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On living to be as old as my mother did

Samhain or Halloween is a time of transition from one year to another in the pagan calendar. Spirits rise and snow falls, at least here in Anchorage. I just had a landmark birthday in that I have lived to the age my mother died.  My life has been unlike my mother’s. I have not married or had children. I am unlikely to die this year. Yet I am stung by the awareness available to me given both my distance from her experience and my similarity in age and temperament.

I spent most of my life trying not to become as trapped as she felt. Instead of resenting commitments, I have learned to take more time in making the choice to commit and to treasure moments of uncommitted time each day or night when I share her somewhat common inability to rest. Like her, I have a mess of books aside my bed where I can escape to a world where I do not exist but where I have the freedom to love and fear on a grand scale.

My mother and I shared a love for William Shatner. She would watch TJ Hooker and I would watch Star Trek. This week at work I searched YouTube for an old horror movie to show the folks. We wound up watching “Valley of the Spiders” with Shatner in the role of a veterinary doctor up against an army of eight-legged adversaries. The film was dated enough not to scare the pants off sensitive viewers but contained just enough scares that people chose to be late to dinner in order to catch the ending.

I work at a long-term care nursing facility. Most everyone there feels trapped. Some are trapped by life and some by death. My job is not just to distract them from this feeling but to encourage appreciation of their choices. These facilities used to be called “nursing homes” but they were rebranded because no matter how hard we try they are more like hospitals than homes.

There is a revolution coming in this area. The members of my generation will lead it demanding a different kind of care that does not include being trapped in a regimen of vital signs every few hours and thickened liquids.  These are small efforts to prolong life that few people appreciate. Life and death are vital concepts in my work. What constitutes a life? Is lying in bed all day okay? Can institutionalization be lessened by surprise and humor? Could singing be one of the best therapeutic interventions ever? Can it be fun to laugh at death?  That’s what Halloween is about. This year the residents have chosen to host a Haunted House with a Hospital Room and a Graveyard.


Winter in Alaska arrived just this week. The mountains wear their white hair proudly. The snow has fallen only lightly in the lowlands but it’s cold enough to discourage a sexy  Halloween outfit. I’ve connected with friends and family in the last week and remembered how full of life my mother was until she was not.  She was a lover of Halloween, The Fourth of July, of Christmas and of Sunday dinners.  I continue her tradition by making up as many holidays as I can. I resist the promotional “National Bubble Gum”, “International Chocolate Brownie”, and “Salute your Soldier” Days to make each day a celebration that is not dictated but becomes itself.

The First Day of Snow is a natural one for most people I know and there is much walking around the town. The Day of the Most Mistakes is one that usually falls on Saturday, the end of my work week. The Day of Deliciousness coincides with the cooking group and The Luckiest Day of the Week is the day on which the Bingo game is held. I dress up for all of them, wearing a fancy apron or a silly hat. There may be many logical reasons to fear the darkness of winter, the upcoming election or the result of a medical test but there is also my mother’s way.  My fondest memory of her illness is when she explained from her hospital bed that she had made a week’s worth of soup for us and it was in the fridge. I hear this now from other women who are losing what we call “reality orientation” but in truth they have located their most important reality, the ability to show love and hospitality.

Everyday will have a new guest knocking at the door. It may be winter, a giant dinosaur, a new roommate or a death.  The treat may be candy or a bowl of soup. My mother is with me now as I write this thinking of chocolate and what it means to be a young at heart elder floating in eternity, grounded only in hospitality and humor.

Here is a funny costume I saw today.


Happy Halloween!


Suggestions for how the Republican Party can “punish” Lisa Murkowski

  1. Make her eat the infamous Senate Bean Soup


     2.  Have a sign made for her to wear reading:

“I did not do what the boys wanted and now I have to wear this stupid sign.”

3.  When they see her coming, put their briefcases on empty seats on the little tram that runs underneath The White House so there is no room for her.

4.  Uninvite her to the annual Senate Sleepover at Mitch McConnell’s house.

5.  Facebook unfriend!

6.  Throw in a bunch of Sarah Palin jokes during the next filibuster.

7.  Bring in kegs of beer to celebrate Kavanaugh’s confirmation but mysteriously run out of red plastic cups if she wants some.

8. Play The Beastie Boys “The Lisa Lisa” each time her name comes up for roll call.

9.  Lump of coal for Christmas

10. Attend Weekly “Ethics” class taught by The President.

The Fall, The Salmon, the Political Harvest Festival

It wasn’t so long ago that it seemed like spring in America. Many people were hopeful. Other democracies wanted to be our friends. Now the weather has turned and only dictators will take us in. Our representatives huff and puff but they can’t blow down the free world with new or restored tariffs. Are we preparing for another less than civil war in our own country where people begin by wishing each other dead on Facebook and progress to buying ammunition?.

Had we not established, in the beginning, an oligarchy of wealthy white men to run the place we might not be in this crisis today. We can’t change the past but we can look outside our cherished ancestors to see how other countries have worked together instead of against each other in order to thrive.

Today I observed that the salmon have been moving approximately 2 bridges a day up the stream near my home in Anchorage.

fish bridge

Here they are at the first bridge. They’ve turned red and are swimming upstream from Cook Inlet which is just a few hundred yards away.

salmon bridge2

Here they are flapping their fins in the shallow water under a further bridge. They make lots of noise. They’ve become more desperate in their undertaking. They are very red. People get like this. So do Nations when they sense the endgame.


Here are some salmon taking a break in an eddy by the former bridge. Note the white on the top of one of the fish. He is rotting away. These fish start out silver. They stop eating and turn red. Their parts start to rot off but hopefully, they survive to mate.  Some people are obsessed with their power and their endgame. They turn everything into a predatory pursuit or a competition to dominate.  Others can work together for the greater good. Too bad this country glorifies those who defeat others by force or intimidation. By deciding this is our preferred way of operating, we minimize the potential for the next generation to form models of cooperation.

I  hope that the ability to work with others can be taught in school and in the home. Why do we grade people on an individual basis or even decide pay this way when most everyone works winds up working on a team? Do we want the other teams in our workplaces to fail so we look better?  Perhaps it’s more difficult to introduce cooperation when there are so many single child families in the middle and upper classes. But that means that the meek will probably inherit the earth.

In Fall, people store up supplies. Some people hoard. In Winter disaster may strike any of us and who will help? Probably not those who consider themselves self-sufficient or who have the most firearms. Instead, it may be those who have experience in negotiation and emotional regulation who survive. It isn’t always the strongest or most intelligent/talented salmon who survives. It may be one who rests with the others at the side of the stream who has the energy to reach their final destination. The truth is they will all die, and most of their children will die before they mature. On that pleasant note, I encourage you to take a walk and enjoy what you see and feel today. Do not binge watch the news or your favorite dystopian fantasy. Instead, say hello to your neighborhood and notice that you are not on top of it nor on the bottom. We are just alive, for now. When I walk I’m not sure who is homeless and who is rich or in pain or Republican or Independent. We are just animals in the woods.

Don’t give up hope yet, at least until after you vote.  Have a voting party and invite anyone in your neighborhood who has participated in democracy. Don’t make your harvest hatred. Crunch the leaves, watch the moon rise. Forget about responding to every nasty post you read. Don’t hesitate to sing and dance outside but I draw the line at building a wicker man and sacrificing members of the opposite political party. If members of the United Nations can laugh at the audacity of our president then we can laugh too. It’s easier to get away with that in a crowd.


Anxiety Woman cannot finish a movie


fall4Serenity Now!

The funny thing is, I don’t feel extraordinarily anxious but my hands are shaking, my legs are aching and I can’t seem to find a movie that does anything for my serenity. I constantly worry about the characters.  I don’t watch TV anymore. Does anyone? I even have trouble with sit-coms. I hate it when I know people are going to be disappointed or embarrassed. I’ve picked up enough lingo that I can play along with co-workers when they talk about Jon Snow. I like his coat.

I don’t mind zombies as much because they are so stupid. They are stiff, awkward, and always hungry like me. They are funny. So am I. I was just watching a WWII show. Why would I do that? People are going to be killed! I tell myself I am just a sensitive person. The truth is I am so highly strung I start to vibrate unless it is a real emergency then I calm down for some reason. Maybe because I know from history that I can’t afford to get worked up and I am much more effective if I slow down,

Then there is the news. Why would a person like myself check in on the status of the Supreme Court nomination proceedings?  That’s like taking amphetamines. Nothing good comes from it.

My body recently decided that it was too excited to process food! Once again I did not feel overly stressed but I hadn’t been sleeping much. My intestines went into crisis mode and shot everything out like a cannon.

“That should take care of things. We got her attention”, they said.

I have been eating bland food for fear of another explosion. Maybe I need to watch bland shows as well.  I sort of like documentaries about different kind of occupations like hatmakers or cider making but then these small businesses die off and I feel sad. It gets hard to tell whether being under the weather physically makes me sad and anxious or it is the other way around.

I tried making some fudge tonight. It was a disaster. It turned into chocolate caramel. I became even more rigid. So I went outside. Sometimes I have to go out and look for beauty.

I love Fall and this has been a beautiful one in Anchorage. Fall is sort of sad so that might have something to do with my mood.  Here are some fall photos I took. I’m so lucky to live here. You should visit in Fall. It’s quiet, less crowded but still alive on the streets and trails. You’re more likely to see The Northern Lights.


That’s me and my shadow persona. The salmon are no longer jumping up the falls here at the hatchery. Instead, there are about 30 of them hunkered down under the bridge at the end of my street. Difficult to photograph when they are so shy.


The swans are ready to leave!


The evening light is so soft. Everyone is out walking, biking, jogging. I say hello to them all.

From writing this I’ve confirmed that relaxation is not mine to be found on the internet or in forcing activities. Serenity is more important than keeping up to date with what everyone else says is important. I have to keep my focus there or else I may spend the rest of my days in the bathroom.


How’d’ya like those berries?



Just a short anecdote this evening. It’s been raining most of the day and I took advantage of some rainless minutes to walk a few blocks over to the yellow raspberry bushes. They grow on the road, in what looks to be a public easement but they have been blocked by a truck the last few times I’ve tried to snag a few.

Again there was the truck. I sat on my haunches by the exhaust pipe and grabbed a few for my breakfast cereal. They’re delicious and will go bad quicker in the rain. Might as well get a few more I thought reaching in.

As I got up,  a woman opened the door of a truck parked a few feet away and asked,  “What are you doing?”

Her voice was not of someone berating me for stealing berries. It carried fear.  It was then I felt sad.  I am a big strong person, over  six foot two in my running shoes, wearing a man’s jacket and a crazy hat. I have very white, very long, strong legs. I scared another human being who thought I was up to no good.

I showed her my berries.  There was a small chance she would say, “Those aren’t yours, shame on you,” because when I turned, she saw I was an “old” woman.  I’m only in my fifties but I have white hair and wrinkles and she was no more than thirty with dark skin.  She apologized many times, with notes of sadness, shame and confusion as she realized she had perhaps caused insult to another person.

I also said too many “I’m sorry’s.”  I told her she was being a good neighbor and introduced myself. We shook hands and I left thinking of the dark skinned boys and men who must think before they act. I thought about the fear a strange man might inflict  upon a woman of any race.   I felt the awkwardness of my doing weird things. I felt the weight of my white privilege and had no appetite for the berries. Perhaps tomorrow.

A Must see film for Theatre people

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No it is not a musical though it does have music. It’s free on Amazon Prime right now and you know that means it might cost money next week.



I love theatre. I love it because it can be something like this – funny, divisive, created by the many, not just the few, poor, demanding, both hopeless and hopeful.

One of my favorite lines is before they go on stage the director cries, “Into the jaws of the wolf.”  The cast responds, “Die Wolf!”


Above -the residents/actors contemplate being trapped by rehearsing and performing their own theatre in Spettacola

I so would go to Tuscany and see their show. As that may not happen, I’m happy to have seen the film. I’ve been to The Edinburg Fringe. I’ve seen Broadway musicals as well as first productions of Angels in America and ‘Night Mother. I can’t complain about opportunities I’ve had. Seeing the Broadway cast of 1776 perform at The New England Theatre Conference in 1977 made my life complete, (at that particular moment).

As I’ve grown older, I am a bigger fan of “Poor theatre” in which the costumes and set, the literary merit of the piece or the trained voice and body are not as much the focus as the immediacy of the performance.   To strive not towards perfection but towards presence and connection is difficult in many endeavors yet always worthwhile. I am happy when a director reminds the cast that the show will grow as it is performed with experimentation and the freedom to ferment. The opening night product, polished for the press and potential ticket sales  is not what you get the next night. We hope it gets even better by losing it’s polish and becoming more real. What if the play is about the same problem which enraged the community last year and this year just leaves them hopeless? It might not be original enough, happy enough, new enough, to please an audience but it has already helped the community to clarify it’s feelings so that is enough.


Above – The end of the world approaches in Spettacola

I’m drawn to the ephemeral and the mundane joys of life as well. I don’t have to access to the best museums or the finest restaurants.  Much of the beauty I have enjoyed has been created by outsiders to the art world. The wilderness or a community garden will attract me more than a formal landscaped lawn. I would rather a painting by one of my talented cousins or friends than one by a person I don’t know. Art is a way to get to know people better and to know ourselves. I think this film shows that.

Then there is the collective nature of the theatre in this film. Such an endeavor is improbable in an individualist nation like America but not impossible. It is however not marketable and thus once again improbable unless a small community with poor internet reception has a go at it. You will note that cell phones and devices appear more often as the film progresses suggesting that the theatre like the village is a remnant of a different era.

But in New York, theatre is a necessary engine of commerce and so it must be electric. It can appear that this theatre of ours is the genius of one writer, director or talent. All theatre people know this is a simplification  The United States is often blind to the community behind each breakthrough discovery in art or science because it’s easier to mythologize the “genius” of Trumpian proportions than to admit to the sacrifices of the community. Even in Spettacola, there is an inspired director but he is exhausted and abandoned instead of exalted.


I have often asked my friends what would happen if film and TV stars, professional athletes and such didn’t get paid so much. Would children still act and play sports? Would adults? I would hope so and that we would do more and less than just entertain. We would humanize art and use it as fertilizer instead of frosting. Someone has to plant seeds besides big agriculture and I believe community theatre is like those community gardens that thrive because they are not uniform nor treated with pesticide.

Enough! Watch the movie.

Summer in Alaska Bucketlist

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Do you envision a list involving salmon, moose, bear, mountain summits, through hikes, single track bike descents, canning and preserving goals, maybe a triathlon thrown in for good measure?

Not I. I need to relax. I don’t relax in the wilderness. I’m on constant bear alert, either that or getting shot by a random bear hunter alert. Here are some of my ideas for a perfect Alaskan summer. You may find you can follow them wherever you might find yourself. After all, Alaska is mostly a state of mind.

  1. Spend as much time as possible in the hammock. This will require a good supply of insect repellant but it is much more rewarding than actually accomplishing anything after a long day of work.
  2. Share my tandem with as many people as possible. I’ve started calling friends to ride with me and  put an ad up to capture strangers. It’s an enormous bike, definitely as long as a horse but slightly lighter. What’s the point of waiting around for someone to announce that they vaguely remember I have a two seater hanging up in my shed? A tandem is the perfect excuse to advertise the need for companionship but in a sporty, retro, non-threatening manner.  I’ll try not to coerce people to wear costumes until the 2nd or third ride.tandemThis is a Gary Fisher Gemini Mountain bike tandem from the 1980’s. It is appropriate to sing 1980’s music while riding. The Police, Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, (David Lee Roth years), Duran Duran, Blondie,  and The Bangles are all acceptable. This is not a Madonna bike. It is also okay to sing this old gem on this particular bike especially when wearing dark sunglasses.
  3. I would like to watch more of the hundred best War movies. I like the old ones best and just finished “To Be or Not To Be” with Jack Benny on You Tube.   I don’t love war but I am desperate to understand it and how it reflects the internal wars with which humans struggle.
  4. Read more books about The South. I love visiting my friend Rose Anne in Louisiana. It is as much another world as visiting my sister in Paris.  I finished reading this excellent book   and am now reading this one.  Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads  These help me understand why there is a large movement in America to reclaim “glory days” of the past.  This is a force to be reckoned with, not to be ignored.
  5. I need to write more and laugh more. I believe I am singing as much as I can without being murdered.
  6. It wouldn’t hurt to see some new movies. I don’t see many first run films but I would be willing to purchase a ticket to Bohemian Rhapsody or BlackKklansman.
  7. More raspberry ice tea. More raspberry everything. Alaska has great raspberries!
  8. Donald Trump protest art show anyone?  I bet it could be fun or would we be giving him too much attention?
  9. I guess I could go camping one time but that is my goal every summer and each time I come back not having slept and I have a backache but a few funny stories.
  10. Stay in the moment, smell the air as it changes with each bloom of the season – lilacs, roses, clover, fireweed.