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View of mountain peaks from Curtis and Peggy’s back deck in the Applegate River Valley.

As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled to Southern Oregon to see Shakespeare in Ashland, but also to visit blogger Curtis Mekemson and his wife Peggy. Curtis writes a fabulous blog (and he’s a book author, too!) at Wandering Through Time and Place, and in the past years, Peggy has been a contributor. They’re clearly a team and we get to read all about their adventures in life on the blog.

Have you ever listened to someone complain about how people are all on their computers these days and losing touch with other human beings? And then did you compare it to your own experience of blogging and feel sorry for the complaining person because they haven’t met so many friendly, supportive, interesting, honest people that you have, ever since you started blogging? Well, that has been my experience.

The Mekemsons graciously welcomed me to their beautiful home in a beautiful part of the country. The moment Peggy spotted me she came over with arms open wide for a hug. I am touched and honored by their hospitality and friendship. Then I got to know them a little better and found out they are really cool people!! They have a thousand great stories to tell about their past lives and their great kids and grandkids, and what they’re involved in locally, and planned future blog posts, and planned future adventures. I can’t tell you how much fun I had.

After meeting in Medford for breakfast the first day, Curt joined me in the Jeep (Peggy had to run an errand in the Big City) and showed me how to get to their place. We got distracted by a covered bridge.

McKee Covered Bridge in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.

Curt explained that the McKee Bridge was recently restored and is a landmark regarded with some pride in the community. We parked and walked through it. The bridge no longer covers an active road, and is only open for foot traffic. Built in 1917 (as you may have guessed) this bridge was closed in 1956 to vehicle traffic. It is one of the approximately 50 covered bridges remaining in the state of Oregon from a peak of about 450 bridges. The McKee Bridge is currently the 4th oldest in Oregon and the highest, at 45 feet above the water.

Boards mounted on the inside to help people control their graffiti tendencies.

Applegate River, 45 feet below us!

I’m always glad to explore covered bridges and happy that Oregon has so many of them.

They showed me where to put my things and I was happy to see that I got to share the room with my old friend Bone, who has been a world-traveler and companion to Curt for many years. Bone and I got to spend some time together a couple years ago, and he spent a week in Cherokee country with me, seeing the traditional sights, joining me to meet the Cherokee Chief, and then meeting Miss Cherokee and Miss Cherokee Junior. It was good to see him again.

Bone has a glamorous spot in the home. The box beneath him holds all his clothing and gear.

After a somewhat quick tour of their home, which is filled with art they have collected from all over the world (it’s SO beautiful), I had to go right back to the city to catch my first play. Ashland is south of Medford on I-5, and about an hour away from the Mekemson’s place. On the way I got distracted again and had to pull over to take photos.

Fields of hemp spread across the valley. These plants are taller than I am.

Hemp adds another shade of green; a great crop for this climate because it does not require a lot of water.

On the way in, Curt had explained to me how the hemp farms were booming. Hemp is a different plant than marijuana, but over the years, growers had failed to get permission to grow hemp as much as they had failed to legalize marijuana. Finally, with the legalization of marijuana, the hemp growers succeeded as well! There is so much anticipation that this is going to be a crop to make farmers wealthy, they are planting it everywhere. Curt said some growers ripped out their marijuana and planted hemp instead. In this section of the road, the scent of the plants rose up around me on all sides. I saw a guy digging a ditch and asked if I could take photographs. He said “Sure!” and told me that people stop at this farm all the time for photos.

The next morning was luxurious because our play wouldn’t start till the afternoon. We had a lazy morning filled with conversation and coffee and scones. I got a serious tour of their place, and I got to hear their concerns about the loss of many trees on their property. Years of drought has weakened the trees in the forest around them, so when the pine beetles come in and feed on them, the trees have a difficult time recovering. Some have died, and Curt and Peggy hired a crew to come in and remove the dead trees. It is sad to lose the trees, particularly the one up close to the deck that Peggy looked at all the time. Each time I arrived in their driveway, I had to move carefully to avoid the massive piles of brush and the growing stack of logs waiting to be hauled out on a log truck. Curt talks about it in detail in his blog.

Morning sun dries the wet deck and lifts the stratus fractus from the hills.

Looking the other direction at their peaceful patio.

Bloggers do what we do, and before long Curt and I were out in the living room, computers on our laps, preparing the next posts. He was working on a post about the remarkable Mono Lake, and I was working on a post about visiting Tara in Bend.

Curtis Mekemson in his “office” creating more bloggy goodness for us.

The next day began much the same, with luxurious relaxation and conversation. The logging and clearing continued on the property, and we could hear the chainsaws. Peggy contemplated the new view with a missing tree up by the deck. I got to meet some of their deer neighbors.

View from the house.

Fawn follows its momma. See her peeking through the railing?

Hi baby!

With no plays to see on my last day, we had a chance for a different kind of play. We decided to go for a hike to see a Bigfoot Trap! I had never heard of such a thing, and that’s because this is the only known Bigfoot trap in the world. Bigfoot is the common name for the Sasquatch, a tall, hairy, man-like beast that lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. It’s closest cousin is the Yeti. While we hiked, I told them my best Bigfoot story about when I was a kid and playing in the woods with the neighbor kids. Trying to show off and get attention like I always did, I lied and told them I saw a big hairy hand around a tree trunk. They believed me and marched us all directly back to their house and reported it to their parents, whom I did not know were avid Bigfoot enthusiasts. Parents got excited, grabbed their gear and insisted that I take them back to the precise spot and tell them exactly what I saw. Rather than confess, I continued the charade, feeling more embarrassed and miserable the whole time, building a deeper web of lies to cover my tracks. They didn’t find evidence of Bigfoot in the forest that day, and let us go back to playing. I never talked about Bigfoot again to those kids!

Bone came along with us on the hike. This is Curt and Bone at the trailhead.

A closeup of the trailhead shows that Bigfoot hunters are still excited about their quest.

It was a hot day but the trail is shady and cooled by a creek.

This banana slug on the trail appreciated the cool shade.

A group called North American Wildlife Research built the trap in 1974 as part of their goal of proving that Bigfoot exists. It was actively operated for six years, but sadly, they never caught Bigfoot. The trap was built strong and is still intact, though it has been repaired. Today is it not operational, and the moving gate is fixed in place to protect the many humans who come here to see it.

Curt takes a photo of the 10-foot square trap. I like the graffiti that says “Bigfoot was here.”

Despite our obvious fear of imprisonment, Peggy and I were brave enough to step inside.

We got back to the truck and decided to keep exploring the area around Applegate Lake. This country is breathtakingly beautiful and I was in no doubt about why, when this couple had explored the world, this was the place they chose to put down roots. For fun they took me to the California border. Out in the country, border crossings are a bit less formal than on the highways. The dirt and gravel road on the other side of Applegate Lake crosses the California border three times in a mile! There are campsites and swimming holes and no one pays attention to which state they’re in. Except maybe at the first crossing, where a little college rivalry showed up:

The paved road stops at the border. On the right side of the tree, the state of Oregon is celebrated, in the orange and black colors of Oregon State University. On the left side of the tree, yellow and gold is used to celebrate California, the same colors as University of California.

At this point we were famished and headed back home for a real meal. I was eager to make my yummy baking powder biscuits and we started planning our meal as we returned home. There were fresh tomatoes from the garden, eggs, some honey from my bees that I brought them. This was going to be good. First we stood back while delivery men showed up to install their new dishwasher.

Curt wears a Bigfoot T-shirt and Peggy checks out the new bells and whistles.

A table filled with delectables. We were all drooling by the time it was ready and we could sit and eat.

Before I left my friends, we took photos together. I posed with Curt in front of a gift of fabric given to him by another blogger. He was pleased to blend his online blogger community in the real life. Then he asked Peggy and me to pose together and I leaned my forehead against hers in affection at the same time that she reached for my hand. I felt loved.

Peggy rocks the purple!

What a perfect portrait to capture a sweet moment. These two are now so close to my heart. ❤

Set and audience for Hairspray, at the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre.

I enjoyed my time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival so much last year that when I received an email this Spring offering discount early bird tickets, I pounced and bought five. It took me all summer to arrange a visit south, but I finally devised a quick trip with the assistance of a fellow blogger. I only had to drop a couple hints and Curtis extended the invitation as though I had not manipulated him at all! The end of August I made the 5 1/2 hour drive south to see some plays and to finally meet Curtis and Peggy Mekemson from Wandering Through Time and Place.

I met them at a Medford cafe for breakfast and they immediately put me at ease and made me feel welcomed. Curt is the third blogger I have met, and I must admit I have great luck and good taste. My blogger friends turn out to be truly wonderful people in real life. (Take note if you’re reading this, and pat yourself on the back for being so awesome.) We got through introductions and current events in no time, and then I followed them from the cafe to their rural home in some of the most beautiful country in Oregon. They live even farther out in the boonies than I do, so I wanted their help getting out there in case my GPS didn’t work. I got a tour of their beautiful home on their gorgeous property, which I will highlight in my next post.

Then I changed into play clothes, and zoomed back to Ashland.

The set rotated, so the audience was able to see multiple sides of the building.

Prior to my trip Curt and Peggy had raved about Hairspray, which they had already seen, so I saw that one first. They said to keep an eye out for something and that I might realize the truth about a character sooner than they did. I saw right away that the character of Tracy’s mom is played as a transgender woman (though I believe in real life the actor is not transgender), and I love that the relationship of Tracy’s parents was healthy and loving and supportive, and no one ever mentioned it was non-traditional, which helped me to invest more in it as a real relationship and not a gimmick. And then I realized it is the most inclusive cast I’ve ever seen. Jenna Bainbridge, for example, who was partially paralyzed as an infant, has an impressive acting career and plays Tracy’s best friend Penny. There are multiple characters with different abilities, such as Luke Hogan Laurenson who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and Zahra Detweiler who lives with Down Syndrome. These actors played parts in direct support of the story and their inclusion helped enforce Hairspray’s main message of tolerance. It’s not enough to say we welcome everyone, but we also have to act on it. There is a confrontation of body-shaming, of racism, of classism. And somehow, despite all those painful topics, the show is a riot of laughs from beginning to end (in between tears), with dancing to knock your socks off (Katy Geraghty as Tracy dances like nobody’s business), songs that rip your heart out, genuine characters, real love, and so much joy.

After the show I had hours to kill and decided to spend it in town. While inside the theatre it had begun to rain and although warm, the world was soaked. I wandered around gaining my bearings and found a sign on the Thomas Theatre that warmed my heart, and continued the message I had just heard at Hairspray.

Sign says: “We Welcome all races and ethnicities, all religions and creeds, all gender identities, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all immigrants and refugees, all abilities and disabilities, all spoken and signed languages, everyone.”

I wandered into town without an umbrella, while others were better prepared.

I found this mural along the main street.

I had a fabulous lunch with live music.

The rain stopped and I marveled at the landscapes outside of town.

I spent some time in the park with my feet in the water beneath the Atkinson Memorial Bridge 1912.

In that soggy grey day, I was startled to see this notice on the Elizabethan Theatre as I prepared to go to that evening’s play: change of venue due to wildfire.

Though I had noticed no evidence of wildfire and though it was raining, the venue for the play was not at the magnificent Elizabethan Theatre that I am dying to attend. I have not yet seen a play in that outdoor theatre. For air quality safety, during fire season they moved the play to the high school – that part I understand. But when there were no fires and no detectable smoke, why was it still at the high school? My guess is that the fire situation was unstable, and it’s probably a lot of work to move a whole production between venues. Until they know for sure the air is clear, I’ll bet it’s smarter not to move it back. I should have guessed that the high school in Ashland would have a phenomenal theatre.

The set was appealing but not comfortable. Kind of like the story.

All’s Well That Ends Well was well-acted, as I have come to expect at Ashland. It’s a tough story and grapples with the human conditions we all recognize: unrequited love, children that aren’t what we expect, missteps of youth, aging, missteps of mentoring – that kind of fun stuff. But with the Bard telling the story and the massive talent drawn to Ashland every year, it’s a story I was intrigued with. I was consistently irritated with Helen for clearly being better than Bertram and yet not having the self-assurance to rid him from her heart. (Reminds me a little of my own failed attempts at finding a man. I hope I have all Helen’s wit, strategy, and ability, but I hope I spend it on a man who deserves me.)

I drove back through the dark night to my very comfortable bed at the Mekemson’s home.

The next morning I enjoyed much great conversation and coffee and scones until it was time for us all to get ready to go. Curt and Peggy had agreed to attend the next show with me. We had decided on seeing Alice in Wonderland.

Pure melee ensued in the first half of Alice In Wonderland, and this is what the stage looked like at intermission. The debris is made up of feathers, broken pieces of teacup, balloons, and playing cards. Do you recognize the set? Yes, Alice was also held in the High School.

Alice In Wonderland took me back in time, actually, to what this show must have felt like many decades ago when it first astounded audiences in the 1930s. Turns out, that’s exactly what director Sara Bruner had in mind. I noticed how well the story followed the books: Alice in the first half, and Through the Looking Glass in the second. The program noted that every single line was in Lewis Carroll’s own words. My brain somersaulted through scenes, trying to make sense of it all, trying to use the white rabbit as a common theme, trying to find some greater message. But I was bewildered.

At intermission, Curt and Peggy and I gazed back and forth at each other in dumb astonishment for a few moments, finally saying something like, “Well, that was something!” Curt suggested that maybe it would be best viewed on LSD – none of us knowing anyone on LSD we could ask about that. We chatted until the second half began, all telling ourselves good advice on how best to approach the second half. I was unable to follow the advice (just like the story’s heroine), and found myself mouth-open in dumbfounded perplexity. It is a dazzling show! The adventure is undeniable, and I truly wish I could try again to watch it properly. I think one should watch this performance with the mind of a 8 year old child: open, curious, willing and wanting to believe – without cynicism or criticism or vetting. Nothing at all seemed to match, or tell a story, or relate to any other events. Sometimes characters showed up again, and it was not relevant. There was no message, no lesson, no caution, no celebration – just pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and it is wonderful. It is really the stuff of fantastical dreams from the mind of a child. The creativity, artistry, performance, and spectacle are worth every moment of sitting there. Just don’t waste your time trying to figure it out; you’ll only get a headache and probably miss something.

After the show we found a great Mexican restaurant and joked around with the proprietor when we weren’t rehashing Alice some more – reminding each other of all the incredible things we had just seen. Peggy and Curt went home and I stayed in town because I had one more show to see.

I walked around Ashland some more. Spent an hour in a bookstore, browsed shops, then tried a yummy sake (Tentaka Kuni Junmai) before running back up the theatre hill to catch my last show at the Thomas Theatre.

The set of Between Two Knees points you right away to an outdated idea of Indians. It’s in your face, and so is the show. Suck it up, buttercup.

This is the one I drove to Ashland for. Between Two Knees is a production by Indian playwrights and about Indian topics, and also I had been waiting all year for a chance to see a new favourite actor, Rachel Crowl (who I talked about in my blog about Henry V last year). This production comes from The 1491s, a group of storytellers who challenge the history we’ve been taught, and provide an additional perspective: that of the indigenous, who have been actively erased from the story of our country. Oh, and it’s a comedy, as you may have guessed from the title that is easily a double entendre. One of my favourite things to discover in fellow human beings is when they poke irreverent fun and laugh. Bringing up the absolute worst and making a joke that is irresistible is such a great way to talk about trauma and pain. Laugh laugh laugh, people! Why not laugh? Crying won’t change what happened; laughing won’t change it either, but it’s so much more fun and laughing is transformative and releases pressure when stress has built up.

The opening scene is a game show, with actors tackily dressed as Indians, and obviously playing the parts that white people have had Natives play for a century. One Indian spins the colorful, blinking wheel of NAME THAT MASSACRE! And when the wheel lands on a massacre, the Emcee calls out to the audience: “We all know of the — massacre, of course!” The Emcee provides a brief summary of the deaths and destruction of Indians by white people. “Clap all of you who know this one!” No one claps. “No problem!” we are assured, “There are plenty more!” The wheel is spun, Wheel of Fortune style, and it lands on a new name. “The — massacre! Surely you’ve heard of this one!” Again, he describes a slaughter. No one claps, no one has heard of it. Again. Again. Sometimes a person somewhere in the audience claps.

And yes, this is how the story goes all the way through.

We are asked to laugh and cheer and clap as the play details horrendous abuse, murder, removals, rape, kidnap of Indian children and forcing them into religious schools to “Beat the Indian out of them!” Everything is ridiculed, no holds barred, no taboo left untouched, no shock left unexposed. I was dying with laughter. I could barely contain myself. It was ugly and raw and uncomfortable and hilarious. There was an evil priest who abused children. There was a hippie who pretended to know how to conduct an authentic Indian marriage ceremony, while sitting beneath Buddhist prayer flags. They talked about using Indians as sports mascots. They made fun of using white people to play Indians on TV when there were plenty of Indians to fill those roles, and an actor on stage pointed out that he is actually Chinese-Korean. The message being the 1491s were willing to  poke fun at themselves too. There was an Indian in white face. HAAAAAA!!! Come on, that’s funny.

The audience fascinated me, in that some gave themselves up to the artists and let themselves be involved…but some remained stone-faced and never even cracked a smile. The audience was not attacked, but these topics are just topics that we are told we should take seriously. I could tell people were afraid to laugh. There was a couple next to me that were silent and still the whole time. I noticed them especially because I was cackling loudly with glee, sometimes the only person in our part of the theatre who was rolling around on the floor in laughter, so there was quite a disparity. I started up a conversation with them at intermission and found out they both really liked the show – so that was good. Maybe among the silent people there were admirers of what was going on. It must have been easier for me to laugh because I am Indian, or maybe because I love this form of activism so much.

They passed around a donation can, asking people to give to support their group. The host made a call out to different demographic groups in the audience, asking each to give differently based on what they might be able to afford. But at the end he called to white people, “Give as much as you can spare! And don’t feel bad about it, you’ll still own everything.” The final scene was a musical where the whole cast sang about a future when they got rid of the settlers and oppressors forever, and the chorus repeated over and over: “Goodbye White People!”

It was great. I think my description here makes it seem troubling, or maybe confrontational for some people in the audience, and it is not. The creators did a brilliant job and I did not think any portion of this production was inappropriate. I would love to see it again and again. But instead I left the theatre and made my way home through the dark to a little piece of paradise in the Applegate River Valley.

I recall being so pleased that I remembered to get a shot of this scene. Now I’m not sure why…

While in Myanmar in February, and on the trip home, I kept jotting things in the Notes app in my phone. I wanted to be sure and remember to mention them in my blog. I have waited so long that several of the notes don’t mean much to me anymore. What a loss.

But most of the photos I collected into a special folder, and the notes in my phone still remind me of thoughts that never made it into a blog post. Here are my notes, in the order I found them in my phone, which is the order they popped into my head:

  1. shower in toilet. Yes, this was a first for me, but I am told by friends it’s not that unusual. In Myanmar, at a hostel and at one of our hotels, the shower and toilet were the same room. I can’t imagine why. Real estate, you are thinking, and that would make sense, except that the places where this happened were not short on space and the rooms themselves were quite large. In our hotel toilet/shower, the space was as huge as a bedroom, and yet there is the shower head, mounted directly over the toilet, when it could have at least been installed on the other side of the room. There are the distinct disadvantages, such as soaking the toilet paper, filling the wastepaper basket, and dousing the toilet and sink every day so that water spots and soap scum need to be scrubbed off each day. What are the advantages?

    This elaborate box on side of house may hold a shrine? Other houses had a simple rectangle with no adornment.

  2. box thing on house. My guess is that it is a place for a shrine since many many homes had them, they were often decorated, and always in the exact same place on a house. My anthropologist mind tells me there is a ritual/spiritual/cultural reason to place the box in the same place on every home. The box is always on the right front corner of the house as you are facing the house, no matter what cardinal direction the house faces. I tried so many times to describe this to people so I could ask what it was for, but I failed to get anyone to understand. On my last day in Myanmar I remembered to get a photo, so at least YOU know what I’m talking about.
  3. power out. I’ll have to consider this one for awhile. No idea.
  4. chair conversation at restaurant. I remember the restaurant in Mandalay. But I simply cannot remember the context or the content.
  5. 1729 steps. I think this was not a story, but simply to remember how many steps there were from the street to the top of Mandalay Hill.
  6. Rohingya. I did already mention our conversation about the Rohingya with our trekking guide Hein. In a situation that reminds me of Palestinians, the Rohingya have lived in what is now western Myanmar for centuries, but are denied citizenship by the government. Recently, they have been slaughtered and their villages burned, for …apparently for …existing? Hearing about the brutality inflicted against this group of indigenous people by their own government, I expected the Myanmar military to be a constant presence, like police in Egypt. But for the most part, Margaret and I never saw military or police, and the whole country felt absolutely laid back and good-natured. I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that the criminal authorities responsible for mind-blowing violence are relatives of the loving, open, friendly people we met.
  7. honking. Erm, not sure what I wanted to say about this.
  8. recycling. Again, I don’t recall what was on my mind.

    Betel juice spit onto the U Bein Bridge. Betel nut is everywhere, like tobacco.

  9. crepe. For some reason, across the country the primary material chosen for napkins to use while eating is crepe paper. In the US we use it for decoration (think multi-coloured streamers at parties and dances). In Myanmar it was always a grey-blue colour and the rolls were placed at tables for you to tear off a piece and sop up grease from your sticky fingers and mouth. Except…yeah…it’s the worst possible material. Crepe falls apart instantly, and gets stuck to you rather than assists with cleaning. Honestly. Where did this idea come from and why is it so universally accepted?
  10. longyi is the sarong. I’d been calling the wrap worn by men and women a sarong, because I couldn’t remember the name of it. I finally looked it up.  A longyi is a hoop of fabric that is long enough to go from your waist to your toes. To wear it, you step inside the hoop, pull it up, and fold and tuck the fabric in. The tension holds it in place. Nearly everyone wears them in Myanmar. They are versatile. I saw a street person relieve herself in public for example, by loosening the tucked fabric, simultaneously squatting and pulling the fabric up around her shoulders, and doing her business behind the screen. When finished, she stood again, dropping the fabric back to her waist, and securing it once more. On Inle Lake, I saw a woman bathing out on the dock in front of the house using the same method of privacy. The longyi was up around her shoulders and she scooped water up inside the fabric and washed. No one passing by in a boat saw any skin but that on her face and feet.

    This piece of Thanaka wood and grinding stone were made available for my use at our hotel in Bagan. It is used as a cosmetic and sunscreen. One wets the stone with water, then takes the log in both hands and grind it in circles on the stone, till enough powder has been mixed with the water to make a lotion, as you see here. Use your fingers to scoop it up and spread it across your face. It is refreshingly cool for an hour or so, even in the sun. Then it dries up and flakes off.

  11. mingalaba. It turns out this greeting is relatively new (1960s), and introduced intentionally to replace the traditional English greeting by schoolchildren to their teacher each morning. Everyone happily calls Mingalaba! I guess it translates to “blessings upon you,” or “auspiciousness to you.” It can be used to say hello, or goodbye, but we only noticed it being used to say hello. Maybe because they knew we were tourists and would get confused. Ha!
  12. sewers under sidewalks. This one does make sense to me in terms of real estate. Waste water in cities is channeled away in narrow canals beside streets. Large, flat bricks with holes in them are placed over the sewage canals in order to use the space as a sidewalk and also to ventilate the sewage. It’s an efficient use of space and somehow both pedestrian-friendly and distinctly not. Yangon was not the only place I’ve seen this system, but it was certainly the stinkiest city I’ve ever been in.

    I have seen this sign in other countries before, but it still cracks me up. You know the sign was created after enough people fell off – or into – toilets that a demand for instructions was created.

  13. breast feeding. Possibly a remnant of a more isolated, often rural environment only recently opening up to the misplaced scorn of outsiders, women comfortably breast-fed their babies in public spaces. I am a huge fan of this, after having been a mother and became personally aware of how many challenges there are for parents with babies in public spaces where others believe that all the realities of babies (crying, diapers, feeding) must be hidden. So glad to see the open smiling faces of mothers proudly feeding their babies as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Hint: it is.)
  14. bus food stops. Arggh! So, so, so very annoying. Every single – I mean EVERY single bus ride we took in Myanmar included a mandatory stop at a roadside eatery. This means mandatory bus evacuation. Even if the bus is late. Even in the friggin middle of the night when you just took a sleeping pill to try and sleep on the bus despite the discomfort and the noise, yes, even then you have to drag yourself up out of slumber, put on your shoes, and stumble out into brilliantly-lit fluorescent highway stop with noise, people, and smells to which you are not accustomed. Your extreme squinting from the light is not intentional and only a reflex but since it matches your mood you allow the grimace to remain. Then you sit on a curb and shiver and grumble for half an hour to 40 minutes until the bus driver reopens the bus and lets you get back on.
  15. Buddha’s hair. All the pagodas and stupas have relics. A couple of times the relic was believed to be a hair, or multiple hairs from the head of the Buddha. It made me laugh at first because I always imagine the Buddha as bald. Once drawn to my attention, I realized all the Buddhas in Myanmar have hair. I guess the young Buddha was gifting his hairs out as sacred relics, and then eventually made himself bald. But …since it’s the Buddha… both the generosity to the point of baldness and the acceptance of an altered image seem to fit.

That’s all my notes, and the random photos that I also kept for some reason. I am hoping that some of the forgotten things will come back to me now that I’m thinking about them again. If so, I’ll come back here and edit.

Sunshine-AwardMy lovely friend at Appleton Avenue nominated Conscious Engagement for the Sunshine Blogger Award! On this rainy October morning, a sunshine blog post is the perfect choice. Receiving a nomination is humbling and I know I can never fully convey my appreciation that someone would take the time to validate what I’ve been doing here at Word Press. My thanks will come out all jumbled and silly. It’s just… well… it’s so neat. The best I can do is graciously accept.

So thank you Appleton Avenue!! I love your blog for the way you convey your spirit, your honesty, you bravery in baring your real and personal life for all the world to see. You’ve got an irreverent streak that is irresistible to me.

The last time I was nominated for an award, I did some research to find out more about it. I like the way that post went, and was prepared to begin my next foray into researching blogger peer awards. I was stopped in my tracks by the very first post I read, in which Jo, my newly discovered blogger-of-like-mindedness, did all the investigation for me. This is what she found on her post, Blogger to Blogger Awards: The Sunshine Award Unveiled:

It appears that the Liebster Blogging Award and the Sunshine award may have been the same award at one time. I tracked posts to 2008 that had them intermingled. It’s not clear when they split off into distinctive threads but clearly it happened. The purpose of the ‘award’ hasn’t shifted too much over the years. It is essentially a virtual ‘pat on the back’ for a positive or creative blog that inspires others or brings ‘sunshine’ to their world. Typically it appears to originate from one post that really ‘shines’ on that person’s day.

Jo explains the downsides of blogger awards, including their similarity with chain letters, and the upsides, like online networking. And of course, I can’t ignore the greatest benefit, which is the opportunity to pat another blogger on the back and say, “Hey, I dig what you’re doing here.” Read the rest of Jo’s post, and get all the finer details.

Like every blog award, there are a set of rules. I especially like the part where I get to list 10 interesting things about myself. I am the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac, and I tend to enjoy being the one making all the noise in the center of the circle, ha ha. In fact, that can be interesting fact number one.

I am also able to nominate others for the blogger award. The rules contained in the nomination I received say it like this:

  • Present 10 deserving Bloggers with the Award – “who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.”

It’s not my style to nominate. But as I did the last time, I am eager to share with you the blogs I do like to read. In that way I can let the hosts know that they’ve made a positive impact on my life. Also, isn’t the word “blogosphere” kind of fun and spacey?

Ten things about me:

  1. I’m a Rooster (see above)
  2. I almost never make good French Toast, despite the fact that I can prepare a lot more complicated meals with ease. Can anything be more simple to cook, I ask you?
  3. I prefer audiobooks read by people with a British accent.
  4. I’m adamant about proper punctuation and spelling, so much so that when I read poorly written correspondence, I judge the person who wrote it more than I judge the content (I’m terrible, I know). If you find mistakes in my blogs, please tell me so I can edit. Except for the ellipses… I can’t help myself with those.
  5. I still miss my mom.
  6. I’m scared to death of riding a bike in traffic. I live in one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country, and people are always saying how I should bike because it wouldn’t hurt my bad knee so much and because it’s easy exercise, and good for the environment. But I remain irrationally afraid that the moment I’m on a road, I’ll be squashed by a car.
  7. I can still sing the jingle “Two all beef patties, special sauce…” by heart.
  8. My 17-year-old just registered to vote, and it was not my idea. I’m so proud.
  9. I love eating sweet stuff with my coffee, but can’t stand sweet stuff in my coffee. That’s weird. Right?
  10. I have house baggage. My next house must have a bathroom that will allow me to extend my arms in any direction (or better: two of them!), countertops high enough so I don’t get back pain while washing the dishes (are typical people really that short?), and a kitchen that can hold at least four people. At once. Without hugging. I know that exposes the spoiled American that I am, but there it is: I want a bigger place.

Blogs that I really enjoy reading:

  1. The Crazy Bag Lady @ Bulan Lifestyle (you saw that one coming!) But check this out: She found my blog because of my post about the other award, and we’ve been following each other since. Evidence that blogging awards are a force for good.
  2. A Tramp In the Woods. This blog is fun every single day. Fodrambler’s spectacular micro photos of insects are captivating, and his thirst for knowledge about all the woods-dwelling life forms would make even a teenager excited about science. Every topic is packed with fabulous information and non-stop wit. The guy can be hilarious.
  3. Nicholas Andriani writes about his travels. And specifically, about one amazing time abroad in which he explored north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East. He cares about the world and illuminates it with his skilled writing.
  4. Monochromia is a photography website for black and white photos. Together, this group of contributors display ridiculously good B&W photos. The photos are surprisingly varied and all remarkable. It’s a beautiful medium to display their art.
  5. Ram On is a great place to get one person’s take on “what it all means in a global sense.” Bruce writes extremely well and somehow manages to find a baseball analogy to nearly every story. His posts are thorough and thoughtful and exhibit his engagement with life.
  6. Corners of the World is without question a window into some corners of the world you didn’t realize you have been wanting to see. Aanchal simply exudes joy and a spirit of exploration as she describes beautiful places and documents her wild adventures.

Six is a good start, yes?

One more thing I need to say: I am writing this post because I realize I am delinquent on acknowledging blogger awards. AppletonAve is only the first blogger to nominate, and there are two more nominations in the queue. I have procrastinated in the hopes of doing them justice, and if you are one of those other two bloggers please know you are not forgotten.

I thank you – all of the people who are reading, and all of you who are blogging – and wish continued exploration for you in both the physical world and among this beautiful community of netizens.

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

An example of how my world is larger because of blogging: I’ve been watching this flower grow against the foundation of my neighbor’s house, and I can’t help but imagine it sketched by The Crazy Bag Lady over at Bulan Lifestyle.

The Crazy Bag Lady’s posts are filled with her delights and inspirations and many beautiful sketches. She will sketch anything that catches her fancy, but my favourites are the micro views of plants and flowers.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

What a beautiful shadow.

What a beautiful shadow.

Some people are naturally inclined to see connections in life. It can be an irresistible game to play – a perpetual mind puzzle – to absorb as much as possible and then to link pieces together and look for patterns. My Tara has been doing it since the toddler days, and at first I thought it was an unlikely skill to have learned from such a young age. But the more I think about it, the more I think that appreciating connections isn’t learned but intrinsic to our character. It will blossom when embraced. Some people (myself included) delightedly blurt out connections we discover, even while people nearby aren’t playing the game.  🙂

This flower embodies the qualities I notice in The Crazy Bag Lady’s sketches: haphazard petals, white like the pages of her moleskine notebook, bending stems, delicate and proud stamens in an orange circle like a sunburst. The longer I live, the more intricately my web of connections is spun, now linking me to this flower (and soon only the memory of it), and a lovely lady far away, who expresses her joy in life through her art.

Face to face, flower and lens

Face to face, flower and lens


Long stems bend to the sun

Long stems bend to the sun

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

I received my very first blogger award nomination last week, from appletonavenue. It’s the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. I’ve seen awards around the blogosphere, and wondered how they worked. Now I’ve got a better sense: Someone who was nominated for the award gets the opportunity to send it on to their own favourite bloggers.

I want to express my sincere gratitude to appletonavenue for taking the time to nominate me, to tell me about the nomination, and for spreading some good vibes into the world.

Her blog is about an honest a blog as you’ll find anywhere. She often includes her personal struggles with real life issues that we all deal with: health, employment, family. She lays it out there. For real. If you have toes easily trampled, or sensitive feelings, better stay away. I LOVE THAT.  Her posts are a reminder of how honest I could be. Plus, she’s another blogger who tags with the word “rants.” And that is awesome.

I’ve mentioned it before; I like to get to the bottom of mysteries and stories. So, I spent an hour trying to find the origin of the Sisterhood award. Couldn’t. If you’ve got leads, let me know. The earliest one I could find was dated January 30, 2011, and thanked the blogger who awarded it, but when I got to that blog, I simply could not find a reference to the award. I did lots of searches for “2010 Sisterhood of World Bloggers” and couldn’t find an instance when the award was presented in 2010.

I learned a lot about the award though. In one case it was presented by a man, which proves a Sisterhood is an idea, not a set of rules. In one case it was referred to as a “cooking blog award,” so I guess I need to post a recipe. (I have one in mind, the World’s Best Crock Pot Chicken, but I haven’t found the time to get that one to you yet.) It also actually *has been* awarded to  multinational bloggers (good, because I disdain the casual use of a phrase like “world blogger”). I learned how many people seem really, truly grateful to receive a nomination. It reminds me of a new word I recently learned from another blogger I read (BTW, in the list below). The word is netizen: A citizen of the Internet. Once we start giving and taking online, we create a community. I have several Internet communities now that are integral to my sense of well-being, WordPress and facebook being the two major digital places I live, in addition to my physical Montavilla home.

The character of this award seems to morph with time, like all good chain letters do. It began in a different format, in which the blogger listed the blogs nominated, with a call out to the people “Hey, come get your award.” Now it’s more personal, and the trend seems to be an individual personal message from the presenter to the nominee on the nominee’s own page. Another change is associated rules. The one my friend received has a list of 5 rules, including answering 10 personal questions and the nomination of 10-12 favourite bloggers. I found one from 2012 that had rules including answering 7 personal questions and nominating 7 bloggers. I found one from February 2011, in which there is only one rule: pass it on. I like that. It’s the most important rule in any case.

The  January 30, 2011 award from food and thrift states “no rules at all,” but then asks to please link back to the presenter.

In my form of passing it on, I’ll list the blogs I am currently reading the most often. I’m not a nominator-type person, so if you were hoping I’d nominate you: sorry. Don’t take it personally. I am big on advertising, however. Advertising awesomeness, I mean. So here are the blogs I’d like to advertise, in no special order whatsoever:

  1. Hiking Photography – Canadian Patrick Latter is an astonishingly talented photographer. We’re talking jaw-dropping work. His blog isn’t just a collage of pretty images, but often includes quick blurbs about his friends and his interests. His interests frequently include packing into pristine wilderness and scaling mountain peaks. Only a few posts in, you’ll realize this guy has a natural Joy Of Life that is irresistible.
  2. Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things – A blogger kindred spirit, LB rides her motorcycles on distant trips and also around her part of the world, which happens to be the southeastern United States, and lucky for us: she takes her camera with her. LB is another human being whose goodness and love is obvious and irresistible. Her artist’s eye informs her lens, and the images she posts show me how to look deeper and to appreciate the wonder of the world that is right outside my door.
  3. With All I Am – Tanzanian Prayson Daniel takes his theology studies seriously and passionately. In fact, it is his own ceaseless searching for his path in faith that led him to these studies. He immerses himself in academic studies of Christianity, as well as history of Christianity, and modern applications of theological perspectives. Prayson is constant, earnest, loving, open, and humble. He and I share a lot of love, even though I am atheist and he is devout. He is helping my defensive and angry heart to learn about the better parts of Christianity, and is not trying to convert me.
  4. Hike Mt. Shasta – This hiker blogger hails from northern California. Bubba Suess has a goal of providing the most comprehensive guide to the trails and sights of Mt. Shasta. This compelling volcano is near the California/ Oregon border. Hike Mt. Shasta is fun to read because the trails are so close to my favourite backpacking area, the Trinity Alps of Northern Cali. And you know I love volcanoes…
  5. Caelan Huntress – My daughter and I met this gigantic personality (and his lovely family) years ago at a park in North Portland. Later he sold me insurance (I’m still a customer of the company, though Caelan moved on). Now I stick around because Caelan has yet another of those personalities that is crammed with adventure, love, and unquenchable optimism. He always has some new plan, some incredible dream, some clever creation to talk about. His newsletter focus right now has a lot to do with helping you help yourself, in business, branding, blogging. His blog is an intimate invitation into a beautiful life. And this man is not satisfied with plans and dreams…he then goes on to make stuff happen. It’s wonderful to witness.
  6. Ben Trube, Writer – Ben writes programs to build fractals. I am in love with fractals: mathematical equations that, when graphed, make patterns that appear the same or similar when viewed from different distances. They are also beautiful. Ben’s blog contains stuff about fractals, including his newly published book on what he’s been doing, but there are also a bunch of posts on regular stuff in his life, and about being a writer. He rants, he champions causes, he praises his friends. He also introduced his dad’s brand new book review blog recently, and I like that one too.
  7. The Rider – The Rider is a South African pastor who explores and comments on the world around him. The first post I read was about a welding project in which he built a bird feeder on his property. How fun is that? And what are the odds that I would randomly stumble onto two blogs from motorcyclists? I enjoy the opportunity to read the perspective of a non-north American, and I’m humbled by his ability to touch his readers in a second language. Here is a man with a wonderful sense of humor and an engaging delight in life and the people around him. (also, The Rider does not nominate people for awards either)
  8. Annika Ruohonen Photography – Annika also writes her blog in English, a second language. Her intent is to showcase her stunning photography, but sometimes her words offer the perfect poetic accompaniment. She is a teacher, a mother, an artist. Her photos are profoundly moving.

Whoo. That turned out to be a long post, didn’t it? Well, I hope I did the award justice, by spreading the love. Thanks to all of you for being out there, and for reading, and for writing your own.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,700 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

My birthday (January 9th) corresponds with the new year, and often I am struck with a sense of opportunity and renewal with both of those events coming together each year. I got off to a slow start in 2011, and spent some quality time rolling around in the dustballs of self pity during December and the first week of January, before launching into the next chapter of my life.

I missed a “New Year’s Resolution” post for January 2010. Today I felt it was time to check and see if my plans had come to fruition, and discovered that there was no post last year that I can review. Drat. I’ll use January 2009’s list then, and see how I did in the last two years.

  1. Well, we did get enough money to begin paying the mortgage again. Together. But I moved out and neither of us has enough to pay it on our own. So, this one is not checked off the list. Half point for settling with Wells Fargo, getting off the endangered list, but nowhere near financially stable.
  2. I’ve been doing much better about enjoying my girl and I try very hard to curb my lectures, but it doesn’t always work. Half point.
  3. I caught Marcus three times. One freaking incredible show at the Crystal Ballroom, and then the show in Kennewick. The winner was at Jan & Mike’s house though. One point.
  4. I used my frequent flier miles to go to Egypt with my kid. Two points for being awesome.
  5. During 2009 I did not see any brothers, but in 2010 I saw all three! I love them all so much. One point.
  6. I did gain self-confidence at work through a collection of reasons. a) My coach (that’s what VA calls supervisors) went on temporary duty to another state for three months, and our stand-in coach was an awesome, awesome supervisor. He made me feel like a valuable employee in mere weeks, and undid a lot of her damage. b) I practiced talking to others about their performance, and found out that I am doing as well as them, and my coach just liked to tell me I was failing. c) We hired a bunch of new people and my coach now has others to pick on. d) I decided to stop taking her words as a slap, and just laughed her off (in my mind, not to her face). She took the cue and started leaving me alone. One point.
  7. Failed miserably here. I wrote about 500 words of my Shemya book in 2009 and zero in 2010. No points.
  8. The aim was to stay open to the Universe. Hm. I think I am less open in that my thoughts are darker, more cynical, more negative. Somehow I need to find a way to keep my inner buoyancy when life plants a gut kick. No points.

Total for the last string of new year’s wishes: 6 points out of 8 possible. That’s pretty good, except for the fact that I gave myself two years to meet the goals of just one year, so I should subtract points for that. Let’s say 4 points out of 8, which is only mediocre, and gives me a target I can improve upon.

My fantasies for the year 2011:

  1. I will spend more time laughing.
  2. I will practice gratitude for my job even though it involves thankless slaving in a cubicle sea under federal government management.
  3. More painting! I must create more oil paintings. It’s so much fun and it is not merely a guilty pleasure; for me, it is living.
  4. Genuine interaction with my friends. Maybe… get some more? I want to get better at asking them to tell me about their lives, listening, and I want to spend more time with them.
  5. Pay off the credit cards. Enough of those already. Jeezums crow!
  6. Resolve the Morrison Street house situation. This one is a long shot. Though I don’t live there anymore, my name is on the mortgage. Mark is struggling to pay for it, and will continue to struggle. We want to sell it, but the chances of that are unlikely because it needs tons of work and we owe more than it’s worth. We want to refinance so just his name is on the mortgage, and that will probably not happen because he doesn’t earn enough and there is no equity.
  7. Participate in Portland’s multitudinous community activities more often.
  8. Start writing my book again. I’ve got two started. Either one, or both, could use some attention.
  9. Go to Hawaii and see Vlad.
  10. If  Dave Matthews and Marcus Eaton will be at the Gorge again in September, I want to go.

Alright, that’s enough to start with.

“Good morning Starshine. The Earth says, ‘hello!'” {quote from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory}

Urg. So after posting a blog entry on Gaia the other day, I decided to browse around the site and see what’s new. Good thing I did. What was new was the demise of Gaia.

I need a new blog. I may end up here. I really hope I can get my years of archives transferred over here with links and images intact. We will see…. we will just see…

In any case, hiya, to whomever you are. It’s nice to be here. Please pry at will, and heckling is encouraged.

Hestia by Brian Froud. Click image for magazine

{Note: prior to WordPress, I belonged to a blogging community called Gaia, that was originally called Zaadz. This post was written while I belonged to Zaadz.}

I keep forgetting to try and spread the word. I looked at the current copy of Alternatives magazine in Portland because of the gorgeous artwork I instantly recognized as Brian Froud. Inside is an article about Zaadz, with an interview with Siona van Dijk.

Even more fun is their new partnership with Zaadz, and a site where you can join and participate in discussions to meld Alternatives and Zaadz in a healthy, positive way to make the best of both.

A quote from van Dijk:

And when it comes to dialog… well, I know that I, personally, have been deeply transformed through these conversations. There’s something about connecting with another human being, halfway around the world, and having them impact me in such a way that I question my beliefs, or expand my ability to empathize or take the place of another. And when I think of thousands and millions of these little individual transformations occurring, and catalyzing other transformations in turn, this, to me, feels world-changing. 

Sometimes I find it hard to get on board with what I perceive to be a bunch of high-falutin’ idealistic people out to change the world. Yeah, you talk big, but are your words wise and do your actions really help? For example, switching from paper grocery bags to plastic. Think it through first…

Anyway, I really liked van Dijk’s words here. My noticeable actions are minuscule. So how can I claim I’m any better than the loud talkers I am wary of? Well…because I at least try to improve myself. And that works just like a pay-it-forward chain. When I learn patience, love, understanding, and tolerance as well as genuine appreciation for the things I had never had to face before….then the person who exposes me to these things gets a smile instead of a dirty look. Then perhaps that person feels supported, maybe not so isolated. Maybe that person goes home and puts their arm around a loved one and plays with the dog for a few minutes. In my heart, I feel like this is the sort of tiny transformations van Dijk is referring to.

(This image, by the way, is not mine at all…it’s the cover art of Alternatives, painted by Brian Froud and snatched from the Internet by me without permission…)

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