Category Archives: Arkansas Life

Road Trip Part 6 – Soul Food and Family

This blog post has been moved to Bordercitiesblooming.blogspot.ca.

Road Trip Part 5…in Which We Are Not Abducted by Aliens

Chuck only had three things he wanted to do / see during this entire two-week trip: stop in Roswell, NM; stop at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock; stop at Crater of Diamonds State Park, AR to look for diamonds.  Everything else was from my personal agenda, and he tagged along for those activities with a degree of patience I found utterly astounding.  I know that if the shoe were on the other foot, I probably could not endure three different stops to meet another person’s relatives nor spend hours in houses filled with people I had never met before. He’s a trooper!

So when we arrived in Roswell in the late afternoon just in time to find a CLOSED sign in the window at the UFO Museum and Research Center, I was more than a little disappointed in my own failure to plan better.  Exhibiting the good humour that I’ve come to learn is typical of him, Chuck settled for a trio of hokey souvenir shops.

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lamp post in Roswell, NM

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invaded furniture store

Our next stop was Artesia, which is where my mom’s sister still lives. Aunt P is my godmother and housed me like a sibling to her other two kids for long periods of my childhood when my mom had to be in L.A. with my brother at Children’s Hospital for his multiple surgeries.  I have very fond memories of those stays in New Mexico when I was small. It was so great to see her again. We took her to dinner and spent time on the sofa going through photo albums.

After a restful night in one of Aunt P’s guest bedrooms, we set out for Lubbock, home to the Buddy Holly Center and Museum.  I was absolutely certain we had scheduled our departure from Artesia in time to enjoy the history of regional rock and roll until Chuck pointed out the change in time zones. I’d failed to account for that!

“You are seeing the Buddy Holly Center even if we have to spend the night in Lubbock,” I insisted, getting peeved with myself for again failing to plan well. We arrived in Lubbock, however, with plenty of time to enjoy the exhibits and even watch a documentary film about  Hardin’s short life and even shorter ballistic career.  I learned so much about this amazing young man and his music.  Later in the gift shop I got my brother a souvenir tee shirt and a memorial CD set for Chuck, which we enjoyed in the car all the way to Little Rock. Many of the tunes in this special collection had never before been released in the U.S., and some do not sound anything like what a die-hard fan would expect from the artist. Case in point: Smoky Joe’s Cafe.

We spent the night in Wichita Falls, TX and in the morning headed for Crater of Diamonds State Park.  By the time we got to the area, a long and steady rain reaching all the way to Little Rock was making the idea of diamond hunting less and less appealing.  Oh, well. Along with all the life birds I dipped on, we have to save some treasures for next time, eh?

When we passed a sign that Chuck thought would make a good story, I offered to double back so he could get a good picture.

“Don’t you want to be in the picture?” I asked.  He assented and posed in front of the green road sign just long enough for me to snap two or three shots. No sooner had he crossed the highway back to the parked car than he was frantically brushing little biting insects off his ankles, calves, thighs and from inside his urgently removed sneakers.  As soon as I saw the ants, I joined him in brushing them away as fast as I could.

Our next impromptu stop was a pharmacy.

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Sightings of Chihuahuan Raven in the western region soon gave way to a plethora of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Northern Mockingbirds.

As we neared my mother’s home in North Little Rock, my dreams of authentic southwestern cuisine began to be replaced by fantasies of black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried okra and catfish, gumbo and corn bread, and diners where the tea is sweet unless you request otherwise.  Before leaving the area, we would taste most of those and more.

…to be continued…

A Road Trip

First I had planned to take this road trip across New Mexico in the summer of 2012 for the purpose of birding. But then my situation changed. I was moving into a new place to live, and that took centre stage.  All my spare money, time and energy was going into that project: getting moved and furnishing my new place. That was fine. As life brings changes, our priorities shift. No biggie. I could postpone my trip one year.

So then I had planned to make the same trip this year. Then I met Chuck and asked him if he would like to accompany me on my trip. When he said yes, I realized that as long as I had him in the car headed south, we may as well drive a few more hundred miles and let my mom set eyes on him. The plan changed many times over the past few months. She would meet us in New Mexico, we would go to her. We would travel at the end of August. No, in the middle of August.  Well, since Chuck’s work situation has changed earlier than expected, the plan has again changed. It’s good to be flexible, I believe.

The current aim is to leave within a few days. Once we get out there in the southwest, I may find that summer birding in the desert isn’t all that fun. Maybe we’ll manage to get in some dawn and dusk birding, or maybe a lot of sun block and a Tilley hat will help with the sun. I don’t know since I’ve never done this before. What I do know is that we are both ready to go with the flow and flow with whatever happens, allowing priorities to shift with the circumstances. It’s all good.

I hope to see you all back here in about two weeks’ time.

Chicago Part 3: A Reunion

This post has been moved.

Framed

I made the mistake of telling my mom that I was finally,…FINALLY about to have something professionally framed.  I never have. My mom gives me prints, I buy art from bloggers and from Etsy, and I never pay to have anything nicely matted and framed. I just buy a frame off the shelf and a pre-cut mat, or I put the work in the “to be framed” stack in my closet. That stack rarely sees the light of day, I’m afraid.

But Sylvain asked me what I wanted for my birthday, so I said I wanted to properly mat and frame a print of one of my mother’s watercolours. He thought that made a great birthday gift, but before we had a chance to do it, my mom intervened and strongly suggested that we just buy some mat board and “float” the print in the centre of it. This would save money.  And so I was talked out of what would have been my first time to splurge on a nice custom bevel-cut mat.

When I got home with my mat board, I proceeded to pry up all the little metal tabs on the back of the frame I had. I worked a while with ruler and pencil to find the exact centre of the mat. Then I closed it up and turned it over for a quick look before pushing the metal tabs back down. Alas, there was a small black fibre on the mat. Very distracting.

So I opened it back up, blew out all the lint and tried again. This time when I turned it over, there was a drop of water inside the glass. WATER? Where did THAT come from, I thought.  Then I realized it was sweat that had dripped off my face. That was one of those 110 in the shade days that I endured without turning on the window unit.

I got the darned thing hung up on its beautiful yellow mat and sent Mom a photo. Hmmm. “The bold mat colour, ” she said, “overpowers the art.”

SIGH.

And so after about 10 days of procrastinating, I tackled the same job all over again. I may well have chosen another mat that is too bold for the painting, but if so, I do NOT want to know about it.

Scott Plantation Settlement / giclee print of watercolor

The original was a 19″ x 26″ watercolour from which Mom had some smaller
prints made. The subject is the Scott Plantation Settlement in Scott, Arkansas.

Right now it’s in the foyer, but eventually this print will move to a different location in my house. Mom says she would like to see something oval over the chest of drawers rather than yet another rectangle. So I will keep an eye out for a nice oval mirror or framed work.

You can see more of my mom’s art and learn a bit about her HERE.

Outside In

I had not anticipated the degree to which life would feel and be different in this new dwelling place.

In the highrise, I had two openings to the outside air: balcony doors and one bedroom window. Because these were on the same wall but in separate rooms, I could not get a cross-current and hence  depended on the window unit to cool the sealed space.  I would open the balcony door in order to smell the occasional storm. Proximity to wildlife was limited to the passing of a few gulls or a V of geese, honking if I was lucky. The smells of the world remained seven stories below.

Before going further, I should clarify exactly how this apartment is situated. It’s the upper of two apartments into which an 80-plus-year-old cottage has been divided. It’s on a regular residential street whose properties back onto a canal-like little river that empties into the Detroit River not far downstream. The lots on this street are deep and narrow, allowing for more residents to have access to the water; most have tiny platforms for boarding a boat. The houses themselves are staggered so that no two occupants stare out their windows at each other. If one house is near the river with a deep front yard, the next has been built close to the road with a deep back yard.

So I am not isolated or out in the country, but what makes it feel as if I am is the fact that this house is one of those built closer to the river. And while my downstairs neighbours door and porch face the street, mine face the water. On the opposite bank there are no houses, only woods and tangle, rushes and reeds.  Both mailboxes are tacked onto the front of the house, so not even the mail carrier comes onto my deck. It isn’t obvious that the second apartment is accessed by walking around back, so I get no solicitors.

The first thing I did upon taking possession of the upper duplex was put out food and water for birds and squirrels: nyger seed for the goldfinches; nectar for hummingbirds; peanut hearts for chickadees and woodpeckers, peanuts in the shell for jays and squirrels. I scattered cracked corn on the ground for doves. The second thing I did was open the windows as wide as they would open. Every room has at least one.

For the first weeks after the move, a thousand memories came rushing back to me, born on the wings of scent and sound. Summers at my grandparents’ house flooded back to me with the blinking of fireflies and grunt of the bullfrog.  I began not just to remember what the earth smells like after rain, but started to recognize myriad nuances of that scent: the air before rain on a hot day, the air during rain on a cool day, the air after rain on the seventh scorching day in a row, the air when the rain hasn’t stopped for two days.

Much like the Inuit and their mythological hundred words for snow, my senses began distinguishing subtleties non-existent to me before. No two days are alike. Nothing smells the same again ever.  Nature is in constant flux, mixing and recombining a million ingredients: what is in bloom, the temperature, the humidity, which catkins are falling, the length of the days.

Very soon after putting out the food and water, I began to take note of the differences in species of birds and mammals, as well. Each species has its own personality, and in fact individuals within a species have their own preferences and personalities. Each feeder comes with its own drama. The peanut hearts must be taken down off the big S hook in the maple every night lest the raccoon raid it as soon as dark falls. I am still figuring out how to resolve the problem of the paper wasps and the nectar feeders. They don’t bother me at all, but they aggressively defend the food source from both orioles and hummingbirds. I’ll let you know when I’ve got it figured out–in a manner consistent with my Buddhist beliefs. Only the nyger feeder is unaccompanied by a soap opera, leaving Sir Goldfinch to feed in peace and quiet.

Six squirrels have come to be known to me by names in which mnemonics are embedded:

  • Red is glossy black with a tail the hue of henna; she is polite and learns quickly that no treat will be forthcoming if she climbs the screen.
  • Skunk is the one whose tail tip is white; the other squirrels gang up on her if she tries to come around, but she manages to sneak in a visit during the squirrel siesta hour. I give her more to make up for it.
  • Pepper’s black coat is flecked with grey.
  • The rambunctious young twins are Starbuck (because he is the colour of a caramel latte) and Frosty (caramel coat with hoary tail). They refuse to come to me for peanuts, preferring to spend the day hanging upside down to steal from a bird feeder.
  • And the only one of six to become hand tame went from being called “Peanut” to “Buddy” for obvious reasons.

For the first two weeks after I started sleeping here, each day brought a new species of bird. First I only saw Mallards, Barn Swallows, House Sparrows and Robins. Soon, though, the first Chickadee came. It felt like forever before the Goldfinches discovered the nyger seed. Then came my first Spotted Sandpiper bobbing at the rocky water’s edge. Green Heron was another day’s surprise. Black-crowned Night Heron was an even rarer delight. Friends asked me if I’d been out to this or that park recently. No, I replied. I can’t tear myself away from my own backyard. I might miss the next new thing!

In July I spied a mother Wood Duck with five ducklings. They emerged from the forest about an hour before dark every evening. With my nightly ritual of sitting on the lower deck observing the bank, I had the privilege of watching the ducklings grow bigger.  It was two weeks before I realized I was seeing two duck families: a mother with seven and a mother with five, the latter brood being older.  One day the older set of fledglings started practicing beating their wings. And one day they stopped coming out as a family. The mother will only stay with them until they can fly, and all of them can but one. I saw him alone many times after his family dispersed. Then one day I saw him atop the concrete log, as I call it, an island perch much loved by herons, sandpipers, geese, ducks and turtles. It’s a daily contest to see who claims it first.  He paced back and forth along the log like a child considering his first dive into the deep end of the community pool. He got a running start and tried to catapult himself aloft but only pitched himself into a sharp arc in the direction of his bum wing, landing with a humiliating splash in the water not two feet from the end of the log. He won’t be able to migrate south soon and will almost certainly not survive the cold months.

I am starting to take note of when things arrive and when they leave, on what date all the Purple Cone Flower blossoms die all over town, at what age you can distinguish a young male Wood Duck from a female. From the bay of windows in the sun room, I watch mother mink swimming with nesting material and Kingfisher carrying to his nestlings a live crayfish, pincers still flailing.

When windows are open all day every day, I am learning, one tunes into the rhythm of the earth.

summer rain

Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin Free Today

Today was my ante-penultimate Friday off for the summer. I started my morning by emailing my brother to request frequent updates on the West Memphis Three hearing. By the time I was drinking my first cup of tea I was able to get a live stream of the news story on my laptop (no TV in the house).

They were released on condition that they enter an Alford plea, a legal mechanism that allows them to maintain their innocence while precluding their ever suing the state for wrongful imprisonment. Jason did not want to take the deal but did so to get Damien off death row.

The prosecuting attorney’s position was that a judge was about to grant new trials and those trials would very likely have resulted in either acquittals or lesser sentences, such as “time served.”

After viewing video of the three men making statements at a press conference, I came away more convinced than ever that Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin did not kill the cub scouts.

Mara Leveritt is a dedicated reporter and award-winning author who has followed this case for the Arkansas Times over the years. She wrote a book about the case called Devil’s Knot. She also wrote a book called The Boys on the Tracks which covers the case of two boys whose dead bodies were laid out on train tracks to be destroyed by the next passing train. This case was similar to the West Memphis Three case in that it also took place in Arkansas and involved either a cover-up or very shoddy work by police and coroner or both.

News from My Home State

Well, THAT’S interesting. After eighteen years, these boys (now men) may finally be getting something closer to due process than they have since the day they were charged with killing three children in West Memphis in 1993. Breaking news here.

I don’t know if they did it or didn’t. I suspect probably not. What strikes me as so very sad is that those who believe them guilty have been mightily swayed by the fact that they dressed in black and were interested in Aleister Crowley. Well, of course! If there are three anti-social older teens in town who wear black trench coats and dabble in black magic, they MUST be responsible. Who else could it be? Suddenly post-mortem wounds inflicted by hungry woodland creatures become ritual mutilation.

Yes, one lad confessed… after twelve hours of interrogation without a lawyer or adult present. And this is the one with severe learning disabilities. I could go on and on.

I’ll be tuning in tomorrow to see if new DNA evidence has come to light.

Not the Whole Story

As we both know, the chatterings of monkey mind do not comprise the whole story.

The rest of the puzzle, however, can’t be put into words.  I’ll let Scott try. He does a pretty good job considering that what he is trying to describe is ineffable.

I have been working with my mind for decades now in one form or another. For the past four years, my practice has been focused on Tibetan Buddhist teachings, breathing and mindfulness. Detachment. Being here now. Observing the mind. Freeing myself from the suffering that comes with identifying with and taking seriously the content of that endless stream of thought.

The practice of taming one’s mind pays off after a while, and I felt I was doing pretty well. There are many moments through the day when I am able to observe the thoughts. I am able to smile at them.

I am sometimes able just to be, just to surf on the foam of naked reality. Sit with the uncomfortable knowledge that there’s nothing to hang on to. To look around me and laugh.  To laugh with joy at the unbelievable miracle of being. Laugh at the silliness of my human propensity to want safety. Laugh at small mind’s indefatigable attempts at creating something for me to hang onto.

When I remember that everything I hang onto is illusion, I vacillate between pangs of terror and lungfuls of bliss.

Yes, I thought I was doing pretty well and felt confident that this visit with my mother would be different. Better.

What I realized about halfway into the first full day of my visit is that much of my success at being calm and letting things go stems from the fact that I have constructed for myself a life relatively free of antagonists. Jack Kornfield is quick to point out that many of us can get our minds to behave well on a retreat; the real test comes opon re-entry to the real world with its grouchy spouses, whining children, nosy in-laws, traffic jams and micromanaging bosses.

For my visit with my mother, I had to remind myself again and again (about every five minutes, in fact) of the various teachings that have got me this far. I reminded myself of things like what Olivia and Suki and others have said in response to earlier posts on the topic of giving unsolicited advice.

I reminded myself that my mind was making judgments, but there was no absolute reality behind those judgments whatsoever.

I reminded myself that just being on earth in this moment, alive for now and able to reach out and touch my mother’s hand was a miracle to stop and breathe in and savour.

When a remark started to rise to my lips and I knew its origin was a judgment, I reminded myself that I did not fly 1000 miles to make my loved one feel bad, to hurt her feelings, to tell her how to keep house, to admonish, to nag, to be my old obnoxious self.

I reminded myself that I flew those 1000 miles just to be with her. To bask in her presence and let her drink up mine. To hold her hand while crossing the street. To sit next to her for hours in the back room whose bay of windows looks out onto the deep backyard and birdbath while stringing colourful glass beads on wire. Look, Mom, what do you think of this one? Are you about ready for some supper?

At first I was doing nothing more impressive than biting my tongue. The judgmental thoughts were there; I simply wasn’t giving them voice. After a day or two of observing these thoughts without acting on them, however, they began to rise with less seductive pull and less frequency.

A new energy danced between us, and it gave rise to something that had never happened for us before.

Tales from the South and Star Party

Man, I have the coolest friends ever.  First I emailed my buddies S and D about my upcoming visit back to Arkansas, and that got me an invitation to a star party.

Then I emailed another old friend, and she wrote back the following:

I would love to meet you at the Starving Artist Cafe on Main Street in the “Argenta District” of North Little Rock. I can meet you on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday next week. On second thought, can we have dinner at the Starving Artist next Tuesday evening, 6/28?

The owner of the restaurant, Paula Morell, produces a nationally syndicated weekly radio show (NPR) called “Tales from the South“. She records the show at the restaurant every Tuesday evening. Those with dinner reservations get to be in the live audience for the show. There is live music as well as southerners telling interesting stories. It’s lots of fun. Let me know if you can/would like to do this and I will make the reservations. In fact, your mom and Mike might like to join us. Whadda ya think?

Excited to be seeing you again,
J

Is that not the coolest? This is my first time not to make a detailed plan for how my friends and I will see one another. I’m just throwing these emails out there and then seeing what comes back.  Wow!

Thinking of You, Grandpa

The other day I was aware all day that were he still alive, it would have been my maternal grandfather’s birthday. One of the gifts I gave my mother was the knowledge that a shitty dad can still be a good grandpa. To commemorate his birthday, I’d like to remember some things I associate with him.

fireflies in a Mason jar
being sent around the backyard to gather fallen twigs under the hickory trees as he got the grill started
the hydrangea bush that grew pressed against the shady side of the house
the rabbit that sometimes hid under there
possum stories
the way he imitated the baying of his hunting dogs when he told possum stories
his tomato garden
being sent down into the garden to pick sprigs of mint for the adults’ mint juleps
the banded woolly bears that liked the mint plants
his posture (very straight)
the funny grunts and humming that covered up his Tourette-like vocal ticks
how he always fell asleep on the sofa after supper
Hee Haw on television
and Lawrence Welk
little colored wooden golf tees
wiffle balls for practicing driving in the backyard
being taught to hit one of those little plastic balls
tomatoes lined up on the window sill…all varying stages of green to pink to red
the smell of the inside of his sedan; it smelled like a car that was never driven with the windows down
and like cigar smoke

Grace in Small Things – 288

  • Being up and on the cushion at dawn.
  • The message that came to me while I sat there:  “just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean it’s not still there.”
  • Going right away before I had time to get anxious to fill out a volunteer application at the organization that answered my email of earlier this week.
  • Helping Sylvain shovel his driveway and put wiper fluid in his van.
  • Making snow ice cream! While I was helping Sylvain’s dad eat some, he got to laughing at my stories of making snow ice cream as a child. My mom says it’s safe to eat snow so long as it’s a good long snow and you skim from the top. I told him that the first three inches of snow cleans the sky, and you’re safe to eat the fourth inch.

Truth or Fiction Game – Answers

I experimented with many illicit substances as a teenager.  TRUE. Nothing very interesting to tell here except that I did a bit more than merely experiment with weed. I was rather fond of it for a while there. I never did anything with a needle, and I did not enjoy my one or two tastes of coke. Nasty stuff. My mother’s many admonitions that dropping acid would make me think I could fly off a building did not stop me from trying it, but did make me cautious about size of dosage. Congratulations, Mom. My absinthe parties were a lot of fun, complete with home-distilled absinthe made with real wormwood (not the legal version without wormwood).

I have chewed coca leaves purchased on the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. TRUE. That was in the mid to late eighties. My Spanish prof (turned common law husband) was a member of Partners of the Americas. He brought me along as his assistant and together we presented a workshop to Bolivian English teachers on the language teaching method Total Physical Response (TPR). Along the streets, especially in the market district, you could see women in their traditional dress sitting on blankets that they had spread out in the shade of a building. They laid out the little bundles and bowls of what they had for sale. A few of them had coca leaves up for offer, and I wanted to try using them the same way the Bolivian pickers use them to ward off fatigue and cold. So I bought a bunch, assembled a small wad and stuffed it in my cheek. I don’t remember the effects, if any, and only vaguely remember not liking the taste.

The largest age gap between me and someone I dated was forty years. TRUE. I have blogged about Dr. Jones once or twice. He is the one whom I accompanied to Bolivia, and he is the one to whom we were all indebted for the authentic absinthe. He and I were an item for about seven years and lived together for four or five of those years. It was a lovely time in my life, and we remain friends. He now lives with a lady friend his own age.

When I was 15, I was caught by a priest playing naked Frisbee on the grounds of a seminary. TRUE. I was quite the little exhibitionist when I was a teenager. Plus I was completely taken with the 60s and everything to do with the era of peace, love and free anything. I memorized all the lyrics to the rock musical HAIR and imagined myself getting nude in the mud at Woodstock. Since getting naked was no big deal to me, I loved any dare to do so. My little friends and I would throw toga parties and I would run around with a bed sheet draped over ONE shoulder.

Close to my house in the Heights in Little Rock was the headquarters of the Catholic Diocese. It was housed in a group of ancient buildings that had once hosted seminarians. The gates of the mysteriously beautiful brick, ivy-covered complex were left open all the time, and folks who lived nearby made a habit of going there to walk, skate, exercise their dogs or toss a ball with their kids on the baseball diamond. In back was a wooded area that hid a steep ravine where generations of children had at some point in their coming-of-age sneaked off to explore and earn spankings or groundings from worried parents. Down there were slippery, moss-covered rock walls to be scaled by nimble 11-year olds, a waterfall, and a statue of the Virgin who was almost always holding a small bouquet of freshly picked wild flowers.  I think a nearby plaque identified her as Our Lady of the Ravine.

One sunny summer day, an older boy proposed naked Frisbee to me and two of my girlfriends. I was jazzed by the idea and suggested we bring a camera. We had to be very furtive because people were walking their dogs around the loop, so we chose a spot off to one side, partially hidden by trees. We tossed the Frisbee only a few times, mostly busying ourselves with capturing our daring act on film. I was posing against a large oak tree with my nude back to the camera when we were spied by a white-haired woman walking her little white-haired poodle. We quickly put our clothes back on, having noticed her scowl. About three minutes later, a middle aged man in black clothes and a white collar approached us and asked to speak to us. As I remember it, I was the one brave enough to go up to him and allow him to interrogate me while my friends hung back a few yards to eavesdrop. He calmly and politely explained to me that the seminary was private property, but that they welcomed the public to come there for their picnics and walks and ball games. My friends and I were welcome there, as well, he said. However, he said, we were expected to keep our clothes on.  “Yes sir,” I said. And that was that.

My mother used to assuage my worries over being so hairy by telling me I could be in the circus when I grew up. TRUE. At some point when we were still living in California I accompanied my mother to a school where she was either teaching or volunteering, I’m not sure which. One of the kids came up to me and asked me why I was so hairy. Do you remember those moments in your childhood when some difference about you was pointed out to you by another child? I remember all of them. I remember the day my freckles were brought to my attention. Adults would fawn over my hair colour (it was flaming red when I was born and had changed to strawberry blond by the time I was five). On this particular day, I was made aware that other children did not have a lot of arm hair. I had so much corn-silk coloured hair on my arms that I really looked like a bird ready for flight.  In spite of the fact that I morphed into some sort of extroverted, psychotic demon during my adolescence, I was a VERY shy child and wanted desperately for the spotlight NEVER to land on me.  And so I begged my mother to cut the hair on my arms. She wouldn’t do it, but she tells me that one of my babysitters–an older friend–often took it upon herself to groom me in this way when I was in her care.  For some reason, I’m no longer that hirsute. I guess it was like the down of a pre-adult stage. At some point I molted.

My navel is pierced. TRUE. My second husband, Pete, asked me to have my navel pierced and I did so. I wore jewelry there for a few years. Later I realized I had done that for him, not for me, and had never myself really wanted it. So I took out the jewelry, but the piercing remains.

In university, I audited trigonometry just for the fun of it. TRUE. Although I had barely scraped by with low Ds in algebra in junior high–in spite of many hours of one-on-one tutoring (I was granted the D by Mrs. Cann out of pity and to recognize my effort), in university, it all finally clicked. I got it. And I enjoyed it! Astronomy was so fun. I was drawn to physics, too. Someone must have mentioned to me that the astronomy questions would be easier if I had trig, so I audited it. The prof was absolutely fantastic. Soon I was grooving through the homework for both astronomy and trig, and enjoying the tie-ins between them.

My first husband is  serving 50 years in the Arkansas correctional system and has a book coming out next year in which I play a major role. TRUE. The book part I only learned of the other day, through my blog, no less. Take a look at the very last comment on this post.  Pretty wild, eh? The publishers have given his book a new title, which he doesn’t like but has no say over. You can see a marketing blurb for the upcoming book here. It’s pretty cool because on the book blurb it says, “William W. Allen is an exemplary inmate….”

In response to that blog comment, I sent Bill my new address on the back of a post card to the jail where he is serving out the remainder of his sentence. (He was moved from the prison population to a small county jail on what is called an Act 309 to ease prison overcrowding. Only highly trusted inmates are eligible for that move.) A few weeks later, I received a letter from him in which he says, “I hold you personally responsible for me [sic] being the person that I am today.”

I have a small yin-yang tattoo on my right buttock. FALSE. Congratulations to Tom for winning the contest. You might think that was too sneaky since you would have no way of knowing, but actually had you used the SEARCH window on my blog and put in the word “tattoo,” you could have found my Things I Have Never Done post, in which I mentioned never having been tattooed. Also, Sylvain reminded me that in my post about visiting the nudist park two summers ago, complete with photos, there is proof positive that my ample, very white, right buttock is unmarred.

Thank you, everyone, for participating! :)  Tom is also doing the game now, so check it out. Oh, and Sylvain plans to do it in the next day or two.

Grace in Small Things – 160

  • Pickled okra.
  • A day to hang out with my little brother. We hit the River Market, rode the trolley, and toured the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. All fun!
  • Hugs! Stopping in The Flying Saucer to say hi to a former bookstore coworker, I got hug number one. Then at the public library I spied another former coworker from my clerking days and got hug number two!
  • Coming back to Mom’s house to find she had fixed us up some red beans and rice for supper. The whole house smells SO GOOD!
  • The fact that my mom and I can talk very freely and easily about where important papers are kept, what kind of funeral each of us wants, organ donation and all of that. We think alike. We both want everything done in the most economical and environmentally-friendly way possible. What a blessing to be able to talk about such things now instead of having to guess later.

Grace in Small Things – 159

  • Watching Mom’s favorite British sit-coms with her last night.
  • A cool, rainy day…perfect for curling up with a good book.
  • A friendly game of bridge with my brother, Mom and her friend/neighbor. I had not completely forgotten how to play. It was fun!
  • My good health. I know that a whole day with no back ache, headache, cramps, flu or any other ailment is not to be taken for granted. I am thankful.
  • The joy I get from peeking in on all of you to see what creative things you are up to.

Grace in Small Things – 158

  • A small, quiet get-together with two of my dear long-time friends. It’s so nice to have some friends who remain just as close, no matter how many years I’ve been away.
  • A sunny day that allowed us to sit out on the back patio under the oaks and hickories.
  • Getting a request from a classmate and having the kind of boyfriend who is willing to go to my place and search my laptop, then send her the needed document.
  • The beautiful spread my mom put together for my company: brie, red seedless grapes, guacamole and chips, melon, almonds, celery, cauliflower, carrots, olives, dip.
  • Meditating in front of Mom’s floating Buddha.

Grace in Small Things – 156, 157

  • The Shambhala Sun. The writing is so good, I can’t NOT share it.  This month’s article by Diane Ackerman, for example… or last month’s story called The Shitty Monk…sent me reeling in circles looking for someone to whom to read aloud.
  • A lone Great Egret standing on a snag, watching the schools of shad swim by, waiting for her chance.
  • Good conversation with Mom’s cottage neighbors.
  • Getting to show Lindsay, the young Minnesotan woman to whom Mom rents out the trailer on her property, what a possum is. We found one sleeping in a cranny under a plank beside the house and pulled the wood aside long enough for a good look at the critter’s long snout and pretty, sharp teeth. Then I made them put the plywood back and let the poor thing go back to sleep.
  • Inviting a neighbor over to work on her quilt while Mom and I made earrings.
  • Back in Little Rock, lunch with two old friends. Hugs, catching up on their lives.
  • Meeting one of Mom’s city neighbors and discovering a common interest in the parallels between mysticism and chaos theory, contemplative prayer, Rumi. You never know when or where these crossings might happen!
  • Toad lily.
  • Stopping in my old workplace (the funnest place I ever worked) to say hello. They still have kind things to say about me and the manner in which I used to “run” the office. The owner told me she never did quite get why I used to harp at them to do things a certain way. Now that she is running it, she understands!
  • The wild Wellies my mommy bought me today. OH, it’s going to be a fun fall/winter now!

Grace in Small Things – 155

  • The Betty LaDuke posters decorating the stairwell at Mom’s lake house.
  • Bathing with goat’s milk soap made by local folks.
  • Eggs from Lindsay’s Heifer Project chickens.
  • The arrangement of flowers that greeted us when we arrived at the lake house. Thank you, Lindsay! The sprig of rosemary gives it a heavenly scent!
  • Turtles sunning on a log.
flowers and fresh eggs

flowers and fresh eggs

Grace in Small Things – 84

  • The venerable Ajahn Chuen was WMG’s teacher for nine years, though he passed away last summer. Nevertheless, because of the affiliation, I am welcome to the weekend meditation retreats at the Midwest Buddhist Meditation Center in Warren, Michigan, just across the river.  I managed to accrue enough comp time to have Friday off and I am going to my first ever meditation retreat.  I bought a sleeping bag and white clothes just for the occasion.
  • How much better I feel just having applied for another job recently, even though it might not pay a living wage. Because it is an internal posting, I was required to notify my manager that I was applying…which, by the way, has completely changed the power balance between us this week.
  • Sitting outside on Sheila and Gerry’s porch tonight, petting Tom Cat while holding an umbrella over both of us in the light drizzle. Cat contact is good for the soul.
  • Having someone from another department say to me today, “good letter to the editor.”
  • The fifth little Grace doesn’t fit in a bullet point. I have to tell you the background…

Over ten years ago I was hired as office manager of a little indie bookstore in Little Rock. I am a bit, er, fastidious you might say, and took my job very seriously. I worked with a number of artistic types and scatterbrained folks. I was quite the mother hen, making big labels for all the drawers so people would put things back where they belonged, otherwise the tiny basement office would constantly be a hazard zone with tape guns and scissors and packing peanuts strewn everywhere. If I did not stay on top of the situation, before I knew it Mr. UPS would be ringing the back door buzzer with a dolly full of boxes of books and no room on the floor to unload them. SIGH!

I came up with creative ways of getting the booksellers to cooperate with me in keeping the store running smoothly. For example, they had a tendency to let me know we needed to order more shopping bags when they were giving away the very last shopping bag. So I made a sign that said “TELL KELLY TO ORDER MORE BAGS” and inserted it into the stack of handled paper bags under the counter about fifty bags from the bottom of the pile.

I am short. I depended heavily on the two little blue step stools when I needed to reach items on high shelves. But every time I turned around, someone would have unpacked a box of new books onto my stool.  As if it were a table. We had an unloading table.  A large one. And it was available for unpacking books so long as you didn’t clutter it up with scissors and tape guns and all those things you should have put back in the labelled drawers when you were done with them! So I politely told the receiving clerks please not to do that.

They kept doing it.

I asked them again please to keep the stool free, as I needed to grab it all the time to step on and reach things.

Sigh. There was just no winning this battle. Nobody was listening to me. What? Was I not queen of the office? My office. My rules. NO STACKING BOOKS ON THE STOOL.

So one day in my exasperation I grabbed the black marker we use to label boxes of returns and wrote across the top of the stool: “THIS IS NOT A TABLE.”  I added a smiley face for good measure, just in case that might help me not to come across as the meanest office manager ever.

I had a coworker, the sweetest young woman you could ever hope to meet in your life.  I love her to death. We all did. She just thought I was the cat’s meow, too. A few years after I had moved to Canada, the store owner and I were talking about this young woman. He was telling me how much she adored me …so much so that she made him GIVE HER the little blue stool after I left.

A little while ago I was on her social networking site and decided to look at her photo album. Do you know what I found?

NotaTable

Joy Rebel Mission: Give

Aha! I am not a week behind and I’m not squeaking in under the wire. I’m right on top of this Joy Rebel mission.

Today while chatting with my interviewer as she looked over my application, I was asked about my first volunteer job, which I did from age 25 to 28. I was an infant stimulator (aka baby rocker) and sometimes Spanish interpreter at Arkansas Children’s Hospital baby unit.  I’m sure I perked right up when she asked me to tell her more about that. What amazing memories I have from that time in my life.

I originally chose that volunteer job because at the time I was married to a man serving fifty years without parole in Cummins Prison…down there in cotton country in south Arkansas.  He and I were only allowed to see one another for 4 hours every week when he was a Class I (earned through good behaviour) and once every two weeks when he was a Class 2. We didn’t get to visit at all when he messed up and got thrown in the hole.  But I digress.

I had skin hunger.

Holding babies fed my skin hunger.

Wow, the memories keep coming back. For a while I taught Japanese at a boys’ and girls’ club, part of a Judo program for youth at risk. I will never forget the one little boy who wanted to be a gang leader because they have cars and fancy jewelry. He was only about 11 years old, but he could rattle off the Japanese syllabary like nobody’s business…better than the Judo Sensei, better than  the maintenance guy who sat in on the lessons (Hi, Frederick!)

One of the most interesting volunteer stints I ever had was when I accompanied my Spanish prof to Bolivia to teach English teachers there the TPR method of language teaching. I brought back some hierba mate, a gourd and bombilla.

Another intriguing job was at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics–first as a tour guide at Einsteinfest and later as an usher for concerts and lectures. For my trouble, I got an Einstein action figure doll. There was this really quiet IT guy where I last worked, and one day he asked me where I had gotten the Einstein doll, which–still in its packaging–adorned the shelf over my desk. When I knew I was doing a huge material purge to move here, I gave him the doll.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear that I have gotten at least as much as I have given in each of these pro bono positions.

Aside from responding to the odd plea for donations to this or that cause that comes along now and then, my only regularly scheduled giving of late has been to Canadian Blood Services. They take a pint every 56 days.

But today! Today I got my police background check form, my health form and my requisition for a 2-step TB test. The training I need in order to work one-on-one with clients is not offered again until September, so that gives me lots of time to read. Also in the interim I am allowed to do clerical stuff, like reception.

I used to think that in order to feel my life had been worthwhile, I would have to do something really big before it’s all said and done…like run a daycare for homeless kids or go overseas to dig wells…or go to Appalachia with Habitat. Lately, though, I’m starting to see that no act of giving is too small. Every smile counts. Every hello to a lonely neighbour counts. Every quarter put in a parking meter for a stranger counts.

Every goofy, uplifting message written on a sticky note and placed somewhere to cheer the person who finds it, counts.