Friday, August 20, 2010

words of wisdom

My more-often-than-not awesome husband, while reclining in bed, in response to our discussion of The Chosen in which I said, "You know, that was the first religious book I read that had a profound effect on me", promptly retorted:

"The first religious book I read that had a profound effect on me was Mad Magazine.

Monday, June 28, 2010

letting this one go.....

She was sleight of frame but strong in form. Her sparse long hair, the same drab color as mine when without highlights, hung down her back in a thoughtless ponytail. She asked me if I was "about ready to check out?" I supplied the openness she was looking for when I replied, "Why, yes, I am. Why do you ask?"

She produced a Kroeger gift card with 20.43 scribbled in black ink on the front of it. "I was wondering if you could use this card to pay for your groceries, so I could get cash to put gas in my car." Here I was, with a cart half full of cereal boxes and baby shower non-necessities.... how could I say no to a woman whose only need at the moment was gas in her car?

"Um... sure... how does it work?"

"Here, I'll take you through the line and show you."

"So wouldn't it just be easier if I traded you the card for the cash?" I uttered foolishly as I opened my wallet and searched out the lone twenty buried within a dozen smaller bills.

As I handed it to her and received the gift card in return, I offered her an extra dollar to cover the remaining 43 cents. She declined, and mumbled something about maybe getting a bottle of water with it.

She then led me like a lamb to the self-checkout slaughter, and proceeded to pretend to be interested in bagging my excesses. She must have been viewing me with that particular combination of envy and disgust that has forged and fed most every revolution in history.

I continued to occupy myself with a temperamental self-checkout station ("Please scan your Soopercard now." "Please remove the last item from the bag." "Please place the item on the scanner.") which I had made even more cumbersome by having the audacity to bring two of my own shopping bags, which required an intercessory prayer to the lone clerk (who, I'm sure, deals with the idiocies of inept humans all day, and yet still manages to smile patiently) who did something mysterious to the scales and added two 5-cent credits to the little screen in front of me.

In the middle of all this chaos, my middle-aged con-woman excused herself to the restroom, saying she'd "be right back", but that she "really had to go", and that she would help me check out when she returned.

It was then, of course, that the doubts tiptoed into my dreadfully unmindful mind, as I struggled to look up cucumber codes, keep an eye on my purse, play bagging Tetris with my scanned items, and try to stop thinking about all the time I was wasting when people would be arriving at my house for Elise's baby blessing in less than an hour!

Lo and behold, she showed up again magically at my side to help organize the last of my goods into the two bags I had brought, and begin the check-out process.

Let's just skip the details and asides for now, shall we, as we arrive at the inevitable: the gift card had a balance of zero. She didn't appear to be too mystified, and actually said, "Well, I just kinda found it and figgered it had the money on it that it said." Then she asked the clerk if there was a way to check the balance. He asked for the card, and said he could make a phone call. While he was dialing, and before giving me time to process this new revelation, she asked our clerk where the water was, as she was quite thirsty, and disappeared, 20 dollars richer, down a brightly lit aisle that could have just as easily been a dark alley.

I would wait for another four or five minutes, as the kind clerk made his phone call that confirmed the zero balance. After he returned the card to me, I related my story, embarrassed though I was, to him. He reviewed aloud with me her appearance, so that he would be able to recognize her in the future.

In my mind, of course, I believe she had it all planned out, every single detail of the operation, beginning with the spotting of the ideal victim and ending with $20 in her pocket. And so I have to applaud, really, her resourcefulness. She made in ten minutes what most panhandlers make in several days. Was it dishonest as hell? Yes. Did she intentionally want to hurt me or make me angry? I don't think so. I told the clerk before leaving, "Well, I think I'll just chalk that one up to my naivete, and let it go."

Once again, what Odysseus pronounces in The Odyssey proves to be true: "All-seeing Zeus takes half the good out of a man on the day when he becomes a slave."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

pretty in pink

Occasionally I wander back through my blog, usually when looking for something in particular. I rarely remember post titles, so I often search using key words. If I know I accorded a post a certain label, then sometimes I'll simply click on it and sift. Obviously, my searches take awhile.

Today, I typed the word "pink" in the search engine, since I never bothered to make a label out of it.

It all started here. Then later it traveled to here. And last year at this time: here.

Pink Panther cartoons still entertain to this day. This afternoon I cruised north on Chelton next to a spotless duo-tone pink Mercedes. Deunan dons a pink robosuit for the final battle in Appleseed Ex-Machina. You can even buy pink Legos now.

I mean, it's not pink's fault that its wimpiest shade got co-opted by the cancer industry and anyone else wanting to make a buck(et), now, is it?

It's time for the next generation of Survivors.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Objective: Today we will seal our fate, as evidenced by a multiple-choice questionless quiz.

not now
i'm too busy remembering
where i met you
and how

and why i remember
some so clearly
and others
not at all the first time

is sacred

perhaps i got that
wrong it is the
one ephemeral eon
now i see

a pink-cored cosmology
i dare not offend your
nimble and exceptional
mind by

writing anymore
geometry is death math
a one-degree-at-a-time backwards death march
from one hundred eighty to zero in a lifetime
infinite possibility and perpendicular pomposity
end at the forty-fifth parallel while waiting for results
that don't come

once again
we have failed
to ask
the right-angled

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

rough craft

i wonder what poem to put in my pocket
after i secret the life of bees and i
live the secrets of me
under the vespering prelilac trees
causing my eyes to itch and i
want a cigarette
to help me remember from which
i used to be

Sunday, April 18, 2010

a bath and an artichoke

I wish I could express to you how honored I felt to bathe Phid, with the help of the CNA, of course, in the monster jacuzzi tub they have at Pikes Peak Hospice. It is an amazing piece of machinery. To see it in action made me momentarily super grateful to be living in the first world in the twenty-first century.

While I was washing her hair, trying to be gentle, she said, "Oh, Sue, give it a good scrub!" So I dug my fingertips into her scalp, and massaged the heck out of it. Then I rinsed off the shampoo with the shower nozzle and watched the water cascade over her face and neck and shoulders and I could imagine how cleansing that must feel. After a good long bubbly bath, and a washing of the feet, we swaddled her in about a dozen warm blankets, wheeled her back to her room, and applied lotion all over her 83-year-old body. The CNA (also named Sue) and I worked well together, as she is one of those people who recognizes that she is not just doing a job, but performing a sacred duty.

After Phid was all tucked into her fresh linens (the bed seemed to miraculously make itself while we were in the tub room) and about to slumber off, she opened her eyes, looked straight at me, and asked, "What about my arteechock?"


She had mentioned wanting an artichoke twice before, and we just hadn't done it yet! I told her I'd go right away and make her one. I'd be back at 6:30. I bought three artichokes at Safeway, while a friend explained on the phone how to prepare and cook them. I had never cooked an artichoke before.

At 6:15 I called her and she answered with a smile behind her voice: "Artichokes take longer than you thought, don't they?" Yes, they do. I told her I was picking Sarah up at 7:15 and I would be there at 7:30 with her artichoke and her daughter!

Sarah and I "set the table", placed the mayonnaise and melted butter nearby, and let her at it. It was a pleasure to watch her hands, as they nimbly performed the duty they had obviously done so many times in the past. Sarah and I shared another. Then John and the boys showed up with grilled Korean steak from a neighbor's barbecue. I tore some of the tender meat into little pieces for her, and she devoured them ever so slowly. Then the strawberries she had ordered three hours ago finally arrived!

After living on toast, a few bites of tomato soup and a few spoonfuls of pomegranate applesauce for a couple of days, this meal was a veritable feast!

Friday, April 16, 2010

why i love my mother-in-law

Nurse: Are you in any pain? Do you need any medication?
Phid: Only emotional pain... and morphine won't help that.
Nurse: You'd tell me if you were in any physical pain, though, right?
Phid: By George, I'd raise the roof!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Phillis Watkins Spengler is dying. I am honored to sit beside her, doing nothing. If I even try to gently cover her exposed left foot with a warm blanket, she quips, "Oh Sue, stop fussing!" There is nothing left for me to do but sit and wonder.

I wonder about the secrets she is taking with her off into her afterlife.

I wonder what she sees in her mind's eye.

I wonder what it feels like to know that you are dying.

I wonder about the cruel, beautiful irony of crossing over just as the apricot trees blossom here on earth.

I wonder at the miracle of being able to stand on two feet, and then to walk, and then to run.

I wonder how long it will be now.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

for bettina


from a common stem come
crocus, hyacinth, tulip
all up
for us

yes us!
we believe
frozen limbs stretch and
awaken within mimic mortuary
to ease the ego and
please Charon

but no!
this colorful refutation
of temporary slumber

"it's time!"
time to go now
time to grow now
time to grow up now
crocus, hyacinth, tulip
spring from a common stem

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

because when i say "bunker's cabin", i want you to know what i'm talking about

summer, '09:

It's where John proposed to me. One of the tattered old log books still holds proof of that Labor Day weekend, 1995.

It's where I asked him, "If a bear came and attacked me, what would you do?" and he answered, "Run like hell!" Which at first I misunderstood entirely to mean he would run away, but after a thorough explanation from him, I learned that he meant that he would sacrifice his life for mine.

It's where we took my mom once when she came to visit Colorado. Before she got cancer. We cross country skied for several miles up Burnt Creek.

It's where I spent Thanksgiving, 1998, with friends I don't see much any more, but still hold close in my heart, because they are friends who have known my husband longer than I have.

It's where I baked a pumpkin pie from scratch when I was six months pregnant with my firstborn for previously mentioned Thanksgiving dinner.

It's where we passed the Summer Solstice of 2009, after I had just finished a year's worth of cancer hell. (pics above)

It's where the latest log book now holds entries from my sons.

It's where, during Spring Break of 2010, we froze our butts off at night, skied while the world was advesperating, and tried to forget (for a little while) about all the life changes coming our way very, very soon. (pics below)

spring break, '10:

It's where, next summer, we will return with fishing gear, and the boys will catch some trout while I rest on a log beside Cliff Lake and do nothing but watch and listen to them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

live blogging of the irish soda bread

12:51: Oven preheating at 425. Cast iron skillet oiled and warming in oven.

12:55 pm: Assemble ingredients, mindfully recollecting the recipe from yesterday so I don't have to look it up. Three cups flour, 1 t. baking soda, 1 t. salt, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk. That's it, really. The recipe is so simple even a home ec. teacher could teach adolescents to bake it.

Here's what I look at while getting everything ready:

I stare for awhile at the watercolor of our house that Cheryl painted, and I feel nostalgic for something I haven't even left yet.

12:56: Detect the odor of lightly burning oil. Take skillet out of oven and set on top of stove. Note that oven isn't yet preheated.

12:58: Dance a little in the kitchen to Blue Plate Special, which I normally don't like, but am kind of in the mood for right now. Plus, I do like the sound of Jeff Bieri's voice.

12:59: Wash hands. Dry them on a clean towel. Throw towel over right shoulder with left hand, and wish once again that I possessed an apron. Think once again about sewing one. Excited to bring out Grandma's sewing machine table once we move a bunch of stuff out of our house. Realize the moment I start typing this that I've gotten computer keyboard germs all over my hands. Shit! No more live blogging until bread is in the oven!

1:01: Wash hands again. Accidentally dry them on the old towels. Throw old towels in laundry. Wash hands again.

1:19: I look up at the digital clock to see what time it is, and it says 1:19. I realize that I failed to start the timer (after taking the picture of it), and instead, turned it off. Reset timer for 30 minutes, remembering that yesterday I cooked it a little less than the prescribed 35 minutes anyway.

Here's what happened between 1:01 and 1:19:

Measured flour carefully. Dismayed to find that I didn't have much Mountain Mama white pastry flour left, so it winds up being about a half white/half whole wheat mixture.

Added the teaspoon (plus a little extra 'cause I like it) salt. Marina turned me on to this gray sea salt:

Added the teaspoon (minus a little for high altitude) of baking soda.

Stirred it up and dug a hole in the center. Only had one cup of buttermilk; no worries-substituted a little plain yogurt and milk.

Poured buttermilk/yogurt/milk mixture into the flour/salt/soda crater. Mixed just until moist. Turned out onto floured board and kneaded gently a few times. Formed the dough into a ball in my hands, and placed it prayerfully in the receiving skillet. Pressed the dough ball into a giant, fat pancake.

Cut the pancake into quarters, and placed it into preheated oven.

Set timer for 35 minutes.

1:42: Waiting not-so-patiently, with butter and jam, and reading this. Then I start reading this, and begin to rethink my decision to take cooking out of my curriculum for next year. Cooking is science and history and math and a whole lot of other things, all in one.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I guess I'm getting a new car! But it won't be a prize. Or a rental.

I'm going to have to buy it. The price is not more than I can afford.

I'd love to take you for a ride in it. As long as you don't mind traveling mapless.

My old, trusted auto no longer drives like it used to, and all the tinkering in the world won't help.

The only thing it is good for now is scrap metal.

I like scrap metal.

Now I just need a blow torch.

Monday, February 22, 2010

interpretations welcome

I enter the large room and sit. Across a large, dark, antique-feeling desk, he sits: the man who denied my leave of absence application, and who I must convince to change his mind. This is my only chance.

I thought it would be only us, yet I am not surprised to see so many. On my right sit members of the Board. I glance at Keith, who gives me a small, knowing nod, and a barely perceptible grin. I know, if he could, he'd be flashing me the "thumbs up" sign. I smile back. I look further over to the right, for Rick, but do not see him. Not so much disappointment as wonderment. Where is he? On my left sit at least a dozen other people; I'm not sure who they are, but know they are part of the administration. I feel supported by their presence nonetheless.

I begin to state my case, which is full of all kinds of things I did while teaching sixth grade at Carmel. I mention the Student Council created from nothing, and the school store built by students. The Egyptian Museum. Comer facilitating. It's all irrelevant, but I feel the need to convey a sense of history, and to somehow make him know that I have given my heart and soul to this district for fourteen years and deserve to be treated better than this.

I find myself at the part where I want to bring up cancer, the role it plays in my decision, and its transformational power over my life. I realize that, against all recommendations, I'm going to get emotional. I sit up taller, look right and left, and suddenly realize that I can share the story objectively, without tears, and so I do. I'm not sure what I say; I only know that I am confident and self-assured when I say it.

Finally, it is the end of our time together. We both stand, and shake hands across the table. The others gather round and begin to discuss the situation. I await the verdict. It's unclear. Do I get the leave of absence? Or not? Everybody's talking, but no one seems to know the answer. I am confused, but happy. It's like not winning a medal at the Olympics, but knowing you skated your best.

I am ushered outside, and there, before my eyes, parked on the street, sits a white convertible. Just like the '67 Datsun Fairlady I had my eye on at Concourse Auto for awhile. They're giving it to me as a prize! I'm not sure what I've done to win it, but I assume it means that I have been granted my sabbatical. I admire the well-worn leather interior, reach in and touch the steering wheel, marvel at the old dials, and wonder what it will be like to drive it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


thicker than rain-drops on November thorn,
fleshy tongue meets pink petal.
roundabout rose gardens 'round here
remind us to yield with
absent umbrellas
step lightly over the well-tended grass.
ensconced in the long-abandoned
rotten wood will conceal our stolen
kiss while the circus
passes by

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Today, as we stepped out of the car at about 2:45 pm, the air smelled of rain. Not just any rain, but the rain after a long, long dry spell. It was magnificent. But what came out of my 10-year-old's mouth was even more magnificent.

Me: You know what? There's actually a word for this smell.... I don't remember what it is though. I heard about it on NPR from that guy who read the OED.

Grant: Really? Well, it's not really a smell.... it's an emotion we take in through our nose.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

what is new is old

If you have a reader in your family between the ages of about seven and eleven, then you will certainly have heard of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The story's the same as always: young outcast finds out he is the chosen one. It's been called a rip off by so many; there is no need to add my voice to the critics.

What matters to me is this: Percy Jackson and the Olympians-The Lightning Thief is the first novel (besides the graphic novels of classics he reads at school) that my 9-year-old son finished on his own. In anticipation of the movie release on Feb. 12th, I began reading it to him. About 3/4 of the way through, I realized we would never finish in time--if he wanted to see the film, he would have to finish the book on his own. He wasn't happy about this. And yet, inspired by his friends Ursen and Albert, he persisted.

Today, Bennett proudly proclaimed to me that he is on chapter 4 in the next book in the series (there are five). It will most likely be the first book he will have read from cover to cover. I knew his time would come.

Because of Percy Jackson, my older son's knowledge of Greek mythology is far superior to mine. Recently, while admiring a painting with me in a local gallery (it's number 4), he had the opportunity to fill in my knowledge gaps on the subject of Morpheus. Nothing like being lectured to by a 10-year-old in front of a group of strangers!

Last Friday, a group of us took the afternoon off from school in order to be the first ones to see the film. The boys made their own Camp Half-Blood t-shirts and beaded necklaces. Suzanne found her inner Medusa, and I had no problem being "the fury hiding inside the teacher". Together, our geeky fun-loving clan took up an entire row of the theater!

The movie, quite frankly, was pretty mediocre. Enough has been written about that as well. But I have found you can pretty much enjoy anything, as long as you lower your expectations, and smuggle chocolate into the show! After the movie, over bagels and cream cheese, the kids and grown ups discussed the differences between the book and the movie. (Far too many to even begin!)

There will be time enough to become serious critics of literature and film. Until then, we will continue to be inspired and entertained by the same old story. Inspired to dress up, to make believe, and to dream our lives into bigger possibilities.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

here we go

Sorry, blogspot, I've been away for awhile. Don't take it personally, it's just that I've learned pretty much everything you have to teach me for now, and it seemed time to move on and explore strange new worlds. There are so many. Edublogs is where I've been working and playing lately; please don't be jealous.

Feeling challenged and excited, I click on words and icons, follow drop down menus
to wherever they might lead, and just, you know, try stuff. I am obsessed with learning, with unlocking the mystery. When failure comes, I try something else.
It is this kind of curiosity and courage, more than anything else, that needs to be developed in young students.

On the corner of Lancaster Drive and Hayesville Avenue, there was a little store. It must have had a name, but I don’t remember it. All I remember is that we called it “The Little Store”. It was where my friends and I bought Charleston Chews and candy cigarettes with the cash we would get in exchange for the cans and bottles we had collected from our neighbors. It was the place where, a day or two before payday when the cupboards were bare, my single mother would purchase hot dogs and buns on credit. Mr. Frey always knew she’d be back in a day or two, when she would pay off her bill and buy a few more items. And he knew where we lived. And I still remember his name.

And so, in memory of The Little Store, I have named my project The Little School. Because community matters. Because smaller is better. Because "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." (Albert Einstein) Because I can.

Because I have to.

The Little School Project: Tava Mountain Middle School

coming soon to a neighborhood near you

Monday, February 1, 2010



The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift,
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.

Joyce Sutphen

Sunday, January 3, 2010

the journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
-Mary Oliver