Poetry Words

I just finished reading Joy Harjo’s two memoirs: Crazy Brave and Poet Warrior. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was the 2019 United States Poet Laureate, her home being Tulsa, Oklahoma. One day this summer, while searching in a bookstore for my next read, I landed upon one of the books mentioned above, and two months later, purchased the next. Such wonderful writing and wisdom.

Don’t take offense poets, but it’s often I just don’t “get it.” By that, I mean I don’t understand the certain meaning of poems, although I find the words beautiful. Powerful descriptions and rhythms. I have to admit, I struggled with a few poems in our own book, written by Sally and Diana. Luckily, they were okay with that.

Joy Harjo’s poetry holds honest personal messages, not only for her, but for all of us. Admittedly, there were a few poems I struggled to understand, but that’s not unusual for me. I found her story and those of the indigenous as reading I couldn’t put down.

Years ago, while living in western Nebraska, my curiosity was sparked and I became enamored with Indian culture, especially their art and jewelry. This was long before we lived in Tucson for twelve years, influenced by the Tohono O’odham and the Pascua Yaqui Indians. The ironic part is Mari Sandoz lived in western Nebraska, in the Sandhills. I may have heard of her, but never read one of her books until much later in life. She authored books like These Were the Sioux and Sandhill Sundays, describing her relationship with the Natives there.

I’m not sure why I was so interested in the indigenous. Living in central Nebraska, I had little exposure to Indians. Derived from our school readings, I viewed them as warriors from the past, makers of arrowheads. Nothing else.

In the seventies and eighties, my husband and I and our children lived 79 miles from the Pine Ridge Reservation. It was the first time I’d heard of it. However, I liked the name “Pine Ridge” and thought it sounded cool but was totally unaware of their lives, the vast poverty (check re-member.org) until I had a young Indian student around age nine, bused from Pine Ridge to a close school I was serving as a speech therapist. I was told he had language problems. I could never discern if he did because he spoke very little and lowered his eyes, not participating in any spontaneous conversation. I didn’t understand the reason. I only saw him a few times before he stopped coming. I never asked why.

More than any history book or novel, Harjo’s recounting of tribal myth, ancestry, music and poetry has educated me. That’s what writing can do. That’s what reading can do. There are so many books with authentic voices, like Harjo’s. So many books to help us see a world besides our own. I’m looking forward to reading Joy Harjo’s American Sunrise as soon as I get to the bookstore. I want to know so much more.

Home Sweet Home

Learning to Cook

Every so often, Sally sends me a picture of a recent dish she has made, like huevos rancheros dressed up, plated on bright flowered dishes or her crepes with chicken, covered with a white sauce and roasted peaches. Never mind her desserts. Then, there’s her husband, a connoisseur of grilling. Visiting my sisters recently, I ate a filet grilled just right by my brother-in-law to a perfect medium. It tasted as rich as a large serving of butter melting on corn on the cob. Even better.

I too, cook and consistently make our meals for my husband and I. On a restricted diet, I really don’t have a choice. Have you ever tried to find a recipe that eliminates onion and garlic? Luckily, desserts don’t require it. However, I do have a sophisticated technique for snapping fresh green beans while watching the news, pulling frozen hamburger from the freezer to thaw so my husband can brown it for spaghetti, quickly beating eggs for a nice, quick evening breakfast, or buying 85% chocolate bars for dessert. In reality, I’m a little more creative than that and don’t mind cooking. It’s just I don’t spend enough time perusing cookbooks or fine-tuning that special recipe that makes taste buds laugh gleefully, begging for more. 

I also didn’t take the time to cook with my children, unlike my son-in-law. He is the main meal-maker in the household and allows our grandchildren to work in flour until the kitchen is white as a ski slope. He helps his son and daughter with recipes and techniques. Our granddaughter began experimenting as young as age ten, discovering she loved baking. Now age fourteen, she has fine-tuned a vanilla frosting, pleased that my husband asks her to make it so he can eat it straight out of the bowl, unconcerned it’s for her cake. I haven’t been foolish enough to ask how high his cholesterol is. 

Once, while our kids were in high school, I decided it was time I had help in the kitchen. I came up with the senseless idea they would be responsible for planning the evening meal, preparing it with no help from me. No suggestions, no giving them a cookbook, no recipe from my recipe box. These lack of instructions from a teacher, no less.

That evening, the girls began their new adventure as chefs. Arriving home from school, I was anxious to see what they’d prepared. I quickly changed clothes and joined the family for our evening meal. Two bowls sat in the center of the table, one filled with barely warm, lumpy mashed potatoes. The other bowl held thick, undiluted tomato soup to serve as gravy. Of course, it stayed untouched as I quickly figured out something to serve as a meal. Frustrated, and yes, a little angry, I stared at the blobs of tomato soup and pieces of potatoes covering the kitchen counter, nixing the idea of turning our children into chefs. It never crossed my mind they needed guidance, which meant allowing some messes in the kitchen as they learned. 

Luckily, our children eventually learned to cook and years later, looking back, the girls and I laugh about that meal they concocted while I search our pantry, trying to figure out the evening meal.

Bob Dylan 1963

Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska is being torn down after serving the community with concerts and other large events for sixty-seven years. I was fifteen the first time I stepped into the auditorium to experience the thrill and wonder of musical performances. I owe this to my father, who was clearly a music addict.

He loved music in many genres and purchased album after album, introducing us kids to the world of music. There was Al Hirt with his trumpet, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, their song, Taste of Honey, pounding from a console in our living room as our children and their cousins choreographed a dance they performed over and over, delighted as they filled my parents’ living room with laughter. He bought country records – Eddie Arnold, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell. He raved over Barbara Streisand when her first album debuted in 1963. We listened to classical: Mantovani’s cascading strings, Andre Previn and Henry Mancini. Of course, we siblings had favorites – the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and the addition of folk music by Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, the New Christy Minstrels and the inimitable Bob Dylan.

It was Bob Dylan that “wooed” my father to Pershing. In March 1966, while I was at my friend’s house not a quarter mile away, he called. “You want to go to the Bob Dylan concert in Lincoln?” What? Really? A concert?  Of course I wanted to go! He bought tickets for he and Mom, my friend Peggy, and me. 

The night of the concert, I’m pretty certain my friend and I were the only teenagers accompanied by parents. The auditorium was packed with college students that screamed and clapped as Bob Dylan entered the stage, his long, super-curly hair sticking out this way and that, not really a true mullet, but something similar. He finished his hair style with uneven sideburns. During the performance, my father tapped his foot in time to Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. I was completely mesmerized. No wonder. It was my first concert. But, maybe I was so absorbed because I was inhaling all the marijuana smoke wafting everywhere? I was clueless about that and thought the haze was used for special effect. Visual, not the same special effect it was for all the college students surrounding us. It didn’t matter, really. It became a great motivator to attend many more concerts. Minus parents.


I recently listened to an NPR interview with an archeologist discussing research she and her peers had completed on hunters/gatherers years ago. They discovered that 80% of the women were also hunters and even had a favorite weapon. Their children were taken with them and learned at a very young age to hunt. The archeologist said that roles for men and women were intermingled and there was no assignment of either-or. It was about survival.

Clearly, my rural family was not considered hunters nor gatherers, but our responsibilities while growing up on a farm in Nebraska were also mixed. It was our mother who sought employment after our cornfield was decimated two years in a row due to hailstorms. She “pulled up her bootstraps,” as she liked to say, took a typing and shorthand class and applied for a job at our small bank. She worked there over forty years. At the same time, our father worked the cornfields once again, hoping for summer rains, minus hail. He “put up” hay for the animals’ winter feed, kept the machinery running, a constant job, and took care of us kids while Mom was at work. He wasn’t really babysitting; it was more taking us with him to work the fields. 

When Mom arrived home from work at 3:00, Dad drove the pick-up to the house and they both drank a big cold glass of sun tea. Mom changed into working clothes, tended garden to prepare for canning fruits and vegetables, while Dad hoed the weeds and helped pick green beans. On the weekend, they dressed chickens with Dad killing them, pulling the feathers and Mom dressing them. At 5PM, they headed to the barn for the evening milking while we kids fed the cows, baby calves and loud squealing pigs. 

During holidays, both worked at fitting a big turkey into the roaster. Mom made the rest of the sides and pies. Dad made a load of different types of candy. All of us cleaned the house for the upcoming event. This lobbing of back-and-forth roles was just natural and without it being said, we all understood that helping each other and doing what was needed to survive was just a way of life, one intermingled. “That’s a man’s job,” or “a woman’s job,” just didn’t surface in our home. I’m glad it didn’t. It certainly tamped down ideation on defining who and how someone should be. 

Sixteen Paws

Dog-sitting can be quite a fiasco. Our daughter and family travel quite a bit and we babysit their three dogs at their home, taking our own Rusty with us. We might stay at her house anywhere from two nights to two weeks. The dogs are quite a mix. Of course, any animal lover knows their pets have distinct personalities. Our “herd” does also.

First comes our ten-year-old Rusty. Of course, his name gives away his color. He hates sleepovers and is not fond of staying anywhere but in his own home, own bed and with his own parents, being us. When we are dog-sitting and intend to run a few errands, even before we’ve reached the car, Rusty has jumped off the living room couch, scrambled through the doggie door, charged down the deck stairs, run to the five-foot fence, jumping over it, swifter than a deer and meets us at the car. His message clearly, “You’re not leaving me here!”

Second, there’s Piper. A seven-year-old lab, a rescue of unknown mix, clearly the slacker of the bunch. Our daughter lives on five acres next to neighbors who own four mules, a horse and goats. Any bray from the mules that reaches the dogs relaxing inside and the three of them charge out the doggie door, scrambling over each other as they bark all the way down the deck steps to check out the mule status as to who did it. Piper? She stays curled up on the couch, raises her head and just watches them tear outside with her soft, dark brown eyes and contrasting tan eyelashes. If she could talk, I’m sure she’d say, “fools.”

Third in line is Rocky, a five-year-old and pure-bread Australian shepherd with black and light gray fur, brown legs with white socks and one blue and one brown eye. He’s clearly the sovereign king alpha of the clan. I do mean alpha. He and Rusty abhor each other and keep a good amount of distance away from each other. More like a big circle. If per chance they mistakenly enter each other’s territory, Rocky’s eyes narrow as if looking directly into the sun and Rusty rumbles a low growl, a ludicrous move on his part, considering Rocky could take him down with one paw behind his back. It’s a stroke of luck Rocky doesn’t, allowing Rusty to continue living in his delusional world of believing it’s him who’s the tough guy. 

Last, but not least, is Milo, their nearly three-year-old mini-Australian shepherd. He’s small and full of personality. A canine Johnny Carson, he has dark and light brown splotches all over his body. Milo’s white legs have a few small brown spots dotting them from his knees on down. His eyes are light blue and constantly scouring the household for food of any color, texture or taste, wrappers included. We’ve all learned to never leave food on the table nor anywhere else within his short stature reaching distance. However, he’s quite adept at using chairs or footstools to reach his goal. A warning: If you leave your plate to quickly grab a glass of water, salt, pepper, etc., before the time it takes to yell his name, your food disappears, like magic. Only it’s not, it’s Milo. But he’s so darn cute with his bobbed tail, he’s quickly forgiven. 

Like I said, the herd of dogs are something else, pure entertainment. Though my husband and I would much rather sleep in our own bed, Rusty included, we are always willing to watch our daughter’s dogs, especially me. It’s a little piece of heaven, being with four dogs, all at one time. And now, as a volunteer, I’m going to get ready to head to a puppy rescue near me. Pure delight!

Hands, Sweat and Dimples

As mentioned in a prior blog, my husband and I and our son and family spent nearly a week in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Our granddaughter, now six, is pure delight and of course, we would say that – she’s our granddaughter. That age is energy loaded, as if her batteries are super charged. A beautiful child with olive skin, shiny blacker than black long hair like her mother’s, and brown eyes that open wide for added expression when she speaks of a subject she’s intent about. Her left cheek has a long dimple, just like her father’s and just below the right corner of her mouth is a tiny one, an indentation. The two together embellish her smile and laughter. I can’t see them enough.

She also passionately loves dogs, just like me. She’s my true companion. In Steamboat, I’m not sure if people have dogs, or dogs have people. They’re everywhere with their owners. On the streets, outdoor patios, hikes, in front of shopping stores, panting happily and eyeing the next child that just might want to stroke their heads or scratch their bellies a time or two. My granddaughter willingly does so. She’s learned to ask, “Can I pet your dog?” Ninety-nine percent of the time, the owner smiles and replies, “Sure, he’s friendly.” She does so as her dimples show and she emits a sweet “a-a-a-a-h” sound, as if the dog is the most precious one she’s pet yet. She follows it by looking up at the owner, “He’s so cute…” a phrase gifted to each and every dog she meets. I sigh with happiness. She absolutely has my genes when it comes to dogs.

One afternoon, later in the week, it was fairly warm for the mountains. All of us  were in the cool at our condo and contemplating a nice nap. All but her. Naps and six-year-olds are oil and water. They don’t work. “Let’s go for a walk, just a short one,” I said, envying all the limp bodies sleeping on couches and beds. She hopped off the couch, put away her Nintendo, flashed her dimples and grabbed my hand. 

We had walked just a short distance when we ran upon a young man fixing his bicycle in front of his apartment. I wanted to find a small park, so stopped and asked if he knew of one. His patio door was open and inside stood a caramel and white Australian shepherd watching us, his tail wagging in anticipation. My granddaughter immediately spotted him. “A-a-a-ah,” she said as the owner called him outside. Stroking his soft fur, she told the owner, “Oh, he’s so cute!” The shepherd then ran to her, licked her hand, then found a tree stick to toss, emitting giggles from her. “Here, let me google it. I think there’s a park close,” he said. He pointed down the street. “Just half a mile,” he said, smiling. Half-mile! She wanted eagerly to go. I decided we could do it.

The entire journey to the park, and it was plenty warm, she grabbed my hand, ungrasping it only to say, “My hand’s sweaty” and wiped it on her shorts. Immediately taking my hand once more, we talked of all the dogs she’d seen that day, discovered dandelions in bloom and stood in a tree’s shade a little while to cool off. It was endearing the way she held my hand the entire way and I wondered why I hadn’t done the same with my own children.

She never let go of my hand. For the entire half-mile. I wanted to say, “a-a-a-ah.” Instead, I brushed wisps of damp hair off her face and smiled at her dimpled face, my heart warmer than the heat we were experiencing.  

Bookstore Revisited

We three authors wrote about visiting the bookstore, Off the Beaten Path in our book. The store is located in Steamboat Springs, a great place to visit in the mountains of Colorado. Twenty years ago, in June 2003, our writing group, which was five at that time, traveled to Steamboat, driving two days to attend a writing conference at Rocky Mountain College. During the conference, we happily strolled every morning to two of our favorite places – Molly G’s coffee and the aforementioned bookstore. I have a picture sitting on my bookshelf that shows the five of us standing on steps in front of it.  

I am in Steamboat once more, only this time with my family. It just made sense to journey downtown in search of Off the Beaten Path, wondering if it still existed so many years later, considering the perils of being an independent bookstore, along with Covid added to the mix. It’s there. A different location, smaller, but still alive. When I turned a corner and saw the sign Off the Beaten Path hanging overhead, it was as if I ran across an old acquaintance, happy to see them. 

Cheerful memories flooded in as did melancholy. Back then, we were all full of desire to learn more about the writing process and looked forward to the time spent with each other as writing partners and good friends. Not that I still don’t look forward to workshops and classes, it was just different then, with our group walking the same writing path. So much has changed in the past years, as have we. Less members, long distance moves, spouses requiring more care due to illnesses. 

However, just as the bookstore has changed and down-sized, the memories of former times haven’t. In that, there is contentment.

Growing Up

Our son, the youngest of our children, is visiting us in a few days. We plan on spending nearly a week in the mountains in Steamboat Springs. He has lived in Minnesota since 1998, raising his daughter, who is now twenty-two, graduated from college and on her way into life. He and his partner are currently raising a six-year-old and yes, that’s quite an age gap.

When he graduated from high school, my husband and I happily had the moving van in our driveway. We were headed to warmth in sunny Arizona. He moved with us, but missing his life and friends, moved back to Minnesota the next year. Our children grown and on their own, my husband and I slept soundly at night, with nothing to wake us but a hoot owl in a tree outside our bedroom window. We were unaware as to how our son was managing his world in another state, completely on his own. We found the not-knowing delightful. We’d spent years pulling him by his heels out of bed in the mornings to attend school. Once he graduated, we figured our job was done, no more wringing of hands. We ignored the fact his immaturity was as apparent as the small lizards exploring our patio.

It wasn’t until a few months later, while visiting him, we learned he overdrew his bank account (more than once) buying $3 meals at McDonald’s. Really? We wondered what he was living on, figuring his overdrafts probably exceeded his income. His apartment was smaller than a closet or pretty darn close. We were on the road to more gray hair.

Luckily, things changed. Over the years, it may have progressed slowly, but he matured—a relief to both my husband and me. When it comes to your kids, there are always surprises. This was a good one.

A couple years ago, during zooms and phone calls, he told us he no longer watched television in bed at night.  He was instead reading books. I was surprised, to say the least, considering he never read, buried himself in video games, and tackled maybe just a couple books and only because they were Stephen King’s. 

There were many events that helped our son reach maturity, and I can’t help but believe that to some degree, reading books helped. They expanded his world.  Out of our three children, it’s he and I that share book titles, the stories and our likes and dislikes. Somewhere and somehow, he grew up, raising two daughters, has a successful career and my favorite—is reading! I’m looking forward to seeing him and his family in a few days. Who knows? Maybe he and I will be reading the same book.