Whether you are out at bat,
Or all your tennis serves fall flat,
You should know
We’ll be your crew forever.
Granny-shot or alley-oop,
We’ll be there to scream and whoop,
For nothing can break up this group
That nature threw together.
Spring Break has given me a week to tackle a project that has long been waiting in the wings. My once trendy, rag-rolled, Tuscan gold and brown bedroom wall is transitioning to a soothing Zen Pebble green and the ugly, old carpet is being yanked up and traded out for a pleasing laminate.
Transformation doesn’t come easy. Years of accumulated belongings hide in bookshelves and closets. Art supplies that have no other home, old cameras that I can’t bear to part with, books that don’t fit in the living room bookshelf, and twenty-five years of accumulated family photos in boxes and albums needed a temporary home. They currently clutter the living room for all to see. Then there’s the paint itself. Covering Tuscan gold and brown with a light color requires a good base of primer. Two coats of the sticky stuff later, I couldn’t see hints of gold peeking through. Two coats of smooth Zen Pebble slid on after that, all the way up the heavy ladder into high corners of our bedroom ceiling.
Painting gave me time to think, and my mind wandered to Sunshine, who is finishing up her final (extended) year of college halfway across the country. We are close. We talk on an almost daily basis, and though we have the normal mother-daughter disagreements, we both cherish the nature of our relationship.
Her decision to move from our insular small town to a big city upon graduation stunned me. I knew she had big dreams, but had hoped she would land within driving distance. I would miss her, but the once-young, adventurous me approved of her decision. Our lives became that of Skype and Visa points flights . Now as we come upon graduation, she tells me she’s not moving back to the Northwest. Her decision devastates me. I know there’s nothing in our town for her, but surely somewhere nearby she could find a great career.
A friend of mine once described her move from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest as a chance to remake herself. She wasn’t escaping a bad home life. She saw something in herself that would require fresh eyes to extract. When you live your life in the same small community, you tend to get trapped in the box of the opinions and expectations of others.
Sunshine was a good student in high school, but she was quiet and didn’t have many good friends. She spent those years focused on academics, dance, and family. As a mom I was relieved. She wasn’t a wild child who would keep me up nights with worry.
She made a decision when she left to step outside her comfort zone. She opened herself to new people and new experiences. Layer upon layer, she began her transformation. Her new life was one of friends, of parties and outings, of wine tasting and art galleries. She traveled solo and survived. (So did I.) She volunteered and engaged in community building. She tutored underprivileged students. She got her first real job, her first apartment, and her first car. Brushstroke by brushstroke, she painted over her former self. She is still the Sunshine I know and love, but fresher and brighter somehow.
I thought of how her transformation was much like my project – careful and deliberate, with attention to the outcome. She layered on experiences. Some were pleasant. Some were painful. Some required reaching and stretching and finding her balance, much like me on that heavy ladder, reaching into corners that if left untouched would ruin the final project.
Transformation doesn’t come easily. It requires work. It means digging through neglected corners and cubbies. It requires attention to detail. Slapping on a fresh coat of paint without preparation will allow the former to glaringly show itself. Transition into a new phase of life without preparing, and the old ways begin to seep through. Transformation is necessary. I would not want to live the rest of my life with Tuscan gold and brown walls any more than Sunshine wants to live in the box of her small town, idyllic childhood.
As I step back and consider my handiwork, I see my walls glow with new life. Thanks to my attention to detail, no gold flecks peek through the new color. The new walls beg for a fresh vision, new artwork, rearrangement of furniture. My work is not yet over.
Soon I will watch my daughter graduate college, a culmination of years of growth and transformation. She will stand proudly in a sea of black caps and gowns, her new life a fresh canvas, and she the artist.
Tiny footsteps once echoed through our cozy house, staccato taps of small feet encased in glittered jellies and flashing velcroed tennies. Those little feet bent fresh grass, but only briefly; grass springs back, erasing evidence of passing. Bare heels and toes in miniature once impressed themselves upon the sand beside much larger ones, leaving a trail of passage too soon washed away. Pink ballet slippers that once pirouetted over bare floor now rest in a cedar box alongside hiking boots sized for not-yet-walking feet.
To everything there is a season. Children grow and seek their own paths, and all too soon the footsteps are leading out the door.
The house is quiet now, but if you listen carefully, you may hear echoes of those once-small footsteps.
I heard the story of Lexi and her foster family as a plea for signatures on my Facebook wall. I read through it sadly, but did not sign. I’m hesitant to sign online petitions.
Good Morning America reported this morning that Lexi was removed from the home she’s known for two thirds of her young life. She is six years old. That’s probably all of her retrievable memory. She was removed from that home, from people who loved her like their own, this past Monday. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 dictates that native children be placed in native families. She is 1/64th Choctaw, and she leaves the only family she’s known for the past 4 years to live with non-native relatives of her criminal father.
I don’t know this family, but their devastation is heartbreaking. Their love for this child is palpable. I don’t know the motivations of the biological family, but this motion seems to be a legal reach.
I do have experience with the heartbreak of childhood familial disturbances.
When I was an adult, my parents opened their home to foster children. They have a big home and big hearts, and the young children who came into our home were loved by all of us. We had a brother and sister in our home for years, and we considered them siblings.
Because my mom wanted the best for them, she facilitated open communication with their mom, who was trying to overcome her substance abuse and parenting issues. When that failed, my parents tried to adopt these kids who knew us as family. They were denied based on that open communication with the birth mother, and the children went to an unknown family. They had their sense of security ripped out from under them. It was traumatic for all.
My parents quit foster parenting as a result.
Through my parents’ time as foster parents I witnessed abuses of the system. I knew of children who were used as a source of income for foster parents. When you open your house to these kids, you receive a stipend that is to compensate for their care. It’s minimal. My parents spent much of their own money on their foster kids, because they believed in opening not only their home, but their hearts.
I also knew of abuses toward children in the system. I know of a child who wet the bed and was forced to sleep in it. I know of children who suffered neglect, who were housed, but not loved. When a child finds a good home in the foster care system, it benefits all to keep him or her there.
I see all kinds of children through my job as teacher, including children who face hurdles in life that they shouldn’t have to face. Parents addicted to drugs. Parents in prison. Broken, and I mean broken, families. Children living in poverty so extreme that they are given backpacks filled with food for weekends when they might not eat otherwise. These children are hurting. They face issues they are powerless to resolve, and learning long division or parsing sentences pale in importance to the heartache they face.
Lexi is 1.5% Choctaw.
She seemed to be 99% a part of her foster family.
She will have lifelong issues because of this decision.
Excuse me. I have a petition to sign.
In my part of the world, we welcome spring as the harbinger of brighter days. Buds poke green out of the bare-bones branches of trees. Flowers emerge from the cold, wet earth to provide glimpses of much needed color amidst a sea of green grass and brown everything else. Trees along the riverbank that were just last week brushy sticks are now awash in fresh green growth.
I’m old enough to have weathered a few seasons. I can tell you that, like last spring, this spring was unseasonably warm. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn moved its tulip festival up one week because of early blooms. Mother Earth is speaking.
The switch to spring is as good a time as any to discuss climate change. Throughout February, we had numerous days of 60 degree plus weather. On February 10th of this year, I was able to sit by a pond in the evening and listen to the frogs wearing just a sweatshirt. This doesn’t happen in Oregon. We can debate the climate issue and circle one another, defending our positions with fangs bared and claws out, but it would behoove us to listen to what the scientists have to say.
Number one, climate is not weather. (Yes, I know I just referenced my weather.) The two are related, but you cannot judge climate change by the amount of snow in your backyard or how warm it is one February evening. Instead, you look for trends. Are storms coming at odd times and with increasing intensity? Are Februaries in your area getting statistically warmer as the years pass? You may better be able to judge based on the new species of starfish that are gradually working up the coastline from warmer waters or by the plants that originally wouldn’t grow in your climate zone. You may be able to judge based on dying coral reefs that can’t withstand a quick rise in ocean temperature or water levels. You may be able to judge based on the crazy storms that result from a water cycle on steroids. You can’t judge solely on the weather you experience on a daily basis.
The climate debate brings to mind a similar debate back in the 80s. Scientists warned that there were areas in the atmosphere where ozone was thinning to alarmingly low levels. There were deniers at that time also, but they didn’t have the voice they do with the soapbox of the internet and social media. Still, the marketing and PR machine got to work “debunking” the “myth.” They were outshouted, thankfully, and a ban on CFCs was put into place. It was a worldwide consensus and a worldwide solution. It turns out the situation was worse than even the scientists had imagined. NASA created a scenario to show what our world would have looked like if the cycle were left to continue unabated.
We only have one world, and if our species is to survive, we need to protect not just it, because it will go on without us, but ourselves. Climate change deniers, including many who are running for the highest office in the land, insist that the climate is always changing. This is true. The climate millions of years ago was drastically different than it is today, but we were not here. It didn’t affect humanity. Our crops, our skin cells, our lungs did not depend on the balance of ozone or oxygen or carbon. There were no fixed location farms that relied on Mother Nature to provide consistent temperatures and rainfall patterns. Even in recent earth history (because 250,000 years in 4.5 billion is recent) small bands of humans followed their food source. We don’t have that option now.
We are a part of our world, not onlookers to it. We have adapted to the climate that we live in today. We are as dependent on the cycles we know and rely on as our fellow creatures. Our population worldwide has increased to staggering levels and we have so far managed to also raise the carrying capacity through technology and global infrastructure, but in an age of uncertainty and continued growth, how long will this serve us?
I recently subbed in a classroom where a fifth grade boy excitedly piped up that astronomers had found another earth. He stated that we had somewhere to go when Earth didn’t suit us any more. I had to play the part of buzzkill and remind him that it takes 6 months to get to Mars, and that it took Voyager One 36 years to get to the edge of the solar system. This planet (probably Kepler-186f) would be light years away and unreachable by any technology that we have today. My parting words were that we have one planet, Earth, and we need to take care of it.
So whether you look out your window at budding trees, emerging tulips, evergreen tropical plants or desert cactus, consider the bigger picture. Climate change is real and is happening now. In the words recently quoted by President Obama, “We are the first generation to feel its effects and the last generation who can do anything about it.” What will you do?
It’s a refrain I hear daily.
Roxie was born outside in the rainy spring of 2014. Her young mom was a purebred black lab who, in true dog fashion, got knocked up right before she was scheduled to be spayed. Roxie and her twelve litter-mates shared a fenced enclosure under a carport. She’s used to being outside. But it warms my heart to have her near.
The day we went to pick a puppy, the rain was driving sideways. The family laughed when we showed up, saying they thought for sure we would cancel. We picked up the two remaining females. I turned each one over in my arms in turn. Roxie immediately went limp and sunk her head back as if she would snake out of my arms. What a weird dog.
“We’ll take this one.”
When we returned the next time, she ate up the attention, that is until Sunshine placed the small, red collar on her neck. She flopped. She rolled. She jumped at Sunshine’s face. Her body language said, in true toddler tantrum terms, get this thing off me! We placed her back in the pen, where she found a spot in the mass of jumping, writhing black and white furballs, lay down, head on paws, and glared at us as we walked away.
When we got her home, Sunshine took over parenting duties. She cuddled the pup. She coddled the pup. She now asks me if we blame her that Roxie is so strange. I’m sure she didn’t help the situation.
Roxie spent her first few months cozy in a warm bedroom with an adoring companion.
My husband always says he doesn’t want an inside dog. He hates pet hair, and who can blame him, but we traded our carpet for laminate a few years ago, so that’s much easier to keep clean. He says the dog stinks, and she probably does, but she’s not inside all the time. She actually prefers to be outside in the company of the other two, not-house-trained dogs. (When I tried the inside trick with one of them, he promptly peed on my couch. Not going to happen.)
She’s a good house dog. She curls up on her bed, just happy to be around her people. She is very attuned to us and easily trained, but she has her willful side. When she wants in and nobody is paying attention, she paws the back door. Repeatedly. If one paw doesn’t work, she knocks with both, or scratches the screen. (She knows that will get someone’s attention.)
We used to keep her crate set up for those rainy days when she would come in wet. One such day, Mr. A was leading her out with the requisite command. She sulkily followed him, but darted into her crate at the last minute. There was no way she was going out in that weather, warm dog house or no. Many times she has made these decisions. She has her favorite place on the floor in the corner of the sectional, right underfoot. She can be sound asleep, but when she knows Mr. A is coming to sit on the couch, she will wake up and slink over to her dog bed. She knows if she lays low he won’t command her outside.
We conspire against him, Roxie and I. She lays low. I keep the broom and Febreeze handy. In our conspiracy, we are able to eke out a little more time together.
Inspired by The Daily Post’s prompt: Dirty
Tamolich Pool shines azure blue in the dark green of the McKenzie River forest. A couple of years ago we hiked here with Maverick and two of his friends. They were goofing around, as teenage boys are apt to do, crossing the river on a log, when we heard a shout. One of the boys had slipped and fallen in the river and was clinging to the log. We rushed to fish him out. Luckily no harm was done, and he quickly became the source of ribbing from his friends. He changed into dry clothes and we continued on our hike.
This area is a popular spot in Oregon, visited by many of people and their dogs. The trail itself is a stunning amble through beautiful mountain forest along the McKenzie River, through lava fields which rise above the river, providing a bird’s eye view in places that double as precarious photo spots. At one point, Mr. A eased out onto one such spot to take a wide angle shot, while my stomach did somersaults as I willed him to be safe. After a couple of miles of easy trail, we reached the pool. The place where the water used to tumble down is now a bare high shelf. Though the river has since diverted and gone underground, it still arrives via what was once the base of the falls, creating a stunning and shockingly cold pool. The water seems still, but it is constantly moving, pushing water downhill as the continuation of the beautifully turbulent McKenzie River. Cliffs surround the pool, and getting down to the water requires some agility. On this unseasonably warm April day, people dotted the high walls as they took photos or rested and ate lunch.
The boys continued to play around, climbing over rocks and scaling the wall down to the water’s edge. I took a picture of Maverick’s friend looking like he was clinging to the sheer cliff for dear life. He wasn’t, and after the picture he continued to scramble down the steep side with mountain goat prowess. His agility failed him at the water’s edge, however, as he stumbled and splashed into the icy water, soaking himself before the two mile hike back to the car.
We took some photos, ate, and left, nodding at and greeting people all along the trail on our way back. So many people that day. So many dogs.
When we arrived home, I found out that there had been a fatality at Tamolich Pool that same day, a man about my age who, like many others, was taking pictures at the top of the pool. We may have passed him on the trail. We may have nodded our greeting to a fellow traveler. News reports offered no reason for his fall. It’s likely that one misstep resulted in what was reported as a 45 foot tumble into a shallow part of the pool and a fatal blow to the head. Lava rock is treacherously uneven.
I can’t help but think, there but for the grace of God go I. We can never know what may befall us in this life, what missteps could change the course of history for us and our loved ones. One minute we may be enjoying the wonders of the world around us and in the next our world could be forever altered. I, too, have stumbled when taking pictures, fortunately landing on level ground, but not without injury. My husband loves to perch on the bird’s eye spots to get a great photo of the land. Two boys fell in the water on this day. Any one of us could have easily suffered the same fate as this man.
Life is not safe or guaranteed. Every day is a gift. Hug your children. Practice patience. Don’t hold grudges. Appreciate the beauty that surrounds you in the knowledge that one day it could be gone.
Tamolich Pool will forever hold a different meaning for me and serve as a reminder of the beauty and fragility of life.
In response to The Daily Post’s prompt: Misstep
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