Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mine is the Sunlight, Mine is the Morning

Sun and River, simply stunning at 6 A.M. and 7 below.
Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s re-creation of the new day

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Flag's Flying Today For All Vets

I'm making a conscious effort these days to resist looking back at my life with regret. It's impossible, of course, to go back and change anything, so what's the point?

On this Veteran's Day, however, there is something on my mind I'd definitely do differently, if I could. I wish I'd spent more time talking to my dad.

Isn't it remarkable how our perspective of life changes with our age? When my dad passed away at 64, not once did it enter my mind that he was "too young." It just seemed like he got old and died, like people do, end of story. Now, his death seems almost tragically premature. He wasn't much older than I am.

He was a quiet guy; it was hard to get him to talk about his WWII days and I never persisted questioning him out of respect, I suppose. But how I would love to know what was going through his mind on the night of June 5, 1944, the eve of the D-Day Invasion.

I inherited my dad's uniform, shown above, after my mom passed away last year. With it came a treasure of his WWII memorabilia, such as flight logs, photos, and his "short snorter." My dad took this small black-and-white photo of one of his crew mates, Cpl. Howard Bell, posing on a destroyed German bomber at their Chateaudun base. 

A pilot in the 94th Troop Carrier Squadron, Dad was preparing to fly a huge, black-and-white-striped, unarmed cargo plane across the English Channel to Nazi-occupied France. The weather had been terrible, but everyone wanted the invasion to get underway. They were tired of waiting.

That's my dad inside his C-47 in the other old photo, helping men of the 101st Airborne board on the eve of D-Day. The paratroopers were heavily weighed down with all their gear. This shows a lot about Dad's character; the other pilot is just standing there in his life vest, waiting, his back to the photographer.

Once over his designated drop zone above Normandy, Dad had to turn on a green light,  the signal for about 40 men of the 101st Airborne to jump out of the plane into the darkness, smoke, flak and deafening noise of battle. I know their safety had to have weighed heavily on my father's heart that night -- and for the rest of his life.

Those are the guys my father could hardly talk about in later years, except to say, "They were the brave ones, not me," sometimes adding, teary-eyed, "those poor suckers."

My dad did not drop them in the wrong place, from what I've been told. There was just so much "heavy ack," smoke, and confusion that the men were clearly jumping into "the mouth of Hell."

Most combat veterans I've known downplay their own wartime service. They point to pictures of long, neat lines of white headstones and say, "I didn't do anything; they did." You know, probably even if I'd had more time with him, Dad wasn't going to go there with me, ever.

So if you ever hear some guy in the back of a bar bragging about being in combat in some foreign war zone, I'll bet he's lying just to impress his buddies.

Real combat vets, at least all the ones I've known, not only don't flaunt it, they hardly ever bring it up. It's not something they want to dwell on.

This is their one day of the year, though, to be reminded of their bravery and service. If you see a vet today, just smile and say, "Thanks." That's probably good enough; we don't want to cause discomfort. 

But tonight, just take a second to ask God to bless and protect them all. They've earned it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Can You Hear The Trees Laughing?

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

~ Mother Teresa ~

Working in my office this morning, I thought I heard children playing. Going outside to look, I spotted Sunny and River in a back eddy below. Recent rains have brought the water level up again, and those two were celebrating.

It's true laughter is contagious. Sunny, always the instigator of happiness, was tickling River as they swirled 'round and 'round, bouncing off rocks and giggling brightly.

All their fun had River's row of nearest neighbors, the normally dull Conifers, almost shining in delight. On this side of the river, a small but boisterous group of Deciduous broke into a riot of hilarity.

Before long I was smiling, too; it was impossible to do otherwise. It's weird how that works; it felt as if my heart was being lifted as well.

Maybe it was the motion of raising my camera that caught River's eye, but for some reason, just then she looked up and gave me the biggest, brightest wink I've ever seen.

I nodded back at her, grinning in acknowledgment. I took a few pictures, then stood there awhile, trying to decipher River's message. "Look at me!" I think she was saying. "I can twinkle again! Am I lovely?"

Oh, ab-sol-tute-ly, I tell her after Sunny moves on and we're alone again in the dark. River, girlfriend, you definitely got your groove back this morning. I have a lovely photograph. So tell me: Were you wearing real diamonds?

Now, as I write to you, there are tears in my eyes again. This time, though, they're not from sadness, but in gratitude for the beauty and glory of His love.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fighting Darkness Is So Wearisome

My recent neglect of you, dear readers, does not reflect a lack of desire to write here. My voice-mail is full, bills lie unopened, emails, unread. The dishes are done, but that's about all I can manage. 

Trying to keep my son alive has taken all my energy lately. I've never written much about him for several reasons. I try to respect his privacy, since he is a grown man of 35 and not a little kid.

But I've not voiced my feelings about him here primarily because that, my friends, is when the bullet hits the bone for this writer. It's seemed a bit hard to approach the topic, too: "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's true that I lost my husband and my mom last year on the same day -- but wait! It gets worse!"

Here's the deal: My son suffers from Type I Diabetes, juvenile onset. His health has been steadily declining for quite a while now. Before my husband died, it had become so worrisome that we urged him to move back home with us. So he did.

He has lived in my basement now for more than two years. He doesn't work. In fact, he makes little effort to do anything at all.

I've found him in insulin shock and near death more times than I care to recall. So far, I have been able to get some Karo syrup down him or call 911 in time to save him.

But I am beginning to feel so worn down by the weight of it all. The anxiety compounds my grief.

I have to fight the urge to give into negativity every day. Jack Daniels beckons, but I will not go there. I know it wouldn't help. In fact, it would only make things worse, and I gave up on self-destruction a while back.

Bottom line: I know I can't change my son; only he can do that. This situation with him, however, has evolved into a full-blown crisis that must end soon. I simply can't take it anymore.
So I've made some tough decisions and planned some big changes. Don't worry; they will be positive for us both. 

It's so hard for a mom to unmom herself, even if it's for the better. Telling you about it strengthens my resolve.

It's not going to be easy, but then, nothing really worth doing ever is, is it? Rolling over and dying, now that would be easy.

In my dream we're on the sinking Titanic when I hear someone yell, "Women and children on the lifeboats first!"

I may be an old woman, but I'm still a woman, and someone who's 35, I'm pretty sure, is no longer a child. These are my thoughts as I run for a lifeboat but then I hear another voice: "It's every man for himself!"

Wait a minute. That is just so wrong! We're all in this together, aren't we?

Turning back, I see my son and grab his hand, holding tight. "Let's go!" I yell at him. "We've got to keep going forward!"

A sea of darkness swells ahead of us as I scream again, "'It's going to be all right!"  I'm not sure if he can hear me, but I will not let go of his hand.

Leaning into the wind, I pull with everything I've got.
Then comes the light of another day. I wake up and keep trying. It's all I can do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This Thing We Call Life

I had planned to write this post about special dogs we've loved over the years, but it seems too tough of a topic for today. Here's the photos, but the story's different. I want to tell you a story about a good friend from my teen years named Dawn. She and I have kept in touch with for many years.

She's a widow now too, and has been a valuable source of support. I didn't make it to our 40th high-school reunion in 2009, but we did manage to get together one day for lunch last summer. Isn't it funny how, even if they look quite different, when you see someone again after several years, once they start talking, all the time falls away? When I'm with Dawn, it's 1967 again, or so it seems. Her parents lived right behind mine and we were in the same grade at school, so we couldn't have avoided each other even if we'd tried. It was a good thing we hit it off right away after I was involuntarily transplanted to Boise in the eighth grade.
After being no-bosom buddies (yuck, yuck) all through school, we went our separate ways after college. We each married handsome young men, and I remained in Boise while she moved to a remote Alaskan fishing village with her husband to teach Eskimo children.

Teaching in Alaska's extreme conditions was a popular move for young couples with education degrees in the 1970's. It paid very well. The oil pipeline was under construction then, too, so we had several friends who left Idaho for the Far North to make big money.

Such pilgrimages are still going on, since Idaho hasn't had an economic boom since its last gold rush and that was quite some time ago. No one seems to come back and say they hated their Alaskan experience and Dawn and her husband were no exception. They loved living among the Eskimos and ended up staying about ten years.The minimalist lifestyle of the natives afforded few luxuries. Their traditional sources of food and clothing were whale, seal, fox and fish. This proved to be adequate, Dawn said, but she constantly craved a fresh green salad.

No fresh produce could be flown into their village due to the extremely cold temperatures. So Dawn decided to try to bring two heads of iceberg lettuce home from a trip to Fairbanks. To protect them from freezing, she stuffed them up in her coat, planning to keep them warm there for the entire flight. This vision of my skinny friend with two heads of lettuce crammed up her coat is amusing in itself, but it gets better. As she tried to negotiate her way to her seat, while jockeying the ton of other stuff from town, she was mortified when both heads of lettuce escaped and rolled down the aisle like a pair of pale-green bowling balls.

Dawn turned red with embarrassment (she does that easily), but quickly learned in that part of the country, no one bats an eye at the sight of two heads of lettuce coming at them down an airplane aisle. The produce was simply scooped up and politely returned by another traveler. Here you go; no problem, ma'am. She wondered later if everyone else on the plane was also cradling lettuce in their coats.

My friend had two babies, Emily and Jessica, while living in their Arctic home. This seemed a little nuts to me at the time, but Dawn's always been quite a trooper, especially when it comes to the Great Outdoors. Now that I think about it, she still is. A little nuts, that is.

Another time, she took her little girls on a rare trip to the city. Emily was about four years old and Jessica, two. They had no TV at home, so the girls had never seen a movie (VCRs hadn't been invented yet). So off they went to see a Disney classic on the big screen. Dawn wasn't into watching the movie as much as she was seeing her kids' reactions as they laughed and clapped through the childrens' film.

When it was over and the lights came on, Dawn prepared to leave. When she looked to see if she had both girls, she was surprised to see Emily still sitting in her seat, weeping.  My friend was shocked. It had been a happy movie with a great ending, she thought. "Why are you crying?" she asked little Emily, who was the very picture of despair, tears rolling down her cheeks. "B-b-b-because it's ov, ov, o-ver," Emily blubbered, letting loose wioth a full-blown wail. "You're crying because it's over?" Dawn asked, adding, "Oh Honey, we'll do this again sometime."  All parents tell their kids that when they're trying to get them out of a place if they don't want to leave. It works for a few years, but as they get older, children begin to realize there's a catch to this thing we call life: You can't go back, you can only go forward.  You can revisit special places or look at pictures of past times, but the experiences,  exactly as you had them, can never truly be relived. 

I've been thinking about this since last month when I wrote about our dog, Hoo, and promised a follow-up. Looking through pictures of the 16 years Hoo enriched our lives, I was reminded of so much happiness I had with my late husband.

Sometimes I think I'd rather recall the times when we weren't getting along so well. It's easier. Don't get me wrong. I'm very grateful for my 40 years with my husband. "You should be glad for what you had," says my best friend, who is divorced. "I always wanted a marriage like yours, but I never had it," she reminds me when I get down.

"I know," I reply. "I am glad." Lately, though, I've been thinking about Emily in the theater. I can totally relate to the reason for her tears when the lights came on.

There's only one difference: I do my crying in the dark.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Never Fear; I'm Still Here

Sunny came by yesterday afternoon and kissed River, giving her a radiant glow. It helped make up for River's lack of sparkling current this time of year. Her bony shoulders are exposed, too, and her underbelly is growing fuzz in her low-water season.

Greedy birds of prey dive-bomb her shallow pools, feasting on stranded fish. River is glad, however, that no rock-crushers have shown up to grind away at her shores this fall. There is a limit to the indignities she can endure while she is laid off from work.

I grew melancholy looking at photos of Hoo, so that project has been shelved for now. I am getting in firewood and doing all necessary preparations folks must make for winter in this part of the country.

Living a stone's throw away from the Canadian border makes one wary of the approaching change of weather.

I'm glad I don't also have to contend with hoards of Canadians illegally crossing into North Idaho in search of work. God save the Queen.

Sunny was in a hurry to leave, as her hours have been cut, too. Before she left, though, she kissed Bric on the forehead. He was unaware of his beauty, but I saw it, and share it with you here.

Don't forget about me, give up on me, or quit praying for me, and I'll do the same for you. Let's carry on, then, shall we?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Legendary Hoobert Heever

I'm not a dog snob. For the first 30 years of our marriage, we never had the money to buy an AKC dog, so a series of lovable mutts shared our lives. Probably the most memorable and clearly my favorite was a black-and-white, natural-born comedian named Hoo.

That's her above, laughing. Behind her is a our Golden Retriever, a pound puppy we named "Wuzzy." As a wee doggie, she looked like a little bear, so her name came from the nursery rhyme, "Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.." She went by "Wuz" most of the time.

We got Hoo for free from a neighbor who owned her mother, a purebred German Shepherd. Her father was unknown. A half-shepherd sounded good, so we brought home the sweetest of 10 little pups.

How a dog gets its name at our house is usually left up to fate. In Hoo's case, it happened when another neighbor came over to see our new puppy.  "And this is who?" he asked politely, picking her up. In a light-bulb moment, I answered, "Yes, this is Hoo." Having one dog named Wuz and another named Hoo had potential for being very funny, I remember thinking.

Hoo didn't know who she was yet when she first came to live with us. As she grew, our hopes of owning a dog that looked like a German Shepherd began to fade. It wasn't long before her personality began to emerge as well. Hoobie was a nut. You could tell just by looking at her. She received her full name, Hoobert Heever Henderson, from something I read one day in a Reader's Digest. It was a short story about the first-ever live radio broadcast of a presidential address to the nation. It marked the end of the golden era for newspapers, which had long enjoyed a media monopoly as the sole source of news coverage.
President Herbert Hoover was standing by as the broadcast was about to begin. The announcer, incredibly nervous and daunted by his historic task, ceremoniously cleared his throat. In a high-pitched, quivering voice, he then effectively ended his broadcasting career by leaning to the mike and saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, HOOBERT HEEVER."

I've always imagined this epic blunder having been followed by an audible gasp of horror from all the people in the radio station control room. I've also pondered the possibility that if hundred of thousands were listening to their radios at that moment, the announcer's huge faux pas may have caused a tsunami of collective gasps that rolled across America, eventually sending out a global "OMG!" Perhaps the massive intake of breath created an atmospheric change, a moment of shock so intense it was like a  "shot heard 'round the world."

But that's just speculation. The Reader's Digest article didn't say whatever happened to the poor guy. I hope he didn't go out and jump off a building. The country was in the Great Depression, after all.

Humiliation of this scale must have been hard to handle. Hopefully he found another job in a field where stage fright couldn't sabotage him. Perhaps he turned to Demon Rum and became a bum, like many men down on their luck in those days. 

Hoo knows? Yes, she does but she'd never tell. Hoo's tail must be continued, for she lived to be 16 years old and her legendary antics were many. Stay tuned, then. More Hoo is coming for you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Do Believe It's True

Someone told me
It's all happening at the zoo.
I do believe it,
I do believe it's true.

It's a light and tumble journey
From the East Side to the park;
Just a fine and fancy ramble
To the zoo.

You can take the crosstown bus
If it's raining or it's cold,
And the animals will love it
If you do.

[From: ]

It had been many years since I'd been to a zoo. My intense empathy and compassion for animals has always tainted my zoo visits in the past, so I quit going.

For my seven-year-old granddaughter's sake, however, I decided to go with her to the Portland Zoo recently.

I really disliked the bat cave, flat-out refused to go near the snake building, complained about paying $5 for a bottle of water, and got totally pooped out after a few hours.

I took these photos for you before heading back to the car to wait for the kids.
All in all, for me, it was a fairly fun trip to the zoo; I saw nothing that made me unbearably sad.

Like men incarcerated at San Quentin, the zoo animals appeared to suffer mostly from boredom and of course, lack of room to roam. Fat and lazy describes most of the creatures I saw. But, are they happy? Or are such feelings exclusive to humans?

The confined animals would be far worse off if they were free, I suppose. Life in the wild is dangerous and dinner times are far apart.

But, do you think they would chose to run or fly free -- even if it meant being sometimes hungry or afraid -- if they could?

I do. I do believe it's true.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Them Two Sure Was Good Ol' Gals

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These two women, identified only as Minnie and Daisy, lived in Dixie, Idaho, around 1903. They were most likely "camp followers," as female opportunists were called who traveled to remote mining areas to seek their fortune.

Adventuresome girls, like merchants and many business entrepreneurs, made a lot of money supplying needs of prospectors like this odd-ball character at left.

Minnie and Daisy were cashing in on the last of the Old West gold rushes, the Thunder Mountain gold strike of 1898.
Located deep in Idaho's extremely remote and nearly inaccessible interior, the diggings nevertheless attracted thousands of men at the turn of the 19th Century.
Tiny Dixie remains today the last trace of civilization for travelers heading into the rugged back country. Beyond its few homes, cafe and store, the road ends and the going gets much tougher.
I've long been interested in the lives of women who came West a hundred or more years ago. I think I'd have preferred to cast my lot with the likes of Minnie and Daisy than to have been isolated with a no-fun husband on a homestead bearing children every-other year.

I probably would have balked about halfway through the trip if I'd allowed myself to be talked into going West on a wagon. I can imagine thinking, "This totally sucks;" getting madder and madder.

I can relate to an account of a fed-up woman who finally lost it on her way to the Oregon Territory in 1847. Sounds like a full-blown, pissed-off female snit fit:

"This morning one company moved on except one family. The woman got mad and would not budge nor let the children go. He had his cattle hitched on for three hours while coaxing her to go, but she would not stir. I told my husband the circumstances, and he and Adam Polk and Mr. Kimble went and took each one a young one and crammed them in the wagon and her husband drove off and left her sitting. She got up, took the back track and traveled out of sight, cut across, and overtook her husband.

"Meantime, he sent his boy back to camp after a horse that he had left and when she come up to her husband, he says, "Did you meet John?" "Yes," was the reply, "and I picked up a stone and knocked out his brains." Her husband then went back to ascertain the truth, and while he was gone, she set one of their wagons on fire, which was loaded with their goods. The cover burnt off and some valuable articles were lost. He saw flames and came running, and put it out, and then he mustered spunk enough to give her a good flogging." ("Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey," by Lillian Schlissel, copyright 1982, Schocken Books, New York.)

As a veteran of many heated discussions with my late husband in our nearly 40 years, I think this woman had decided she was done with this marriage. She had to have known when she'd crossed the line where her husband was sure to become enraged. (I think it was probably when she lit the wagon on fire, don't you?)

I knew where that line was in my marriage and trust me, I always backed off of it. Every relationship has its loaded emotional nuclear warheads that, once fired, pretty much signal the end of the partnership.

I've always wondered what happened to this couple but of course there's no way of knowing. Maybe when she finally got out West, the woman dumped her old man and ran off to San Francisco.

That's what I'd have done, especially after being "flogged." Figuring anything would be better than that, I'd have hooked up with some good old girls like Minnie and Daisy, made a bunch of money and perhaps even had a few good times along the way.

Maybe that's because I've come to realize the enormous value in having at least one really good girlfriend in my life. The support and companionship of your own gender is priceless.

We all need to vent to someone we can trust sometimes. It keeps us from torching the wagons.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How I Passed A Cardiac Stress Test

Here's a photo of what's left of my big, pretty Dodge Ram after my son nearly had a head-on collision with a motor home.

This happened while he was taking my granddaughter home to her mother's. Yes, OMG, he had Anna with him.

No one was hurt in the wreck. That's the good part.

My late husband and I bought this truck brand new five years ago and I had just finished paying it off. Now it's totaled. Ironic, yes?

I found this recent near-tragedy quite emotionally troubling, having lost my husband in a motorcycle crash just last year. You know it's bad when you have to remind yourself, "Just breathe."

The often-heard phrase from friends, "It could have been much worse," meant to comfort me, is the very idea that makes me weak in the knees to contemplate.

Thank God no one was hurt. Absolutely grateful for that, I am, indeed.

I'm also relieved I didn't have a stroke or heart attack when I found out about it. I did have a giant panic attack of sorts when my son called to say, in trembling voice, "Mom, I've been in a wreck." Hearing that totally freaked me out so bad I very nearly fainted, which freaked me out even further. Panic attacks feed on themselves, have you ever noticed?

I've seen people in the movies faint upon receiving bad news but had never really experienced that extreme-shock reaction in real life. It's like your brain just goes, "Nope. I am not hearing this, I am definitely not dealing with this, and I am out of here, right now." It's a weird sensation. It felt like my heart stopped, but of course, it didn't.

I have advised my son, should such an unfortunate incident ever happen again, to please begin such phone conversations by saying, "Mom, we're alright, but ..."

So now I am looking to buy another vehicle, which is one more thing I've never done without my husband. Sometimes I wish so badly that I could just call him up and have him tell me what to do.

That ain't happenin', though, so I'll just have to wing it once again and delve bravely into the strange world of "man stuff."

Last year at about this time I was pondering getting in my firewood supply for the winter, which had always been another one of my husband's domain. Followup: Red fir is my choice as No. 1, followed by Tamarack. A blend of the two makes a nice mix in my particular stove. No more Birch for me, however; burns too hot and causes creosote in the stove pipe. The darn bark is unruly, too.

Live and learn. Roll with the punches. Such are the cliches I live by these days.

Could an angel on a Harley have been there to intervene? Well, actually, I thought that was fairly obvious. Of course he was.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Accepting What I Cannot Change

"He that outlives a wife whom he has long loved, sees himself disjoined from the only mind that has the same hopes, and fears, and interest; from the only companion with whom he has shared much good and evil; and with whom he could set his mind at liberty, to retrace the past or anticipate the future. The continuity of being is lacerated; the settled course of sentiment and action is stopped; and life stands suspended and motionless."

--- Samuel Johnson (1709-84), English author

Seems like some things never change. Other times, it's obvious that nothing will ever be the same in my life.
There is a huge division now in my concept of time: Before Roger died and after Roger died. To even say the phrase, "Roger died," out loud sends a jolt of something close to panic into the pit of my stomach. Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?
Part of my mind subversively clings to the delusion that Roger's just away at work. For the last six years of his life, my husband worked in Russia on a six-week-off, six-week-on rotation.
I got used to him being gone half the time. But reality bites me right in the butt when I see his things untouched, just as he left them more than a year ago. Now they're gathering dust.
I can't change the facts, so I have no choice but to carry on, as I must. But don't worry about me, dear readers. There is no easy way up this steep, dark path for anyone who's ever walked it.

If it's a just matter of hanging in there for several more months before it begins to smooth out, as I suspect, then in there I shall hang. If, in a year from now, however, I feel like nothing's changed, then we will have to seriously discuss a Plan of Action.
I was startled when someone said to me recently, "Maybe the best is yet to come." That was a totally foreign thought to my mind. Really? Not just better, but maybe, the best? Of my whole life?
Anything's possible with God. Of that, at least, I am certain.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Old Photos, Windows to the Past

I love old photos; I always have. Aware of my fondness for pictures from the past, people give them to me. I have lots of them.

Sometimes I know who the people are in the pictures, sometimes not. I like to examine everything in an old photo with a magnifying glass. I pretend I was there.

This is a picture of a guy named Sumner Stonebraker standing on his head on his brother's front porch in Stites, Idaho, in about 1903. The Stonebrakers operated a pack train hauling supplies and mail into Idaho gold miners.

I made a little slide show of some of the best of these rare pictures for YouTube, which I just added here for you to watch. It's interesting, I think, even if you don't care as much about Idaho history as I do.

It's a well-known fact in the newspaper trade that editors become historians when they retire. It's just natural.
Even while I was still working on newspapers, I always had a sense of recording history. 

I love to go to a library and spend all afternoon reading really old newspapers on microfilm. The stories in them are usually hilariously slanted by today's journalistic standards. Early newspaper publishers were usually guilty of shameless "boosterism" when writing about their newly formed little towns.

This old photo is of my grandmother in a canoe in about 1919. I love the way she's trailing her hand in the water; it shows her serenity at that moment. It makes me glad to know she was happy then.

That's her younger brother, my great-uncle, to the right of her. I can't tell who the two other people are because they're too out of focus, but it doesn't matter.

I love the picture just the way it is. Aside from adding a little tint of color, I did nothing to enhance it. It has the ethereal feel of a soft watercolor painting, I think. It's almost Impressionistic, in a way, but maybe it's just the era and how my grandma was dressed. Whoever took it may have felt it wasn't a very good picture. I'm just glad it didn't get thrown away, and that now, it's mine.

I love to scan and share these windows to the past. I hope you like them, too. I'll post more when I can.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Sunny Day, a Lake, and a Little Girl

Lake Pend O'reille (pronounced "Pond'-er-ay") is near my home in the Idaho Panhandle. A natural lake, it was formed by glaciers long ago. Encircled by mountain peaks and deep-green forests, it's Idaho's largest lake and in my opinion, its most beautiful.

You can boat all day on Lake Pend Oreille and still not see all of its surface area of 148 square miles. It is 65 miles long, and 1,150 feet deep in some regions, making it the fifth-deepest lake in the United States. If you find this incredibly interesting, here's a link to learn more:

I'm very fortunate to have a good friend who owns a cabin on the eastern shore of Lake Pend O'reille. I took this photo last week from the second-story deck of her perfect hide-away after a full day of playing in the sun in the crystal-clear lake water. My son, granddaughter, friend, our dogs and I swam, rode in a canoe, snorkeled, built a fire after dark and in general had a wonderful time.

It was while riding back to the cabin behind my son on a four-wheeler, with Bric running happily alongside, that I had the odd realization that I actually felt happy. Wide-grinning, childish, light-hearted happy.

I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be so glad to be alive. I was happy that I hadn't missed that day. I cherished it, very conscious of being in the moment..

Maybe it was my impish, high-spirited granddaughter, Anna, who broke my long-running gloomy spell. She is a joy, to be sure; she brightens up the world around her. I'm not sure if she's aware of her positive effect on me.

I'm reminded of a good movie from a few years ago entitled, "As Good As It Gets," starring Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson. There's a scene in a fancy restaurant when Helen realizes she is very under-dressed, and she's mad at Jack for taking her there without telling her what to wear. She demands that he give her a nice compliment to make up for it.

Jack thinks for a minute, and then says, "You make me want to be a better person." Helen melts, of course. She cries a little, because that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to her, she tells him.

I'm not sure if Anna, who will be only seven next month, could really grasp the meaning of such a profound statement yet. She might say something like, "But Nana, you're not a bad person!" Then I'd have to try to explain, which I really can't, at least not in a young child's perspective.

But one day I will say to her, "Anna. you've always made me want to be a better person." And I'll hug her and say "thank you," and let her know that because of her, I am.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

We Like Dog Days Around Here

Maybe it's because it's so cold here for much of the rest of the year that I love July and August in North Idaho. Hot weather is a thing to treasure around here  -- at least until we finally get sick of it. I don't know why they call it "Dog Days," unless it refers to just wanting to lay around in the shade and pant a lot. I like hot weather, as long as I can get to some water. Here's Bric and his mom, Sadie, playing in the sprinkler yesterday. They were deliriously happy doggies. It can get stinking hot here, however. On the day of my son's wedding, for example, when I was hosting the reception for 150 people in my yard, it was 105 degrees; I kid you not. I just wanted everyone to go away so I could lay in the shade and pant. I sweat a lot more on my face now that I'm in my dotage. It seems to just pour off of me from my hairline. I have to wear a bandanna around my forehead to soak up the sweat or it runs into my eyes, which really smarts. Then it pools up in my crow's feet, which is so not cute.
But alas, my cute days are behind me, I'm afraid. However, my granddaughter just keeps getting more adorable every day, in my possibly slanted but actually quite accurate opinion. She is also a little ham; I shot this quick picture of her yesterday with no set up or preparation after she'd been swimming.  She's six going on 16, I'm afraid. Lately, Lady Gaga has replaced Miley Cyrus as her current favorite girl singer. I was not even sure who Lady Gaga is, then when I did see her on TV, I wondered if she's a drag queen. You never know these days. For now, it's lovely to just be able to sit back, be a grandma and admire my beautiful granddaugther. I don't have to fret about her future. I might not even be here when she's 16, but even if I am, I'll still just be her Nana. Translation: I don't do discipline anymore. I am, on the other hand, chocked-full of sage advice on an unlimited number of topics, should she ever need any. Anna's going to be a knock-out in another decade, though, that much seems fairly obvious. We all take credit. Every female relative she's got, including me, looks at Anna and thinks, "She's so pretty .. wow, she's a mini me!"

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy Independence Day

I shot this scene several years ago on a farm just outside of Canby, Oregon. It was during the first President George Bush's mercifully brief but largely ineffective Gulf War. I can't even remember what the catch phrase for that one was, but I think it was Desert Storm.

I've always wondered if this farming family had someone away on active duty back then. It was after the days of displaying gold stars in your window and prior to tying yellow-ribbons on your mailbox to signify a family member was away in wartime service.

I come from a veteran-proud family, dating all the way back to the Civil War.  My deepest respect goes to my grandpa, who served as a foot soldier in the American Expeditionary Force of WWI in the trenches of France.

One night in the Argonne Forest in September of 1918, he failed to hear the warning whistle and did not wake up in time to get on his gas mask quickly enough as an insidious, creeping cloud of low-lying chlorine gas wafted over him. He kept a tiny diary that describes it.

All was not quiet yet on the Western Front when my grandpa was there by any means. I have a brass table lamp he made out of an artillery shell from the war. It's one of my treasures now, but what a depressing daily reminder that must have been for him.

The "war to end all wars" finally did come to an end at 11 A.M. on 11/11 of that year. My grandpa served fewer than six months "Over There," but the debilitating effects of that time on his life would be forever felt by my family.

He suffered terribly from "shell shock," which we now might call a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). I can remember my dad saying that whenever a car backfired, my grandpa would dive under a table.

Poor guy. I never knew him outside of the V.A. hospital in New York where he spent the final 38 years of his life confined to a psych ward, described in medical records as "psychotic" and "totally incompetent."

I wonder how he felt about 4th of July fireworks? Probably was not a big fan. Neither am I. 

Combat vets who've survived vicious, incredibly loud exploding barrages of big-gun shelling must find traditional night-time Independence Day fireworks extravaganzas as something to endure, not enjoy. Who'd want to relive that kind of hellish terror?

Hopefully, since my generation of combat veterans came along from the Vietnam War, who generally brooked no bullshit about anything, the myth that bloody battlefield combat is anything to be glorified might have begun to be dispelled.

Francis Scott Key's soaring national anthem about "bombs bursting in air" is an example of how brutal warfare was propagandized as being an attractive thing for young men to do in past centuries. After all, if they'd known the truth, who'd have signed up to go?

I once read that prior to WWII, among the plethora of horrific sounds that assaulted their ears during raging battles, the thing that veterans hated hearing the most were the terrified screams of hundreds of horses and mules being injured and killed.  I'd have to say that would have bothered me quite a bit, too.

Thank God we don't also have a national tradition of people in pairs running around in horse suits making awful horse-screaming sounds and then falling down in fake agony to look forward to this weekend, along with the bursting-bomb instant-replay effects. .

The whole idea of setting off a bunch of highly explosive materials in July, in the dark, has always struck me as a bit insane for several reasons. Around here,  it's often tinder-dry at this time of year. There have been a few spectacular, undesired side effects due to a little town's over-zealous efforts to put on a huge firework display. This year it's fairly green yet, so hopefully firefighters can relax a bit.

The 4th of July certainly ranks No. 1 as the most-despised day of the year for my German Shepherd dogs, who always shiver and pant underfoot all evening during fireworks. Despite their formidable reputation as a breed favored for military service, my three would have never made it as Dogs of War.

Perhaps early conditioning is the key, but I was always too preoccupied with teaching strict housebreaking and no-chewing rules to think of also exposing them to loud bangs. Seems kind of counterproductive anyway, since the only loud bangs my puppies ever heard were of a disciplinary nature. It was the sound of the things I threw at them hitting the wall behind their heads when I caught them squatting to pee in the living room.

Phooey on fireworks? Were I still writing this as a newspaper column, I could expect some letters to the editor in a few days decrying my anti-fireworks stance as un-American.

Baloney. I simply think that recreating battlefield sounds and sights of deadly nighttime bombing attacks is cruelly insensitive to the nerves of combat vets, very troubling to the well-being of dogs, a huge fire hazard and frankly, just a stupid way to celebrate Independence Day. It's left over from a bygone era. Let it go, people!

I mean, how many times can you say in unison with a crowd of other people laying on their backs in the dark on blankets in a football field, "Ewwww," followed by, "Ahhhh"? It gets old pretty fast -- or maybe it's just me that's getting old.

At any rate, I'll bet my grandpa would have agreed.
For Brother Steve - Semper Fi

Friday, June 18, 2010

High-Water Dawn: Symbol of Hope

 "There has been a tremendous renaissance in nature study in recent years; it has been called a form of escapism, and perhaps it is in a way, but not an escape from reality; but rather, a return to reality; a flight from unreal things." -- Roger Tory Peterson

This is great quote recently left in my comments by my esteemed fellow blogger, Troutbirder ( We seem to have little in common except a love of German Shepherds, but he's a hero of mine.

Troutbirder was the very-first non-family person to leave me a comment when I began blogging. I started writing "Between the Lines" to help get myself through the lowest point in my life. By clicking on the link to Troutbirder's blog, I then found some of his favorites. Thus I was delivered from blogging in the darkness of cyberisolation into the light of this good man's circle of many fine blogging friends.

The ongoing support of the blogging community has been very helpful to me since I lost my husband and my mom. The fact that some of my "followers" are from foreign countries blows my mind. Wow, I'm global!

So thanks again, Troutbirder, and thanks for the quote you sent recently, which I posted above. I've no clue who Roger Tory Peterson is, but I think he hits the nail on the head quite squarely here.

As I've grappled to come to terms with my life after it was turned upside down and shaken hard a year ago, it's been my intimate encounters with Nature that have lifted my spirits more than anything. Luckily, I live where Nature at her finest is right outside my door.

The river below my house is currently putting on its annual dramatic display of incredible strength. Although it's controlled by a dam just upriver from me, the river is hauling ass right now, flowing by me at what looks like 100 mph.

It's high water. I love to listen to the river's low roar; it lightens into chattering rapids during the rest of the year. I find it amazing to watch the river flex its rippling muscles, fueled by melting snow from nearby mountains known as "spring run-off."

Seeing the sun come up is another scene I like to watch. Dawn is a very welcome sight for those of us who often battle our way through the night, alone. Early one morning not long ago when I stepped out onto my deck to greet the dawn and watch the river, I was impressed by an ethereal view.

The temperature had dropped below the freezing mark the night before, so steam was rolling up from the water, creating a divinely inspirational scene, which I snapped with my Canon to share with you here.

I apologize for having been absent for so long during a difficult first-anniversary period I've endured recently. But here I am; I made it. The river is still running downhill -- full blast, at the moment -- the sun will come up again in the morning --- and I am going to be all right.

I have a number of things I still want to show you and tell you about on my blog. The ideas are all still intact, don't worry, they haven't burned dry in the big cast-iron pot on the back burner of what's left of my mind.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The State of My Flucuating Frame of Mind

To all my "dear readers, as the great Ann Landers referred to her "followers," this is for those of you who also function as my mental-health caregivers. Since most of you've been with me from my blogging beginnings, you're aware that this is a critical phase in what professionals call my "grieving process."

So, let's start out by taking a look at a "glamour shot" of me from several years ago, when it was still considered (by whomever owned the photography outfit, at least) sexy for a woman to wear a ridiculous mass of annoyingly ticklish ostrich feathers dyed in phony bright colors, which was known as a "feather boa."

Anything wrapped around my neck described as a "boa" immediately strikes me as repulsive, but I allowed myself to be talked into it, along with, ugh, red lipstick.

You should be aware by now of my dim view of such stupid notions when it comes to popular feminine fashions in my mother's day. When I look at the offensively flashy absurdity adorning my unevenly tanned shoulders, then focus on my lame attempt at a "come hither" expression as I'd been instructed to do, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Maybe throwing up is a more accurate way to describe the impulse I most often feel when I look back at what it was like to be an attractive young woman from my now-enlightened but hopefully not jaded retrospective view.

Ever watched AMC's "Mad Men?" I was in on the tail end of that blatantly sexist era, and maybe sometime I'll tell you about being literally chased around his bedroom by a horrible boss I once had.

OK, then, let's move on to my next item:

Here's an illustration of how I imagine myself navigating the stormy high seas of emotions in my life this month. I'm hanging onto Him for dear life as I struggle to keep my head above water in a flood of sad memories that threatens to engulf me at times. This is my attempt to endure what I know is a difficult period for all survivors on every anniversary date of a great tragedy in their lives. 

Add to the turbulent swirl of days this May yet-another unavoidable and uncelebrated date: Yesterday was my 59th birthday. The combination of "celebration" with "birthday" is an oxymoron for a woman my age, whose bathroom is so over-stocked with anti-aging lotions and potions that one would think I own stock in the company that makes Oil of Olay -- or Oil of Old Lady, as my husband called it. 

My ambivalent feelings about my 59th birthday are similar to my tainted, feminist leanings toward the societal influences that shaped my mother's life and my own early days. Actually, I'm proud of making it this far and in such fairly good shape, considering how little effort I've put into living anything close to a "healthy lifestyle."

If I allowed myself to fall back into my former negative way of thinking, I'd be horrified now to be just one year away from the unbelievably ancient and dreaded six-oh, as in, "OMG, 60?" But, due to the power of positive thinking and a weird freak of nature I'm really getting into these days, my head's been rearranged and now I think of "unbelievably ancient" as 80, at least, or maybe more like 90!

Alright, let's wrap this up, so here's my final item for today:

This is a cropped portion of a very cool action shot of a big bird of prey trained by a handler in Mongolia published by (who else?) National Geographic. This bird's coming in for a landing rather than taking flight, but it's the best picture I've seen lately showing the incredible power these carnivorous hunters' huge wings. I share it now with you in reference to the bird story I posted last month about the bald eagle I saw on the evening of my husband's death.

I will always believe I wasn't just watching a startled big bird burst out of a nearby tree and take off in an impressively loud flapping of his powerful wings. I was blessed to also have been witnessing my husband's soul leave this earthly world as, in an awesome display of spiritual grace and strength, he rose up and flew out of sight on his journey to the Other Side.

And to any of you who may think that God has no sense of humor, I will now tell you that as I write this, there are so many mourning doves hooting and hollering outside my office window that I want to just furiously fling it open and yell, "ALL RIGHT, ALREADY!! I GOT IT! SO SHUT UP, WILL YA? I CAN'T EVEN THINK, YOU"RE MAKING SO MUCH NOISE!"

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Musings While Waiting For A Fairy

Here's a photo of my mom in about 1953. I'm the toddler barely visible in the background, playing in front of our house in Milledgeville, PA. She always wore a dress with an apron back then, just like Beaver Cleaver's mom, whatever her name was.

Hold it. How silly of me. She was Mrs. Ward Cleaver, of course. That's what her name was. It would have been rude to call her by anything else back then. A married woman just gave up her own names, first and last, to become "Mrs. Bob Brown," or whatever her husband's name was.  

Isn't it odd how what once felt so ordinary and normal to us can seem, in retrospect, so absurd and even stupid when viewed from the distance of several enlightening years?

I think my mom was fairly comfortable wearing a dress every day. Sometimes she wore "pedal pushers" if she was working outside, but usually a dress. Always, the red lipstick, too. She wouldn't be caught dead without her bright-red lipstick on, a life-long habit she clung to forever. Once, as she was coming to after surviving open-heart surgery at age 80, she opened her eyes, looked at me, and asked, "Where's my lipstick?" She was not joking, either. She was serious about her lipstick.

So there you go, it's Mother's Day, and I've mentioned my mom with fond memories. Now, since I am a mom, I think I should get to do and say whatever I want all day long! What would be your "heart's desire" if you could have absolutely anything you want? 

If I could have a Magic Mother's Day Fairy wave a wand and grant me absolutely anything I wish, it would be ... (right after world peace and a cure for cancer, of course) ... I'd wish to have an endless, lifetime supply of PUPPIES!

I would just love to have puppies around me all the time. When one turned about six months old, then it would just be time to get another one! Puppies, puppies, puppies. I can almost smell puppy breath just thinking about it! Of course I'd get to keep them all. I read that Oprah has 14 dogs, so why can't I? (Don't answer that; the financial reality of this idea isn't being figured into it, that's why it's just a wish, get it?)  I've given this some thought and I think I could get by on a minimum of two baby doggies per year; although three or four would be better. Only large breeds; I have to admit that little dogs are not my thing. I don't hate them (they're not cats, after all), but I just wouldn't want one unless it was the only dog I could have. Any dog's better than no dog at all. 
My vision of a perfect world of forever puppies and puppies forever (FPPF) is just a fantasy. I do think however, that I really would just absolutely love it if it could be real. So just in case my loyal readers, who probably desperately want to cheer me up since they are so burned out on reading my sad stuff, become overly supportive about my FPPF perfect-world concept they decide to take action, I'm ready.

If I get up one day next week and look out my front door to see that 29 puppies in crates have arrived in my driveway, I can handle that. I'd be a bit freaked out, but I could handle it. No problem, really. Kennel license from the county, minor detail. Puppy chow in bulk from the at the feed store, I can do that.

I have already forfeited the thought of ever having a decent lawn, clean floors, or enjoying extended periods of time, like an entire day, let's say, of total peace and quiet with no barking by anybody at anything, including the mailman.
I also have a high tolerance level for whining and chewing, and cleaning up inappropriate pooping and peeing bothers me not in the least. I could worm, give shots, wean, burp, rock, play with and hug puppies endlessly and expertly.
I am even used to sleeping in a room where the air is frequently fouled by dreaded dog farts. Big-dog, really bad, audible dog farts in triplicate, actually. Now that, my friends, is the true sign of a natural-born, dedicated and devoted dog lover. Well then, my little flock of faithful followers, that's about all I can think of to entertain myself and hopefully, you, with at this ridiculously late hour, so it's over and out from my outpost at 45 degrees North. Fret not about me, dear friends. All's quiet on the western front and my fairy may be on her way. Anything's possible.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Would-Have-Been Day

Roger Henderson
April 18, 1952 - June 4, 2009

Ride free forever, my love.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Those Pink Patches Are Snow

KEY WEST, FL  -- This time of year, living in North Idaho ain't so hot -- literally. The Idaho Panhandle is having what's politely termed, "a late spring." No spring at all, is more like it. It was snowing at the Spokane Airport the day I left for the Florida Keys.

So here I am, wasting away in Margaritaville, searching for my lost shaker of salt, to quote Jimmy Buffet. It sure is nice here. The white-sand beaches and auquamarine-blue, clear waters are as sublimely beautiful in real life as they appear in tourist-luring photos.

This is a trip my husband and I had planned for a long time before he passed away. He wanted to fly here, rent a Harley, then ride the 90-mile Overseas Highway from mainland Florida to Key West. It's hard to believe it's been nearly a year since he crashed his bike and died on the same day my mom passed away. It's a good thing I'm able now to hear the rumble of Harleys passing by without "losing it." There are hundreds of Harley riders here who must have had the same idea as my husband. I can see where it would be a beautiful ride.

So, don't worry if you don't hear from me again for a few days. I'm busy working on my tan.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Building A Dream

This is the time of year when I'm prone to pondering if I should have raised Poodles instead of German Shepherds. Imagine having three 100-pound dogs shedding like crazy in a nice new house that has almost no carpeting.
Thank God for Dustbusters is all I can say on the shedding phase we're in right now. Dustbusting and dog brushing is my daily routine.
As for my nice new house, I finally got a slide show together of it being built. These photos are entitled, "Building A Dream," but the reality was more like, "Living A Nightmare." Even before my husband passed away, I swore I'd never go through the trauma of having a house built ever again.
I'm not sure if all contractors are idiots, or it's just the ones we had. I came to the conclusion the ideal contractor would be a gay man. He would, in a perfect world, immediately understand what I want and do it right the first time.
There is a certain plumber, whose name I won't mention, whom I believe is not only an total idiot, but a malicious one, too. I just can't believe he didn't do some of the ridiculously stupid things he did on this house out of sheer incompetence. It had to have been on purpose, because he and I didn't hit it off, to say the least. He's old, and definitely old school.
When I asked for things he didn't know how, or want to do, he'd just do it anyway, his way. He screwed up a lot around here. Plumbing that works correctly is right up there on my list of big deals when it comes to living in any house, let alone a brand-new one for which you're paying hundreds of thousands of hard-earned dollars.
To say I was, and remain, highly irritated with him is an understatement. I try to not hope I'll open the newspaper someday and read that he was hit by a bus. That's so negative!
At any rate, since nearly all of my followers are women, I figured you'd like to see some interior shots, too. All you fellow artsy-fartsy folks will see how fascinated I was by the arches.
I do love this house and plan to stay here indefinitely if I can afford it. It's a good thing so many people advised me to not make any big decisions for at least a year after my husband died. My immediate reaction was to sell this place, down market or not.
"Too many memories here," I can recall telling a friend. Since then, I've come to realize that after losing someone who was such a big part of me, the memories of him are all I've got now. They're essential to my wellness; he completed me. I need my memories of him to be the person I am.
There's a lot of both of us in this house. Everything I have of his will remain here as long as I do. I find those things comforting now. At first I couldn't stand to even look at them.
So enjoy the slideshow, ladies and gentleman. Putting it together knocked me down a few times, but here it is, and here I am, anyway.
I heard this somewhere and I think about it all the time: Living is My Legacy.