Archive for October, 2007


Day of the Dead Gathering 2, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2007-2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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Boo!, All Hallow's Eve one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Boo!,  All Hallow’s Eve by the fire, one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2006, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



pumpkin-faced Milk Duds
Willy Wonka candy corn
12 tricks for a treat?


Dead flash toothless smiles
2 Grandmothers walk the earth
Spirits dance on fire


gloved hands wipe chafed lips
crooked teeth eat twisted stems
shadows swim through oaks


hollow frosted rose
Hunter’s Moon drops the sky
veils the Evening Star

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – HAUNTED, The Great Pumpkin Catapult

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By Gail Wallinga

Gossamer, 36″x 24″, acrylic, oil, tissue paper, & bristles on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Gossamer, 36″x 24″, acrylic, oil, tissue paper, & bristles on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Breathless, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Breathless, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Second Skin, 36″x 24″, acrylic, oil, & tissue paper on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Second Skin, 36″x 24″, acrylic, oil, & tissue paper on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

I paint to bring visual form to emotions, interactions, and psychological states that I experience in life. For the past 3 years, I’ve been working on a series that is loosely about the theme of connection. How do we connect or not connect with ourselves or others? What is going on at the point of intersection. Or in the space behind the connection.

Here & There, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.
Here & There, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Where We Meet, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Where We Meet, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Sometimes I have a specific feeling or situation in mind when I start a painting. Other times, I start by spontaneously reacting to the materials that I’m exploring. But either way, the finished painting tells a story or represents a voice in the bigger picture of my theme.

My training as a graphic designer has taught me about color, composition and trusting my decisions. When I paint, I bring all of those skills to the table. I plug into the creative stream where the designer meets the artist to create something that pleases me visually and contextually.

Gypsy, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Gypsy, 36″x 24″, acrylic & oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Approach, 36″x 24″, oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

Approach, 36″x 24″, oil on stretched canvas, painting © 2007 by Gail Wallinga. All rights reserved.

I paint once a week for at least 4 hours. Sometimes I’m able to paint twice a week. But I’m often thinking about and working on my paintings while I’m not in the studio. The creative process is fed by my experience as a designer, and is constantly going on in the background of my consciousness.

About Gail:  Gail has been a graphic designer for almost 20 years, and principle of her own business, Wallinga Design, for 14 years. She designed the logotype for red Ravine and is the graphic designer of choice for our various mastheads. Besides her painting and design, Gail has passion for contemporary furniture design, photography, acoustic folk/pop music, and Godiva chocolate.

If you’d like to view Gail’s work in person, she will be participating in the Annual Autumn Show of The Rain Collective, a Minneapolis based confluence of artists. The show is taking place this Saturday, November 3rd, 2007, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm in the Casket Arts Building, 681 17th Avenue NE, located in the infamous Nordeast Minneapolis.

For contact information, Artist Statement, and to view more of Gail’s work, see her Rain Collective profile.

              Postcard for The Rain Collective, Annual Autumn Show, 8.5″x 5.25″, designed by Gail Wallinga, photographs Ryc Casati, postcard © 2007 by Wallinga Design. All rights reserved.

Postcard for The Rain Collective, Annual Autumn Show, 8.5″x 5.25″, designed by Gail Wallinga, photographs Ryc Casati, postcard © 2007 by Wallinga Design. All rights reserved.

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What Have You Lost, Rainpainting Series, outside the Fitzgerald Theater, downtown, St. Paul, Minnesota, night of Ann Patchett, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

If you want to know someone, truly know someone, ask them about the things they have lost. No matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t matter. The things we have lost stay with us.

These are the words of Ann Patchett, author of The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. She wrote the memoir Truth & Beauty to grieve the loss of her friend, Lucy Grealy. The book was her grieving process.

What are the things you have lost? Have you ever lost face, your faith, time. When did you lose your virginity? What about your innocence. Did you lose your childhood, your dreams, someone close to your heart? Did you lose your keys the day you hiked the ocean cliffs of an Oregon beach and were left stranded in the dark.

Make a list of the things you have lost. Choose 1 or 2 items off of your list and do a 15 minute writing practice on each. Let yourself grieve. Take the time. What do you have to lose?

Grief is a debt you owe. After you pay, you can get to the joy.

-Ann Patchett on Talking Volumes at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007

-posted on red Ravine Sunday, October 28th, 2007

-related to post, The Parking Is Free

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Halloween Tea Rose, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Halloween Tea Rose, out in the front garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

We worked on last minute details in the yard today. It was cool, cloudy, sunny. Bending over the 7 transplanted tea roses with the green water bucket, I noticed a distinct peripheral rush of red. A confused October tea rose was sporting a new summer bud.

We hauled wet, decaying bags of leaves to the city’s yard waste site, nabbed a geocache near an empty ball diamond, and drove home on winding country roads. An ordinary Fall Saturday. I didn’t notice the strings of cobweb until I took a closer look. It’s always good to take a closer look.

Traditionally, October is the month I feel the happiest. Something shifted this year. But tonight I count my blessings. It’s the little things. Maybe the budding Halloween tea rose with the silver thin cobwebs is not confused at all. Maybe it’s me.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, October 27th, 2007

-related to post, PRACTICE – Fish Out Of Water – 15min

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Twin Peaks, at a Dairy Queen in southern Minnesota after a hot day of geocaching, August 2005,photo © 2007 by SkyWire. All rights reserved.

Twin Peaks, at a Dairy Queen in southern Minnesota after a hot day of geocaching, August 2005, photo © 2007 by SkyWire. All rights reserved.

Vanilla (sans flecks) for ybonesy. She makes me smile every day.

-related to post, White Bread Revival

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Maybe it’s the cooler weather, but every morning this week I’ve been starved.

One morning I ate waffles with blueberries and plain yogurt. It was almost perfect. Except the blueberries were frozen and after I defrosted them in the microwave, the juice turned the waffles mushy. Other than that, though, perfect.

Another morning I had a chocolate cupcake from Smith’s. The cake was moist, and the frosting thick and creamy. To top it off, literally, it had orange pumpkin and black bat sprinkles.

This morning I made Italian sausage, which in and of itself isn’t special given that I make bacon or sausage almost every morning for my meat-eating daughters. What was special, though, was that while pondering what I might eat with my sausage, I remembered a simple yet delicious breakfast item.

White bread toast with butter.

Remember how vanilla ice cream used to seem so bland once the newfangled flavors came out?

Think back to the glass counter at 31 Flavors. You ordered Rocky Road, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio Almond, Jamoca Almond Fudge. Daquiri Ice with its light green-aqua color. Or Pink Bubble Gum with tiny pieces of real gum that you got to chew if you managed to store them between cheek and gum while finishing off the cone.

Maybe you ordered Blueberry Cheesecake (although you probably never made that mistake twice) or oldie-but-goodie Butter Pecan. But you never ordered vanilla.

Even French vanilla couldn’t redeem vanilla. (Did they mix egg yolks into regular vanilla? What else would account for that yellow-teeth color?)

Fast forward to the present. Just yesterday I bought Vanilla Bean ice cream from the gourmet ice cream section of my local organic grocery store. Vanilla beans have changed the face of vanilla ice cream.

Which brings me back to this morning. 

What I realized while eating my chewy white bread toast (with lightly salted butter) was that peasant bread — or whatever you call that thick Italian or French country bread — is to white bread toast what the vanilla bean is to vanilla ice cream.

Peasant bread. The new Wonder Bread.

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I find humor in the oddest places. In fact, I think humor finds me.

Like nervousness, humor sneaks up on me. It replaces my nervousness. I can list all the times where I have giggled uncontrollably in places where I should, instead, have been somber.

Jim’s parents’ Thanksgiving dinners. I’ve now gone to how many years of them? Almost twenty. I have giggled during Grace at every one except for one. The one I didn’t giggle at, I actually wanted to giggle. But I had a good reason not to.

I had had a miscarriage on about November 10. It was close enough to Thanksgiving that I told myself, Think of the miscarriage, think of the miscarriage. And it worked. That one Thanksgiving I did not dissolve into uncontrollable laughter while Jim’s father said Grace.

Nothing very funny about that.

There’s no way to get across how immature I can be. I have laughed so hard that I had to pretend I was crying at three different funerals. Well, one was technically a rosary mass. And I don’t know why.

Is laughter really the flip side of sorrow? Was I grieving something that I didn’t even realize I was grieving? I laughed so hard during John Dunne’s funeral that the whole pew rocked. Jim laughed, too, and Andrew, and the three of us tried to pretend we were sobbing. I don’t know. That doesn’t sound like grief.

John Dunne was a nice man. He died when his bicycle got hit by a car. We noticed the bike on the six-o’clock news. John was the only guy we knew who had a red ten-speed with a white seat. We called the news station and asked if they could tell us who the person was that got killed. No, we haven’t notified next of kin, the man on the phone told me. If I say a name, will you tell me whether it’s him or not, I asked. He agreed. I said John’s name. Yes, I’m sorry, he told me and we hung up.

I laughed in the zendo when L farted. After that I dreaded sitting in the zendo for fear of someone farting. I avoid yoga retreats for that reason. Surely people fart all the time when they’re bending their stomachs the way you do in yoga.

I dread having to go to either Mom’s or Dad’s funeral when they die, not only because I dread either dying. I don’t actually dread them dying. Mom and Dad are both peaceful about life and death. I just dread the funeral.

I will have to take something, an anti-anxiety pill, to make sure I don’t laugh all the way through it like I did when Aunt Barbara died. I sweated so hard trying not to laugh that I could feel the drops of sweat rolling down the sides of my body. I laughed because the priest was dramatic. When it came to the Communion, he boomed up there at the altar, THIS IS THE BODY OF CHRIST!

I find humor in America’s Funniest Videos. I laugh when the big woman boing-boing-boings on the trampoline and boings right off into the hedge. God, I can even feel a physical reaction to the pain she must feel, something that hits deep in my stomach, and still I laugh. I laugh until my girls yell at me, Mo-om!, that’s not funny!!

I laugh until Jim laughs at my laughing. I laugh in bed afterwards, thinking about my laughing, and sometimes I am laughing so hard I can’t even get out the words to say what it is I’m laughing about.

I find humor in the stupidest jokes. I have three from my “brown series,” one of which is, What is brown and floats in the toilet of the SS Enterprise? The Captain’s log.

I sometimes laugh so hard at that joke that I can’t even tell it. Funny, it doesn’t strike me as the least bit funny right now, and I feel as though I’m failing as a writer to convey how funny it is when I tell it.

Humor finds me, I tell you. It’s like a gremlin, creeping up on me when it should be sleeping. When more appropriate emotions, like sadness or empathy or disgust should instead be by my side. Inside of me.

Humor resides somewhere deep in my nerve system, and I no longer know if I should even call it “humor” at all.


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I find humor in ridiculous things like the Great Pumpkin Catapult or singing moldy oldies with Liz in the morning when I’m spooning French Roast into the Braun. I crack up after belting out dreadful tunes from the seventies, something by Gilbert O’Sullivan or Bread, or rocking out, jammin’ to Stevie Wonder in Happy Feet.

I smiled the whole way through a documentary Liz taped off PBS on Les Paul. The way he invented machines to overdub tapes, recorded in every room in his house with his wife, Mary Ford, and, of course, made guitar after guitar with big bodied, amplified sound. Without Les Paul there would be no rock and roll.

Did you know he’s a Midwesterner, born in Waukesha, Wisconsin; his last name was Polfuss before it was Paul. He’s worth millions, saved every guitar, every recording machine, every headset and microphone. The collection will be in the Smithsonian. He’s in his 90’s, still going strong. He loves to laugh and smile and play his guitar for audiences for a pittance. He loves life. That makes me laugh. I want to be near people who love life.

I don’t find humor in jokes. I never have. Riddles and rhymes that crack other people up are lost on me. I just don’t find jokes funny. Half the time they seem crazy or dumb to me. The other half, I probably don’t get it and stare at the person with my face curled up in a dumbfounded question mark. That’s me. The jokeless wonder. I think I still turned out okay.

I laugh out loud when Liz and I dance all crazy across the kitchen floor. This is a regular occurrence. So you can guess, I laugh a lot. I laugh when I play fetch with Mr. Stipeypants. I knew he was okay when I found his furry red ball, his trophy, in his food dish yesterday.

I smile when I watch the moon rise through the oaks. Liz called on the way to work to tell me the full moon tonight will be the closest to the Earth of any in 2007. The movement of planets, moons, and stars makes me smile, connects me to something way bigger than me. I like paying attention to when Mercury is in retrograde (right now). Retrograde, moving around the sun in an orbit opposite to earth. Don’t sign any contracts. Expect communication delays. Back up your computer.

A friend sent me an email a few days ago letting me know that mischievous Mercury, messenger of the god Jupiter, the smallest planet nearest the sun, was up to his old tricks, turning his face counterclockwise, contorting what normally travels with godspeed to a likely destination. I don’t laugh at myself enough. I work every day to let go.

When darkness falls, I’ll watch the Moon’s billowy skirt slide through crackling, clinging leaves along golden rayed bundles of clouds over the deck. I’ll wish I had a tripod to screw on the digital Canon body. I’ll sigh, decide to skip the photos, and enjoy the Earth in shadowy descent.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – A LAUGHING MATTER

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Mickey's Diner In The Rain, Rainpainting Series, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mickey’s Diner In The Rain, Rainpainting Series, outside Mickey’s Diner near the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

It’s been a long couple of weeks. Mr. Stripeypants has started to eat hard food again and seems to be on the mend. (Thanks for all the good energy any of you might have sent his way.) I’m up writing and preparing a post for tomorrow. But for tonight, easy does it.

Mickey’s Diner In The Rain was shot outside Mickey’s Diner late last Tuesday night after Ann Patchett’s talk at the Fitzgerald Theater a few blocks away. If you’re around these parts, you might want to catch a bite to eat.

Otherwise, it was quite a lively day at the bottom of red Ravine. Stop by any time. The parking is free.

I wanted to keep her as much for myself as for her. We had a wonderful time that visit. Even when Lucy was devastated or difficult, she was the person I knew best in the world, the person I was the most comfortable with. Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t even realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.

But Lucy was never going to live in Nashville. Even if it might have saved her life, it wasn’t the life she wanted.

Dearest Anngora, my cynical pirate of the elusive heart, my self-winding watch, my showpiece, my shoelace, how are you?

-from Ann Patchett’s memoir, Truth & Beauty, A Friendship, Harper-Collins Publishers, 2004

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

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Last week I read the book Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph.D., and this week Jim is reading it. For anyone who hasn’t heard of this book, you’ll nonetheless recognize the phenomenon it describes — the adolescent girl’s loss of self.

Just think of a typical 10- or 11-year-old girl. Gangly, unconcerned with how she looks, willing to speak her mind without fear of embarrassment, curious, brash, silly. Now picture the same girl at ages 12, 13, 14. She’s moody, sometimes sullen, often preoccupied with saying just the right thing or saying nothing at all since nothing can’t be judged as “dumb” by her peers.

I’m reading Reviving Ophelia because in the short time Dee’s been in middle school, I see subtle changes in her and her small group of friends. I also see big differences between them and some of the other girls their age. I figure Dee is heading to where those other girls are, and I’m hoping I can help guide her journey there.

I’m also reading the book because friends of mine who are therapists working with girls this age suggested I read it. I’m taking their advice because I love who Dee is at her core, and I want to do what I can to help her be faithful to her true (goofy, in-awe-of-nature, big-hearted, mischievous) self.

It’s a lot harder to navigate the halls of adolescence today than it was when I was a kid. Yes, we had peer pressure and parents (like mine) who weren’t always overly involved in our lives. We had pot, and we had beer, and we had Annie Greensprings. But at least our media-influenced “ideals” were mostly about long, straight hair and white teeth (a.k.a. Marsha Brady and Laurie Partridge).

Today, tweens have the temptations of drugs, alcohol, and sex, plus they’ve been bombarded with images of a narcissist heiress leaving prison in skinny jeans and Marcello Toshi shoes, a genitalia-shaving-and-flashing drunken celebrity who parties and rehabs, parties and rehabs, and who else? Lindsay Lohan?

Dee and her peers live in a world of tube tops and breast implants and nose jobs. They’ve got girl-bashing music and sexualized everything. When last did they hear that it was en vogue to be kind to unpopular kids, to care about the poor, or be concerned by global warming?

This is not a now-that-she’s-in-middle-school revelation. Dee’s first day of second grade: A fellow seven-year-old arrives at our house wearing black mini skirt, black boots to her knee, red-and-black off-the-shoulder t-shirt, and black fingerless gloves that go past her elbow. She looks like a baby hooker. 

You can say (I did) that that girl’s parents weren’t on the ball. That they were at fault for buying their daughter that get-up. But the point is, that get-up was available at stores everywhere! That and t-shirts touting bad girls and sexy girls and spoiled girls. Elementary-aged girls can wear their own versions of the same high heel shoes that adult women wear.

Reviving Ophelia isn’t about anything we parents and others don’t already see and know, but it is a wake-up call to something for which I’ve become inured:

We are going backwards.

The other day, Dee brought me a Halloween circular from Party City. “Who’s this,” she asked, pointing to a woman with tall pinkish-white hair. “That’s Marie Antoinette,” I said. Then I started to study the image. 

I’ve included it at the end of this post. Take a look. They’re all women, and every one of them, without exception, is a sex kitten. This is the front cover; the back cover is just like it.

Alarmed, I rifled through the rest of the mail. I came across a postcard for a rug-cleaning company. I’ve included the flier’s image at the end of this post, too. Look at it. Tell me what you see. How old do you think the girl in the photo is? And what exactly does her near-naked body add to the notion of rug cleaning??

Wake up fathers, mothers, aunts!

Tell the 11- and 12-year-old girls in your life about lookism. Point out to them what it is society thinks they should be. Encourage them to choose different options. To be individuals and independent thinkers. To resist what has become the norm for girls and women today.

Explain that they might be shunned, but help them be strong. Be there for them. Guide them through choices they have to make.

Dee is not ours for much longer, but for the time we have her, we’re going to do our best to show her a different way.

Party City Halloween costume circular, front cover
Party City circular featuring Halloween costumes. Three pages filled with women as sex objects. October 2007.

Serafians Rugs flier
Serafian’s Oriental Rugs postcard flier featuring a young woman lying naked except for loose fabric, promoting rug cleaning. October 2007.

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By Beth Bro Howard

          Be Still And Know, photo © 2007 by Beth Bro Howard, all rights reserved.
          Be Still And Know, altar offering at the retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh,
          August, 2007, Estes Park, Colorado, photo © 2007 by Beth Bro
          Howard. All rights reserved.

On August 25, 2007, while on retreat with Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh in Estes Park, Colorado, I was prepared to ask a question during the talk devoted to questions and answers. Reflecting on the question beforehand, part of the answer was revealed, which reminded me of the banner over the flowered altar offering:

                              be still and know

I accepted the invitation to ask Thay (his familiar name, meaning “teacher”) a question and joined the huddle of men, women, and children sitting on the stage.

I knew that there would not be time to ask all of our questions. I held mine in my heart and listened mindfully to others’ questions and Thay’s answers, because I knew that the answer to my question might be there also.

And it was.

My question might have been asked like this:

Dear Thay, my twenty-two year old son Peter is a soldier with the U.S. Army in Iraq. I hope that he will return home in two months. I am aware that many veterans return from Iraq with a lot of suffering. The United States of America was not skillful with relieving the suffering of Vietnam War veterans. How might our spiritual communities and practices help to relieve our veteran’s suffering?

I heard my answer, first, in the response to a question asked by a child about whether monks or nuns had served in the military. Thay answered, “Not many,” but went on to say that there was a monk who had served in the war. The monk had seen a lot of suffering caused by war and wanted to heal it. He wanted to practice peace and to teach the practice to others. Thay said that he is a very good monk.

In another answer to a question regarding the power of the healing services held in Viet Nam, Thay explained that there had never been services held for all the people killed in the Vietnam War. He said that there have not been services in our country to heal from the deaths in Viet Nam and Iraq.

How I heard these responses as answers to my question was in this way:

  • As a Christian/Buddhist practitioner, I should offer compassionate and deep listening to our veterans;
  • I should include them in our practice, however I can, because, like the monk, they have learned a lot about war and suffering and they may be very good at this practice;
  • Veterans may be wonderful teachers of peace.

I also heard that, in our spiritual communities, we should pray for the killed and in the depth of Thay’s stories I learned that we must not only pray for the killed, but also for the killers. They are not separate.

It seems that often veterans return with the dead residing in their hearts and minds. We can pray to end the suffering of both.

The answer that came to me, before Thay’s talk, was from my own Christian tradition. It relates to the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), paraphrased here:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger son asks for his share of the property and the father divides the estate evenly between his sons. The older son stays on the land, close to his father, and works hard. The younger son gathers all that he has and takes a journey to a far country, where he squanders all his wealth in wild living. Much later, he returns home destitute, hungry and regretful. The father is overjoyed to see his youngest son, filled with compassion and welcomes him warmly, hugging and kissing him. The father orders that his youngest son be dressed in the finest robe and that a feast should be prepared for him. When the older son complains bitterly, the father replies, “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Might we as spiritual communities welcome war veterans home in our hearts?

Might we welcome an end to their personal experience of war as we would welcome an end to all war?

Might we refrain from judgments that may increase their suffering and might we assist and encourage others to refrain from judgments, also?

Might we be able to stand in compassion and be ready to listen when veterans are ready to speak?

Veterans have learned a lot about war and suffering and if we work together to transform those seeds, there may be a little more peace for us all.

About Beth:  Beth Bro Howard is a writer and yoga teacher in Wyoming. Her son Peter returned from Iraq on Friday, October 19, 2007, after a year-long deployment.

-Related to post Wishing You A Peaceful Heart – An Open Letter To Cindy Sheehan.

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Porky's Smile, tile floor inside Porky's Drive-In, St. Paul, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   
Porky’s Smile, tile floor inside of Porky’s Drive-In, St. Paul, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Hey, did’ya hear the one about the roof? Ah, never mind…it’s over your head.

How about the jump rope?? Nah, skip it.

Did you hear the news about the elephant with diarrhea? It’s all over town.

Ah, uhem. This week’s topic is humor. As in, side-splitting laughter. LOL. Laugh your head off. Get a sense of humor, for Pete’s sake.

Humor me, just this once, and read the quotes below about laughter. What is laughter to you? Is it the flip side of sorrow? Is it the best medicine? Are you a serious person or a goofball?

Think about laughter and humor and sadness and joy. Then take your pen and notebook to a quiet place and write these words at the top of your page: I find humor in…. Write for ten minutes.

When you’re done, set your timer for another ten minutes and write these words: I don’t find humor in …. Write again.

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.  ~e.e. cummings

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.  ~Victor Borge

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.  ~Kurt Vonnegut

Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.  ~Ken Kesey

A laugh is a smile that bursts.  ~Mary H. Waldrip

The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.  ~Mark Twain

The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.  ~Virginia Woolf

Aba-dee, aba-dee, aba-dee, a… that’s all folks.

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I want to write of ghosts, real ghosts or imagined, the kind who gently bump your backside as you brush your teeth. That happened to me in my bathroom, weeks ago now, and Jim had already shared his suspicions that a ghost lived in our house. “She’s not evil or bad,” he said as I pictured myself with fingers plugged in ears screaming so as not to hear him.

I like to believe the noise we hear most days, of the toilet flushing on its own, can be explained by pressure building up in pipes. And the times a shoe dropped from the shelf in the closet it was only because I left it perched precariously the night before.

Jim’s not afraid of the things he senses. Once he told me a bird was his brother, another his dog Roger, and now he insists she’s not anything to be afraid of, this woman who lives with us.

I try hard when I go into the bathroom to pretend she’s not real, clear my mind of any notion she might be there. But of course I always land on the fear that she’s somewhere, and I peek for her in the reflections from the heat lamp in the ceiling or try to catch her image in the mirror as my head rises from spitting water in the sink.

Or I am firm, enter the bathroom with a conciliatory tone on the brain, OK Ghost, you and me, we’re going to work this out, but I’m the new mistress of this house. You’re going to have to step aside, play a new role. You can help me keep intruders at bay or make sure I never leave the bathtub overflowing. Got it?

Even so, even when I am my most courageous, I’m not really brave. Jim can tell me all he wants that we have a good ghost, a female Casper, and still I will fear. I will worry about good and evil, about Satan and God, or worse, be flooded by all the horror flick gimmicks that still haunt me today.

Intellectually I believe this ghost of ours might be all Jim’s making, he said he once walked into the laundry room and saw a woman wearing an old-fashioned dress, or well, he saw the dress, maybe not the woman, and then he shook his head and she was gone. Intellectually, I am calmed by the knowledge that Jim’s eyesight is poor, by all the times we’ve been out driving and he’s said, Oh, there’s Mike (or Matt or whoever), but it’s not Mike, it’s not even close to Mike.

But in my heart I feel her too, and if I really open up my sensitivities, I know the truth. (Mom always said I was a sensitive girl, and now being mother to a sensitive child myself, I realize that “sensitive” really means sensing your surroundings, being able to see hurt, see pain, feel what’s happening around you even if it’s not evident at the surface.)

So what now? Does she haunt me? No, not really. I’ve spent nights alone, and besides wanting Otis and Rafael to sleep in my bedroom I’ve been calm.

I might let her stay. I say it as if I have choices in the matter. I might consult with friends who are better at this than I am. Have them talk to her. Tell her it’s time to move on. It can’t be fun being stranded on this side when surely there are people asking for her on the other side. Maybe that’s it. Figuring out a way to get her to move on. I can do that. I’m convincing when I want to be.

-related to post, WRITING TOPIC – HAUNTED

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I’m more haunted by the things that haven’t happened, than I am by the things that have. Half worn radials rumble over the railroad tracks near Winnetka and Bass Lake Road, wipers slap another day of dreary fog and rain; I drudge up the things that haunt me. Porcupine quills in tender skin.

There were no trains in the distance. I thought of Liz’s photographs of mustard engines, rusty graffiti, barrel shaped cabooses. She stopped at a crossing to take a few shots; there were two other men there, shooting the trains. One carried a long tripod, stood firm with his son. The train backdrop blurred behind them.

It’s comforting to me that people still love what is old, what is dying, what has passed.

Nostalgia. I’m haunted by nostalgia. I don’t have many regrets. I’m not a regretful person. I try to make amends. And live with the fact that I made the best decisions I could, for the time and maturity. If I’m going to cut myself that break, I have to cut others the same.

I’m haunted by not knowing. Not knowing what will happen to Mr. Stripeypants. He’s clearly in so much pain and cannot tell us why. Not knowing the right decisions to crucial questions about my future – about money, writing, teaching, art. That haunts me.

There is risk in moving into new territory. It makes me uncomfortable. Do I have the strength and stamina? Or will memories of failure continue to haunt me.

I’m haunted that I didn’t go to my Grandmother Elise’s funeral. That is one regret I do have. I would do things differently now. I would love her, hug her, call her and ask all the questions I never got to ask.

I was 29. Maybe 30. Insecure. I remember when I got the call. No cell phones then. The phone clamored and rang. She’d had another heart attack and passed away. I cried and cried and cried. Sandwiched between Bitterroot Mountains and Big Sky, I drove the cherry red Subaru wagon all the way down to Hamilton, Montana. I cried some more.

I wasn’t thinking about the beauty. And Montana is a beautiful place. I was haunted by everything I had missed. The connections broken. I was grieving my grandmother. I was grieving the past. I wanted to let go. How could I let go of something I had never fully claimed?

I visited her graveside with my mother, Amelia, last June. It’s across the Savannah River on a slightly sloped hill, in a wide open, ancient cemetery, along the border of east central Georgia. A silk lily had flown loose from another grave. I picked it up, thought about placing it on hers. But then I noticed the tipped container near the flat granite stone of a stranger’s grave nearby, and slipped the lily back into the brass vase.

Empty-handed, full-hearted, I sat with Elise for a moment. It was brief, short. Silent. My mother was there. And my step-father, Louis. We visited a lot of gravesites that sweltering day in June. And I taped a lot of memories.

Last week, I started transcribing them. Each day, I stretch out with headphones attached to my laptop and listen to wav files, voices from the past. I laugh. I cry. I type. I rewind to catch obscure snippets of Southern drawl. I think, “This is my life.” I am not haunted. I feel a great relief to know the bits of truth memory has to offer.

I’m haunted by not knowing. By what I have yet to do. Not what I have done. The haunting is fear, I know it. And I use all the tools in my arsenal to work around it, move through it, sit with it, even in it, when that serves me best.

I know I have to go to these places. I’m willing to risk feeling. Deep, intimate feeling. In return, I understand what it means to feel joy. The payoffs are big. The gamble is great. I could fail. I could make a wrong decision, the right one for the time.

Speaking of time, it’s up. Rain pelts the windows near my desk. Billowing gray clouds give me a feeling of longing. Can I live with the past? Or not knowing the future? If I’m present, neither of them matters. My grandmother is with me every day. I can always go home.

 -related to post, WRITING TOPIC – HAUNTED

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My friend and blogging partner, QuoinMonkey, has for the past two days been agonizing over her very sick cat, Mr. Stripeypants. Liz, QM’s partner, is also exhausted after nights of staying up, rushing Pants to the emergency vet, and monitoring his intake of food and water. So far, the veterinarians haven’t been able to figure out what’s causing the fever and vomiting.

I can relate to the helplessness that QM and Liz feel. Jim and I have had four dogs in our almost twenty years together, and we’ve dealt with the deaths of two, Roger and Rudy.

Roger I got from the pound for Jim after we’d been dating two months. I sensed right away that Jim was an animal lover — he talked all the time about his childhood dogs Tara and Shadow. Roger was Australian Shepherd mix with one brown eye and one blue. He ended up going with us on our honeymoon in Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons.

I still remember one cool pre-dawn morning driving through a misty meadow, giant mountains looming in the background. Several cars were pulled to the side of the road and a handful of people with cameras creeping toward a herd of grazing elk. We slowed the Camry to a crawl and rolled down the windows to get a better look. Roger must have just then noticed the elk because he let loose a ferocious bark attack from the backseat. All at once the elk startled and the photographers whipped angry heads back to see what idiot just caused the stampede. Jim stepped on the gas and away we zipped, a cloud of exhaust vapor in our wake.

A couple of years after we got Roger, a mountain-biking friend came to our place bearing a Blue Heeler puppy. She found him clinging to the side of the ditch and fished him out. She already named him Rudy and insisted that Roger needed a brother. Roger and Rudy were pals the way Otis and Rafael are today. Funny how our human children are girls and our dog children are boys.

Except, my dogs aren’t really my children. In fact, I tell my friends that in my culture, dogs are dogs and people are people. My grandfather was a rancher, and in the way ranching families often see things, animals serve a purpose. Dogs keep away intruders; cats eat mice; sheep provide wool and mutton; cows make milk and beef; hens give eggs; and roosters die early and often.

But truth is, my animals touch my heart in ways similar to (if not exactly the same as) how people touch my heart. I fall in love with them, and when they are hurting, I hurt. And the older I get, the stronger I sense the girl in me reminding that I never really did subscribe to my grandparents’ take on animal life.

Jim has influenced my changing relationship to our dogs. He’s even more connected to animals than I am. That’s probably a large part of the reason I fell in love with him. I sensed his expansive heart, his philosophy that life is life and that animals’ lives are to be valued as you would any other.

When Roger and Rudy died, Jim was affected most of all. He stayed by their sides for weeks to care for them. It brings tears to my eyes still to recollect how he couldn’t break away some nights from Roger or from Rudy as each was dying. How he cried and cried.

Three years ago I wrote a short story about a woman who leaves her husband for another man. Later, just over a year after the divorce, her ex-husband tells her he is planning to re-marry, which causes the narrator of the story to wonder whether she made a mistake by leaving him. Here is an excerpt from that story, which is titled “In the Moment.” It’s based on a writing practice I did about Jim and our family when Rudy died.

I hope, QM, it is not in poor taste to do a post about writing and the love and death of animals. I don’t mean to portend a similar ending for Pants. Rather, I hope to tell you that I realize how much your Mr. Stripeypants means to you and Liz. And how I know he is your number one priority right now. Take care of him, and take care of the two of you.

It’s Wednesday morning. As Leila predicted, Jack tells me about Luz. We’re sitting on a wooden bench on the front porch. I toy with the fingers of a gardening glove lying next to me. Jack’s hair is long enough now to make a small ponytail. He wears a t-shirt with a picture of a galloping pony. He looks good.

He apologizes for not telling me before Leila and Pip did. He figured it was a moot point if they didn’t go for the notion first. All this time he scans the yard. A pernicious grass we call foxtail even though we know it’s not foxtail invades the area where his garden used to be.

He’s going on now, talking about how the girls seem to like Luz, how Luz seems to like the girls, how they all love Edgar. You hate small dogs, I want to say.

I think about Olive, who died a couple of months before the divorce. She was Australian Shepherd cross, not that old when she died, maybe twelve, but she was blind and seemed ancient. Jack wanted her to go naturally. For weeks, he’d sit by her, pet her, tell her, “It’s OK, Olive.” Once he tried bringing her into the house but she almost went berserk. It was cold that winter. He fixed a nest inside her Igloo doghouse and carried this bed to whatever new spot Olive had found in the yard.

In the wee hours of the morning, Jack’s side of the bed would be empty and I could spot him outside in his parka carrying the Igloo. I would see him and think, If he outlives me he’ll care for me like that, sitting by my side, petting my head, letting me know I’m not alone. He knew I was having an affair and still he would take care of me. But by then I was immune to Jack’s steadfastness. Resentful of the alloy he and I together created.

The girls bluster onto the porch. They’re ready to get into Jack’s car. I ask them to give the chickens and ducks scraps from breakfast. We’re going to move the birds to Jack’s once he builds a pen. The girls run off. Jack is waiting for me to say something.  

“Do you remember the morning Olive died?” I ask.

He looks at me surprised. “Yeah.”

“Remember how she just wouldn’t let go?” I picture a ring of our four bodies and heads bent down toward Olive, all of us crying. Leila saying, “Don’t let her die,” and Jack and me saying, “Yes, honey, Olive is ready to go now.” I tucked my hand under Olive’s front leg, over her heart, and I felt it beat, the valve slowly rising, then dropping. Jack told her, “It’s OK, Olive, you can go now, just let go,” and Leila said, “No Olive, don’t go,” and I cried big tears and snot that dripped from my chin to Olive’s body. I looked up at all three of them and said, as if to warn, “I have to say a prayer.” I waited just long enough for Jack to protest if he needed to, and then I said the Hail Mary. Jack sobbed, which made Leila and Pip sob, and still I could feel the rising and dropping of Olive’s chest and still she heaved out steamy breaths. I asked Mother Mary to take Olive to the other side, and at that moment her heart stopped.

When Jack dug Olive’s grave and laid her body inside, I think he placed his will to save our marriage in with her. I conjured my most perfect memento of us, testimony to the life slipping away. Jack, me, Leila, Pip sleeping outside on the trampoline. A healthy Olive underneath us, grunting in slumbering pursuit of rabbits and squirrels. Me waking up whenever one of the others rustled, and then falling back into dream thinking We’re a forest of aspens, connected by roots under the surface. When Jack shoveled dirt into the hole, I wailed, beside myself with loss. The divorce was final by April.

 “I’m happy for you,” I finally say.

Now he watches me. I don’t have anything else to comment about his plans.

“Are you OK, Eve?” he asks.

Maybe he thinks I’m regretful. I brush my hand through the air as if to say I’m fine.

“You’d better get going or they’ll be late for school.”

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Green Sweater and Tunic, my current fashion obsession, pen and
pencil doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I was one of those girls in high school who latched on to a particular look and didn’t drop it for a couple of years. My devices back then: painter pants, waffle stompers, and any one of my brother’s flannel shirts.

I still remember a pair of olive green trousers that became my signature article of clothing when I was in my early twenties. They were gabardine with tiny knots of wool, tight and narrow at the waist and legs yet super baggy in the lap. I wore them all fall and winter for three years, often with black lace-up Victorian-style shoes.

Later, I graduated to cowboy boots and oversized long-sleeved t-shirts and long skirts. I stuck with the boots until everyone and their mother started wearing them, at which point I promptly parted ways with my inner cowgirl.

My thirties were spent traipsing around in tight-fitting clothes. I was size 2 or 4 for most the decade, and I loved showing off my hips and waist. Short tops, fitted blouses, strappy sandals, leg-hugging black go-go boots.

I still have a bag of clothing from that era, but besides not being able to fit into any of it I worry that I’d resemble a middle-aged prostitute if I actually attempted wearing anything from back then.

These days my uniform is a tunic topped with a short, tight sweater. Preferably the green sweater I got two years ago at Target, made by that designer Isaac somebody. It’s wash and wear, and the color has held up remarkably well until just recently given that I throw it in the dryer each week.

It’s the kind of uniform that satisfies the Gemini in me. Long and flowing yet short and fitted. The tunics I’ve picked up all over the place — Marshalls in Phoenix or Ross Dress-for-Less on Coors. A couple are vintage, from Buffalo Exchange (which I frequent when I’m not mad at the “buyers” for turning up their noses at my used clothing).

At the moment I’m wishing I would have bought two or three of my beloved Target sweaters, as mine is finally (finally!) fading around its ribbed edges. I wish I would have bought it in pink, my next favorite color after green.

It dawns on me that once my sweater dies, I might have to figure out a new look. Nothing too saucy or young-looking. Nothing frumpy. (God forbid frumpy.) It’s a delicate balance for a woman my age. If anyone has suggestions, I’m open.

What should be my next signature piece? Or do I quick, search for a green sweater replacement? And what of tattoos for women in their mid-forties? Are they as desperate-seeming as I think they are? And while on the topic, can someone tell me, do men work on their looks? (Because Jim’s aging hippie thang seems to come completely naturally to him.)

Geez, all this and frizzy hair, to boot. It’s amazing I made it to work today.


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