Revolution

For the past few weeks, the concepts of evolution, as in social evolution vs. revolution have occupied my mind. It appears to be on many people’s minds, unconsciously if not in those exact words, this American political season.

Bernie Sanders calls for revolution; Hillary Clinton for evolution. Trump calls for revolution, Marco Rubio, evolution.

Social evolution comes into “Big History...and emphasizes long-term trends and processes rather than history making…” says Wikki.

Revolution, on the other hand, suggests radical changes, sometimes with violence, sometimes not. Now! Well, maybe sometimes not is overstating. For the most part, political revolution in its radical-ness is noisy in one way or another.

And there’s always a backlash to revolution. In the American Revolution, the leaders had to acquiesce to the Southern states regarding slavery. Which led to the Civil War. Which we’ve not yet recovered from and put behind us as a nation.

I was part of the 60s Revolution and protested against war, for civil rights, and for women’s rights. We made a lot of noise. In 1968, the Beatles sang:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world….

We want a revolution…Now! …. yeah. I remember all that.

And then there was the backlash: Martin Luther King assassinated, riots, more hangings or burnings in the South. The war ended and Vietnamese refugees poured into the country and were segregated and hated. A woman’s right to choice was slowly, state by state, curtailed, and equality in pay is still a dream. Now the United States is an ally of Vietnam, politically and economically, and the U.S. has moved on to bigger wars in the Middle East; abortion rights are once more heading to the Supreme Court, and voting rights are being constrained and into the courts.

Gay rights is more in the social evolution camp. Yes, there were loud leaders, and the war against AIDS was fierce. Nancy Regan came out in support of gay rights and convinced her husband. But then, he had a gay son. Gay rights were close to home. Now, marriage equality is in the law.

Smoking pot was pretty common in those 60s years and many smoked openly and grew two or three pot plants in converted gallon milk jugs in a sunny window. And then Ronald and Nancy came along with the War on Drugs, drugs went underground and cultivation into other countries, and we ended up with cocaine and heroin and home-made crack and drug wars–and money, big money–now, slowly, legalization of marijuana.

That’s an example of revolution leading to evolution.

Revolutions are usually bottom-up, not top-down. In a New York Times editorial, the editor writes, “Ilya Sheyman, the executive director of MoveOn.org…is confident that movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Fight for $15 minimum -wage campaign, and Black Lives Matter will eventually propel young progressives into elective office.”

Those are “movements”–or one could say, “revolutions”–that will propel young people into the fields where they can make changes on the state and local level and eventually national. That takes time. That’s revolution into evolution.

Seth Godin, a blogger I follow, writes, “As soon as self-awareness kicks in, it’s possible to be more discerning about what you believe and why.”

Revolution was more attractive to me when I was younger and impatient for change. Now that I’ve seen changes, many changes in my lifetime, and way too much war, I am more patient.

Evolution doesn’t go backwards–once you grow an elbow, you’ve got an elbow–but I’m not so sure about revolution. It seems to take a huge leap only to back up to evolve.

I guess what I’d like is a social evolution. Something lasting as befitting the human condition of growth and evolution. I’d rather not have to wait the millions of years it takes to grow an elbow, but maybe, just maybe in my lifetime, it will arrive.