The Peter Principle–Reached

The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter and published in 1969. It states that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence”. Text and illustration from Wikimedia.

An email arrived in my inbox yesterday, advising me of updates to WordPress that MUST be made and if said receiver of email hadn’t done so yet, click on this link.

That was the first step on the above stairway to chaos. I successfully deleted said email because I don’t click on ANY links in email and especially from people I don’t know.

But then, I went to WordPress and had a long chat, meaning a chat via text not voice, with an accommodating tech who said, “Hmmmm. That’s curious…” and proceeded to put me on hold while he checked it out. Didn’t come from WordPress, he came back to write. Just delete it as spam. But your email address is visible to anyone and perhaps I should buy Privacy. But my email address isn’t on my site, I said, and he went on to explain how some site or another has all these addresses listed, but I could buy Privacy from, oh, I don’t remember the name, something like BOTARMY (probably not but all in caps, but whoever processes my payment to Bluehost for hosting my site name) and said I could buy Privacy for my account there.

Now. Mind you, I’ve been on some kind of computerized communication since the late 1980s, let’s say more or less 1987, when I bought my beloved Smith Corona Portable Word Processor on some rare trip to the states and lugged it back through suspicious Mexican customs to sit on a desk, in front of a window, in my apartment in the Zona Rosa in Mexico City, only to lug it back to Washington D.C. in 1989, to lug it to Hawaii in 1992, to lug it to Georgia in 1993, to take it to Santa Fe in 1994, where I bought my first HP computer in 1995 and signed up for email. The Smith Corona and its disks went into an overhead storage shelf in my little 600 square foot adobe in Santa Fe. I have become fairly adept at electronic communication in the meantime.

That’s probably more than you want to know and this is likely to become a really long post.

So anyway, I’ve been on a real computer with Windows and email and all that stuff since 1995 and I advanced up the stairway rather successfully. I do, in fact, have stored files from those first disks and even a machine to plug into current PC and read said disks. Maybe I had floppies, but I can’t remember and I don’t have any saved so maybe I didn’t. I do, however, have saved disks from the Smith Corona, and if anyone knows how to read said small disks, and I’ve looked, mercy, I’ve looked, let me know.

Anyway, back to yesterday. So. WordPress guy said contact my site name provider, in short. And I did, and had a realllllly long chat with said provider who used to host my website but now doesn’t but has to host my name because WordPress doesn’t have that ability yet…although I wish they would get it as it would simplify my life. At least it would have yesterday.

So at any rate, I advanced to the next step after very long chat, and since I rarely go to Bluehost except to re-sign up again to host my name (isn’t my name MINE???), I’d forgotten how to get there and what to do once I did. The chat person was patient. It was a long chat of me going back and forth trying to make sense of what I couldn’t do. Fortunately (although it didn’t feel fortunate at the time), I lost the connection to chat person and couldn’t retrieve it. But it went something like this:

Okay. Here’s the problem. church06 with new password doesn’t work. The old domain doesn’t exist anymore so I still can’t log in.

5:03:55 PM Anujna P can you login using : or

5:04:33 PM Janet Sunderland I don’t know. let me see.

5:04:51 PM Anujna P sure

5:08:35 PM Janet Sunderland I can get in and I can update information, but I can’t get to anything. It says the account was ended in 2012.

Anyway, this went on for a very long time before the chat dropped (and possibly, Anujina was really tired of answering my inane questions and stopped). However, I had managed to go in, change the password and log in name, signed up with Privacy (it’s a one click deal wouldn’t you know) and, oh, yes, updated the credit card info.

But I called anyway and spoke to a very kind and patient tech who walked me through what I’d done, set me up for automatic renewal, and reminded me how to get around on the BlueHost site.

And then I got off the phone, noted all information the the passcode book, and took a nap.

I have risen to the level of incompetence with computers, that much is obvious.

But I shall persevere. I mean, what am I going to do if I don’t? My history, if not in the stacks of journals I lug from place to place, is in computer files.

Whine. I guess I can whine. Not particularly charming or effective, but you have now, if you’ve reached this point, read the whine and possibly even absolved me. Maybe you’ve even laughed.

The end.


Weather Report

20160502_163351Family history lives in these yellow blooms and the tightly curled purple buds beyond them. Layers and layers of family and stories. One of the main reasons I love teaching my workshop, Saving Grandpa’s Stories–and Grandma’s too! is because I grew up with stories.

History isn’t only made by people in history books; it’s made by ordinary people living ordinary lives and telling the good parts.

The yellow iris are from my father’s mother, Grandma Sunderland, via Cousin Linda’s garden who got them from Grandma. Grandma Walt, we called her as her husband, our father’s father, was Grandpa Walt. Grandma and Grandpa Walt. That’s how it was. She had a first name but we never called her that; in fact, her first name is my middle name and since Grandma’s name was a secret, my middle name is secret. I never use it, not even the first initial.

We’ve had buckets of rain lately so the garden is voluptuous. Stuff is blooming everywhere. And then it gets sunny and hot and stuff explodes. We’ve had heavy thunderstorms, gloriously noisy affairs. Last night alone we got just short of two inches. I think of Dad, standing at the edge of the yard fence, looking out over the west fields and watching thunderheads form. In the spring, tornadoes were always a possibility, but our homestead on a rise so we could see ten miles in all directions. I hated the thought of having to dive for the old and dank and cobweb strewn cellar if he thought it necessary. But tornadoes prefer flat surfaces and draws to climbing any kind of hill, so tornadoes, as a rule, ran off around the south side and down a draw where they tangled in pasture woods. Dad was a story-teller. Stories were always a good reason to take a break  and lean on a hoe or a tractor tire. One of his favorites was telling about the times he hired Lawrence Welk’s band to play for dances on a wooden platform in the pasture at the end of our lane.

Dad was my father after my first father died. He married a widow with five kids and brought us to the farm. He was short and dark, his lineage Bohemian. And he loved to polka. It has just occurred to me I’m repeating my mother’s story: for my second husband, I married a Polish man about the same height as Dad, who dances a mean polka, whose hair was originally dark, and who tells East Baltimore and Patterson Park stories.

How do we ever make sense of our lives when we’re such a bundle of used-to-be stories?

Along with the iris, which I cut and bring into the house because their heads are so heavy, the rose bushes are loaded, the stems heavy with bloom, and the peonies from Cousin Howard’s yard are covered with heavy, plump buds. There will be peonies a plenty for Memorial Day.

When I moved back here from Santa Fe in 1999, I didn’t know I’d own a house and live in that house long enough for a twelve-foot newly planted willow to reach forty feet. I’ve never lived anywhere this long. When I first came back, Cousin Howard and I would go out to dinner. One of the early times, as we sat across from each other at a hotel dining room table for two next to the window, and we picked up our white cloth napkins and lay them on laps, I looked at Howard, he of the lovely white beard, and said, “We know who you look like, Grandpa Sunderland. You’re one of the oldest cousins, so who do I look like?’

Well. Howard reared back in his chair, eyes wide as if completely astonished at my ignorance, and said, “Why, Grandma Sunderland, of course.”

I hooted laughing. “So Grandpa and Grandma Sunderland are at dinner.”

He grinned wide through his beard and his eyes twinkled just like Grandpa Sunderland’s. “I guess so.”

I had no idea I looked like Grandma Sunderland. I knew I baked bread and biscuits like her and rolled out dough like her. I’ve never been able to duplicate her sugar cookies although I’ve tried. My hands look like hers although she’d had two middle fingers chopped off at the first joint when a young teen by an errant hatchet aiming for a chicken’s neck. I used to bite my nails and I’ve certainly banged up my hands on more than one occasion, but I have all my fingers.

The purple buds among the yellow blooms are from my mother’s father, Grandpa Joe. He tended iris and roses and apple trees and cherry trees and an expansive vegetable garden in our backyard in Barnes, Kansas where we lived from the time I was four to nine. Railroad tracks ran at the back of our long yard. Grandpa was the depot agent. A chicken house with chickens sat at the edge of a ditch before the ditch rose to the tracks. The ground was built up so high for the tracks, evenly spaced and wooden ties-shored tunnels ran under it. We’d stand in the ditch and dare each other to run into the tunnel as the Missouri-Pacific thundered past above our young heads. It probably wasn’t running as fast as we thought, however, because the depot was only about three blocks further on. But those engines, which still belched smoke when I was a kid, were huge and heavy and loud. I remember kids putting pennies on the track but I never did. I worried it would derail Grandpa’s train. And we’d been warned often enough to stay off the tracks. Grandpa Joe also had a special spot in the shade under one tree near the house where coffee grounds got dumped. That was so worms would come and make a colony and my father could find them with only a brief dig to go fishing.

The preacher, Bob, who’d known us forever, told a story about the garden and chickens at my mother’s funeral. He remembered when the chickens got loose and into the garden’s garlic patch, and mother fried up garlic flavored chicken for weeks.

I tried that once with fresh garlic in the flour and pan before cooking. My sons were not impressed. Mom’s garlic chicken is still their story when we’re together. “No garlic chicken!” they say.

Grandpa Joe’s purple iris smelled exactly like grape pop. You can’t find that kind of iris at a nursery. But a farm neighbor I visited one day dug up bags full of tubers for me and now I have Grandpa Joe’s grape-pop purple iris.

Who am I in this trail of flowers and weather and bird song? Life is like writing: the good stuff is in the revision process. I can keep track, more or less, of personal revisions and renewals, but it’s a long list. And now I’ve recreated childhood.

The house we live in looks like Grandpa Joe’s house in Barnes, and if you’d cut it in half, long ways, it would look like the Baltimore row home Cliff grew up in. The metal frame you can sort of see behind the iris is a metal shelf from his mom’s place. Much of our furniture is from that Baltimore row home, which we brought back here after Mom sold the house and moved into a senior’s apartment building.

Cliff tells stories of his brother banging into the Duncan Fife china cupboard corners as he dashed from room to room. We have a small cupboard his grandfather, Dziadz, Polish for grandfather, built. Our home is filled with stories. Every painting, every piece of art, every photograph on our walls (and we have many) comes with a story.

The sky’s been clouding up again as I’ve written, sitting at the wide front upstairs window with a Romare Bearden quote taped to the sill: Artists are like mice. They need old houses where they can roam around and nobody bothers them.

We have that kind of house. The kind of house a child might draw: peaked roof, front door flanked by windows, a tree out front.

Across the bottom of the drawing, I’ll write, Honey, I’m home.



Enter Ash Wednesday

CA%20Mardi%20Gras%20014[1]A blogging friend celebrates Mardi Gras the Cajun way with La Danse de Mardi Gras, a song popular from the old days, a huge pot of gumbo, the ingredients gathered from local farmers, and fiddle playing no doubt. Sounds like about the perfect celebration. Her piece is worth a read.

As I read, I couldn’t help but remember my own experiences with Mardi Gras, one in New Orleans and the other in Tepoztlán Mexico. Those two were enough to last the rest of my life, but I must admit, les bons temps rouler in Cajun country sounds pretty tempting.

Mardi Gras began in New Orleans as early as the 1730s. A century later, it had processions of krews (as the groups are called who come together to create the floats), torchlight processions, carriages and horseback riders.

The horseback riders have remained, the carriages grown to enormous floating pleasure palaces with flinging plastic bead necklaces and candy. The best times, for the locals anyway, are the two weeks proceeding Fat Tuesday when smaller parades show off the handiwork of their krews, which also come with flung beads and candy. I remember those parades and the beads and one night of too many Cap’t Morgans with orange juice. That night, I ended up at the uptown Maple Leaf Bar reading poetry.

This year, New Orleans is expecting a million people. A million people packed into an area 13 blocks long and 6 blocks wide. I am not tempted.

I have no idea how many people packed the French Quarter during the Mardi Gras I lived in New Orleans. I wasn’t on the street, I was working, not however at my usual job of regular night time bartender at Molly’s at the Market on Decauter Street, it was too busy for a lone woman. The daytime bartender, Walter, and a friend of his worked the bar and I worked the floor. This was in 1982, so don’t let the below photo shock you.

Face and dress, 1982

A black taffeta dance-hall girl dress with red bow and ruffles. Yep. It still hangs in my back closet although I haven’t worn it in years. But that night, I folded dollar bills lengthwise and tucked the ends under the red ruffle above my bosom. By nights end, dollars ringed the front ruffles, some along my back, and both straps: singles, $5s, $10s. I even found two twenties when I returned home the next morning. I don’t remember much about that night except the packed bar, wending my way between tables, evading hands unless they were tucking in bills, and batting my eyelashes with one upraised finger if they tried to tuck too deep. The music and noise ended at midnight; the drinkers stayed, but even they began to drift away. By the time I left the bar, near 2 am, dark and quiet as only the French Quarter can be when it shuts down, no one was on the streets. Ash Wednesday had slipped in.

The second Mardi Gras was in Tepotzlan. Look it up in Google. They say there are more brujas and brujos (witches and warlocks) in the Tepotzlan area than anywhere else in Mexico. And since it’s Morelos, they say the ghost of Zapata still rides the mountain ridges. I lived there about seven months before moving into Mexico City. My friend and I had just found a house to rent, we’d been looking for a couple of weeks, staying with other friends, and it was perfect. A cool, old Spanish style house, shaded veranda, big garden, and two blocks from the center of town and the best Saturday market I’ve ever shopped.

Tepotzlan0001 (2)That’s me on the right, balanced on one foot, hands in pockets, long hair tied back.

During the week before Fat Tuesday, dancers danced for hours in the Plaza. The dance called brincas, the jump, the dancers Chinelos, dressed in long velvet robes, masks with conquistador faces. And they jumped–around and around and around in a circle on the plaza, they jumped and jumped, hours at a time, hours and hours, drums beating time. The dancing and drumming went on late into the night. Two blocks from the center of town could be noisy.

And then came Fat Tuesday. They jumped, the drums pounded, and to accompany it all, cohetes, four-foot long rockets shaped like giant bottle rockets exploded over the town. All day. In the evening. In the night. We grew restless. Only a couple of more hours until midnight, I assured my friend who had grown cranky. Only one more hour, I said at eleven as we lay across the bed, staring at the ceiling. They didn’t stop. The cohetes went on and on, exploding over the house, the town, our village; and the munedo shop across the street doing a brisk business with much shouting, laughter, and general drunken singing.

It will end soon, I kept saying. Well, not soon, but it did end. As the first traces of dawn slid over the sky, the cohetes went silent, the drunks went home, the village grew silent, as only an exhausted village can do, and we slept.

Thank God for Ash Wednesday.




Living with Loss # 3

Part One  &  Part Two Here

Part Three

A week later and back on the road, I headed for Wymore in New Blue. Several conversations with the nursing staff throughout the week assured me Mother was doing as well as expected. They had her out of bed and going to meals. She wasn’t eating much, but she was eating. I’d only talked directly to her once and the conversation rambled.

“That big ice storm on the farm, one of the ewes had twins. Your father wrapped the babies in his coat and brought them to up to the house.” Confused by her reference, I didn’t say anything. We didn’t have sheep on the farm. “Little Joe was a baby, so I had bottles.” Oh. The first farm when my father and my brother were still alive. Before me, before any of the rest of us. “I had a new White stove and I’d fixed dinner, so the coals were still hot. He opened the oven door and made a nest out of his coat, put the babies there. He’d go down every couple of hours and milk the ewe. Bring back the milk and we’d feed those babies from the bottles. He took them back down in the morning. Those babies were fine.”

Tell me about the white stove,” I said, thinking color, not brand. “The White had a double oven, new style. Still used wood but it cooked good. I loved that stove. Brand new, but we had to leave it behind when we moved to San Francisco. Too big. But he took my wringer washer apart and we packed dishes inside the tub. We took that.”

I treasured the new stories I heard, even the old ones. “I’m coming up in a couple of days. Michael has music lessons tomorrow.” She said that was fine. And then she hung up the phone, clattering it in the cradle as she tried to replace it. I heard a dial tone.

Light snow melted on the windshield in occasional flakes when I parked at the nursing home. More snow. The almost-February sky sullen in the fading light. When I went inside, I saw Mom just past the nurses’ station, in a wheelchair, facing the closed dining room doors. A few other residents, some in wheelchairs, some sitting on the orange plastic chairs lined up against the wall, waited for the buzzer to announce the last meal of the day.

I came up behind her and leaned around her head to kiss her cheek. “Hi, Ma.”

“Oh, Janet,” she said, and lifted a hand to cup my cheek before pointing to the brown fiber broom closet door some few paces ahead in the wall. “Let’s get out of here.”

And before I could answer, before I could explain it was a closet, her lips began the rhythmic smacking, indicating a Petit Mal seizure coming on. I’d seen those seizures for years. They’d come on in times of stress or sometimes just because. Her hands began twitching. Still leaning over, I gave her one of my hands to grab and laid my other arm over her shoulder to brace her head. Twisting behind me as much as I could, I saw two of the staff. “Help me get her to her room!”

We trundled down the hallway, a nurse pushing the wheelchair, me walking alongside, my hand still clasped by Mom, the aid rushing ahead to open the door and be ready to help at the bedside. We moved her into bed, covered her feet and legs with a blanket, her lips still smacking and her head twitching.

“I’ll call an ambulance,” the nurse said.


I couldn’t send her back to the hospital. I couldn’t! She’d told me she was ready…I had to let it be…I had to trust her. I didn’t know what to do. Either she’d pull out of it or she wouldn’t. The smacking lips quieted. The twitching stopped. The nurse brought a chair to the bed and I sat, holding Mother’s hand. Her breathing ragged and slow. The nurse flipped off the light as she left.

The next hour crept by on silent feet. The wall clock ticked. I prayed. Sometimes silently, “help me help me help me.” I brushed back her bangs, saw again the deep dent in her forehead that had been there since the car accident when Little Joe died. I held her hand. Said, “shhhhhhh….” when she twitched or gurgled. “It’s okay. You can go,” I said over and over. Once I said, “Take Jesus hand…he’s there…” And she whispered the last words I’d hear, “I can’t see him…..” I was drowning in tears. But I wouldn’t sob. When I unclenched my teeth, I said, “Then take Dad’s. He’s waiting….”  What did I know. I didn’t know anything. All I could do was hold her hand, say inane things, wanted to help. A snow gust shook the window. I didn’t know what to do. One hand holding Mom’s hands, the other picked up the phone and called Cliff in Santa Fe. He was still at work.

“Mom’s dying, Cliff…I can’t do this….I don’t know what to do…I can’t help her…I’ve told her it’s okay….I’ve told her to take Dad’s hand…please help me!”

“Shhhhhhh…” I heard. “You’re doing the right thing. You know what to do. Breathe.” I took a deep breath. My neck relaxed and my jaw unclenched. “Sometimes, it’s hard for someone to leave if a person they love is right there. Your mother loves you.” The tears began again. I clenched my jaw to keep from sobbing. “Just back up. Give her the space she needs…”

“Please pray with me,” I said. And he prayed, my ever-constant protector, the priest in him with the right words, always, for my mother, for me. “Now just back up,” he said. “That’s all you have to do now. Just move your chair back from the bed a little.”

“Okay,” I said and hung up the phone. I pushed back and saw someone in the hallway light, framed in the open door, sitting in a wheelchair. Laverne, Mom’s oldest friend from church. I got up and went to the door.

“How is she?” Laverne asked. “Mom’s dying, Laverne. I’m sorry.”

She nodded and backed up her chair to turn down the hall. At that moment, I heard the wall clock sing. My mother loved birds, had watched them all her life, on the farm, when traveling with Dad, and she had a wall clock of birds, each different one singing on the hour. The Nightingale sang. I turned back to the bed. Mother no longer breathed.

It was just like her to go so quietly, no bother at all. I sat beside her for a while. Just sat. Then I got up, filled her basin with warm water in the bathroom, brought back a towel and washcloth, and I bathed my mother. Gently. No trouble at all. I covered her with a blanket and called the front desk. Two nurses came down and did what they had to do. I sat and waited until the mortician came with a gurney and a big black body bag. I couldn’t watch. I went outside through whipping snow to wait.

Prairie Storms

Tonight, after you died, a nor’easter blew in.
You didn’t know—you’d slipped out
early on a nightingale’s song.
Now I sit in the car, blasted
into childhood, no stop for my fear.

Prairie storms were never unexpected.
Dad stood at the fence, smelled ruin
in the wind’s icy claw. He called us outside
(you tied bandanas over our faces) to secure
barn doors and chicken coop against the fury.

We stamped into the kitchen—popcorn, hot
chocolate—and stood our turn on the floor grate.
I played checkers with Grandpa—worried
my red plastic chip (he always played black)
until he growled, “Can’t get there thinking about it.”

If a door slammed open, Dad took care of it.

No preparation for this storm—didn’t know
it was coming. Snow batters the windshield,
tugs at wiper blades struggling to clear my view.
The nursing home door opens; they wheel you
to the hearse. Someone closes the door.

Remember the year it snowed so much
we couldn’t reach the barn? You and Dad
off in Florida. Kenny Divorak tramped up
the hill. We dug tunnels through soaring drifts
high as the grain bins. We were safe; you were safe.

The hearse pulls away.

Wind blasts my car. I turn up the heater, thaw
my cold feet, think about the calls I must make
from my cousin’s warm kitchen. Can’t
get there thinking about it. I put the car in gear,
inch forward into prairie winter.

Postscript: a happy (almost) ending: I returned to my Kansas City apartment two days later, drained. The apartment in chaos because of a leak in the bedroom ceiling, no bed to go to, so I pulled out a bedroll and lay in on the office floor. While nowhere near finished with grief, exhaustion pulled me into sleep. Just as I drifted off, I felt a touch on my cheek, light as a mother brushing away a sleeping child’s tears. That night, I dreamed I was at a gas station, filling up my car, and at the pump across from me, my mother, getting into a newly gassed up car. Once seated, she looked at me and smiled. She lifted a hand and waved as she drove off. And beside her in the passenger seat, I saw a young boy. Little Joe had come to travel with her. I woke, sobbed and smiled.