“Good As New”

Many years ago we bought this picnic table and benches unfinished. We painted them a lovely green and used them for a while. When the paint wore down, we sanded and repainted them. Remembering how tedious this job was, we put off doing the job from summer to summer. Yes splinters were likely if you sat down too fast, but we could deal with that. Finally this month Charlie decided to restore them.

After sanding for nearly a full day he realized that it probably would have been smarter to just get a new set. But by then in for a dime in for one hundred dollars, he kept at it. Many hours of sanding, one coat of sealing primer, three coats of outdoor paint later, we moved the restored set to the deck. Sadly now the deck looks in need of a restoration. Next year—maybe.

“Why Sea Otters?”

I first saw sea otters off the coast of Monterrey California and promptly fell in love with them. While they were nearly hunted to extinction for their fur, they are clinging on in small groups at various points on the Pacific Coast. I bought an otter magnet at the Monterrey Aquarium and the collection was on.

I imagine there are many women my age who have collected a lot of something or another. Some women collect spoons, others figurines, others religious artifacts. I collect sea otters. That makes buying me a card or a small gift quite easy for my family and friends. As long as it has sea otters on it I will love it.

Buy why sea otters? A quick reading about their lives may resonate with more than just me. Sea otters basically eat, play, love and rest on their backs. If they don’t want to float too far away they sometimes anchor themselves in a bit of seaweed to stay stationary. They lie on their backs and crack open shellfish and devour the insides as they float. They make excellent mothers and can be seen on their backs with their babies resting on their chest. And I can’t deny that they have the “cuteness” factor in spades.

May they increase and multiply!

“33 and Counting”

June 18, 1988

Thirty three years ago. on a sunny Saturday in Portland, Oregon, Charlie and I brought our lives, our three children and one dog together “until death do us part.” We had very traditional vows(minus the obey) and a simple ceremony at a Friends church in front of around 100 friends and family. We hosted a very low key, alcohol free reception in the church basement complete with nuts, coffee, punch and wedding cake. The church women decorated the tables and cleaned up for us.

We had some idea of the obstacles before us, each entering into our second marriage with children from the first. Our pastor had taken us through over a year of weekly premarital sessions making sure there was nothing we hadn’t discussed before we said “I do.” But we had yet to live with each other which was sure to present new challenges. Fortunately the congregation in a Quaker ceremony basically weds the couple and promises to support them in their marriage. Especially during that first year we leaned heavily on fellow congregants to do just that.

We have weathered a lot but are still thriving together. Our kids are in their forties now, on their own. We are looking for a new puppy to replace our recent loss of Grace. We own our home, a couple of cars and the accumulation of many years of treasured art and possessions.

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

“Beach Read”

Perfect Beach Read

I love well written, deeply plotted, character and descriptive rich novels. I also need to have a “beach read” every summer. The qualifications for my definition of a “beach read” are pretty basic. Preferably the cover should feature a drawing of the beach. Failing that, however, in the case of the book pictured above, plot can qualify it. The plot should be utterly predictable, involving two unlikely people forming, despite all obvious obstacles, a romantic connection. I prefer no mention of throbbing or thrusting, both of which distract me from my purpose of reading such a novel–to completely relax.

A good “beach read” has many of the characteristics of going to the actual beach. There you probably consume food you don’t usually eat at home even though it doesn’t contribute to your health goals. You probably feel no need to “account” for your time spent. You probably lose track of time and commitments. You may do “touristy” things that you are too “sophisticated” to do back home. Your inner sloth emerges quite happily.

In my experience beach reads are a woman’s secret summer pleasure. I don’t know if there is a male equivalent. But I can recommend the very silly summer publication of The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren. A total tech nerd invents a machine to pair people by genetic tests. A dubious woman takes the test on a dare. The predictable ensues. Enjoy.

“Following the Crop”

Fresh California Cherries

Each late May we begin to look for the first crop of ripe cherries coming from California. Usually these are somewhat unripe, lacking in intense flavor and on the small size. Nonetheless, with memories of the final cherries devoured in the previous early fall, we buy them and eat them. We usually comment “ these aren’t as good as I remembered.”

As the summer unfolds, the cherries get bigger, redder and tastier. A quick look at the plastic bag reveals they are from Hood River, Oregon or Yakima, Washington, many miles north of the previous orchards. Cherries thrive on cooler winters, and these parts of the Pacific. Northwest are ideal. We eat as many as we can, knowing these too will be off the shelves soon. When finally we dig into a bag from eastern British Columbia, we know the season is near its end. Here are the dark red, huge, tasty cherries we remember. We will search them out again next summer and try not to jump the gun with California wannabes.

The entire experience of watching the crops move north always reminds me of the migrant families who moved from Southern California through Oregon onto Washington each year following the crops. Woody Guthrie pays them tribute in a song I have been humming, Pastures of Plenty.

“ Finally a Novel!”

Recently in a column in the New York Times called By the Book, the author Jeff Vandermeer who wrote the recent novel Hummingbird Salamander was asked if he thought novels should serve a moral function. His reply seemed to me to characterize much that is wrong with contemporary American fiction, “I enjoy books that don’t care if I think they should serve a moral function. Personally, I believe it’s more important that books be laboratories and experiments and it’s up to the reader to be moral. I trust my readers to know that, at times, I’m going to write wickedly and in a messed-up way, about messed-up characters who may behave in an unreliable or suspect manner.”

By moral fiction the questioner didn’t mean do they promote morality per se. Rather should books stir our deepest places where our values live? Vandermeer’s answer revealed what I have often thought when I put down yet another dreadful book: the writer is using the text as experiment and I am the unwilling subject of said experiment.

So it is with great delight that I read and absorbed Maggie Shipstead’s latest book from May of 2021, a 609 page gripping, complicated, consistently well written old fashioned novel. As Lynn Strong wrote in her May review of the novel in the New York Times “At a moment when so many novels seem invested in subverting form, “Great Circle” follows in a long tradition of Big Sweeping Narratives.”

Yes it is very long. Yes it is very involved. Yes it will be a slow read. But I hope that you, as did I, will savor nearly every word. The settings from Montana to Seattle and around the world and the characters of a woman pilot and a struggling actress will rattle around in your brain, taking up space there for a long satisfying while.

“Acquainted With Grief”

Emily Dickinson 1847 portrait

Emily Dickinson expresses the truth about grief as poignantly as any writer I know. In fact Anne Morrow Lindbergh used the line “Hour of Lead” when she wrote about the kidnapping and murder of her first child. I especially like the central section where she articulates our ability to keep going but in a pretty mechanical way when we are hit by grief.

I have been away from the blog for a while as I have been dealing with the grief that came up as our beloved dog died. While losing a valued pet is deeply sad, old submerged grief finds a way to piggy-back on a current opportunity, hoping that it will get a chance to be aired. That has happened to me. I am slowly regaining my footing and will begin to write again on a pretty regular basis. I miss the interaction and love when it is a big part of my life. Clearly I missed some of your posts. If there is something I really ought to know that happened in the last three weeks (a death, a marriage, a move, etc.) please feel free to write me directly at betsyfrompike@earthink.net and I will be sure to respond by email.

“A Good Dog”

Our beloved dog Grace, a 15 year old Australian Shepherd, succumbed last Thursday to a progressive neurological disease that was inhibiting her breathing. While we had thought she had arthritis for the past year, it turns out it was the beginning of the illness along with her arthritis. I am grateful I didn’t know that since she was happy and I was not anticipating her decline. In the end she only dealt with severe symptoms for 10 days. I had hoped she could die naturally at home, but in this disease a dog dies from not being able to breathe. That was appalling, so we chose to use a veterinarian in the end.

Needless to say it has taken a toll on us all. She was a loving member of the family, with us since her days as a rambunctious puppy brought from upstate New York as she slept peacefully in the back seat. At that time she joined our dog Tess, now also gone, and was a great playmate for her. We realized, too late, that we have never had just one dog, so it is very quiet–too quiet–right now.

In a while we will contact the woman active with the Australian Shepherd club and begin the search for another puppy. No dog ever replaces another as we know from having lost four in our marriage. But we are definitely dog people and will be again.

“Shooting the Breeze”

Before it was turned into a “pub,” Home Tavern occupied a spot just off the highway near our old home in Portland. The area had once housed furniture factories, and clearly this was a convenient stopping off place for men to drop in after work. I say men because I only ever saw men there before it turned into a “pub.”The tavern was between our house and the large riverfront park, so I walked by its open door frequently. The small place emitted an unforgettable smell of cigarette smoke and stale beer, an odor I can still bring to mind just writing about it.

I could hear laughing, swearing, yelling and general camaraderie as I passed by. I could only guess what they were talking about, but figured it was raw, opinionated, and generally full of bull. I appreciated that they had their place to vent and relax after work, but I never had to learn their views on women, politics or the world. I didn’t figure I was missing anything.

That entire atmosphere seems to have been recreated on line. Between Facebook posts, tweets, comments to the newspapers and comments on comments, I now feel as if I have walked unwittingly into the Home Tavern. Sadly there is no one around to slap one of the writers on the back laughing at his point of view. Comments that once would have led to “let’s take this out to the street,” are now casually thrown back and forth. Most lacking is humor and a general understanding that it is all bull anyway.

Next time you get caught up in rants on line, imagine them coming from a man on his third beer loudly entertaining his friends at the Home Tavern.