Friday, October 30, 2015


What is it about autumn that I love so much? I love to watch every single aspect of the visual display. I love the changing leaves. I love the kinds of flowers that bloom in fall--such deep, rich purples and oranges, and reds. I love the look of cornstalks and pumpkins and bales of hay. I love the smell in the air--cold and leafy, sometimes a whiff of smoke from burning leaves or fireplaces being lit on a cold night. I love the temperatures--both cool and warm but not too much of either. I love the clothes I get to wear--boots and sweaters and corduroy and denim. I love hot chocolate and pumpkin anything.

With all of that love, you'd think I'd like winter, too. There are holidays and families--and that's all good. And winter is okay,  at first. The snow is lovely the first few times it falls, blanketing everything in white cotton. And the deer that come out of the hills add a lovely feel to the picture. But I tire of the unceasing cold, the slippery roads and sidewalks, the snow that quickly turns dirty. I spend much of winter watching for signs of spring--and I'm really good at noticing the smallest signs. It's what comes of being an Alaskan: we always learned to watch for the slightest sign that our interminable season was coming to an end.

Spring begins for me when I see the first hint of green in the bare willow branches. They change color before they get leaves. I love seeing the bitty green buds on the trees I walk under each day on my way to work, the little green blades of hyacinths and tulips and daffodils peeking through the wet brown dirt as the snow melts, the pastel petals peeping out on the fruit trees. I love the promise of that bright lime green that is the color of spring: new and young and fresh. Winter is ending, and that's a good thing.

I endure summer. It's probably a remnant of my childhood, too, but I don't like blazing sun everyday. I enjoy a summer evening when it cools off (if it does) and I can swing in the back yard with the scent of honeysuckle (something I never had in Alaska) wafting on the breeze as the sun sets. I really love a good rain storm pounding away. But the days? I'd rather spend them inside. I don't like my skin burning. I'm not much of a water person, so water sports have little appeal. I tend to stay indoors and read, although an Oregon beach in summer is something I can do. I just don't get to often enough.

No. For me, the season is fall. It's the season that I wallow in, savoring everything about it. I hate to see it ending.

silver linings

I woke up with a migraine this morning--again. For the last few years, the doctor has had me on meds to control headaches and help with insomnia (a life-long affliction). But when I told him I had absolutely zero energy, no matter how much sleep I might get, that sometimes I felt like I couldn't take another step or get up off a chair, he said it was probably a side effect of the meds and suggested I try to go off them. I did. My energy level went back up. Hooray!

But I had forgotten how often I had migraines before. Now, I have them two or three times a week. I remember now the fear I walked around with, fear that one might be coming on. Was this blurred vision just tired eyes or the onset of another one? Was that flashing light at the edge of my vision just a trick of light or an indicator? Would I have one when I was trying to teach or give a talk? Because there are stomach/intestinal issues that accompany the migraine, I have to consider that, too. Am I going to be sick when I'm somewhere inconvenient? After the pain is gone, I feel kind of shaky and weepy, which can be a bad thing in meetings or events with strangers.

My grandfather had migraines, too. His were often food related--chocolate of all things. I would just have to die if chocolate triggered mine. Mine are more often triggered by stress; I've never noticed any food trigger that I can identify. One of my children has migraines, and (so far) one of my grandchildren does, too. Mine started as a girl, about 8 years old. My son was about the same age. It's a terrible affliction to pass along genetically, but at least we can learn coping strategies. My mother taught me not to go to bed. We can take medicine, and then we shoulder on. I'm glad now for that teaching. I need to keep going. When I told her that I was off the meds and having so many migraines now, she said maybe I should go on the medicine again. I didn't even think about it.
This morning, on my way to work, I saw this. The sun shining behind the clouds above the mountains. It was a perfect silver lining--something I've heard of all my life but can't remember ever seeing until now. I pulled over, took the shot, and thought for a bit. Everyone has challenges. I certainly wouldn't trade mine for anyone else's--and in many, many ways I know I have a blessed life. Not as many challenges as most people, I think. But sometimes, when the mood is just right, I might wonder a moment about the ones I have. Today, I was thinking, I'd rather have pain than the lack of energy I had before. That was debilitating. This is just inconvenient. That's a silver lining. I need to remember to look for them more regularly. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Last weekend we went to Arizona for a grand-daughter's baptism. That was a special time. She was darling, and we had lots of fun with the grandchildren. Since our son and his wife were also visiting, and another daughter also lives there, we had 13 grandchildren in one place. As it sounds, it was a noisy time, filled with laughter.

My daughter-in-law, noticing that Garth Brooks would be in Phoenix that weekend, convinced us all to get tickets. It was a wild time. We had great seats and loved the concert. We stood a lot (I'd forgotten that about concerts). It was REALLY loud (my daughter and I had to plug our ears sometimes--and still our ears rang afterward!). It was visually interesting--an aspect that is a little new since I last saw Garth about ?? years ago. Here's a taste (if I can make this work):

As I look back, I realize that the concert was just a venue. It was a fun thing to do, but the most important thing was the time spent with our kids. We had the hour-long drive into town, first: a time to visit in the car. Then dinner--not where we planned because it was too busy, but still a time to share bites and laugh. During the concert, I watched the different reactions of my children: Mac and Julie danced and sang and waved and tweeted. Joe and Lindsey held each other and swayed--amid jokes. Joe was in the middle of the row and making cracks about everything the whole night (when I could hear him). Aimee clapped while Craig stood with his arms folded (normal for him--not a commentary--although he did watch some football on his phone at times).Now that they have families of their own, we often focus on the grandchildren in our visits, playing with them, reading and talking and playing games. This time at the concert was time with just the grown-up kids and reminded me--again--how much they have grown into people I really like. People who are fun and funny but also kind and thoughtful. It's a treasure to realize that my life has such people in it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

nut shell treasure

I found this perfect half shell on the ground as I was returning to my office after class. I almost walked past it, but decided to pick it up. So glad I did! It's a treasure. 

I don't know if the photos capture the miracle of this half shell, but it's a perfect cap for a sprite. About one inch in diameter, its bird-beak shingles layer like feathers, curving into a small point with a little tassel. It looks like a perfect winter cap, and the shades of golden brown would make a perfect contrast against the snow . 

Inside, the shell is even more beautiful with all its colors and textures. The velvet smoothness is a stark contrast to the bumpy exterior. The shifting colors ring the edge as a woody brown and then focus in a rich chestnut circle in the center. But there are layers to those, as well. A dark ring circles the chestnut center, and then a light ring of white pinpoints circles inside the chestnut--kind of like an eye, fascinating me with nature's artistry. 

I don't know why I picked it up. I think it's partly that having grandchildren has made me look at the little things in the world again, the tiny ants and the world that lives at their eye level. When I saw the little shell on the sidewalk, feet moving past it on both sides, my first thought was that my grandchildren would love it because it looked just like a little cap. But after I got a good, close look at it, I realized that I was so glad I had picked it up. It reminds me of the miracles that are all around me in the world, miracles just for us to notice and enjoy. The sunlight flickering on autumn leaves--golds and reds and oranges shining. The smell of the earth as it's readying itself for winter rest. In a little miniature, this shell is a treasure, caught in my hand, reminding me of all the treasures around me. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

At what age?

Last week I was at Bridal Veil Falls with a group of writers on a walk-and-write. We walk and visit a bit, sit and write, share our writing, and then repeat. At the base of the falls, we stopped for a few moments. An older woman was there with her family. As we looked in the pool for the fish, she spoke to us. She had some opinions on where the fish were, why the sign said No Wading, and the history of the restaurant. As her family started to encourage her to continue up the trail, she turned back to us and said: "It's almost Halloween, so I can do this." Then she gave the loudest, shrillest witch's cackle I think I've ever heard. The rocks echoed with it. She laughed, and turned to go. We settled down to write, but as we wrote, we could hear that cackle repeated again and again up the trail, its echo diminishing in the distance. "It's almost Halloween," she had said. As though a holiday almost a month away makes cackling like a witch appropriate. But obviously, she enjoyed it. And it made me smile.

We were visiting another church yesterday and observed a little girl--probably 6 or 7 years old--coming in, holding hands with her dad. She had red hair and a freckled face with a big smile. She was dressed in a princess dress--light blue chiffon with lace and layers. Her knee socks, though, were the highlight.They were striped, although some of the stripes held patterns, in some of the brightest colors imaginable: hot pink, bright orange, deep purple, and red. She made me smile--and as she walked past, her demeanor and smile toward me made me think she knew the effect her whole being in this outfit had. I told my husband that I wished I had the nerve to wear socks like that in public.

So, both these instances make me think about cultural pressures. Some of them are good because they help us get along. Fitting in is important, and smoothing the flow of society is important. But so is individualism. And society allows some without too much comment. But it's the clothes and actions that sometimes step a little outside of the accepted lines that make me wonder. Little children and old people seem to get a pass. But in the middle, we conform unless we want to pay a price. I'm not sure how I feel about it. A few years ago we had a colleague who was an unusual dresser. He was extremely tall, so he would have been noticeable anyway. But he dressed unusually enough in bright yellow pants and bow ties (as examples) that he drew more attention. He didn't stay long--there were other issues--but I have wondered how much the individual style so outside the norms for the academy might have played into his leaving. Did his style keep others from getting to know him better? Is there a cost, in some places and in some groups, that is too much--and keeps those of us who might want to wear brightly striped knee socks in public only wearing them at home? Maybe when I'm older, it will be okay.