50

I wanted to take a moment to write to my younger sisters and brothers. I am enjoying a significant birthday this year. I wanted to share whatever small amount of wisdom I can muster.

50 is good, a little creakier, but good. My insight keen, my sight, less so. 50 is strong. My body is strong, as is my spirit. I feel deeply and it’s soul quenching; the Aquarian is alive. I understand more, piecing together my place in this world- this foreign, lovely place. A sojourner making connections, like a painting I’ve been working on for a long time, and it’s beginning to show it’s form.

These are things I know:

  • Love. Deeply.
  • Be authentic
  • Be thankful.
  • Be good.
  • Be honest- primarily to myself, the rest will follow.
  • Be open.
  • Be humble.
  • That I am a teacher, a role model. My kids look up to me. My students look up to me. I have a responsibility to be kind and strong.
  • That I have a responsibility. To let you know what’s coming next. To tell you that life is good but shitty things happen sometimes. To let you know that you are strong enough to move through it and it gets better.
  • Everyone has hills. I like to imagine that everyone has a certain number of hills and each I pass one I’ve checked off one on my list and is fading in my rear view mirror. Do what it takes to get over the hill. Once you do, recognize your growth and understanding.
  • Be a bitch.
  • Forgive yourself for being a bitch and ask others for forgiveness.
  • Do not be afraid. Fear is death.

Things I think:

  • No one else is going to do it.
  • I want to be on the right side of history.
  • Be focused but enjoy the journey.
  • I am tough. I am soft.
  • I am a good friend.
  • Women lead with strength, compassion and love.
  • We have purpose. Our connections are not haphazard or serendipitous. I am a piece of a puzzle where my curves and sharp edges fit just right. Just right. Love and cherish the piece that you bring to the whole- don’t be afraid if it is different, celebrate it.

Things I wish

  • We begin to recognize our own power. We begin to recognize our collective power.
  • We organize and fight the fucking patriarchy.
  • Someone would invent a good tasting fat free cheese.

Much love to you today.

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Kelli K.

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Whittaker Creek

My daughter has reminded me, every day for the past week, that we must go back to school shopping. As the excitement of the new year begins to sprout in her mind, I close my eyes hard and reach for a deep summer memory, one that will sustain me throughout the school year and remind me of all of the reasons that we work so hard. The ritual is not difficult as summer, for a teacher (and a student), is sacred. The list of memories is not short but one stands out. It comes to me like a puppy upon entering a room. Whittaker Creek.

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Whittaker Creek was our favorite summer respite during the years I lived with Dad and Mel in Eugene. In 1976, it was a hidden gem, tucked away on an old mountain road as one made their way from the summer heat of Eugene to the cool air of the coast. No marker announced the entrance, the unpublished route was locked in the brains of locals. Overgrown blackberry bushes lined the dirt road, some arching nearly over the entire span of the gravel, and added to the sense that certainly, one must have taken a wrong turn. The small path veered off the main road for nearly a mile before even a hint of Eden. Quick photons reflected off of the surface of the water like little mirrors hidden in the bushes. A flash here, a slightly longer interval there and then the scene would unfold.

A strong scent of Oregon green and sunshine rushed through the open windows of the muscle car and Bowie reinforced an understanding that life without a soundtrack is lacking. For a moment I considered that I was the “Rebel” he was singing about, but knew instinctively that it was Mel. Silver and turquoise rings lined her fingers that dangled over the steering wheel and a large matching bracelet decorated her forearm. In her dark sunglasses she reclined in the seat, extended her left arm straight ahead and held the stick shift with her right, just in case she decided to take a corner with a bit of flair. Long red hair flipped and swirled with the little gusts of the mountain breeze and carried the scent of Love’s Earthy Musk to all of us in the back seat. Summer was here.

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The small dirt road opened up to a larger parking area that nestled close to a swimming hole. At the edge, water rushed over large boulders and the molecules momentarily lost hold of their tight hydrogen bonds and sprayed into the air. The sun hit the mist of water and it split into its spectral lines, which resulted in hazy rainbow that hovered over the boulders. At the bottom of the boulders lay a deep green pool of clear water. The swimming hole was large, about half the size of a basketball court. The area was surrounded by large trees that threw shade in patches across the pool and let in streams of the hot summer sun elsewhere. Mel parked and the four kids poured out of the car.

Immediately I became drunk with visual stimuli. I was soaked in every imaginable hue of green and the visible light that bounced back to my eyes came with huge amplitude as if the colors were set on high volume. In the shallow areas the rocks were clearly visible, and the water appeared nearly yellow green where the sun bounced off the pebbles and small rocks. As the water deepened, so did its complexion, moving from a light yellow green to a deep green malachite, yet its clarity remained high. This is the payback for which Oregonians are willing to suffer through nine months of rain. Emerald beauty beyond comprehension.

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This is not Whittaker Creek but it looks a lot like the swimming hole.

A large rope hung from one of the trees nearly twenty feet above the middle of the swimming hole and a small pathway led from the water’s edge to a rock ledge above. Jerry was quick to dive into the deep green and race to the rope. Mel, Jason, Jere and I made our way down the short path to the creek side, carefully laid out our blankets on the sandy beach and quickly dismissed all excess clothing. Again, we had earned this sun, this stream of vitamin D, and we were certain to take full advantage of it. Mel pulled out the large bottle of Johnson’s Baby Oil, and after liberally dousing all of her bared skin, handed the bottle to me. The idea of someone using sunblock to minimize the effects of this limited commodity was ludicrous, even as a 9 year old, I knew that. The goal for today was to attain a light pink hue, similar to one of my favorite lipstick shades, brown sugar. Like searing a steak, the pink would absorb a deep tan for the rest of the summer. I lay back on the blanket and cooked.

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Jason and Jere plopped down in the shallow sandy area of the creek and I heard Jerry yell as he swung over the water. A huge nuclear plumb of water ascended to the skies when he hit the surface and I saw the orange red crawfish bolt for shelter under the closest rock. Silly little crustaceans, before the sun set, we would find the lot and bring them home in a bucket for a nice crawfish bake complete with corn on the cob, cornbread and coleslaw. The day was just beginning.

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An Encounter With Winter

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Clouds descending o’er the hills

A blanket, cold and white

The bite of winter gives me chills

I must be home tonight

 

The woods have shed their autumn reds,

And every tree is bare;

For summer’s cloak has long since fled

And ice has made its lair

 

The wind has grown from just a breeze

And makes the branches shiver

What vagabond could nature please

In its wonderful, wintry figure?

 

The sable horse I ride upon

Turns his head in nervous awe

His muzzle tight and shoulders drawn,

He sees some things that I do not

 

But as I watch the woods with care

The light of day takes leave from me;

Though snow be fresh and wind be fair

With cold of night I don’t agree

 

The blotted sky, now frozen black

Takes a toll upon my sight

Of all the earthly things I lack,

My will to see has taken flight!

 

Stumbling through the forest dark,

My horse and I are all but lost

The fairies must have made their mark,

For now the world is solid frost

 

What fool was I to tread this path!

With heat’s decline and daylight gone

I’m at the forest’s icy wrath

And hope to make it out by dawn

 

But as I ride in anguished thought,

A northern wind comes rushing in

Ten feet short it swiftly stops

And with it brings a ghastly din

 

The flakes once drifting through the air

Take a shape not of this world

Her skin is white, as is her hair

Atop her head, a crown of pearls

 

“Fool,” said she, “No mortal man

Can walk these woods and leave alive.

A touch of Lady Winter’s hand;

From solid ice thou shalt derive.”

 

Leaping promptly to the ground,

I bow my head in humble fear.

“Only a mortal man homebound

Would walk your woods this time of year.

 

But if your grace would set me free,

No man shall take this path again

Everyone will leave you be

And what was now will just be then.”

 

Her gaze is frostbite on my cheek

And makes my heart be stilled

Says she: “To let you wander, worn and weak

Would go against my will.

 

For what seems like eternity,

I’ve stayed in shadows deep

The chains of immortality

Have kept me from my sleep

 

Why should a traveler so bold

Be allowed to pass?

To venture forth into my cold

And never feel my wrath?”

 

Her fury, flurry, grew in strength

With every word she spoke

Until her mighty force, at length,

Became a world of smoke

 

I cried, “My lady! What have I done

To deserve a fate as this?

Though the bounds of oblivion has done thee wrong

So much your frozen heart hath missed!

 

Have not you seen the light of day?

Or felt midsummer’s warmth?

Would you have heard the donkey’s bray

Were you not all but storm?

 

But lo! the things I leave behind

Are for others to cherish;

Though Lady Winter leaves me blind,

With her I gladly perish.”

 

The world came to a sudden stop

As did my pending death;

The Lady’s eyes were grey and shot

Her voice was just a breath

 

Said she: “No mortal man has ever

Walked these woods and left alive

But more than that, no man has severed

My frozen heart so locked with ice.”

 

Soon the blizzard melted away

And returned to the folds of her cloak

“From the path never stray,” I heard her say,

The last she ever spoke.

 

She then took leave, a crystal flake

Upon a gentle breeze

The day had just begun to break;

It filled the woods with ease

 

I found my horse just down the walk

And mounted him with care

He led me from the forest dark

And into open air

 

The snow had melted from the hills,

A blanket, dew-dropped May

The sight of rooftops makes me thrilled,

I must be home today.

(From my uber talented middle child)

 

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Smoke on the Water

Scanning the channels, the signal pauses on an old metal station: Iron Man- Black Sabbath. My husband secures the scan and asks, “I wonder if he’s really talking about Iron Man,” and fades into his secret comic book world.

I answer, as old married couples do, not addressing his question, “This is one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar.” I lay my head back on the headrest of the car seat and try to reconstruct the image. Long winter, Montana, 1976.

“I hate this song,” I say, and then contrarily add, “but I like it.”

Tim answers, “This has got to be early 70’s, but I think the comic came out first.”

In 1976, Jerry got his first electric guitar and a small practice amp. I remember reading a story once about a kid who never went anywhere without his basketball and ended up playing in the NBA. It reminded me of Jerry after he got his guitar. He played it all the time. He would hunker down in his small bedroom of our tiny Montana home all winter, like a hibernating bear, and play his guitar incessantly. On occasion, I would sit at the end of the bed, wrapped in thick wool blankets to keep out the chill of our drafty house and listen for hours as he rotated through his vinyl collection and played along. Reading the liner notes in the same manner I used to read the cereal box as I devoured my bowl of Captain Crunch, I would sit at the end of Jerry’s bed and relish the sensory input. The starkness of the snow illuminated against the dark winter sky appeared in the bedroom window like static on a TV and added to a sense that nothing was happening anywhere else in the world at that moment.

Jerry handed me the guitar and told me to pluck the string while he held down the note at each fret. I plucked along as we negotiated a clunky, version of Smoke on the Water. In a few minutes I was able to play it myself. Jerry put on Deep Purple and I played along as he had earlier. I must have repeated the song twenty times, carefully placing the diamond tipped stylus on the thin shiny black line and then quickly getting my fingers in position on the fret to play. For a microsecond the small lamp on the side table became a spotlight on a smoky stage and my audience of one morphed into a huge crowd. Jerry laughed and I heard the crowd roar. Next up, Black Sabbath.

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Tim mentions something about getting the Pepper Potts character all wrong as the song comes to its finale. I open my eyes and we pull into the driveway.

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Life in a Tee-Pee

We moved a lot when I was a kid. Conflict resolution typically came in the form of leaving town. Most years we started a new school, some years we’d stay for two. Sometimes we’d come home from school and the other parent would be waiting there, car revving, waiting for us to jump in and go. Other times the tell tale signs of the filled, black-plastic garbage bags, sitting at the front door, would announce our next adventure. The informality that embodied every move instilled a strange dichotomy within; a heightened appreciation for the spontaneous coupled with a deep desire for stability.

About every six months or so, Mom’s live-in boyfriend Bob, would revisit the idea of moving us all to a tee-pee on a parcel of land in a National Forest. The idea, as he understood it, was that there was a historical Blackfoot treaty that gave tribe members the right to one-square acre of land, on a National Forest, as long as it was homesteaded. It sounded like the remnants of a drunken conversation he had had at a bar with his Blackfeet buddies. Had we not been so well versed in picking up and moving on a dime, I might have ignored the fantasy but instead, the idea rightfully scared me. Moving us out of civilization, cult fashion. I knew that Jerry would be gone, going wherever he needed to escape the option, but recognized that Jason and I would most likely be a part of this dangerous plan. I’ll have to give her credit, it was an adventure to which Mom actually gave pause, no plastic garbage bags waiting for us as we walked in the door. However, Mom started dropping hints, daydreaming out loud, “wouldn’t you love to have a bit more space to run around, maybe get a horse?”

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Bob envisioned moving us to a plot and living the life of his ancestors. Bob on a horse, right… Sitting at our Formica topped kitchen table, a bottle of Coke in hand, Bob would dream out loud. As if the chemical catalyst for the reaction in his head required the nicotine molecule, he would deeply inhale his Marlboro and exhale his plan, laying out the specifics on a yellow lined notebook pad. Wiping his greasy black comb over from his eyes, he’d plot out the square acre and fill in the details. A parcel bisected by a stream, a tee-pee at the heart. To the west, a small fenced corral for horses and a lush meadow to the south, delineated by the flowers drawn. We could fish every day, we could plant a garden, gather and dry herbs and medicinal plants. Trees would have to be removed, the wood to used throughout the winter. The idea itself was intriguing, like someone offering you a handful of candy.

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Although I Didn’t Quite Understand It, I Liked It

The posters on his wall fascinated me. These were so different from the Leif Garrett poster on the back of my bedroom door. I would sneak into his bedroom when he wasn’t home, and sit and stare; creating a story that explained the scene. Sorting through his stack of records I would find the accompanying album that would help paint the whole picture. Bloody letters dripping over the face of one of the most terrifying figures I had ever seen with “Slash” and “Germs” splayed across the poster. Maybe it was a commentary that this guy should cover the many exposed cuts on his body before they became infected. I searched for a “Slash” or “Germs” album and found a small 7”. Yeah, I knew this song, it was played on a regular rotation that easily permeated the sheet rock.

Andrew Krivine posters II I sat on Jerry’s bed and stared at the poster with the paired music. I could make out a fraction of the lyrics, which sounded drunken and slurred. It occurred to me that the music didn’t quite fit the image in the poster. Here was this angry, bloodied ruffian creating what sounded like a differently structured, harder version of old rock and roll. Was that Chuck Barry with a hint of surf? The Trashmen? I didn’t have the repertoire to place it but parts of it sounded so familiar while the timing and structure was so different from Saturday Night Fever that dominated the radio. Although I didn’t quite understand it, I liked it. I liked the energy and I liked that it was different. I remember thinking, “I’ll never hear this on the radio,” and from my 6th grade perspective not recognizing the value in that.

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With Intensity and Purpose

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Artwork by my youngest angel

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Watch Them

“Watch them,” she said. And so I did, kneeling down to get a closer look. As intently as I studied the Daddy Long Legs earlier in the day, moving from the shade into the bright sunlight diagonally splayed across the gray sidewalk, pausing only for a microsecond when the warmth touched it’s long spindly legs, I watched with intensity and purpose.

Three sets of long black eyelashes and one set of blond, four kids lay sleeping on the couch and love seat positioned around my vantage point on the floor. I sat and watched, stared, afraid to fail in my duties. Slow rhythmic breaths that only slightly moved their chests were the only indication that they were alive. I watched, trusting that the breaths would continue and I would not fail.

“Watch them,” she said, and so I did. Rotating my gaze from one to the next, I made my rounds watching for the slight motion of the breath to confirm that all was ok. No time to be afraid that I was in an unfamiliar place and it was well past midnight. I knew I couldn’t afford the luxury of allowing the unfamiliar noises to take on a life of their own, where I could hide under my covers and wait until the dawn. It’s a strange awareness that comes with knowing you’re it and there is no one else for whom you can depend. Like the first aid course that you’re sure you’ve forgotten and how it rushes back to you during an emergency, it’s an inner strength that’s always there. Knowing that we’re stronger than we think we are is key. It was my job to watch them and so I did, four babies, all under the age of five. My little brother, Jason was one of them, and although he was fast asleep like the others, it comforted me that he was here, close. He was a beautiful kid, one of the ones with the long black eyelashes. He looked so peaceful, asleep on the loveseat of this unfamiliar apartment.

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Mom and her friends had started the night, drinking in the apartment and decided to head to the bars when the booze ran out. There wasn’t much of a conversation regarding me watching the younger kids, I was just instructed to “watch them.” I had plenty of experience watching Jason as I practically raised him, but had never been left with anyone else’s kids. It was surprising that the other four had fallen asleep with the music and rambunctious laughter, but I suppose we were all kind of used to it. Mom kissed me goodbye and said that they would be home soon.

At first the excitement of the responsibility kept me alert but soon I found that “watching” was much harder than I had anticipated. I remember having to get up and walk around to try and keep my focus. Every short trip to the bathroom or to get a drink of water was followed by a keen inspection of each child, making sure that the breath still moved each small chest. To stay awake I played a game and counted a set number of breaths for each child before moving to the next. My eyes were heavy but I was determined to do this job well and forced myself to stay awake until the mothers came stumbling in around 2:00 am.

I was so proud that I had stayed awake and watched the babies as I had been instructed, but the feeling was lost on the mothers who stumbled in. Mom gathered Jason in her arms to head back to our own apartment, one building down. The mothers each gave me $1 for my services and I closed the evening with some candy money. I thought of the Marathon Bar that I would buy the next day and how I could get enough for Jason and Jerry to have their own. What an easy gig, I thought. I offered to carry Jason as Mom was having difficulty walking and he wrapped his legs and arms around my body tight as I hoisted him onto my front. I was thankful to be heading home after a long night as I had school the next day- first grade.

 Marathon

Posted in 1st and 2nd Grade- Missoula, MT | 2 Comments

My New Year’s Resolution 2015

It’s not that I HATE New Year’s Resolutions necessarily but rather it’s more accurate to say that I’m really bad at them and because of this, I tend to ignore them. When I have made resolutions in the past, I seem to forget about them fairly quickly. Within a month or two I am back to my same old shenanigans and my resolutions dissolved. In my youth, I would beat myself up about my shortcomings, emotionally flogging myself for my inability to adhere to my conscious being rather than falling into my subconscious default. Others talk about how it took them years to overcome this type of personal abuse and learn to love themselves for who they are. That is not me. It’s not that I am quick to give up on self-abuse but rather that I am too emotional lazy to continue it. Through the years of self-analysis the one thing I have learned about myself is that IF I am a victim to anything I am a victim to inertia. It’s Newton’s First Law for God’s sake! Truly I am just following the physical laws of the universe. It takes too much effort to shame myself into submission than to come to the realization that I am just an average mother/wife/sister/daughter/teacher. The realization is authentic and I am ok with that. Perhaps my greatness comes from my ability to celebrate the average. That being said, my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 are these.

I resolve to continue on a forward path, a path toward peace. I know I will fall short. I know that I will yell at my kids and call my husband out for being the asshole that I am certain he will be. I know I am bound to my subconscious habits and will return to the behaviors from which I resolve to move away. I will forgive myself for these human limitations and resolve to take time to celebrate the ways in which my humanity connects me to this cosmic pit stop; music, art, friendships, love, sex, good food. My goal is to recognize the gifts that come with my limitations and get back on the horse when I fall off. I will move toward peace.

I resolve to continue to move toward a state of awareness and to be thankful for my MANY blessings. I am fully confident that the purpose of this life is to love and seek the Divine in all experiences and relationships. It is only from a state of awareness that this is possible. May I learn to be present and willing to learn from the unique experience of the moment. Let me be aware of the many opportunities to connect to those around me and learn to be a conduit through which energy can flow. When I fail, may I be aware of the façade of my ego and once again move toward connectedness. May I be more aware tomorrow than I am today.

I give many thanks to those who have traveled this path with me so far, for those who have chosen to and for those who have been forced in my path. May I continue to value your contributions to my life lessons and all the ways you rock my fucking world. I raise a glass to all in my karass, for those with whom I interact daily and those for whom I barely know yet inspire me beyond belief. Thank you for walking with me through this journey. May we continue to connect.

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Suspicious of the Fat Man in a Red Suit

I like this story. It brings back good memories of my family. It reminds me that through the hard times, there were a lot of good times as well. Always.

Raised By Wolves (I Wish)

Our aunt was insistent that someone was on the roof and other adults in the room kept guessing that it must be Santa. True, there was some sort of a ruckus going on above our heads but the suspension of disbelief was too great to immediately go to “Santa.” Perhaps it was a burglar and the adults should be less excited and more wary, I thought.  Although I was but the young age of seven, I was fairly certain that the fantasy of Santa Claus was just that. I mean, I had seen how mom behaved when someone was trying to break into the house and it didn’t look like this. The idea that she joyously welcomed someone sneaking into the house with the only evidence supporting the idea that it must be Santa, being that it was Christmas Eve, was too big of a jump. It also didn’t help…

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