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August 14, 2017

The All Present Songbook Volume 2


For reasons I have no desire to remember given what it wrought, my creative energy was surging in the month of June. I proposed to my All Present team that we do a second volume of songs for our song circle. In the past, we’ve just swapped new ones in to replace ones that the group never took to or that we were sick of.  The All Present quarter started early in July. We had three weeks. It seemed like a good idea.

We have a dementia-friendly songbook of nearly 100 songs that had been loved almost to death.  We have edited them, taken out verses, put in verses, changed the font size, put in repeating choruses and swapped out songs that weren’t working for new ones. I (at the piano), Susan (Abbe) and the Other Susan (who sings, leads, dances and mugs for the group)zing feedback around like ping-pong balls as we sing through the songs at All Present on Thursday mornings. Then Susan (Abbe) goes home and brings her formidable talents as a librarian and editor to bear on organizing and standardizing all our work from the field.

Our first volume contains 40s and 50s standards, Broadway musicals and old popular and folk songs. We have separate sections for Irish songs (we only have to sing “Danny Boy” for a few months out of the year) and Christmas songs. The folks with memory loss don’t get tired of the songs because they don’t remember they’ve sung them. But after four years we were thoroughly sick of them all. I knew what was coming next before I even turned the page. When the songs go through my head at three in the morning, they go in order.

We drew up our list of over 100 songs. Susan found the lyrics on line and created documents, sections and pages. I went hunting for the accompaniments. This was a seat of the pants operation and I had no budget. Otherwise I could have gotten digital copies of all the songs had them transposed to singable keys at $5 a pop. Instead I went paging through my entire music library. It took some time but I found all but 17 songs.  I found 11 songs on-line at free score sites. Three I wrote out from memory. The public library came through with the last two songs, which were “Mexicali Rose” and “Kisses Sweeter than Wine.”

I screened all the songs for friendly keys. No notes above C-5. Once when people complained that the song was too high, I told everyone to sit up straight and take better breaths. One person thought that was funny.

Classical music is usually available in at least two keys designated high or low; sometimes there’s also a medium. Music scores for popular music are copyrighted in a certain key and it’s almost always either too high or too low for actual human singing. However now it’s possible to buy digital music in different keys. Operative word, buy. I wasn’t buying. Well, okay, I bought two transposed songs (“Swinging on a Star” and “Beyond the Sea”) from a digital site because the thought of transposing them gave me a headache.

Then I transposed 40 of the songs.

Let me tell you what that entails because I am feeling somewhere between aggrieved and martyred. If it’s a simple folk song with two or three chords, I just write out the words and put the chord names above them and play it by ear. But if it’s Broadway tune or a popular song, it’s often too complicated for me and I need at least the melody line on staff paper.

To transpose, I first write the words to the songs on staff paper. I put in the measure lines working either from the music in the impossible-to-sing key or doing it from my own sense of rhythm. Then I find the tessitura of the song, that is to say, the general range of pitches. I look for the highest pitch and notice how often that pitch is actually needed. From those calculations I move the tessitura down. Now I’ve got a key.

At the piano I play the tune in the new key to check that it’s friendly and that it’s actually the key I think it is. Sometimes I can then just write the notes in the new key. But sometimes I have to figure the interval from notes in the impossible-to-sing key to notes in the key I’m transposing to. If it’s five half steps lower, I write notes five half steps lower in pencil. I check all the notes on the piano before I ink in the rhythms. Finally I put the chord symbols in the new key. Voilà. I have a fake sheet. It’s taken about 45 minutes. Times 40.

Okay, so that’s my whine. Susan had hers. She is a professional copy editor. Too many spaces between ellipses makes her crazy. In our first volume of All Present songs, every line of every song is punctuated perfectly. Words are spelled correctly and—in case of homonyms– mean what they are meant to mean. Upper and lower case are where they should be. One hundred songs are a lot to punctuate let alone in three weeks.

Susan sent me drafts of lyrics and begged me to make sure that the words she was finding fit the music I was finding. An extra word at the beginning of a line, a gratuitous “and” or “then” can throw off an entire group of singers with or without dementia. I was cursory at best about this. Putting together an accompaniment book for 100 songs, I hadn’t time for such niceties.

I was seven songs into her drafts when I came upon the Welsh folk song “The Ash Grove” and Cole Porter’s “True Love.” I have some particularly wonderful words for “The Ash Grove” from the Arnold Book of Old Songs. I sent them to Susan as my preferred text. I removed the verse from “True Love” saying that no one knew it. Susan wrote back to protest that she knew the verse to “True Love” and that her words to ‘The Ash Grove” were the ones her mother had sung to her.

“Okay,” I wrote. “Put the verse to “True Love” back in but I’m not negotiating on ‘The Ash Grove.’”

I got back the response that had me laughing for days: “Okay, I guess I can live with it. I’ll look at them tomorrow. I can’t stand the sight of them right now.”

I thought she was being funny, playing the martyr, possibly because I felt so much like one. It also could have been the association of “mother.” (Not her mother, mind you, but mine.) Susan says lots of things that make me laugh. This wasn’t supposed to be one of them. This was a cry for help. She was drowning in our little project as much as I was.

We got the book of over 100 new songs thrown together, the Greenwood Senior Center printed it (duplexed and 3-hole punched) and Susan and her husband Mike put the pages into binders. We’ve been struggling through it all summer. Susan can barely look at the book because all she sees is missing punctuation. For myself,there have been a dozen more that needed to be transposed and who knew there were so many different ways of singing “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” and “The Eire Canal” and that people could be so protective about their versions? And that’s just between me and my assistants.

You know who is taking it all in stride with good humor and strong voices? The folks with dementia, the people we did all this for. That calms me down and makes me smile.

“True Love” (with verse and chorus)

Suntanned, windblown,
Honeymooners at last alone,
Feeling far above par,
Oh, how lucky we are.

While I give to you and you give to me,
True love, true love.
So on and on it will always be
True love, true love.

For you and I have a guardian angel
On high, with nothing to do
But to give to you and to give to me
Love forever true.


The Ash Grove (the 7th line is the reason I love these words)

Away in the shadows a lone bird is singing,
The wind whispers low in a sighing refrain;
Their music makes memory’s voices go winging,
The ash grove in beauty I see once again.

The voices of friends that the long years have taken,
Oh, faintly I hear them, the song and the word.
How much in the heart can so little awaken,
The wind in the leaves and the song of a bird.


Elena at the Piano


Susan and Vivian, whom we loved and who left us last year





July 31, 2017

A Dog and a Cat

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A few months’ ago I confided in my friend Tim my desire to have a dog.

“I’m going to give you some advice,” he said. “Don’t. You’re a cat person.”

I positively bristled at this: You’re not the boss of me. Don’t tell me I can’t do something. Adults don’t tell other adults they can’t do things. When I want advice, I’ll ask for it.

I related all this to my friend Nancy who burst out laughing.

“You are a cat person,” she said. “You even bristle like a cat. You won’t see a dog bristle. And you’re self-contained like a cat.”

Fast forward to this week. I said to Tim, “I’m going to tell you something you’ll probably never hear again from me. So enjoy it while you can: you were right.”

My revelation came about because I am pet sitting for a friend this week. I have responsibilities for a dog, a cat, and a house alarm system. The cat is the only one that doesn’t bring with it both a steep learning curve and several shots of anxiety.

The animals I already know. I adore the cat. He’s a smooth, white cat with shell-shaped patches of gray and black, a soulful expression and a majestic bearing. His name—you’ll want to be sitting for this—the name of this dignified creature is Fang. He dislikes being picked up so of course I pick him up every time I visit. He protests plaintively while snuggling against me at the same time. So he’s hardly a Fang but Fang he is called. Fang needs to be visited and fed twice a day and I am fine with this. It’s the standard I’m used to.

Rocket, the dog, is a Silken Windhound. He looks like a whippet only with flowing fur and a long whispery tail. His face I can only describe as pretty. He’s a pretty dog and very sweet. He’s thin: when he lays in the yard smiling his sweet smile, his flowing fur is at one with the grass so his neck and head look like they are growing out of the earth. Rockets needs a chance to pee at least three times a day. This is a standard that dog owners understand but it was new to me.

I thought I could eliminate one pee visit a day if Rocket just stayed with me. Though I had all the infra-structure in place, it was my cat, Artemis who put the kibosh on that idea. She was fine with the kennel sitting in the front room, she just didn’t want a dog in it. Rocket sniffing around the house immediately put her off. She jumped on a scratch post that serves as a launch to an overhang and from there to crawl under an eave of the sun room. She hangs out there a lot, away from anyone or anything that might disturb her peace of mind.

Meantime I thought that Rocket would go around like a wind-up toy until he ran down and then he’d flop and be like a cat. A cat requires food and water and your presence should she desire it. The rest of the time she either doesn’t want you around or she has no hesitation in settling down, immovable, into whatever you are trying to do be it writing, reading, knitting, gardening, playing the piano, working on the computer, cooking with heat or sewing with sharp needles. Whatever she has interrupted, a cat is content as long as you work around and don’t inconvenience her.

A dog, it seems, wants you to invite his participation into everything you do. When I sat on the couch and tried to read, Rocket wanted to see what I was reading. He wanted me to share the funny bits with him. He wanted to gaze adoringly into my face. When I turned on the TV, he wanted to pace in front of it. He finally settled down on his blanket.

Then I got up for some fizzy water and Rocket came along. (What are we doing now? Oh goody, you’re getting a drink of water. I’m so glad you are careful about hydration. What? Now we’re closing a window. Oh yay!) It took some time to get him settled down again. Just in time for me to realize I needed to pee. Repeat.

If you unsettle a cat, in my experience, she stalks off in high dudgeon and that’s the end of the episode. Apparently not so with a dog. It would have been an education for me to have a dog here for a week. The reason I thought I wanted a dog in the first place was to have a pet that would ride in the car with me and greet me with rapture every time I came in the house even if I had only just been to the mail-box. Apart from that I thought a dog was pretty much like a cat in that it could keep its own counsel once in a while. I guess not.

And then there’s the thing about dog poop. It may be said at once that I decisively failed that course. I wore a latex glove on the scoop hand and inserted that into the plastic bag. I turned my head, managing as I’ve done with dead rats, to pick it up without actually looking at it. This serves the dual purpose of keeping my nose upwind.

Listen, I have been scooping out cat litter boxes since 1983 and hardly give it a thought, even when Winston in his arthritic old age missed the box completely. That seems positively dignified compared to picking it up in public while it’s still warm.Dogs will do it in the road. Cats require privacy. When I came around the corner as Fang was preparing to enter his litter box, he paused, one paw in mid-air. He gave me a quelling look such as my mother would do after I’d said something sacreligious.

My friend’s house is not that far away. I rolled down the hill on my bicycle and was greeted by both animals, one more rapturously than the other. Afterwards I pedalled home up-hill. Or I drove there with stuff to work on and hung out with the boys in the lovely back yard garden.

Rocket and Fang get along as long as it is understood that Fang runs the show. To the more self-contained go the spoils.



July 16, 2017

Burn Before Weeding

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It all began with an email from Tim, my gardening friend. He’d been here working in the garden and then suddenly he wasn’t. Then I got an email with the subject heading “READ BEFORE WEEDING.” He related that he’d uncovered a hornet’s nest and had been stung numerous times so had gone home to treat the stings.

The nest was in a corner of the garden that had been neglected. The whole area was a matted mess. Ground cover had risen up and waved around in the air obscuring the entrance to the underground cave where the hornets paid homage to their queen. Tim tried to drown them before he ceded the field.

We didn’t want to spray with anything toxic because the neglected patch was close to the vegetable gardens. I recalled a Native American man who once came from the Millionaires’ Club to help me with some difficult work and had discovered a hornet’s nest in the ground. He told me that when he was growing up they always built a fire and smoked out the hornets.

We did the deed last Friday. I was excited all day, imagining the scene and thinking about what I would wear. What does one wear to a hornet burning? It was a warm day and I would need to be covered but I didn’t want to be hot. I decided on long pants and a windbreaker. Definitely shoes with socks, not sandals. And a big-brimmed hat.

Tim arrived in shorts, sandals and a T-shirt. And he was the one who had been stung!

“Aren’t you worried about them getting you again?”


He raked out the area and irritated the hornets. It looked like hundreds of them swarming around, mad as humans. That’s a little hornet humor from the Hornet’s Toastmaster Joke Book. We had newspapers, kindling, dried sage and smudge sticks. That was Tim’s idea. I think my mentioning the Native American suggested it.

“Shall I get crystals, too?”

We set the fire. I have to admit I was the cautious one. I was afraid to get too close because the buzz sounded so mean. But we lit the newspaper and I backed up and let Tim toss it on them. We piled on the sage and kindling. Then we stood and watched. I wished we had waited til dark, invited Bill and Gwen, my neighbors, and had marshmallows. In retrospect that sounds a little Madame DeFarge-y.

Fire in neglected area

The fire burned itself out. Tim shoveled a hole. We watched the hornets crawling around in a daze (or so I claimed) and tried to determine if they were all heading to a particular opening. There certainly seemed to be a lot of them.

We lit another fire. Part of the reason I was excited about doing this was that I thought it was illegal in the city but that we were going to do it anyway.

“It’s not illegal.”

“It’s not?” I was disappointed to hear this.

“No. People can have fire pits.”

“Is that what this is?”

“Well, look at it. It’s a hole. There’s a fire in it. I do hope we don’t burn down the whole garden, though.”


Tim and I hung around and watched it. We pulled weeds and ground cover out of the neglected area, down on our knees amid the all the smoke. People walked by; there are a lot of dog walkers in my neighborhood.

“We look like a couple of dotty elderly people setting fire to their yard,” Tim said. “Somebody’s going to call the police!”

“Or Adult Protective Services.”

We got the giggles.

After several hours we decided we’d had enough and we’d see where we were in the morning. So that was Friday evening.

Today is Sunday. Depending on the time of day, there is either no activity or dozens of hornets being quite industrious. And there is another hornet’s nest in another (neglected) part of the yard. This time they got me. I was working my way around a circle of stones that delineate a patch where grow a bay tree and a Japanese snowbell when I backed into them. I heard the buzz, then I felt a bite on my upper arm. I moved out of the way and heard a buzz near my ear. I swiped at it. I heard it again. Next thing I was doing one of those St Vitus dances across my yard. The little bastard actually followed me into the sun room where I got it on the floor and stepped on it.

Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything said she sprayed a solution of peppermint oil on an underground hornet’s nest and hasn’t had a problem since. I sprayed the new nest with water but my heart wasn’t in it. I’ll get the peppermint oil. Maybe we’ll set another fire. Maybe I’ll call the Tilth hotline and get some actual expert advice.

Maybe I’ll leave them a couple of Andes mints. That seems a little Madame Defarge-y, too, but now they’ve gone after me, I don’t care.

Area of garden that hasn’t been neglected








June 30, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Winston

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On Monday I said goodbye to the most vocal member of my household but one, that one being me. Winston was a big and insistent cat. In the past few days I have been a little surprised at how many people have told me, “Oh, no. He was my favorite.” He was to me, and in my friend Christina’s inimitable words, The Cat I was Responsible For.

I named him Winston in hopes he would grow into the name and that one day I could pose him with a cigar and bottle of gin. (I’m sure Churchill would be pleased to be remembered for that.) He did grow into a big, handsome guy but sadly, was a bit of a doofus, not the intellectual giant I hoped he’d be.

I never felt that we bonded. When he was a kitten, all he wanted to do was eat. A friend pointed out that he was just five weeks old and didn’t know he supposed to be bonding with me but it was a disappointment all the same. Yet it was ever so: I was disposable, the food supplier, that’s all. All his life he lived to eat.

He hated singing or music of any kind. I’m afraid I can trace that back to the first day he spent in my house with his litter mate, Edwina, a very early casualty. I had 13 students that day and at least half of them were singing students. By the end of the evening, Winston and Edwina were both hiding under my great grandfather’s big heavy desk.

From that day forward, if Winston was snoozing in the room when I started teaching, he would ostentatiously stalk out. You can imagine how much he loved my practicing the Queen of the Night arias I performed last spring. Towards the end when he was failing, he would first put his head up and say “Weah Weah,” then heave himself to his feet, plod over and plead with either me or my student to stop, and then stalk out of the room. He’d sit in the hall like a martyr until I closed the piano at the end of day. Then the “Weah, Weah” would begin again, this time for food.

I have to say something about the “Weah Weah” because it was a phenomenally irritating sound.  When I was trying to make the best of things, I would say to myself, “He thinks he’s singing. This should please you.” It pleased other people. When my friend Joan came over she always asked me to make him talk.





My students loved it. They loved him. They loved it when he came into the room demanding food. “Weeeaah.”

He was a huge character, larger than life. A dreadnought with a basketball lurching from one side to the other when he walked.  You could pet him. He didn’t run haughtily off like Artemis did or scurry off in alarm like Freudy did when he was alive. Winston plopped himself on the floor and rolled over for anyone. He purred, he drooled. A big old doofus.

In his younger years, he was a Bringer-into-the House of enormous rats, mostly alive, to be let loose behind the refrigerator. The dead ones he mostly dined on al fresco and then brought his blood-smelly breath into my bed to sleep it off. But as he got older all that stopped. I don’t miss it.

He liked a cigarette out on the front porch at 9:15 every evening. Towards the end when he stopped insisting on it, I played a game with him where I put a marvelous little cat treat called a Tumbler in front of him. He’d say “Weah” and eat it. I put another Tumbler two feet away. He’d say “Weah” and lumber over and eat it. In this way and after about eight Tumblers, I could trick him out the sun-room door. I’d make him stay out for half an hour. Otherwise he might decide he needed that cigarette after all and he’d want out at 2:00 in the morning.

He had an enormous Thing on one eye-lid. It was the size of a large pea and it filled with blood until it hung over his eye. Then he’d try to get rid of it and would bleed all over the house while I followed (if I was lucky) with cold wet rags to staunch the Thing and to soak up the blood on the couch and carpet.  It would stop bleeding, heal over and fill up with blood again. Repeat. This went on for months and months.The vet said she’d never seen anything like it before but that he wouldn’t die of it.

He died of the two-shot solution as my friend Tim calls it. Winston’s kidneys were failing and I needed a garden shovel to get the clumps out of the litter box every day, sometimes twice a day. He’d lost a lot of weight although I think I was the only one who noticed he was no longer 20 plus pounds.  His beautiful coat started looking really shaggy. He slept all the time and looked miserable when he was awake.

I arranged for my Vet to come to the house. I decided that one thing I could do for this cat with the irritating whine who hated music was to not first terrorize him by a car ride and then have him killed. I couldn’t concentrate on anything on Monday so I finally stopped trying. I curled up on the couch with Winston and looked for something to stream on television: Gone with the Wind.

I’ve seen this movie a dozen times. The last time I watched it I decided it was stupid and offensive and hadn’t aged well at all. But I watched it with Winston just the same. It was comforting because I knew what was going to happen right down to a lot of the dialogue. Winston dozed and purred and we sat there together. When it came to the scene where everyone (that is to say, the white people) in Atlanta were reading the lists of those killed or wounded in action, I started to cry and pretty much didn’t stop until the vet came, administered the second shot and said “He’s gone.”

Tim had dug the grave a few days before in the little pet cemetery under my 50-year old lilacs where one of my cats and various neighbors’ cats are resting in peace. Gwen came across the street to help me bury Winston near her cat Lucy who we laid to rest a few months ago. We lowered him into the grave and then stood looking at him.

“It’s not deep enough,” Gwen said.

I hauled the body out and got the hysterical giggles. “This is like Death at a Funeral or something,” I said.

I got a shovel. Gwen dug energetically until she’d added another foot and a half and I let poor Winston back down into the grave. Then I sat with my hands in the dirt and breathed a bit before letting go of a handful of it. It was relief to finally know he was all tucked away down there. A friend had given me a trillium recently and I hadn’t planted it anywhere yet so I planted it on the grave.

Gwen and I had the first of two wakes that day with some 100 proof Scotch she had given me for my birthday. Later my friend Andrea came with flowers for the grave and more Scotch. Artemis who had witnessed the shot and the burial from afar, curled up with me.

Before I turned on Gone with the Wind, I said to Winston, “When you get where you’re going, I want you to let me know you’re okay.”

In the days since then, it has felt empty around the house. I’ve thought about Winston and I’ve asked, “Are you okay, Winston?”

Pretty much all I’m getting is “Weah, weah.”

I think he’s singing.

Winston reading Henry IV Part I








June 11, 2017

Memorializing Whidbey


It’s been another contemplative ten days on Whidbey Island. I guess I have become one of those hothouse artiste types: “Oh, I can only write on my island.” Except I’m home now and I’m writing this. I need to memorialize the week.

Memorialize. That’s a word we all know now—those of us that follow the drama in Washington D.C. One feature of my time on the island is that I did not hear any news until 5:00 each afternoon, at which time I went down the hill to Tommie’s house to watch Chris Hayes. With the exception of Thursday, the day of the much bally-hooed James Comey testimony before the Senate intelligence committee. I didn’t want to waste my morning with soap operas, which everyone knows are for the afternoon anyway so on Thursday I started in on all the commentary and clips at 3:00.

My days on Whidbey began at 5:30ish. I’d get up, check for visible deer, make tea and read for an hour. Then I worked on my novel until noon. I always write in the meditation hall above the apartment where I stay in the Buddha House. I am surrounded by meditation cushions and Buddhist art. There is an atmosphere there that invites focus. I am thrilled to be 75% of the way through the first draft with the remaining chapters more or less outlined. It’s quite an accomplishment, given that I first tried to start this book in 1997.

Writing in Meditation Hall

There were other accomplishments: I finished a bottle of Scotch, I read three books and listened to two on tape. I painted, I took two voice lessons and I walked in the woods every day. I wore the same clothes over and over; when I got back to Seattle, I transferred them with thumb and forefinger directly from bag to washing machine without actually looking at them. I didn’t wear any jewelry or make-up, which meant that I didn’t have eyebrows for ten days.

A Walk in the Woods

The animals didn’t care. I love the birds and animals up there. There were rabbits everywhere, more than I’ve seen in years. There was a bird couple setting up housekeeping in the porch of the Buddha House directly above the front door. They had positive fits every time I opened the door at an inconvenient time for them.

On my second day there, I put my lawn chair (I always take a lawn chair, this being a retreat center, not a resort) under the porch roof so I could read quietly and hope deer would stroll by. The two birds flew back and forth under the roof, chirping indignantly. Finally the female settled into her nest above my head and the male sat on a post a foot away and scolded. He chirped to the wide world to look at this outrageous creature sitting here in her lawn chair. Then he turned toward me and tried to shame me. Day after day this happened until finally the scolding was something to do but he had forgotten why he was doing it.

Giving Me Grief

I met the farmer who owns the goats across the road. I stood with him at the gate to the goat pen, while Mishka, the big, drooling white dog who herds the goats within an inch of their lives, drooled on me. The farmer told me all the goat names. The ones I remember are Springer, who was born on the first day of spring and just a few weeks before I last stayed at the retreat and Pot Roast, named because they were planning to eat him. Too much information.

Mishka, the Drooler

Huge bonus: I got permission to feed the goats. The farmer told me they liked alder and maple leaves. So every day before I walked in the woods, I visited the goats with a fistful of alder leaves. I had biscuits for Mishka, which I threw as far as I could so he would leave me and the goats in peace for a few minutes.


Then I tried to keep track of which goats got how many leaves. One of them was especially piggish—I think that was Pot Roast. Springer, the littlest one, didn’t apparently understand what was happening. None of the older goats seemed incline to clue him in so even though I tried to get a leaf into his mouth, he always lagged too far back. He was still nursing and judging by the size of that udder, I’d say he’s not lacking for treats.

They have gentle mouths, the goats. I learned right away that I wasn’t in danger of getting a finger taken off. They sucked the leaves into their mouth and their lips brushed my hands like a kiss. Their inquiring faces gazed at me. Tommie says the goats have a preternatural quality about them.

The Flirt

Then there were the deer. There were three fawns running around like toddlers. The only distractions during my writing time were the times they strayed into view. One magical morning, all of them came into the field outside the Buddha House: a pair of twins, a single fawn and their mothers. I inched across the balcony off the meditation hall and stood in the sun and watched them frolic—I guess the word is gambol—in the grass, the does joining in. It was pageantry. No, it was pagan ritual. It was adorable.

The Single Fawn

Then there was The Terrible Night. It was the one night Tommie was not down the hill in her house; she was in Seattle. I had been watching Lawrence O’Donnell with her right before she left for the ferry. Walking back up the hill I saw another fawn —a fourth one, not a toddler, more like 6th Grader– lying low in some tall grass under a big maple tree. Its eyes were huge as it met mine. My heart started to hurt. Was it lost? Was it in pain? Scared? Well obviously it was scared. I told myself that the doe was around somewhere and would join it soon. But it weighed on me when I tried to sleep that night. Sleep was further disturbed by the sounds of planes flying overheard for what seemed like hours. Oak Harbor has a military base further up the island and as I finally drifted off, I wondered if our so-called president had provoked a war.

The next morning I couldn’t concentrate for worrying about the fawn. I walked down the hill in pajamas and stocking feet to reassure myself that it had joined its mother. It was still there. Had it been lying there in terror for 12 hours? Maybe it was hurt. Now I really couldn’t concentrate. Not knowing one single thing about deer, I tried to take a bowl of water to it. It leaped up in alarm and ran toward some bushes. So it wasn’t hurt.

I went back to my writing. The next animal to stray into view was a fluffy, but dirty terrier. Ah, Bert, the Wonderful Neighbor, was walking his dogs. I went out to tell him about the fawn.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s lost.”

“You’re seen it?”

“I saw it day before yesterday and didn’t think much. But when it was still running around yesterday, I knew the mother had lost the scent. The mother might be hurt. Now it’s either going to survive or a coyote will get it.”

I told him about trying to take it some water and to his credit, he didn’t laugh at me. “It can be heartbreaking,” he said. “But he’s probably safer here in the retreat than anywhere.”

I was grateful for that reassurance. I started calling the fawn Bambi. Because it had lost its mother.

In the afternoon I did some watercolor downstairs at the kitchen table. The doe with the single fawn came around the corner of the Buddha House and practically looked in the window at me. I stayed still and watched her and her little toddler climb onto a grassy bank. The fawn went into a mound of brush and the doe moved off, just leaving it there. I thought I would go out of my mind.

“You have to stop this,” I told myself and I pulled the shade so I couldn’t see what happened next.

I talked to Gary who was working on the retreat. He told me that when fawns are little, they haven’t any scent. The mother hides them somewhere so she can eat a proper meal in peace, and then comes back for them.

Ah. I breathed a little easier after that. But when Tommie came back from Seattle I unloaded the whole drama on her, crying and feeling like the entire world was too brutal a place for me.

I said, “If you get a fawn sighting, will you let me know?”

“Well, Bert has the twins with him,” she said as though she and Bert were sharing custody. “They’re mostly around his place.”

I did see all the fawns again before I left, including Bambi who was back in the tall grass the next day. I couldn’t stop myself from checking on her a third time at which she leapt up and ran off. She stopped and looked back at me the way my cats do when they see me coming at them with a syringe of amoxicillin or flea treatment.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I said. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

When I said goodbye to Tommie, she said, “The animals are going to miss your spirit among them.”

“My immediate goal is to get out of here without seeing another deer,” I said wryly.

Another Morning Visitor

One of the Many

Cut it out, Mom

Pot Roast










May 1, 2017

The Neurotic Zone

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Despite its title, this is not a post about politics. It’s about the weirdness of being a performer. I used to do a lot of performing and the truth is I didn’t enjoy it. The feedback I got was that I looked and sounded poised (for the most part) but inside I was terrified and miserable. On the morning of a day in which I had a performance I would awake with the thought that today was the day of my execution. If I could get though it alive, I would never agree to sing anywhere ever again.

My friend Nina says that music operates in a circle and you haven’t closed it, you haven’t had the full experience, until you share it. In my early experiences as a singing student, I felt pushed into performance long before I was ready for it. No one asked me what I wanted to do. Educators assumed that of course the end of all music lessons was to perform. As a singer and educator, I agree with Nina in large part because of her use of the word share instead of perform. There are different ways to share. Teaching is sharing. I think I make a better teacher than a performer.

Still the desire to perform was buried somewhere in me. I kept at it for years and years until performance anxiety won and I stopped for a long time. When I began singing in public again, I chose easy venues where the audience was in the Smile and Nod Category. I didn’t consciously think that singing at a little church or for my students was a stepping stone to anything else. It was its own thing. What counted was the song and how I sang it. This was a good decision on my part; it allowed me to explore the difference between singing privately –and having ecstatic experiences—and sharing myself with others.  I took my time. I only shared on my own terms and as I felt ready. That’s been my policy for the past twenty years. I kept working privately until parts of me caught up with other parts of me, the stars aligned and desire asserted herself.

Four months ago I agreed to sing the two Queen of the Night arias in a concert performance of The Magic Flute. This concert was a project after my own heart: my colleague Susan Strick conceived the idea of putting together an opera “by community for community.” Susan is a like a lint roller among musicians, singers and theater folk in Seattle. She rolls over town and collects talent. Thus she put together a group of teachers, students, professionals and amateurs to perform The Magic Flute stitched together by an engaging narrator, Ed Mast.

I had sung both arias in the 1980s so I knew them. I got them out, memorized them and then spent two months wallowing in the luxury of discovering, playing with and refining them. Tommie (beloved teacher) and I could spend hours on two or three notes, bits of phrases, dipthongs, and always the chiaroscuro of tones: the ratio of the light and dark sides of a pitch. This work brings its own high; I go into an altered state.

Though I am approaching the entire concept of performing differently than I used to, one thing that hasn’t changed is the neurotic zone I enter into when a performance is looming. I have conversations like the following:

Tim, my gardening compatriot: “Is there a time this weekend when we can get more compost?”

Me (flustered): No, I can’t do anything this weekend. I’m singing in ten days.”

Or when I think about my cousin in Wisconsin (Hi, June!) who I haven’t talked to in ages. I think I want to schedule a call (we always make dates) but then I think, “No, I can’t do anything til this performance is over.”

I entered the neurotic zone two weeks before The Magic Flute concert. In addition to my routine practicing I started going around checking my voice. Checking my voice. You know: to see if it’s still there.

Once during a rehearsal when I was singing the soprano solos in Schubert’s Mass in G, the conductor caught me sitting alone, (neurotically)massaging the little muscles around my hyoid bone, which if you don’t know connects the root of the tongue with the top of the voice box.

“It’s still there,” he said.

In the neurotic zone, everything is heightened: apprehensions about getting a head cold and wanting to wear a respiratory mask around my children students—that would be classic neighborhood piano teacher eccentricity. Checking my car tires just in case one of them might be flat the day of the performance. Just keeping a lid on this kind of stuff takes a lot of energy. I tell myself it’s all an overflow of the anticipatory excitement of a performance.

I’ve learned to cope with actual performance anxiety in the way that I practice. Whether it’s a single tone or a whole aria, I arrange my mind like this: “This is all there is, this tone, this phrase, this sensation. My voice is singing and this is what it feels like.” I try to inhabit every tone and every moment. Singing in front of an audience is a continuation of my practices, the difference being people are listening and watching.

There is a kind of performing that involves putting on a show and dazzling the audience and it’s a very popular kind of performing for both the performer and the audience. I don’t find it compelling. Back when I used to get so frightened it’s because I was trying to put on some kind of show that I knew wasn’t true to who I was.

What I find compelling in a performance is vulnerability. And paradoxically, allowing myself to feel vulnerable in front of an audience has reduced the performance anxiety to manageable levels.

We sang The Magic Flute concert yesterday and it was magical. The continuum of ability and experience displayed made my teacher’s heart overflow. The whole process of music education and performance was there and it was a glorious thing to be part of.

I sang my arias rather better than I expected to, better than in the rehearsal and I had been satisfied with that (with thanks to Nicole Truesdell who accompanied me.) All the playing around with the music and the tones and phrases became the material of performance. This is what singing is to me: the continual exploration of a note, a phrase, a song, an aria, whether alone or in front of people. There’s vulnerability to that but it’s also freeing. I’ve nothing to live up to.

My big take away from this amazing experience is a sense of how much I don’t know. There is no end to what I could do with those two arias if my technique were up to it. There is no end to what I could learn about singing, performance, stage protocol. I’m lost on a voyage in which I feel more and more at home. Give or take a neurosis or two.

Queen of the Night, not currently enraged.






March 25, 2017

Writing and Wildlife at Windhorse

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I’m always struck by how cold the vernal equinox is.  Spring may usher in the warmth of summer on its far end, but it begins with Aries riding through the world, directing the whirlwind, waking up hibernating animals (like me) and splashing cold water on our faces.  During the week of the equinox, I was up on Whidbey Island,  which is already a windy place without any special help from archetypal energies.

Windhorse, the Buddhist meditation retreat where I come to write, feels like a second home.  I enact a homecoming ritual when I turn off the highway onto the two mile stretch of narrow road that takes me to the bowl of the retreat center.  First I turn off anything I might be listening to.  I unbuckle my seat belt and open all the car windows.  No matter the temperature, I drive slowly for two miles and let the air blow in and out of the car. I watch for deer, rabbits, and eagles.  I look at the canopy of trees as I drive through the woods.  I am beginning to arrive.

I turn in at the Buddha House and back my car up to the door.  I fish out the hidden key, let myself in, and unload the car.  I take out of the drawers and cupboards the dishes, utensils, and pots I’ll be using and wash them in hot soapy water. Everyone has different standards about cleanliness and I don’t think I am especially obsessive. It’s just that meditators—who mostly use the retreat– are exceptionally spacey people and I don’t think they even notice they’ve left scrambled egg on the sides of the pan or rice caked to the fork.

This week I wrote for five hours every morning and then my brain demanded other stimulus or lack thereof.  I had done some work with an editor (Jennifer D. Munro) and learned there was such a thing as Point of View and that I knew next to nothing about it. I read a lot of Victorian novels when authors all knew everything that was going on in everyone’s head. This is what I gravitate to. It turns out there are other ways to tell a story.

So I worked for five hours a day with the 20,000 words I had already written and I ended up with 19,500 words.  But every day after I closed the computer and went for a walk I felt excited and alive. The story is beginning to flow more freely.

Last year a mouse trotted into the Buddha House in the middle of the night and got into my pistachio nuts. I wonder how many mice the meditators haven’t noticed. I told Bert, The Very Good Neighbor, who has been trying to keep the place mouse free, that I’d seen droppings next to a sprung trap, as though a mouse had managed to get the peanut butter without killing itself.  Bert re-set the trap in the kitchen and reported that he had also removed the mouse that was under the bed.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah there’s a trap under the bed,” he said cheerfully. This is one of Bert’s most identifiable features: undying cheerfulness.

Every morning I did a wildlife check, both inside and out. First I went to all the windows of the Buddha House to see if any deer were visible. Then I checked the three traps in the house. I never found a mouse in a trap but on Tuesday morning I found one drowned in the kitchen sink. I had left the sink full of soapy water and he tumbled in. I gave him a proper burial reflecting that city rats are creepy but this little guy could be on a birthday card.

The mouse in the kitchen sink was the only wildlife found inside. Outside, there were five deer whose habits I got familiar with. Two of them looked like teenagers and one was so pregnant I could almost trace the outline of the legs of the fawn she would birth before too long. I checked for them early and late afternoon and a third time at dusk. When I came upon them, I talked baby talk to them.

One evening they were grazing between the Buddha House and Tommie’s house, a distance I usually make in about 30 seconds. On this evening it took nearly ten minutes to get down the hill because I didn’t want to scare or disturb the five deer. Gradually over the course of the week, they let me get closer to them.

The deer were a constant source of wonder and delight. I’d be in a voice lesson, see them outside, and get distracted. Talking to Tommie at her house I got up and watched them every time they came within view.

“The deer,” I said to her. “You are so used to them, you probably don’t even notice them anymore.”

“Oh, I notice,” she said. “They’re eating the forest.”

After a pause she added that they were “wondrous creatures,” which I took to be Buddhist for “fucking nuisances.” As Tommie pointed out, they could be both. I suppose that’s true of us all.





March 16, 2017

The Curse of Daylight Saving Time: The Musical

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I’m in a better frame of mind about this year’s time change primarily because I am not cursing the Republicans for elongating daylight saving time, which they did during the Bush administration.  It’s been, what ten years, and I still haven’t gotten over it.  These days there are so many things to curse the Republicans for that I need to triage.  Elongated daylight saving time doesn’t even get in the ER door.

Even with my new frame of mind and a pretty decent night’s sleep on Saturday, by the end of Sunday evening I felt as if I had been hard at work for 48 hours.  I hosted a musicale that afternoon in my home.  It wasn’t the usual Terrified Adults and Spotlight Whore’s Sunday Afternoon Musicale because this time my piano students were also participating and I don’t guess anyone wanted to answer questions about whores to a collection of children under ten.

My front room/studio reasonably seats about a dozen people but there were twice that many on Sunday. I set out rows of chairs until it looked like a home wedding. My adult students often bring one audience member, a spouse or friend, but children tend to come with an entourage. The room was packed.

The show started. I made my usual speech about bowing: it’s the way a performer says thank you to the audience. I forgot to remind my piano students that they get five points if they remember to bow. Everyone forgot to bow, including me.

We did a group warm-up: scales and whines and honks to the amusement of everyone who had never taken a voice lesson.  Then we all, audience and performers, sang “Down to the River.”

I announced we would perform in order of birthdays starting with January but if at any time someone wanted to “get it over with,” as it were, to just say so.  One of my singing students immediately jumped up and said she wanted to sing first. Cindy sang—poignantly– Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come.”

After that it was a jumble of performances in and out of birthday order.  Forest played “Juggler’s Dance” and sang along with himself, something I am used to (and adore about him) but which can be a surprise to people who think they know what a kid’s piano recital is like.  Both Addie and Alex played “Duke of York Strut.”  Both played it well and neither cared that they played the same song.  Phoebe played an original composition, which she seemed pleased to call “Untitled.”

Emma made her debut. Emma is a tiny child, six years old, who comes to her lesson both physically and verbally.  She chatters her way in the door.  But she was quite shy at the idea of performing.

“I have stage fright,” she whispered to me at her lesson. She rehearsed her performance three times at her lesson.  “I have stage fright,” Emma said again.

“Would you like me to sit with you when you play?” I asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.  The relief on her face was gratifying.  If only it was always that easy.

Her parents told me later that after that lesson, she woke up every morning asking, “Is this the day I play?”

When it was her turn to play, I whispered to her, “Do you want me to sit with you?”

She waved her hand. “Whatever,” she said breezily.

She played her pieces alone at the piano—still on only the black keys and not yet reading from the staff—perfectly.

I don’t want to slight anyone who I suspect will see this post so let me enumerate the people I haven’t already mentioned.  Nina and I sang “Dimming of the Day” as a duet.  I got to sing the melody and Nina harmonized.  The blend we get together is transportive.

Louise improvised on “Cold, Cold Heart.”  Members of the audience had note cards with words on them like thrilled, sexy, disappointed, angry.  At the end of every line, Louise took requests while I vamped the accompaniment.  She sang each line with a different emotion and energy.

Leah sang “The Ladies Who Lunch” and I never enjoyed a Sondheim song so much.  I had practiced the unusual rhythm and chord progressions a lot.  Leah does such a good job with it that I didn’t want to degrade it by slopping the accompaniment.  Sheena sang “Small World” from Gypsy, a song I learned from her and came to love so much that when she leaves from her lesson, I play and sing it for myself.  Amber and her boyfriend Kevin sang “With or Without You,” a song she brought in three days prior so I was glad she had Kevin to play for her.

Johnine put on her Sunday clothes and sang “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello Dolly and the theme from Mame.  In the theme from Mame mention is made of cake walks and mint juleps.  Johnine, one of the most generous people I have ever known, brought cupcakes and bourbon so we could have a cake walk and mint juleps when the show was over.

I sang the first of the two Queen of the Night arias from The Magic Flute.  I am performing both arias in a concert version of The Magic Flute in April and wanted the performance practice.  It’s been 25 years since I’ve sung anything that difficult in front of an audience.  The show is at 3 pm, Sunday, April 30, 2017 at the Gift of Grace Lutheran Church in Wallingford, 2102 N 40th St, Seattle.

We had an unexpected audience member when a tiny snail traveled into the house on someone’s shoes and waited expectantly in the middle of the kitchen floor.  Levi, younger brother of Phoebe, the composer and who is as tiny as Emma, took it outside.  It’s not that it wasn’t welcome but Levi was concerned about its safety.  In my memory now is the image of a small boy standing outside my sunroom door on a wet afternoon, reverently freeing the little creature and saying goodbye.

After the recital as we were milling with cupcakes and mint juleps, there was the snail again and in the same place on the kitchen floor.

“Levi!” I called.  “Look, it’s back.”

It was like The Thing That Returned. Levi and I stared at each other. Then we smiled.

“Will you take care of it again?” I asked. He obliged me and then ran off to play with Emma. Apparently the two are now an item.

As people were leaving, one of the parents said to me “This was like Little House on the Prairie.”

 “How so?” I asked.

“People all getting together to sing and play.”

I thought that was sweet. In my world there’s nothing unusual about people getting together to sing and play. It’s really quite a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

When the last child and parent and friend and student left, I looked at the front room and kitchen.  Cake crumbs everywhere.  Everywhere.  Frosting smears in the oddest places.  Music forgotten.  Furniture askew.  A trail of props from Johnine’s performance. Feathers from the boa.  That damn snail back in the kitchen.  I ran the vacuum to pick up the most superficial layer of crumbs, went to bed early and slept like the dead.  Not a bad start to a week I usually curse.


March 5, 2017



A lot of my friends tell me they are coloring.  It’s a thing, isn’t it, Adult Coloring. Some are binge-watching anything with a good story and lots of episodes.  Almost everyone is taking an anti-depressant.  I suspect there’s a fair amount of self-medicating with sugar. It’s a surreal time.

Me, I’m doing jigsaw puzzles (and binge-watching anything with a good story, taking doctor-prescribed anti-depressants and self-prescribed sugar in various forms.)  I find them (the puzzles) meditative and calming.  It’s comforting to go through a process that ends with everything fitting into place and creating something predictable.

The Experts, as I understand it, don’t reference the picture on the box as they work.  They use the colors, values, lines and shapes to help them assemble the picture.  I’m not an expert. I’m just an anxious American trying to keep my equilibrium.

So I dump the thousand puzzle pieces onto the table—an old leather-topped folding table my parents used for Bridge.  I am not afraid of chaos.  It’s not my favorite thing in the world but I understand its usefulness and I enjoy creating order out of it.  So I start looking for the puzzle pieces with hard edges.  I always tell myself that this time I will find every single hard edge on the first sifting.  I will look at every piece and my mind won’t wander.  This never happens.  But eventually I get the frame.

The frame. There’s a phrase I like in a poem, “The Reverse Side,” by Stephen Dunn: “the lie of the frame:”

It’s why the terrified and the simple
latch onto one story,
just one version of the great mystery.

Image & after-image, oh even
the open-minded yearn for a fiction
to reign things in –
the snapshot, the lie of the frame.

In times of chaos and panic, we click the shutter. We get a snapshot that contains as much as we ourselves can contain. The larger context is obliterated.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  I just think it’s good to know that’s what we’re doing.

A calming technique I like is to look in front of me but focus my attention on my peripheral.  I see myself in a context.  Oh, I am not just an isolated sheet of white panic flapping on a line, I am a being with a place in the world and here I am, supported by the universe.  My frame has widened and it has stabilized me and given me more breathing room.

Once, alone in a hotel in New York City, I felt emotionally invaded by the noisy phone conversations of the guy in the next room.  At the time this was the kind of thing that would typically have triggered a panic attack. I felt the beginnings of one simmering.  It didn’t help that I was out of my familiar world—in a different puzzle, so to speak.  Something deep within me just up and moved the frame: I said to myself, “This doesn’t have to mean what it has always meant.  This can mean something different.”  It worked.  I started taking deep breaths. The sounds on the other side of the wall were demoted from panic trigger to mildly annoying.

After the frame come all the easy bits: the patches of bright colors, the discrete objects, and salvaging all the freebies: the pieces that came out of the box already attached.  Then the endless sifting through, starting to appreciate the many shades of blue, for example.  This sky is darker over here.  This is the light blue on the horizon over by the barn.  And this orange can’t be the farmer’s shirt because his shirt is clearly red.  But the orange piece fits right under the farmer’s head and next to the dark blue of the farmer’s trousers it looks much less orange and much more red.  By this time I am thinking, “Hmm, cadmium red medium maybe and Indanthrone blue.”

I am down to all the little weird pieces in the easy bits phase.  Things that are obviously not part of the sky or the grass or (god help me) the wheat field. I can’t figure out what the heck they are or where they go.  They pass through my hands over and over and I look from them to the puzzle to the picture on the box.  The conscious part of my mind relaxes and a deeper mind takes over.  Suddenly my hands are moving without me analyzing what they are doing.  They put the all the weird little pieces into their place.  This is actually an example of the creative process, which doesn’t differentiate between the grand and the humble.

The last part of the puzzle involves the grunt work of filling in the wide open spaces of a single color or the insistent gravel of no pattern.  I start looking at puzzle shapes: the broad shouldered men ones, the broad shouldered men trying to run away.  If I turn them around they look like broad–shouldered men giving birth to a baby and trying to run away—now there’s a frame.  The four-pointed ones and the hunchback, club-footed ones.  It’s a process of laboriously trying every piece on every side in every way.  At some point my deeper mind again takes over and finishes the puzzle.

When I have planned to ruin my day by working on my taxes, a puzzle is so much more satisfying. It calls to me more insistently than even the refrigerator.  I can’t walk past it without sitting down and becoming engrossed. My shoulders and neck get unhappy, I’m up past my bedtime, the sink is perpetually full of dishes, the cats are perpetually whining but for hours and hours I don’t worry about my health care, the cruelty of the immigration deforms—yes, you read that correctly— the stupidity of the department of education or the treatment of women all over the world.   There’s always tomorrow and I am temporarily out of puzzles.

Ethel, the Gourmet
(Charles Wysocki)


A Year in the Garden
(Trevor Mitchell)







February 2, 2017


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People who have lived with a personality-disordered individual can recognize one a mile away. We are held hostage to the whims, moods, and tantrums of someone who brings chaos and alarm wherever she goes. She will forget (or deny) anything she says when it’s convenient to. The rest of us will still be reeling days or weeks later, trying to understand what just happened.

That is a description of my mother, which will surprise no one who has read my memoir.    But does it not sound like someone else?  Someone with tiny hands and a big mouth? The weeks since the inauguration have felt reminiscent of my growing up. Actually the months since the FBI director re-opened the investigation into the alleged HRC e-mails have felt like my childhood: chaos and conflict and a sense that events were out of control.

Like many of us, I have alternated between light and dark, between uneasiness about the future and calm within the present.  Everyone I know is swinging on the same swing-set.  I have felt encouraged by people who have shared how they are coping with their fears and how they are maneuvering through the new American landscape.

There’s the energy and outrage that propel us into the street, to meetings and to small acts of resistance.  Then there’s the need to crawl back into ourselves –at least this is my experience as an introvert who loves being with people but only for about three hours a day.   Anxiety makes me feel beside myself.  I treasure the times when I feel inside myself.

Arranging music last Monday, for example, was a lovely way to spend a morning (even when I find out after I’ve made 35 copies that I’ve done something that’s not going to work.)  I arrange a lot of the music for the OK Chorale and I had meant to finish an arrangement of “Fiddler’s Green” over the weekend, no, a week, that is to say, two weeks ago.

It’s time consuming and meticulous work; I need to be in the right frame of mind.  Ironically, it’s an activity that puts me in the right frame of mind the minute I start doing it.  Written music is precise.  It’s fussy.  All those little black circles have to be carefully inked in the lines and spaces.  I use a ruler to draw the measure lines and the eighth note beams.  It’s important that everything lines up and is easy to read.  It’s absorbing.

Fussy tools of the trade

Fussy tools of the trade

Knitting was calming until I started learning to knit lace.  Since then it’s been less so.  On the up side of struggling to knit lace, I walked to the Fiber Gallery a mile from my home, three days in a row to get help with finding those pesky yarn overs that run away when I’m not looking.

I poured candles one evening. I burn beeswax pine-cone shaped candles that come from a shop in Longmont, Colorado: Amber Lights   The chandler is a friend of one of the Susans in my life– the one known as The Other Susan at All Present because there’s also Susan of Susan and Mike, try to keep up. The Other Susan couriers several candles to me every time she visits Longmont.  I burn three or four of them every winter, lighting the first one on the fall equinox.

Anyway, these pine-cone shaped candles burn efficiently and cleanly, often with very little wax left.  But I manage to collect a small saucepan of wax bits by the end of the year.  I like to melt them down and pour tea lights. 001

I am cooking again.  I’m not much of a cook.  I haven’t been a good cook since the 70s.  That was the last time I actually read cookbooks and tried recipes and had kitchen routines.  Things have changed in the culinary world and I haven’t changed with them.  Plus I’ve taken a detour into gluten-free and anti-inflammatory diets, also known as shop-and-chop diets and that’s a world unto itself.

Regarding gluten-free: A student of mine once asked me if I had “that disease” or was I just one of the annoying ones?  I guess I am one of the annoying ones but it really does make difference in my joints.  I would be much more annoying with gluten in my system.

In any case, I am reading actual recipes and trying new dishes and it’s been fun.

There’s always Bach.  I am working on a recital, the centerpiece of which will be the Bach wedding cantata (#202).  Bach is more holy to me than any scriptures.  As I work on this cantata phrase by phrase, line by line, recitative and aria, I try to sing it straight through several times a week.  Those are the times it feels most holy.  This piece of music has been around for hundreds of years.  Thousands of people have sung it. With every performance it has poured itself into the world and the world is richer for it.  This music connects me to a long line of singers who have sung Bach and been carried out of the darkness by him.

For sheer, mindless escape I play Trump Yahtzee.  This involves playing Yahtzee on-line.  Every time it looks like I am losing, I refresh the game so it never shows up in the stats that I have lost.  So far I haven’t lost a game.  That’s Trump Yahtzee.

Events in friends’ lives have a way of righting me when I start to totter.  My friend Putzer, the Attorney who incidentally has retired so I don’t know if I get to call her that any longer, has a new grandchild. This little girl had some huge challenges at birth.  When her life was assured and her mother called her Mighty Miss Matilda, I burst into tears.

Mighty Miss Matilda

Mighty Miss Matilda

Tears were a huge release when I went with Gwen to send her cat Lucy to new adventures in another world.  I’ll miss Lucy.  Gwen buried her in my yard.  That evening I lit a candle on the grave and stayed until the wind blew it out.  I tried to get my cats to participate but they acted like I was trying to pull a fast one on them. I’m always trying to enrich their lives and they are so resistant.

Lucy as a kitten before she got the smudged nose

Lucy as a kitten










I’ve discovered the poet Carl Dennis. One poem in particular digs a little deeper into me every time I read it: “On the Soul.” Maybe it seems poignant because with high levels of anxiety comes uncertainty as to who owns my soul.  The poem begins with the line “They told you you owned it” and eventually catches up to:

It would have been better if they’d said nothing
Or told you it lived its own life, like deer
Hidden in the woods, not seen from the road
As you drive past in the car, not seen
When you stop and climb the fence.
Even if they browse on your own land,
They’re happiest left alone,
Stepping down in the evening to the stream,
Bedding down in silence under a screen of thickets
To dream what you may guess at and can’t know.